I’ve been bothered by something lately stemming from applications of welfare theories in economics. Without going into technical explanations of the two welfare theories, I’d like to draw attention to the notion of social value. Some Austrians have asserted that the free market does lead to social benefits. More formally represented, think of person A trading with person B, this claim would state that despite the local nature of persons A and B, who feel direct benefit from this transaction, society benefits as well. An accusation could be made that such claims are committing interpersonal utility comparisons. We have no way of knowing the preferences in regards to benefits or losses inferred by third parties outside of a particular commercial transaction. Surely someone may claim a loss, a curmudgeon if you will. This accusation seems reasonable at first but I really hate the idea of curmudgeons and I’d hate to be promoting such behavior so let me write a little more and see what develops.


I think curmudgeonry is but one of the manifestations of the vested third party interestedness that is being incubated in today’s society. Let me explain an example I recently came across when watching a movie. The movie was entitled “The Laramie Project,” and was a reenacted documentary style film about Laramie Wyoming. In this small rural town a number of years ago a young college freshman was beaten to death apparently for being homosexual by two local youths. The film made a number of policy implications in regard to equality and hate crimes that I don’t agree with but for the purposes of this post they are irrelevant.
The phrase “live and let live, “came up repeatedly in this film. I closely identify my own world view with this phrase and generally like it a lot, but some of the criticisms brought up in the film made me think. The town’s folk of Laramie seemed to evoke the phrase hypocritically. At one point one of the gay rights activists claimed that the phrase was empty entirely and what was really meant by it was “don’t let me find out things about you which I am opposed to, and I will refrain from beating you up.”
Another repeated phrase of the film was, “Homosexuality is not a legal issue, but I disagree with it.” This phrase bothers me to no end, well not the whole phrase just the part after the comma. It seems as though agreement is a notion which is used for questions of uncertainty or debate. I’ll consent some people might feel such moral uncertainty in regards to homosexuality, and the beginning of the statement satisfies me that at least they recognize that their moral concerns have no place in forming legal restraints upon others. But why do people feel compelled to form opinions and judgments about the behavior of others at all? It’s really none of anyone’s concern to express a belief of agreement in regards to anyone else’s action. But how often do we encourage this third party activism in society? During election times I can’t tell you how many times I hear that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, just vote. I think a dose of the opposite encouragement is just what society could use. Rather than telling people to form opinions that have nothing to do with them, I’d propose encouraging people to take heed in the phrase live and let live in its non hypocritical connotations.
In closing, I’d like to point out that I think the debates in regard to whether or not social value is promoted, depleted, or ambiguous in regards to market transactions should be less concerned with deciding upon its positive, negative, or ambiguous sum characteristics and re-directed to notice that particular institutions in society effect people’s individual incentives to be active as curmudgeons, while other institutions may do so less if not provide the opposite incentive. I would claim that states, in particular democracies, promote curmudgeons, while markets promote self interest and even the restraint of such self interest so as to create subtle borders of proximate relevance and concern.