A thought experiment
Let’s say there’s two substances, I’ll call them RM and PM. The vendors of PM say that their stuff provides all the benefits of RM, but without the possibility of death. The vendors of RM say that their stuff isn’t very dangerous, and provides some benefits that PM doesn’t provide. Both provide scientific studies (paid for by the respective vendors) that “prove” their point.
Now, I’m not a scientist. How do I evaluate these claims and come to a reasonable conclusion? Oh wait, I know, I can *hire* some scientists! These hired scientists could look at the published studies and conduct their *own* studies, could perhaps look and find out exactly how many of the people who use RM die, vs. whether they’re healthier in other ways than people who use PM. Because the scientists that I hire are not in the pay of either PM or RM, they are more likely to tell me the truth, instead of telling me what their employer wants them to say. But wait… I’m not rich. How can I afford to hire my own scientists?!
Wait, I know, I’ll get together with a bunch of *other* people and we’ll pool our money together to hire scientists! But… what if we find out that RM is killing children? We’d have to just publish our results for free, or else be complicit in the deaths of children. But if we have a moral duty to publish our results for free, what is the motivation to join our group to pay these scientists? I go to Joe Sixpack and ask him to toss in some money to help pay scientists, and Joe says he’s kinda short, so he’s just going to wait until we publish the results for free. I go to Droopy Dwarf and ask him to toss in some money to help pay scientists, he says he prefers using his money to buy gold and is going to just wait until we publish the results for free. Nobody wants to pay scientists because they all want someone *else* to pay for it, then they want to freeload! So at that point, I’m baffled — clearly this scheme won’t work if it’s possible to freeload because everybody’s going to want to freeload, but we can’t say “we’ll do the study but keep it secret” because if we find out that RM is killing children, then we’d be complicit in the deaths of children. If only there was some way to make everybody who benefits from the study pay for the study so that there’s no freeloaders. That’s the only way to make it happen. Now… what could we call such an organization? Oh wait.
Now, here’s my question to the Libertarians: Given the freeloader problem that I mention above, where morally it cannot be justified to keep secret information that some substance is killing children, yet if we publish to everybody, nobody wants to pay… how do we fund this organization of independent scientists (let’s call them the “Center for Disease Control” just to pick a name out of hat) without forcing everybody who benefits from their work — which is *everybody* — to pay for it? If taxation is slavery, are the deaths of children whose lives would be saved if we knew RM killed children just “collateral damage” in Libertopia? Because as much as I try, I can’t figure out any way other than government to deal with the freeloader problem and get this study of whether RM is dangerous funded. I.e., every “libertarian” solution I come up with ends up with dead children (presuming RM is dangerous to children, which we’ll presume for the purposes of this exercise). The only solution I can come up with that works for finding out that RM is dangerous to children is the liberal solution, where everybody is forced to pay taxes to get the study financed.
Next up: We join together and create a government and direct this government to collect taxes to pay for this study, and this government study then finds that RM is dangerous to children. What happens next? That’s a subject for tomorrow’s post …
This post originally appeared at Badtux the Snarky Penguin.