de Jasay and Smartification

If you haven't read Anthony de Jasay's The State, then do. (“What would you do if you were the state?”) There is a class of books that I like to call “smartifying.” That is, you are actually smarter after reading them, by which I mean you can think better about a set of issues and problems. You can better find the edges of arguments, the contours of assumptions, better feel the rhythms of inference. The State is one of those books, as are all de Jasay's books. Thomas Schelling is smartifying. So is Nozick. The first blog I visit each day is Marginal Revolution, because I leave there smartified more often than from any other blog. Now I'm trying to think of other smartifying authors, and I guess I think game theory is smartifying, since I just came up with David Gauthier and Ken Binmore. Derek Parfit! There you go. Also liable to leave you smartified. David Lewis, too! Will leave you smartified and incredulously staring.
Anyway, I meant to give you a de Jasay quote:

When we think we are opting for equality, we are in fact upsetting one equality in making another prevail. Love of equality in general may or may not be inherent in human nature. Love of a particular equality in preference to another (given that both cannot prevail), however, is like any other taste and cannot serve as a universal moral argument.
. . . Very few of the countless inequalities people are liable to resent lend themselves to levelling, even when the attack on difference is as forthright as Mao's Cultural Revolution. It is no use making everyone eat, dress and work alike if one is still luckier in lover than the other. The source of envy is the envious character, not some manageable handful of a countless multitude of inequalities. Envy will not go away once chateaux have all been burned, merit has replaced privelege and all children have been sent to the same schools.

“The souce of envy is the envious character.” That is our lesson for today.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center