Vice Squad
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Regulating Vice: Chapter 2, "Addiction: Rational and Otherwise" (part II)

My project of providing a running summary of Regulating Vice came a cropper in early December, but is herewith revived. We left off after characterising rational addiction. Chapter 2 continues with a look at time inconsistency, which we first blogged about during Vice Squad's inaugural week. The basic idea is that people tend to be more impatient with respect to choices concerning the here and now and near future, than they are about choices over alternatives for the more-distant future. So folks have a sort of prudent, patient, long-view Dr. Jekyll side, and an imprudent, impatient, live-for-the-moment Mr. Hyde side. Mr. Hyde decides how much to drink today, and Dr. Jekyll finds the choices made on his behalf by Mr. Hyde to involve excessive drinking.

There is nothing obviously "irrational" about time inconsistency -- that is, there is nothing inherent in rational choice which requires dynamically consistent choices. But private and public vice policies appropriate for a rational, time inconsistent person might differ from those policies appropriate for a dynamically consistent rational consumer. (Similarly, policies appropriate for irrational consumers also might differ from those of rational, time consistent consumers.) Dr. Jekyll's might look for some commitment device that will keep Mr. Hyde's from drinking too much, and public policies such as taxes or buyer licenses can help Jekyll gain the upper hand. [We could be evenhanded, and say that the public has no more reason to side with Jekyll than with Hyde, but vice tends to be associated with excess. It seems to be more common (or more painful) to regret one too many drinks than one too few.] The costs that Hyde imposes upon a non-consenting Jekyll have many of the marks of economic externalities -- the difference being that rather than Hyde and Jekyll being two physically separate people, they are different incarnations of the same person. In an analogy with "externalities," these costs are called "internalities." And if you accept the externality-internality analogy, then a harm to Jekyll is a type of "harm to others," and hence social coercion of Hyde does not violate John Stuart Mill's harm principle.

Regulating Vice Posts Roundup:
(1) Announcement
(2) Introduction (part I)
(3) Introduction (part II)
(4) Introduction (part III)
(5) Erratum, Page 2!!
(6) Chapter 1, The Harm Principle (part I)
(7) Chapter 1, The Harm Principle (part II)
(8) GMU Talk (part I)
(9) GMU Talk (part II)
(10) Chapter 2, Addiction (part I)

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