The Presumptive Puritan
By Bryan Caplan
Tyler on GruberGate:
It’s hardly news that intellectuals who hold
political power, even as advisors, very often do not speak the truth. If
anything, I feel sorry for Gruber that he has subsequently felt the need to so
overcompensate by actively voicing such ex post cynicism, it is perhaps the
sign of a soul not at rest.
These two sentences elegantly illustrate how Tyler and I start at the same place yet end continents apart. We see the same facts: Lying politicians and the elite intellectuals who craftily decorate their masters’ lies. But Tyler starts with a strong moral presumption that Whatever People in Our Society Routinely Do is morally acceptable. Indeed, he bends over backwards to see the world from their point of view.
I, in contrast, start with a strong moral presumption in favor of scrupulous honesty. Unless you have strong reason to believe that lying will have awesome consequences, you shouldn’t lie. Instead of bending over backwards to make excuses for liars, we should bend over backwards to tell the truth. The fact that most people fall short of this puritanical standard shows that most people ought to shape up and fly right.
And when people fleetingly realize that every society is ruled by liars, they are right to shudder.