Econlog reader (and former Avian Flu blogger) Silviu Dochia writes:

I’m with Scott Clark on this one. Levy’s point has nothing to do with nature vs. nurture.

Then why the Smith and Mill quotations, which are specifically about nature vs. nurture? I’ve talked to Levy about this many times, and an environmentalist stance on the nature-nurture debate is clearly an important component of his view.

The “analytical egalitarianism” simply points out that a dictator’s preferences do NOT count MORE when it comes to policy than those of a regular person, regardless of IQ. It is a direct response to Plato’s Republic: there is no reason to hand policy over to “philosopher kings”, however “smart” and good at geometry they may be. At the end of the day my low/high IQ does not give me the right to ban wrestling and make skiing a national, heavily subsidized sport. My preferences are no “better” or “worse” in some absolute sense than those of the next person: de gustibus non est disputandum.

What if smart people want to let people be free to choose their favorite sport, and stupid people want to subsidize skiing? Empirically, that’s a lot closer to the actual structure of public opinion than what you’re suggesting. The average person with a high IQ is not a libertarian, but he’s a lot more libertarian than the average person with a low IQ.

Historically, the discussion was of course very often falsely linked to that about IQs. This is misleading, and comes from confusing ends and means. IQ helps you choose better means perhaps, but provides no guidance as to what the goals themselves SHOULD be. The smartest person in the world has little right to tell you which ice-cream flavor is “best”.

Most choices are based on a blend of knowledge and preference, so high IQ does provide guidance. For example, high IQ people are less protectionist, which partly stems from their greater understanding of economics.

Big picture: Dochia seems to think that analytical egalitarianism has libertarian policy implications. That’s wishful thinking. The policy implications of analytical egalitarianism are democratic, not libertarian. If all preferences count equally, and the majority wants to ban marijuana, what’s an analytical egalitarian to say?