Via my Facebook feed and email, LearnLiberty posts a link to this debate snippet featuring Steven Horwitz and Jeffrey Reiman.

The first question asks whether we should work to alleviate the problems of people whose parents make bad decisions. I’m definitely sympathetic to the plight of the poor, but I have three very quick responses:

First, it isn’t always clear what a “bad decision” is and when a bad decision is responsible for relief-worthy circumstances in the future.

Second, parents have weaker incentives to make good decisions when they know someone else will pick up the slack for their kids and when they know that their kids won’t enjoy the fruits of the parents’ good decisions. Subsidizing prodigality and taxing prudence will give us more prodigality and less prudence, all else equal.

Third, and Steve Horwitz does a great job with this in this 2009 Freeman column, what we ought to do is constrained by what we can do. In several settings, I’ve heard James Otteson refer to the “wouldn’t it be nice if…” argument that pervades a lot of these kinds of discussions (I believe he’s actually calling it the “nice if” fallacy in a book he’s working on). It would be nice if people didn’t respond to their incentives. Unfortunately for many interventionist ideas, they do.

Disclosure: I’ve been paid by IHS for appearing in LearnLiberty for appearing in LearnLiberty videos, but not for writing this post.