Policy Debate in the time of Lincoln

My latest reading escapade is Team of Rivals, a biography about Lincoln’s complicated but productive relationships with his political rivals during his presidency. I’m noticing how the moral arguments against slavery in the civil war era were given much more weight. Today,  every policy must be justified from an economic standpoint, and arguments based solely on morality or even increased happiness must have some hard economic basis behind them. This is how global warming, despite being a grave moral problem, is ignored on the (completely false) claim that there is no scientific consensus; morality can be discarded if there is the slightest question around the scientific or economic data. Thus, it seems the incredible availability of information, along with people’s ability to manipulate it, has diminished the voice of morality in our public debates.

Of course, public policy sound be considered thoroughly from an economic and especially scientific standpoint. But that doesn’t mean that hard science, or the not-so-hard science of economics, should be the brackets that hold all possible policy options.


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