Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Daughter Test. Meet Psychotica, My Imaginary Daughter.

I had so much fun with Steven Levitt's "daughter test," this one:
It wasn’t until the U.S. government’s crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity?
If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don’t mind those activities being illegal.
On the other hand, if my daughter had good reasons to want an abortion, I would want her to be able to have one, so I’m weakly in favor of abortion being legal, even though I put a lot of value on unborn fetuses.
The “daughter test” makes it clear why I find the U.S. government’s stance against internet poker so ridiculous.  When I imagine my daughter growing up to be a professional poker player, my reaction is to think that would be a great outcome! Maybe not the absolute best outcome (like her being a great economist or professional golfer, two things I’ve always dreamed of being), but certainly not a bad outcome at all.

Ross Douthat then immediately did his own daughter tests! Grace at Momocrat spelled out in detail what in general is wrong with Levitt's ideas and the whole "daughter test."

But what I found hilarious about all this is that the "daughter test" is supposed to be useful whether one has a daughter or not. If it weren't, only people with daughters could use it. And because real daughter are all different individuals, the test wouldn't be that general or useful.

So the "daughter test" is ideally based on an imaginary daughter who appears not to ever become a full-fledged adult. She is daddy's imaginary sugar-n-spice princess, to be protected.

Well, suppose that my imaginary daughter is called Psychotica. She has long claws, poisonous venom and four pairs of eyes. She bathes in blood and eats little Republican economists for snacks. How would I want the world to be arranged for her sake?

It's not that I don't understand the point of the test. If I put the kindest possible interpretation on it, guys like Levitt and Douthat try to get as close as they can to someone vulnerable and fairly powerless but someone they might actually care about. So they pick the idea of a daughter. At least that would force them to think about abortion from a different angle. If one really dove deep into that slight attempt at empathy, one might actually get somewhere!

But the trial is still tied to one's own family and one's own children daughters, even if they are imaginary. It's not the worst possible starting point for the empathy-challenged. At least they are asked to spread out their imagination a tiny bit. But as Grace points out, it's still a very narrow test, affected by class and race considerations, not a general test about all people in the society.