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Title: Efficiency, Opportunism and Pious Lies
Authors: de Jasay, Anthony
Keywords: libertarianismefficiencyrights
Issue Date: 2003
Publisher: EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Source: Anthony de Jasay, "Efficiency, Opportunism and Pious Lies", in: Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics, V (2003) 2, pp. 1-5.
Series/Report no.: Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics
V (2003) 2
Most social institutions are supposed to be relatively benign, so that if they did not exist, rational
human beings would find it worthwhile to create them. It is comforting to believe that we have the
social institutions we wish to have, and we wish to have them because they enhance the common
good. The article claims that this belief is in some important cases either a self-delusion or a pious
lie. The classic example is the state. We are taught that since it is necessary for efficient social
coexistence, it should be regarded as if it were the result of a social contract we have voluntarily
entered into. The law-and-economics school generalizes this type of approach in explaining customs
and law. Customs and laws evolve in response to needs. They are what they are because they
efficiently serve some purpose. Certain primitive customs are rationalized in this way. The article
claims that some of these rationalizations are grossly implausible. One primitive custom, reciprocal
gift-giving and hospitality, is alleged to be a mutual insurance scheme, an allegation there are
strong reasons to doubt. This custom, then, is said to be the ancestor of the modern welfare state.
Both the ancient custom and its modern equivalent are efficient because mutual insurance that
redistributes risk is itself efficient. The article demonstrates that mutual insurance and the welfare
state are different in essential respects, and the legitimising analogy is false.
Type: Article
ISSN: 1825-5167
Appears in Collections:Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics (2003) V/2

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