Values As Wants

The idea behind political deliberation and negotiation is that the process can be educational and transform confrontation into collaboration. In the context of political deliberation, in other words, positions are not construed as exogenous variables but are endogenous to the decision-making process. Participants, therefore, may redefine a problem or consider alternatives that permit an unexpected resolution. Because people must argue their views on the merits and from a public or intersubjective point of view in order to persuade each other, they may refine or even change their positions to make them plausible representations of the public interest or the general good. Legitimacy depends on the extent to which an outcome represents a policy all can approve after deliberation rather than the preponderance of interest or WTP before discussion or debate.

Political deliberation can be seen as the opposite of welfare-economic valuation. Deliberation presents values as intersubjective - as legitimate because they take as their logical subject the community as a whole. Economic valuation, in contrast, takes all values to be statements of subjective interest - to express what the individual believes is good for him rather than good for us. Values enter welfare-economic calculation as exogenous variables, that is, as arbitrary preferences for which individuals are willing to pay. An analyst may therefore construe any policy as a benefit to those who approve it and as a cost to those who oppose it. Thus, analysts may interpret judgments a person may back up with reasons as if they were preferences of the sort he or she should "buy" with money. If you say, "This is what I believe" the analyst takes you to mean "This is what I prefer." Economists have objective beliefs about policy - for example, that it should maximize a concept of "benefit" they define. You and I have subjective preferences.

Value judgments lie beyond criticism if, indeed, they are nothing but expressions of personal preference; they are incorrigible, since every person is in the best position to know what he or she wants. All valuation, according to this approach, happens inforo interno; debate inforo publico, other than an incantation in favor of efficiency or some balance of efficiency and equity, has no point. The economic approach denies the educative function of political discussion or persuasion; from its point of view, the political process is indistinguishable from an auction where policies are knocked down to the highest bidders. The reasons people give for their views (outside the journals of economic analysis, where argument is to be respected) are not to be counted; what counts is how much individuals will pay to satisfy their wants. Those willing to pay the most, for all intents and purposes, have the right view; theirs is the better judgment and the more informed opinion.

The assumption that valuation is subjective, that judgments of good and evil are nothing but expressions of desire and aversion, is not unique to the economic theory on which much policy analysis may be based. There are some psychotherapists - Carl Rogers is an example - who likewise deny the objectivity or cognitivity of valuation. For Rogers, there is only one criterion of worth: it lies in the "subjective world of the individual. Only he knows it fully."27 The therapist, according to Rogers, succeeds when the client "perceives himself in such a way that no self-experience can be discriminated as more or less worthy of positive self-regard than any other."28 The client then "tends to place the basis of standards within himself recognizing that the 'goodness' or 'badness' of any experience or perceptual object is not something inherent in that object, but is a value placed in it by himself."29

Rogers points out that "some clients make strenuous efforts to have the therapist exercise the valuing function, so as to provide them with guides for action."30 The therapist, however, "consistently keeps the locus of evaluation with the client."31 As long as the therapist refuses to "exercise the valuing function" and as long as he or she practices an "unconditional positive regard"32 for all the affective states of the client, the therapist remains neutral among the client's values or "sensory and visceral experiences."33 The therapist accepts all felt preferences as valid and imposes none on the client. There is no room for a concept of responsibility. The role of the therapist validates the feelings of the individual, Rogers suggests, and refrains from making value judgments. Indeed, the point is to deny that there are value judgments. All that counts is what a person feels and the value-neutral positive regard of the therapist for that feeling.

Welfare economists sometimes argue that their role in guiding social policy is legitimate because they remain neutral among and thus rise above values of individuals in the client society. The economic analyst, according to James Buchanan, "is or should be ethically neutral: the indicated results are influenced by his own value scale only insofar as this reflects his membership in a larger group."34 In this conception, the right or the good is reduced to the subjective world of each individual. Environmental economist Alan Randall makes this argument. According to him, "economists are doggedly non-judgmental about people's preferences; what the individual wants is presumed to be good for that individual."35

The economic analyst is able to claim legitimacy for the cost-benefit or WTP approach because it remains doggedly nonjudgmental or neutral among the preferences of individuals in the client society. The goal of social policy, according to this approach, is the same as the goal of Rogers's therapy - to express unconditional positive regard for the preferences of all individuals, however weird. All the analyst - psychological or economic - contributes is his or her theory of value, that is, conception of the right and the good.36 The individual is represented simply as a channel or location at which affective states or WTP are found. Only the analyst knows that values are just preferences; beliefs are at best benefits. Welfare economists stipulate the equivalence of "WTP" and "value," and having postulated WTP as the measure of value, these economists speak with scientific authority about the right and the good, since they have or are developing scientific methods for measuring it.

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