Monday, June 28, 2010

World government

I keep reading about problems that are best solved at the world level, or at least at some level that involves many nations: climate change; overfishing; illegal drugs (if they are a problem); deforestation (which is related to the importation of wood); trade; protection of endangered species like whales; terrorism; and on and on. One of the lessons that Howard Raiffa, Max Bazerman and others have taught us is that negotiation about several issues at once allows log-rolling, that is, trade-offs in which each party gives up something it cares about less in return for something it cares about more. One way to prevent this kind of win-win strategy is to negotiate one issue at a time, but that is exactly what we do at the world level. We have organizations for fish, organizations for climate change, and so on, but no supra-national organization that permits nations to make trade-offs with all these issues on the table. The lack of this sort of world government is a serious impediment to world progress.

I was reminded of this issue this morning when I discovered a project called Democracy Unbound, which aims to study the prospects for supranational government from the perspective of several scholarly disciplines.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Action and omission in the U.S. Supreme Court

This interesting article shows how the Court accepted a distinction between action and omission as relevant. Harm caused by omission becomes a matter of "positive liberty", which is apparently not protected by the Constitution. In particular, even after a child welfare agency involved itself in a case, the agency cannot be sued for failing to protect the child from terrible harm. Of interest is that this is not the sort of omission that anyone can commit; the agency was already involved, hence, by everyday moral standards, "responsible".