TRAGIC CHOICES by Guido Calabresi


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Scarcity is a relative concept--the more proficient societies become at producing new goods through technological development, the more scarcity is likely to result. Consequently, advanced industrial societies can expect to face more social decisions on the allocation of scarce goods in the future, many of which will test the values by which those societies live. Choices of this kind are ""tragic"" according to Calabresi, who attempts to analyze the manner in which such decisions are made, with a view toward discovering the best method, Most of his examples are drawn from medical technology, which is not surprising since life and death are often the immediate stakes, and many important innovations cannot easily be provided for everyone. Among the various methods for allocating scarce goods, he discusses the free and manipulated market approaches, allocation by responsible political bodies, lotteries, and tradition or custom. Each shown to be untenable, Calabresi turns to mixed approaches, and concludes that cyclical patterns are most common, in which values challenge previously accepted methods, resulting in reforms which are again challenged later. Thus, societies reduce the impact of tragic choices by constant tinkering with methods. The author himself has no theoretical framework to deal with the tensions between values and instrumental methods, and he never questions the very basis of technological scarcity--as Ivan Illich has--by asking whether or not a society should reject certain forms of technological innovation precisely because they foster inequalities through increased scarcity. Calabresi, thankfully, does not banish moral considerations from public policy discussions, but he remains caught in the web of policy engineering just the same, with no way out in sight.

Pub Date: March 27th, 1978
ISBN: 039309085X
Publisher: Norton