Is Landsburg’s idea of the Indifference Principle too simplified?

Landsburg’s fable “The Tale of Two Cities” is simplified, I understand that, but is it simplified beyond the point of being applicable to real world situations? The comment at the begging of the chapter “who cares if the air is clean” directly contradicts the idea of rational thinking that he uses in the same book and each idea is with in 40 pages of each other. A rational person living in Grimmyville would have two choices to live in Grimmyville with clean air or live in Grimmyville with dirty air. The rational person would see that clean air is superior to dirty air in that you can breathe easier and the health risks of breathing clean air are a lot lower. The rational person would defiantly want clean air if given the choice. It is not just the land owner that receives the benefit of the law passed. The renter now has two equally good places to live and can chose between the two.

The Case of Landsburg is an article that looks at some of these ideas that are two simplified and unrealistic to what would happen in a real world circumstance. There could be other intrinsic values to living in Grimmyville that would keep a person there and, therefore clean air in stead of the dirty air would only be another benefit of staying there. Not to mention the cost of moving to Cleanstown.

I can see the underlying principle that Landsburg is trying to get across but these fables that he uses may be too simplified. However I am no expert I this subject in anyway shape or form. This might be the only way to get others to grasp the basic concept behind the indifference principle. I do concede that the fables he does use paint a clear picture of the basic principle and idea but can not be carried to far.


Dr. Tufte said...

I count 3 spelling mistakes, and a what I believe is a misstatement in the last sentence.

Perhaps Landsburg is too extreme, but he is trying to make a point, and extreme or polar cases are a standard way of making arguments. If he made you think, then he accomplished his goal - whether or not you like his particular example.

As to the usefulness of the post, I think the Student01 makes the mistake of forgetting about the price of making air clean. If it was free, we'd all want it, but but unfortunately making it clean isn't free.

Air is a particular problem when thinking about these issues because we don't usually think of ourselves as polluters. But the way they discoverd carbon dioxide in the 18th century was to exhale into a closed container until the frog inside of it died. That ought to make it pretty clear that we are exhaling pollution.

A nice take on this that was circulating around the internet earlier this summer is that washing dishes doesn't actually get them clean - its just dilutes the dirt and grease to a tolerable level.

Dr. Tufte said...

My apologies - I couldn't get the link to "The Case of Landsburg" to open when I made my first comment.

Having read it, I think it offers some good insights about the book - except for this particular example. Maybe it is me, but I just couldn't understand the point of the counterexample. It's probably just too late tonight to think clearly.

Anyway, the whole point of Landsburg's story is to get readers to think about things, and it is clear that it got Student01 and the author "The Case of Landsburg" to do just that.

Just remember, the point of all this is not to make you angry, but to get you to think critically!