Thomas More discovered the Pareto compensation principle

by on October 3, 2005 at 6:51 am in Books | Permalink

The following is not bad for the early sixteenth century:

…another [advisor] advises him to prohibit many practices with heavy fines, especially those that are contrary to the public interest, noting that later he can make a monetary arrangement with those whose interests are hurt by the laws and that thus he can win the gratitude of the people and make a double profit, first from fining those whom greed has led on into his trap and then by selling dispensations to others…

If you want to publish a history of thought piece, you will find unexplored law and economics in Thomas More.  Then you can move on to Montesquieu, circa 1748.  It didn’t start with Beccaria and Bentham.

Utopia has been one of the most misunderstood books in the history of ideas.  More did not intend his utopia as a normative proposal.  Instead it is his vision of how society would work if no one responded to approbational incentives of honor and shame.  There would be fewer vanities and absurdities of many kinds, but extreme punishments would be needed to prevent people from breaking the law.  No one would keep the law for the sake of honor.  In reality, utopia is impossible, as pride and property are indispensable and society rests upon the foibles of men.  The book is an early classic of social science, and a precursor of Smith’s TMS, but read it from back to front.

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