Moral Culpability of Independent Contractors
| Peter Klein |
Anita McGahan gave two fantastic talks last week on the economics and strategy of health care, including some work on intellectual property and pharmaceutical research and a larger project on public health around the world. At lunch Anita talked about her work with Joel Baum on private military companies. As we discussed, much of the literature on privatization and contracting out takes the focal organization’s objectives as given, then studies the least costly methods of meeting those objectives. But objectives are endogenous to production costs. Predator drones lower the cost of extrajudicial killings, so we get more extrajudicial killings, ceteris paribus. If prison privatization lowers the cost of incarceration, we should expect more incarceration. And so on. For this reason, the desirability of contracting out depends on whether we want more of thing that is being contracting out, a point made eloquently by Bruce Benson.
A related question is the extent to which contractors should be legally liable, not to mention morally culpable, for the outcomes they help facilitate. Most of us reject the Nuremberg defense, but how far are we willing to go? Is Xe partly responsible for US military strategy and tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan? Do private prison operators share some of the blame for the US’s astonishingly high incarceration rate?
See below for the classic discussion of this issue.