In 2006, insouciant economic imperialist Bryan Caplan published a paper outlining a consumer-choice model of mental illness designed to rehabilitate the anti-psychiatry of Thomas Szasz. Caplan claimed this model shows that mental illness should not to be understood as a “real illness” (and therefore as a matter for medical rather than moral treatment) at all, but that mental illness should be understood as a weird preference rational actors persist in despite their preference being a poor match for functioning in society.
From the perspective of Caplan’s model, mental-health treatment is a form of rent-seeking designed to paper over the interpersonal conflicts that arise when somebody won’t relinquish a preference grievously at odds with society, rent-seeking that, on the one hand, provides the “mentally ill” with official-sounding excuses for their weird preferences while, on the other hand, providing the families of the “mentally ill” with medical justification for treating sufficiently “ill” family members against their will. In October 2015, the blogger Scott Alexander, himself a psychiatrist, published “Contra Caplan on Mental Illness”, an essay pointing out why, from his perspective, it seems so strange to call mental illness merely a weird preference. Given Caplan’s framework, I would like to point out how strange it is to call physical illness not a “weird preference”, albeit a weird preference most of us take pity on out of belief that it arises from physical derangement that we don’t expect sufferers to be able to compensate for completely.More