Co-blogger Bryan Caplan, whose reasoning I virtually always respect, surprised me with his post earlier today. In it, he addressed an earlier comment by Liam:

John’s child is dying from cancer. He cannot afford to fly her to a country offering pioneering treatment. Let’s assume it has a reasonably high chance of saving her life. Can John hack into Bill Gates’ bank account and steal the money he needs?

I take it that Caplan thinks this would be wrong; and yet what could possibly be more demanding than a moral principle which requires you to step back and watch your own child die from cancer? In fact, utilitarianism would probably be less demanding in this case, since you may well increase overall utility by stealing the money.

Bryan answered:

Actually, I don’t think this would be wrong.  Like Huemer, I endorse a moderate deontological view that allows rights violations when the benefits vastly exceed the costs.

I was shocked.

If Bryan thinks it’s right to steal from Bill Gates to finance expensive cancer surgery with “a reasonably high chance of saving her life,” then that principle must apply to tens of millions of people who could have their lives saved even more cheaply by being able to get food.

Think of, say, 100 million of the poorest people in India. They could ward off starvation for a year or even two with an extra $1,000. That’s $100 billion, which is enough to wipe out Bill Gates’ net worth, especially after Melinda is done with him.

That seems wrong to me. How few people have to benefit from stealing  from Bill Gates to make it right to steal? 10 million? 1 million? 10?

Working backward, it seems wrong to me for even one poor parent in India to steal from Bill Gates.

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