mindstalk: (atheist)
Last week I went to a reading group for the mis-titled book Communism For Kids, as the book had sounded interesting. I hadn't gotten around to getting or reading it, so naturally I kept quiet most of the time. Plus, even as I heard things I privately objected to, I was the self-described token liberal in a dozen+ socialist/communist/anarchist sympathizers, and the night wasn't about me or my thoughts.

This blog is about me and my thoughts, though! So I'll vent some responses I didn't make then.

First, a meta-note: arguing with socialists has increasingly seemed like arguing with libertarians, in that the perceptions of history and the current world, and the definitions of key terms, differ so widely as to make useful discussion difficult at best.

Also, I've seen a lot of these points in past online discussion too, so I'm kind of responding to a melange of my experiences.

"social democracy has failed": this got stated like an absolute, and accepted by everyone. Like, really? What's the criterion for failure? The richest, freest, and largely most equal countries are all social democracies, broadly speaking. People risk their lives to flee to those countries. They're not perfect: unemployment is often high, immigrant integration often lacking. But they're pretty good, and social democratic policies generally work; a lot of the flaws could be described as not trying hard enough.

Those policies are under attack, and inequality has been increasing again in many countries. One could say it's "failed" in failing to totally resist such attacks. But here, let me list the social systems which have proven their ability to last a long time on a large scale while resisting inequality:
begin list
end list
And if social democracy creeps toward economic inequality again, every attempt so far at large scale socialism has positively raced toward authoritarianism, censorship, and purges.

"capitalism can't solve global warming": Question, is the EPA 'capitalist'? Hear me out: these people were also saying capitalism is a total system, that states created or were taken over by capitalism, that it's pervasively disruptive and corrupting. So, the EPA isn't a corporation or something, but it is an arm of the government of the USA, paragon of capitalism. It has *also* addressed many environmental problems, like cleaning up air and water and protecting endangered species. Under Obama it tried to regulate carbon emissions, and but for some tens of thousands of votes, it would be doing so under Hillary. Capitalist countries agreed to limit CFCs to protect the ozone layer, and are mostly inching toward addressing global warming -- the Paris accord was agreed to by almost every country, almost all of which are capitalist. A strong global state of any variety would be able to tackle global warming far more directly, without the handicap of a disorganized anarchy of countries going "but if we cut back, what if India or the US just pollute more?"

I agree that laissez faire capitalism can't solve global warming. But does 'capitalism' mean that, or does it mean real existing capitalism, with regulators and welfare states and democracy? The usage seemed... fluid.

(Which is something I've seen among libertarians, too: capitalism is either the natural way for things to be such that almost everything is capitalist, or a pure ideal snowflake that evaporates at the first hint of tax, depending on whether they're assigning credit or blame.)

"Markets don't arise, they're created by governments to fund war.": Nnnng. Yes, governments can create markets, or make them work better. Yes, governments had a role in creating or expediting the modern capitalist world, including things like enclosures. But... so what? I infer implications that governments created capitalism out of whole cloth, or that the origin taints capitalism for good.

Whereas I'd say markets often *do* arise spontaneously, in the absence or even opposition of governments; we call the latter "black markets". Often, a medieval government creating a market was about banning/trade market activity elsewhere, concentrating it in one place to it could be taxed. Markets and trade tend to make most things more efficient; centuries ago, the main government expense was waging war, so yes, prudent governments would advance markets and what became capitalism, to wage war, so they could pay for mercenaries or full time soldiers rather than depending on short-term levies.

But you know what? If a government had been using labor levies for education or health care, "you must spend one month a year teaching children", it would have found raising monetary taxes, and paying for full time professionals, to be just as much an improvement for those things as it was for warfare.

"capitalism arose through trade, like with Asia": Begging the question of why this trade didn't cause capitalism in China, the other half of the trade equation... There's a whole murky area of how one even defines capitalism, which would depend on exact quotations to argue about rigorously. I'd just say that markets, contracts, money, and wage labor go back thousands of years, and that early medieval Europe was rather a low point in financialization. Modern capitalism is an intensification of things that have been around for a long time, fueled as much by changes in agriculture (fewer people on the farm) as anything else. You can argue that the change in degree amounts to a change of kind, but it didn't spring into the world out of nothing in 1700.

"Native American societies were communal": North American societies, with small populations, could be described as that. Aztec society had money, merchants, markets, and long distance trade, like any urbanized Eurasian society.

"co-ops can't work in capitalism": I can't believe no one objected with the various co-ops that do exist, including the giant Mondragon group in Spain. The book apparently gave some theoretical example of a co-op in a market society having to lay off workers anyway, and "laying off the thinkers"; in my limited understanding, real co-ops are more likely to cut back on wages and try to keep everyone employed. (In the Great Recession, the capitalist and social democratic government of Germany took similar measures, subsidizing employment to minimize layoffs.) Transparency and democracy make such things more amenable than wage cuts from an employer would be.

Another thing didn't explicitly come up that night, but I've seen elsewhere, is an idea that capitalism is the root of most modern evil, including racism and sexism, that the struggle is between Capital and the Proletariat. But for some major policies I care about, that's not true.

* A useful tool to address global warming is a carbon tax. Capital might object to that, but capital has had to knuckle under to other environmental laws, such as sulfate cap and trade, so capital can clearly lose this kind of fight. And in theory, businesses shouldn't actually care much as long as they're not disadvantaged relative to competitors (so a world state with no foreign trade would have a policy advantage.) But... most US voters are drivers, with no enthusiasm for seeing their gas (or utility) prices go up, and I see that as a far deeper obstacle to good environmental policy. And even some leftists object with "it's regressive", or, I feel, a general suspicion of anything that sounds market-like.

* Top economic issues for the average person are "can I get a job?" and "can I afford housing near my job?" Capital's allergy to Keynesianism is a problem for the first, but on the second, capital is on my side. Unregulated capital, aka "developers", would *love* to provide housing! Possibly substandard firetrap housing that'll kill you in ten years, but it'd put a roof over your head today. And in great quantity: subdividing houses and apartments, building tall buildings, packing 8 people into a house, turning gardens into housing. Why don't they? Because local government makes it illegal to do so, through building codes and zoning laws, backed up by existing homeowners, most of whom are simply better paid members of the proletariat. (Also backed up sometimes by anti-gentrification activists.)

I'm all for genuine safety codes, and such inspections are an example of a way in which governments can 'make' markets: if I can trust that rental housing is safe, I'm more likely to choose it rather than be forced into it. But I'm told that in Somerville, a legal bedroom has to have a closet. Why? That's neither a safety feature, nor one which can be hidden from a prospective tenant. Why can't I choose to pay less for a room that happens to lack a closet? And lots of zoning laws outright restrict housing: single-family zoning, height limitations, minimum space requirements, parking requirements, caps on the number of unrelated people living together... none of that is capitalism's fault, but it's the basic cause of the housing crisis in many cities.

Of course, when I've tried to make that argument, I've been dismissed with "supply and demand doesn't apply to housing". Speaking of giant gaps in understanding that impede communication...
mindstalk: (atheist)
The median wage today is lower than the minimum wage would be if it had kept up with productivity.

"The figure shows the real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) value of the minimum wage, plus what the minimum wage would be if it had kept pace with productivity growth since 1968, as it did for the two decades prior. If the minimum wage had kept up with productivity growth over this period, it would now be $18.67 per hour. That sounds shockingly high—it is two-and-a-half times as high as the current minimum wage and is actually higher than the median wage, which is $16.30 per hour. But it’s important to keep in mind that the primary reason a minimum wage of $18.67 sounds so high today is because the wages of most workers are so low."

"If the median wage had kept pace with productivity growth over the last 40 years, it would now be $28.42 instead of $16.30. "


US stagnation

2015-Feb-10, Tuesday 22:17
mindstalk: (atheist)
2014 article on how the US poor and middle class are falling behind their counterparts in social democracies. Low-tax, low-service policies are bad for almost everyone, who knew?
Assume ellipses between almost all the paragraphs below, I'm excerpting.


"After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago.

A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true.

Median per capita income was $18,700 in the United States in 2010 (which translates to about $75,000 for a family of four after taxes), up 20 percent since 1980 but virtually unchanged since 2000, after adjusting for inflation. The same measure, by comparison, rose about 20 percent in Britain between 2000 and 2010 and 14 percent in the Netherlands. Median income also rose 20 percent in Canada between 2000 and 2010, to the equivalent of $18,700.

But other income surveys, conducted by government agencies, suggest that since 2010 pay in Canada has risen faster than pay in the United States and is now most likely higher. Pay in several European countries has also risen faster since 2010 than it has in the United States.

Americans between the ages of 55 and 65 have literacy, numeracy and technology skills that are above average relative to 55- to 65-year-olds in rest of the industrialized world, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group. Younger Americans, though, are not keeping pace: Those between 16 and 24 rank near the bottom among rich countries, well behind their counterparts in Canada, Australia, Japan and Scandinavia and close to those in Italy and Spain.

Top executives make substantially more money in the United States than in other wealthy countries.

But both opinion surveys and interviews suggest that the public mood in Canada and Northern Europe is less sour than in the United States today.

“The crisis had no effect on our lives,” Jonas Frojelin, 37, a Swedish firefighter, said, referring to the global financial crisis that began in 2007. He lives with his wife, Malin, a nurse, in a seaside town a half-hour drive from Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city.

They each have five weeks of vacation and comprehensive health benefits. They benefited from almost three years of paid leave, between them, after their children, now 3 and 6 years old, were born. Today, the children attend a subsidized child-care center that costs about 3 percent of the Frojelins’ income.

Even with a large welfare state in Sweden, per capita G.D.P. there has grown more quickly than in the United States over almost any extended recent period — a decade, 20 years, 30 years. Sharp increases in the number of college graduates in Sweden, allowing for the growth of high-skill jobs, has played an important role.

And tax records collected by Thomas Piketty and other economists suggest that the United States no longer has the highest average income among the bottom 90 percent of earners.
mindstalk: (atheist)
It's usually said that homicides are the trustworthy crime statistic, since it's hard to hide dead bodies. But the Chicago police department has apparently been cooking the books under Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, reclassifying homicides as "death investigations" and other tricks.

The vox entry links to a longish (not as long as the Chicago magazine one) article by Yglesias in 2003, on the cost of prison. Link and some quotes:

The trouble with prison isn't that it doesn't work; the trouble is that it doesn't work very well but does cost a fortune compared with other ways of reducing crime. Feeding, clothing, housing and guarding a convict for a year costs more than $20,000.
Post-incarceration, shorter sentences can be combined with properly supervised parole programs that replicate the crime-reduction effects of imprisonment at a fraction of the cost. In Texas (Texas!), a system of graduated sanctions for minor parole violations is credited by officials with an 8,000-person reduction in the state's prison population.
The drug business is a business like any other -- if you eliminate a salesman without eliminating the demand, the salesman's boss is just going to hire someone else. Drug treatment, by contrast, actually works because a reformed drug user isn't automatically replaced with a new addict, and treatment programs aimed at consumption reduction are seven times cheaper than prison.
laws like California's famous "three strikes and you're out" rule go "beyond the point of diminishing returns" because even "career criminals have a period of peak performance." Robbery, he explains, is "a crime of the young," with incidence dropping dramatically in the mid-20s and falling to almost nothing as people move through their 30s.
Similarly, doubling sentencing length doubles (or more) corrections expenditures without doubling the deterrent effect on potential offenders. Simply putting a larger proportion of the people who get arrested behind bars is subject to diminishing returns as well, because as long as prosecutors and judges are minimally competent, they'll have made sure that the worst criminals are already locked up. Whether you look at deterrence or incapacitation, beyond a certain point prison stops being cost-effective.
Zimring went so far as to suggest that even a "prison training program to teach robbers how to burglarize unoccupied dwellings" would work better than more prisons as a method of reducing violent crime. That's far-fetched, of course, but it illustrates a larger point: Giving muggers an alternative to mugging is the best way to get them to stop. Even Heritage's Mulhausen concedes that "there's some research that shows that vocational training helps reduce recidivism."
The notion that jobs rather than jails hold the real key to crime reduction isn't just a bleeding-heart liberal fantasy -- it's supported by sound social-science research.
RAND tried that theory out, conducting a study in which students got money as an incentive for staying in school. This, indeed, caused graduation rates to rise, and Greenwood calculates that 250 serious crimes could be averted for every $1 million spent on such incentives -- far more bang for your buck than the prison system offers. [$4000 per crime prevented]
Ten offenders could be subjected to a tough parole regime for the price of putting one man behind bars, and though testing and sanctions sounds harsh compared with freedom, it looks pretty good compared with prison.
mindstalk: (atheist)
Apparently there's been a big yet unheralded decline in homelessness in the US, despite the economy, and both Bush and Obama can take credit: the former for a housing-first policy that aimed at providing permanent housing before treatment, the latter for the stimulus. Also, multiple studies show that between arrests and ER visits, homeless people cost $30-45,000 a year, when it'd be $10-16,000 to house them with case worker support.

Residents of Moore Place collectively visited the emergency room, an
expensive but not uncommon way homeless people access health care, 447
fewer times in the year after getting housing, the study discovered.
Similarly, they spent far less time running afoul of the law, with the
number of arrests dropping 78 percent.
An average permanent supportive housing unit in Osceola County costs
$9,602 per year, which includes $8,244 for rent and utility subsidies
and $1,358 for a case manager (with a case load of 30 clients). In other
words, each supported housing unit costs the county 40 percent less than
what they’re currently paying to put homeless residents in jail.

Power law problems when instead of a bell curve of normality, you have a
few outliers who are most of your problem -- a few really bad LAPD cops,
a few chronically homeless people who cost tens if not hundreds of
thousands of dollars, a few highly smoggy cars. managing the middle
doesn't help: most of the cops don't need mild training, and it doesn't
help the hard cases; you need to just get rid of them. It's cheaper to
simply house the hardcase homeless people and give them case workers.
Annual smog tests are mostly not needed or cheatable, vs. on-road
mindstalk: (Default)
Catching up on a lot of RSS reading...

A longish article on residential hotels, flophouses, and microapartments, and how American homelessness is rooted in the banning of cheap small places to live. Banning which in turn is rooted more in racism (anti-Chinese and other) than in true safety or welfare concerns. Or in classism, or false ideas about disease spread, or in ubiquitous parking requirements (a lot of these homes are *smaller* than the space needed to park a car.)

More )

speaking of meritocracy and anti-Chinese racism, white Americans favor grade and test based college admission until told Asians do better under that
mindstalk: (atheist)
Well, really, I don't think we do, though I do have a friend who would ask "what's so big about freedom anyway?" I'm not sure if he was being Socratic or not.

But I've seen lots of libertarians say we do. I think mostly because those libertarians are rather dogmatic, to put it politely, and view less than 100% support as hatred, vs. the reality of liberals liking freedom but also liking children to get a fair chance in life, even if that means someone having to pay taxes.

Buuut... you know Patric Henry? Founding Father, famous orator, supposedly said "Give me liberty or give me death!"? Know anything else about him? What state or even region he was from? I didn't, until earlier tonight.

I might have heard he was from Virginia, but I didn't usefully know that; I might well have guessed New England. But he was Virginian. A Virginian tobacco planter and slaveowner. Owned several dozens of slaves, in fact. So much for that liberty, eh? To be fair, he did write letters that showed conflict about it, and viewing it as a lamentable evil... but one he couldn't see doing without, and he didn't free his slaves even in his will.

And there's Jefferson, who ended up with more slaves than he started with, and only freed his relatives. Which puts a lie to a conservative claim that he couldn't free his slaves, due to entailment due to debt... And as President, some years after those words about Life and Liberty, he withdrew John Adams's recognition of the ex-slave state of Haiti. Not just a personal weakness, but a systematic orientation toward the cause of slavery.

A while back I read _The Ancien Regime in Europe_, and there was a recurrent theme of centralizing kings being opposed on the grounds of 'liberty!'... that is, the liberties of the aristocracy, starting with not paying taxes.

The end point of all this is that while I'm not sure how big a consideration it really is, there's a fair historical case to be made that the people who *talk* the most about liberty are often the most active in oppressing others themselves. Slaveowners talk about liberty nearly as much as slaves do. Which can created some jaundiced cynicism and suspicion of those who shout about liberty today. It's not perfect, after all slaves do talk about liberty too, but still.

Modern libertarians aren't slaveowners or feudal aristocrats, of course. OTOH, they do often talk about how government distorts markets and causes corruption and rent-seeking... while loudly insisting that today's rich people can't be dispossessed of any of their wealth, despite the logical inference that much of it is ill-gotten gains via government-enable corruption and rent seeking! And they're equally comfortable with people owning tens of billions of dollars -- the lifetime earnings of 10,000 people -- while others go hungry. Not *happy*, they'll talk about charity and such, but no systematic changes. So yeah. It's not owning people outright, but it is shouting loudly about liberty while defending vast de facto class privilege coupled with human misery.

So if liberals don't seem impressed with libertarian arguments about freedom... that might be part of why. Especially when they often hear libertarians talking more about cutting taxes and preventing universal health care rather than about reforming municipal zoning and business restrictions. I.e. talking more about helping those already highly privileged than those more substantially suffering from ill-justified restrictions of freedom. I know some libertarians do talk about those, but you kind of have to go looking for them.

Reducing poverty

2013-May-31, Friday 14:20
mindstalk: (kirin)
Longish article in the Economist in the rapid fall of extreme poverty, from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 1.2 billion today, extreme being living on less than $1.25 a day.

I just note that giving 1.2 billion people $1.25 a day would cost $547 billion a year. Not far off the cost of the US going to war. Compare to global GDP of $71,000 billion nominal, or $83,000 billion PPP. Less than 1% of world income. And giving poor people money seems to be really effective in helping them (shock! surprise!) as you're basically giving capital to the extremely capital-constrained.

mindstalk: (angry sky)
On Facebook, my friendfeed had discussion Oklahoma tornado, with someone asking "why didn't they hide in basements?" and my friend saying "basements don't protect you."

Turns out the actual answer might be "no basements". And no building code requirement for safe shelters in Tornado Alley. Contrast with earthquake codes in California Chile or Japan, and fire codes like everywhere rich enough to have them.

Read more... )
mindstalk: (Default)
"Scott Alexander" is more or less liberal/progressive but likes to "steelman" (the opposite of strawman) opposing ideas; also to try to pass the Ideological Turing Test, of describing such ideas in terms their proponents would recognize. (A task frequently failed by conservatives or libertarians talking about liberals, or liberals talking about libertarians. And probably about conservatives, but I don't have an insider view.) Recently he made a post about Reactionary ideas:

It's interesting, and many of the comments are interesting. Many of the *other* comments are unreconstructed reactionaries of a sort you probably haven't seen in one place before or at all, types who'd make much of the modern Republican party blanch and squirm, at least in public. For my money, Scott did a better job of portraying their ideas attractively than they do; one can read his words and think "wow, there might be something to this, but" and then read their words and go "wow, you're a bunch of morons in denial."

He then did a "rebuttal" http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/03/04/a-thrivesurvive-theory-of-the-political-spectrum/
except it isn't at all a point by point takedown of the ideas he presented first. Instead it's a model where conservative values are adapted to surviving under duress, progressive ones to thriving in safety, and he basically says, though not explicitly enough for some to grasp, "so conservative values might have value somewhere but not in the society we actually live in or the direction we're going in." There's some debate about his definitions and presentation, which you can see in the comments, stuff like "if Athens was more democratic and nicer to slaves but Sparta treated its women much better and was egalitarian among the Spartan male adults, which is more left?"

From the same author, elsewhere, a signaling theory idea of why lots of middle class people seem to vote against their economic interests. Poor peopel vote for benefits, lower middle class opposes them to not be like poor people, upper middle class (who'll never be mistaken for poor) support benefits to be nice or to not be like lower middle class people...


Liberals should be proud of "sewer liberalism", the belief that some things could be provided by markets but are better off as public or regulated utilities. With borderline examples of not just healthcare but basic finance.

"That fault line involves the very nature of the economy itself. If we set aside the nonprofit and household realms, then it is a crude but fair generalization to say that conservatives believe in an economy with two sectors — the market and the government — while liberals believe in an economy with three sectors — the market, the government and the utility sector."

"Liberals, as I have noted, acknowledge the value of competitive markets in addition to the government sector and the utility sector. But the reverse is not true. Free-market conservatives usually do not acknowledge the need for a public utility sector in addition to competitive markets and government. Instead, they tend to equate the very idea of a publicly regulated utility sector of the economy with “socialism.”"


Swiss vote to curb executive pay and banker bonuses, largely by mandating that shareholders actually get to vote. Shows how empty corporate democracy usually is.


Nazi aviatrix http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanna_Reitsch


Oldest written down music http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seikilos_epitaph

"Feminists" who hate prostitutes:
"Indeed, when asked about her justification for the collateral damage
her legislative changes would cause, she suggested that damage to
individual sex workers was a price worth paying for the settlement to be

Luke's life sucked: everyone he'd known for more than a few days was dead. Well, apart from that friend in the Academy and any other Tatooine friends. But 'parents' and Obi-wan? Dead.
mindstalk: (Default)
I kind of think we need better labels to distinguish between moderate libertarians, (e.g. your average Keynesian economist, who, compared to the political norm, would tend to push policies favoring individual freedom and choice and tearing down unwarranted regulation or subsidies, without being allergic to the idea of useful regulation and provision of public goods), and night-watchmen and even more radical libertarians. Some way to say "I care about abolishing limited taxi medallions and hairdresser licenses and stupid (most) zoning" without implying "I want to abolish welfare and go on the gold standard and I think global warming is a hoax".

Alternately I'd be happy with some way of saying "liberal or social democrat who's more hip to economics and reasonably market and choice friendly", which would *also* describe the average Keynesian economist.

I guess most of my readership isn't particularly hip to economics so I should spell things out. Philosophically, being friendly to externality (free rider and public goods) justifications for government actions, while also being friendly to public choice theory warnings about democratic government (domination by special interests, regulatory capture -- really, it's the insight that democratic participation is itself subject to free rider and public goods problems.)

Policy-wise, being skeptical of rent control, zoning, most occupational licensing and even minimum wage, while supporting minimum income or guaranteed employment, certification, and pollution taxes or congestion charges. Instead of "you can't do X on your property", "you can do whatever as long as it doesn't bug the neighbors." Instead of "you must use efficient toilets and lightbulbs", charging appropriately for water and (CO2 generating) power use.

There's no Economist Party. The Democrats are too quick to leap to protectionism or specific regulation, the Republicans too plutocratic, the Libertarians too blind to market failure.

ETA: I'm reminded that with the space of a possible Economist Party, I'd still be way to the left, supporting regular job programs and free college and public art in public spaces and buildings, and strong progressive income and estate tax on top of land tax. Vs. the guy who supports job programs only in liquidity traps (like, now) and vouchers up to high school and screw the art and try to function only on land value and resource tax. But we'd both support universal health care and low barriers to market entry. Social Economist vs., I dunno.

The fun bit is that libertarian maestro Hayek has his social side, with text support social insurance and even back income. For that matter, even Rothbard granted that someone, somewhere -- maybe Latin America -- could use some redistributive land reform. Their followers tend to ignore these bits.

World labor day

2012-May-01, Tuesday 22:46
mindstalk: (atheist)

Billy Bragg's Internationale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk69e1Vcmvg

Productivity growth and wage stagnation http://www.epi.org/publication/ib330-productivity-vs-compensation/

[ "the government of Prime Minister John Sparrow David Thompson declared in 1894 the first Monday in September as Canada's official Labour Day." After Cleveland in 1887 for the US. *cough cough* independent country ]
mindstalk: (thoughtful)
Building on a comment:

I think I remember Milton Friedman saying in Capitalism and Freedom that it was a lucky coincidence that the path of freedom was also the path of greatest prosperity, but that he would advocate freedom even if it wasn't most prosperous. (This in 1963, when lots of people still worried about the competitive powers of Communism.) I was impressed by this statement of principle, back when I was 14.

These days, with more age and cynicism, I note it's cheap to make a stand on principle when you think it pays off the best anyway, and that very few people actually advocate a system they think makes things worse off in a way they care about. (E.g. some liberals might grant that social justice measures slow GDP growth, but not think that's very important.) Almost everyone's an implicit consequentialist, invoking good consequences as fall-back to defend a system they primarily defend for reasons of deontology (morality) or tradition or authority or self-interest or something. Perhaps out of instinct, perhaps because it's the only way to reach someone who doesn't share one's deontology, tradition, etc.

Of course, that opens the door to intellectual dishonesty and corruption, if it turns out the consequences of something one is already committed to believing in aren't in fact optimal. Easier to deny the evidence than to actually admit inferiority but believe anyway or to admit error and change one's mind.

Which suggests to me that the people who are have the least amount of principles or axioms, and the most commitment to consequentialism for its own sake, are most likely to have an accurate view of consequences.

And these days I think that's what the US calls liberals, or at least a subset of them. Libertarians have the non-aggression principle (deontology); some conservatives at their best have reverence for tradition as a living and gradually evolving thing; other conservatives have straight religious authority deference, or deference to the rich, or the self-interest of the rich; the far lefts [sic plural] I don't know well enough to talk about much really, but it seems like a mix of deontologies and authorities and 'theory', depending.

Whereas at least in my case, the switch from libertarianism to liberalism/social democracy was all about a switch from moral principle and theory being primary to empiricism being primary. "You know, Sweden just seems like a nice place to live." It's less true that I have different axioms now than it is that I don't think axiomatically nearly as much. And even when I think I do -- "torture's just *wrong*" -- I'm not sure I really do, e.g. in the face of evidence of torture really really working for interrogation or criminal rehabilitation.

Which on the one hand means I'm on shifting moral quicksand and on the other means I (speaking for my kind of liberal vs. other political positions) have a reason to think I have among the clearest views of reality, with the least amount of cognitive bias. On most if not all issues, if there were a sudden surge of evidence against me there's not a lot of ideology compelling me to reject it as threatening to my entire world view, the way accepting anthropogenic global warming is threatening to anyone ideologically committed to small or non-existent government.
mindstalk: (atheist)
Note, not a wealth tax, though one could use one to approximate this, but a cap, an attitude that "enough is enough for one person, we're not acknowledging ownership of any more". You can imagine a hard cap, a progressive wealth tax that strongly discourages further accumulation, or some other mechanism, whatever makes you most comfortable.

Numbers for context:

  • Average American worker income of about $40,000. (Mean per capita is $46,000, median is rather less, workers have some advantage.)
  • Lifetime earnings of such a worker: $2 million over 50 years, ignoring taxes or living expenses.
  • One estimate for total US wealth: $60 trillion. Which leads to about $200,000 per capita.
  • Income of hard-working and highly-skilled people who provide services on a direct basis, like doctors and lawyers: around $200,000 I think? $400,000, 10x average, is probably a good approximation.
  • GDP of the US: about $14 trillion
  • Federal budget: about $3 trillion
  • Income you can get from having lots of money: 1% over inflation if you play it safe, up to 7% with diversification and risk. I'll tend to use 1-3%.

    [Poll #1775671]

    $40 billion: I seem to recall when Bill Gates having $10 billion was freakish and unique. Now this is the working megabillionaire level: Gates, Buffett, Soros, Walton. Actually Wal-Mart has produced multiple kids who *inherited* $20 billion. The average worker has to work 1 million years to get this level. You can probably get $1 billion a year in fairly safe interest. You can own and run a small town of 10,000-70,000 servants.

    $400 million: If you had 100x the average income, and worked for 100 years, you'd get this. Safest interest is twice the average lifetime earnings. You can have 100 full-time servants, or a handful of high-end lawyers and doctors who exist to attend to your every fart. Note this is only 1% of the megabillionaire level, who can spin this off as interest. This is my upper bound for a cap; it still feels obscene, but if one grants a need for high end incentives, I can't see more than this being useful. Nor see this cap as hurting society.

    $4 million: 20x the average wealth. One could argue that having a lifetime's earnings to play with all at once, and the ability to earn average income without working, is reward enough, and wanting more is filthy greed. Probably low enough to be noticeable in effect though, changing urban property value and distribution.
  • mindstalk: (atheist)
    So, my parents were liberal, or leftist, and I grew up for a bit as liberal/Democratic by default. Then I veered Libertarian, corrupted by science fiction. Eventually I've worked my way back to liberal, or social democrat, with views on parts to the port. This has me wondering tonight if I've in fact overshot my parents', and I really don't know: while I know my parents' views on civil rights, and Israel, and Keynes, and a welfare state, I don't about anything more radical. An econ department once considered hiring my father as their "token Commie", but that could just mean being Keynesian. Though I think he did like Galbraith.

    Then I realized that for their youth, civil rights for women and blacks and gays were live issues. Problems of who should own what were perhaps secondary to wives being able to own anything, or get divorce or abortions, and of blacks being able to vote and live. Universities had strongly anti-Semitic quotas. Gay behavior was typically a crime. On a lot of issues, 60s radicalism is the status quo of today even for Republicans.

    But... the radicalism of then *is* the status quo of today. We live in a world where gays are marching toward full marriage rights. The civil rights war isn't *over*: there's securing those rights, and for transsexuals, and the decent treatment of prisoners, and the war on some drugs, and gays and women in the military, and perennial attacks on free speech or privacy, and convincing people that Muslims aren't terrorists and atheists can be good people and trans shouldn't be beaten up or killed. But in a real sense, the war seems to be mostly over, at least on the scale my parents lived with. All major groups of society have at least the legal rights to vote and run for office and be openly identified as themselves; there's work to be done, but on finer and finer rights, and for smaller and smaller groups.

    Which makes me think that economic justice should be the next Great Work. Okay, environmental sustainability as well, but there's room for unifying them. Alas, ObamaCare notwithstanding, we see much chipping away worldwide at welfare states and practical rights to education, and increasing enclosures of "intellectual property", and the various social democratic parties seem little more on the ball than the Democratic party.

    Oh hey, I'm by my phone, I can mention the books I saw in the store. The Spirit Level, and Injustice.

    "The Next Great Work" is rather optimistic and presumptuous, really; the battle over who owns what and why, and who has to work for whom and why, has been going on for millennia. But still, time to get back to work. *And*, a lot of the remaining non-legal or partly-legal but practical civil rights issues, like having fair access to lawyers, and the right to be a prostitute without harassment or not a prostitute at all, or the opportunities offered blacks, are I think unifiable at a broad social level, rather than a bunch of independent problems. In the words of Will Shetterly, if I understand him right, at this point classism *is* more important than racism.
    mindstalk: (angry sky)
    * West Virginia voting machines switch votes for Obama to votes for McCain.

    * GOP mailing has Obama's face -- and watermelons -- on fake food stamps.

    * A WSJ editorial warns about the possible consequences of Obama victory. Free speech and voting rights. A liberal supermajority would move quickly to impose procedural advantages that could cement Democratic rule for years to come. One early effort would be national, election-day voter registration. This is a long-time goal of Acorn and others on the "community organizer" left and would make it far easier to stack the voter rolls. The District of Columbia would also get votes in Congress -- Democratic, naturally There's your threat to America, people: easier voter registration and more taxpayers getting represented (remember the Revolution?) Also the horrors of a cap-and-trade pollution regime (the WSJ defends the right to pollute?) and affordable health care.

    An RPG.net poster said: "The Republican dream: a higher standard of living. The Republican nightmare: a higher standard of living for everyone."

    * GOP challenging voter registrations, with a high rate of false flagging.

    Other items )
    mindstalk: (kirin)
    In an RPG.net discussion, I asserted that liberalism (and AFAIK conservatism, but I didn't feel up to speaking for them) had no equivalent to Marx for Communists or Ayn Rand for Objectivists. There are various theories and theorists, certainly, but they don't have the same central importance. Someone suggested John Rawls; having read part of A Theory of Justice I disagreed; it's a nice exercise, but ultimately a big rationalization (and I say that as a social contract fan), not far off in principle but the whole abstraction of it bleeds away the relevance for me. I don't remember if someone suggested John Stuart Mill.

    I'd still say we lack a central book or dogmatist, perhaps partly because liberalism permeates our culture so much we imbibe the ideas, but also because of the pragmatic nature and content of the ideas. But this article in the New Yorker makes me think John Stuart Mill deserves such a place if anyone does: "always right" by our standards, relatively early, and influential to boot.

    quotes )


    On the American Civil War )

    The blockade making the difference between Union loss and victory isn't an idea I'm familiar with. Presumably Gopnik just means the South would have gotten its independence but even so, could food an arms shipments outweigh the inferiority in population, industry, and railroads?
    mindstalk: (Default)
    Russell Blackford on what it means to be a liberal society, and how the response to the prospect of human cloning shows how fragile ours are.