Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Two Very Different Excuses for Government Intervention

Although I have a new book published today, let's put that aside, for what I feel is a vital topic. A way to put all of our "left-right" political wranglings into a much, much deeper and more calmly mature perspective. Get ready for some basics underlying it all.

Largely unspoken, amid hand-wringing over Donald Trump’s potential Republican nomination, is a scenario that could deeply discomfit GOP elders. Oh, Trump would battle Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders hard. But at some point in the summer and autumn debates, he is almost certain to say: “Of course the rich pay too little tax!” 

Moreover, with both nominees agreeing, on live TV, that needle would shift, hard. With almost a consensus sigh, Supply Side will be finished, precipitating the first of several convergences of left- and right- populisms.

At one level, this is only to be expected. Today’s American uber-rich are now paying their lowest averaged rate since income taxes began. The latest budget bill, passed by this GOP Congress, sweetened the deal even more, helping accelerate, as economist Robert Samuelson wrote the "hollowing out of the middle class."

And yet, the public rightfully frets over “interventions” to level the playing field. Government is inherently worrisome and “leveling” strikes a dissonant chord to American ears. We can argue over ways and means to improve both fairness and competitiveness. But is there a fundamental metric to differentiate among our options?

Two kinds of “meddling”

Americans have a tendency to differentiate between government interventions that increase opportunity versus interventions that aim at fairness in outcomes.

Step back a bit. Most of us fret about fairness to some degree. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and others have shown that human moral reasoning has an innate modularity divided into: Care, Fairness, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, and Purity.

Progressives tend to stress the first two: Care and Fairness. 

Libertarians stress Liberty and Fairness, while conservatives stress all six more equally. Brain function scans show, for example, that conservatives tend to have a stronger sense of visceral revulsion to things they find distasteful (impurity), hence judging them morally, and we all know their stronger fealty towards authority. However, regardless of partisanship, all three groups overlap with a clear moral concern about fairness.

So, now let’s go back to why people differ between fairness of opportunity or of outcomes.

Types of fairness

The latter of these two – aiming to flatten or level economic results or wealth - would strike some as a "European thing." Which is, of course, ironic since oligarchy has always been (and in many ways remains) far more embedded in European life than in North America.


Even when well-motivated, outcomes-leveling can become a calcified, meddlesome process, providing sinecures for paternalistic bureaucrats. It can also - as bruited by conservatives and libertarians - foster dependency. 

Outcomes-equalization puts negative pressure on what Americans feel are positive sum games that, in order to function well, must remain competitive and thus have winners. Viscerally, they feel it undermines ambition, encouraging laziness and whining. We have all heard this story told, often in its nastier-prejudiced forms. And yet, there is some sound, underlying basis. 

Our spectacular successes - which created the wealth enabling us to do many good deeds - arose from positive sum competitive arenas: markets, democracy, science, courts, sports, and now, crudely, the Internet. These all require some degree of inequality of outcomes in order to spur creative vigor.

At one scale or another (subject to fierce argument) outcomes-intervention by the state could stifle these arenas. Americans tend to set the boundary farther to the "right" in that demands for government outcomes-intervention should face a burden of proof. 

Now mind-you, very few of my fellow citizens would express it in the way I just did, using five dollar words, game theory and such. Still, it is important to recognize this underlying motif of American sensibility. Some might attribute it to the long Frontier Experience, or to the “American founder” who never actually visited the continent, Adam Smith. There is a sense that equalizing outcomes is a self-defeating process that could kill the golden egg-laying goose – a reflex that has been manipulated skillfully by right-wing media.

To be honest, I share all of these reservations! Surprised? Given my denunciations of the madness that has taken over U.S. conservatism? And indeed, my harsh critiques of today's version of libertarianism? Well, there is a simple explanation. It arises when you look at the other modern approach to bringing economic fairness.

Opportunity

Things are very different when it comes to opportunity-equalization. 

Even most Americans see real value there, voting repeatedly over two centuries to build highways and schools that can be used by all, subsidizing research shared by all, expanding rights protection (albeit far too gradually) to all races and genders, and building the finest universities on the planet. To the extent that we have been failing in this mission -- e.g. the horrendous student loan scandal, and allowing even a single American child to lack nutrition and health care -- I tend leftward, just as I tend rightward regarding outcomes equalization.

In this disparity, I think most of my countrymen would agree, if only the choice were put to them plainly, as I just did here. Moreover, the distinction was made very clear as long ago as 1776, with publication of Adam Smith's founding document of western society, The Wealth of Nations, wherein he asserts that the state should take actions to increase the number of skilled and confident competitors, in order to stimulate a vibrantly competitive and creative capitalism. Investing in infrastructure and schools and sanitation would - Smith avowed - allow more children to rise up and participate in vibrant markets for goods, services and labor. 


The economist-idol who has been quasi-deified by the American Right - Friedrich Hayek - in fact said pretty much the same thing! Hayek deemed valid those taxpayer supported interventions that will clearly increase the number and fraction of citizens who are skilled and confident market participants. A fact that is now repressed by today's self-described "Hayekians."

(Indeed, to be even more ironic, this is an area of agreement between Hayek and Karl Marx.)

When a state action aims to address a clear and blatant disparity of opportunity - an inequality that limits the supply of new, capable competitors - then the burden of proof must fall upon those who object to the intervention.  The default should be to intervene in favor of opportunity, until challengers show that the problem can be eliminated by non-governmental means. Feed these children now! Save those bridges now! Improve schools now! Then show us how state programs can wither away.


The burden of proof shifts when it comes to outcome equalization, or leveling of wealth and income. Because we know that some substantial disparity in outcomes is necessary, as an incentive, in order for our competitive arenas (markets, democracy, science, etc.) to work at all. We also know that outcomes equalization - if taken too far - could lead to tyrannical horrors as awful as any conceived by Orwell. 

In illustration, let me cite Kurt Vonnegut's wonderfully chilling short story "Harrison Bergeron" which portrays a future in which the Handicapper General of the United States rigorously enforces actual equality of outcomes.  Ayn Rand's "Anthem" also portrays this extremum, though turgidly preachy and unrealistic.

Sure, make some outcomes more equal


 
Am I excluding all outcomes equalization, by demanding that they bear burden of proof? Not at all. Such burdens can be met! Those competitive arenas I mentioned do not maintain themselves. If we can glean one truth from six thousand years of varied human societies, it is that they will always tumble into oligarchic cheating and feudalism, unless kept in tune by careful regulation. Over time, wealth disparities always widen till they become outrageous, warping both politics and markets.

Clearly that has already happened in America and the world, when 62 near-trillionaires own as much wealth as humanity's entire bottom half. Conservative economist George Cooper reaches the same conclusion from a different direction in his recent Evonomics article “Piketty Debate Exposed The Failure of Economics. 5 Steps to Fix It.” Cooper shows that our civilization must continue a “circulation” pattern of government actions to stimulate the bottom while capitalist processes feed the top.


Up to this point my aim has been to make clear a dichotomy of twin generalities. And while in general, opportunity-levelers get benefit of the doubt, outcomes-levelers bear the onus to show clearly why it is necessary to reduce this or that caste's economic gains.

 That onus may be easy to satisfy, right now! Indeed, I deem it to be blatantly so. Still, it should still be kept clearly in mind, lest we tumble into the nightmare worlds -- the leveling extrema -- of "Harrison Bergeron," or even "Anthem."

It gets complicated

Now, these two notions - equalization of opportunity vs. outcome - do overlap!  When a competitor fails in the marketplace of labor or business, there should be a limit to how low they are allowed to fall. This wonderful civilization is not, as Tennyson put it, “Nature, red in tooth and claw.” We have a better version of creative competition than Nature, more cognizant and less wasteful. In a market, or in elections, or in science, this year's loser might come roaring back next year, with improved products, policies or data. Second and third chances come under opportunity enhancement, though the major effort must be yours.

The most controversial overlap comes in wealth redistribution, which certainly sounds like outcome equalization! But, as Gershwin reminds us, it ain't necessarily so
Let's go back to that earlier point and restate what is blatantly obvious, yet utterly ignored by mavens of the right. The worst destructive force that ruined flat-fair-open-creative markets and suppressed equality of opportunity across 60 centuries was inherited oligarchy and feudal overlordship. That was the normal system in most large-scale human societies. Feudal inherited oligarchy was the system of cheating despised by Adam Smith.

Indeed, partly influenced by Smith, the American Founders, in the 1780s, seized up to a third of the land in the former colonies, owned by aristocratic families, and sold or redistributed it to make the playing field more level. States also banned primogeniture and fiercely enforced equal inheritance so that rich family fortunes would break up among many heirs. The Founders' economic meddling and redistribution was thus vastly greater than ever attempted later, by either Roosevelt!

Today's inheritance tax has similar (if much smaller) effects, incentivizing wealthy families to create charitable foundations, rather than let the feds get their clutches on it. In practice, this limits the likely creation of neo-feudal castes, made up of kids who never produced any goods or services or earned the wealth and power they would then exert over the rest. And yes, a progressive income tax helped to foster the sense of general, middle class justice that today’s conservatives ironically yearn for, in the 1950s.

Wealth redistribution is thus a tricky middle ground. Equalization of opportunity (and maximization of competitive creativity) is impossible without some. On the other hand, some inequality of outcomes is absolutely required in order to maintain the kinds of incentives that spur creative people to take risks and develop great new things.  

This is one more area in which we need to again be a people capable of thoughtful negotiation and pragmatic compromise. But always bearing in mind what is fundamental: the incentive of some wealth-disparity is a necessary fuel to propel our competitive arenas to maximum effort. But those creative arenas will seize-up and grind to a halt, unless lubricated by maximized opportunity for all children -- all of them -- to confidently participate.

If we fail to enhance opportunity, we’re guaranteed to regret the outcome.

=========

Addendum: Here’s a cantankerously different take on the plusses and minuses of contemporary libertarianism and other oversimplifying dogmas: Models, Maps and Visions of Tomorrow. 

This article is reprinted from Evonomics



115 comments:

Robert said...

In regards to the fairest method of income equalization which helps prevent the creation of oligarchies (ie, death/inheritance taxes), there is a very simple solution to this.

The first two million dollars of an inheritance are not taxed. Now let's take this to the next level.

Privately-owned businesses can avoid being split up via inheritance taxes by splitting ownership among those who inherit shares. This includes shares of a business being split among the employees - thus you could have a large company that has several million-dollar shares for direct heirs, and then the rest split among the employees. The employees can sell those shares if they so desire... and would otherwise get a yearly bonus in the form of net profits. And yes, they'd pay tax on that bonus.

Employees could sell those shares, naturally enough... and if an heir already has a bit of money from their own efforts, that heir could try to buy out employee shares to regain control of a company.

And a business owner can always just cede ownership of the company over to their workers instead of letting any of their children or other relatives inherit the company. Split into small enough shares, no inheritance tax would be paid at all. The company remains in that case without having to sell it off to afford the inheritance tax.

Rob H.

Robert said...

And now onto a bit of science.

Pluto has weather, snow, clouds, and now it appears seasonal lakes and rivers.

It is clear that the definition of dwarf planet is forcing us to reappraise the solar system.

Thus given we have a pair of comets flying past the Earth's orbit which could very well have smacked into us if they were slightly further back in their orbit (though they'd not have caused any extinction-related events), and seeing that the Earth has rivers, clouds, weather, lakes, and so forth...

It is clear Earth and indeed every planet of the Inner Solar System is a Dwarf Planet.

Either that, or we're going to have to reclassify Pluto as a planet again, because it is definitely a different body than Ceres, the closest dwarf planet we've investigated. It has an atmosphere, it has weather, snow, geological features (even if they're comprised of materials that would be liquids or gases on Earth), and other aspects that very likely differentiate it from the vast majority of Kuiper Belt objects.

Rob H.

bs said...

Can you cite your quote from Hayek? I have read some of his work, but never the piece you allude to. Great article btw!

donzelion said...

Of all the takes on justice, the most accessible I've come across is that offered by Michael Sandel - who takes on each conceptualization of justice and quite effectively presents defects and problems fundamental to that approach. His series is available free on YouTube, and is an exemplary presentation of problems in each system and theory, save some very novel theories of justice which have yet to be challenged quite so clearly:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBdfcR-8hEY&list=PL30C13C91CFFEFEA6

Anyone who wishes to discuss justice seriously, and "what, if anything, the government ought to do" would benefit from spending a few hours following the series (or reading his book on justice) to get the lay of the land and explore the insanities carefully hidden within each of the modern stories of justice (including all notions derived from 'fairness'). Once one does, one will realize why Adam Smith eschewed publishing his unfinished treatise in this field.

Towards the end of the series, Sandel explores a relatively novel formulation of "justice as stories we tell ourselves" - stories typically fixating upon solidarity (following Alasdair MacIntyre's views). We live our lives as "narrative quests" - including a quest to convert ancient formulations no longer accepted in their entirety into heroic accounts that are adapted (and converted) to our modernity. Worth consideration, esp. for anyone who wishes to contribute a new understanding.

In that light, Dr. Brin's "feudalism narrative" is very much an expression of an intriguing attempt to reshape concepts of wealth, creativity, and struggle. A worthy endeavor.

Anonymous said...

The Konservative Konfederates do not long for the 1950's because of the economic growth so much as they miss the bigotry and Red-Scare fear-mongering that gave them power. They have convinced themselves and the "angry white man radio" listeners that a dollar in the hands of a black man is a dollar taken out of a white man's deserving hands. If Trump manages to disassociate the white supremacy that motivates the Konfederate base from the regressive taxation favored by the GOP donor class, then the idiocy of supply-side economics will not be the only victim; the whole Confederate house of cards may crumble as a result.

As a thought experiment, imagine if an emergent AI tore through the finance and banking databases, making changes that redistributed all the world's digital wealth equally among the total human race. Then (for the sake of the experiment) the AI disappeared/transcended after this one time massive act of redistribution. What would the consequences be? Would the lack of concentrated wealth dry up investment in science and technology? Would the nearly $20k (just my guess) in every man, woman and child's pockets spur the same investment via crowd sourcing? SOunds like a fun story idea. Cyber-Marxists Unite!

-AtomicZeppelinMan

Robert said...

The governments of the world would declare it an act of economic terrorism and close all those accounts. They would use backups and paper trails to restore the money to its "rightful" owners while the poor and middle class (who lack money trails and lawyers) lose everything.

If the AI stuck around and enforced this new system for a couple of years, and had control over computerized military equipment, then you might see it stick.

Rob H.

Eric said...

How can you provide fairness of opportunity for children without providing some degree of fairness of outcome for their parents?

David Brin said...

Eric, try actually reading the essay.

AZM - That is why I would start with total transparency of ownership. Let all the world's billions see EXACTLY who owns what. Then let existing political systems handle most subsequent adjustment.

Eric said...

David, read it. How is this possible without economic redistribution sufficient to ensure that no one - no one, no matter how profligate - lives in poverty? " maximized opportunity for all children -- all of them -- to confidently participate."

Robert said...

Given our previous discussion concerning longevity research and the social implications of immortality, I thought I might suggest taking a look at the webcomic Schlock Mercenary. Over the last couple of years, one character (Schlock) has actually died and been restored from a previous template (though lacking memories from after the "backup"), and more recently longevity research came to fruition for the societies in the comic.

To be honest, the comic has been hinting at immortality for a while - characters have had their bodies regenerated from just the head. The immortality research that has most recently happened lie with restoring memories stored in skin cells and other parts of the brain, allowing for the restoration of a mostly-viable human who had lost (literally) their head. One character recently restored was told she had probably lost 1% of her memories, and she was dwelling on that and whether the fuzziness of her memories of one person was due to being brought back. (Schlock told her "no, it's because you're old!" though old in her case probably means 40s or 50s.)

More interestingly is the fact the comic looked at military aspects of this - using longevity methods as a trojan horse for military nanites which could transform a person into a weapon... with their mind overwritten by a black ops agent. This actually happens multiple times (one time to hundreds of individuals at once) and is one of the darker aspects of the comic.

The current storyline involves the restoration of an alien who has been dead for millions of years... and that alien's concerns over the Fermi Paradox. This is kind of ironic seeing the SM galaxy has dozens of spacefaring races... but the alien's race existed for a long time, had found the ruins of past civilizations, and built a massive space station hidden at the edge of the galaxy just in case there was something hunting sentients. Given the station AI had gone nuts and was busy destroying any gravitation-based technologies in the area when the SM crew showed up, but wasn't sure WHY, it seems likely that something did wipe out that alien species.

Anyway, the more recent storylines are well worth checking out, and do have some interesting nods toward immortality, longevity research, and the implications of these technologies on a galactic scale.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Rob H I love Schlock Mercenary and gave an intro to one of the collections!

Eric, your question implies zero sum thinking and that explains why you seem not to have even-glancingly comprehended my article. In this case, zero-sum implies that you believe no child can be lifted up to unleash her competitive potential unless all children of the rich are brought low.

Zero-sum is a powerful brain attractor state and we here have found that many otherwise intelligent persons are simply incapable of grasping the notion of positive sum games, despite the fact that we are now conversing in comfort via godlike modalities that were brought to us by positive sum processes such as open-fair-competitive-creative markets and science and democracy etc.

I do not say any of this in order to put you down. But I went to great lengths to explain that opportunity does not require that all children be brought to the same level. An impossible goal. The vast number of lower middle class kids who have excelled and triumphed shows that there is a takeoff level - good nutrition and health/sanitation/ schools - at which those kids with brains and gumption can thereupon make a lot of their own dreams come true. Our job is to make sure that happens for EVERY child.

And secondarily to make sure the kids of the aristocracy do not slip into becoming (again) lords.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Zero-sum is a powerful brain attractor state and we here have found that many otherwise intelligent persons are simply incapable of grasping the notion of positive sum games, despite the fact that we are now conversing in comfort via godlike modalities that were brought to us by positive sum processes such as open-fair-competitive-creative markets and science and democracy etc.


Ayn Rand is the epitome of what you are describing. In her philosophy, if Bill Gates (for example) creates a new modality that potentially improves everyone's life, every metaphorical penny of the additional value belongs to him alone. That's the only way it can work on a gold standard (which she is also a fanatic about)--for Bill Gates to become a billionaire, a billion dollars worth of value has to be taken out of the rest of the economy. Sure, it gets there by people paying Bill for his product, but it's beyond that. She would insist that those customers be charged sufficient funds to offset whatever value their lives have been improved by. After all, they didn't invent Microsoft, so why should they receive any net benefit?

Which begs the question, what would they be paying Bill Gates for if the transaction had to be a net-zero one for them?

Instead of "a rising tide lifts all boats", which even St. Reagan believed in, you get "The owners of those boats owe rent to the owner of the tide."

locumranch said...



This post of David's is extremely tight & well-written and I agree almost completely, except for three minor details, the first detail being EQUITY, the second being EXCESS and the third being MERCY.

Firstly, EQUITY (defined as 'the state of being impartial, just or fair') is incompatible with PARTIALLY (aka 'a state of favour, prejudice, bias, predilection or privilege'), insomuch that one cannot extend favour, privilege & prejudice unilaterally while simultaneously maintaining a state of equity & impartiality.

Secondly, there are only two approaches to EQUITY, Equality & Leveling in an unequal world, the first being the energy-intensive Positive Sum approach of 'Lifting-Up the Low' (which requires EXCESS energy input into the system) & the second being the energy-efficient Harrison Bergeron approach of 'Pulling-Down the High' (which liberates excess energy from the system), as approaches that require EXCESS energy input can be said to be synonymous with WASTE when compared to those which yield additional energy.

As a case in point, we could achieve 'Housing Equity' by Positive-Sum or Zero-Sum approach: In the case of the Positive-Sum approach, we could build every homeless person a 3-level McMansion live in (which would require a huge investment of excess resources) OR, in the case of a Zero-Sum approach, we could eliminate homelessness by forcing everyone to live identical 100 square-foot efficiency apartments (which would eliminate both homelessness & WASTE in a very efficient manner). Which approach, then, would be the most reasonable, rational & 'scientific' one to pursue?

Thirdly, there can be NEITHER EQUITY NOR JUSTICE in the presence of MERCY (defined as 'compassion, kindness & favour) because this is just another euphemism for the same kind of PARTIALITY that enables (1) Society to protect the Fair Gender's interests at the expense of the coarser (male) other, (2) the Justice System to prefer & punish one race, ethnicity & religion over another, and (3) the Wealthy Classes to show kindness, favoritism & unfair advantage to their offspring through an Inherited Oligarchy,

Either we have EQUITY & JUSTICE or we do not: It cannot be created by the selective application of PARTIALITY, prejudice, bias, favoritism, kindness, compassion or mercy. If it can be said to exist at all, then it must be ruthlessly enforced in the most 'equitable', impartial & ruthless manner.

The same could be said for EXCESS versus Efficiency: Either we shepherd our energy resources well or we WASTE them through the irrational promotion of privilege, prejudice, partiality & the so-called 'Positive-Sum' Mentality which allows us to thieve Energy & Resources from our children (ourselves) in a 'Win-Win' fashion (at least) until that particular debt comes due.


Best
_____
Mourn for the EU & ourselves for as it leads, then we must follow

Robert said...

Rob H I love Schlock Mercenary and gave an intro to one of the collections!

Which only goes to prove you are a man of good taste and intelligence. ;)

I need to start purchasing those collections. Thing is, I tend to pick up webcomic collections at conventions, and I've not seen him at a convention since a little tiny scifi convention in New Hampshire over a decade ago. ^^;;

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

Since this essay is focused on excuses for government intervention, I think it is important to go beyond what the methods are (equality of opportunity, equality of outcomes) and include the moral justifications for WHY we intervene. As an example of this, consider a question Hayek asked in ‘The Constitution of Liberty’. Why do we think it good to defend the liberty of another? Many of us can offer moral ideals saying we should, but Hayek was trying to get at the benefit for doing so. His answer wasn’t all that different from Smith’s assertion that we should increase the number of skilled and confident competitors in the market. Hayek asserted that defending the liberty of another protected their ability to make use of personal knowledge to guide their own actions. Defending the liberty of all, therefore, is an optimization for making maximal use of distributed knowledge in our markets. Combine that with Smith and you get an increase in the number of skilled and confident competitors using everything they believe they know.

An analogous question goes like this. Why should we intervene in an unequal outcome or an unequal opportunity? What benefit is there to us that provides for the moral motivation? We can argue about wanting to prevent children from starving, bridges from falling down, and schools from producing yet another generation incapable of competing in our markets. Doing so, though, focuses on what we hope to fix and not on the benefit to us. So what if a bridge falls down? Maybe we have too many of them. So what if many of us exit schools trained to be worker bees? Don’t we need a lot of them? As for starving children… well… I can’t bring myself to defend such an argument even if I’m only doing it for the sake of a demonstration. Personally, I’m all for making sure children are fed, bridges don’t fall, and schools produce competent adults ready for modern markets. I really AM for all that, but what benefit is there to us in this? Why should we intervene?

Hayek turned that question around a bit and looked at when we intervened and asked which interventions appeared to work successfully. If one can know the difference between success and failure, one can get at an answer to why we wanted to intervene in the first place. His assertion was that we intervene to correct a moral failure. Since our moral codes are NOT matters of legislation UNTIL a large number of us agree on them and we have to write rules to deal with outlier members of the community, there is NO WAY to predict these interventions ex ante. Moral law emerges from consensus behaviors of a community. AFTER we decide a particular behavior is immoral, we can intervene in a market with regulation. We can flatten outcomes. We can level opportunities. When we do this from consensus, the regulations tend to stick and outliers are dealt with harshly. If this is plausibly true, one can ask about interventions that don’t work and ask why. Do so and one will find many examples of attempts to predict immoral behaviors before they happen and many other attempts where consensus did not exist.

So for all who want to intervene, whether it is in outcomes or opportunities, I argue you ALL have a burden of proof. Show me the existing immoral behavior you want to fix AND show me the consensus that gives your moral outrage the force of law.

David Brin said...

It truly is an amazing illustration of the central psychological-political problem of our time. At his most-cogent (and he is, today) Locum bases his most eloquent (and he is, today) analysis entirely upon zero sum thinking.
Take: “the energy-intensive Positive Sum approach of 'Lifting-Up the Low' (which requires EXCESS energy input into the system)” which shows that he uses such terminology without a scintilla of a clue what they actually mean.

The very concept of “positive sum” is about enabling positives to align and combine their effects, while negatives cancel each other… exactly what happens when several companies get to use each others’ innovations and then compete with products that are vastly more than linearly improved. This kind of optimization does not violate entropy etc. It simply wastes far less than previous societies.

Given that providing the basics for all children — nutrition, health infrastructure, education — releases nearly all of them to be more productive and a large fraction of them to excel competitively, locum’s assertion is meaningless. The investment in schools, food, sanitation are repaid hundreds of times over. Such investments are not endothermic but (past an activation level) exothermic.

Notice in his 4th para the false dichotomy. Could even he, looking at those two choices, possibly step back and ponder “um duh. There’s more than just these two”? How about forcing the rich to move from 200 room mansions to 25-room mansions so that all poor kids can have a modest, clean little safe room to eat nice snacks while doing homework?

I would ponder that we are dealing with an alien mind here (and hence my fascination), except that the truth is more frightening. That this way of thinking via incantation is actually far more typical of our species going back many centuries and more.

David Brin said...


Our next First Lady? yipe!  When he loses, sci fi authors will have a field day with parallel universes.
http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/donald-trump-melania-trump-knauss-first-lady-erections

Jumper said...

I was looking for any commentary by Vonnegut on that story. All I found was this:
http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/may/05/vonnegut_lawyers_could/

There used to be a common story or meme that went like this: If you took all the money and divided it up equally, soon the rich would have most of it just like before.
So far as i know I'm the only one who remembers this to the point where I see it as a good reason not to worry about some "injustice" to highly tax the wealthiest. I believe it to be so. If the wealthy paid 15% more taxes and then made 15% more profits, they'd be ahead. This is totally plausible.

Alfred Differ said...

Now on to two nits that might not be as small as it might seem.

When shifting the burden of proof onto those who oppose interventions to equalize opportunity, it is important to recognize a potential false dichotomy. There are those who support intervention and those who oppose it, but there are also those who fail to support intervention and they aren’t in opposition. I find myself in this situation a lot. Someone proposes an intervention and fails to convince me. Others propose opposition to intervention and they fail to convince me. More often than not, I want both intervention AND non-intervention. I want to see which one works better. More often than not, I can imagine many variations on the proposed intervention and I want them all competing. This can be troublesome for people who feel it is unethical to try these experiments when other people are suffering, but I counter with an argument that it is unethical not to try all of them if we start from a position of humility. What If I’m WRONG?

This is also the small issue of thinking of interventions as a kind of tuning as if we are making an engine run smoother. Doing so imposes an obviously false analogy upon the system. One cannot tune a thing unless one knows how it is supposed to work. We THINK we know what a free society should be like, but the truth is that we don’t all agree on the details. We REALLY don’t. So… what are we tuning and toward what ideal? This is why it is so important to wait until after an immoral behavior occurs before establishing a consensus that SOMEONE DID A BAD THING AND WE AREN’T GOING TO LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN. If consensus exists, we can work out the details in our markets and agree on what a tuned engine sounds like, but we do so ex post facto. In the ex ante sense, the tuning analogy fails miserably. Worse yet, it misleads.

Donald Gisselbeck said...

If Donald Trump is as skilled and works as hard as the average Montana rancher, he should make as much.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Dr Brin
You have fallen for (or are using) one of the standard straw-man baits

The choice is not between
"the current state of inequality of outcome"
and "equality of outcome"

Nobody sane is looking for "equality of outcome" -
Equality of outcome would trigger the human "fairness" instinct just as much as the current massive inequality does

Those of us who believe that society should do some redistribution see several reasons for this

(1) Fairness - 200,000 years of development drives humans to have a solid drive towards fairness
As Donald said
"If Donald Trump is as skilled and works as hard as the average Montana rancher, he should make as much."

(2) Efficiency
Society simply works better when inequality is less extreme

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002XHNNKW?keywords=the%20spirit%20level&qid=1458702676&ref_=sr_1_1_twi_kin_2&sr=8-1

The choice is NOT the current level of inequality verses some utopian "Equality" but the current level of inequality v a lesser level of inequality
In the search for """ The optimal level of inequality """

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

"One cannot tune a thing unless one knows how it is supposed to work."

If that were true we would not have gotten this far!!

A good "theory of how it works" is an incredibly useful thing
But for a horrendous number of things we have to make improvements without that "theory"

In engineering terms "Suck it and see"

The change something and see what happens model of development/tuning is slower than actually having an accurate "theory" - but it still works!

David Brin said...

Duncan and I am supposedly in disagreement.... how?

Alfred your point is embedded where I say: " The default should be to intervene in favor of opportunity, until challengers show that the problem can be eliminated by non-governmental means."

This puts the onus on those who would refuse to use government to feed or educate children up to current standards... but admits that onus can be met, if dissenters can offer testable alternatives.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin
We are not so much in disagreement
(although I think I would push the "equalization further)


Equality of Opportunity
Is a decent aspiration - equality IS a good (if nearly impossible) Goal

BUT

Equality of Outcome
Is simply NOT a decent aspiration - equality is NOT a goal that we should strive for

Using the "Equality of Outcome" language is like calling a fetus a baby -
By using the wrong language we start up on the wrong foot

An expert in the use of language such as yourself should not fall into that trap

David Brin said...

There are many today who deem Equality of Outcome as a desirable and deem themselves the proper allocators to achieve it. Vonnegut was satirizing a real position.

Fortunately, these radicals are far less common than Hannity/Limbaugh proclaim and almost no liberals desire such a foolish thing.

Tony Fisk said...

[Pluto] has an atmosphere, it has weather, snow, geological features (even if they're comprised of materials that would be liquids or gases on Earth), and other aspects that very likely differentiate it from the vast majority of Kuiper Belt objects.

Still waiting for that high phase angle shot showing the filaments connecting Pluto and Charon, as foretold by Aldiss.

locumranch said...


Given that providing the basics for all children — nutrition, health infrastructure, education — releases nearly all of them to be more productive and a large fraction of them to excel competitively (so much so that this) investment in schools, food, sanitation are repaid hundreds of times over in the form of an ever-increasing excess of hungry children, schools, housing, toasters, automobiles, resource extraction, fishery depletion, degraded environments & approximately 10 gigatonnes (Gt) of human-mediated CO2 per year, leading to the catastrophe of 'Win-Win' Ocean Acidification & Positive-Sum Climate Change.

That's the problem with most Positive-Sum calculations -- They can only be considered 'Win-Win' if & only if you ignore the Hidden Costs.

What are Hidden Costs?

An over-supply of education leads to a devaluation of education;
A numerical doubling of labour decreases the value of labour by half;
Competition wastes resources & Monopolisation conserves them;
Deficit Spending causes simultaneous Economic Growth & INFLATION;
And, in accordance with the rule of Supply & Demand,
Aid to Single Mothers increases the supply of Single Mothers.

Positive-Sum Games can only be said to exist in the presence of excess:
(1) Person1 produces sufficient bread for one; Person2 produces sufficient meat for one; and trade between Persons1&2 is zero-sum.
(2) Person3 produces nothing but demands an equal share; trade between the three is positive-sum for Person3; but three-way trade is negative-sum for Persons1&2.
(3) Person1 produces sufficient bread for two; Person2 produces sufficient meat for two; trade between Persons1&2 is positive-sum; and trade with Person3 is negative-sum for Persons1&2 and positive-sum for Person3.
(4) Person1 produces an over-supply of bread, so much so that bread has little value relative to meat & often goes to waste, meaning that the over-production of bread is positive-sum for Persons2&3 but negative-sum for Person1.
(5) Person2 compensates by under-producing meat, so much so that meat has an even greater relative value to bread, meaning that trade is positive-sum for Person2 but negative-sum for Person1&3.
(6) Trade between Persons1&2 can only be always positive-sum if the two conspire to regulate production by forming a meat&bread monopoly; competition between Persons1&2 is always wasteful and negative-sum for Persons1&2 but always positive-sum for Person3; and ANY trade with Persons1&2 is always positive-sum for the non-productive (free-riding) Person3; and
(7) The elimination of the free-riding Person3 is always positive-sum for Persons1&2.

Statistically speaking then, those who demand ceaseless & ever-increasing Competition, Production and Economic Expansion self-identify as 'The Siphonaptera' poem & parasite -- hence the Cyclical History Model -- explaining why all Civilisations inevitably rise, fall & require the occasional 'delousing'.


Best

David Brin said...

What is so sad is that he keeps declaring that he knows what Positive Sum means. Like a blind-from-birth person insisting emphatically that he can describe red and blue. But all he does, each time is present zero or negative sums, insisting that he has just described PS and hence it just cannot be. It truly am fascinated to watch such astonishing - and frantic - obstinacy.

We are all aware of the notion of hidden costs and unforeseen consequences etc. It is the Confederacy's foolish followers who ignore those things...

...and those things are NOT the distinguishing features of positive sum systems. (*** buzzer indicating WRONG ***)

donzelion said...

"The burden of proof shifts when it comes to outcome equalization, or leveling of wealth and income. Because we know that some substantial disparity in outcomes is necessary, as an incentive, in order for our competitive arenas (markets, democracy, science, etc.) to work at all."

Do we really know this? Consider each of the contexts of positive sum competition that were raised: markets, democracy, science, courts, sports, and now, crudely, the Internet.

(1) Markets. The assumption is that without incentives, people will not work as hard as they otherwise might. But while raises are lovely, most workplace psychologists suggest that workers value many things more than income incentives - pride in their work, solidarity, creativity, autonomy, a sense of fairness and respect. Does one work 10 extra hours per week in order to afford a house with 2 extra rooms in a better neighborhood - or, more often, does one work 10 extra hours per week in order to demonstrate mastery in their field, for work they believe to be worthy? Perhaps it depends on the type of work - there are 4.3 million "retail salespersons" in America...perhaps these people respond to "incentives" - but most of them aren't working at a retail sales job because of market incentives at all. Most of the time, the role of "incentive" arising from inequality in marketplaces is limited to only special niches - few retail sales clerks had the opportunity to become real estate magnates, and none benefit from the fact that a few magnates out there can charge them rent.

democracy - does democracy really "benefit" from incentives arising from inequality? Does it help democracy that certain people have sufficient financial resources to run for office, while others do not? Isn't "one person, one vote" - a fundamental equality of outcome - the formative orthodoxy behind democracy?

sports - would anyone play a sport with no 'victors'? Why yes, indeed they might. From video games (in which the majority play a 'sport' not to win, but simply for personal amusement), to gyms, to running, skiing, and a vast number of other fields - participants play not to "win" but for the joy of it. Do our professional sports contribute immensely to our lives nearly as much joy, passion, or health as our personal sports and amusements, where the equality of outcome is a foregone conclusion for the vast majority of participants?

science - applying a concept of "equal outcome" to science is trickier, if the purpose of science is to achieve closer access to "truth" or "knowledge" - but even then, while scientists may have some interest in incentives, as any human might, but how many scientists "do science" because they hope to get a reward, as opposed to those who pursue science because they find the questions it offers to be fascinating?

So it goes with each of the contexts where "unequal outcomes" are offered as "necessary for the system to function." Are they really necessary, or is that just another myth?

Laurent Weppe said...

* "The latter of these two – aiming to flatten or level economic results or wealth - would strike some as a "European thing." Which is, of course, ironic since oligarchy has always been (and in many ways remains) far more embedded in European life than in North America."

That's not ironic: that's logical; when you have millennia of precedent showing that entrenched wealth tends to expand by sheer inertia at the expense of the commons, you're going to have a lot of people concluding that it is necessary to stop the rich from becoming too rich, less the old pattern of wealth, land and resources grabbing that led the third estates on the verge of starvation repeat.

Tim H. said...

I get the ides of economic incentive driving creativity, but like any other concept, it can be taken too far. Neil Gaiman's "The Sleeper and the Spindle" provides a useful metaphor with the Witch's sleeping spell spreading across a Kingdom and each sleeper's youth being bled to restore the youth of the Witch, who would end as the only young, energetic person in the world. Who would wish such a thing? To live in the gated community next to the landfill, to be the perfect lotus in the cesspool, or the diamond on the cow pat?
Wealth tempered with moderation is a different matter, a tasteful complement to a sound society. Rethinking just how external the things previously judged to be externalities would be a good start.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

This is why it is so important to wait until after an immoral behavior occurs before establishing a consensus that SOMEONE DID A BAD THING AND WE AREN’T GOING TO LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN. If consensus exists, we can work out the details in our markets and agree on what a tuned engine sounds like, but we do so ex post facto. In the ex ante sense, the tuning analogy fails miserably. Worse yet, it misleads.


What about "steering a moving vehicle", then? I'm guessing you'll say we don't all agree on the destination, which I can accept, but there are some road hazards that are much better avoided before you hit them than waiting until you (say) hit a tree at 100 mph, or go off the side of an embankment, and then going "I guess that wasn't such a good idea, let's not do that again."

I'm an analyst by trade and by temperament, and I gather you are no so different. Is there no value in seeing likely failure modes up ahead and anticipating them?

Paul SB said...

Often when we analyze a large, complex system we do so in simple terms and with simple syllogism. It's a natural mode of thinking that results from our scalar stress limitations. Putting it in terms of equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome is heuristic - useful to a degree, but like all simplifications it misses those details the Devil likes to hide win. I don't want to misrepresent Dr. Brin's argument (or any else's) because I know he has addressed some of my concerns at other times, but I do think there's an enormous elephant that needs to be addressed.

I grew up about 60 miles from the scene of a terrible massacre that took place nearly a century ago. A tiny company town called Ludlow, where the managers of a steel mill decided they would deal with their labor issues by hiring private security with machine guns to mow down the wives and children of striking workers. This is a particularly egregious example of a problem endemic to free markets. Businesses that are successful can experience a certain snowball effect. Laurent mentioned inertia referring to European nobility, but the same thing applies to any power base. Some businesses become so wildly successful that they grow into financial behemoths, monsters capable of doing virtually anything they please. And since business exists for the purpose of generating profit, there is no inherit interest in the kind of moral behavior that is necessary to keep human society from bloody collapse.

This falls under what Dr. Brin refers to as 'cheating.' Too big to fail means businesses that have huge impacts on society. Has anyone thought about, for instance, Bisphenol A and other endocrine disruptors? I remember when the head of the FDA announced their confirmation of the effects of endocrine disruptors on public health, he publicly despaired that anything could be done about it, as these things are so ubiquitous. But Facebook & Twitter did something, and the chemical companies responded. If you're looking, you can find baby bottles and water bottles clearly marked "BPA Free." But has anyone asked what they replaced BPA with? It turns out they have replace did with a close chemical cousin called Bisphenol S. Do we know this one is safe? Nope, but by the time independent science have have mad the connections and raised the alarm, likely millions of people will have contracted diabetes, reproductive cancers and the gods only know what else, while the plastics companies have been laughing it up to the bank.

I'm not sure what the solution is. If government controls business, then business corrupts government. Likely we need a multiplicity of power bases to balance each other, just as the founder fathers set up a balance of powers within the government itself. But free-market fetishism is naive. It might have worked fine when it was the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, but not when it's Exxon, IBM and Union Carbide. Teddy tried to deal with it by "trust busting" but the momentum behind that seems to have faded from our collective imagination.

Paul451 said...

From the article,
David,
Re: "interventions that increase opportunity versus interventions that aim at fairness in outcomes"
"outcomes-levelers bear the onus to show clearly why it is necessary to reduce this or that caste's economic gains."


I disagree. Unless you focus primarily on outcomes, you can't properly assess the equality of opportunity.

Humans are great at blinding ourselves to deep but subtle restrictions in opportunity when they don't affect us personally. Especially group-level (race/class/religion/region/language/etc) restrictions that don't affect our group. Hence we can swear, with total honesty, that we've created a system with equal opportunity for all but which is actually deeply unequal.

If there is a noticeable distortion of in outcome, the burden should be on the opponents of levelling to prove that there is no restriction of opportunity hidden in the system.

This is especially the case when the results/capability ratio is large. Ie, when the size of the outcome is disproportionate to the scale of the players' capabilities. Eg, an advantage of a tenth of 1% leading to an order of magnitude difference in outcome. With such a distortion, any hidden advantage in opportunity, no matter how small, can lead to a grotesquely unearned difference in outcomes.

Donzelion indirectly raises another point,
"markets [...] democracy [...] sport [...] science [...]"

Clearly the "win" in democracy is getting your ideas or decisions represented. The win in sport is to display greater talent. The win in science is to find that elusive truth (or better approximation).

But often a win, even by a trivial difference in capability, results in a financial "win", which then distorts the next round of competition. A sports team can buy up the best talent; a company can freeze out scientific results that threaten their sales or buy results that hurt rivals; and a winning party can rig the rules for the next election, rig the economy to favour their own and outspend their rivals in the next race.

This is particularly the case when the contest/market has a disproportionate results/capability ratio. Win that election by one vote, win all of government. Win a referendum by a slender margin, get the entire result in your favour.

Paul451 said...

From the last thread,

Robert,
"Going off on a tangent for a moment, recently my young dog has been vocalizing - making various sounds like he's trying to say words to me - and I'm starting to wonder what he's saying.
We teach dogs our language through a combination of hand signals and verbal words. They do have a capacity to learn some language. But now I'm pondering... how much effort do people make to comprehend what our dogs are trying to tell us? And does it differ from dog to dog? Does it differ depending on the language? Or the gender of the dog owner?
Just what is going on in those little doggie brains? And could part of my dog's frustration be that this dull idiot just doesn't get it with comprehending what he says... even though he's able to understand me (somewhat)?"


It's most likely the puppy equivalent of glossolalia/baby-talk. Mimicking the broad syllabic flow we make when we talk to dogs (or babies), "Who's a clever boy, you're are, yes you are, ararooararoo ar aroo", what it sounds like to them. But, in the case of the dog, without a baby's ability to move to a higher fidelity mimicry, then understanding.

However, does anyone know of a training method and experimental protocol Rob can use to test how many recognisable "words" his dog can learn to say?

Robert,
"It is clear Earth and indeed every planet of the Inner Solar System is a Dwarf Planet."

The definition of "clearing its orbit" is based on maths, not the words alone. Maths created by Alan Stern, principle investigator on the New Horizon's Pluto missions and complainer-in-chief over Pluto's "demotion".

Robert said...

Okay. I'm going to present examples of both Zero-Sum and Positive-Sum systems that exist in the universe.

First, we start with a Zero-Sum system: The universe ever since the Big Bang. Due to the conservation of energy, you could balance out the beginning and end energy (from which matter is derived) as X = X. You cannot add energy to the Universe without converting matter into energy. You cannot create matter without utilizing energy to do so.

This is your classic Zero Sum system. It is the one from which all else derives, and it is likely why so many Zero Sum-mers refuse to accept the notion of a Positive Sum system.

Next, we have a Positive Sum system: The Earth. Every single nanosecond of every day that the Earth has existed, energy from the Sun has been added to the system. Hydrogen from the solar wind which blew in from the Sun and which exists in the Milky Way Galaxy which the solar system is constantly going through is added to the Earth. Dust particles from space are constantly being added. The Earth continues to grow.

Further, life on Earth has evolved to utilize the energy from the Sun and convert it into a form it can thrive off of. Other life has evolved to utilize the first forms of life and thrive from it.

Trillions of years from now, the positive-sum nature of stars and planets will end. Over an even vaster period of time, assuming the universe doesn't either rip itself apart, pop and emerge into another universe (ie, if the Singularity which formed the universe was a black hole from another universe, we are undergoing Hawking's Radiation which is the Expansion we are seeing, and when the singularity evaporates, we'll reemerge into the universe from which our own sprung from), or collapse into a Big Crunch, we will see a gradual balancing of systems until the "heat death" of the universe happens.

That does not lessen the fact that the Earth is currently in a Positive Sum system. Utilizing sunlight for solar power does not "drain the sun" or any other such silliness - that energy is out there and if we don't use it, it will end up in some atmosphere of some planet in a distant star as a twinkle of light.

And this is the problem of the Zero Sum folk. They see "heat death of the universe" and "conservation of energy" and assume that this means everything is Zero Sum. They do not realize that there are eddies and pools from which heat flows and does work during its flow. Life itself is a Positive Sum system utilizing energy within a Zero Sum system... in which most of the energy is lost into space. We are borrowing from Heat Death of the universe of a few stray photons and atoms for a few billion years.

Rob H.

Robert said...

Paul, using a simple mathematical formula to designate a planet is doomed to fail.

Let us say that a high-mass object moving at a very high velocity comes through the solar system and smashes into the Moon, shattering it in such a way that the ejecta is sent into our solar orbit rather than smashing into the Earth. Over time, this ring of material will spread out and will constantly move through our orbit.

During that time, the Earth will not have cleared out its orbit. We will no longer be a planet.

Let us say that a new planet is forming around another star. It is not considered a planet (though the whole exoplanet bullshit is absolute nonsense, by stating "if it's not around Sol it's not a planet) both because it's not cleared its orbit and because it's not orbiting Sol.

The Pluto system has multiple moons. It has geological features. It appears to have some form of liquid flow on its system at certain times. In some ways it could be said to resemble the moon Titan but with a much shallower atmosphere.

The kicker is this. Pluto does not resemble most Kuiper Belt Objects. Nor does it resemble the other dwarf planet we've explored, Ceres. When you look at the Earth, Venus, and Mars, there are certain features these small planets have in common - an atmosphere, weather, geological features, an orbit around the Sun. These are features... that Pluto appears to have.

Sure, its atmosphere is thin. But you know, it isn't leaking into space nearly to the extent that Mars' atmosphere is. Or for that matter that the mostly-non-existent atmosphere of Mercury does.

If Pluto were in the orbit of the Earth, it would most likely have become a huge-ass comet. But that's just because of the materials it is made of. If you brought the Earth to a third of the orbital distance of Mercury, our atmosphere would boil off and the planet would likely become a molten ball. Would we no longer be a planet?

If it resembles a frozen ice-version of the inner planets in terms of various features, and if it does not resemble the other dwarf planet we've seen... then it's not a dwarf planet. And it means the organization that created the dwarf planet designation had their heads up their asses. They didn't want there to be a dozen or more planets, and they felt the need to lump Ceres in this category instead of an asteroid. But their little categorization is falling apart because it was not created with proper planetary science in mind.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin responding to locumranch:

Notice in his 4th para the false dichotomy. Could even he, looking at those two choices, possibly step back and ponder “um duh. There’s more than just these two”? How about forcing the rich to move from 200 room mansions to 25-room mansions so that all poor kids can have a modest, clean little safe room to eat nice snacks while doing homework?


Simpler than that--there's a cost to keeping a mass of cold, hungry, fearful people in your midst from taking out their frustration on the system that they feel they have no stake in. Giving them a stake in the system incurs a cost as well, but it is by no means clear that the latter is cheaper than the former.

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

Using the "Equality of Outcome" language is like calling a fetus a baby -
By using the wrong language we start up on the wrong foot


Dr Brin replied:

There are many today who deem Equality of Outcome as a desirable and deem themselves the proper allocators to achieve it. Vonnegut was satirizing a real position.


I think Duncan's point was that we should use a different term. By talking about "equality of outcome" being a bad goal, we inadvertently empower those who are asserting that equality (full stop) is a bad goal.

He's not arguing with your position, but pointing out a flaw in the terminology being used. I take his point (if that's really what it is).

LarryHart said...

Tim H:

Neil Gaiman's "The Sleeper and the Spindle" provides a useful metaphor with the Witch's sleeping spell spreading across a Kingdom and each sleeper's youth being bled to restore the youth of the Witch, who would end as the only young, energetic person in the world. Who would wish such a thing? To live in the gated community next to the landfill, to be the perfect lotus in the cesspool, or the diamond on the cow pat?


I've cited this often already, but radio host Thom Hartmann once interviewed a wealthy German businessman who defended his country's high taxes and social services by saying, "I don't want to be a rich man in a poor country." You just gave a cogent explanation of why someone would say that.

Smurphs said...

Robert and Paul451:

Like many things, Gary Larson said it best..

"blah blah Ginger"

LarryHart said...

on animals "talking"...

My cat once spent many minutes smacking at the doorknob on the front door. He knew that was what allowed us to open the door; he just couldn't understand why it didn't work for him.

I wonder if pets react the same way to humans talking. They know we talk to each other; they just can't figure out why we don't understand them when they do it.

Smurphs said...

Re: dogs and speech:

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/11/28/367092004/how-dogs-understand-what-we-say

Interesting story, but I haven't follow to the actual research.

mk045 said...

I have to agree with Eric, and disagree that the linked essay completely covers the issue. Outcomes of one generation are the opportunities of the next. As David points out in today's post, extreme disparities in wealth distort markets, politics, and general ability to participate in society.

Does equality of opportunity mean we must allow the inheritors of wealth to also inherit political and market power not held by supposedly equal but less wealthy "peers"? It's a real thin limb to climb out on to describe correcting this obvious issue as "all children of the rich are brought low". Is it equality of opportunity in most/all ways, or only convenient ways? I would suggest the former, or it's not real reform at all.

donzelion said...

There are many today who deem Equality of Outcome as a desirable and deem themselves the proper allocators to achieve it.

In law, we practice framing an issue in the form most likely to weight the burden of proof in our client's favor. In life, even if we admit differential burdens of proof as legitimate, we find the same conduct can (and in a contested framework, certainly will) routinely be depicted as seeking equality of outcome (crushing freedom and incentives) when we oppose it, but converted to "cheating" when we support it.

Since the real life application of the definitions will almost always be contested, is it really helpful to focus upon burdens of proof first, before establishing why a certain goal should not be treated as legitimate?

Follow Paul's response to my point: is it a win in democracy or sport to prevail (ideologically or competitively), or simply to have the opportunity to play at all? I'm science, is it a win to "have the best ideas or models" - or simply to be a scientist performing "good" science? How do the 'players' in each context respond to incentives, and which ones motivate them more?

If incentives (esp. financial ones) drove creativity, we'd have far fewer artists and writers. If incentives drove our quest for truth, basic science would fade to near irrelevance. In our most and best competitive spheres, the players do not play for the prize, but rather, to attain the peak of their own capacity - in some cases, doing so results in prizes, but in most cases, good players must 'put their hearts' into it even without a championship ring, because playing at all is worthy.

mk045 said...

Also, positive sum implies some fairness of distribution between the participants. It's not a silver bullet, but one of several useful guides to process.

The extreme wealth inequality we see today is the result of positive sum competition. Consumers generally got as much value, if not more, from goods and services purchased than the cost incurred. Business owners earned profit on said goods and services. But on the scale of our whole economy, the accumulated benefit to one side was orders of magnitude greater than for the other.

I agree with David that some inequality is necessary to drive the system, but unbounded inequality within a positive sum is not materially different from a zero sum situation. What other principles or guidelines are necessary, along with positive sum and competitive arenas? Or more directly, what other principles should guide the necessary regulation so it does not corrupt or stifle the process, or be insufficient to the task.

donzelion said...

There are many today who deem Equality of Outcome as a desirable and deem themselves the proper allocators to achieve it.

In law, we practice framing an issue in the form most likely to weight the burden of proof in our client's favor. In life, even if we admit differential burdens of proof as legitimate, we find the same conduct can (and in a contested framework, certainly will) routinely be depicted as seeking equality of outcome (crushing freedom and incentives) when we oppose it, but converted to "cheating" when we support it.

Since the real life application of the definitions will almost always be contested, is it really helpful to focus upon burdens of proof first, before establishing why a certain goal should not be treated as legitimate?

Follow Paul's response to my point: is it a win in democracy or sport to prevail (ideologically or competitively), or simply to have the opportunity to play at all? I'm science, is it a win to "have the best ideas or models" - or simply to be a scientist performing "good" science? How do the 'players' in each context respond to incentives, and which ones motivate them more?

If incentives (esp. financial ones) drove creativity, we'd have far fewer artists and writers. If incentives drove our quest for truth, basic science would fade to near irrelevance. In our most and best competitive spheres, the players do not play for the prize, but rather, to attain the peak of their own capacity - in some cases, doing so results in prizes, but in most cases, good players must 'put their hearts' into it even without a championship ring, because playing at all is worthy.

Deuxglass said...

Paul451 and Robert,

We have been uplifting dogs for thousands of years now and now they have become so attuned to us that some try to imitate speech. They have the vocabulary but what is missing is the vocal apparatus and in this area, we should help them along. Till now, we have used selective breeding to bring about those qualities that we find useful but with some genetic engineering, we should be able to modify their mouths, lips and vocal cords facilitate spoken communication for our canine friends. Granted, you won’t be able to discuss philosophy (but maybe politics) but just a few small changes would make a big difference. Can you imagine how great it would be if your dog can say, “I follow”, “throw ball” or “bird there”? I doubt it would work with cats though. Even if they had the apparatus they wouldn’t find anything we say interesting enough to be worth answering.

LarryHart said...

Deuxglass:

Can you imagine how great it would be if your dog can say, “I follow”, “throw ball” or “bird there”? I doubt it would work with cats though. Even if they had the apparatus they wouldn’t find anything we say interesting enough to be worth answering.


No, but they'd find it easier to give orders. "Feed me," or "Worship me as the goddess that I am."

Deuxglass said...

Income inequality is not just an American phenomenon. The surge has occurred all over the world starting at roughly the same time. In the US, Japan and Europe, those in the middle and bottom have seen declines in real income as well as a big decline in relative income. In Asia, real incomes have risen for the middle class but relative income has declined sharply vis-a-vis the top. The concentration of wealth more and more to the 1% is global and they act as a cohesive group to keep the present parasitic system intact. When threatened they close ranks whether they be American, European or Chinese because the system benefits them and overrides in most cases nationalistic feelings. Money is more important than country for them.

The Trump-Sanders phenomenon is not limited to the US. You see the same dissatisfaction in Europe, South America and now it is beginning in China. You can discuss the role of social media in this but the important thing is people all over the world perceive that they are not getting their fair share and they are not happy at all and that their governments have been captured by the 1%. It is happening in democracies, dictatorships, monarchies and oligarchies all with different economic and political systems but all leading to the same result.

Dr. Brin, in “Earth” you wrote about the Helvetian War and how all countries banded together to destroy Switzerland since that was where all these superrich had their money and it provided the means to control the world. I chuckled a bit at the time (I read it when it came out) but now I wonder if something like that might become reality (another one of your predictions coming true!). Since the problem is global then only a global solution might be the only way to handle the 1%. Unless we are together, the 1% would just go from one haven to another and nothing will change.

I will explore this more in depth a bit later.

LarryHart said...

Jumper:

There used to be a common story or meme that went like this: If you took all the money and divided it up equally, soon the rich would have most of it just like before.
So far as i know I'm the only one who remembers this to the point where I see it as a good reason not to worry about some "injustice" to highly tax the wealthiest. I believe it to be so. If the wealthy paid 15% more taxes and then made 15% more profits, they'd be ahead. This is totally plausible.


Even though I don't necessarily buy the premise, let's accept it for the sake of argument--that certain people are characteristically inclined to business, and will do well in any circumstance. I even recall an old "Richie Rich" comics story positing that very thing. :)

So those 1% or whatever percentage are the "natural" resting place of money. Money in the hands of others circulates freely and eventually ends up in those particular hands, just as water seeks the lowest level or heat (or cream) rises to the top.

In that case, when the economy is slow or depressed, it makes a lot of sense to do a "reboot" and move some of that money back into the hands of those who have needs to spend it on. Sure, it will eventually (given the premise) end up back in the hands of that same 1%. That's not the point. The point is that it will do useful work in getting there, and useful work is just what the depressed economy requires.

You wouldn't look at a hydroelectric dam, notice that the water all ends up at the bottom, and decide that efficiency is best served by introducing all of the water at the bottom to begin with. You wouldn't look at your oven, notice that the heat all rises to the top, and decide that efficiency is best served by putting your burner on top instead of below. So I wonder why we look at the economy, notice that certain people are "destined" to be wealthy, and decide that efficiency is best served by economic policies that put money directly into those hands.

locumranch said...



The Sun consumes itself, spewing heat & light energy out in to space. It experiences a net loss; and, in & of itself, it is a Negative Sum System.

Then, we have the Earth. It bathes itself in the solar wind energy from the Sun; it accumulates dust particles from space; and it continues to grow; and it experiences a net gain. The Earth is a Positive Sum System because of solar loss & solar waste.

The Solar System is also Negative Sum.

The reactive engine that is the Sun looses its mass energies outward; the Earth & planets gain only a small energy fraction of the Sun's loss; and the Solar System's net loss of Mass propels each & every Solar System further apart, creating the mass-dependent expansion of Space known as INFLATION, allowing the Greater Universe to remain Zero Sum.

The Human Economy works in the same way:

What to the Sun is a Negative Sum Loss, the Earthians exploit as a Positive Sum Gain, gaining wealth & prosperity from solar loss, propelling our so-called Progress 'forward' with the reactive force of propulsive gas emissions, creating INFLATION by squandering in a moment the incrementally conserved fossil-form solar energies of a thousand million years, in either a Negative Sum or Zero Sum manner, as we compete among ourselves to consume as much energy resource as possible.


Best

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

The Human Economy works in the same way:

What to the Sun is a Negative Sum Loss, the Earthians exploit as a Positive Sum Gain,


The analogy doesn't work.

When people freely engage in trade, they always perceive a positive-sum result. If I pay a dollar for something that is worth a dollar, I must be getting something out of the deal that I didn't have before. Otherwise, why bother with the trade in the first place. And the same must be true for the person on the other side of the trade. The trade itself must be producing value that wasn't there without it. Otherwise, it would always be pointless for one participant, and knowing that, I'd never agree to any deal that the other guy also agreed to.

Yet, billions of people engage in trade every day. Why?

Robert said...

And thus you reveal your pessimism and your failure to comprehend Positive Sum.

The Sun could in many ways be said to simulate a living organism. It comes into being. It starts to thrive. It ages. And eventually it ends. In its ending, it emits the components that would be used by future stars and future solar systems.

Is life itself Negative Sum? Because you are strongly implying it is, and I wonder why you continue being a doctor if all life ends and why not die early? I also would sure not want you to be MY doctor with such a view of utter futility.

Rob H.

Deuxglass said...

Light is a waste product of fusion so it is ejected from the Sun. When the light hits the Earth, plants eat the light. Earth gives nothing to the Sun in return. You might call the relationship as that of a dung-beetle to a cow. The Sun defecates and the Earth eats it.

Robert said...

Actually, you're wrong.

Light is a byproduct of fusion. Not a waste product. And it serves a purpose - it eliminates excess energy from the fusion reaction. If photons and neutrinos were not emitted from fusion, then neutrons would not form and the atomic nuclei would become unstable. So essentially, photons and neutrinos are the stabilization mechanism by which elements heavier than hydrogen can form in fusion reactions.

Rob H.

raito said...

donzelion,

People may prefer incentives other than economic, but only once the economic incentive is satisfied. It's probably not rational to starve in order to do rewarding work. That's ot to say there aren't jobs that are awful enough to leave.

As for sports, I practice one that's relatively new. In the early 80's, it got more popular, and attracted those whose skills were appropriate to both the practice and teaching of it. Today, even though the rules are nearly the same as they were when I began in the 70's (I had those skills, but was in an outlying area, my contributions ended up being local), the average player would completely dominate the elites from when I started. That's positive sum, right there.

And it's what's happened in education, too, which is why locum's statement is ludicrous. My knowing more does not make you know less. Attempting to make everything about money is short-sighted.

I used to work in restaurants. In one, most of the people were at a dead end. Many had never received a decent education. Working there was as good as it was going to get for them. At another, I worked with mostly bright high school students on their way to college. Guess which one ran the best, and can you figure out why? Even though everyone got paid the same?

mk045,

I'm going to disagree a bit on your conclusion that the extreme wealth disparity we see is (solely) the result of positive sum trading. Wealth disparity, yes. The current extreme, no. Unfortunately, one of the flaws in our system is that beyond a certain limit, it's apparently easier to change the rules than to play the game. Much of the disparity has come from changing the rules in favor of those already 'winning'.

I also have my pet theory that once transportation and communication become commoditized, barriers to market entry might be practically insurmountable due to economies of scale, among other things. And that's even without most cheating. Not sure if I'm right, and if I were, how to fix that problem. And it might not be generally applicable.

The moral/immoral thing gets interesting. One thing left out of the argument is that there always seem to be cheaters just waiting to tear down something 'moral' when there's a mistake, and inevitable propose something 'immoral' to replace it, instead of just remedying the error.

mk045 said...

LarryHart said...

The trade itself must be producing value that wasn't there without it. Otherwise, it would always be pointless for one participant, and knowing that, I'd never agree to any deal that the other guy also agreed to.

Yet, billions of people engage in trade every day. Why?


That looks at each trade in a vacuum. Some guy digs up a rock out of the ground. He takes it to another guy that says "thanks", and pays him for it. The second one does something to it, makes palladium. After disposing his waste, he takes that to a third guy who buys it and makes a widget. There is a chain of trades, from unharvested resource to finished product. Each trade in the chain adds different value.

But it's also obvious that there's a lot of asymmetry. Some trades are more equitable than others. Some may even have negative value for one party, driven by need (e.g. workers who suffer poor health due to working conditions or environment, but stay at the job to support a family; wages are a "trade" in this context). Trades with associated waste products can impose negative externalities on the community as a whole. That's where inequality comes from, not only from "cheating" and breaking the rules, but also by exploiting gaps in the rules, or even simply playing a different game than your opponent.

LarryHart said...

@mk045

I'm not really disagreeing with you. It was perhaps hyperbole to say that "every" trade is positive sum, but the general concept of trade seems to only work if the positive-sum ideal is available and widely assumed.

Let's say that in the wild, I'd have to make my own food, find my own water, and protect myself from opponents. Of course, there's a gain of value if I only have to do one of those things, enough for three people, and trade with two others for the other things. The extra value is generated by the specialization, not by the "trade" per se, but the specialization is only possible because of trade. The fact remains, if I have $3 worth of food and trade $2 worth for a dollar's worth (each) of water and protection, the zero-summers would say I broke even. Yet I undoubtedly have a higher standard of living in the one scenario than in the others. And I didn't "steal" that value from the other two participants either--they're also better off.

locumranch said...


Game Theory represents a reasoned attempt to correlate human behaviour with rational behaviour, even though the impetus for human behaviour is DESIRE which need be neither reasonable nor rational. Like Gambling, Trade is a game. We may choose to describe these games as 'positive-sum', 'zero-sum' or 'negative-sum' (based on our own unique perspective). We may use reason to describe this 'Trade Game', but Reason in no way justifies said game. Instead, we use Game Theory to rationalise irrational human behaviours which spring from various desires, wants & emotions.

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8901.html

"Game theory is central to understanding human behavior and relevant to all of the behavioral sciences--from biology and economics, to anthropology and political science. However, as The Bounds of Reason demonstrates, game theory alone cannot fully explain human behavior and should instead complement other key concepts championed by the behavioral disciplines. Herbert Gintis shows that just as game theory without broader social theory is merely technical bravado, so social theory without game theory is a handicapped enterprise.

Gintis illustrates, for instance, that game theory lacks explanations for when and how rational agents share beliefs. Rather than construct a social epistemology or reasoning process that reflects the real world, game theorists make unwarranted assumptions which imply that rational agents enjoy a commonality of beliefs. But, Gintis explains, humans possess unique forms of knowledge and understanding that move us beyond being merely rational creatures to being social creatures. For a better understanding of human behavior, Gintis champions a unified approach and in doing so shows that the dividing lines between the behavioral disciplines make no scientific sense. He asks, for example, why four separate fields--economics, sociology, anthropology, and social psychology--study social behavior and organization, yet their basic assumptions are wildly at variance. The author argues that we currently have the analytical tools to render the behavioral disciplines mutually coherent."


Best

David Brin said...

donzel your arguments against inequality of outcome belong on the table and have some merit… but you know very well I could put a lot of evidence on the other side. You seem to be saying that there’s no place for winners and losers in markets, democracy, science… crum! No outcomes from elections? No superior products selling better?

No scientists - the most competitive humans - crowing when nature herself proves them to have been right? We all didn’t benefit from rivalry between Jobs and Gates? Or Elon getting rich by constantly challenging goliaths in one industry after another?

As for sports, they take our aggressively competitive instincts and channel them into realms with very primly enforced rules. Sport has given ME the metaphor I’ve found most useful in arguing that markets and democracy will fail unless theya re closely regulated.

Paul451 in my article I said that the burden of proof on outcomes equalization can be met and it is blatantly demanded today.

Dog speech translators… “squirrel!”

David Brin said...

RobH The universe is actually Negative Sum because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Earth is positive sum because it is embedded in a larger system and can export its entropy as infrared waste heat. Or it used to, till we mucked the air…

But no, I don’t believe you understand positive sum either. Human societies waste so much that thermodynamic balance don’t enter into it. Rather, our flat-open-competitive arenas are positive sum because they encourage participants to use each others’ advances. A scientist who is half right will see himself rebuked for the bad half and quickly see the correct half leaped upon and used by others. A company with an improved product will see its faults rebuked publicly by competitors but its forward innovations copied or improved by others.

Intellectual property law seems to obstruct this - an when perverted, it does. But IP (patents/copyrights) were meant to replace 6000 years of horrid, zero-sum secrecy in which inventors could only benefit from their new ways by preventing others from learning about them. Hence we lost the Baghdad Battery, Damascus Steel, Hero’s steam engines, Antekytheri mechanisms…. IP law, when it works, instantly shares advances so that pos-sum improvements can accelerate.

(Alas cheaters are ruining IP law as we speak. It must be refreshed. All regulations must.)

Positive sum is not just (as locum believes) the removal of zero sum negatives to externalities. It is a set of systems that allow delusional mistakes to be quickly caught by competition and allows many separate innovations to combine via cooperation.

Alas, the glass is half empty because many of our neighbors appear - by brain wairing - to be incapable of even imagining what pos-sum thinking might be like. And some are furious over that lack. The glass is half-full though because American (not confederate) zeitgeist appears to have incorporated positive sum in some very deep ways.

Robert said...

If you want to be precise, Dr. Brin, the universe according to the laws of physics and cosmology as we currently comprehend them in 2016, would appear negative sum according to your terms. That said, if the universe at some point ceases expanding, is it still negative sum? If it starts contracting at some point toward a Big Crunch, what would it be considered then? And if the boundaries of the universe evaporate at some point and we find ourselves in a larger universe that was disguised through an event horizon... what does it become then? ;)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Alas, the glass is half empty because many of our neighbors appear - by brain wairing - to be incapable of even imagining what pos-sum thinking might be like.


That's the part I find difficult to understand. If someone can't even imagine positive-sum thinking, then why would such a person engage in economic activity at all? Ok, I understand overpaying for food or heat because one has no choice, but why would one (for example) go to a movie or order delivery of a pizza if the end result made him no better off than he would have been if he had stuffed the dollar bills in his mattress?

As long as one can pay $10 for something that someone else is willing to sell for $10 and feel he received something worth the bother of making the transaction, and not imagine that the other guy is an idiot, one must at least on some level be aware of the concept of a positive-sum trade.

I feel I'm saying something my daughter would have known when she was five. What am I missing?

David Brin said...

L was right about the solar system and some of you were wrong! Entropy only declines in sub portions of a system, and it requires energy flows to export the entropy elsewhere.

Alas, it saddens me to watch him assume that destroys all notions of positive sum working systems in human society. He desperately cites this or that quotation from game theorists, never realizing he is just flailing around and embarrassing himself. Faced with a concept that he does not -- and cannot -- understand, he responds not with curiosity but with angry insistence that the problem will be solved if he can just redefine the topic in his own terms.

David Brin said...

Rob H. get Tipler's THE PHYSICS OF IMMORTALITY... ideally on tape. It is the major tome on what if the universe contracts in a Big Crunch.

LH "That's the part I find difficult to understand." Yes indeed. It is easier for a positive summer to grasp zero sum thinking because history and nature work that way. Still, we stand, perceiving SO clearly the PS benefits, and it is chilling to realize that very intelligent people simply cannot. Their brains won't let them.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Entropy only declines in sub portions of a system, and it requires energy flows to export the entropy elsewhere


A few years ago, I was arguing with someone who scoffed that "global warming" could exacerbate a cold spell in the American midwest (when the entire rest of the world was warmer than normal). I argued back that I was sure he'd laugh just as hard if I told him that his "refrigerator" actually was a net producer of heat.

LarryHart said...

...oh yeah, and that same guy argued that evolution was impossible because the laws of thermodynamics didn't allow for increases in order. When it was pointed out to him (not even by me) that the earth is not a closed system and that the sun provides energy, he thought he had a slam dunk rejoinder with "What if you include the sun in the system?"

Robert said...

Sadly, Dr. Brin, my cognitive processes don't function well with hearing. I can read and overcome my neuroses... but listening sets off alarm bells that sets my brain into a spiral of self-blame for everything that is wrong in the universe.

But if I see the book I'll be sure to pick it up.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

but listening sets off alarm bells that sets my brain into a spiral of self-blame for everything that is wrong in the universe.


Y'know, I used to think I had problems because I couldn't find a girlfriend for many years.

Jezzus, my problems are booooorrrrrring.


Robert said...

I should explain.

Audiobooks, television programs, and movies set off those alarms. Nature and science documentaries don't often, but I don't watch many of those nowadays as I mostly avoid the television and theaters.

Normal verbal discussions are less likely to cause that issue until after I'm done talking and realize what I've said. ;)

Rob H.

Jumper said...

I think a lot of gold bugs have the same mental block. They normally default to an unconscious assumption that you can't create value out of nothing. The fact that carpenters do it all the time just never quite clicks in their world.
Therefore, since there is no added value, gold should suffice eternally for currency.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Rob H

Reading v Listening
Speaking/listening peaks out at about 150 words per minute,

Reading goes up to almost 10 x that speed - over 1400 words/minute

Generally speaking if you read at below 300 wpm you won't be an active reader partly because the information is coming too slowly and you will get bored

I suspect most of if not all of Dr Brin's "group" here will be reading at about 1000 words per minute

So "just listening" will be feeding information at well below the speed you are used to and below the boredom threshold

Normal conversation adds a lot of other information at the same time so it doesn't suffer from the same problems

Paul451 said...

Rob,
"Let us say that a high-mass object moving at a very high velocity comes through the solar system and smashes into the Moon, shattering it in such a way that the ejecta is sent into our solar orbit rather than smashing into the Earth. Over time, this ring of material will spread out and will constantly move through our orbit.
During that time, the Earth will not have cleared out its orbit. We will no longer be a planet."


And if Earth ends up in orbit around a gas giant, it's no longer a planet. And if a large moon is ejected from a gas giant, it could potentially be a planet. So what? Things change and become reclassified.

I'm not saying I like the definition, I'm just saying it's based around a scientific mechanism, not just words. My point was the irony that the system behind it was created by the very same guy who campaigns so vociferously against the definition he effectively created.

But whatever my feelings about the definition, I'm constantly amazing at how bizarrely personal people take the redefinition of Pluto. Like someone insulted your mother (**). It's not like Pluto actually changed.

**(Your very earnest mother?)

Robert said...

I'm saying it's messy and vague. And the more we learn about planets around other suns (oh, sorry, "exoplanets") the more we're learning that the Solar System has appeared to be a bit of an outlier. We've seen solar systems where over a half dozen planets are within one AU of the star. We've seen planets so far away from stars that to be honest, I'm not even sure how they figured out the planet in question IS orbiting that star.

We've learned planets can exist WITHOUT stars and that there may very well be a lot of planets floating out there in the interstellar void (and now wouldn't that make for an interesting story - a near-future science fiction in which a wandering exoplanet enters the solar system and we discover life under the surface of the ice shell shielding the interior of the planet... though how we'd discover life and even figure out it may be intelligent would be a good portion of the science fiction now, wouldn't it!) and there's even planets forming around dead stars.

Yet Pluto isn't a planet because a group decided so, and then came up with a vague description of what a planet is which honestly disqualifies the planets of the solar system because the frequency of asteroids and other bodies crossing across planetary orbits states "these orbital paths are not clear."

Rob H.

Robert said...

Reading speeds reminds me of that technology I saw in which a paragraph was flashed, one word at a time, on the screen. It was able to get up to quite fast speeds, though I would think blinking could be a problem. ;) And I kind of wish it hadn't ended up a dead technology (or at least out of sight and mind), seeing that it would likely improve the ability of children to learn subject material. Or for old fogies like myself to read a book. ;)

One reason for my taking so long to re(^30)read "The Lord of the Rings" is that I'm trying to avoid skipping words. Instead of skimming it, I'm devouring it. (When I was a kid I skipped the songs and poems as "boring") And I'm regretting that my Nook isn't as powerful or as intelligent as it needs to be for tracking footnotes and endnotes... or identifying old words I don't recall. Fortunately the Internet does allow me to look up words when I'm by a computer... but I've paused fairly frequently to look up a word and see just what specifically Tolkien intended when using certain words. :)

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

@David: I think you missed my point. Since I didn’t gist it, I’m not surprised.

You said: "The default should be to intervene in favor of opportunity, until challengers show that the problem can be eliminated by non-governmental means."

I’m arguing: There are two layers to the problem. Only when you have satisfied the first burden of proof (that explains the need for ANY kind of intervention) should we make the default to intervene in favor of opportunity. I believe those who would intervene in favor of outcomes face TWO burdens of proof while your opportunity folks face only one.

The default position should be to avoid intervention. Demonstrate that there is an existing immoral behavior and a consensus in support of your view that it is immoral AND THEN we can talk about burdens of proof regarding particular interventions. This initial burden should be easily met, but all too often it isn’t.

Consider meeting this initial burden and the classical libs will support you better. They might want to argue about HOW we intervene, but they won’t argue about the morality of doing so.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: If that were true we would not have gotten this far!!

There is a lot of luck in that, don’t you think? I’m not suggesting we abandon our mental models of the universe, though. Seriously. I don’t think we could do that without becoming something other than human. What I’m suggesting is a little humility is in order. We might pretend it is an engine to be tuned, but that is a pretense. We should also pretend it isn’t and let other people try their experiments to see if they can do better. Fail to do that and every success with an engine model will be a form of confirmation bias and when the day finally arrives where an attempt fails, we will be shocked and in disarray. Let others work with a different pretense, though, and only SOME of us will be walking around in a daze.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: Regarding the need for unequal outcomes, I think it is easy to demonstrate the ‘need’ with a biological market. Evolution rewards innovators with offspring taking what was once a minor feature in humanity’s diversity and making it unequally successful or culling it completely. Why would we want to tolerate some inequality of outcomes? Because the market players are human and will exploit tiny advantages anyway. Does working an extra 10 hours a week get me another son? Does it get me an advantage I can pass to my son?

Of course we know some substantial disparity in outcomes is necessary. We are biological animals tuned to create these disparities. Try to remove them from modern markets and we won’t participate.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: The great thing about having a forebrain is we can imagine alt.universes, construct horrifying narratives, and convince people to avoid the immoral behaviors we see in them. The terrible thing about our forebrains is we aren’t very good at modelling real world scenarios when we try this feat.

A single author’s story MIGHT be useful in pointing to a deep pothole in the road we can avoid before destroying the vehicle. Multiple authors exploring the same alt.space is better because we can make an abstraction of the story and categorize unseen limitations each author failed to face. When millions of readers get involved, though, something quite magical happens. It’s as if there is another Invisible Hand guiding us to avoid our individual limitations. An idea market springs into being and consensus opinions form regarding plausible scenarios and plausible moral guides. Is that enough to rely upon in our effort to steer the real vehicle? Maybe. I suspect it is the best we can do, so I’ll go along with it. There is nothing like finding a real pothole, though, and it is only through experimentation that we WILL find them.

The problem with the ‘steering a vehicle’ analogy isn’t just that we don’t agree on the destination. We don’t even agree on what counts as a steering wheel, engine, brakes, seats, etc. Give me a real scenario and we MIGHT find a consensus view on what a seat is, but by the time we do the markets will probably change an underlying assumption. I’m not sure there is much of an advantage to finding these consensus analogies. We don’t really have to agree, do we? We seem to manage well enough with just the illusions of agreement. 8)

Jumper said...

I see some confusion between a desire to make outcomes less unequal and a desire to eliminate all inequality of outcomes. The first does not imply the second. The first might offer a basic guaranteed income. The second would demand all incomes equal.

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

Even worse, the second would presume that inequalities were built into the system when they could be the result of inequalities among the participants. We like to say we were all created equal, but we aren't. Some are smarter than others. Some are healthier than others. We are a diverse population of animals.

We are not created equals.

What we need is to be equals before the law.

Paul451 said...

Rob,
"I'm saying it's messy and vague. [...]
and then came up with a vague description of what a planet is which honestly disqualifies the planets of the solar system because the frequency of asteroids and other bodies crossing across planetary orbits states "these orbital paths are not clear." "


{sigh} Rob, you can repeat that as many times as you want, but that's not the definition.

It's not that vague word definition, it's a specific formula based on the mass of the planet, the mass of its primary, and its semi-major axis. That's it. It's not even based on whether an object has cleared its orbit, but on its ability to do so over the life of its star.

All the planets in the solar system have a measure above 1 (far above 1), and Pluto and the dwarfs and asteroids all have a measure below 1 (well below). It's a clear divide, a large obvious gap between planets and non-planets. And the criteria it's based on can be applied to exoplanets, using properties that can be currently observed. Once the IAU has more data on exoplanets, it's expected that they'll extend the definition to include them. Margot's paper shows that all discovered exoplanets measure above 1 (a bias caused by our detection limits). That's why the IAU likes it, it lets you measure planet-ness based on variables that can be observed for exoplanets.

http://arxiv.org/pdf/1507.06300v4.pdf

Using Margot's parameter, Earth measures 840, Mars 54, Ceres 0.04, Pluto 0.028, Eris 0.02.

Alfred Differ said...

There is another language trap to be found in a term we are using. ‘The 1%.’ We are using a singular noun here to represent a group of people and some are assuming it is the same group of people over time. There is decent evidence that it isn’t the same people from year to year. It isn’t until we look at ‘the 0.001%’ or so that we begin to see lack of movement.

Large wealth disparities are potentially problematic when the people who own them CAN’T LOSE. The immoral things they do are generally related to rigging the rules and that is where our interventions are safest. Whether we level outcomes or opportunities or both, we are intervening because someone broke a meta-rule regarding fairness. Focus upon the actual immoral behavior and the correct intervention usually suggests itself.

As long as the super-rich can lose, I’m going to be tempted to let them be until I see them rigging the rules.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: That's the part I find difficult to understand. If someone can't even imagine positive-sum thinking, then why would such a person engage in economic activity at all?

Easy.

A trader doesn’t have to understand the big picture to benefit. Their selfish motivations can be interpreted any which way they like because the Invisible Hand takes care of the rest. We’ve been doing this for thousands of generations without deep comprehension. We can keep doing it for thousands more I suspect.

raito said...

A bit of a nit-picky point...

While the current view is that the making of wootz was probably a closely held secret, it is by no means agreed on that that was the cause for the loss of the technique. For example, it has been theorized that, due to the requirement of specific amounts of carbide- nucleating impurities in the ore, it is quite possible that the source of that ore became exhausted. And in the period when Europe was most interested in the process, it wasn't possible to measure those impurities. Further, the process for producing the material seems to have been fairly well known. The subtlety (at the time the role of the impurities was not known) was in the forging, heat treatment, and finishing of a blade with a hypereutectoid carbon content.

raito said...

Stupid tablet...

Anyway, I'd suggest dropping Damascus steel from your list of items that disappeared from manufacture due to secrecy, because the scholarship isn't there. No one really knows why it stopped being produced. It was still in demand, so there's little sense in ceasing production. And there was enough being produced prior that it wasn't a single source.

There's plenty of other examples.

I, myself have made wootz under the tutelage of the man tasked with reproducing an Ulfbert sword for Nova. It really isn't that hard.

raito said...

LarryHart,

The zero-sum pizza eaters believe that the pizza is worth exactly $10, and can't think any further. They can't think through to the idea that the pizza maker would rather have $10 than a pizza, not that they themselves would rather have a pizza than $10.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "No, but they'd find it easier to give orders. "Feed me," or "Worship me as the goddess that I am.""

Good: that would make the necessary uprising against the decadent aristocracy of the perfidious felines come sooner.

***

* "We all didn’t benefit from rivalry between Jobs and Gates?"

We got the Control Freak's Walled Garden built by slave labor on one side versus a bunch of shitty, blue screen of death inducing OSes like Windows 95, Windows 2000, Windows Vista, Windows 10 (which also function on hardware built by slave labor) coupled with the "Throw money at problems and buy off the competition" approach from which the "Bill Gates will just buy the whole fucking world" meme emerged.

raito said...

Geez.

Again stupid tablet. Should be 'nor that they.

Jumper said...

"let them be until I see them rigging the rules."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Legislative_Exchange_Council

Paul SB said...

Rob H., I'm not a doctor, but has your problem been diagnosed? It sounds to me like a disjunction between the temporal and parietal lobes. Have you been like this all your life, or is this something that has happened more recently? Another thought is that the electrolytes in your cerebrospinal fluid are out of balance, which could relate to a melatonin deficiency. Forgive me if I'm being nosey. After being on this blog for a couple years, you guys feel like my buddies, even if I'll probably never actually meet any of you.

Paul SB said...

Putting economic disparity down to "equality of opportunity" vs. "equality of outcome" males it sound like it's just an issue of jealousy. For some that is exactly what it is, as petty as that sounds. But there is also an issue of trust, and that issue is far more of a concern with corporations than with individual wealthy people. The corporate structure tends to disperse authority, something that is a problem for large-scale populations anyway, but greatly exacerbated when institutionalized in the business world.

I had a geology professor ages ago who had a rather scary medical issue. One morning she woke up and could not remember her own name, where she was, who was the guy in bed with her (who she had been married to for 10 years) and there was no alcohol involved. her memory had been declining for years, but at that point her husband decided it was worth taking her to a doctor. It took months of tests but they eventually concluded that her memory loss was caused by overexposure to MSG. The doctors told her that most food companies put tons of the stuff in our foods, but you can't tell if it's in there by looking at the label. They convinced the FDA to let them disguise their secret ingredients with terms like "natural flavors" so they would not be revealing their trade secrets. However, the reason they put so much MSG in food is not so much as flavor but because it is mildly addictive. You can't just stop at one, you feel compelled to keep eating. She pretty much has to subsist almost entirely out of her own garden, because the stuff is so pervasive in the food stream.

Trust is the issue. What are we breathing, ingesting or otherwise being exposed to that is seriously harming us that really doesn't have to be there? I'm not a particularly jealous person. If some bastard wants to drive around in a Mercedes to show the world how rich he is, the best response in my mind is "meh." Some individual wealthy people are good and decent people, but huge corporations exist for profit, and if they are foisting products on us that mess us up, take years off our lives or leave us cripples, the company doesn't care. And the Republicans go lax on enforcement, because they are free market fetishists. Let business do whatever the hell it wants, because the Invisible Hand will fix everything!

Natural flavors, anyone? Oh, and just ignore the plastics in all our food and beverage containers. They can't really prove those things are endocrine disruptors. The Invisible Hand will fix it. Pray to the Invisible Hand.

Robert said...

I was busy starting to write up an argument concerning dwarf planets and equations when I noticed something.

That is a draft paper for 2015.

Pluto was demoted to Dwarf Planet status in 2006.

The IAU did not use proper science when coming to their decision. And when they DID decide, it was on the last day of a meeting in which under 5% of the world's astronomers were attending. You know, if Republicans went and pushed through legislation giving the rich a big tax cut after the Democrats had left for the year and George W. Bush signed it into law, then there'd be a huge outcry.

Similar to what is going on nearly ten years later with Pluto.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Large wealth disparities are potentially problematic when the people who own them CAN’T LOSE. The immoral things they do are generally related to rigging the rules and that is where our interventions are safest. Whether we level outcomes or opportunities or both, we are intervening because someone broke a meta-rule regarding fairness. Focus upon the actual immoral behavior and the correct intervention usually suggests itself.

As long as the super-rich can lose, I’m going to be tempted to let them be until I see them rigging the rules.


I don't think most people here would argue with that. I don't favor taxes on the rich just to take their money. I favor taxes on those who have cornered the market on money. I mean, if they've got all of it, then who else are you gonna tax?


A trader doesn’t have to understand the big picture to benefit. Their selfish motivations can be interpreted any which way they like because the Invisible Hand takes care of the rest. We’ve been doing this for thousands of generations without deep comprehension. We can keep doing it for thousands more I suspect.


I don't mean everyone thinks at the conscious level, "Hey, we're creating value!" every time they buy a stick of gum. But neither do I expect people are content to spend decades of their lives engaging in hundreds of transactions every day thinking "Well, I've broken even again!"

Anonymous said...

Delightful, delightful, that one particular thought-system du jour is so very obviously such good, and a particular eleventh century European political system that, somehow, has morphed into a 60-century excuse for not thinking, much bad, and anyone who has not embraced the obviousness of this obviousivity, so, so very sad. Mere marketing drivel, and a touching illustration of the American "my shit doesn't smell" school of thought. Your disgusting windshield view intersection optimism ignores the Officer Paula Medrano case, and millions of others--everyone must car-sit, because America. If you're not car-sitting, well, best of luck with that, and your next-of-kin, if they are lucky, might possibly wring something from the car-sitter in civil trial, maybe. Or how many more Ojhri camps do we run through, where there are no $SOVIETS_OR_INDIANS_OR_OR_WHO_IS_IT_NOW left to shoot, so boy howdy that there budget shore need balancing so let's pull the US-AID after weaponizing the heck out of that land. And how many trash trains pull daily out of your "wastes far less" shrines to mindless consumerish consumption?

Paul451 said...

Rob,
"That is a draft paper for 2015. Pluto was demoted to Dwarf Planet status in 2006.
[...] The IAU did not use proper science when coming to their decision. "


Stern and Levison's original paper was presented at the 2000 IAU convention. Stern called the 8 current planets "uberplanets" and Pluto/Ceres and all the newly discovered KBOs were "unterplanets". He came up with the first formal scientific system to "demote" Pluto. Using the original Stern-Levison parameter: Earth scores 153,000, Mars 942, Ceres 0.0008, Pluto 0.003, Eris 0.002.

Steven Soter refined Stern/Levison's system for the 2006 conference, and Jean-Luc Margot has further improved it so that it can be adopted as the definition for exoplanets. There's nothing vague about it, it's a clearly defined mathematical system; and the distinction between true planets and dwarfs falls naturally out of the data.

[That's not true for Stern's current preference which is based on "roundness" and ignoring the distinction between planets and moons. Mimas (395 km) is round, but Vesta (538 km) is not round. So is Mimas a "world", but the much larger Vesta isn't? And, of course, we can't determine the shape of exoplanets or even most KBOs. It's mushy, self-contradictory, and extremely difficult to apply in practice.]

"And when they DID decide, it was on the last day of a meeting in which under 5% of the world's astronomers were attending."

There were multiple rounds and negotiations on the planet definition throughout the assembly. The final floor vote was open to all attendees and was well attended.

The screeching about foul play comes from those who lost their preferred vote -- both the early vote that killed their proposal, and for the vote that approved the final definition.

Stern's preferred model was voted down six days earlier (by 3:1), and so they haggled over the details for another 6 days and the final vote was nearly unanimous. There were no tricks (**), no ramming through a vote without notice; the various proposals were thrashed out repeatedly over the course of the assembly, everyone who cared to had been involved and everyone who cared knew when & what the final vote was.

Most astronomers are, frankly, embarrassed by Stern&co's childish performance since they lost the vote. Stern's group circulated a petition against the IAU 2006 vote, of the full 4000 registered IAU members they had to draw on, they've gained 79 signatories in a decade.

(Likewise, Stern himself plays games with the wording of the definition, "cleared its orbit". Any interested astronomer would know the idea of "clearing its orbit" (dynamical dominance) is based on work that Stern himself pioneered, and therefore his pretending to misunderstand it is disingenuous and deceptive.)

**(Actually there was an initial dirty trick. The planetary definitions group tried to ram through a proposal based on shape. The broader group rejected it (3:1) and forced greater deliberation. The third version was the one eventually voted on and overwhelmingly approved.)

Paul451 said...

cont.

It's interesting that you liken it to politics. To me the whining over Pluto is just another example of spoilt American baby-boomers thinking that everything that happened during their childhood was always that way, everything they did during their youth was the greatest achievement of mankind, and anything that changed afterwards (or challenges their delusions) is some kind of treason against America. Something we've seen the right-wing media exploit.

So swinging back to the topic:
This white-whine factor is why I think the burden on proof over equality-intervention should be on opportunity-equalisation, not on outcomes-equalisation as David wants.

This is because opportunity-inequality affects those with less power. Outcome-equalisation affects the majority and especially the powerful.

By placing the most visible effect on the powerful, the natural conservatism of the system will ensure that outcome-equalisation doesn't grow to excessive levels. (You only need to look at the whining of the wealthy ("it's like the Holocaust!") and the Treebeardy white Christian males over the current system in spite of its high inequality in their favour.)

If you place the burden of proof on outcome-levellers, then inequality of opportunity can be easily hidden behind unstated racist, ignorant or lazy assumptions, or ignored because it doesn't affect those in power and therefore "isn't important". Under such a system, any change requires the powerful to decide they are in the wrong, when every instinct will be in the other direction ("I'm not racist! How dare you...") Allowing wealthy, white, male baby-boomers to set the criteria of "proof", they will never accept that they are wrong, nor than the system that put them in power is wrong.

Robert said...

If you are going to argue something, you use valid information from the time it was presented. You present a 2015 article saying "this proves that there was a scientific basis for demoting Pluto" and when I point out the flaw, handwave and state "well there's earlier mathematics also proving this that was used in 2006." But you don't show that.

Might I suggest EbscoHOST as a means of finding the data needed to prove your argument? It is an excellent product; I should know, I work for the company behind it. And it's always good to get extra business sent their way so I remain employed. ;)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

You guys go ahead and argue about planetary definitions here. But I have posted a new blog for all else....

Paul451 said...

"Might I suggest EbscoHOST [...] It is an excellent product"

It's so good that you couldn't use it?

Stern, S. Alan, and Levison, Harold F. (2002). "Regarding the criteria for planethood and proposed planetary classification schemes". Highlights of Astronomy 12: 205-213, as presented at the XXIVth General Assembly of the IAU - 2000

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

It's interesting that you liken it to politics. To me the whining over Pluto is just another example of spoilt American baby-boomers thinking that everything that happened during their childhood was always that way,


I live in Chicago, so I'm well acquainted with the plaque on the wall of the Adler Planetaium which depicts the "eight" planets. Back when I was a child, my dad explained to me that the plaque pre-dated the discovery of Pluto in 1930.

So everything old is new again.

Robert said...

Paul, it is not up to me to do your research. You argue a point. You are the one who needs to present citations when required - especially when you pull out a citation for your argument that post-dated your claims by nine years.

Thank you for proper citations. I still disagree with their criterion. Pluto is not some dead body deep in space but appears to have many features associated with proper planets. It is also quite different from Ceres... and from Triton, which assumptions had been made Pluto would be akin to.

If you look at Jupiter and then look at the Earth, it would be easy to claim Earth isn't a planet by comparison. And yet there is the subclassifications of terrestrial (rocky) planets and gas giant planets. And when you look at Pluto... it has far more in common with the Earth than Earth has with Jupiter. It seems obvious a third planetary classification, Ice planets, is needed to describe planets such as Pluto and probably Eris - worlds that have geological features, possible weather, and yet exist far enough out for nitrogen and methane ices.

As an aside, we may also need to reconsider what could be called a moon. The fact you could have Earth orbiting Jupiter and it would no longer be a planet is idiocy. If you had an Earth-sized companion orbiting a brown dwarf star, is it a planet or a moon? What if that free-floating starless wanderer was just of Jupiter mass, but had an Earth-sized companion? Given the size of the galaxy and of the multitude of galaxies around us, we will discover systems like this.

Rob H.

P.S. - What we need next is for twin research projects to be sent - one to Neptune to investigate Triton, and the next to return to Pluto for a more in-depth exploration, and the ways these two bodies differ... and resemble one another.

Smurphs said...

Can anyone explain to me what this "car sitting" meme is?

I've Googled it and only found out what to to with the car in my driveway.

Jumper said...

It means driving and also sitting in backed up traffic. I assume it's meant to point out some of the absurdity of automobile-based transportation compared with the other forms.

LarryHart said...

All I know is that when I see "Anonymous" and "car-sitting" in the post, it means "Don't waste any more time reading this."

Fluid Dynamics said...

Regarding http://web.archive.org/web/20101031100957/http://reformthelp.org/reformthelp/marketing/positioning/models.php

I can't seem to get web.archive.org to cough up part 3 of that. Where is it?

Will Feret said...

It frustrates me to no end how modern libertarians like to claim Adam Smith as one of their own despite having never read him. Also many that I've talked to seem to think he was combating "socialism" when he was actually combating mercantilists on were more conservative than him and later made up the British right-wing. If every libertarian could just read Smith we might have a decent libertarian movement that did good, instead of the current that is just constantly trying to transfer wealth upwards or, at worst, create an economically unstable capitalism that would create so much poverty it could result in an ACTUAL communist revolution (as it almost did in the early 20th century. Libertarian and Conservative policies are actual radicals only hope of taking power, ironically enough).

On Trump's wife... meh. Who cares she posed nude? There's a million other reasons to not vote for him but I think we Americans are too uptight about that stuff. I think she's much more questionable for her choice in husbands :) At least it would windup the Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia if the First Lady was a former model, that would be entertaining to watch.

David Brin said...

Fluid Dynamics I am sorry that part III of my reform Libertarianism essay is missing online. But I am working on turning the whole thing into a book.

WF thanks and I agree that libertarianism has been mostly hijacked by the very oligarchs Adam Smith despised. By making the core incantation "hate all government" and "unlimited propertarianism" the movement has been cozened into assisting oligarchy at the expense of the words that should be at the movement's core -- flat-open-fair-creative competition." The kind of competitive creativity that benefits all, but that is routinely crushed by feudal or quasi-feudal oligarchy.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Fluid Dynamics said...

Umm ... so where *is* part 3? You didn't link to a copy (or even upload a copy somewhere and then link to it, should that be necessary).

Grävling said...

I think that "On the other hand, some inequality of outcomes is absolutely required in order to maintain the kinds of incentives that spur creative people to take risks and develop great new things" needs further consideration. Every study I have read where what really motivates creative people was studied, it has turned out that 'wealth inequality' a.k.a. getting stinking rich has not been that significant a motivator. As long as the renumeration is 'enough' -- enough to take the question off the table -- creative people do creative jobs because they want to create and for reasons other than monetary reward. Mastery, autonomy, having fun, doing something that will be _so cool_, making the world a better place, getting to work with other top-notch people and getting to do the best work of one's life always seem to be the actual things that motivates creative people.

see: https://vimeo.com/15488784 for an amusing presentation of the surprising findings about what motivates us.

But creative people run into real propblems when they need to getting their project funded. Among the the loaning classes the desire to maximise revenue often is the only concern.

Fluid Dynamics said...

Well? Where is Part 3?

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