Friday, March 24, 2017

Economic Inequality: opportunity vs outcomes

Our last posting -- extensively  shared by thousands -- offered long, verbatim quotations from epic science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, revealing his amazing prophecy of an America falling into perilous failure mode.  

Now let's back off from our immediate crisis and try some perspective.

== The Equality Problem ==

This article - Is Inequality Inevitable? — asks a fair enough question, whose answer is “Sure, inequality is inevitable. So?” 

That don’t mean we can't always make things better.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry starts with studies showing that the children of elites have always stood a better chance of becoming elite, themselves, and that efforts to equalize outcomes by force - such as Maoist cultural revolution - always fail. Indeed, in Europe, the same surnames have been elite for 400 years.

True enough.  Only then M. Gagny calls all liberal efforts at mitigation futile and useless -- an assertion that amounts to stark-jibbering toilet raving.

One refutation is to point out the staggering amounts of cheating and repression that inherited oligarchies and other elites have engaged in, across all eras, to ensure advantages for their offspring. Nearly all of recorded human history reveals the lengths that lords and masters went to, using law and religion and sheer economic bullying to prevent sons or daughters of the poor from competing fairly with their own children. 

If aristocracy were self-replicating on the basis of simple, inherited quality, why then the relentless frenzy of desperate repression that we see across all annals, in all nations and eras?

Further, if inherited lordship were a matter of genuine superiority, then why - across the long epochs before our egalitarian experiment - were nearly all kingdoms and oligarchies so delusional and so horrifically-governed?  There is a name for the cosmically stupid way that 99% of post agricultural societies were governed. In a general sense, that name is feudalism. Another word for the endless litany of insipid and lethal errors committed by aristocrats is -- history.

Or, in more modern parlance: Idiocracy.

In my novel, Existence, I portray a meeting of uber-trillionaires in 2048. They can see they are going to win, that their putsch against liberal democracy is about to succeed, and looming success has them worried.  They can also see that feudalism is vastly less productive, innovative and far more error prone than open systems like transparent republics. Is there a way out of this dilemma?

At their conference, they earnestly seek ways to imbue the rule of inherited oligarchy with meritocratic and competitive elements, weaving in some of the powerful synergies of the Enlightenment... without its egalitarianism.  Kind of like what the Chinese ruling caste has been desperately trying to achieve, for decades. There are inherent flaws to this plan. But at least these oligarchs are smart enough to see the alternative:

Paris: 1789. And tumbrels.

(See my earlier posting: Class War and the Lessons of History. Oh and ponder this: why have Google searches on the words "Karl" and "Marx" been skyrocketing of late?)

== Easing our way out of a lethal attractor state ==

Sure, our egalitarianism has been flawed, often corrupted and always imperfect. Yet, our ongoing enlightenment experiment does correlate with a singular society that has been vastly more creative, productive, fair, scientific and happier than all others… and yes I mean absolutely all of them… combined.

If the grandchildren of rich people do tend to be rich, and the kids of scientists may somewhat tend to replicate that success, then liberal-minded folk will cite favorable circumstance as a chief reason. Nurture over nature. And so far, that presumption seems more right than wrong. 

But even if there is also a strong, genetic component, we still seem well-served by at least addressing those unfair inequalities that do cause disparities. And make each generation of favored kids work to prove it. To earn what they achieve.

We must do this for one reason, above all others — in order to stop wasting human talent.  Expanding opportunity for the children of the poor, of all races, genders etc., is simply logical and a vast improvement over the institutionalized, reflexive and wasteful bigotries of the past. 

Any excuse-making in the opposite direction is not only morally vile, it is also deeply impractical! Because it rationalizes reducing the number of skilled, eager, confident and competent competitors to enter our markets.  In other words, those who rationalize inequality of opportunity for children and youths are betraying the very essence of Adam Smith, of Friedrich Hayek and all other icons of competitive enterprise.

Hypocrisy -- by their own standards.

And sure, yes, inequality (for children and youths) is also immoral. But notice that some people find it easier to shrug off that appeal, than when you base your argument on the practical benefits of equalization. Remember -- oh remember -- that the American founders seized up to a third of the lad in the former colonies from elite-lordly families and redistributed it! An act of "leveling that made FDR look tame. And they did it for pragmatic reasons. In order to keep the revolution one of a calm, middle class, not a rabid mob.

Why emphasize children and youths?

Elsewhere I explain in detail the difference between interventions that aim to equalize opportunity and those that aim at equality of outcomesFoolish  reactionaries like M. Gagny seem to agree with radical levelers on the other side, that liberal interventions aim at outcome-equalization. Indeed, if that were the case, perhaps I could see a point to the ravings of the far-right and the far-left. 

If that were the aim, then call me a rebel-libertarian.

But that vile, lobotomizing “left-right axis” is built upon shavings of stupidity. In fact, I assert: if state actions concentrate only on raising up possible opportunities for children of the poor, then outcomes will manage themselves. Contra-wise, those who slash investments in the children of the poor aren't just evil people, they are traitors to our revolution.

== The context for it all: The Fermi Paradox ==

Many of you know that I am the principal tabulator of hypotheses and proposed explanations for why we seem to be alone in the cosmos -- the Great Silence... also called The Fermi Paradox.  Of the hundred or so theories that have been offered, I rank a Top Ten.  And high on my list is...

... feudalism.  The chief attractor state of human governance, sucking in 99% of all human societies that ever got metals.  Feudalism rewards big males who act like elephant seals and bash other males to take their women and wheat.  We are all descended from the harems of guys who pulled that off.  

Moreover, the Darwinian logic probably applies on other worlds, perhaps most other worlds. And if so, we get a powerful "fermi" hypothesis: that all over the galaxy kings and feudal lords and priests suppress science and advancement and environmental care, because they are focused on short term battles to stay on top.  

Only our enlightenment experiment broke away from this pattern and found another, in which equalization of opportunity, plus rights and transparency and love of science, opened up all the positive sum games that utilize competition -- markets, democracy, science, justice courts and sports.  The resulting cornucopia has been dazzling!  But humans who rise up high will always be tempted by urges to shut down competition and become lords.

That is the grand context.  Our current struggles may matter even on a galactic scale!  If we are the first to rise up to Star Trek levels of enlightened maturity, then we could rescue all the others, out there, trapped in cycles of feudalism.

Oh but let's get back to Earth. Literally.

== Climate denialism is a symptom ==

Did I say feudalists suppress science? We've reached the point where denialists are frantic. Having invested in raging contempt for science and scientific civilization, while claiming the opposite, they must now double down -- trying desperately to prevent cognitive dissonance. They must avoid doing that almost-impossible thing for human beings... but the act that science teaches.  

To admit: "maybe I was wrong."

I could link to sage articles and scientific studies till the sun burns out and they would have no effect. Cultists will answer with nostrums and "talking points" concocted by Koch-financed shills who could not parse the gas vapor laws if their lives depended on it. But jpegs re sometimes convincing. Here are four images that make the point fiercely.

First the rate at which humans have been adding CO2 to the atmosphere of a world that skates the inner edge of our sun's continuously habitable zone. And that's a crucial aspect!  Because it answers the cultist line: "How could measly humans affect habitability of a giant planet?"

Let me reiterate: our Earth skates the very inner edge of our sun's continuously habitable zone. Because of that, our world must have a very transparent atmosphere with a Gaia Balance that has only just enough CO2 for plants to live.  Needing to allow heat to escape, we can afford very little greenhouse gas. 

Indeed, some time soon (less than 100M years) we will have to move the Earth!)

But saying "humans can't change an atmosphere" can easily be measured.  That is: if we're allowed to!  The Bushites sabotaged satellites and hampered scientists, but the Trumpists have taken things to a whole new level, cancelling programs and ordering NASA to never look down at a planet called Earth.  

You denialists who have long proclaimed "the jury is still out!  We need more data!" are now exposed as hypocrites. The truth is the very last thing you want.

But none of this is as horrifically dishonest as the standard riff used by Ten Cruz and other fanatics, claiming "there's been no net warming for 5 years!" Then 6 years. Then it was 7! Always increasing by one.  

Why so specific?  Look at our third jpeg and note the spike in 1998. The general slope of temperature has increased relentlessly, but fools and liars used that spike as a "before" to claim subsequent years were 'decreases.'  That is, till new peaks came in 2014... and 2015... and so far 2016, with all but one of the last seven months breaking records. Oh, so much to be proud of.

But the kicker is the ocean. Not one of the cult's shill "think tanks" has been able to concoct an incantation to answer the damage we are doing via ocean acidification. There are no even hypothetical causes for the effect that is killing coral and replacing fish with jellies, in all the regions depicted in our third jpeg, as well as helping to eutrophy (choke) the Black Sea and Mediterranean and Caribbean.

So what can we conclude?

Nothing new.  I made this list to arm you with talking points, because all that America needs to do, in order to win this phase of our recurring Civil War is to just peel off just 10 million still somewhat sane and reluctant and uncomfortable members of this weird-confederate coalition.  
You can do your part by hammering one, just one nervous aunt out there. (Your uncle is probably hopeless. Unless he's ex military; stay tuned for ammo that will work with him!)

Peel away one, then another. It's your assignment. Start with ocean acidification. I mean it. They cannot run from it or explain it, and Fox doesn't even try. They shout "squirrel!" and point offstage.  But use it, over and over again...  ocean acidification. ocean acidification.ocean acidification.


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LarryHart said...


The Puritan Work Ethic is an anachronism. It made sense at a time in which basic survival required many long hours of back-breaking work. That's not the world in which we live. In fact, the hardest part about unemployment now is finding something useful for all those unemployed people to do with their time. There's not a scarcity of labor, but a scarcity of jobs. That's a different thing; in fact the opposite thing.

The "residual Puritan work-ethic" you speak of adapts the harshness and cruelty of the Puritan Work Ethic to a situation in which it no longer applies--substituting "work or starve" with "endure misery and humiliation or starve". While long hours of work are not required from each individual to keep the gears turning, the private owners of the means of survival keep alive the notion that the mass of citizens have no claim on those means of survival other than by being economically useful to the owner class. Not finding any actual work for the masses to perform for their daily bread, the of slavery are substituted for the real thing. Thus a paycheck is fair recompense, not for the work itself, but for submitting and humbling oneself to a master. In that manner, most of America "earns" its right to life.

LarryHart said...

Hey, two consecutive postings with more than 200 comments apiece!

I don't know that we've ever done that before.

locumranch said...


By construing social service spending as an 'investment', note how Darrell_E assumes a reciprocal puritan work-ethic where none may exist, by postulating that the average recipient of public assistance will consider such payments as a debt which he 'should', 'ought' and is 'supposed to' repay (with interest) to human society in general, even though most of the Enlightened West considers such payments as a basic human right & entitlement. Now, explain how an unexceptional individual who receives a free $100K university degree (plus free food, housing & healthcare) is going to repay society's 'investment' by working as a barista AND consider the economic faecal-fests that are Venezuela & Southern Europe.

That's the positive sum argument in a nutcase:

1 + 1 = 47 (or, at least it 'should', 'ought' & is 'supposed' assuming "le meilleur des mondes possibles").


locumranch said...

Look to Larry_H's post above for a textbook definition of Marxism (which has proven so successful in Cuba, Venezuela & the USSR), but don't hold your breath if you expect him to justify social service spending in the absence of social reciprocity.

First, he claims the death of Social Reciprocity. Then, he claims that social bread & circuses equal "fair recompense (...) for submitting and humbling oneself to (society as) a master".

Which is it Larry?? Do you know what "recompense" (defined as 'payment in RETURN for something, such as a service') even means, or do you imagine "recompense" to mean a non-reciprocal act??

This is what you're saying, Larry:

The Welfare State is a bribe to hoi polloi to shut up, accept their enslavement, mind their betters & support the Status Quo, assuming that the hoi polloi possess enough reciprocal honour to 'stay bribed'.


David Brin said...

CarlM -- There's this: How Donald Trump hijacked the religious right.

From The Atlantic: "Evangelicals have traded Ronald Reagan’s gospel-inspired depiction of America as a “shining city on a hill” for Trump’s dark vision of “American carnage.” And in doing so, they have returned the religious right to its own origins—as a movement founded to maintain the South’s segregationist 'way of life.'" Historian Richard Balmer writes, “The breakthrough of the 2016 election lies in the fact that the religious right, in its support for a thrice-married, self-confessed sexual predator, finally dispensed with the fiction that it was concerned about abortion or ‘family values.’ ”

What did you expect? The teachings of Jesus are pushed back and the book of Revelations stands triumphant over Christianity. It's not about generosity and love and moral behavior. It is all: "I love immoral bastards who gall and frustrate and hate the same people I hate!"

David Brin said...

Hey locum. Today's Russia is the Soviet Union - whose fall Putin and all the others lament as a "catastrophe" = except with more church, less investment in children, and less due process. Oh, and instead of State Committees, the exact same collectivization of all commerce is now under mafiosi oligarchs.

Otherwise? SHOW US how today's Russia isn't the USSR? Oh, except weaker because Obama and HClinton swiped away the Ukraine...

...and stronger, because Putin swiped back America. Now under mafiosi oligarchs.

David Brin said...

Ioan and DavidC, my six "name an exception" challenges never said "name a red state that's doing better than a blue state. Blatantly there are outliers of blue-low.... Chicago etc. And blue states that gerrymander, too. And Utah is clearly a red outlier where teen sex, pregnancy, STDs Domestic violence, gambling, addiction in a red state are all LOWER than the blue average.

Though even in red states vs blue states comparisons, the PLURALITY is blatant! Blues do:
-less gerrymandering or other electoral cheating
- more easing out of the drug war
- far better re teen sex, pregnancy, STDs Domestic violence, gambling, addiction and all the rest
- Schools, universities, infrastructure and all of that.... and I could go on.
- Oh and balancing budgets! And entrepreneurship! GDP rise!

Locum sometimes tries to imagine positive sum. But he can't do it. For example, he must yammer that healthcare is about "rights" when it should be done as a simple investment in maximizing the number of kids who compete well instead of becoming burdens. The right runs screaming from facts, like those that show how much money is SAVED by timely interventions.

They used to believe in "a stitch, in time" and "Cleanliness is next to godliness" and "A penny saved." Now it's "Give the rich all our money so we'll be bankrupted and have to pay for the prisons and crime we could have prevented by investing in kids."

You... are... insane people.



Paul SB said...

Darrell E.,

In your last post you attributed several comments I made to Donzelion. It's no big deal, as this blog can get really long and it becomes hard to remember who wrote what. I would, however, like to address some of your comments, starting with the fact that there is little in your comment I disagree with. I also think that most of what you said in the previous comment that actually was from Donzelion is exactly what I think, but I often fail to put out so well or remember to include details (my last couple might have been too detailed). Your explanation of investing in people is right on the mark, and exactly what I have thought for most of my life (and why I tend to go off on fools who try to pass off the old Reagan-era bullstuff about the Welfare State, or its more recent relabeling as the Nanny State. But on to your second post.

Your description of the abysmal misunderstanding of science on the part of the general public is also a bull’s eye, but I will say that the straw-manning is quite pervasive. It mostly starts at the top and flows down the hierarchy from Republican Party leaders (who behave little differently from Communist Party leaders) and ├╝ber-rich TV evangelists to direct underlings like press liaisons, talk-show hosts and web editors, filtering to the common people they are trying to dupe. Most people have no idea what straw-manning is, or any of the other rhetorical tricks and fallacious logic they use to dupe them. Many people who are mired in archaic ways of thinking and raising their children absorb this crap, which activates and slowly hyper-sensitizes their fear centers, causing some percent of our epidemic of mental health issues - mainly anxiety and depressive disorders. (That was a long sentence, wasn’t it?) Back when I used to attend church regularly, it was like a re-education camp, with preachers during regular sermons and lay elders in Sunday school teaching the congregation talking points for them to use against scientists or anyone who believes in “Darwinism” or supports abortion rights.

On to NOMA. Everything you wrote is pretty sensible, for a person who is well-educated and understands both science and religion. And most of the things you said were addressed by Gould himself. He said that there are some overlaps between the two, science does have useful things to say about morality (an obvious one would be the AAA’s stance on ‘Race’ and racism), many of the morals preached by various faiths may have seemed right by the standards to the ancients but are utterly contemptible to us today, or just plain silly impositions on personal freedoms. An example of that one would be the Levitican dietary restrictions, which, as Alfred mentioned not long ago and has been the subject of actual scientific scrutiny, mostly make sense (except the pig thing) in terms of cultural ecology in a desert region without modern refrigeration technology. Most fervent, militant Christians do not even know that the Bible forbids them to eat shrimp, a sin to be paid by stoning and eternal damnation. The culture has changed dramatically since the 3rd Century B.C., so people read very selectively and just ignore anything they don’t like.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Riddle me this, locumranch: Which is a better indicator of a healthy economy? The amount of wealth it has, or the ability of that wealth to circulate freely?

Hint: It doesn't matter how much blood you have if it doesn't circulate well.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Riddle me this, locumranch: Which is a better indicator of a healthy economy? The amount of wealth it has, or the ability of that wealth to circulate freely?

Hint: It doesn't matter how much blood you have if it doesn't circulate well.

LarryHart said...


First, he claims the death of Social Reciprocity. Then, he claims that social bread & circuses equal "fair recompense (...) for submitting and humbling oneself to (society as) a master".

Which is it Larry?? Do you know what "recompense" (defined as 'payment in RETURN for something, such as a service') even means, or do you imagine "recompense" to mean a non-reciprocal act??

This is what you're saying, Larry

You sound like you're about to blow an artery, to which I say "Go with God."

LarryHart said...

BTW, Dr Brin has already given the...



alexrhowe said...

I worry that the ocean acidification argument isn't sufficiently clear. We see the cause (lowered pH) and the effect (the death of coral reefs and others), but rarely if ever do I see the science explained beyond a superficial level.
My concern is that a moderately well-read denialist can say, "CO2 levels were much higher in the Mesozoic Era, and the ocean was presumably even more acidic, and yet, corals and molluscs survived then just fine."
The obvious rebuttal to this is, "Yes, but it's the rate of change that's important, and it's happening much faster now."
To this, the denialist flippantly replies, "But the chemistry is still the same. What's changed about H+ + CaCO3 -> Ca++ + HCO3- in the last 100 million years?"
Of course, the fact that the actual reefs are dying strongly implies that corals today simply aren't adapted to the lower pH for subtler reasons than the first-order chemical reaction, but I don't know enough biology or chemistry to complete the chain of logic, and I rarely see it addressed.

And for accuracy's sake, I have to take issue with your assertion that Earth is so close to the inner edge of the habitable zone that we can afford very little CO2 (and that we'll have to move the planet in less than 100 million years.) Both claims are based on the most pessimistic calculations of the habitable zone, which are by no means widely accepted. The most recent models I've seen (e.g. Wolf et al., 2017) tend to converge around an inner edge that is not at 0.99 AU, but more like 0.96 AU. In terms of temperature, it would take 20-25C of warming to destabilize the global climate in this model. Is that small enough to be worrying? Sure, but there are other big problems that start much sooner.

For example, I think one of the most compelling arguments on climate is, "Hey! It will only take 7C of warming before large parts of the Earth are uninhabitable to humans because it will be thermodynamically impossible to shed body heat." That we can see pretty clearly from the physics of evaporative cooling before we even get to general circulation models, so it's clearer-cut and more pressing.

Luis Salgueiro said...


You must be confusing your math. University courses in public universities cost a fraction of those in private universities, because there is no need for profit.
A typical 6 years masters degree costs under 25 000$ to the state in my country. The students contribute with a tuition of about 5 000$ (diferent courses diferent costs).
In return the educated worker will pay on average more 5 000$ in taxes a year than the non educated one, he is also more likely to find a job and to contribute to weath creation by creating new patents and entrepeneurial activity.
So infact he repays society in vast amounts.

The problems in Sothern Europe arise from decades of autocratic government and dictatorship without public schools not because of public schools

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