Questions for the Masses: An Inequality Open Thread

Related Post Roulette

106 Responses

  1. Avatar Roger
    Ignored
    says:

    What is the purpose of a society? People can accomplish more together than apart.

    Is gross inequality intrinsically acceptable, or only when it is a means to a broad public good (e.g. economic growth)? I fail to see how it is intrinsically anything. It is simply a mathematical ratio.

    Is a relatively classless society superior to a more ingrained and hidebound social structure? Income mobility is superior as it is brings everyone into the game and is fairer to all. And I w all know the danger of playing unfair games.

    Does the government have any role in influencing the culture and structure of a society? Some coordination problems are handled best by government.

    Are significant differences in economic and social opportunity a social problem? Should the government have any role in mitigating these differences? There is a difference between opportunity and barriers. The opportunity one child gets can be massively affected by genes and parental investment. We cannot completely equalize these without creating more problems than we started with. The key is to eliminate barriers to opportunity and not viewing human flourishing as a zero sum race.

    Are there economic goods to which people should be entitled, without regard to their market worth (Food? Medical care? Legal representation?). I would reword your question, as you are again implying some non existent platonic inherent entitlement property. The question becomes, what type of world do we want to live in? I want to live in a world with safety nets to protect people from misfortune and catastrophe. This creates a better world for me personally, for my family and meets my beliefs on what it should be like for others. In no case will I ever expect others to fund my vision while I free ride. In other words, I expect to contribute to my altruism.

    As a purely Platonic example, let’s suppose that inequalty continued to grow monotonically to its maximum conceivable degree: say in which one family was worth s trillions, and the rest of the society was consigned to bare subsistence. Is this an acceptable outcome? Is this a society you would want to live in? No. The solution is to create institutions which foster win win relationships and which preclude win lose.

    Can the influence of money and individual power on public policy be mitigated by structuring government power differently (e.g. isolating decision makers from financial and personal rewards, or setting up competing and overlapping nexuses of power)? Yes. Government influence and interference need to be constrained to avoid capture by special interest rent seeking groups. Competing and overlapping nexuses are another excellent tool.

    Should government have the ability to regulate economic externalities (pollution, third-party impacts, food and water safety)? Social externalities (poverty, economic exploitation)? Externalities must be managed via the appropriate means. In some cases this is government. Exploitation must be prevented ( though I define exploitation very differently from a Marxist, who probably defines it as giving a man a job). Equality of outcome is a terrible weapon to put in the hands of government, as it can be used to assume total control of everything and thus destroy the engine of free enterprise.

    If you could determine the characteristics of a “good society,” what would they be? Human flourishing as defined by the humans in that society. The key to accomplishing this is to align the interests of the egoist, the altruist and the utilitarian. When the three match up, you have the path to prosperity.Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley
    Ignored
    says:

    What is the purpose of a society?

    I hesitate to start the comments thread by sounding like I’m trying to undermine you, but I wonder if this question actually has any coherence. Humans are social animal by nature–our closest biological relatives are social animals, and the best indication is that whatever our last common ancestor with the chimps and bonobos was was probably a social animal, too. That is to say that society isn’t necessarily “for” anything, but “just is,” a natural aspect of our existence. Certainly we can put those societies to different uses, but it has no natural purpose beyond our simple biological need to be part of a group of our conspecifics. If it can be said to have a purpose, that purpose is simply satisfying our innate animal nature.

    Modified to “to what purposes do we want to put our society,” the question makes more sense, and–crucially, as I see it–makes it clear that it’s a question about our choices, not about inherent rightness/wrongess of different forms of social organizations.

    If you could determine the characteristics of a “good society,” what would they be?

    First and foremost, an absent minimum of compulsion of the individual, by anyone else, either public or private actor.

    Should government have the ability to regulate economic externalities (pollution, third-party impacts, food and water safety)?

    Pollution is a true externality, so “yes.” Third party impacts and food and water safety may be externalities–I’m dubious about third party impacts absent more specification, and food/water safety it depends on the specific form a lack of safety may take.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    What is the purpose of a society?

    This question strikes me as unnecessarily introducing teleology. Imagine saying “What is the purpose of a man?” or “What is the purpose of a woman?”

    A couple of months ago, I watched my nephews be part of a musical at their church and one of the big moments in the play is where the teacher tells the students that “the purpose of light is to illuminate the darkness”. This made me knit my brow.

    Where was I? Teleology. I don’t know that we can assume final causes on the part of emergent properties. It feels like a mistake.

    Is gross inequality intrinsically acceptable, or only when it is a means to a broad public good (e.g. economic growth)?

    If I do not break your leg, pick your pocket, or otherwise affect you in any way, I don’t see why my gross inequality wouldn’t be acceptable. I have *SO* much more than the average person in (Fourth World country). I mean, a shocking amount more. Is this a problem? What if the 4th World country is on the same landmass as I live on. What is, for example, my relationship to the Ese’Eja tribes of Peru when it comes to inequality?

    Is a relatively classless society superior to a more ingrained and hidebound social structure?

    This one seems like we can do real world examples and compare them to other real world examples… of course, we are coming from the perspective a relatively classless society and we’ll be comparing societies like our own to societies that had official castes and, using our cultural biases to say that our society is better than pre-Empire India. I’m sure that there would be some pre-Empire Indians (Brahmin, surely) who would explain how superior caste is to our more libertine social system where no one knows his or her place. They would say something like that, though.

    Does the government have any role in influencing the culture and structure of a society?

    Insofar as it tends to, it seems to me to tend to make efforts to protect and extend the established order.

    Are significant differences in economic and social opportunity a social problem? Should the government have any role in mitigating these differences?

    The first question that comes to mind is “a problem for whom?”… I’ve said before, I’ll say again: one of the things that bugs me about the argument that things were more stable back in the 50’s assumes that the speaker is a white heterosexual male. But let’s just answer “society in general” and answer the damn question already. The lower classes, like the middle and upper classes, have a number of members who would make excellent doctors, lawyers, master chefs, teachers, olympic athletes, astronauts, and accountants. Better than some of the middle and upper class mediocrities who ended up becoming doctors, lawyers, master chefs, teachers, and accountants. Insofar as these jobs add value to society in general, it would be better for these jobs to be filled with the excellent members of the lower classes that could do these jobs better than the mediocre middle/upper class folks do them.

    As such, differences in economic and social opportunity are bad for society in general and should be addressed.

    When it comes to the government’s role… well, we’re back to how the government tends to make efforts to protect and extend the established order.

    Are there economic goods to which people should be entitled, without regard to their market worth (Food? Medical care? Legal representation?)

    “Entitled” is a troublesome word. I’d prefer to say that there are things, without which, one is impoverished. Eliminating poverty would therefore necessarily entail ensuring that everyone has these things. From there, I’d ask if we, as a society, ought to eliminate poverty (either due to some moral reason or because it is in our own best interest or whathaveyou).

    As a purely Platonic example, let’s suppose that inequalty continued to grow monotonically to its maximum conceivable degree: say in which one family was worth s trillions, and the rest of the society was consigned to bare subsistence. Is this an acceptable outcome? Is this a society you would want to live in?

    Would they get these trillions by breaking legs/picking pockets? How close would they be to me (because I assume that I’d be one of the subsistence folk)?

    As a more real world example, imagine a world in which the US is responsible for X% of consumption, Y% of production, and Z% of poverty (and maybe aleph% of poverty alleviation).

    Would you still want to bring children into this world?

    Can the influence of money and individual power on public policy be mitigated by structuring government power differently (e.g. isolating decision makers from financial and personal rewards, or setting up competing and overlapping nexuses of power)?

    In theory, sure.
    In practice, it’ll get captured. It always gets captured.

    Should government have the ability to regulate economic externalities (pollution, third-party impacts, food and water safety)? Social externalities (poverty, economic exploitation)?

    Should? It does. It pretty much always does. I’d ask instead whether the government’s ability to regulat economic externalities (pollution, third-party impacts, food and water safety) is more likely to result in lessened pollution, third-party impacts, and food and water safety. In the US, I’d say that the record for these things is, at least, not bad (and may even reach the dizzying heights of pretty good)… and the same for social externalities.

    In Asia? Not so much.

    What’s the difference?

    If you could determine the characteristics of a “good society,” what would they be?

    One that is consistently growing, consistently developing, and consistently moving. Dynamism would be the hallmark of this society. It would, however, be near a society where it would be easy to just sit down for a while. People could retire there. This place would be fairly conservative.Report

  4. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
    Ignored
    says:

    What is the purpose of a society?

    That’s like asking “What is the purpose of a cloud?” A society is an emergent property of people living together. It doesn’t have a purpose. Individuals have purposes, and a good society is one that facilitates coordinating the purposes of individuals so that they don’t behave evilly toward one another and so that they can achieve various individually chosen purposes in cooperation.

    Why is this a “good” society? Because it treats individuals as ends in themselves. That means not positing purposes of its own or setting people up as means to a socially chosen end.

    Is gross inequality intrinsically acceptable, or only when it is a means to a broad public good (e.g. economic growth)?

    Neither. Gross material inequality is only clearly acceptable when it is the pure product of voluntary exchanges. (Yes, this does mean that we are justified in being suspicious of much material inequality today.)

    Gross political inequality is at best a necessary evil, but I think we should definitely work to reduce it as things stand right now. Much of it is obviously unneeded.

    Is a relatively classless society superior to a more ingrained and hidebound social structure?

    I don’t know. This is one of those questions where I just point out that I’ve never been to Utopia and don’t have a roadmap to get there. I’ve got some reforms I’d like to try, and I have some hopes about what they might do. But that’s it.

    Does the government have any role in influencing the culture and structure of a society?

    It can’t help but do so. It always will.

    Are significant differences in economic and social opportunity a social problem? Should the government have any role in mitigating these differences?
    At least in the near term, yes. Much that the government does, and that we consider impossible to do without, has the effect of increasing social and economic inequality. Taking these policies as givens, some mitigation is needed.

    Are there economic goods to which people should be entitled, without regard to their market worth (Food? Medical care? Legal representation?)

    I’d offer a guaranteed minimum income/negative income tax setup that was sufficient to buy health insurance and food. Legal representation by public defenders is currently a joke and deserves to be much better funded.

    As a purely Platonic example, let’s suppose that inequality continued to grow monotonically to its maximum conceivable degree: say in which one family was worth s trillions, and the rest of the society was consigned to bare subsistence. Is this an acceptable outcome? Is this a society you would want to live in?

    I don’t think it would be possible for this outcome to arise short of outright confiscation of property. In that case, it would be time for a revolution, one that I would strongly support.

    Can the influence of money and individual power on public policy be mitigated by structuring government power differently (e.g. isolating decision makers from financial and personal rewards, or setting up competing and overlapping nexuses of power)?

    That’s one helpful strategy. I would try several others as well, though, including specific enumerations of powers, guarantees of individual rights, term limits, more frequent use of impeachment and recall, more frequent use of sunset provisions, and in general an institutional design that makes it easier to remove existing laws than to pass new ones.

    Should government have the ability to regulate economic externalities (pollution, third-party impacts, food and water safety)? Social externalities (poverty, economic exploitation)?

    To the first, absolutely. A counter-question: Did you imagine that anyone would say no to this? I mean, anyone at all? This is strawmanning.

    Nobody’s saying that externalities are fine in themselves. Externalities are nothing less than infringements on property rights, or rights to security in one’s person. They should be prevented, or allowed only with consent and compensation, depending on the individual circumstance.

    As to social externalities, I don’t know if you’d consider a GMI sufficient to address the “social externality” of poverty. Probably not, I’m guessing, but that’s what you’d get if I were making the rules. As to economic exploitation, I don’t think such a thing exists short of fraud or coercion. If I offer you a crappy job, you may feel insulted, but I haven’t exploited you.

    If you could determine the characteristics of a “good society,” what would they be?

    Power should be dispersed. And it should be possible for people to make reasonably reliable predictions about the security of persons and property.Report

  5. Avatar James Hanley
    Ignored
    says:

    This is one of those questions where I just point out that I’ve never been to Utopia and don’t have a roadmap to get there. I’ve got some reforms I’d like to try, and I have some hopes about what they might do. But that’s it.

    And this is why Jason doesn’t get invited to the Sunday morning political talk shows.Report

  6. Avatar b-psycho
    Ignored
    says:

    What is the purpose of a society?

    Biologically, to continue to exist, period. Beyond that, well we’re here with other people and might as well make the most of it, since a truly solitary life sucks.

    Is gross inequality intrinsically acceptable, or only when it is a means to a broad public good (e.g. economic growth)?

    This leans a lot on the definitions people plug in for “gross” and “public good”. As people have different talents, skills, abilities, whatever you call it, there’s going to be variance barring some rather draconian restraints on civil society. However, go too far the other direction and you get the livelihood, liberty, and even at the furthest extreme life itself sacrificed in service of a false claim of “public good” that really is only a good for an elite few against the masses. Here this results in absurdities like the Kelo ruling, abroad and in past civilizations it has meant even far worse.

    Is a relatively classless society superior to a more ingrained and hidebound social structure?

    Assuming by “relatively classless” you’re not referring to primitive society, I’m inclined to say yes, because the latter has no inherent legitimacy. It’s impossible to have a firm class system where no one asks “why is so’n’so on the top, and why are we on the bottom?”, and that question leads inevitably to erosion of the system, open attempts at dismantling, or reactionary oppression of those asking it — which eventually results in the other two options in the long run anyway.

    Does the government have any role in influencing the culture and structure of a society?

    If you mean a legitimate role: absolutely not. What role governments do play amount to the formal expressions of the ruling class; if consensus actually exists then there’s no reason for an enforcement mechanism.

    Are significant differences in economic and social opportunity a social problem?

    To the extent that the differences arise from structural injustice, yes.

    Should the government have any role in mitigating these differences?

    Problem is, governments have been willing to exacerbate such injustices forever, at best only reaching a point of Break Legs, Then Hand Out Crutches. The interests of the rulers and the ruled never line up because to stop the leg-breaking (that is, dismantle the structural injustice that leads so many to need assistance in the first place) would undermine the point to ruling. So “should they have a (positive) role?” is a brick question: they can’t anyway.

    Are there economic goods to which people should be entitled, without regard to their market worth (Food? Medical care? Legal representation?)

    There are things people generally need, true. Ideally the provision of this type of aid would be disconnected from government as we know it though, as the baggage that comes with introducing 3rd party power isn’t worth the hassle IMO (you want to help the poor, instead government blows it on weapons and increasing surveillance of you, then has the nerve when people question it to say “what would you do without it?”. Umm…actually see that money get to the poor instead of in Boeing’s ledger?).

    Barring the rise of mutual aid in a post-state society, the least-bad option for this would be charging the recipients of state privilege an amount sufficient to fund a Citizen’s Dividend: tax land value, profit from natural resource extraction, & finance transactions, then directly give the proceeds back to the general public as compensation for putting up with this system. It’d still be the state, but at least it’d be simple and no one would starve. I’m not holding my breath though.

    As a purely Platonic example, let’s suppose that inequalty continued to grow monotonically to its maximum conceivable degree: say in which one family was worth s trillions, and the rest of the society was consigned to bare subsistence. Is this an acceptable outcome? Is this a society you would want to live in?

    Hell no, and hell no.

    Can the influence of money and individual power on public policy be mitigated by structuring government power differently (e.g. isolating decision makers from financial and personal rewards, or setting up competing and overlapping nexuses of power)?

    Strongly doubtful. I’d rather see conscious efforts at undermining that power and nullifying the gains from it.

    Should government have the ability to regulate economic externalities (pollution, third-party impacts, food and water safety)? Social externalities (poverty, economic exploitation)?

    They’re not going to in the ways repeatedly expected by mainstream liberalism. Hell, a regulation is pretty much what stepped between BP and bankruptcy.

    If you could determine the characteristics of a “good society,” what would they be?

    Beyond relative peace & free commerce among political equals, I couldn’t think of anything else. Intricate design of society is for people that want to control others.Report

  7. Avatar dand
    Ignored
    says:

    this site’s RSS feed seems to broken again…Report

  8. Avatar Stillwater
    Ignored
    says:

    What is the purpose of a society?

    To promote and protect the values and goals of its members. Unlike the above commenters, it seems very clear to me that social agreements and arrangements have a purpose, and a society is differentiated from a random collection of individuals precisely by those agreements and arrangements.

    Is gross inequality intrinsically acceptable, or only when it is a means to a broad public good (e.g. economic growth)?

    Gross inequality that arises from actual (rather than expected) positive sum voluntary transactions is intrinsically acceptable. Gross inequality that arises from only expected (but not actual) positive sum voluntary transactions may be acceptable. GE that arises from positive sum voluntary transactions between two agents but which have negative externalities is not acceptable.

    Is a relatively classless society superior to a more ingrained and hidebound social structure?

    Class divisions are OK just so long as equality of opportunity is maintained. That is, if there are no privileges exclusively held by only one class. (Of course, someone might define class in terms of privileges…)

    Does the government have any role in influencing the culture and structure of a society?

    Most definitely yes. On my view, necessarily so.

    Are significant differences in economic and social opportunity a social problem? Should the government have any role in mitigating these differences?

    Yes, and yes.

    Are there economic goods to which people should be entitled without regard to their market worth (Food? Medical care? Legal representation?)

    I don’t see entitlements (if I’m understanding you correctly here) being the types of things that are contingent on cost, so no.

    As a purely Platonic example, let’s suppose that inequalty continued to grow monotonically to its maximum conceivable degree: say in which one family was worth s trillions, and the rest of the society was consigned to bare subsistence. Is this an acceptable outcome? Is this a society you would want to live in?

    No and no.

    Can the influence of money and individual power on public policy be mitigated by structuring government power differently (e.g. isolating decision makers from financial and personal rewards, or setting up competing and overlapping nexuses of power)?

    No. People with power will always be drawn to politicians to engage in positive sum voluntary transactions (for them).

    Should government have the ability to regulate economic externalities (pollution, third-party impacts, food and water safety)? Social externalities (poverty, economic exploitation)?

    Yes, and yes.

    If you could determine the characteristics of a “good society,” what would they be?

    Christ, I dunno. More of the good, less of the bad?Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater
      Ignored
      says:

      Stillwater answers..What is the purpose of a society?

      “To promote and protect the values and goals of its members. Unlike the above commenters, it seems very clear to me that social agreements and arrangements have a purpose, and a society is differentiated from a random collection of individuals precisely by those agreements and arrangements.”

      The discrepancy between this and the libertarians is pretty subtle, IMO. Members do have goals and interests, and they can create rules and agreements and arrangements to accomplish these goals, and yes this makes the emergent results non random. And yes, I even agree that the emergent institutions tend to reflect something like “purpose.” In some cases this was intended. In other cases it is unintended and perhaps even unknown and unrecognized. Social institutions and incentives work in complex ways as algorithms. These inputs tend to result in these outputs, whether we intend them or recognize them.

      Libertarians tend to emphasize voluntary, non coercive institutions, because we realize that one plus one is greater than one, and one minus one is zero. Rational adults tend to avoid minuses unless coerced or tricked. Thus the key to social institutions that promote our interests collectively involves voluntary interactions with competing alternatives.

      Non libertarians often miss this insight and tend to try to inflict their vision of social progress coercively on others. they then fight over visions, and fight over the spoils, and get pretty much nowhere. Oh sure, someone wins, and someone loses, but One minus one always adds up to pretty much the same thing. If you force it on someone, you are admitting you are unable to persuade them that it is in their interest.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Roger, the liberal believes everything you’ve attributed to the libertarian. They disagree about the limits of government. Liberals think that non-coercive voluntary transactions require lots of constraints because of the power imbalances (broadly construed) inherent in social interactions.Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater
          Ignored
          says:

          Requiring a taxpayer to subsidize union dues which are used to fund higher campaign contributions to lobby for higher taxes and higher union salaries is not a constraint. It is involuntary coercion. No?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger
            Ignored
            says:

            {{{Public unions are destroying my life!}}}

            It is involuntary coercion. No?

            As opposed to what, voluntary coercion? Any revenue collection system imposed by the state is a form of coercion. Public unions are different in kind from private unions, yes. Does liberal support for public unions undermine the entire liberal project? Not for the liberal. But apparently it does for the libertarian.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater
              Ignored
              says:

              Sounds of kittens howling….Report

            • Avatar M.A. in reply to Stillwater
              Ignored
              says:

              Public unions are different in kind from private unions, yes.

              Public unions are different in kind from private unions, NO. As proven time and again, politicians are just as happy as CEOs to fish with union employees if they think they’ll get an advantage out of it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to M.A.
                Ignored
                says:

                I don’t disagree with that, but what you say here actually supports the libertarian criticism of them: that the agreements made by public unions are influenced by politics and party affiliation.

                I think they are different in kind, tho. The definition of a union under CB is that they are a negotiating entity and a negotiation is between two parties. The public union negotiates with the state, while the private union negotiates with a private firm.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I should add (since you’re relatively new here) that I support public unions, tho less robustly than I do private unions.Report

              • Avatar Bad-ass Motherfisher in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I support public employee unions, but not, generally, their right to strike. Most public services are critical monopolies, and their leverage is, therefore, outsized relative to unions in private industries.

                So I find myself, incredibly, saying that Reagan was right to fire the PATCO workers in 1981.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Bad-ass Motherfisher
                Ignored
                says:

                Depends on the industry. PATCO? Police? Firefighters? EMTs? Sure.

                City sanitation? You can make the case maybe – but that’s a tougher call based on my next point:

                If they would be locked out and told to stay home in the event of a government budget shutdown, nothing doing. They can strike.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Democrat politicians are just as willing to screw the union members in “right to work” states as Republican politicians are. Politicians under a budget crunch quite often turn around and blame it all on “pension overhead”, an ugly term they use to dehumanize people who worked a long time in a position to vest in their retirement benefits while serving their communities.

                I have yet in my LIFETIME to see a politician actually thank government employees for doing some of the most fishing thankless jobs that far too many assholes in the private sector spit on them for doing because it’s “beneath” those in the private sector.

                The public union negotiates with the state, while the private union negotiates with a private firm.

                And across the table, it’s no different. Those in power are playing to reduce wages and benefits, those in union are trying to get the best deal for their members. This whole fishing bullshit smear I’ve heard about “well in government union negotiations the union is on both sides of the table” is just that, fishing bullshit. The most a union can do is strike or engage in a PR campaign, in either case. In government negotiation, the union is actually at a DISadvantage; a PR campaign against a politician might actually have to wait until an election cycle while a PR campaign against a company going too far can begin immediately.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to M.A.
                Ignored
                says:

                Hey, I said I don’t disagree!

                But there is a conceptual difference – if not a practical one (tho I think it shows up there as well) – between the two types of unions.

                {{I’ll just leave it there.}}Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to M.A.
                Ignored
                says:

                “Democrat politicians”

                Heh. I need to apologize to Trumwill. (I thought only conservatives used this term.)Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to M.A.
                Ignored
                says:

                Actually, I think the public sector in the US should be paid more in line with what their counterparts in the private sector receive. Or else all you’ll get in the public sector are private sector rejects.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                Yeah, this. I don’t think public employees should be underpaid. I don’t think that they should get benefits the private sector gets either, though.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                Absent citizen choice, the market rate algorithm falls apart. In a monopoly, those in charge lack the market signals to set the appropriate wage. It just becomes a force of wills and rationalizations. With actual competition, the government workers would receive more to the extent necessary to ensure quality of goods that meet the consumer or citizens needs.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                My comment should have read that the private sector doesn’t get, though.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                The public sector has long traded lower wages for perceived job security and benefits being better.

                This matters.

                All the cries of how “public employees get better benefits, they’re ripping off taxpayers” ignore the disparity in take-home pay that has existed a long while.

                Looking and comparing wages and benefits with my friends, after “people” (and I use the term loosely) like Roger got done with them, the public sector don’t have better benefits than the private. They’re not paying less co-pays or premiums for health insurance. They’re not getting equal wages to the private sector, and the job security is rapidly evaporating.

                It’s easy to scream “buh buh buh they get blah blah and I don’t get blah blah” when you don’t know what the fish you’re talking about.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                Then let’s raise wages and cut benefits for future public employees.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh, and people you don’t agree with are still people. No need to question their humanity.Report

          • Avatar Bad-ass Motherfisher in reply to Roger
            Ignored
            says:

            Requiring a taxpayer to subsidize union dues which are used to fund higher campaign contributions to lobby for higher taxes and higher union salaries…

            Could you elaborate? How are taxpayers being required to subsidize union dues?Report

            • Avatar M.A. in reply to Bad-ass Motherfisher
              Ignored
              says:

              Roger thinks that a public union requiring its members to pay dues is funneling “taxpayer money” (e.g. the dues, from the wages of members) into the union.

              He further asserts that if the system doesn’t allow dishonest embezzling free-riders, it’s “coercive” because every member of the class involved – the employees – pays in for the benefits they receive from the union’s negotiations and advocacy.

              By this logic, every dollar that has ever flowed in commerce at one point went through the hands of a government agency in the form of a fee, fine, tax, whatever. By the time it gets to a union it’s at least 2 steps removed from being “tax money.” But you’ll never get him to admit that.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to Bad-ass Motherfisher
              Ignored
              says:

              BAM,

              Just to clarify the argument…

              In free markets, wages and benefits are set by supply and demand as are all prices. They are mutually agreed to with competing alternatives and thus, except in extreme cases of duress, non coercive. If the same rules applied to public employees, then the wages and benefits would be set via the same voluntary process. If prospective employees were willing to do the same or better job for less, the government would be free to hire them and the prospective employee would be free to work. All actions are mutually beneficial and voluntary. The consumer would similarly be free to purchase the supplied good, or not purchase it, or purchase it from someone else. This competition drives innovation and cost efficiency, as consumers are fickle and will go elsewhere for a better deal.

              For government workers there are many violations of these freedoms. First, the taxpayer is forced to buy the product, whether he wants to or not. Second, he is forced to buy it from the monopoly provider who coercively prohibits competition. Third, the wages of government union employees are not set via voluntary agreement, but by fiat set by politicians who are often dependent upon the union for their election. Then, the union employees are forced to pay dues, whether they want to or not. These dues are paid by the taxpayer, an used by the union to further exploit the taxpayer. ( exploitation being defined as a coercive, involuntary act).

              I count at let four or five levels of coercion and market interference. Free rider issues do come to play, but can usually be solved non coercively with a little foresight.Report

              • Avatar Bad-ass Motherfisher in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Free rider issues do come to play, but can usually be solved non coercively with a little foresight.

                Yeah? How?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Bad-ass Motherfisher
                Ignored
                says:

                The two free rider issues that jump out at me here are the citizen/taxpayer and the govnment worker.

                The free rider issue with the citizen is handled by focusing and restricting mandatory services to true public goods, such as genuine defense and courts. Most other services can be voluntary or pay for use or structured like insurance. Even in public goods, some libertarians will argue for levels of choice and competition where practical.

                For the worker free rider situation, the problem is solved by linking costs and benefits. Union benefits and dues should be isolated to union members. If unions can negotiate for better wages, better hours, better pensions, then wouldn’t a worker be crazy not to join?

                Of course, in the end these union terms usually rest upon coercion. The reason is that in a free market, the employer is also free to offer a job to a non union employee. This totally undermines the union, and market rates once again prevail. The union then acts to negotiate on how the wages and benefits are structured, rather than extracting above maket rates.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                and market rates once again prevail.

                You mean, and wages enter a free-fall while the CEO laughs to the bank.

                A couple years later, the CEO’s unofficial policy to fire anyone talking about unions comes to fruition and presto, no more union.

                That’s reality, not this bullshit you’re spewing.Report

              • Avatar Bad-ass Motherfisher in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Hmmm… Saying that the “citizen” free rider problem is mitigated by restricting mandatory services to such services as defense and courts is like saying that the air pollution problem is solved by not breathing. The free rider problem is simply a mismatch between intentions and incentives: opting out of the game is not really a solution to the free rider problem, as a redefinition of goals.

                As for having two-tiered wages and benefits, that introduces all kinds of new incentive problems for both employer and employee. You’re seriously suggesting that the solution to the union membership free rider problem is to also allow workers with non-negotiated salaries and benefits?

                I think a good part of the problem is the adversarial nature of American unions. Something more along the lines of European trade unions, in which the relationship is more collaborative, and the union takes primary responsibility for worker quality, might help make unionization less problematic for both public and private employers.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Bad-ass Motherfisher
                Ignored
                says:

                You’re seriously suggesting that the solution to the union membership free rider problem is to also allow workers with non-negotiated salaries and benefits?

                As I read it that is precisely what Roger is suggesting.

                And it’s been tried. Over and over again. “Right to work” states were the initial salvo in the war between the abusive types like Roger and most of the workforce. At first it was “if they don’t want to pay union dues they don’t have to, they can just forego union benefits and not be able to vote in union meetings.” Then it was “Well it’s the CEO’s choice and if he refuses to hire workers from the union and if he chooses to refuse to negotiate with the union then that’s his freedom of association.

                From there it’s a quick stopoff to the “fire anyone who discusses unionization” and the “at-will employment” clauses necessary to keep the reasons off the books.

                In Roger’s magical market fairyland, of course, none of this ever happened even though we’ve watched it happen over, and over, and over again here in reality where the rest of us have to live.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Bad-ass Motherfisher
                Ignored
                says:

                BSM,

                Not following you on the citizen part. Free rider problems are an issue with public goods. I am suggesting we limit the coercive nature of government to true public goods. If you live here, you need to fund courts, law enforcement and basic true defense (not whatever it is we spend a trillion dollars on and call defense).

                As an example, Social security is not a public good under this definition (though it may still be good). I believe we would have a vastly superior system today if SS allowed people to choose among competing reasonable alternatives and even to opt out with a notarized letter of refusing benefits signed annually. Nobody would sign up for the fund that had been robbed by politicians, thus politicians wouldn’t have been able to rob it.

                Every company I have worked for had an unlimited tiered system of wages and benefits. Grab any hundred employees at random and they would have different wage amounts, benefits, pension choices etc. Heck, they call it a cafeteria plan. It would be simple to have set plans and combos for union employees. There are some worker safety issues that would be public goods, but I can think of some ways around that as well. Let’s not go there though.

                I agree with the need for more collaborative unions. I definitely would not endorse using coercion to force an employer to hire a union worker. They should be free to hire whomever they like. Taking away this freedom would be unfair to consumers and those workers that are excluded from the freedom to be hired.

                I realize virtually every liberal on earth disagrees with libertarians on this point. Perhaps we are even wrong, though I suspect most economists are more on our side than not.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Bad-ass Motherfisher
                Ignored
                says:

                I agree with the need for more collaborative unions. I definitely would not endorse using coercion to force an employer to hire a union worker. They should be free to hire whomever they like. Taking away this freedom would be unfair to consumers and those workers that are excluded from the freedom to be hired.

                What Roger ignores: this has been implemented many times in real life, in “right to work” states. The CEOs turned and told the unions to go fish themselves, because their “freedom of association” meant they could just blacklist all the union members followed by reimplementing abuses the unions were formed to fight against and implementing policies such as “privacy policies” on compensation to prevent – for example – Lily Ledbetter from finding out she was being discriminated. And the CEOs promptly did everything they could get away with.

                And the fishing coward won’t respond to the point because he KNOWS it eviscerates his magical market fairyland argument.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                In free markets, wages and benefits are set by supply and demand as are all prices.

                Except that this is not a truly free market. A much smaller class of people hold control of the majority of wealth and the majority of information. Except for some small subsets of “bid contract” work that’s usually only in construction, there is no bidding process – and even there, the “bidding” process is for firms involved, not individuals.

                They are mutually agreed to with competing alternatives and thus, except in extreme cases of duress, non coercive.

                No, they’re not. “Mutual Agreement” implies a negotiating process; what exists in this market is take-it-or-leave-it “bargaining” with one side holding total power.

                If the same rules applied to public employees, then the wages and benefits would be set via the same voluntary process. If prospective employees were willing to do the same or better job for less, the government would be free to hire them and the prospective employee would be free to work.

                You say this as if it’s not the case. I’ve applied for government jobs before. It’s the same application process as any other company and in actuality, the same form of take-it-or-leave-it offer process.

                For government workers there are many violations of these freedoms. First, the taxpayer is forced to buy the product, whether he wants to or not.

                I’m required to pay my taxes. And the fees to register my car. And the fees for my water service. Shocker of shockers. I’m also required to pay the fees for my electrical service, even though it’s a private utility company on that one.

                Second, he is forced to buy it from the monopoly provider who coercively prohibits competition.

                As opposed to a non-governmental monopoly provider, or oligopoly provider that’s a member of a de facto monopolistic trust group.

                Third, the wages of government union employees are not set via voluntary agreement, but by fiat set by politicians who are often dependent upon the union for their election.

                You know what really happens? People apply for a government job same as a private job. The hiring manager or HR person otherwise in the department writes up an offer, gets the appropriate signatures, and then they offer the job. General wage levels are set by category, just as happens in a private company.

                All you’ve proven is you don’t know what the fish you’re talking about.

                Then, the union employees are forced to pay dues, whether they want to or not. These dues are paid by the taxpayer, an used by the union to further exploit the taxpayer.

                Where does it end?
                If my tax money goes to the government, which then contracts a union construction company to build a new building, and those tax dollars translate into union wages a portion of which the employees then spend on union dues, is it still “dues paid by the taxpayer and used by the union”?

                I count at let four or five levels of coercion and market interference.

                I count maybe ONE that doesn’t exist outside of the government itself, and that’s the requirement to pay taxes for the services that the majority of society have agreed shall be legally required to be paid for in order to provide the service to all citizens and legally present aliens.

                Free rider issues do come to play, but can usually be solved non coercively with a little foresight.

                I’d like to see how you think that can be accomplished.

                Meanwhile, I now understand where a lot of this nonsense from you comes. You’re arguing from some idealized version of how you want things to be, rather than dealing with the reality everyone else here lives in. And every time someone insists that we should deal with reality, you argue that reality sucks because in your ideal world things would be completely different even though in the real world things are not even close to the misrepresentations you make.Report

        • Avatar M.A. in reply to Stillwater
          Ignored
          says:

          Let’s put it in easier terms.

          The liberal, in many cases, can agree on certain principles with libertarians.

          However, the liberal does not think that the “voluntary transaction” is the end-all and be-all of philosophical thought. “Voluntary transactions” often and quickly, in a situation where there is power imbalance, become coercive.

          Looked at a contract for cell phone service, cable TV, internet service? Banking or credit cards? Even your utility bills? There’s some bullshit boilerplate on every single one about the company you’re dealing with reserving the right to unilaterally change the terms of the contract at any point in time for any reason. There’s some bullshit on it about you giving up your right to take things to the court system in favor of “binding arbitration”, a system that has never done any good for anyone but the bribed arbitrators.

          Coercion by the wealthy class is all around you. They don’t need to stick a gun in your back, they already have you over a barrel. You want to know who’s REALLY dishonest, look at anyone who sells insurance; they’re in the business of setting up contracts to defraud people on technicalities. The business – quite literally – of not paying what under contractual law they should be obliged to pay, and hoping that most of the people they defraud are now too poor to afford to take it to court.Report

          • Avatar b-psycho in reply to M.A.
            Ignored
            says:

            That your point on contracts doesn’t also at least raise eyebrows among the bulk of libertarians is unfortunate. It short circuits free exchange for only one side of a deal to be able to negotiate.

            I’d say the root of their leverage though comes from the fact that the state will defend them to the exclusion of you (next time you’re presented a pre-written contract, try crossing out the terms you disagree with and sliding it back across the table & see what happens). If pre-written contracts lacked force of law behind them then they’d have to actually discuss terms with you.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to b-psycho
              Ignored
              says:

              Psycho,

              Are you surprised, really, that a company with billions of dollars in assets is unwilling to do one-off negotiating of contracts with you when selling phones or insurance? The explanation is actually quite clear.

              The choice you have is to go to another provider. These companies actually do compete on the quality, terms and reliability of their contracts. But my guess is the premium for a write your own contract would be a lot more than any of us could afford.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Sometimes you actually can negotiate with large entities. Tim Lee wrote on this a while back when he threatened to leave Comcast after a rate hike. They responded by moderating or eliminating the hike. DirecTV did that for me when I was planning to switch to cable.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Mr. Blue
                Ignored
                says:

                Good point, I stand corrected. I was thinking more along the lines of terms of the contract that could result in liability exposure.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mr. Blue
                Ignored
                says:

                I didn’t even have to do that. I just asked Comcast how much money I would save on my total (Internet plus TV) bill by cutting out the TV service. I decided it wasn’t worth it (only would have saved a couple of dollars), and when I was about to hang up they gave me a huge discount for six months.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                The choice you have is to go to another provider. These companies actually do compete on the quality, terms and reliability of their contracts.

                I’ve compared terms, many times.

                Your claim is absolute fishing bullshit. They don’t compete. Every single one of them has the same boilerplate.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        Non libertarians often miss this insight and tend to try to inflict their vision of social progress coercively on others.

        What’s the insight we’re missing? That voluntary transactions are preferrable to coerced ones? I think we get that, Roger. Every liberal to a person gets that. We disagree with libertarians about whether voluntary transactions are sufficient to maximize utility, or to prevent violations of rights, or that it will create a just society (by our conception of that term), or that it will be stable (which is a necessary condition for human flourishing). And we have lots of evidence – which you reject – to support our views. So it’s not like these liberal views are a priori derived from a belief that a massive enough state entails liberal utopia. There really is no liberal utopia, except equality of opportunity. And achieving that requires lots of tinkering.

        On the flip side, we share with libertarians a belief that the other sides views are incoherent or impractical.Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater
          Ignored
          says:

          Involuntary, coercive tinkering.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger
            Ignored
            says:

            Yeah, Roger. Coercive. It’s not like repeating that over and over will suddenly make the liberal wake up to the error of his ways. OMG! I’ve been advocating coercion all these years! The horror!

            Look, there’s a fundamental disagreement between liberals and libertarians. I say fundamental because at root, the libertarian proposition is that if we can just realize idealized social arrangements between individuals based on non-coercive voluntary positive sum transactions, we’ll maximize subjective utility (or liberty or whatever). But what about free-riders? Externalities? CAPs? Fraud? Force? The poor? Market failures? Systematic racism and bigotry? Exploitation?

            Does your view justify “coercive tinkering” in those cases? In the perfect case, maybe not. If we could just get the incentives right, then society would hum along perfectly without anything more than the bare minimum of coercion by the state. But the liberal thinks that society isn’t right, that the ideal is a (practical, if not logical) impossibility, and so the liberal advocates … wait for it … the bare minimum of coercion by the state. The liberal may be wrong about some of his proposals, and there is room to dispute some of the liberal presumptions and the analysis of the evidence, but the liberal’s views are distinct from the libertarians in a really important respect: the liberal could be wrong.

            The libertarian enjoys no such luxury. Or defect, depending on your view.Report

            • Avatar M.A. in reply to Stillwater
              Ignored
              says:

              Roger thinks anything at all he doesn’t like is “coercive.” If you’re in the middle class, you’re presented thousands of “take it or leave it” propositions whereas if you’re in the privileged class like him, you can actually negotiate terms with providers of many services.

              I dislike being coerced into a “take it or leave it” contract giving a bank or credit card agency the “right” to change terms at will, when I am not given that same right. To me, that’s fishing coercive but to Roger it’s a “voluntary interaction” and cannot possibly be coercive because the bogeyman of “government” isn’t involved – just the pseudo-governmental banking group, which operate in such lockstep they ought to be considered a monopoly.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to M.A.
                Ignored
                says:

                Roger probably thinks that anything he didn’t agree to that he’s forced to do that he doesn’t want to is coercive!Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Roger probably thinks that anything he didn’t agree to that he’s forced to do that he doesn’t want to is coercive!

                If this is right, then any constraint on any behavior is a form of coercion. Even ones we generally accept, like constraints against randomly assaulting someone!

                Even libertarians differentiate between justified and unjustified coercion. And that’s where the differences between Ls and Ls seems to really get muddled.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                “…an illegitmate form of coercion.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                So we just stipulate that the coercion is legitimate and we’re good.

                Let’s get something to eat.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Snipy, empty comments like this make me get a little impatient with you sometimes. I apologize in advance if I do. It’s my fault.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Let me rephrase then:

                We don’t disagree over whether it’s coercion. As a matter of fact, we agree that it is.

                It’s just that you’ve concluded that the coercion is legitimate and I haven’t reached that conclusion.

                Is that better?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s just that you’ve concluded that the coercion is legitimate and I haven’t reached that conclusion.

                Fair enough, if that’s all libertarianism amounted to. But it isn’t. In general, it’s not defined by a scepticism of specific government practices, but an affirmative argument against those practices. It shifts the burden the other way.

                Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just that you’re mischaracterizing your own theory of PE here.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s more that if we haven’t demonstrated legitimacy, then we probably shouldn’t be using force to resolve the issue.

                The step of establishing legitimacy is not one that should be so easily overlooked before using force to resolve issues… and, as such, *YES*, we shouldn’t be doing it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s more that if we haven’t demonstrated legitimacy, then we probably shouldn’t be using force to resolve the issue.

                “Probably” does lots of work there, don’t you think?

                Do you see how what you say here is a slippery slope, one libertarians are very happy to slide down? A strong enough (or arbitrary enough) scepticism regarding the use of coercive force by government entails that the burden can only be met by proof. Indubitable, irrefutable evidence. But that’s a burden which cannot be met since there are no proofs for empirical claims. And even then, the entire libertarian system might have subjective utility as the foundation upon which it’s built, and if so, then an empirical proof is logically impossible.

                No argument or evidence could refute the view.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Where would you like begin our standing around?

                Prohibition of alcohol? Too easy?

                How about the War on Drugs? Too stacked in my favor?

                How about Bloomberg’s soder ban? Still too troublesome?

                How about Obamacare?

                Would we rather jump all the way to laws preventing rape and murder and start haggling from that side of the argument?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Prohibition of alcohol? How about the War on Drugs?

                If that’s all libertarianism amounted to, I’d be on board in a heartbeat brother.

                How about Bloomberg’s soder ban?

                Personally, I could give a rats ass about the soda ban.

                How about Obamacare?

                I’m in favor of it! And the reasons you aren’t is precisely where my above comment applies.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                If we agree that all of those are on the same continuum, I daresay that the accusations of appeals to a slippery slope aren’t exactly fair. The slope is not only slippery, we’re moving even as we speak.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, they’re your examples brother. Do better, and I promise I will too.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I couldn’t possibly be happier with agreeing that they’re all examples on the same continuum.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Remember that advance apology I promised upthread? I’m a man of my word. I’m done. I apologize for being impatient.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Coercion used, as a last resort, to prohibit coercion is indeed an attempt to use bad to counter bad. It is designing coercion to eliminate itself.

                Using coercion to tinker is using a bad to tinker. It may or may not deliver the goods, but it is guaranteed to create the bad.

                From here everything spins out of control. Soon we have factions with different visions of good fighting to control the engine of coercion. Then they start using it against each other proactively, for good of course. Net result is always the same. A short lifespan, an elite at the helm, and a standard of living around a dollar or two a day. It has been tried ten thousand times, for ten thousand years and every single time it leads to the same place.

                Maybe it will be different this time though….Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                If you want a truly libertarian society free of coercion, go live on Solaria.

                Back here on the real world, there’s a need for some level of coercion in the adjudication of what people can and can’t do to each other. Occasionally a group like the rich in the USA or the religious heads in the Middle East get too much power, and the solution is to take away some of their power, and damn right you usually have to be coercive to make that happen.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Roger —

                Speed limits — people coerced into driving at or below a certain speed.

                Zoning requirements — property owners forbidden to build a MacDonalds next door to my suburban home.

                Pilot and driver licensing — people refused permission to operate vehicles without proper training and testing — and vehicle inspections requiring minimum operational standards.

                Educational standards — families required by law to educate their children to a certain level — and taxes collected (at the point of a gun 😉 ) to ensure the education of all children.

                “coerced” “forbidden” “refused” “required”

                This list can go on and on. You benefit greatly from all of these coercions and you know it. Society benefits. These things are not dragging us down to this inevitable “net result” you’re so afraid of. These coercions improve our lives every day.

                And if we let the marketplace determine how these things work? “Well, if you don’t like the teenagers driving at 100 mph, stay off the road.” “Well, if you don’t like the MacDonalds next door, move.” “Well, if a family decides that their children shouldn’t be educated past the third grade, who are we to argue?”

                Your philosophical stance, as pure as it sounds, simply doesn’t work.

                You say: “It has been tried ten thousand times, for ten thousand years and every single time it leads to the same place.”

                Really? You live better, today, than 99% of all the humans that have ever lived. There have been plenty of bumps on the road, and we haven’t all achieved the status that we should all have, but there has still been an overall constant improvement of the human condition throughout. And you think that this happened in spite of laws and regulations and governance?

                I’ll quote your favorite philosopher: “Check your premises.”Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Hi Rex,
                Thanks for the questions. I spend all day thinking about this and benefit greatly from such probes or corrections.

                We agree to speed limits and licenses when we use public roads. This is a voluntary act that benefits us greatly. Though I am inconvenienced slightly for each red light, I gain a thousand times this in safety and traffic flow knowing that all on the road play by these rules. I would be crazy not to agree to the costs and benefits here.

                We already had the discussion on zoning. I recommend zoning rules be set as locally as possible, as minimally as possible and agreed to unanimously or upon purchase of the house.

                I think many a libertarian would argue that we should be given a choice in where and how we educate our kids. I’m sure I could find libertarian solutions to your problem of forced education if I googled it. I’d be willing to go along with a supermajority vote on mandatory schooling if it included a sunset clause and was revisited every ten years. I am confident that a supermajority would approve of reasonable coercive school requirements.

                Obviously every society is a mix of coercive and voluntary interactions. My point is that coercion can and should be minimized.

                Until the last few centuries there used to be regulations against the trade of grain, regs on price controls, guilds setting regulations on the price, quality, supply of every imaginable product, monopolies for sale, regs to limit entry and competition into business. It was escaping these barriers and foolish regulations which enabled us to leap into prosperity.

                Don’t get me wrong, I agree completely with the need for courts, property “rights” and enforcement mechanisms against coercion or fraud. These too are necessary for prosperity.

                I could discuss this for hours if you are interested and keep an open mind….Report

  9. Avatar wardsmith
    Ignored
    says:

    Snarky, a timely response to your posts questions. Your questions while valid exist in a vacuum. Let us fill that vacuum with the wisdom of Pericles’ funeral oration (or equivalent if one there be) and work our way out from there.Report

  10. Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark
    Ignored
    says:

    Just a follow-up post to talk about my intentions for this post.

    So much of the conversation around “inequality” seemed to fall into the well-worn partisan ruts, that I thought it might be useful to tease out some of the underlying issues and presumptions surrounding the issues around the issue.

    My intention had been to generate conversation in some of the nooks and crannies of the inequality issue. I had no specific point to make, or agenda to pursue, beyond promoting dialogue. I’m pretty disappointed by the result: it looks like I failed pretty utterly.

    I was particularly surprised by how much pushback I got on the first question. I think of culture as an emergent phenomenon, but society as a mass, consensual projection of culture: the embodiment of its culture, values, and social understandings.

    Thanks to everyone who did respond.Report

    • You din’t fail atall, Mr. McS. But Plato and Pericles’ responses 2500 yrs ago threaten to take you where you don’t want to go.

      You show the rare ability to start at the beginning of things rather than look around you and say WTF?Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark
      Ignored
      says:

      I liked the questions. I wished people had pushed back or probed more on the responses. What were you interested in probing, Snarky?

      I also wish more non libertarians had answered. I count two responses from non libertarians.

      I especially liked the responses to the first question. I think some were extremely illuminating. They added to your question. I still do not understand why you say culture is emergent but you seem to imply that society isn’t.

      Finally, how do you differ from the libertarian answers?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        I also wish more non libertarians had answered. I count two responses from non libertarians.

        I was disappointed in that as well. One thing I give libertarians alot of credit for is making their views explicit. I think liberals get a an F on this, generally speaking. (Creon Critic comes to mind as someone who gets an A, but he’s an exception. And therefore exceptional!) Part of this is that contrary to Roger’s and other’s belief that liberals are “statists who believe in forced equality of outcomes” and all that, most liberals – it seems to me – don’t hold robust apriori-derived prescriptions for how society should function. They look at the world as it is, see problems where they are, and propose solutions.

        Of course, it should be admitted and accepted – by me and others liberals – that the libertarian views these methods as unsound (Hanley: “terminate with extreme prejudice” – I think he was serious!) and as exacerbating the very problems the liberal is attempting to resolve.

        But that’s a discussion which we haven’t made much headway on in terms of agreement and in my mind constitutes the fundamental cleavage in the two views.Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater
          Ignored
          says:

          “…most liberals – it seems to me – don’t hold robust apriori-derived prescriptions for how society should function. They look at the world as it is, see problems where they are, and propose solutions.”

          This is my primary liberal insight from the discussions on the LoOG. Some of us believe this intuition leads y’all astray. It leads to societies of good intentions.

          I just finished Joyce Appleby’s history of capitalism, and the first few chapters are all about how good intentions got in the way of prosperity.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Roger
            Ignored
            says:

            Then it’s a good things so many capitalists have such bad intentions .Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to Mike Schilling
              Ignored
              says:

              No, it is a good thing that institutions are designed in such a way that the intentions of the players lead to net gains for society. When the institutions align the incentives of the egoist, the altruist and the utilitarian, then prosperity reigns.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                No, it is a good thing that institutions are designed in such a way that the intentions of the players lead to net gains for society.

                the first few chapters are all about how good intentions got in the way of prosperity.

                So, it’s obvioiusly not having intentions that matters. Or having good intentions, either. But having the right kind of intentions. You know, the ones that lead to prosperity.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                When the institutions align the incentives of the egoist, the altruist and the utilitarian, then prosperity reigns.

                Just so long as we constrain force and fraud, externalities, CAPs, free-riding, bigotry and racism, and enforce equality of opportunity, remedies for poverty, the elimination of exploitation, saftey and health standards, protections of the commons, etc etc.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                You strike a hard bargain…. But if we agree to use a light touch on the “enforce equality of opportunity” I will call you. Yes, with that caveat, I would be happy to accept your offer. Anything beyond that would be too disruptive and dangerous for a first step.

                Baby steps are good, and I accept your recommendation.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Lol, Roger. I almost spit up my coffee.

                I mean, lots of this discussion is people talking past each other. Libertarians are very attached to their critique of current states of affairs. And I’m largely sympathetic to that critique. There are lots of problems with how government interacts with society, lots of things libertarians can inform liberals about, especially wrt how specific policies are and ought to be implemented. We don’t pay nearly enough attention to that and there are undoubtedly better ways to accomplish the goals a specific policy is putatively trying achieve.

                But too often the conversation gets bogged down by generalities. Usually, it seems to me, the libertarian proposal for solution to X requires a change in Y, which in turn requires redoing or eliminating Z, from which it follows that only if A ….

                That’s when liberals start griping. Justifiably, in my view.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                That last part is confusing. I’m saying that liberals recoil when the libertarian solution to problem X entails embracing the entirety of the libertarian Grand Vision. (And liberals generally don’t agree with the Grand Vision, otherwise we’d be libertarians.) Kuznicki does a good job of avoiding this, btw. And so do you, for the most part. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                What you offered is better than any libertarian will ever get and is probably about as much as society could ever handle, and any libertarian who asked for more than society can handle is not a good one IMO.

                You said it yourself. Extreme positions and utopias are for religious zealots. Baby steps are fine for me.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I’ll put it more simply.

                Asked for a solution that is realistic to solving a visible problem in today’s society as it currently exists, the Libertarian/Roger model is to remake the entire system. And anything less is obviously unworkable, because in the idealized system they imagine where the magical market fairies reign supreme after spraying pixie dust over everyone to eliminate coercion, everything works just fine without big old mean Gargamel… er “government” to get in the way. And anything less than implementing their ultimate idea is just not something they are interested in discussions of.

                Case in point: unions. Roger is all for unions… unless union membership is mandatory to work at a place where you, as an employee, would get the benefit of the union negotiations. Or unless it’s a government union, because government = EEEEEvil.

                In the real world, unions weren’t the problem. Unions were the solution to a far, far more heinous set of problems including racism and discrimination and completely unsafe and exploitative working conditions set up by CEOs and upper management. Unions only worked if everyone was playing by the same rules, so those who got the benefit of union negotiation had to play by the rules.

                What was the solution by the upper crust exploiters like Roger? Policies that sound absolutely freaking wonderful on paper when described in magical fairyland language, and are absolutely worthless in reality. Policies like “right to work” and “at-will employment”, policies that try to enable the free-riders.

                In Roger’s magical free market fairyland, workers form a union when the conditions are unfair, the CEO magically pops up to negotiate, everything is fixed. Out here in reality where the rest of us have to live, the CEO gets a “right to work” policy in place, starts driving off union workers and playing backroom deals with nonunion workers to pay them -for a while – extra under the table if they DON’T join the union. Eventually, CEO tells the union to fuck off because his “free association” says he doesn’t have to negotiate with them and any worker caught talking about unionization or discussing pay/benefits is going to be fired. Presto, no more union. And once it’s gone, anyone talking about it is gone, so union STAYS gone as pay and benefits and safety get progressively crappier now that CEO doesn’t have to do with those pesky peasants organizing any more.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark
      Ignored
      says:

      I was particularly surprised by how much pushback I got on the first question.

      I was talking to Maribou about this and she suggested the question “What is the purpose of participating in society?”Report

  11. Avatar Murali
    Ignored
    says:

    What is the purpose of a society?

    Cooperation for mutual advantage

    Is gross inequality intrinsically acceptable, or only when it is a means to a broad public good (e.g. economic growth)?

    Inequality is problematic (to any degree at all) if and only if either of two conditions take place.
    1. It causes states of affairs which are bad in their own right and also bad due to features which are problematic antecedent to the facct of inequality. i.e. if inequality is bad because it leads to domination, domination should be bad in ways that have nothing to do with inequality.
    2. People, by and large, are simply unable (as a fact of human nature and not mis-socialisation) to endorse a society where there is plenty of inequality and they are at the bottom.

    Is a relatively classless society superior to a more ingrained and hidebound social structure?

    Really difficult to say. People don’t want their children to be limited by their own failures, but they certainly want their own successes to benefit their children. To the extent that people are concerned with the former they want a more fluid society, while to the extent that they want the latter, the want some structure to society.

    Does the government have any role in influencing the culture and structure of a society?

    I lean towards thinking that the government shouldn’t aim to influence the culture and structure of society, though there may be cases where it cannot avoid doing so. Providing a social safety net is going to affect the culture. Guaranteeing various liberties and property rights (private or otherwise) is going to affect the culture and structure of society as well.

    Are significant differences in economic and social opportunity a social problem?

    Depends on what you mean by opportunity. If everyone had plenty of opportunities but some people just had a lot more, that would be fine, but if some people just lacked opportunities, that would be a lot more problematic. Depends also on whether you are looking at merely formal opportunity or more substantive opportunity. Finally also depends on what you mean by social opportunity.

    Should the government have any role in mitigating these differences?

    Depends on whether it is a problem.

    Are there economic goods to which people should be entitled, without regard to their market worth (Food? Medical care? Legal representation?)

    Difficult to say. There should be a social safety net. But if you entiitle peple to food, what do we make of people who try to sell you food. It seems to me that if it is good that certain things are in the market (because the market does a good job of distributing this stuff to most people (even though the very worst off might not have access) calling it a right puts markets of such goods at the very least in a very grey area. That said if all you mean is whether there should be a social sfaety net, sure. What form such a social safety net takes however, I’m not entirely sure.

    As a purely Platonic example, let’s suppose that inequalty continued to grow monotonically to its maximum conceivable degree: say in which one family was worth s trillions, and the rest of the society was consigned to bare subsistence. Is this an acceptable outcome? Is this a society you would want to live in?

    The problem with the question is that it mixes 2 things: inequality and minimal standard of living. Bare subsistence is still a miserable standard of living. No matter what anyone has, having a lot of people unable to get more than bare subsistance is hardly acceptable as an outcome. In certain circumstances where the physical and social technology cannot generate more wealth, such and outcome may very well have to be accepted. But it wouldn’t be a society I would want to live in.

    However, if you were to use another example where everyone was doing very well but the rich were so rich they had seven mansions, 10 luxury cars and an island resort a piece, I would still find hat acceptable. Such a sociaety would still be one where I would want to live.

    Can the influence of money and individual power on public policy be mitigated by structuring government power differently (e.g. isolating decision makers from financial and personal rewards, or setting up competing and overlapping nexuses of power)?

    Its complicated. see here

    Should government have the ability to regulate economic externalities (pollution, third-party impacts, food and water safety)? Social externalities (poverty, economic exploitation)?

    Economic externalities yes. Poverty certainly. You will have to tell me what counts as economic exploitation if you want a more definite answer to whether it should be regulated

    If you could determine the characteristics of a “good society,” what would they be?

    Everyone is guaranteed a list of basic liberties which includes some economic liberties (including the right to private property in productive assets), everyone is guarenteed formal equality of opportunity as well as sufficient substantive opportunities to have a reasonable shot at succeeding in life. Everyone is wealthy in an absolute sense and though the worst off are poorer than anywone else, they are not reduced to mere subsistence, but are able to pursue at least some of the projects that are important to them.Report

  12. Avatar Will Truman
    Ignored
    says:

    For my own part, I thought that many of the questions were thought-provoking, but so broad that I didn’t know exactly where to begin. There were like five questions where this was the case. In the case of the first question, I feared that my rather basic answer (“A society should exist for the preservation and advancement of its membership”) would get some pushback (on that last part) I didn’t want to go to the mat for. Some of the other ones felt so obvious that I didn’t think they were really directed at me.Report

  13. Avatar M.A.
    Ignored
    says:

    What is the purpose of a society?

    Threefold:
    – To adjudicate, when necessary, disputes between people.
    – To provide a structure wherein the number of disputes between people can hopefully be minimized.
    – To provide a structure within which divided duties of labor and service can improve the lot of all participants.
    – To provide continuity between generations such that improvements in knowledge, philosophy, science, and technology are not lost.

    Is gross inequality intrinsically acceptable, or only when it is a means to a broad public good (e.g. economic growth)?

    Gross inequality, meaning the inequality beyond which societal and community bonds break down and social classes begin separating into an apartheid-like structure, is intrinsically unacceptable.

    Is a relatively classless society superior to a more ingrained and hidebound social structure?

    A relatively classless society is superior.

    Does the government have any role in influencing the culture and structure of a society?

    Chicken or egg. Culture and structure predates government and influences initial form, and informs changes. Governmental influence informs changes of culture and structure of a society.

    Are significant differences in economic and social opportunity a social problem? Should the government have any role in mitigating these differences?

    Part 1: Yes.
    Part 2: Yes.

    Are there economic goods to which people should be entitled, without regard to their market worth (Food? Medical care? Legal representation?)

    Yes, there most definitely are. The three you listed, almost certainly. The last is intrinsically difficult to provide in a societal structure with gross inequality, where the poor are necessarily priced out of the market for adequate legal representation to challenge the illegal actions of the rich and win through a protracted, years-long legal battle.

    As a purely Platonic example, let’s suppose that inequalty continued to grow monotonically to its maximum conceivable degree: say in which one family was worth s trillions, and the rest of the society was consigned to bare subsistence. Is this an acceptable outcome? Is this a society you would want to live in?

    Break out the torches and pitchforks, it’s time to storm the Walton compound.

    Can the influence of money and individual power on public policy be mitigated by structuring government power differently (e.g. isolating decision makers from financial and personal rewards, or setting up competing and overlapping nexuses of power)?

    Yes.

    Should government have the ability to regulate economic externalities (pollution, third-party impacts, food and water safety)? Social externalities (poverty, economic exploitation)?

    Yes to both. Failure to do so leads to far more conflicts between people in a violent fashion.

    If you could determine the characteristics of a “good society,” what would they be?

    That’ll take me some thinking to reduce to bullet points. A followup may come later.Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *