Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Devil's Advocate for Public Goods

The following represents a mash-up of my responses to these three different discussions...

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In the Garden of Eden God instructed Adam that he could eat the fruit from ALL the trees in the garden EXCEPT for one tree....The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil...aka the Tree of Conscience. God limited Adam and Eve's freedom...but the serpent managed to convince Eve...who then managed to convince Adam...to choose to doubt God's one simple rule.

The moral of that story was that you shouldn't doubt higher authority...you shouldn't think for yourself. Instead, you should submit your will to those in charge. You should have enough faith to completely "put yourself in God's hands".

How convenient for those in charge...right? Isn't that why Marx lamented that religion is the opium of the masses? It's hard for people to revolt if they believe that heaven is the reward for submitting to a higher authority. It seems reasonable to say that progress would be severely restricted if people did not doubt commonly held beliefs. According to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr..."to have doubted one's first principles is the mark of a civilized man."

We should never take limits to our freedom for granted. The trick is understanding that we all accept different justifications for having our freedoms limited. Shemsky believes that the freedom to swing your fist ENDS where somebody else's nose begins. In other words, he believes that the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) is the only justification for limiting our freedoms. Mark Friedman, on the other hand, believes that taxes are only justified to the extent that they help protect our property from others...with a few "reasonable" exceptions. The majority of people, however, believe that taxes are only justified to the extent that they maximize the benefit to society as a whole.

There are no "natural rights" though. You can't hang out in a lion's den and expect the lions to respect the NAP. The only principle that we can observe in nature is survival of the fittest. Therefore, limits to our freedoms are only legitimate in terms of consensus.

If the consensus is for taxes to maximize the benefit to society...then why do we allow congresspeople, rather than taxpayers, to allocate taxes? Why did we ever allow a king, rather than elected representatives, to allocate taxes? The answer is that we're always in the Garden of Eden. The serpent represents those of us who fundamentally challenge the current system.

People in the middle ages were too stupid to realize that they were in the middle ages. Incidentally, does anybody know who said that? For the life of me I can't remember who it was. Anyways, the fact of the matter is that we're never "civilized"...we're always in the process of becoming civilized. Society will always be a work in progress.

There is no logical or rational explanation supporting the commonly held belief that congress can allocate taxes more efficiently than taxpayers could. We all have unique values. The only way that we can accurately convey our values is by putting our money/time where our mouths are. Each "consumer" that we take out of the picture skews the distribution of public goods. What happens when we take all but 538 consumers out of the picture? Obviously we end up with a very inefficient allocation of public goods. To steal Obama's favorite analogy...this is why the "car" ends up in the "ditch". It's why the car will always end up in the ditch...unless we somehow manage to help people understand that society as a whole will benefit by allowing taxpayers to drive.

The moral of my story is that playing the role of devil's advocate is only worthwhile if we can truly understand why people are willing to put public goods in congress's hands.

1 comment:

  1. "The moral of my story is that playing the role of devil's advocate is only worthwhile if we can truly understand why people are willing to put public goods in congress's hands."


    ...because people would rather live off the efforts of others than effort themselves.

    In this, there is no mystery.

    If you came to my house, offered that you would provide to me all my desires and request little in return from me, what the hell do you think my answer would be?

    Few challenge this by a question:
    How are you going to provide this?

    Few challenge because most know such provisioning must come at a cost to someone else.

    Most know that those "someone else" will not willing entertain effort for the gain of someone else.

    Most know, therefore, that violence will be necessary upon those "others" to provide.

    All of this, of course, will be ignored as it is distant, untasted, and the blood that is necessary to achieve this does not splash on themselves directly. Therefore, the blood spilled will be ignored.

    But to the reasoning man ... is this satisfactory?

    Does not the reasoning man conclude that evil done will be evil returned?

    Thus does he promote evil in his name, or does he stand -regardless of his short term gain from it - AGAINST evil in all its manifestations?

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