Friday, February 17, 2012

Fallibilism vs Fairness

Here's my comment on Matt Zwolinski's entry on What We Can Learn from Drowning Children.  The subsequent discussion between Zwolinski and myself prompted Zwolinski to ban me from the Bleeding Heart Libertarian website.

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Xerographica

You didn't even skim the surface of the problem.   The problem isn't just that there is a child drowning in a pool...the problem is that there is also a baby that a parent left in the car with the windows rolled up during summer.  The problem doesn't end there.  The problem is also that you only have $1 to spend correcting the problem.  Does the problem end here?  Of course not.  You also have the option to spend that dollar on a procreation licencing program.  If you think the problem ends here then you'd be wrong.

We're dealing with n+1 problems multiplied by n+1 solutions.  YOU see a drowning child so you think everybody should have a moral obligation to do something about that drowning child.  Do what though?  Should people spend their limited time/money trying to save that one child or spend their limited time/money trying to prevent future children from drowning?  Or should they spend their limited time/money trying to solve the problems that THEY see?

That's the thing...you don't realize how truly limited your perspective is.   You don't see all the other problems that other people have access to and you don't see all the other possible solutions that other people have considered.  That's why you failed to understand the point of this comment of mine.

If you want me to spend my $1 on trying to fix your problem then you need to convince me that your problem is more important than my problem.  Not only that but you need to convince me that your proposed solution to your problem will actually solve the problem.  Why should you have to persuade me?  Because in the process of doing so you might learn that my problem is more important than your problem and/or my solution is more effective than your solution.

Having studied International Development Studies at UCLA I can promise you that a ridiculous amount of your money was wasted on failed solutions to problems that you weren't even aware of.  From my limited perspective the only tried and true method of lifting people in other countries out of poverty was when we sent them our jobs.  American unions have unintentionally done more to help people in developing countries than any intentional effort by government.  This was the point of my blog entry on the Dialectic of Unintended Consequences.

Well...this is probably the gazillionth time I've brought up Hayek's partial knowledge and Bastiat's opportunity cost...yet your posts still haven't put 2 + 2 together.  That's ok though...because maybe I'm wrong.  So...even though it's frustrating when you continue to ignore these basic but important concepts...the possibility that I might be wrong encourages me to embrace tolerance.  If you're willing to entertain the possibility that perhaps you might be wrong then check out the Wikipedia entry on tax choice.  It has links to Hayek's partial knowledge and Bastiat's opportunity cost.

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Zwolinski

You didn't even skim the surface of the problem.   The problem isn't just that there is a child drowning in a pool...the problem is that there is also a baby that a parent left in the car with the windows rolled up during summer.  The problem doesn't end there.  The problem is also that you only have $1 to spend correcting the problem.
No, that's not the problem. That's a problem you just made up. You're welcome to create your own hypotheticals. But in the one I presented, you're faced with a drowning child and the question is whether you have an obligation to rescue him or not.
If you're willing to entertain the possibility that perhaps you might be wrong then check out the Wikipedia entry on tax choice.  It has links to Hayek's partial knowledge and Bastiat's opportunity cost.
You do realize that I'm familiar with Hayek and Bastiat, right? So perhaps if I'm ignoring your ad nauseum appeals to their ideas, the explanation has to do with something other than my ignorance or close-mindedness?

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Xerographica

Economics is the study of scarcity.  I just made that problem up?  Fallibilism is the understanding that everybody makes mistakes.  I just made that problem up as well?

Why would you want to separate morality from reality?  That's the very problem that we need to deal with in the first place.  What we need is for voters to understand the value of allowing every single person to directly bear the costs of every moral and proper thing that they want the government to TRY and do.

It's fine if you think the government should be responsible for TRYING to save drowning kids.  But it's not fine if you don't understand the value of putting your own, individual taxes where your heart is.  Why isn't it fine?  Because it's one thing to make a mistake with your limited resources but it's another thing for you to make a mistake with my limited resources.  Scarcity+fallibilism = hedge our bets.  This is the same conceit vs humility concept you ignored last time.

So no, you're not at all familiar with Bastiat or Hayek if you think there's any value in pretending that there aren't price tags attached to every single good...moral or otherwise...that people want.  That means that, unless I'm mistaken, you're only making the problem worse.   If you do think I'm mistaken then for goodness sake just point out the error in  my logic.

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Zwolinski
Economics is the study of scarcity. I just made that problem up? Fallibilism is the understanding that everybody makes mistakes. I just made that problem up as well?
No. That's not what I said. The problem I said you made up was this:
The problem isn't just that there is a child drowning in a pool...the problem is that there is also a baby that a parent left in the car with the windows rolled up during summer. The problem doesn't end there. The problem is also that you only have $1 to spend correcting the problem. Does the problem end here? Of course not. You also have the option to spend that dollar on a procreation licencing program.
Like I said, you're free to make up whatever hypotheticals you want. But this one doesn't have anything to do with the hypothetical I presented. In that hypothetical, you have a choice between rescuing the child or not. Getting a baby out of a locked car or sending money to a parental licensing program isn't an option. So bringing them up is just dodging the issue.
Why would you want to separate morality from reality?
I have no idea what this means or why you think I'm trying to do it.
So no, you're not at all familiar with Bastiat or Hayek if you think there's any value in pretending that there aren't price tags attached to every single good.
For someone who talks so much about the value of humility, you display shockingly little of it.

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Xerographica

My hypothetical situation addressed morality, scarcity and fallibilism.  Your hypothetical situation only addressed morality.  That's why I asked you why you wanted to separate morality from reality.

Reality = morality + scarcity + fallibilism + + +

Yet...you have no idea what I meant when I asked you why you wanted to separate reality from morality.  You read my hypothetical situation but thought that I was just attempting to dodge the issue of morality by highlighting other extremely important issues that we HAVE to consider....scarcity and fallibilism.

So let me break my hypothetical situation down bit by bit and show you exactly where the scarcity and fallibilism are located.

Scarcity - In my hypothetical situation you only had $1.  This reflects that in real life you have limited resources.  Having limited resources forces you to prioritize how you spend your limited resources.    Do you spend that $1 on TRYING to rescue the drowning child or on TRYING to rescue the child in a car?  Having multiple options forces you to make hard decisions with your limited resources.

There is an opportunity cost to every thing you want in life.  If you spend that $1 on TRYING to save the drowning child then you forgo the opportunity to spend that $1 on TRYING to save the child in the car.  This is where partial knowledge comes into play.  Maybe you don't know how to swim.  Maybe the car is locked.  Your partial knowledge and opportunity cost decisions are unique to you.

Scarce resources are efficiently allocated when everyone makes opportunity cost decisions.  These decisions naturally incorporate people's  unique/partial knowledge.  This is how the invisible hand works.

Fallibilism - I keep typing TRYING in all caps to emphasize that there's no guarantee that A) your effort will be successful or B) your choice was the best possible use of your limited resources.  Maybe it would be a mistake to require that people obtain licences if they want to procreate.  Maybe it would be a mistake not to.

Reality - The problem with our current political system is that voting only deals with morality...much in the same way as your hypothetical situation.
For instance the private consequences of fulfilling "her duty" towards the poor will emerge with certainty if a rich woman votes for higher tax redistribution favoring the poor.  She can "consume" the "warm glow of fulfilling her duty" while her vote itself will be insignificant for whether or not she will indeed have to pay higher taxes. - Hartmut Kliemt, The Encyclopedia of Public Choice
If you want to help the poor...then  you need to put your own, individual, hard-earned taxes where your heart is.  This is the only way we can help ensure that scarce resources are efficiently allocated.  You need to decide what other valuable things that you are personally willing to forgo in order to help the poor...
Nevertheless, the classic solution to the problem of underprovision of public goods has been government funding - through compulsory taxation - and government production of the good or service in question. Although this may substantially alleviate the problem of numerous free-riders that refuse to pay for the benefits they receive, it should be noted that the policy process does not provide any very plausible method for determining what the optimal or best level of provision of a public good actually is. When it is impossible to observe what individuals are willing to give up in order to get the public good, how can policymakers access how urgently they really want more or less of it, given the other possible uses of their money? There is a whole economic literature dealing with the willingness-to-pay methods and contingent valuation techniques to try and divine such preference in the absence of a market price doing so, but even the most optimistic proponets of such devices tend to concede that public goods will still most likley be underprovided or overprovided under government stewardship. - Patricia Kennett, Governance, globalization and public policy
This is the opportunity cost concept..."When it is impossible to observe what individuals are willing to give up in order to get the public good, how can policymakers access how urgently they really want more or less of it, given the other possible uses of their money?"

This is why taxpayers should be allowed to choose which government organizations receive their individual taxes.  We need them to consider the opportunity costs of their tax allocation decisions.  We need all their partial knowledge to help determine what the public sector should produce.  Morality...and bleeding hearts are wonderful...but only when combined with a firm understanding of scarcity and fallibilism.  If we don't factor scarcity and fallibilism into the equation then we're divorcing morality from reality.  This is the equivalent of shooting ourselves in the feet.  Fairness is not worth failure.

Regarding humility...really?  I display shockingly little of it?  Look at my comments on  Kevin Vaillier's entries on contractualism.  I have no problem admitting when I don't understand a concept.  We would have resolved this issue long ago if you displayed the same willingness to admit when you don't understand a concept.  You're a philosophy guy.... no one expects you to understand economic concepts as well as you understand philosophical concepts. Yet you completely ignore me when I try and bring these essential economic concepts to your attention.  Maybe because you think you're familiar enough with them...but your posts sure indicate otherwise.

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Zwolinski

Go back and read this thread again, starting with my original post.Your original reply accused me of missing the point. But on closer examination it turns out that what that means is that I didn't discuss the point that you wanted to talk about.

And this is how it always is with you on this blog. You're a true believer. You've got your one idea about how to change the world, and the only thing you're interested in is convincing other people of its truth, usually with a healthy dose of links to your own blog. You can't approach a conversation with an openness to learning something new, to talking about something besides your own pet issue.

And this makes me tired. And I think it makes other people on this blog tired. Do you ever wonder why people aren't more responsive to pragmatarianism than they are? Do you wonder why people don't engage with your comments more than they do? Is it possible, in your mind, that perhaps the fault is not entirely with them?

At any rate, I'm tired of this. You've got your truth, and I wish you the best of luck with it. But please, preach it somewhere else.

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Xerographica


Read your post again.  Your point was that libertarians should support government efforts to help people in need.  How was my question to you not valid?  Why do you want to separate morality from reality?  All you had to say was..."here are my arguments for why we should only focus on the moral issues..."

You say that I'm not open to learning something new...but what did you try and share with me that I wasn't open to?  Can you list any concepts that I rejected or ignored?  Can you show me a single discussion between us where this occurred?

No, I don't wonder why more people don't engage with my comments.  Look at how you engaged with my comments.  You never once responded to a single economic argument that I made.  You couldn't respond because...obviously you lack an understanding of the economic concepts that I tried to share with you.

Let's take a walk down memory lane together...

Exhibit A - we discussed whether business owners should be allowed to discriminate
Exhibit B - we discussed if foreign intervention was ever justified
Exhibit B1 - this is the continuation of our discussion on foreign intervention
Exhibit C - I brought up my concern regarding the issue of conceit vs humility but your response was...
Believe it or not, not every book deals with your pet issue. Not every blog post on this site deals with it. And yet, sometimes, you can still learn something from them.
Exhibit D - you made a joke about pragmatarianism and I ran with it but no discussion followed

And that's it.  That's the extent of our interactions on your blog.  You were perfectly willing to discuss discrimination and foreign intervention with me but you never once discussed any economic issues with me.

So what do you do?  You block me from your blog.  But by blocking me from your blog you separate morality from reality even more!

4 comments:

  1. Xero,

    Though I do disagree with the premise of your personal Pragamatism....

    ...I have to admit, you did so very well in exposing your adversaries contradictions.

    ...and as you have probably experienced often, such exposure makes the author embarrassed.

    His choice, then, is to either improve his position by thinking harder
    or
    ignoring and suppressing you.

    Thus, he is ignorant, as he chose the second.

    PS: I will copy and utilize many of your points and call them my own... and I do not pay royalties.... :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. To Zwolinski:

    Your calculation is in error.

    You demand obligation upon another where no such obligation can exist without FIRST using violence upon non-violent people to enforce it.

    Thus, to solve a problem, you create evil as a solution to a problem you mistaken as evil because you infuse your SUBJECTIVE emotionalism to the problem as if it was an OBJECTIVE value.

    The measure:
    A child is drowning and I do not exist.
    No effort of a non-existent entity changes the circumstance.
    NO ACTION means NO ACTION. This is self-evident.
    A "NO Action" cannot be measured to be an EVIL act - since NO action is NO action.

    A person does not act to save the child.
    The exact same conditions exist as if the person did not exist.

    Therefore, the same reasoning applies - such a "no" action cannot be measured to be an EVIL act - since NO action is NO action.

    You measure some bizarre sense of capability, potential, etc. as if it was exactly equal to the ACT of such capability/potential.

    Your calculation:
    "IF you CAN do it equals YOU MUST DO IT"

    But even you cannot assume to agree that this statement is always true.

    YET, you demand it true in this particular circumstance - without any merit to why -now- it is true.

    To overcome your inherent contradiction, you advocate the application of violence - thus, increasing the evil and the contradictions.

    The root of your problem:
    You do not assign the causation - hence responsibility - of the problem correctly.

    The child drowning in the pool IS NOT MY FAULT.

    If I did not exist, thus cannot do anything, ... nothing changes for the child - SINCE I WAS NOT THE FAULT.

    If I do nothing, nothing changes for the child - SINCE I WAS NOT THE FAULT.

    To demand obligation where there is no responsibility is puerile , and incredibly dangerous when one advocates violence to enforce such obligation.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Looks like you both wanted to have the last word, and Zwolinski invoked the nuclear option. Sometimes the most effective persuader is one who does not get himself banned from websites.

    That said, it looks like you and Zwolinski are very similar in that regard. And probably me, too.

    Just my two cents. Keep up the good blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heh, who doesn't want to have the last word! There are a few major differences between Zwolinski and myself...but one major one is that I wouldn't ban somebody from my blog just because I disagreed with their point of few.

      If you get a chance you should read this post where I discuss my perspective on my failure to encourage Zwolinski to consider the economic arguments...Banned From Bleeding Heart Libertarian.

      Thanks for the two cents. If you get a chance I'd be interested in hearing your two cents on pragmatarianism as well!

      Delete