Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Shit Everywhere

You clicked on the title of this blog entry and here you are.  Perhaps you have some expectations about what I'm going to talk about.  Maybe you want to be pleasantly surprised?  Doesn't everybody?

Aziz Ansari has a routine where he discusses how a lady doing sign language for one of his shows signed "jizz everywhere".  Do you agree with Ansari that it's a helpful to know how to sign/read this?  If somebody walked out of a room and signed "jizz everywhere"...would you walk into the room?  Probably not.  It's kinda like how bees dance to communicate where the nectar is...but the opposite.

If you haven't watched Trainspotting...then don't read this paragraph.  I wouldn't want to spoil one of the best scenes in the movie.  If you have seen Trainspotting then you know exactly which scene I'm talking about.  Errr...maybe I might have already spoiled it.  I hate that.

If it's important to know how to sign/read "jizz everywhere"...then I think it would probably be more important to be able to sign or read "shit everywhere".  Except, I don't know how to sign/read "shit everywhere".  Can everybody upload a video to youtube of how to sign this?  We'll have a contest to see who can come up with the best sign.

Here's what Schadenboner had to say about my comment on Noah Smith's blog entry...Quartz article: Is China going to be #1?
Unbundling public services will run into the same problems that philanthropy-reliant public services do/would (everyone wants the "John Doe Foundation Theater" and no one wants the "John Doe Foundation Water Treatment Plant" so we end up with a dozen theaters and hot and cold running sewage) combined with the popular misunderstanding of where government spending actually goes (in the States see the surveys where we see people wanting to balance the budget by cutting the 25% they have decided that we spend on Foreign Aid but this is not solely a US phenomenon.)  
My reply...

Schadenboner, since you're omniscient...I'm sure you know what the demand for sewage treatment is for every single country...not just the US.  Let's say that every single country implemented pragmatarianism.  Would each and every government receive absolutely no money for sewage treatment?  Or would some governments receive more money for sewage treatment than other governments?

Have you ever lived in a country that spent very little money on sewage treatment?  I have...I lived in Afghanistan for a year.  There was shit everywhere.  The circumstances were extremely unpleasant.  There was considerable and obvious room for improvement.

Let's say that you know that Brazil is the country that would spend the most money on sewage treatment.  If we implemented pragmatarianism they would absolutely deal with their shit...while the US wouldn't spend any money on sewage treatment.  Would you vote with your feet for Brazil?  Would the US suffer from severe brain drain?  Would Brazil end up with all the citizens in the world who were smart enough to understand the value of sewage treatment?

But rather than making the huge effort of quitting your job...selling your house and most of your belongings...saying good bye to all your friends and family...pulling your kids out of their school...and having to start all over in Brazil and learn Portuguese...wouldn't it be a lot less effort to simply vote with your taxes for sewage treatment in the US?

If every country unbundled their government...no two countries would end up with exactly the same supply of public goods.  Some countries would have a more optimal balance...and it's a given that these countries would do better than countries that really didn't get the balance right.  And there would be convergence towards the optimal balance.

Regarding clueless citizens...it's called rational ignorance.  The ignorance is rational because it doesn't make sense for people to make the effort to learn about public goods when they can't shop for themselves in the public sector.  The money is out of their hands so it doesn't pay for them to do their homework.  Markets work because there's a correlation between effort and reward.  Everybody hates buying lemons so they strive to ensure that they don't get ripped off.  If people can't shop for themselves...do you think it's any surprise that the public sector is full of lemons?

In 1978 when Deng Xiaoping created a market in China...do you think it's any surprise that the quality, quantity and variety of available private goods has increased exponentially since then?  When the first country creates a market in their public sector...do you think it will be any surprise when the quality, quantity and variety of public goods increases exponentially?

When we put the money back into the hands of 300 million people with diverse preferences and unique circumstances...the suppliers of public goods will compete with each other to receive that money.  They'll do so by trying to figure how they can best improve our circumstances.  Taxpayers will incentivize them to come up with better uses of society's limited resources.

Shopping is communicating...it's direct input from citizens on their priorities, preferences and circumstances.  If this input isn't needed in order to efficiently allocate society's limited resources...then we've been wasting a lot of valuable time.  Because people spend a lot of time communicating their circumstances to suppliers.  If the outcome is better without people shopping for themselves...then let's give all our money to congress and let them determine for us how our circumstances can best be improved.  Except this has already been tried.  Society's limited resources are wasted when consumers aren't given the freedom to communicate their circumstances.

Having spent more time thinking about a global free trade agreement on public goods...I'm pretty sure it's a good idea that taxpayers should be able to spend their taxes on any country's public goods.  Then I could point to Afghanistan on a map and sign "shit everywhere".  People all over the world would be able to spend their taxes on helping Afghanistan deal with its shit.  That would be significant progress.

FYI...I added your comment to my collection...Unglamorous but Important Things.

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