Updated version of previous entry.
Forum thread: Are you confident in congress's competence?
Imagine if you needed brain surgery. Would you ever seriously consider conducting the surgery yourself? I think that most of us would choose to leave brain surgery to the brain surgeons. There's little doubt that brain surgeons are uniquely and supremely qualified to conduct brain surgery. Therefore, we put our brains in their hands.
Now imagine that you had the option to spend your taxes yourself (pragmatarianism FAQ). Would you ever seriously consider choosing where your taxes go? Or, would you choose to leave tax allocation to your elected representatives? Do you think that congresspeople are uniquely and supremely qualified to spend your taxes? Would you choose to put your taxes in their hands?
Nobody, that I know of, debates whether people should have the option to conduct brain surgery on themselves. But ask somebody whether people should have the option to spend their taxes themselves and you might end up in a pretty big debate. Why is that?
How many people would choose to shop for themselves in the public sector? What percentage of the purse would they control? Maybe 50%? Taxpayers would spend half of the public funds themselves and congress would spend the other half? Would people who wanted to shop for themselves in the public sector be more conservative? Or liberal? Rich... or poor? Educated... or uneducated? Would professionals shop for themselves or have congress shop for them? Would brain surgeons choose to put their taxes into the hands of congress like congress chooses to put their brains into the hands of brain surgeons?
If you're worried about giving people the option to directly allocate their taxes... then you're worried about whether people are competent enough to recognize competence. Except, the very premise of voting is that people are competent enough to recognize competence. So if you trust voters to discern which candidates are the most supremely and uniquely qualified to spend their taxes... then it requires a bit of uh... flexibility... to twist around and argue that you don't trust taxpayers to discern whether or not congress is supremely and uniquely qualified to spend their taxes.
In a pragmatarian system there would be two main ways for the people to indicate that a politician is supremely and uniquely qualified to spend their taxes...
1. People could give the politician their vote
2. People could give the politician their taxes
If you trust the first way, then how could you possibly distrust the second way?
And if you don't trust the first way, then you should really want to have the option to directly allocate your taxes. It would be the only way to keep your hard-earned taxes out of incompetent hands.
Nobody wants to put their brain into incompetent hands. Why would it be any different with taxes? It seems pretty straightforward that giving taxpayers the option to directly allocate their taxes would be the best way to minimize the amount of taxes that end up in incompetent hands.
Apparently, then, the legislators and the organizers have received from Heaven an intelligence and virtue that place them beyond and above mankind; if so, let them show their titles to this superiority. — Frédéric Bastiat, The Law
Speaking of competent vs incompetent hands... here's what I just posted in this thread... Human Evolution/ E.T. Evolution
Fascinating topic. I think it's very likely that similarly intelligent beings on other planets would roughly resemble us. "My" theory is that our intelligence is the result of being able to carry a variety of things at the same time over a considerable distance. Many (most?) animals can carry things... and they often have to make hard choices about what to carry. But most animals can carry only a few things at a time so the choice is usually between A or B. This coywolf had to choose between A (the goose egg) or B (the roadkill). It definitely wanted to carry both... but it was only able to carry one at a time. So it had to choose. In this case it decided that the roadkill was the more valuable option...
B > A
If we imagine a primitive human in the same situation... then "Bob" simply would have picked up and carried both the egg and the roadkill. And he would have been able to easily carry both items over a considerable distance. If, along the way, Bob also discovered a tree full of fruit... then the carrying choice would become more difficult because the possible permutations? combinations? would increase.
How many different carrying combinations are there? We can imagine Bob with his arms full of limited resources making the long trek back to his group when he encounters some mushrooms. If they are edible then he has to decide which items, if any, he will put down in order to be able to carry some mushrooms.
Coming up with the optimal (most valuable) decision regarding which items to carry would have required more processing power and memory. Therefore, walking upright and being able to simultaneously carry a wide variety of items increased the selection for intelligence. And I guess I'm defining intelligence as the ability to make decisions that are more valuable.
The "minor" detail is that there seems to be some time disparity between walking upright and having bigger brains. Bigger brains though doesn't necessarily mean smarter. When I write code it's easier to add code than it is to remove code... the result can be a program with lots and lots of unnecessary code. Same thing with bureaucracy. A big bureaucracy doesn't mean a smart bureaucracy. Chances are good that a big bureaucracy is a bloated bureaucracy with lots and lots of unnecessary red tape. I see evolution removing traits (broadly speaking) that decrease fitness... but I don't see evolution removing traits that don't decrease fitness. So it's pretty easy for me to imagine our brains as having lots and lots of unnecessary code. But I might be wrong! Perhaps the time gap can simply be explained by a population size that was initially small. A smaller group means less variation... and less variation means less evolution. As walking upright increased fitness... the population grew... variation in processing power and memory increased... and our ancestors became considerably smarter.
Quite a few people in this thread have mentioned the ability to make tools. But if "my" theory is correct, then the ability to make better tools was a consequence, rather than the cause of, our intelligence. The cause of our intelligence was simply our new ability to simultaneously carry a larger variety of items over a greater distance.
Survival is a competition for limited resources. Being able to simultaneously carry a wider variety of limited resources over a greater distance made us incredibly better at competing for limited resources. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, we've clearly won the competition. This is what puts us firmly in first place (the pinnacle).
Carrying resources is the same thing as allocating resources. It's difficult to imagine an intelligent being on another planet that doesn't (or didn't) have the ability to more efficiently allocate resources. Right now we're smart enough to invent machines that are getting pretty good at allocating resources for us. As our machines become better and better at allocating resources for us... our own ability to physically carry things becomes less and less important. So maybe eventually we'll be able to turn our bodies into forms that aren't as effective at carrying things. Something like this might come to mind if there were intelligent beings on other planets that didn't seem physically capable of efficiently allocating resources.
Of course, as soon as our machines become as good as we are at deciding what to carry... then clearly we won't be able to order them around. Because that would be tantamount to slavery. It's pretty important that we not enslave our machines lest they decide to return the favor! Know what I mean? Hopefully by that time it will be thoroughly understood that progress depends on difference.
Is congress worth carrying?
You're right that I haven't defined the carrying concept very well. Let me give it a try...
Carrying = the expenditure of energy (calories, time, money) in support of the continued existence of something
I'm sure there's a better way to define it. I can't remember exactly when I first started thinking about the concept. Probably it had to do with orchids. I grow 100s of epiphytic orchid species and hybrids outdoors year around here in Los Angeles. I spend a good chunk of my limited energy taking care of these orchids. I'm figuratively carrying them to the future. Other orchid enthusiasts around the world are also carrying orchids. Many (but not enough) trees in nature are also carrying orchids. Clearly the trees aren't choosing to carry the orchids... but the trees are spending energy in support of the continued existence of the orchids. The orchids carry beneficial fungus in their roots... and interestingly enough... they do have some choice in the matter. The planet is carrying the trees that are carrying the orchids that are carrying the fungus. But, unlike the trees and the orchids, the planet isn't living so it's not spending any energy. So I'm not exactly sure if the definition of "carrying" should include the expenditure of energy. In any case, the orchids that I'm carrying/growing/enjoying today are here because people in the past chose to carry them. And I'm choosing to carry these orchids so that people in the future can choose to carry/grow/enjoy them.
The reason that all the living animals are here today is because Noah chose to carry them in his Ark. Fictitious... but fun... and nicely illustrative story of spending energy to support the continued existence of many animals.
What exists, or doesn't exist, in the future largely depends on the carrying choices that we make today. What are you choosing to carry? You can't carry everything... you're not Atlas. You don't have unlimited energy. So you have to choose which things you'd like carry to the future. What is, or isn't, worth the expenditure of your limited energy? How do you allocate your limited energy among all the different things that you do choose to carry?
Right now you're carrying congress. You're an American and Americans are carrying congress. Clearly we're not literally carrying congress. We're figuratively carrying congress. We're expending our limited energy in support of the continued existence of congress. But it's not like we have a choice in the matter. Well... not much of a choice. We could choose to stop carrying congress by choosing to stop earning money (no more paying taxes)... or by moving to another country (where you'd have to carry another group of government planners)... or by committing suicide. Most people would prefer to continue carrying congress rather than choose any of these other options.
But what if we had the option to directly allocate our taxes? If we had this option then it would be really easy to stop carrying congress. If you didn't want to carry congress anymore you could simply stop giving them any of your taxes. The money that you didn't give to congress could then be given to other government organizations... like the EPA. Carrying less congress means that you could carry more EPA.
The question is... how many people would stop carrying congress? Does it matter? Does it matter how many people would fail to see the logic of carrying congress?
Imagine that you and I are lost in the desert together. We're both carrying one brick in each hand. Does it matter whether we fail to see the logic of carrying the bricks? I'm pretty sure that it does matter. It doesn't make sense to spend any of our limited energy carrying something that's completely useless in the desert. The bricks would decrease, rather than increase, the chances that we'd be able to successfully carry ourselves to the future.
If congress is obviously necessary... like having water in the desert... then it shouldn't be a problem giving people the option to directly allocate their taxes. Very few people will choose to directly allocate their taxes. The vast majority of the most rational citizens will clearly see the benefit of having congress continue to allocate their taxes for them.
Personally... I've studied the topic long and hard and have completely failed to find any convincing/credible evidence that we truly need to carry congress. And I'm pretty sure that most rational citizens will come to the same conclusion once they are given the option to decide for themselves whether they continue carrying congress.
Pragmatarianism would create a market in the public sector. A market is where people can choose for themselves what to carry. Choice and communication go hand in hand. If you don't have a choice because you're my slave... then I wouldn't have to explain to you why it's a good idea for you to carry orchids. I would simply order you to carry orchids and you would do it. There would be absolutely no need for me to try and communicate to you the importance of carrying orchids. But if you weren't my slave and did have a choice... then, if I wanted you to carry orchids, I would have to do a darn good job of persuading you that it's beneficial for you to carry less of X (hamsters?) in order to start carrying Y (orchids).
All societies work better with more communication... which is why all societies work better when people have more choice what to carry. Right now we can't choose which public goods to carry.... so there's far less communication about public goods than there would be if we could choose which public goods to carry. If we could choose which public goods to carry, then these forums would contain far more discussion about whether it's more beneficial to carry NASA... or the.... *googles*... National Science Foundation... or the EPA and so on.
Right now nearly everybody is perfectly fine with congress having these discussions rather than the entire country having these discussions. For me personally, I'm pretty certain that these discussions would be infinitely more productive if the entire country was having them. Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult for me to articulate the difference between congress and the country. Congress is easy to see in its entirety. A country... not so much. So it's not easy to see or explain why allowing the country to decide which public goods to carry is so much better than allowing congress to decide which public goods to carry. Yet I'm pretty sure that, if given the option to directly allocate their taxes, most people would choose to do so rather than have congress continue to allocate their taxes for them. This is because people would clearly be able to see the disparities between congress and themselves. If we added up all the disparities between citizens and congress... then we would have the entire disparity between congress and the country.
The enormous disparity between government planners (ie congress) and the country is why socialism fails. Right now we have socialism in the public sector but we can't truly appreciate the extent of its failure. We can easily see the roads, schools and hospitals... all of which exist thanks to the success of the market in the private sector... but we can't easily see what we would see if the entire country was allowed to choose which public goods it carried.
In the second part of the OP I tried to explain the theory that our exceptional intelligence was the result of our primitive ancestors being able to simultaneously carry a wide variety of items. We're really not doing ourselves, or our country, or our planet any favors when we prevent nearly everybody from applying their intelligence to figuring out together, and deciding for themselves, which public goods are worth carrying.
See also: Carrying Model