[ExI] Status, Envy, and Economics

Damien Sullivan phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu
Wed Feb 13 21:44:09 UTC 2008

On Wed, Feb 13, 2008 at 12:54:28PM -0800, Lee Corbin wrote:
> Damien S. writes

> > Material wealth gives us comfort and security, and needn't be zero-sum.
> > But it can also be used for social power, which is zero-sum.
> Perhaps you should elaborate on the ways that material wealth
> can be used for social power.  I will of course respond that when
> it can be so used, we merely have uncovered a defect in the law
> or in goverment abuse of power or something, and that *that* is
> what needs correcting.  You may perhaps respond that it seems

I listed some.  Bribes.  Buying up monopolies.  Armed goons/private
soldiers.  (later tech: armed robots)  You talk about absolute respect
for private property but *how is that enforced*?  I forget about you,
but some around here are anarcho-capitalists.  No government, so what to
do if after this magical exponentiation of wealth, someone has more
material power than everyone else combined?  Or 100x more power?  What's
going to stop him from taking over, if he chooses to?  Heck, not that a
pre-existing government would necessarily survive such a shock, but if
progressive taxes got to take a cut there might be a chance of
democratic balance.

> Ah, WAIT!  I see that you have addressed some of this just now
> in a reply to Rafal, from which I now quote:

Ah, right.

> Here I will concede:  if it proves impossible to stop such
> unlawful processes, then you are right and we cannot 
> afford to allow very much inequality to develop. But we
> don't know that we will be ineffective in stamping out
> corruption, just as we don't know if it's even possible

Stamping out corruption how?  I mean, apart from the bribes, I'm worried
less about corruption of gov't officials and basic greed, drive for
power, and psychopathy.  Stamping those out sounds like Communist-level
re-working of human nature.

> at all to diminish inequality. There are many unknowns

Eh?  We know damn well it's possible to diminish economic inequality,
every First World country does it to varying degrees, via progressive
taxes and welfare payments and various labor laws.

> It does seem interesting that some of the countries that
> have been most adept at snuffing out corruption have
> also permitted inequality to rise to its "natural", i.e.,
> free market levels. More transparency (e.g. The 

Actually that's not the case.

The *most* adept countries are largely low-inequality social
democracies: the Usual Suspects of the Nordics and Netherlands, plus
Canada and New Zealand... also Singapore and Switzerland.  USA is #20 on
the list, with a high score (7.6) well below the low score of even #12
on the list.

We do somewhat better on the Bribe Payers Index:

Not that it's clear to me what a free market level of inequality means,
or if any country has it.

-xx- Damien X-) 

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