[ExI] Who are the people? Who suffers?

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Sat Jul 18 03:16:00 UTC 2009

2009/7/18 Dan <dan_ust at yahoo.com>:

>> The voluntary communal
>> organisations do not, except on their own members, who
>> agree in being
>> part of the organisation that they will go along with the
>> majority
>> decision even if they don't agree with every decision. This
>> can happen
>> whenever two or more people get together and decide to do
>> something.
> This is only so if the organization is truly voluntary. If, e.g., you and I agree to join and abide by certain rules. This is NOT the case with public services as we see today. There was no such uncoerced agreement in any of them -- not in any nation anyone today is living in. Instead, at best, a large group of people or a bunch of politicians decided that some things would be done their way period. That is nothing more than them "impos[ing] their will on others."

A large voluntary organisation will always have members who don't
agree with all of the decisions. They then have the option of leaving
the organisation. This is also the case with nations, although it is
more difficult than leaving a club or a job. I'd consider leaving the
country if they got rid of all public services, but I probably
wouldn't actually go unless things got really bad for me personally.

>> I
>> agree that as a strong principle it is best *not* to coerce
>> people, as
>> far as possible. But sometimes people agree to be coerced.
> It's not really coercion if they agree to it. This appears also to be a word game with you. If you agree to pay a certain fee for something, then you're not coerced to pay that. You might agree to pay said fee for twenty years. You're still not coerced. This fee might be extracted automatically from your bank account. Still no coercion. The problem arises when you don't agree to that.

I agree to be coerced to pay taxes: I wouldn't pay taxes if it were
optional, but I wouldn't want it to be made optional.

>> We might
>> all agree that project X which will cost each of us $Y is
>> worth
>> pursuing, but it won't happen if we are able to make our
>> contribution
>> voluntary; many of us will not contribute and the rest, if
>> they even
>> have enough money, would have to contribute multiples of
>> $Y, while not
>> receiving back multiples of utility from X as a result.
>> Therefore, the
>> choice is between X with everyone agreeing to contribute
>> (and to be held to that agreement) or no X at all.
> There is coercion if anyone is forced to pay who doesn't agree. If everyone -- and I mean everyone -- agreed to pay -- say, e.g., have the amount deducted from their bank accounts or paychecks -- as long as everyone else paid AND everyone else did pay, then it's not coerced. (And this would only apply to the "everyone" in that context. It can't be binding on future generations or on others who weren't party to the agreement, such as if everyone in your village agrees to pay, you can't use to compell someone from another village to pay.) The problem arises, in the real world, when some subset of everyone decided -- say, a majority or, more likely, a vocal but well organized minority (e.g., business folks, their lobbyists and the politicians they lobby) decides X is worth doing and all must pay to get X done.

If we had to divert an asteroid from destroying the Earth, collecting
the funds would have to be made voluntary even though 99% of the
population might agree to being taxed for this purpose, and if not
enough people donated money, that would just be too bad.

> And this still doesn't answer how you would measure utility. You seem to think this is easy. There's a utility-meter that we simply wave it around the plans for some project and it outputs the utility in a convenient measure that only a fool or an ideologue would quibble with. In the real world, there's no way to make those comparisons. Even using money measures -- and assuming that the models are correct; the recent financial crisis should give everyone pause about financial modeling -- tell us nothing about utility because each individual values money differently (and subjective).

The utility of a project is roughly proportional to the public support
it gets. If people think too much money is being spent on public
education, then less money will be spent on public hospitals and more
on something else, or taxes decreased. Then, a few years later, if
educational standards have fallen and people start to worry, they
might decide to spend more money again. This is the best that we can

>> Are they really free to choose if they have to work and
>> have to accept
>> the wage they are given, even though large profits are made
>> off their
>> labour? This is something communists and anarchists call
>> "theft", but which is legal in capitalists societies.
> The false economic theories of communists and some anarchists (not free market anarchists) still live on!* A wage per se is freely chosen -- assuming no one is coerced into accepting it -- because the supplier of labor is free to choose to sell her or his labor or not. A motto for a free society, borrowed from Robert Nozick, might be: From each as she chooses, to each as she is chosen.
> Profits are not made off labor as such. Pure profits arise when there's a difference between the cost of inputs and the price of the output. (A loss is the opposite: inputs end up costing more than the output price.) Labor is not exploited to make profits -- any more than any other factor is. Under a free market, too, laborers tend to bid up their wage to the marginal productivity of a unit of labor. Buyers of labor -- viz., employers -- cannot escape this. If they try to get labor below market prices, then they attract less labor -- if any.
> Also, any attempt to set wages above the market rate, as William H. Hutt and others have shown, actually results in unemployment as some workers end up exploiting other workers because, e.g., a union wage above the market rate means those still employed receive the higher wages, but the unemployed lose out.

If the market gives me $10000/hr for my efforts and you $10/hr, then
exploitation is taking place even if all the transactions are
voluntary. This is something we are just going to have to disagree on.
Whether it is actually useful in a utilitarian sense is a different
question. I would agree that the opportunity for this sort of
exploitation motivates people to set up businesses and therefore can
be for the greater good. This is analogous to the utilitarian argument
for taxation.

>> We get back to the problem of nothing being possible
>> without unanimous decision.
> Not so. If we set aside coercion, anything is possible that doesn't involve unanimous decision when it doesn't involve coercing others. For instance, you and I can work together on a project, but we'll have to persuade others to help us rather than seek to coerce them (either directly by, say, enslaving them or stealing their property or indirectly by using a third party like the state to enslave them or steal their property). Yes, this does rule out projects where others would have to be forced to help out. But this is no different than, say, ruling out medical experiments where you need to murder people to get results.

But if there are ten of us, at least one, perhaps a different person
every time, will probably disagree with a decision at every step. If
someone is unhappy enough they can leave, but that might be difficult
if they have already invested a lot of time and money in the project.

>> You would stick with this even if the end result was *more*
>> violence
>> and coercion, due to untrammelled capitalism leading to an
>> underclass
>> of near-slaves who have to work for a pittance or die, on
>> the grounds
>> that this would not technically be violence or coercion?
> It seems your view is a little violence and coercion now will lead to less later. This is a common view, but it's no different than how fascists of all stripes view the world: if we just beat up or hurt the right people, all will be well later on. Also, it remains to be proved how this would work in any real world case.

My view is that capitalism is more coercive and more violent than,
say, a social democracy that looks after its population and tries to
redistribute some of the money the capitalists have stolen (since we
are using emotive terms) from the population.

> As for "untrammelled capitalism leading to an underclass of near-slaves who have to work for a pittance or die," this reveals a fantastical view of freedom and free markets -- and it hearkens back to the misleading views of Engels and others on history. (See the works of Ashton among others to see how Engels & Co. got it wrong.) The actual history of capitalism -- which has never been totally free -- is one of rising living standards, especially among the lower classes. Centuries ago, before the rise of wider markets and when capital investment was limited, there was an underclass of peasants and serfs. They did not, contrary to popular opinion, live an idyllic life.

It is in part due to the rise of unions and social democracy that
capitalism has been watered down and not resulted in the catastrophic
end that Marx and Engels envisaged.

>> Obviously, there are more
>> efficient and less efficient ways to spend money for a
>> particular purpose.
> Yes, though there are two points to be made on this. One, one must understand what's meant by efficiency here. It's not obvious what's meant by it in most cases and not obvious why anyone should be coerced into following your or anyone else's specific beliefs about efficiency. This, again, appears to be Hayek's "fatal conceit" in action: some believe they know what's efficient. They know the right choices, have the answers here, and are so sure of them they're willing to force everyone else to agree with them.

If one system produces two items at a particular cost while another
produces only one item, and the items are of equivalent quality, then
the first system is more efficient. Efficiency isn't everything - for
example, if the system provided efficient health care but only to the
rich, that would be bad - but it is very important, especially when
public money is being spent.

> Two, on a meta-level, one doesn't choose between particular efficiency cases, but between frameworks that allow for more efficient choices to be made. Think of the case of a dictatorship. The dictator might make a few very efficient choices -- maybe he's right about using, say, grassoline when his subjects would've freely chosen, say, gasoline (petrol). But is it likely he'd always outperform his subjects were they free to choose? The same might apply to a real smart, well read, creative person running science today. That person might turn us all on to the right theories and avenues of research, but what would be the long run effect of a science czar? Don't you think in both these cases, the better meta-level rule is to allow free choice for all rather than for one? And doesn't the same apply when the choice is instead of being made by a single dictator, by a dictating minority or a dictating majority?

Important projects would not get done at all if left to private
individuals and corporations. Basic science, underpinning the entire
modern world, is one example of this. but we're going over the same

>> The US spends public health money far less
>> efficiently than
>> any other country does. The main point of difference seems
>> to be that
>> the US system is not universal. There may be other
>> differences leading
>> to inefficiency, and these need to be worked out, just as a
>> private
>> company needs to observe their competitors and work out why
>> they are making more money than they are.
> I'm not sure that's the main point of inefficiency for US healthcare -- or even a point of inefficiency. What happens now with people who aren't covered is they tend to get health services anyhow -- either by private donation, from the government, or by taking and not paying.

They get emergency health care, but they don't get primary health
care, which is both cheaper and focussed on preventive medicine.

> Also, in order for the competitive discovery process to take place, one can't regulate or socialize it. One must allow private individuals and groups to make decisions with their resources. This is mostly not allowed on the planet in the arena healthcare. I recommend not only de-socializing the US in this respect (and all others), but the rest of the planet.

I recommend that the US introduce a single payer health insurer
covering everyone. The private health care providers can remain more
or less unchanged and compete amongst themselves for customers. This
would allow universal health care access and greatly diminish
administrative costs, which are about 30% of the total in the US.


>> I'm forced to insure my apartment. As an apartment owner, I
>> am happy
>> that I and everyone else is forced to do this. If I don't
>> like it, I can sell it.
> I don't know enough about your situation here. Why must insure your apartment? Who forces you? I take it you mean real force and not just something like, "My girlfriend forces me to wash before we bed down. Oh, the horror!"

The Owners' Corporation for the apartment building levies fees for
insurance and general maintenance. The owners also vote on major
alterations to the building. If I don't pay up I can be sued. The
argument is that the building itself is common property, and it would
not do for everyone else to suffer because one recalcitrant owner
refuses to agree with everyone else. My only way out if I don't like
the situation is to sell and move, although that is a major and
disruptive decision to take and I will probably encounter the same
problem wherever else I go anyway.

>> If I don't like paying taxes, I can choose not
>> to work,
>> not to move to the tax-paying country, leave if I was born
>> there, or
>> not work. These aren't ideal choices - I'd rather have it
>> all my own way.
> This is like saying, if I don't like being raped, I can flee the area.

It's also like saying, if I don't want to work for the wages I'm
offered I can leave my job.

>> I avoid measuring suffering by discussing only what people
>> want;
>> presumably, they want that which they believe will cause
>> them less suffering.
> That's fine, but has problems. Demonstrated preference is a better measure here: not what people say they want, but what they actually act to obtain. E.g., if I tell you I want to lose weight, but I spend my time lounging around and pigging out, then I've demonstrated that, whatever I say to you, I really prefer lounging around and overeating to losing weight. E.g., if I tell you or even think in my mind that I want to be a nice person, but am cruel and mean to everyone, then you should question whether I really want to be a nice person.

This raises the issue of a conflict between desires and higher order
desires, or akrasia. The world would be a very different place,
perhaps unpredictably so, if we could directly alter our desires in
order to become the sort of person we would like to be.

>> They vote to be taxed, so they believe, whether
>> rightly or
>> wrongly, that taxation will cause them less suffering than
>> the alternative.
> Actually, not all people vote and not all those who do vote vote to raise taxes. Even among those who might vote for the representative -- since almost all voting is NOT for policies but for a particular person -- who raises taxes, they might not have voted for the taxes (or other programs), but merely be choosing among constrained choices. By this is meant someone might vote for, say, Obama, because she's anti-war and doesn't really buy into the whole Obama agenda. In that case -- and this seems typical, as many Americans voted for Obama as a sort of nay vote for the Iraq war -- the voter isn't really say Yes to taxes, but that gets bundled with the anti-war vote.
> And, again, you have yet to show why a vote should bind anyone else.

Because not everyone in an organisation will always agree with every
decision. They generally join the organisation because, on balance,
they think it's a good idea, not because they agree with everything
that it does and with everything that it will ever do in future. If
they decide that, on balance, they don't agree with the organisation
any more, they can leave. But that is difficult when the organisation
is something they have invested a lot of time and money in, or the
country they live in.

>> Some would prefer not to be taxed, but a voluntary tax
>> won't work since no-one would pay it (not even those who
>> want to be taxed).
> This is no argument at all. The point is it's coercive period. The coercion can't be justified because your pet projects won't be funded.
>> So the alternative is to allow a policy which most
>> people,
>> perhaps even all the people, believe will cause them more
>> suffering on
>> the grounds that implementing the policy will be coercive
>> and that coercion is bad because it causes suffering.
> If they truly believe in lowering suffering and they believe a specific project will do that, then one must ask why they don't voluntarily support the project? The truth is since they would act against the project -- i.e., since they won't fund it unless forced -- then they must not be for it. The only beliefs here that matter, really, are the ones people act on.

It's the Prisoner's Dilemma. People get the benefit even if they
cheat, so they cheat; but if enough cheat, no-one gets anything.
Unfortunately, this is the way that people behave.

Stathis Papaioannou

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