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What's wrong with "social engineering"?

Political Conservatives

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1Doug1943
Jul 2, 2011, 7:38am Top

I'm in favor of it. When done by me or people I agree with.
At least, I'm not opposed in principle.

Anyone against, on principle?

2barney67
Jul 2, 2011, 1:37pm Top

Can you be more specific about what you mean by social engineering? I have an idea, but I suspect the responses to your post will be widely varied without clarification.

3Doug1943
Jul 2, 2011, 2:22pm Top

Well, I almost always see this word used as a self-evidently Bad Thing. But it's not obvious to me that trying to shape human behavior is Bad. So I thought I would see what others thought.

4Carnophile
Edited: Jul 6, 2011, 9:46pm Top

Okay, I'll bite. I think it's bad. Even now I sense the arms of a Doug trap swinging toward my leg, but sometimes you have to let curiosity get the better of you.

Although the term is so ill-defined that I might be able to wriggle out.

5Arctic-Stranger
Jul 6, 2011, 6:53pm Top

Is that like the little boy who asked his dad if communism was invented by scientist or politicians? When his dad said politicians, the boy said, "Figures. Scientists would have tried it out on rats first."

6Doug1943
Jul 6, 2011, 7:25pm Top

Carny: Well ... really, honest, I just wanted to see someone define it for me. I have seen it used on the Right as a term of opprobrium, but it seems to me that we're engaged in "social engineering" all the time, private and state, and that it's not necessarily wrong. It depends on what direction we're trying to engineer people in ... or whatever the verb is. It's just part of the civilizing process, given that wolf-man is not a nice fellow.

7Carnophile
Jul 6, 2011, 8:42pm Top

Defining it; that's a tough one.

The recent "Let's get everyone a house" catastrophe would be a good example. Some people, it seems, really do reason like this:

(1) Owning a house is a good thing.

(2) Therefore, we should establish laws and regualtions and so forth to cause everyone to own a house.

There is no room in some people's minds for the law of unintended consequences, cause and effect (if more default-prone people own houses, there will be more defaults), etc.

8timspalding
Jul 6, 2011, 9:07pm Top

I'm ag'in it!

9Doug1943
Jul 7, 2011, 1:52am Top

Yes, this sounds right.

Some are a'gin it.

Some point out that laws often have unintended consequences, so that they may socially engineer bad things when they were intended to engineer good things.

The drug laws, in my opinion, are another example of social engineering, one generally supported by conservatives, which have turned out to have unintended consequences which may be worse than the state of affairs without drug laws.

So ... I want to start a meme among conservatives: social engineering is not bad per se. We all try to socially engineer. But society is not like a Mecanno set. (Yeah, I know, we've been saying this since about 1789.)

It's just that I think that a lot of conservatives are falling back on essentially libertarian arguments to justify their opposition to the Ever Expanding State, and these arguments are not just wrong, but easily shown to be wrong by the Left.

10timspalding
Jul 7, 2011, 2:50am Top

This conversation has to be so high level as to be almost meaningless, but accepting that I think we can call out some of the main objections to "social engineering":

1. The state does social engineering poorly, both as regards efficiency and success of goals.

2. The state creates unintended effects when it tries.

3. The people who run the state want/will want a society I disagree with.

4. Even if you acknowledge the possibility and desirability of certain sorts of social engineering, the dynamics of politics—eg., the problem of pressure groups against the general interest—will ensure bad social engineering is chosen.

5. Even if the state can do it well and cleanly, and its doing something I agree with, a state ideologically and practically capable of engaging in social engineering will probably or inevitably turn itself to bad things.

6. Social engineering treats people collectively whereas only individuals matter in a moral sense. You cannot "socially engineer" my individual rights away, and even taking that trump card off the table the project operates on an inhuman and immoral level of generality.

Have I left any out?

11Makifat
Jul 7, 2011, 1:13pm Top

The recent "Let's get everyone a house" catastrophe would be a good example. Some people, it seems, really do reason like this:

(1) Owning a house is a good thing.

(2) Therefore, we should establish laws and regualtions and so forth to cause everyone to own a house.


Here's one person who apparently reasoned like this (an admittedly old link, but it gets the point across):

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080920091412AAYh9qa

For once, I'm thinking I agree with Carny.

12Carnophile
Jul 7, 2011, 2:09pm Top

Of course it's bad if Republicans do it, just as bad as if Democrats or anyone else does it. The problem is the policy, not the party. Stupid interventionist policies don't become non-stupid just because this or that crowd of people is implementing them.

13Carnophile
Jul 7, 2011, 2:32pm Top

>9 Doug1943: a lot of conservatives are falling back on essentially libertarian arguments to justify their opposition to the Ever Expanding State, and these arguments are not just wrong, but easily shown to be wrong by the Left.

Oh please.

>10 timspalding:

7. It involves a one-size-fits-all model which is stupid in a world with a practically infinite array of different individual circumstances.

8. It doesn't scale well, so the relentless federalization of everything is another deep problem. Parents allocate resources to their children by fiat. This does not imply that Stalin allocating the USSR's resources by fiat is workable.

9. Mind your own fucking business.

14timspalding
Jul 7, 2011, 3:31pm Top

Of course it's bad if Republicans do it, just as bad as if Democrats or anyone else does it. The problem is the policy, not the party.

I would say that--in general--Republicans tend to do it less intrusively on economic policy. That is, they are more aware of the problems of social engineering and how it backfires.

easily shown to be wrong by the Left.

I'm not seeing that either.

15lawecon
Edited: Jul 9, 2011, 12:56am Top

~9
So ... I want to start a meme among conservatives: social engineering is not bad per se. We all try to socially engineer. But society is not like a Mecanno set. (Yeah, I know, we've been saying this since about 1789.)

It's just that I think that a lot of conservatives are falling back on essentially libertarian arguments to justify their opposition to the Ever Expanding State, and these arguments are not just wrong, but easily shown to be wrong by the Left.
========================================

This is hardly news, Doug. During the last couple of dozen threads you've made it very clear that you are in favor of virtually any notion that allows for the gradual expansion of governmental functions. After all, it was good enough for the European nobility, it should be good enough for "contemporary conservatives," or at least shouldn't be opposed on any principled basis. To construct any argument supporting the conclusion that there is something like fixed private and public spheres would, after all, be "libertarian" and "ideological," whereas advocacy of an "Ever Expanding State" is just common sense and prudence.

Yawn.

16Doug1943
Jul 9, 2011, 3:16am Top

No, I don't accept that the only choices are "an ever-expanding state" vs practically no state at all.

I do believe that the very minimal state that suited pre-modern society is not possible today.

However, I do believe that -- as has always been the case, throughout history -- various "factions" will seek to use the state for their own immediate advantage, to the detriment of the rest of us. That's a given, and is essentially what politics is all about.

I believe the minimal-state people tend to be well-educated, competent people, the sort who, for instance, plan ahead for their own retirement. If everyone were like them, then some at least of what the minimal-statists argue for would be more plausible.

But most people aren't like this, and have to be forced to act in their own interests. If you don't make people save for their retirement, a lot of them won't. Others will be easily conned by the large number of predators who will always exist.

I hate pollyanna views of the world, and the fact is, at this stage of human development, it's just a fact that most people are, by most standards, deeply ignorant and subject to irrational impulses.

However, I am all in favor of as little coercion as possible. I liked Cass Sunstein's book Nudge, which argues for making sensible things, like payroll deductions in company plans where the company matches the employee's deduction, the default, but with the possibility of opting out.

So if I were a libertarian -- indeed, as I conservative I support this -- I would make as many government programs as possible, opt-out-of-able, although they would be the default.

17Carnophile
Jul 9, 2011, 10:17am Top

"an ever-expanding state"

It's in its nature to expand. The Public Choice school, etc. That's why we must handcuff that fucker from the get-go.

most people aren't like this, and have to be forced to act in their own interests.

It is not your right or anyone's to arrogate that role to yourself.

18Doug1943
Jul 9, 2011, 2:30pm Top

Well, I force people to give the state some of their income to pay for prisons, armies, the police, the CIA, etc.

But in general, I am in favor of "opt-out" clauses where possible. If you don't want to pay into the Social Security fund, you shouldn't have to, so long as you've made it really really clear that you understand you're on your own with respect to unemployment benefits or your old age pension.

Then, if we want a forced-income-transfer component to these funds, it can be out in the open.

19lawecon
Edited: Jul 9, 2011, 3:44pm Top

No, I don't accept that the only choices are "an ever-expanding state" vs practically no state at all.

I do believe that the very minimal state that suited pre-modern society is not possible today.
.....................................

I believe the minimal-state people tend to be well-educated, competent people, the sort who, for instance, plan ahead for their own retirement. If everyone were like them, then some at least of what the minimal-statists argue for would be more plausible.

But most people aren't like this, and have to be forced to act in their own interests. If you don't make people save for their retirement, a lot of them won't. Others will be easily conned by the large number of predators who will always exist.

I hate pollyanna views of the world, and the fact is, at this stage of human development, it's just a fact that most people are, by most standards, deeply ignorant and subject to irrational impulses.

=========================================

Let's see if I can restate your view systematically. Then you can tell me where I've gone wrong, or if I'm correctly portraying your view:

(1) You don't believe in an "ever expanding state" but you do believe that "the more complex the forms assumed by society, the more limited the freedom of the individual must become" (to quote a well known 20th Century national leader).

(2) You believe that a minimal state requires, not is just better than it would be otherwise, but requires, that most people be "well educated and competent." If they are not, the case for a minimal state is not "plausible". If most people are not "well educated and competent" then "they have to be forced to act in their own interests".

(3) You believe that views other than yours are pollyanish, and you hate them.

Now let's assume that I've correctly summarized and systematized your view. Does this view make sense in terms of history and social theory? No, it doesn't. But to understand why it doesn't you have to know something about Economics, about social and political theory more generally, and and about the network of informal institutions that existed prior to the rise of the contemporary state. If you would like a reading list, I would be happy to provide one. However, I can't give you an education on those topics in a post or two.

In lieu of a complete explanation, let me just point out a few facts that contradict your view:

(1) People haven't suddenly become more ignorant or child like than they were previously. People have always been more or less ignorant or child like depending on the resources available to them and the incentives facing them. In terms of formal education, people in the West, and even in the Arab world, are vastly more educated than they have been at any point in known history.

(2) But why do people then seem to be making wrong decisions as if they are clueless children and why do people like you feel you must turn to the state to be a parent for these children/citizens? Let's take employment as an example. In the current Western world what has happened over the last hundred years or so is that "credentials" have become very important, and "credentials" in most fields are earned by going though a more or less fixed program of piling up credits in a Prussian style school system, a system of credentialing dictated directly by the state or indirectly by self-regulated industries that gain their power though state monopolies. If you want to practice medicine in the U.S., for instance, you graduate from an accredited undergraduate school, you then graduate from an AMA accredited medical school, you then serve an internship in an AMA accredited hospital and you are finally admitted to practice by a County Medical Board for the region in which you want to practice. At every step, you displease the powers that be, you don't practice medicine. Your skills really don't matter. Running the gauntlet and appeasing the powers that be is all that matters.

Contrast the above with the typical career path of a physician a hundred years ago. You want to become a physician, you apprentice yourself to the best physician who will take you on for seven years. Once you've completed your apprenticeship you hang out your own shingle and you previous "master" either refers you patients or doesn't. Word gets around that you are a good doctor whose patients come back to him because he heals them, or you butcher patients and they die and you get no referrals from them.

The same is true of virtually every occupation at or "above" the level of a cab driver. You go to a state run or accredited school for at least 12 years which gets you a high school diploma. You can then apply for a license to drive a cab.

(3) Let's take retirement, which seems to concern you as if no one lived beyond 50 before 1930.
State retirements systems are notorious for not providing what they claim to provide. In one country after another they have either completely collapsed or become gutted by inflation to the point where one can live miserable, if at all, on what they pay out. What has happened is that people generally have moved from a system where children took care of aged parents, with the expectation that their children would do the same, to a system where no one takes care of aged parents because the state lies to people about what will happen when they retire.

As a hard headed realist, at least in your own mind, you should look at the previous record of actual facts and the current record of how well the state has done creating an alternative to what was before. In doing so, you should factor in such things as technological change and capital accumulation. When you look at actual facts, your black and white world described above simply vanishes. People, left to their own devices, are not usually stupid about their own interests. States are not horns of plenty or depositories of great wisdom. To conclude otherwise is ignorant and pollyanish.

20Doug1943
Jul 9, 2011, 4:11pm Top

Of course, your 'restatements' of my views are not my views. (I don't "hate" other views, by the way, and it's bizarre to imply that I do.)

It is certainly true that the world we live in requires more state intervention than the world we lived in in 1789.

In 1789, the right to bear arms meant the right to own a musket, or perhaps a smooth-bore cannon. If we literally apply that right to our current situation, it means I should have the right to start a nitroglycerine factory in my basement, or to own a 20 mm cannon. Now, while I might like to own a 20 mm cannon, I don't want this right for just anyone, so I certainly support restrictions on such weapons. The problem just didn't arise in 1789.

And your view is?

There are some things that it takes the state to do, like buy Louisiana from the French. When the state is required, conservatives should be willing to use it.

In 1789, people lived on farms, and when they got old, were taken care of by their children. Times have changed, so they have to save for their retirement. Your argument is that no coercion is needed. I don't believe that's true. There is a lot of evidence that many people will just not get around to saving for their retirement, or won't save enough. So, make it compulsory, but allow those who wish to, to opt out. Presumably, you're against this, and would have no form of state unemployment insurance, social security, etc at all.

If we didn't have compulsory education laws, there are some people who wouldn't bother to send their children to school. I absolutely agree that with some children and some government schools, this wouldn't make much of a discernable difference, but we can improve the current educational situation in various ways: introducing freedom of choice and competition into education via vouchers would be a good way.

And I am in favor of redistributive taxation that forces childless people to help pay for the education of other peoples' children, on the same grounds that I favor forcing everyone to pay for the army and police.

I think that in the abstract, most people want National Parks, symphony orchestras, museums of art. But absent state support we may not get them. (If we can, great. I'm all for doing it voluntarily if possible.) However, I know that without nationalized National Parks, there will be none. I assume you are in favor of auctioning the National Parks off?

I happen to agree with some, not all, of your attitude toward licensing and paper qualifications, although it's not an absolute principle with me. I don't, however, think that the current medical mess in the US would be cured if we didn't require that someone be passed by a medical board before they could practice medicine.

My views are just conventional conservative views, the same as those held by conservatives for the last sixty years, by the way. You act as if modern conservatives have betrayed their roots, as if conservatism prior to Ronald Reagan was actually just anarcho-capitalism, but this is not true.

Just out of curiousity, where do your views differ, if they do, from those of anarcho-capitalists, like Lunar? What arenas for state activity do you think are legitimate?

21Carnophile
Edited: Jul 9, 2011, 7:36pm Top

>18 Doug1943: Well, I force people to give the state some of their income to pay for prisons, armies, the police, the CIA, etc.

Oh dammit; you’re using the “the only two consistent political philosophies are totalitarianism and anarchism” gambit.
Well, you’ve got me, at least on the surface. I have a position between totalitarianism and anarchism that I know isn’t totally internally consistent. I am, of course, not satisfied with it. My position is that I just need more time to resolve the inconsistencies (Heh. As you once said, A man’s reach should exceed his grasp). My (more realistic) position is also that its imperfections are less bad than the imperfections of all other political philosophies.

Before I concede that the only two consistent political philosophers are Lunar and Stalin, though, a thought:

The military is based on the recognition that if we don’t provide for the common defense bad guys will kill a lot of us. (Since I’m talking to you, Doug, I trust I can say that without inducing eye rolling.)
There is a difference between this and saying, “You’re not allowed to smoke or eat fatty foods” or, “We’re going to force you to save for your retirement.”

Here is the difference: A military, by keeping bad guys away, allows us to go about our lives as we choose.

In contrast, “Eat your veggies and save for retirement” prevents us from going about our lives as we choose.

In other words, it seems to destroy the entire point of having a military (police, intelligence services, etc.) in the first place.
So it doesn't seem that "Save more!" can be rested on a foundation of "Because you concede that military spending is necessary."

22Carnophile
Jul 9, 2011, 7:33pm Top

Is the following argument convincing?

You concede that we need a military or we'll all die. Therefore, you have to concede that I have the right to force you to save more for your retirement.

23Carnophile
Edited: Jul 9, 2011, 7:49pm Top

Okay, here's a clearer way of putting it:

It doesn't make any sense to have a military to keep control freaks off our backs so we can live our lives in peace, and then use the existence of said military to argue that we should become control freaks.

24lawecon
Jul 9, 2011, 9:09pm Top

~16

"I hate pollyanna views of the world,"

~20

"Of course, your 'restatements' of my views are not my views. (I don't "hate" other views, by the way, and it's bizarre to imply that I do.)"

25lawecon
Jul 9, 2011, 9:33pm Top

~16

"I hate pollyanna views of the world,"

~20

"Of course, your 'restatements' of my views are not my views. (I don't "hate" other views, by the way, and it's bizarre to imply that I do.)"

===============================

~20

"It is certainly true that the world we live in requires more state intervention than the world we lived in in 1789.

In 1789, the right to bear arms meant the right to own a musket, or perhaps a smooth-bore cannon. If we literally apply that right to our current situation, it means I should have the right to start a nitroglycerine factory in my basement, or to own a 20 mm cannon. Now, while I might like to own a 20 mm cannon, I don't want this right for just anyone, so I certainly support restrictions on such weapons. The problem just didn't arise in 1789.
==============================

I am sorry, but this makes no sense on the rationale you give. You admit that individuals could own cannons in 1789. Presumably some of those persons were irresponsible and wouldn't have met with your high standards. Somehow, however, more weight should be given to your standards today since we now have technologically improved cannons? Say what?

Same with explosives. I don't believe that nitroglycerin came around for awhile after 1789. That, apparently, means that Guy Fawkes wouldn't have been successful in blowing up Parliament in 1606 using black powder? Ah, no it doesn't mean any such thing.

The difference, Doug, is in one's elitism and faithfulness to certain rights, not in the technology.

================================

~20
In 1789, people lived on farms, and when they got old, were taken care of by their children. Times have changed, so they have to save for their retirement. Your argument is that no coercion is needed. I don't believe that's true. There is a lot of evidence that many people will just not get around to saving for their retirement, or won't save enough. So, make it compulsory, but allow those who wish to, to opt out. Presumably, you're against this, and would have no form of state unemployment insurance, social security, etc at all.
===================================

Your reasoning here is simply incoherent, as illustrated by:

Some people are shortsighted and won't save for their retirement. (O.K., probably that is true. Some people also "invest" their savings in dollar denominated accounts, and we're about to see just how shortsighted that is.)

Therefore the government should force them to provide for their retirement. (But that isn't what the government does. What the government does is tax away a certain percentage of their income and then give them back either nothing or something far below a living wage.)

But of course they should be allowed to opt out. (Say what? You just justified this system because there were people who would make a flawed decision and not save and you believed that such people should be saved from themselves. Now you want to give those same people the option to opt out of the compulsory system you justified to thwart their shortsightedness?)

How about "we" just have everyone publically state: "I really really mean to make the choice I am making." and eliminate the incredibly costly bureaucracy?

I could work through the rest of your post, but, frankly, it is all the same sort of fallacies based on "common sense" slogans and "what we all know," slogans and common knowledge that are false.

26lawecon
Jul 9, 2011, 9:38pm Top

~16

"I hate pollyanna views of the world,"

~20

"Of course, your 'restatements' of my views are not my views. (I don't "hate" other views, by the way, and it's bizarre to imply that I do.)"

===============================

~20

"It is certainly true that the world we live in requires more state intervention than the world we lived in in 1789.

In 1789, the right to bear arms meant the right to own a musket, or perhaps a smooth-bore cannon. If we literally apply that right to our current situation, it means I should have the right to start a nitroglycerine factory in my basement, or to own a 20 mm cannon. Now, while I might like to own a 20 mm cannon, I don't want this right for just anyone, so I certainly support restrictions on such weapons. The problem just didn't arise in 1789.
==============================

I am sorry, but this makes no sense on the rationale you give. You admit that individuals could own cannons in 1789. Presumably some of those persons were irresponsible and wouldn't have met with your high standards. Somehow, however, more weight should be given to your standards today since we now have technologically improved cannons? Say what?

Same with explosives. I don't believe that nitroglycerin came around for awhile after 1789. That, apparently, means that Guy Fawkes wouldn't have been successful in blowing up Parliament in 1606 using black powder? Ah, no it doesn't mean any such thing.

The difference, Doug, is in one's elitism and faithfulness to certain rights, not in the technology.

================================

~20
In 1789, people lived on farms, and when they got old, were taken care of by their children. Times have changed, so they have to save for their retirement. Your argument is that no coercion is needed. I don't believe that's true. There is a lot of evidence that many people will just not get around to saving for their retirement, or won't save enough. So, make it compulsory, but allow those who wish to, to opt out. Presumably, you're against this, and would have no form of state unemployment insurance, social security, etc at all.
===================================

Your reasoning here is simply incoherent, as illustrated by:

Some people are shortsighted and won't save for their retirement. (O.K., probably that is true. Some people also "invest" their savings in dollar denominated accounts, and we're about to see just how shortsighted that is.)

Therefore the government should force them to provide for their retirement. (But that isn't what the government does. What the government does is tax away a certain percentage of their income and then give them back either nothing or something far below a living wage.)

But of course they should be allowed to opt out. (Say what? You just justified this system because there were people who would make a flawed decision and not save and you believed that such people should be saved from themselves. Now you want to give those same people the option to opt out of the compulsory system you justified to thwart their shortsightedness?)

How about "we" just have everyone publically state: "I really really mean to make the choice I am making." and eliminate the incredibly costly bureaucracy?

===============================
~20
I don't, however, think that the current medical mess in the US would be cured if we didn't require that someone be passed by a medical board before they could practice medicine.
=============================

You seem not to be grasping the difference between regulation and certification.

================================

I really don't need to make any comment on your argument for public schools, since you have done a good job of that yourself, but, as one of my undergraduate professors put it, "still have faith" that yet another reform is going to "cure" a hopeless system.

==================================

I could work through the rest of your post, but, frankly, it is all the same sort of fallacies based on "common sense" slogans and "what we all know," slogans and common knowledge that are false. There is a vast literature on each of these topics, Doug, why not read some of it?

27Doug1943
Jul 10, 2011, 3:11am Top

LawEcon: Yes, I do hate pollyanna views of the world. What I don't hate are the people who put forward those views, just because they are pollyannas, and I see you weren't implying that I do. Got me.

So that I don't fall into further errors, let me see if I understand your views:

Are you against any government regulation of the right to bear arms whatsoever? Are you in favor of the unlimited right to build and own any sort of weapons system whatsoever? I couldn't make out from your answer whether or not you are.

Are you against all government regulation of the market whatsoever? No minimum wage, no Clean Air Act? If you are not against all government regulation, could you give an example of the sort you would support?

Are you against all government projects that are not directly and immediately involved with our personal defence against foreign and domestic predators? (As I recall from a previous discussion, you believe that the anti-Communist legislation of the 1950s, like the Communist Control Act of 1954, was justified. Or am I wrong about that?)

What about taxation to support education? Government involvement in disaster relief? Federal highway construction? The National Parks?

I understand the difference between licensing and certification, as you once explained it here. In general, I am in favor of a voluntary system -- certification. Of course, there will be stupid or misguided people who will choose to put their health in the hands of witch-doctors, but there already are.

Now, you might argue, Ah, but why not extend this reasoning to everything, and let the improvident starve in their old age?

There are two sorts of argument against forcing peole to behave prudently via state-enforced saving:

(1) It's wrong on principle. If you believe this, then arguments about practical effects are not relevant.

(2) It doesn't work in practice, because the state will inevitably waste/steal their money.

If it's (2) that you are arguing (a collective "you" here, to cover LawEcon and Carny), I disagree.

Of course the state is able to be wasteful and responsive to selfish interest groups in a way that is not true for private firms operating in a market, because of its unique ability to enforce monopoly power.

But note that this is true for its legitimate -- in your eyes -- functions, such as the mlitary and the police. (It was taken for granted, when I was in the military, that all the "lifers" among the NCOs had some sort of scam going on, often centered on the PX.)

I happen to agree with Carny's statement: we have to find position between Stalin and Lunar. That's why conservatism and libertarianism are distinct positions. Where this position optimally is, can change over time, as culture changes. (For example, I am in favor of not renewing the Voting Rights Act, because the evil it was passed to deal with does not exist any more.)

Thus, I would be interested in ways to reform the Social Security system, including opt-outs for people who really think they can do better with their own money. I don't know enough about the American Social Security system in detail to propose detailed reforms. But in principle, I don't believe it is a bad thing.

Yes, people today are more educated than at any time in history. But it's still a fact that irrational behavior is quite common.

I believe the minimum wage, at the level at which it is now set in the US, is not a job-killer. But it's just an empirical question for me, and if someone could show that it is, then I would oppose it.

In general, I am in favor of devolving state power down to the smallest practical unit. But in this, as in everything, we have to look at concrete reality. In the US in the first 2/3 of the 20th Century, "state's rights" in fact meant the locking in place of systematized oppression of Blacks in the Southern states. The only way to crack this was by an expansion of Federal Power. In the concrete circumstances, that was the lesser evil.

And that, for me, is applicable across the board: we almost always have to choose the lesser evil, which will sometimes involve the expansion of state power.

28Carnophile
Edited: Jul 14, 2011, 3:43pm Top

>27 Doug1943: (1) It's wrong on principle. If you believe this, then arguments about practical effects are not relevant.
(2) It doesn't work in practice, because the state will inevitably waste/steal their money.


I believe (1), but there's a lot to say about (2) as well. Cf. recent events in the US and Europe, which make it clear that these kinds of social retirement schemes are not financially sustainable in the long run. (As people paying atention have been saying for literally decades.) The Greece budget is only still a lumbering zombie because of the euro area and IMF bailouts. (Voters in Germany are furious about this, one hears.) Without those the lumbering zombie would be a completely inert corpse.

But of course, the idea that "someone will bail us out" can't be scaled to the entire planet.

But why aren't they sustainable in the LR? There's nothing inherent in retirement saving that's unsustainable. It's the government administration of it that is unsustainable, because in a democracy they'll always succumb, sooner or later, to the temptation to raid retirees' "lockbox" for current expenditures. Also, they always seem to be set up in a way that requires perpetual population growth, because they are pay-as-you-go schemes and not savings plans, no matter the official propaganda. But, as we've seen in e.g., Italy, perpetual population growth is not an immutable law of nature. IIRC, some countries that currently have 3 workers for every retiree are forecast to have one worker for every retiree in the foreseeable future!

29Doug1943
Jul 10, 2011, 12:10pm Top

Okay, that's an empirical argument, which is the only kind I'm interested in. (I've always stayed out of arguments about economics and related subjects, such as the American Social Security system, because it seems to be an area, like Global Warming, where you need to know a lot more about the subject than I do to have an informed opinion. But, like Global Warming, it can't be avoided, unfortunately.)

So is the key argument: the nature of the democratic state makes it impossible, in practice, to devise a working compulsory social insurance scheme?

Although this is just an empirical question, I think it's hard to resolve.

It seems to be a particular application of the attitude towards democracy in general, that was taken by many intelligent and well-meaning people for a long time: give the masses the vote, and they'll vote for an equal division of property and thus the ruin of society.

And yet the Founding Fathers were able to craft a system that has worked pretty well, trying to put in place safeguards against the tendencies that many feared, and eventually the Europeans caught up with us.

Of course, the desire for a Free Lunch could yet bring us all down, but what's interesting to me is how the democratic system has managed to back out of lurches towards unsustainable socialism -- the history of European politics for the last thirty years could be written around that theme. True, the pale-skinned Nordics seem to be better at it than the swarthy Meditteranean types ... oops! Better quit while I'm ahead!

30Carnophile
Jul 10, 2011, 12:54pm Top

...swarthy...
Oh God, Doug, now you're just pouring fuel on the fire.
.
.
.

So is the key argument: the nature of the democratic state makes it impossible, in practice, to devise a working compulsory social insurance scheme?

I think the answer is yes, it's impossible to devise and implement a sustainable program, as a practical matter.

31Doug1943
Jul 10, 2011, 1:00pm Top

That's pretty depressing. I think I had better sell all my shares and buy gold. Should have done this ten years ago.

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