1049: "Bookshelf"

This forum is for the individual discussion thread that goes with each new comic.

Moderators: Moderators General, Prelates, Magistrates

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Fri May 11, 2012 7:57 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
BlueSoxSWJ wrote:Do you have the right to risk my life without my permission?

To do something directly to you which has a chance of causing effects to you you don't want? No, I don't have the right to do that, because you have the right to decide what I directly do to you, and if you don't like the chances that you will end up not liking it, they you get to decide not to allow that act upon you and to avoid that risk.

But to do something which has a chance of doing something to you which you don't want? Yes. I don't have the right to do something to you that you don't want, so if my actions have a chance of ending up like that, caution is warranted in them, not just for your sake but because (if the justice system is working properly) I will be on the hook for those damages and so have incentive to avoid the risk of causing them. But until they end up causing such damages, there is nothing inherently wrong with my actions that are not done directly to you.

If we had claims against anyone ever doing anything which might possibly have any effect on us that we didn't like, we would have claims against anyone ever doing anything at all, since we all live in the same universe and every action has uncountable unforeseen consequences. This is the kind of scenario I think you and many others aim for (no man is an island, therefore not individualism), but I think it's a reduction to the absurd. Suddenly you (and everyone else) has a right to decide whether I can eat french fries, because they might make me fat, which might cause health problems, which might make me a less productive member of society, and might cost some shared medical infrastructure something to treat, which might end up costing you money, so my eating french fries conflicts with your rights!


This turns into a highly subjective issue. We can slippery-slope it to absurdity in several directions.

In practice it's a matter of what bothers your neighbors. If they get offended about you doing pederasty with your own slave, nothing to do with them at all, you have to find some way to satisfy them or move away. If they get upset because you paint your house purple, you have to take their feelings into account because they're your neighbors. In reality we survive on each other's tolerance and our choices are to try to satisfy their irrational desires within whatever limits are practical, let them kill us, or kill them first. And usually it plain isn't practical to kill all your neighbors and live by yourself.

You're right that we have to draw a line somewhere, but that line is not some nebulous thing that needs to be debated in committees weighing the implications of every action on everyone. That line is the very definition of property: property is anything you have rights in, and you have rights only over your property. We each own ourselves and have absolute say about what other people can or cannot do to us.


If you are suspected of a serious crime and you get taken to jail, it isn't implausible that you will be required to accept an invasive strip search. You do not have absolute say in this. You can avoid airliner flights, but you can't necessarily avoid being suspected of a crime.

You are entitled to an opinion that you have absolute rights on your own property. But if your neighbor has the opinion that he has a right not to live with a meth lab next door, it might turn into a question whose opinion is more -- pungent.

jpers36 wrote:Can you clarify how to identify positive externalities vs negative externalities? I mean, one of the core assumptions of economics is that value is subjective, right? Let's take your home beautifying example. You raise the selling price of adjoining homes -- but what value is that to someone with no plans to sell and no interest in a loan? All the beautification does to this person is raise their taxes.


Property rights are the answer to this question as well, and your raising it highlights the importance of them. In some places, there are restrictions on the kind of modifications you can make to your own home, because they might lower the property value of your neighbors. I think this is ridiculous. Yes, that is in a sense a negative externality, just as much as my example of beautification produces a positive externality, but it is an indirect one. In neither case am I actually doing anything to anyone else's property, and so in neither case does anyone have a claim against me.


It's easier if you have the chance to buy a home in a zoned or covenanted area. Look it over, and if you don't like the terms then go elsewhere. Harder when your neighbors decide to do that and you oppose them but you are a minority.

Sometimes that can arise from a simple difference of opinion. You might think that your 15 plastic flamingos and 55 black plastic buzzards enhance your neighbors' property values. You might have no idea why they then try to get the legal right to restrict what you do on your own property. When you buy, check whether you have the right to put a fence around your property. A ten foot stone fence with broken glass embedded in the top can do a whole lot to keep your neighbors from finding out what you do on your property. But make sure your victims are gagged before you do anything too scream-inducing.

This is the answer to your question: each affected person gets to assess whether the action done to them or their property is positive or negative; but only when it is actually an action done to them or their property, and not something with ephemeral side-effects like indirectly affecting the market value, or risking merely potential but unactualized damages.


So if you spill radioactive wastes into a public reservoir, nobody can sue you until they can prove that their cancer came from your radioactive waste and not from any other source. Got it.

I think in general we can get a long way with mutual courtesy and good will. The troubles tend to come when we meet up with discourteous and bad-willed people, or people who are unfamiliar with the local customs.
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5395
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri May 11, 2012 9:26 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:In practice it's a matter of what bothers your neighbors. If they get offended about you doing pederasty with your own slave, nothing to do with them at all, you have to find some way to satisfy them or move away. If they get upset because you paint your house purple, you have to take their feelings into account because they're your neighbors. In reality we survive on each other's tolerance and our choices are to try to satisfy their irrational desires within whatever limits are practical, let them kill us, or kill them first. And usually it plain isn't practical to kill all your neighbors and live by yourself.

[...]

You are entitled to an opinion that you have absolute rights on your own property. But if your neighbor has the opinion that he has a right not to live with a meth lab next door, it might turn into a question whose opinion is more -- pungent.


This is derailing into a right vs might issue again. I am talking only about what is right or not. Of course in the end the actual outcome comes down to whatever whoever has the might says, but that has no bearing on what those who have the might should say. Think of it this way if you like (whenever we get into ethical discussions like this): imagine we are immaterial gods who are completely unaffected by anything physical people do and have no personal stake in any human affairs; but we have an army of humanoid angels living among the people capable of enforcing any law we want to the extent that any humans possibly could; and we are debating what laws we should have them enforce, what kind of governments we should have them form, etc. So no others have any might over us and we have all the might we could want over them, so might is not at issue, and with that aside, let's look purely at the question of what's right.

This far-fetched scenario translates back perfectly well into practical human affairs because it tells us what we should be doing with the small amount of say we get from the small amount of might we each have, without the issue of how much might we have confusing the issue. The 'imagine we have no personal stake in it' part is what makes it a moral discussion, an unbiased discussion, an objective discussion, and not just a contest for who can get what they want, which just goes back to issues of might again. Ethics and morality are not about how much power you have, but how you use whatever power you do have. (And suddenly I want to make a penis joke).

So if you spill radioactive wastes into a public reservoir, nobody can sue you until they can prove that their cancer came from your radioactive waste and not from any other source. Got it.

No, because the public water is public property and putting radioactive waste into it is directly doing something to that property which each member of the public thus has a claim against. If you put powdered Kool-Aid in my glass of water, I don't need to prove that that Kool-Aid was even potentially harmful to me, much less actually harmful; you did something that I didn't like to something I had a claim on, that gives me a legitimate complaint. Same thing if you dumped a truck load of Kool-Aid into the reservoir. Or radioactive waste.
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Sat May 12, 2012 12:34 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
J Thomas wrote:[...]

You are entitled to an opinion that you have absolute rights on your own property. But if your neighbor has the opinion that he has a right not to live with a meth lab next door, it might turn into a question whose opinion is more -- pungent.


This is derailing into a right vs might issue again. I am talking only about what is right or not. Of course in the end the actual outcome comes down to whatever whoever has the might says, but that has no bearing on what those who have the might should say. Think of it this way if you like (whenever we get into ethical discussions like this): imagine we are immaterial gods who are completely unaffected by anything physical people do and have no personal stake in any human affairs; but we have an army of humanoid angels living among the people capable of enforcing any law we want to the extent that any humans possibly could; and we are debating what laws we should have them enforce, what kind of governments we should have them form, etc. So no others have any might over us and we have all the might we could want over them, so might is not at issue, and with that aside, let's look purely at the question of what's right.

This far-fetched scenario translates back perfectly well into practical human affairs because it tells us what we should be doing with the small amount of say we get from the small amount of might we each have, without the issue of how much might we have confusing the issue. The 'imagine we have no personal stake in it' part is what makes it a moral discussion, an unbiased discussion, an objective discussion, and not just a contest for who can get what they want, which just goes back to issues of might again. Ethics and morality are not about how much power you have, but how you use whatever power you do have. (And suddenly I want to make a penis joke).


I think it might easily turn out that the amount of power you have should affect what you do with it. For example, if you have enough power to get a desired result, then go ahead. But if all your attempt at a good result will accomplish is to attract powerful enemies, then it may be better to attempt to stay invisible and gather power.

Also it might easily turn out that there is no particular right or wrong apart from your opinions. In that case you should use your power to further the things you want, including the morality you want, and there might not be much more to say about it than that.

So if you spill radioactive wastes into a public reservoir, nobody can sue you until they can prove that their cancer came from your radioactive waste and not from any other source. Got it.

No, because the public water is public property and putting radioactive waste into it is directly doing something to that property which each member of the public thus has a claim against. If you put powdered Kool-Aid in my glass of water, I don't need to prove that that Kool-Aid was even potentially harmful to me, much less actually harmful; you did something that I didn't like to something I had a claim on, that gives me a legitimate complaint. Same thing if you dumped a truck load of Kool-Aid into the reservoir. Or radioactive waste.


So it's OK if you don't find out? It's OK for you if you don't have an opinion on the particular substance? Say it's a truckload of resin beads that are supposed to remove contaminants. Some people think it's a benefit, others aren't sure. similarly with flocculants, flouride, etc etc etc.

There are people who fervently believe in radioactive hormesis. That is, they think that radiation is good for you. The scientific evidence about low-level ionizing radiation is unclear. The last I looked, there was no solid proof that it wasn't linear right down to zero, but there was a reasonable chance that there was a sort of threshold and amounts of radiation below that threshold might do less damage proportionally than larger amounts. So rational people will say they don't know (unless there's solid evidence since I last looked), but there are people who think they know who come down strongly on both sides. Who's right?

Should we do what's good for people as best we understand, or should we do what people want?

If we should do what's good for people, then I think your angels should limit tobacco to say 5 cigarettes/day/person. That's enough to give them probably 90% of the enjoyment they get from the things, with minimal damage. But if you do what people want then your angels should give people free cigarettes whenever they want them. Maybe they'll die early, but they get to smoke all they want in the meantime.

But what do I know? My best source of information is science, and that's notoriously unreliable. Science is fine when you want to look at isolated facts in controlled conditions. Try to apply that to a large population of human beings and you run into great big problems that are best handled with prospective epidemiological studies which are expensive and take a long time. So, should we let you dump radioactive material into the water supply? Some people say it will improve the average health, others say it will result in say 100 extra cancers in your city over the next 50 years. How do we rationally decide?

So maybe the next step is for your angels to know the truth about everything, and they tell us what's good for who -- when it's in our best interest to know. What should we do then?
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5395
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sat May 12, 2012 4:13 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:I think it might easily turn out that the amount of power you have should affect what you do with it. For example, if you have enough power to get a desired result, then go ahead. But if all your attempt at a good result will accomplish is to attract powerful enemies, then it may be better to attempt to stay invisible and gather power.

That is still a matter of the "how to do it", not the "what to do". Your power is very relevant in how you go about achieving your goals; if you lack sufficient power, attempting to achieve your goal may be counterproductive and so the best move toward your desired goal may be doing nothing and thus at least not moving away from it. That still says nothing about what goal to desire, though.

Also it might easily turn out that there is no particular right or wrong apart from your opinions.

And I say (as you've heard before) that it is impossible to ever know whether or not that is that case, so we can only make assumptions on the matter either way; but that assuming there is none is self-defeating and assures we will never find it even if there is one. It's analogous to assuming an event of unknown cause is a miracle, instead of just saying "we don't know the cause yet", but assuming that there is some cause.

So it's OK if you don't find out?

If I never found out I'd never complain and it wouldn't be an issue to begin with, but if I would object should I find out then it would still be wrong even if I didn't know, it just wouldn't be prosecuted. Any unnoticed wrongdoing always goes unpunished in any system. What's different about this scenario?

Should we do what's good for people as best we understand, or should we do what people want?

We should refrain from doing to people what they don't want, because they are entitled to their opinion on what's best for them; but we are not obliged to do to them everything that they want, because we're entitled to our opinions as well. If we want to offer some kind of help to them, we should of course offer what is best for them as best we understand; but they are free to decline that if they disagree.

That's when it comes to private property, at least. With public property, or more generally any joint property, it's a bit more complicated, because the people with claims on it both have freedom to use it as they like and a duty not to restrict others such use, so they are free to use it just to the extent that it doesn't infringe on others' equal use of it: in a sense, every owner must act like he is borrowing someone else's property and leave it how he found it, unless the (other) owner(s) agree to the change; but nobody can stop him from "borrowing" it, either, because it's also his. Private property is just a special case of this were there is only one owner and so unanimous decisions are easy to come to.

But what do I know? My best source of information is science, and that's notoriously unreliable. Science is fine when you want to look at isolated facts in controlled conditions. Try to apply that to a large population of human beings and you run into great big problems that are best handled with prospective epidemiological studies which are expensive and take a long time. So, should we let you dump radioactive material into the water supply? Some people say it will improve the average health, others say it will result in say 100 extra cancers in your city over the next 50 years. How do we rationally decide?

When it comes to evaluating someone's claim about co-owners of a property infringing on their equal use of it, then we have to evaluate whether that claim is true, in which case science, fallible though it is, is our best method. Say someone complains about fluoridation of their water, but cannot show sufficient evidence that fluoridation causes any harm, and cannot show sufficient evidence that they can tell the difference between fluoridated and unfluoridated water; they are complaining about something which is only nominally true, they only know it's fluoridated because someone told them, but fluoridated water is completely indistinguishable from unfluoridated water to them, both in the immediate term (a taste test) and in the long term (residual health effects). They thus have no basis that their equal use of the water is being infringed upon: the water is exactly as usable as it ever was in every way.

Now if someone dumps Kool-Aid in there, and this person would prefer to drink water rather than Kool-Aid and can obviously tell the difference between them, they could have a case. And if someone dumps radioactive materials in there, and the science shows that they will suffer long-term health effects they would rather not suffer and thus would have to refrain from drinking the water to avoid them, then they would have a case.
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

BlueSoxSWJ
Posts: 25
Joined: Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:09 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby BlueSoxSWJ » Sat May 12, 2012 7:40 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:If we had claims against anyone ever doing anything which might possibly have any effect on us that we didn't like, we would have claims against anyone ever doing anything at all, since we all live in the same universe and every action has uncountable unforeseen consequences. This is the kind of scenario I think you and many others aim for (no man is an island, therefore not individualism), but I think it's a reduction to the absurd. Suddenly you (and everyone else) has a right to decide whether I can eat french fries, because they might make me fat, which might cause health problems, which might make me a less productive member of society, and might cost some shared medical infrastructure something to treat, which might end up costing you money, so my eating french fries conflicts with your rights!

You're right that we have to draw a line somewhere, but that line is not some nebulous thing that needs to be debated in committees weighing the implications of every action on everyone. That line is the very definition of property: property is anything you have rights in, and you have rights only over your property. We each own ourselves and have absolute say about what other people can or cannot do to us. Other parts of the world can be divided up among us, and we have absolute say over what can or cannot be done to the parts that are our own, and no say over what other people do with the parts that are their own. The parts which are not thus divided up belong to all of us equally, and we each have liberty to do as we like with them exactly up to the point that that begins to infringe with others' equal liberty.


You missed my point so thoroughly and completely that you accidentally proved it for me. The point that there's somehow some magical "natural code" that determines just where the exact lines are between everyone's property rights is fraught with an absurd amount of counterexamples, because there's no purely objective way to define all these terms you throw around as though they solve all your issues. I'm supposed to have absolute say over what other people can or cannot do to me, yet in this very post you assert that you have the right to risk my very survival without my permission, so long as it's only a risk and not a certainty. You claim "caution is warranted," but who defines "caution," "warranted," "risk," "chance," and all the other terms you've used to justify the idea that the line is "naturally" where you think it should be? Or if it's the threat of a claim that makes your risking of my life okay, does that mean, in your ideal world, it should be legal for me to go 100 mph blindfolded through a school zone, as long as I'm subject to the legal claims of damages of all the parents of the kids I end up killing?

You later claim that dumping toxic waste into a public lake would subject the company to claims from everyone, because the lake is public property. Yet, we allow companies to pollute public waters all the time, because the economic cost of never allowing anyone to pollute public waters would be enormous. Should I be out suing every company that's ever polluted into a public water, even legally? I'm a member of the public, after all. And wait, why doesn't this apply to the air? Why don't I have a legal claim against you for all the driving you've done? I'm a member of the public, and I never gave you permission to pollute the air!

Or is this another case where there's somehow a magic "natural line" between legal and illegal uses of public resources which just so happens to fall exactly where you want it to be?

BlueSoxSWJ
Posts: 25
Joined: Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:09 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby BlueSoxSWJ » Sat May 12, 2012 8:28 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:There are lots of considerations here. You postulate a product for which economy of scale works. So the best approach is to have one single super-expensive factory which produces all of the product. But what happens if that factory gets bombed? What if it catches fire? Some ways it's more efficient to have some redundancy, some backup, even if at first sight that appears to be expensive.


You mistake "single firm" and "single factory." If a firm large enough to monopolize a region's market for some product is totally destroyed, chances are we're dealing with more important things at that point then whatever the firm was producing.

When the problem is high fixed cost, what happens if two companies try to compete? They both build expensive factories that can each supply the whole market. Then they compete to see who gets the business. If they compete on price, doesn't it make sense that the price will fall to the variable cost of the less efficient company? They both make as much product as they can hope to sell at their cost, because they lose money faster if they let their expensive factories sit idle. They both lose money fast, each hoping the other will give up or go bankrupt. If either of them can just hold out until the other is gone, then they can charge monopoly prices and pay off their debts. Meanwhile the rest of the economy comes to expect extremely cheap product, and when the monopoly prices come it will be a great big shock that causes ripples or waves elsewhere. Assuming the product is important. If it's hula hoops then no big deal.


This can, and rarely does, happen. The reason it is rare is because once someone moves to capture a natural monopoly, their presence creates a near-insurmountable barrier to entry. You are more likely to see price warfare like this in a natural oligopoly (a situation where the average cost is minimized by having a small number of firms, but more than one). Even then, however, the activity is usually destructive even to the winner, because they don't have long to take advantage of their monopoly before a new entity moves in, taking advantage of the higher average cost of the new monopoly company to undercut them and gain market share.

See what you just did? You claimed that companies are more efficient when they do not have a free market!


Of course they are! It's called economic rent - profit obtained via market manipulation away from the natural free market equilibrium. Is it really surprising that individual companies are more efficient when they get to rig the rules in their own favor? It is destructive to the overall market, of course, but looking narrowly at only the company, it is a good thing to be able to rig your own rules.

From the point of view of a single company, their efficiency is better if they can squeeze more labor out of their employees at lower cost. When I think about it, the ideal would be to have work that very gradually kills the employees. You pay them less as they get less efficient, and then they die just before they would normally retire so you don't have to pay retirement costs.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edAxujKev1I Chemical workers' song

But this is not actually efficient. Put it this way -- if you can produce a widget for $X in costs apart from labor, and you can sell it for $Y, how you split up the $Y-X left over is not about economic efficiency. It's about negotiating. If you work out a deal where you move your factory to a state penitentiary where the prisoners will work for cigarettes, that doesn't really make your operation more efficient. Slave labor is cheap because the slaves aren't allowed to find work on a free market.

Similarly if your employees are stuck with houses they can't sell so they can't move to another job, then you can pay them less. Anything that gives you a way to keep more of the profits and share less of them with employees or suppliers (or for that matter customers) will leave you with more profit. But it hasn't helped the economy at all. It's a zero-sum game. What you win that way, somebody else loses.


Actually, market manipulation is a negative-sum game. Unless either supply or demand is perfectly inelastic or perfectly elastic, the side that "wins" (extracts rent) doesn't win as much as the loser(s) lose. The term for the net loss is deadweight loss. Deadweight loss arises from anything that causes the market to clear anywhere except the intersection of the natural supply and demand curves.

And you say that economy of scale means we're better off with monopolies! Who benefits when you accept this on faith?

I don't accept it on faith. I work in the finance industry. I happen to work in a particular field best characterized as a natural duopoly. I study economics, corporate finance, and equity valuation for a living. I'm currently preparing for a professional exam on this very topic. The history and various government responses to natural, regulatory, and manipulative monopolies and oligopolies is a particular focus of mine. "Monopoly" has come to be such a baggage-laden word that many people don't realize just how many of them exist, are regulated, and work exactly the way I mentioned before, with the government setting prices at the natural intersection of the supply and demand curves. Most water companies, for example, are natural monopolies within a geographic region, because it would be prohibitively expensive to duplicate the infrastructure necessary for a competitor to enter. Most water rates aren't actually set by the water companies, but instead by the local government. The market for running water is very well studied and understood. Consumers end up winning because the infrastructure necessary to deliver running water only needs to be built once, but the resulting monopoly is prohibited from rent-seeking.

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5395
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sat May 12, 2012 9:42 am UTC

BlueSoxSWJ wrote:You missed my point so thoroughly and completely that you accidentally proved it for me. The point that there's somehow some magical "natural code" that determines just where the exact lines are between everyone's property rights is fraught with an absurd amount of counterexamples

And you seemed to miss my point that property is defined by where the lines between rights are drawn, so a clash between property rights is a manifest contradiction; someone or other doesn't really own property they're claiming rights on the basis of. Who gets what property, and thus rights to what, is certainly an arbitrary matter; there's nothing inherent in this hunk of metal which makes it Alice's and not Bob's. But given some distribution of property, who has what rights follows directly from that: you have rights to your property, and no rights to things that aren't your property.

The most important point in all of this is that you are your own property and no one else's, and that saying others have rights over your person is tantamount to saying that have (at least partial) ownership of you. We have a word for that, and it's generally considered pejorative.

And less dramatically but formally the same, saying that others always have some rights over "your" possessions is tantamount to saying that there really is no private ownership of anything, which is a less obviously abhorrent position but still not one many people will explicitly advocate.

I'm supposed to have absolute say over what other people can or cannot do to me, yet in this very post you assert that you have the right to risk my very survival without my permission, so long as it's only a risk and not a certainty.

You evidently missed that point too, as the differentiating factor between when it was OK or not wasn't whether it was certain or only probably going to cause harm, but whether it was certainly or probably going to affect you at all.

If I am certainly doing something to you, and there is a probability that it will harm you, you absolutely have a right to have me stop doing that, if you like. You don't even need the probability of it harming you, you don't even to define harm; you get to choose whether or not I can do things to you, period.

But if I am doing something, but not necessarily doing something to you, but there is a probability that what I'm doing might affect you, and you don't like what those effects would be, on the chance that they occurred... tough, until such time it actually and not just possibly affects you, and in that case, you get to decide whether that effect is permissible or not, no "certainly" or "probably" about it.

You claim "caution is warranted," but who defines "caution," "warranted," "risk," "chance," and all the other terms you've used to justify the idea that the line is "naturally" where you think it should be? Or if it's the threat of a claim that makes your risking of my life okay, does that mean, in your ideal world, it should be legal for me to go 100 mph blindfolded through a school zone, as long as I'm subject to the legal claims of damages of all the parents of the kids I end up killing?

You keep quoting "naturally" like I'm making some appeal to authority. Did I even use the word "natural" anywhere? I don't think I did. I'm discussing the principles by which we should make decisions about whether or not someone has been wronged, situation-by-situation, based on contingent factors. I am not giving a list of things which I claim are "naturally" right or wrong.

Anyway, caution is warranted in the same sense that caution is warranted when swimming in shark-infested waters: there's a good chance you might get bit. To a morally concerned person, caution is warranted because there is a chance of harming someone else, which is something to be avoided for its own sake, and that should be enough. Unfortunately for many people it's not, so a well-functioning justice system must serve to translate that moral concern into an amoral one by making one's harm to another person into a "shark" in the figurative "waters" -- by forcing people to bear the burden of any harm they cause to others. That gives them incentive to avoid harming others, and a greater incentive to avoid actions with a greater chance of harming others. (And a greater incentive to avoid actions with a chance of greater harm).

That is the point of outlawing dangerous actions, right? To deter people from doing them? It's not like passing a law magically forces people to change their behavior. It just attaches a punishment to the behavior to persuade people to avoid it. I am just arguing that only actions which actually harm people should actually be punished, and actions which only potentially harm people should only potentially be punished; when the harm is actualized, so is the punishment, and as the chances of harm vary, so do the chances of punishment.

Punishing people who might cause harm above and beyond punishing people who do cause harm only adds punishment to those people who didn't actually cause any harm, because anyone who did it, caused harm, and got caught, would be punished either way; those who didn't get caught would get off either way; those who didn't do it would get off either way; so only those who did it, got caught, but didn't cause any harm would be added to the lineup by punishing the potential above and beyond the actual. And since punishment is by its very nature a form of harm, if sometimes a warranted one, you're proposing we cause certain, actual harm to people who only risked possible, potential harm.
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Sat May 12, 2012 1:57 pm UTC

@pforrest
So if somebody has a habbit of drifting 100 mph through the residential zone - he shouldn't have his drivers licence revoked? You would be causing definate harm (not being able to fool around with his car) vs only possible harm. hitting a bunch of preschoolers etc?
Also If I get drunk off my ass get some lsd,pcp,mdma and what not cool abbreviations in my system and start shooting my assault rifle into streets - and by some miracle I do not injure any people or property I should not be so much as fined less alone sent to jail or have my gun licence revoked. Because y'know I only COULD have turned out badly - but sticking me in jail that would be the ugly oppression of the Leviathan.
If anybody says that oh yes but in these cases the possibility of harm is soooo great ofcourse we should do somehting about it then - yes there should be a third party who will wage the possibiliteis of harms and will suspend some peoples rights to do something with their own property or communal property vs. other peoples rights.
Its not that saying - well we've got this wonderful notion of property - will eliminate all instances of conflicting rights.

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Sat May 12, 2012 3:20 pm UTC

BlueSoxSWJ wrote:
J Thomas wrote:There are lots of considerations here. You postulate a product for which economy of scale works. So the best approach is to have one single super-expensive factory which produces all of the product. But what happens if that factory gets bombed? What if it catches fire? Some ways it's more efficient to have some redundancy, some backup, even if at first sight that appears to be expensive.


You mistake "single firm" and "single factory." If a firm large enough to monopolize a region's market for some product is totally destroyed, chances are we're dealing with more important things at that point then whatever the firm was producing.


If the economy of scale comes from having a single firm and not a single factory, why is it more efficient? If the firm has ten factories which are each the "right size" for economy of scale, why is it better to have one firm managing all ten factories and not ten firms each with one factory?

Well, there could be a specialist whose work is only needed at any one factory 8% of the time, and one firm can hire him and put him to work, traveling from one factory to another, while ten firms would need to hire ten specialists. Well, but the ten firms each contracted his services. So that one doesn't work.

And it's obviously more efficient to have one top management than ten top managements. When it's obvious what decision to make, better to pay one CEO to make it than ten CEOs. And when nobody knows what to do, better to have one CEO making a choice at random than ten CEOs making choices at random -- some of their choices will get better results than others and make the others look bad, but if there's only one nobody will find out how good his choice was.

But the big obvious way you get economy of scale is by reducing competition. A single firm won't try to hire workers away from itself, so wages will be lower. It won't compete for customers so marketing and advertising prices will be lower, and product prices can be higher. It won't compete for what it buys so the prices it pays generally will be lower. I don't see that this kind of economy of scale is a good thing.

When the problem is high fixed cost, what happens if two companies try to compete? They both build expensive factories that can each supply the whole market. Then they compete to see who gets the business. If they compete on price, doesn't it make sense that the price will fall to the variable cost of the less efficient company? They both make as much product as they can hope to sell at their cost, because they lose money faster if they let their expensive factories sit idle. They both lose money fast, each hoping the other will give up or go bankrupt. If either of them can just hold out until the other is gone, then they can charge monopoly prices and pay off their debts. Meanwhile the rest of the economy comes to expect extremely cheap product, and when the monopoly prices come it will be a great big shock that causes ripples or waves elsewhere. Assuming the product is important. If it's hula hoops then no big deal.


This can, and rarely does, happen. The reason it is rare is because once someone moves to capture a natural monopoly, their presence creates a near-insurmountable barrier to entry. You are more likely to see price warfare like this in a natural oligopoly (a situation where the average cost is minimized by having a small number of firms, but more than one). Even then, however, the activity is usually destructive even to the winner, because they don't have long to take advantage of their monopoly before a new entity moves in, taking advantage of the higher average cost of the new monopoly company to undercut them and gain market share.


Yes. This traditionally happened in the chemical industry. It was expensive to build a facility to produce plastics, but once it was built it could make a lot of plastic cheap. It took a long time for that to settle out. Similarly with electronics, particularly processors and memory. Build a billion dollar plant that will be obsolescent in 5 years, and you can produce chips for extremely low variable cost. You have your plant in Taiwan, but then somebody builds their own in Malaysia. And nobody wants to buy a chip that has only a single source.

The reason this is rare is that corporations display a natural aversion to getting into that kind of market. You need to think that you have the largest capital reserves and that the fix is in, before you try. It's a mug's game. This is a situation where traditional capitalism does not work well. One solution is to avoid businesses where you will have high fixed cost. And that's probably a big reason we don't have more industrial automation. Build an automated factory in the USA, and your high sunk costs are likely to be lost if you get competition. Build a cheap factory in the philippines and use cheap labor, and then if you get too much competition you can just lay off your workers and wait it out. Plenty more where those came from. This is also one of the reasons slavery is inefficient. If you buy a slave then any time you can't find work for him, you're still stuck with him. But when you hire a wage-slave, any time you don't need him you just toss him away. Much cheaper.

See what you just did? You claimed that companies are more efficient when they do not have a free market!


Of course they are! It's called economic rent - profit obtained via market manipulation away from the natural free market equilibrium. Is it really surprising that individual companies are more efficient when they get to rig the rules in their own favor? It is destructive to the overall market, of course, but looking narrowly at only the company, it is a good thing to be able to rig your own rules.


OK, just a semantic quibble. I don't call it "efficiency" when somebody rigs the rules in their favor so they win automatically. I call it a cheat, an inefficiency in the market. But it is efficient from the point of view of the cheater.

Spoiler:
From the point of view of a single company, their efficiency is better if they can squeeze more labor out of their employees at lower cost. When I think about it, the ideal would be to have work that very gradually kills the employees. You pay them less as they get less efficient, and then they die just before they would normally retire so you don't have to pay retirement costs.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edAxujKev1I Chemical workers' song

But this is not actually efficient. Put it this way -- if you can produce a widget for $X in costs apart from labor, and you can sell it for $Y, how you split up the $Y-X left over is not about economic efficiency. It's about negotiating. If you work out a deal where you move your factory to a state penitentiary where the prisoners will work for cigarettes, that doesn't really make your operation more efficient. Slave labor is cheap because the slaves aren't allowed to find work on a free market.

Similarly if your employees are stuck with houses they can't sell so they can't move to another job, then you can pay them less.
Anything that gives you a way to keep more of the profits and share less of them with employees or suppliers (or for that matter customers) will leave you with more profit. But it hasn't helped the economy at all. It's a zero-sum game. What you win that way, somebody else loses.


Actually, market manipulation is a negative-sum game. Unless either supply or demand is perfectly inelastic or perfectly elastic, the side that "wins" (extracts rent) doesn't win as much as the loser(s) lose. The term for the net loss is deadweight loss. Deadweight loss arises from anything that causes the market to clear anywhere except the intersection of the natural supply and demand curves.


Thank you. Yes. So in general everybody has an interest in reducing market manipulation. Except for the manipulators themselves, and people who primarily play the stock market and want stocks that will go up and up.

And you say that economy of scale means we're better off with monopolies! Who benefits when you accept this on faith?

I don't accept it on faith. I work in the finance industry.


That was a straight line just begging to be used. I don't mean you any offense and yet I just can't help but respond....

This is the wrong decade to use that argument. "Trust me! I know what I'm doing. I work in the finance industry!"

Seriously, you have shown that you understand the theory and you understand a lot about how it fits the way we do things. It works as well as it works. It is what it is. I want to claim it might not be the only way to do things, and in some ways some other approaches might work better. You know how things are done. I want to speculate on things that nobody knows. They haven't been done. The evidence is not available. We can try to reason it out, maybe extrapolate from existing data about other things.

I happen to work in a particular field best characterized as a natural duopoly. I study economics, corporate finance, and equity valuation for a living. I'm currently preparing for a professional exam on this very topic. The history and various government responses to natural, regulatory, and manipulative monopolies and oligopolies is a particular focus of mine. "Monopoly" has come to be such a baggage-laden word that many people don't realize just how many of them exist, are regulated, and work exactly the way I mentioned before, with the government setting prices at the natural intersection of the supply and demand curves.


Unless of course the government fails to set prices at the natural intersection of the supply and demand curves. And there's no validation to say where the natural intersection would come, because there is not and cannot be an actual market.

Most water companies, for example, are natural monopolies within a geographic region, because it would be prohibitively expensive to duplicate the infrastructure necessary for a competitor to enter. Most water rates aren't actually set by the water companies, but instead by the local government. The market for running water is very well studied and understood. Consumers end up winning because the infrastructure necessary to deliver running water only needs to be built once, but the resulting monopoly is prohibited from rent-seeking.


Yes. We have a long history of cost-plus contracts for this sort of thing.

I used to drop off my water bill payment at the main office since I drove right by there and it was cheaper than using a stamp. While I waited to pay I watched the beautiful wall-long fountain that took up one wall of the lobby. I stood on the thick shag carpet on the part of the floors that weren't a tasteful granite mosaic. I admired the artwork, the larger-than-life statues etc. The cashiers sat behind a granite counter with thick plate glass between them, and a real walnut counter top -- not veneer. When I had a research question and had opportunity to visit one of their technical people at his desk, I was pleased to see the shag carpet and general luxury extended to non-management employees, at least inside the headquarters.

And yet we paid low rates compared to other places. There was plenty of clean water nearby, and the city had once supplied water to an industry which declined and no longer needed it. If water prices had been cut in half it would hardly have affected me. In later years the city decided to make the private water works raise their prices and give the extra to the city. It was a sort of hidden tax, amounting to only a few dollars a month for most people.

There is a long tradition of government-associated monopolies. Traditionally european governments liked to establish salt monopolies. The king gives the monopoly to a close friend, and helps enforce it. Salt is bulky and not particularly easy to smuggle. People need it. So the monopolist charges what the traffic will bear and gives a whole lot of the money to his friend the king. The kingdom gets its taxes without needing to figure out how much any individual taxpayer owes, or keep tax records, or a census, etc. Very low overhead.

If you need a monopoly, how is it better to have a government-regulated privately-owned monopoly than just a government-run facility? The private ownership doesn't get you free-market efficiency. The costs are whatever the management chooses to pay for, and the income is whatever the government regulators allow. It doesn't really provide a layer of insulation between the politics and the business operation -- the private owners have to do whatever the politicians tell them to, and they'd better not complain in public.

Why not have a maximum size for corporations? What do we have to lose?
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

BlueSoxSWJ
Posts: 25
Joined: Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:09 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby BlueSoxSWJ » Sat May 12, 2012 5:57 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:If the economy of scale comes from having a single firm and not a single factory, why is it more efficient? If the firm has ten factories which are each the "right size" for economy of scale, why is it better to have one firm managing all ten factories and not ten firms each with one factory?

Well, there could be a specialist whose work is only needed at any one factory 8% of the time, and one firm can hire him and put him to work, traveling from one factory to another, while ten firms would need to hire ten specialists. Well, but the ten firms each contracted his services. So that one doesn't work.

And it's obviously more efficient to have one top management than ten top managements. When it's obvious what decision to make, better to pay one CEO to make it than ten CEOs. And when nobody knows what to do, better to have one CEO making a choice at random than ten CEOs making choices at random -- some of their choices will get better results than others and make the others look bad, but if there's only one nobody will find out how good his choice was.

But the big obvious way you get economy of scale is by reducing competition. A single firm won't try to hire workers away from itself, so wages will be lower. It won't compete for customers so marketing and advertising prices will be lower, and product prices can be higher. It won't compete for what it buys so the prices it pays generally will be lower. I don't see that this kind of economy of scale is a good thing.


Unless a firm has very, very specialized needs, the fact that it dominates a market won't necessarily impact its leverage over workers or suppliers, as long as there are similar markets employing similar skills and buying similar raw materials. The major source of economy of scale is always going to be amortizing fixed costs necessary to enter the market in the first place. That's why you will never see a natural monopoly in restaurants, retail, or any other business with relatively low capital requirements to enter. If a restaurant chain ever did monopolize the market somehow, the diseconomies of scale (the cost of managing its own massive structure) would dominate any savings generated by being able to pay suppliers and workers less.

The fixed costs that matter for our purposes here are the costs necessary to enter the market in the first place. For the purposes of optimizing the number of firms, the decision whether or not to add a tenth factory or stick with nine is actually a variable expense. Sure, once it's built, its amortization is a fixed cost, but the decision to build the factory didn't change the difficulty of surmounting the barrier to entry.

For example, why would it be more efficient for one water company to run ten purifying plants instead of ten companies running one each? Because the ten companies would have to build ten pipeline networks for distribution, a cost concern that dominates any consideration of the relative costs of one vs. ten purifying plants.

Yes. This traditionally happened in the chemical industry. It was expensive to build a facility to produce plastics, but once it was built it could make a lot of plastic cheap. It took a long time for that to settle out. Similarly with electronics, particularly processors and memory. Build a billion dollar plant that will be obsolescent in 5 years, and you can produce chips for extremely low variable cost. You have your plant in Taiwan, but then somebody builds their own in Malaysia. And nobody wants to buy a chip that has only a single source.

The reason this is rare is that corporations display a natural aversion to getting into that kind of market. You need to think that you have the largest capital reserves and that the fix is in, before you try. It's a mug's game. This is a situation where traditional capitalism does not work well. One solution is to avoid businesses where you will have high fixed cost. And that's probably a big reason we don't have more industrial automation. Build an automated factory in the USA, and your high sunk costs are likely to be lost if you get competition. Build a cheap factory in the philippines and use cheap labor, and then if you get too much competition you can just lay off your workers and wait it out. Plenty more where those came from. This is also one of the reasons slavery is inefficient. If you buy a slave then any time you can't find work for him, you're still stuck with him. But when you hire a wage-slave, any time you don't need him you just toss him away. Much cheaper.


But this is exactly what you are trying to force to happen by breaking up large companies! You are forcing too many companies to make the barrier-to-entry investment, then leaving them with an insufficient market for all of them to make back their initial investment.

Unless of course the government fails to set prices at the natural intersection of the supply and demand curves. And there's no validation to say where the natural intersection would come, because there is not and cannot be an actual market.


Yup, that's the risk. So far, most governments have accepted that risk as being less costly than forcing another company to overcome the barrier to entry, and being worthwhile to avoid the exploitation of differentiated pricing. I tend to agree in most cases, because the actual history of this risk-cost in the recent past has been far lower than the guaranteed cost of forcing another company to break the barrier to entry, and because I'm a good old fashioned liberal who thinks suppliers capturing economic rent from consumers is the root of all evil.

There is a long tradition of government-associated monopolies. Traditionally european governments liked to establish salt monopolies. The king gives the monopoly to a close friend, and helps enforce it. Salt is bulky and not particularly easy to smuggle. People need it. So the monopolist charges what the traffic will bear and gives a whole lot of the money to his friend the king. The kingdom gets its taxes without needing to figure out how much any individual taxpayer owes, or keep tax records, or a census, etc. Very low overhead.


This is a different type of monopoly, a regulatory monopoly, not a natural monopoly. We still create lots of those (patents). Regulatory monopolies distort the market, so they are inefficient. In the case of patents, we accept that distortion as necessary in order to create the market in the first place. For example, esoteric pharmaceutical research has a very high barrier to entry ... but if patents don't create a regulatory monopoly, the second entrant faces an incredibly low barrier to entry, because the research has already been done. When regulatory monopolies exist not to overcome this sort of industry structure, but instead to funnel profits into the regulators' and their associates' own pockets, then of course the manipulation is harmful.

If you need a monopoly, how is it better to have a government-regulated privately-owned monopoly than just a government-run facility? The private ownership doesn't get you free-market efficiency. The costs are whatever the management chooses to pay for, and the income is whatever the government regulators allow. It doesn't really provide a layer of insulation between the politics and the business operation -- the private owners have to do whatever the politicians tell them to, and they'd better not complain in public.


It isn't better. Having the government just run it would eliminate the need for a profit margin. But conservatives sleep better at night when someone's making a profit.

Why not have a maximum size for corporations? What do we have to lose?


We've talked about the costs of breaking up an existing monopoly, but there's also the loss of entire new markets. If a potential new market has a very high cost of entry, but then a very low marginal cost once that barrier is broken, what happens if a hypothetical investor with the resources to enter that market realizes that the production level necessary to recoup the costs of entry is more than your corporation size cap? Well, then, the barrier to entry becomes insurmountable after all, and the market is never developed at all.

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Sat May 12, 2012 7:52 pm UTC

BlueSoxSWJ wrote:
J Thomas wrote:
Spoiler:
If the economy of scale comes from having a single firm and not a single factory, why is it more efficient? If the firm has ten factories which are each the "right size" for economy of scale, why is it better to have one firm managing all ten factories and not ten firms each with one factory?

Well, there could be a specialist whose work is only needed at any one factory 8% of the time, and one firm can hire him and put him to work, traveling from one factory to another, while ten firms would need to hire ten specialists. Well, but the ten firms each contracted his services. So that one doesn't work.

And it's obviously more efficient to have one top management than ten top managements. When it's obvious what decision to make, better to pay one CEO to make it than ten CEOs. And when nobody knows what to do, better to have one CEO making a choice at random than ten CEOs making choices at random -- some of their choices will get better results than others and make the others look bad, but if there's only one nobody will find out how good his choice was.


But the big obvious way you get economy of scale is by reducing competition. A single firm won't try to hire workers away from itself, so wages will be lower. It won't compete for customers so marketing and advertising prices will be lower, and product prices can be higher. It won't compete for what it buys so the prices it pays generally will be lower. I don't see that this kind of economy of scale is a good thing.


Unless a firm has very, very specialized needs, the fact that it dominates a market won't necessarily impact its leverage over workers or suppliers, as long as there are similar markets employing similar skills and buying similar raw materials. The major source of economy of scale is always going to be amortizing fixed costs necessary to enter the market in the first place. That's why you will never see a natural monopoly in restaurants, retail, or any other business with relatively low capital requirements to enter. If a restaurant chain ever did monopolize the market somehow, the diseconomies of scale (the cost of managing its own massive structure) would dominate any savings generated by being able to pay suppliers and workers less.


Still, other things equal, the bigger the company compared to its suppliers, the more bargaining power it has, right? So Macdonald's can get meat cheaper than the non-chain Baby Jim's hamburger joint, and WalMart can negotiate lower prices than KMart. So isn't it the way to bet that large companies impact their leverage by being large?

The fixed costs that matter for our purposes here are the costs necessary to enter the market in the first place. For the purposes of optimizing the number of firms, the decision whether or not to add a tenth factory or stick with nine is actually a variable expense. Sure, once it's built, its amortization is a fixed cost, but the decision to build the factory didn't change the difficulty of surmounting the barrier to entry.


I'm not quite sure I caught your meaning here. There's the optimal number of factories, and then there's the optimal number of firms, and those are two different things. Are you saying that once a firm already has one or more factories built and is a going concern, that it's relatively easy to add an extra factory. But if it has none, it's hard to build the first one?

For example, why would it be more efficient for one water company to run ten purifying plants instead of ten companies running one each? Because the ten companies would have to build ten pipeline networks for distribution, a cost concern that dominates any consideration of the relative costs of one vs. ten purifying plants.


Yes. The distribution network is a giant fixed cost, that would be absurd to duplicate. But why should that affect the purifying plants? Companies that build railroad cars don't have to each build their own national rail network. Trucking companies don't each have to build their own Interstate highways. And if you build a widget and want to sell it, you'd have a lot of trouble if you could only sell it from your own brick-and-mortar stores. Nowadays, imagine if to sell your product you had to build your own internet.... Traditionally department stores etc got stock from lots of companies, and it wasn't unheard of to charge their suppliers fees for shelf space.

If we wanted competition, we could have one entity that managed the pipelines, and allow multiple entities to sell water that would run through those pipes. That doesn't right off look like a good deal to me, I wouldn't want to compete to sell water to City Hall when they're the only customer and they might throw the sales to whoever gives the biggest bribes. But in general, why tie the parts that are prohibitively expensive to duplicate, to everything else? Why not have one company (or government entity) that sells its services to all competitors, and let multiple firms compete for the competitive parts?

Yes. This traditionally happened in the chemical industry. It was expensive to build a facility to produce plastics, but once it was built it could make a lot of plastic cheap. It took a long time for that to settle out. Similarly with electronics, particularly processors and memory. Build a billion dollar plant that will be obsolescent in 5 years, and you can produce chips for extremely low variable cost. You have your plant in Taiwan, but then somebody builds their own in Malaysia. And nobody wants to buy a chip that has only a single source.

The reason this is rare is that corporations display a natural aversion to getting into that kind of market. You need to think that you have the largest capital reserves and that the fix is in, before you try. It's a mug's game. This is a situation where traditional capitalism does not work well. One solution is to avoid businesses where you will have high fixed cost. And that's probably a big reason we don't have more industrial automation. Build an automated factory in the USA, and your high sunk costs are likely to be lost if you get competition. Build a cheap factory in the philippines and use cheap labor, and then if you get too much competition you can just lay off your workers and wait it out. Plenty more where those came from. This is also one of the reasons slavery is inefficient. If you buy a slave then any time you can't find work for him, you're still stuck with him. But when you hire a wage-slave, any time you don't need him you just toss him away. Much cheaper.


But this is exactly what you are trying to force to happen by breaking up large companies! You are forcing too many companies to make the barrier-to-entry investment, then leaving them with an insufficient market for all of them to make back their initial investment.


Yes. I'm looking for ways to get that to work better. You have pointed out an important problem that needs to be overcome.

Unless of course the government fails to set prices at the natural intersection of the supply and demand curves. And there's no validation to say where the natural intersection would come, because there is not and cannot be an actual market.


Yup, that's the risk. So far, most governments have accepted that risk as being less costly than forcing another company to overcome the barrier to entry, and being worthwhile to avoid the exploitation of differentiated pricing. I tend to agree in most cases, because the actual history of this risk-cost in the recent past has been far lower than the guaranteed cost of forcing another company to break the barrier to entry, and because I'm a good old fashioned liberal who thinks suppliers capturing economic rent from consumers is the root of all evil.


I tend to agree with you, for the particular technologies that have to work out this way. Given the choices you see, there's no particular advantage to giving the rent to some corporation, and the government might not make a particularly bad decision. Two businesses might not be that much better than one -- they might collude. Three isn't ideal either. It would be absurd to have eight different sets of plumbing all through a city. Switch to a different water works and you disconnect your pipe from one input and connect it to a different water works' pipe? Absurd!

On the other hand, it would be good to minimize restraint of trade when we can.

There is a long tradition of government-associated monopolies. Traditionally european governments liked to establish salt monopolies. The king gives the monopoly to a close friend, and helps enforce it. Salt is bulky and not particularly easy to smuggle. People need it. So the monopolist charges what the traffic will bear and gives a whole lot of the money to his friend the king. The kingdom gets its taxes without needing to figure out how much any individual taxpayer owes, or keep tax records, or a census, etc. Very low overhead.


This is a different type of monopoly, a regulatory monopoly, not a natural monopoly. We still create lots of those (patents). Regulatory monopolies distort the market, so they are inefficient. In the case of patents, we accept that distortion as necessary in order to create the market in the first place. For example, esoteric pharmaceutical research has a very high barrier to entry ... but if patents don't create a regulatory monopoly, the second entrant faces an incredibly low barrier to entry, because the research has already been done. When regulatory monopolies exist not to overcome this sort of industry structure, but instead to funnel profits into the regulators' and their associates' own pockets, then of course the manipulation is harmful.


The distinction between natural monopolies and regulatory monopolies is useful for your purposes, but not so much for mine. They blend together. So my city used the natural water monopoly to collect money. (They could have raised a sales tax or something instead, with about the same result.)

If you need a monopoly, how is it better to have a government-regulated privately-owned monopoly than just a government-run facility? The private ownership doesn't get you free-market efficiency. The costs are whatever the management chooses to pay for, and the income is whatever the government regulators allow. It doesn't really provide a layer of insulation between the politics and the business operation -- the private owners have to do whatever the politicians tell them to, and they'd better not complain in public.


It isn't better. Having the government just run it would eliminate the need for a profit margin. But conservatives sleep better at night when someone's making a profit.


Agreed.

Why not have a maximum size for corporations? What do we have to lose?


We've talked about the costs of breaking up an existing monopoly, but there's also the loss of entire new markets. If a potential new market has a very high cost of entry, but then a very low marginal cost once that barrier is broken, what happens if a hypothetical investor with the resources to enter that market realizes that the production level necessary to recoup the costs of entry is more than your corporation size cap? Well, then, the barrier to entry becomes insurmountable after all, and the market is never developed at all.


If it was a matter of breaking up an existing monopoly, that doesn't have to be so bad. Like, I'll use a water works as an example even though it isn't a great fit. The water works is too large and you require it to split into at least two companies. It could split into one that produces water and one that manages the pipelines, say. Then later when the maximum size is smaller, the pipeline company could perhaps split into the eastern and western pipeline companies, and perhaps some of the people who actually maintain and repair pipelines could become contractors to both companies. Etc.

Where it works to have competitive companies, that's great. When that doesn't work, it's still workable to have regional companies etc. They have the overhead of needing to communicate with each other, but they have that overhead as part of a larger company too. All they have lost is a boss who can quickly decide which is right in any disagreement and enforce his decision. If they want that, they can hire an arbitrator.

But your second point is also important. Imagine you see a chance to get into a new technology which has very high fixed costs. If you play your cards exactly right, you can have a natural monopoly and gain riches no matter how inefficient the business gets. But it's a big risk because if things don't work out well you will have spent those high fixed costs for nothing. And there's always the chance that other companies will try to compete and some other company may be the eventual winner, after you spend everything you have trying to beat them out.

We should look carefully whether this is actually a technology we need. Maybe we'd be better off to do something else instead. Perhaps the new technology gives us some sort of special advantage, but we already know that it's costing us in moral hazard. If things get set up so we don't develop it, maybe we'll be better off.

Consider airlines. After WWII we had a lot of military surplus planes and a lot of pilots built companies cheap. But then there was a shakeout and most of them went broke and had to take jobs as pilots for the winners. And the business has never been exactly successful. It provides a service that is unavailable any other way -- very quick travel across continents and oceans. The speed for short distances is diluted by the time required to get to and from airports and the time for security. Offsetting this advantage is high cost, exposure to radiation, exposure to bad air, possible quick spread of epidemics, security issues like 9/11, etc. Airline companies keep going bankrupt or almost going bankrupt. They collect capital and buy new more efficient aircraft hoping to increase market share. And then oil prices go up.... Would we be much worse off if this market had never developed?

Consider nuclear power. Extremely high fixed costs. The possibility for giant liability after extreme unpredictable accidents. No possibility for private insurance. Are we better off for developing this market?

If corporate size was limited to something reasonable, we might develop technology that can be managed by a corporation of reasonable size instead. Maybe we'd be better off. I don't know how to prove that. I may even be wrong. But if we start with a limit that only Walmart violates, and keep reducing the size every few years, we'd have about 30 years to think about it before we got down to a limit that might cause problems.
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

Neiman
Posts: 3
Joined: Wed Mar 21, 2012 3:20 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Neiman » Sun May 13, 2012 4:05 am UTC

I'm sorry, why is there legitimate sounding economic discussion going on? There is much more to a discussion than outlining your ideas to each other and working through the resulting observed problems - what about the Hitler analogies? The implications of your opponent's parent's marital status upon his birth? This thread had a sudden drop in bitterness and I think Ayn Rand would have been insulted to see her work breed this kind of restrained, indulgent "level-headed" filth.

I mean really!

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5395
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sun May 13, 2012 5:36 am UTC

fifiste wrote:@pforrest
So if somebody has a habbit of drifting 100 mph through the residential zone - he shouldn't have his drivers licence revoked? You would be causing definate harm (not being able to fool around with his car) vs only possible harm. hitting a bunch of preschoolers etc?
Also If I get drunk off my ass get some lsd,pcp,mdma and what not cool abbreviations in my system and start shooting my assault rifle into streets - and by some miracle I do not injure any people or property I should not be so much as fined less alone sent to jail or have my gun licence revoked. Because y'know I only COULD have turned out badly - but sticking me in jail that would be the ugly oppression of the Leviathan.
If anybody says that oh yes but in these cases the possibility of harm is soooo great ofcourse we should do somehting about it then - yes there should be a third party who will wage the possibiliteis of harms and will suspend some peoples rights to do something with their own property or communal property vs. other peoples rights.
Its not that saying - well we've got this wonderful notion of property - will eliminate all instances of conflicting rights.


Both of those examples invoke a separate issue: failed attempts at crimes, and the analogue thereof in accidental crimes.

If I tried to shoot you and you jumped out of the way, I should still be on the hook for attempted murder; it was just an unsuccessful murder. Likewise, if I tried to shoot you and I missed, I should still be on the hook for attempted murder too. But if I fire a gun somewhere away from anybody else, and no one is facing the imminent threat of being shot by me, then there should be no crime there, just in firing a gun.

Similarly, if I run a kid down with my car, that's manslaughter. If almost run a kid down with my car but a crossing guard yanks him out of the way, I should still be on the hook for something like "attempted manslaughter" (though manslaughter being by nature accidental, maybe "reckless endangerment" is a better term). And likewise if I drive through a playground and the kids are just lucky enough not to be in my way. But if I'm just driving quickly past a school in the middle of the night with nobody around, there should be no crime there, just in driving quickly at a certain location.

And likewise if I'm firing an assault rifle in a crowded city (never mind the inevitable property damage from that). Recklessly endangering actual people who are actually present and maybe running for their lives with good reason? Not ok. Doing that same action in some circumstance (and I can't think of a plausible one) where nobody is facing an imminent threat? That would be fine, if possible.

In all of these cases, someone needs to show beyond a reasonable doubt that an action was in that particular circumstance threatening imminent harm to some actual person. The prosecution needs to show that the defense was either aiming to cause harm and just "missed", or that the defense was not in control of their actions and could just as likely have not "missed". Banning the action outright because in some circumstances it might be dangerous is not OK. No punishment should be inflicted without proof in trial both that an action actually occurred and that it was actually wrong; and no case should be brought to trial without an actual victim bringing charges (or in the case of an incapacitated or dead victim, someone bringing charges on their behalf). That proof of course involves weighting evidence and thus some probabilities, but that's very different from banning an action outright because of probabilities on a different level. "How likely is it that someone driving 100MPH will kill someone?" is a different statistic from "How likely is it that this man, driving 100MPH in these circumstances, would have killed someone?"

Or would you make driving after a certain number of hours awake a crime of strict liability too? After all, statistically, there is going to be some number of hours awake where people on average are statistically as likely to get in an accident as they are if their blood alcohol is above the legal limit. In reality it will vary person by person and situation by situation, but then so does inebriation from alcohol. We already have laws on the books against driving while incapacitated in any way, like if you've been up all night and are swerving across lanes, you will get pulled over and ticketed for reckless driving. But not for "driving after being awake X number of hours". That is how it should be. And that is how everything else should be. Punish the wrongdoing, not the possible cause of such wrongdoing.

Also, this is tangential, but you mention revocation of licensing as a possible punishment in both examples. Requiring a license to do something is presuming guilt until innocence is proven and thus completely contrary to liberty. The revocation of the license is not itself punishment; the punishment for doing whatever without a license is the punishment. Requiring a license is saying "we [the state] will harm not only anyone who harms (or threatens harm, or even risks harm, etc) someone by doing this, but anyone who does this at all, even without any (threat of, risk of, or actual) harm, if they do it without our permission". That is about as illiberal as you can get.
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Sun May 13, 2012 6:01 am UTC

@J thomas
The thing about splitting up enterprises.
It got me thinking - when I and my four buddies create a new enterprise, each of us have 1/5-t of its ownership. So years go by and it becomes huuuugely successful (new Microsoft etc.), so by your criteria it should be split up. My previous comp. United Widgets AtoO would be split to two smaller Eastern Widgets forU and Western Widgets forU. So will I and my buddies still be the owners of 1/5th of both of them, with the opportunity to extract profits and make business decisions(appointing excecs setting policies etc.) or will my rights to manage and extract profits from my enterprise removed at some moment when my enterprise gets too successful (so I will be punished for creating an enterprise that creates a popular enough product?)
If none of my ownership rights are removed except - I will have to split my company in two then what will be the gain? What's the difference between two corporations owned by me where I appoint two managers vs. one company where I appoint two regional managers?

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Sun May 13, 2012 6:42 am UTC

@Pfhorrest
So you indeed agree that we need someone to decide what constitutes an immediate threat to someone in cases like this? Probably someone who is payed by government?
And yes I do agree that driving after a certain numbers of hours awake should not be allowed any more than driving while intoxicated, I would not make it a law for every civilian driver because it would be **** to enforce. I do not know about your country, but in mine the driving hours and compulsory rest hours for truckers are enforced.
Also you kind of dodged the stuff there with - but when he is driving at night-time when no one was around then he shouldn't be fined. (When a tree falls in a forest etc.) I was concretely talking about a speedster in residential zone in a period where there are lots of people around and lets say he indeed didn't ran anybody over - should we not stop him from speeding until he runs somebody over? And shouldn't we fine him until proven by court that he was actually immediately endangering someone in his route? By which criteria? How many yards away from his hood does somebody have to jump-dive for it to be considered so?
What about the situation where I am afraid to cross a street or parking lot where he is doing smoking 8-s? Should I just stop being pussy and jump into middle of it in the sure knowledge that at least my relatives are allowed to go to court when he hits me? Should he stop at the crosswalk/zebra-stripes? After all he did not vote for it to be here - and pay for it voluntarily - injustice!
The point of the long rant is - to have a civilised society we have to have licences, permits, zoning laws, traffic regulations etc. and fines and jailtime to back them up. Also we need some public works and and services paid by tax-money. I don't know if you agree to this and just comment that its still a shame that it is so (y'know like its a shame we just can't stand up and fly like birds) In which case I am actually your boat - I too would love if people could just get along and could form coherent societies of millions of people without much hassle. On the other hand if you don't like it AND think we should do without them then at that particular position to my eyes you are at least Rand level delusional/naive.
About zoning laws and externalities.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spite_fence
See this wall I'm building it won't stop you from moving to and from your property, I have seen that It will leave you enough natural daylight that by whatever health codes you have in your country it is not a problem. So only thing you have to complain it ruins your view - what a wimp. Or when I surround MY residence with 10 feet walls with 10 feet murals of goatse and lemonparty? Whaddaya whining for -you can have your own murals. Now get off mah property!

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5395
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sun May 13, 2012 8:08 am UTC

fifiste wrote:@Pfhorrest
So you indeed agree that we need someone to decide what constitutes an immediate threat to someone in cases like this? Probably someone who is payed by government?

We need courts, yes. That is the primary function of government; the only function of government per se, though states these days have assumed many functions besides government. The question at hand is what kind of charges can rightly be levelled in those courts.

Also you kind of dodged the stuff there with - but when he is driving at night-time when no one was around then he shouldn't be fined. (When a tree falls in a forest etc.) I was concretely talking about a speedster in residential zone in a period where there are lots of people around and lets say he indeed didn't ran anybody over - should we not stop him from speeding until he runs somebody over? And shouldn't we fine him until proven by court that he was actually immediately endangering someone in his route? By which criteria? How many yards away from his hood does somebody have to jump-dive for it to be considered so?

What about the situation where I am afraid to cross a street or parking lot where he is doing smoking 8-s? Should I just stop being pussy and jump into middle of it in the sure knowledge that at least my relatives are allowed to go to court when he hits me? Should he stop at the crosswalk/zebra-stripes?


I did actually address those kinds of situations directly. Driving quickly in a specific location, or doing smoking 8s in the street or parking lot, should not in and of themselves be crimes, in that you can be held strictly liable just on proof that you did the act without any proof that someone was harmed (or immediately threatened with harm). But if someone -- pedestrians in the residential zone, you near the guy doing smoking 8s -- feels that they are being directly threatened by the action, they can press charges. It then has to be proven that in that specific circumstance they really were in immediate danger. If it is, that perpetrator should be punished for that specific action in that circumstance. That doesn't mean that everyone who ever does that action in any circumstance should be punished for it. However, if many people who do that action in many circumstances are frequently determined to have threatened imminent harm and are frequently punished for it, then the message to potential perpetrators is clear: do this and you have a good chance of being punished for it. The deterrent is thus the same as punishing the act on a strict-liability basis, except that people who manage to do the act in a way or in circumstances where they are not imminently endangering people will not be punished for a harmless act which merely had the potential to be a harmful one.

Driving while tired is the only example I can think of off the top of my head where this is done properly in law already. Police can't set up checkpoints and see how long every driver has been awake (even if there were a technological means to do so). There is no crime against "driving without sleeping in X hours". But there is (rightly) a crime against driving recklessly, and driving while tired has a high probability of causing you to drive recklessly, so there is a legal deterrent against driving while tired: if you do so, there is a good chance you will get in legal trouble. But if you can drive while tired without driving recklessly, then there's no crime; as there shouldn't be. Likewise driving quickly is not necessarily driving recklessly, firing a gun is not necessarily assault, etc.

Your comments made me realize there was a third tier of probability I hadn't addressed in comments before yours.

- The first tier is specific actions affecting specific people in specific circumstances, which have a probability of turning out a way those people don't like (harming them). These should always be prohibited (at the discretion of the victim); you can't act upon a person against their will, and they get to choose whether the probability of harm is too high or not for themselves, and if they say stop, you have to stop.

- The second tier is specific actions which have a probability of affecting specific people in specific circumstances, and have a probability of turning out a way those people don't like (harming them). These could sometimes be prohibited, on a case-by-case basis; this is the level where evidence from the specific circumstances needs to be weighed to determine if the perpetrator was threatening imminent harm on the accuser. This is the tier I had neglected to mention, but is obviously necessary even for direct obvious crimes like attempted (but failed) murder, and can be applied to accidental crimes as well. (Intentional crimes are to attempted crimes as accidents are to recklessness).

- The third tier is types of actions which have a probability of affecting somebody or another in some circumstances, and which have a probability of turning out a way those people don't like (harming them). These are the kinds I am saying should never be prohibited; that is, the type of action in general should not be prohibited on the whole just because in some circumstances somebody might be affected in a way which might harm them. But any specific instance of an action of such a type might be, as on the second tier or first tiers above. This, I think, is the only place we really disagree.
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Sun May 13, 2012 1:01 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:Your comments made me realize there was a third tier of probability I hadn't addressed in comments before yours.

- The first tier is specific actions affecting specific people in specific circumstances, which have a probability of turning out a way those people don't like (harming them). These should always be prohibited (at the discretion of the victim); you can't act upon a person against their will, and they get to choose whether the probability of harm is too high or not for themselves, and if they say stop, you have to stop.

- The second tier is specific actions which have a probability of affecting specific people in specific circumstances, and have a probability of turning out a way those people don't like (harming them). These could sometimes be prohibited, on a case-by-case basis; this is the level where evidence from the specific circumstances needs to be weighed to determine if the perpetrator was threatening imminent harm on the accuser. This is the tier I had neglected to mention, but is obviously necessary even for direct obvious crimes like attempted (but failed) murder, and can be applied to accidental crimes as well. (Intentional crimes are to attempted crimes as accidents are to recklessness).

- The third tier is types of actions which have a probability of affecting somebody or another in some circumstances, and which have a probability of turning out a way those people don't like (harming them). These are the kinds I am saying should never be prohibited; that is, the type of action in general should not be prohibited on the whole just because in some circumstances somebody might be affected in a way which might harm them. But any specific instance of an action of such a type might be, as on the second tier or first tiers above. This, I think, is the only place we really disagree.


I think I have found a way to use you reasoning that supports a big part of the status quo. It goes like this.

If you do something that enrages a lot of people, you have adversely affected them. It could be argued that they are responsible for not flying into rages no matter what you do so long as you do not physically harm them. But we have ample Internet evidence that a whole lot of people are not capable of that level of control. So you have a responsibility not to damage them this way, just as you should not kick people's crutches.

Things which offend a whole lot of people will tend to be made illegal, because when you offend people you adversely affect them. I suppose the laws that are based only on this should stipulate that it's OK to do the things so long as nobody who's offended finds out -- so things like police stings for such things should not be allowed. It should be illegal only when you are so careless that offended people complain. But this is a level of sophistication we can't expect of laws, and in particular people who're highly offended about something are likely to be offended if they see that the law says it isn't illegal done secretly.

This reasoning, if you accept it, justifies a whole lot of laws. You do not have the right to enrage a whole lot of people.

I wonder how that would play out. If the media report something real that enrages a whole lot of people, are they doing wrong? They believe that their purpose involves maximizing the number of people who pay attention to them, and one of the most effective ways to do that is to tell people things that get them so mad they can't think. Maybe it ought to be illegal. But usually people get mad at the things that get reported, not at the media which reports it. When the media report things that a lot of people don't want, notably sex or violence that's too graphic, or bad language, or when a particular media personality says something that gets people mad like something antisemitic or antifeminist or racist, then they can get legal trouble. In practice, the problem is doing things that get people enraged at you.

And a lot of people use the media as a source for things to be enraged about. So the media is performing a service to them.

If you do something that people think is dangerous to them, they will be bothered. They will want it to be illegal.

This might not seem rational to you. But the whole justice/crime/arrest/punishment system is irrational, so if it seems that way to you also then we agree.
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Sun May 13, 2012 4:31 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:Also, this is tangential, but you mention revocation of licensing as a possible punishment in both examples. Requiring a license to do something is presuming guilt until innocence is proven and thus completely contrary to liberty. The revocation of the license is not itself punishment; the punishment for doing whatever without a license is the punishment. Requiring a license is saying "we [the state] will harm not only anyone who harms (or threatens harm, or even risks harm, etc) someone by doing this, but anyone who does this at all, even without any (threat of, risk of, or actual) harm, if they do it without our permission". That is about as illiberal as you can get.


It's all fine and dandy. I still prefer if people who want to handle stuff like massive quantities of high explosives have to get a license first. You could say that the threat of punishment of using dangerous equipment recklessly or maliciously should be enough to keep people away. It might be even right - it actually should keep competent rational non-malicious people away from doing stupid/malicious stuff. The thing is competent non-malicious people are not the problem in the first place. When some really stupid person or a suicidal maniac has bought 4 tonnes of high explosives then the threat of punishment won't affect them because they're too stupid to understand the risk or would quite happily accept whatever punishment you could give to their pulverized remains. When you require a license to purchase such stuff beforehand then at least you have eliminated some of the most stupid ones and some of the malicious ones (the stupid ones of those who are bad at lying).
I'm no big fan of the attitude - "What do you mean I have been several times been arrested for drunken assaults.What do you mean I'm half blind and have shaking hands and twitching fingers - GIMME MY ASSAULT RIFLE I'M TEH CITIZEN".
It's a dream do have a world where you can operate your fireworks factory next to my house, or your own ebola research lab - all that without those pesky licenses. But it is a dream that I do not share.
I guess I'm that much illiberal that I do not like the Idea of a citizen creating his own suitcase nuke factory or import business next door to me. Even if he tells me he follows a strict safety regiment and all his clients will of course use those nukes for non-harmful uses. (You know they are threatened by what would otherwise happen to them should they not use them in a completely non-harmful way). I guess it is nasty to "presume them guilty" and take away their liberties.

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Sun May 13, 2012 6:18 pm UTC

fifiste wrote:@J thomas
The thing about splitting up enterprises.
It got me thinking - when I and my four buddies create a new enterprise, each of us have 1/5-t of its ownership. So years go by and it becomes huuuugely successful (new Microsoft etc.), so by your criteria it should be split up. My previous comp. United Widgets AtoO would be split to two smaller Eastern Widgets forU and Western Widgets forU. So will I and my buddies still be the owners of 1/5th of both of them, with the opportunity to extract profits and make business decisions(appointing excecs setting policies etc.) or will my rights to manage and extract profits from my enterprise removed at some moment when my enterprise gets too successful (so I will be punished for creating an enterprise that creates a popular enough product?)
If none of my ownership rights are removed except - I will have to split my company in two then what will be the gain? What's the difference between two corporations owned by me where I appoint two managers vs. one company where I appoint two regional managers?



If you officially split your company into two companies that in reality behave as if they are one company, then nothing has changed except the paperwork.

If you actually split it into companies that can compete, that might usually be good for society and it might usually be bad for you. I don't know. Most owners seem to think it will be bad for them or they'd do it more often. They tend to spin off companies that do things which aren't as profitable as the rest, so they can improve their stock price. Or if they get in trouble they spin off companies that do tasks which don't much relate to the core business, so they can promise stock analysts that they will manage better when they are more focused.

My old microbiology teacher told me a story about the microbiology supply company, Difco. The owner ran it as two separate companies that had only him as their common link. He wanted them to compete. When one of them found a way to make something cheaper and lower the price, he'd point it out to the other one and strongly encourage them to work harder. It was a nice story. If he ran his business as a monopoly his employees might get fat and lazy, and he wouldn't have a baseline to judge their performance. Then at some point he'd likely get competition he had no influence over. I just did a quick search to see whether I could find any documentation for this story. Before I found anything like that I found a report that Becton Dickinson, the global medical technology company, acquired Difco in 1997 to broaden their product array.

If you and your four friends are not full-time actively managing your company, it might be better for society if you have five managers (with you on the board of directors) instead of one manager (with you on the board of directors). People in your companies might be able to take more initiative (if they want to, if your structure and corporate culture allows) when they have fewer levels of management above them. More opportunity to try things out, and then you can spread the successful changes to your other companies -- if you want to.

If you have multiple smaller companies instead of one big one, you might avoid the expense of your CEO and his staff. But maybe with multiple CEOs for your smaller companies, you'll have to pay even more. And your regional managers might not be as capable as your expensive top guy was. Maybe their previous success came from his guidance. :roll:

How did your company become huuugely successful? Microsoft filled a need. Businesses did not want multiple incompatible programs running on multiple incompatible operating systems. So they settled on Microsoft, and now instead of their original problem they have only multiple incompatible versions of Word running on multiple incompatible versions of Windows. If Microsoft was split into smaller companies, how would it improve things? It might make sense to divide it along product lines first, and then the different companies would need clear interfaces so they could work together to produce Windows and products. But if the interfaces were clearer, Word wouldn't have such a big advantage over competing products. Word can work efficiently on Windows because the Word people have secret knowledge about how Windows works, things that their competitors can't rely on even if they carefully reverse-engineer it. If Word had to compete on anything like a level playing field, it might not survive. Users would have to handle their compatibility needs with standards. All the different word processors would have to be able to produce and read portable documents. That could be more expensive in the long run than just using Word(s).

Suppose the team that produces Windows was itself too large. To split that up, you'd need clear interfaces among various Windows components. And with those interfaces clear the whole thing would get simpler and more reliable, as small teams found they could not maintain the current unneeded complexity. But as Windows got simpler and more reliable the price would inevitably decline. People refuse to pay as much for simple reliable software.

So in general I think something like that would be bad for Microsoft even though their near-monopoly status comes because they supply a real need and not from restraint of trade.

People who run corporations will tend to believe that restricting maximum corporate size is bad for them. If they wanted their growing company to split in two instead of keep growing, they would do that without any requirement. No restriction on their actions can be good for them, because they do better to follow their own judgement. They would probably complain if there was a law that CEOs can't sodomize puppies in the corporate parking lot. Because if it's bad they can be trusted not to do it without a law.

However, I want to suggest that most of the factors which result in a company getting huuuuge are failures of the economy which should be corrected. Big companies are better at regulatory capture. They are better at cornering markets. They are better at restraint of trade in various ways. They are better at getting their own special laws passed. Better at controlling distribution channels. Etc. A lot of what makes small companies unable to compete is big companies creating an environment in which small companies cannot compete. Remove the big companies and the smaller companies might be more productive than the big ones were.

I think the economy as a whole might be much better off if our largest companies had to be smaller. But the owners of the largest companies might not be better off. Microsoft has about 90,000 employees. If Microsoft was slowly split up into 40 companies each with around 1000 employees, probably Microsoft products would be better. The world would be better off, but Microsoft shareholders probably would not.
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Sun May 13, 2012 7:09 pm UTC

Well I do agree that in a lot of cases probably even most cases of some corporation getting and staying huuuge there is something fishy. I'm not so keen on the splitting par as you are (Not radically against it - as I mainly said -Whats the difference when I'm still the owner? And when I'm not the owner anymore then it sounds a bit tough also - "Yeah we let you create and run this company to huge success. Thank you. Now we are taking it away). So I see some stuff to work out in this line.
As of my previous rants in this thread inspired by the Pfhorrest you can probably detect that I'm still not against oversight of companies :lol:
So I don't get fits when I see antitrust/monopoly laws and enforcements. I even think health and safety regulations are not from the devil 'gasp' :wink: etc.
As I see there is a lot of waste and evil coming from the fact that the laws and enforcements are so easily manipulated by wealth. There are lots of countries that would benefit from stricter laws on "lobby", campaign funding and media influence financing. But of course because the people already in power have benefited greatly and will benefit more from those stuff then all these kind of legislations are not likely to happen. Maybe only some charismatic populist can demand them - but y'know quite usually those charismatic peoples leaders who promise to end the corruption and so on lead to much much bigger troubles.

This talk about money and politics made me remember something that struck me when I was chatting with my friend. (You all know - "discuss important world stuff around the cans of beer type of chat :) )
You can see people from the both ends of the political spectrum ranting how the current corruption and waste should be stopped.
Quite often you can hear how the Either the state should confiscate the illgotten wealth of those capitalist bloodsuckers and run their enterprises - or vice versa the wasteful/ignorant and incompetent Leviathan that is government should be removed from any possible part of life. All those moochers should just let the benevolent(greedy and selfish is the new benevolent :wink: ) industrial geniuses run everything.
I found funny that there has been this Soviet type of "socialism" that tried to be this type A solution - it got to the point that there are small number of people in the party "nomenklatura" who have the political power and can thusly say for whatever the hell the production capabilities are used and who get access to luxury and all kinds of goods. So they have wealth through their political power.
Then there is has been "capitalism" in so many countries where the ones who have the means of production, goods and luxuries - can use their wealth to make any legislation they want. Get the government contracts, let them pass tax-reduction bills, and so on. So they have the political power through their wealth.
Anyway the law of the world thus far just seems to be like this - there are going to be the ones who will have money and power and there's going to be those who will not. Doesn't quite matter the "system".

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Sun May 13, 2012 10:26 pm UTC

fifiste wrote:Well I do agree that in a lot of cases probably even most cases of some corporation getting and staying huuuge there is something fishy. I'm not so keen on the splitting par as you are (Not radically against it - as I mainly said -Whats the difference when I'm still the owner? And when I'm not the owner anymore then it sounds a bit tough also - "Yeah we let you create and run this company to huge success. Thank you. Now we are taking it away). So I see some stuff to work out in this line.


There's a difference between ownership and control. A whole lot of corporations are "public" corporations, which means the CEO gets to do what he wants subject to advice from the Board, and if too many big stockholders get upset about it they can throw him out. Those corporations are a lot like dictatorships, where the dictator can dictate whatever he can enforce, but there's the occasional revolution. If those companies were split into smaller companies then there would be more of them, and they would be smaller. I think when the entities get too large it's hard for the guys on top to track what's going on, so making them smaller is better. There's a story that Czar Nicholas on his death bed said "I never ruled russia. Ten thousand clerks ruled russia". And I'm sure there's a lot of truth to that, whether or not he said it.

But even if I can make plausible answers for every difficulty anybody can think of, still we won't actually know whether it works out well until we do a smoke test. Even if nobody can think of anything that could go wrong, something could go wrong that nobody thought of.

If it seems like a good idea, we'd still have to carefully dismantle the existing giant things. I say the obvious way to do that is to start off with a high upper limit and gradually reduce it. At first only the largest companies will be affected, companies that we do not depend on in any significant way. We can use them as test cases and look for unexpected consequences.

As I see there is a lot of waste and evil coming from the fact that the laws and enforcements are so easily manipulated by wealth. There are lots of countries that would benefit from stricter laws on "lobby", campaign funding and media influence financing. But of course because the people already in power have benefited greatly and will benefit more from those stuff then all these kind of legislations are not likely to happen. Maybe only some charismatic populist can demand them - but y'know quite usually those charismatic peoples leaders who promise to end the corruption and so on lead to much much bigger troubles.


That's why I want a simple structural change.

.... You can see people from the both ends of the political spectrum ranting how the current corruption and waste should be stopped.
Quite often you can hear how the Either the state should confiscate the illgotten wealth of those capitalist bloodsuckers and run their enterprises - or vice versa the wasteful/ignorant and incompetent Leviathan that is government should be removed from any possible part of life. All those moochers should just let the benevolent(greedy and selfish is the new benevolent :wink: ) industrial geniuses run everything.
I found funny that there has been this Soviet type of "socialism" that tried to be this type A solution - it got to the point that there are small number of people in the party "nomenklatura" who have the political power and can thusly say for whatever the hell the production capabilities are used and who get access to luxury and all kinds of goods. So they have wealth through their political power.
Then there is has been "capitalism" in so many countries where the ones who have the means of production, goods and luxuries - can use their wealth to make any legislation they want. Get the government contracts, let them pass tax-reduction bills, and so on. So they have the political power through their wealth.
Anyway the law of the world thus far just seems to be like this - there are going to be the ones who will have money and power and there's going to be those who will not. Doesn't quite matter the "system".


Sure. We already have a big disconnect between ownership and control. In any system some people will have more influence than others. If today it's an executive who runs a giant corporation and has lots of clout with his suppliers and his distributors etc, and that disappeared, maybe later it would be a man that the CEOs of a thousand small companies owe favors to. It might be harder to track. But I'm not trying to keep anybody from controlling anything. I just think we will be better off when businesses are smaller. The businesses themselves will be more agile and better able to respond to changing markets. Competition among them is a good thing. If there are 200 companies in an industry and one of them is just plain better than the rest, it can drive them out of business and keep splitting itself until the rest are gone and there are maybe 200 companies descended from it, and there's just as much competition as there used to be. Even if they all have one single owner who secretly manages them all while they make a good imitation of free competition, still an imitation of free competition is likely to turn out better than a single giant corporation with no hint of that.
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

Slither
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun May 13, 2012 2:36 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Slither » Sun May 13, 2012 10:48 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:The most important point in all of this is that you are your own property and no one else's, and that saying others have rights over your person is tantamount to saying that have (at least partial) ownership of you. We have a word for that, and it's generally considered pejorative.


I think this is the first time I have ever heard that the word "mother" was generally considered pejorative -- and today is Mother's Day, too!

This seems, alas, to be quite typical of the libertarian discourse we've seen here: nice, abstract declarations of principles without any discussion or recognition either of real-life issues or case-studies in the real world. In reality, people have babies. Babies have to be taken care of, and aren't able to give permission to what others do to them. Children do frequently have their mothers do things to them without their permission, and this is generally considered to be good parenting. This, apparently, Pfhorrest hasn't thought about. Also, he merely states that "by definition" there aren't any cases where rights conflict. And when building roads he refuses to consider indirect benefits of having roads built, or that one person's decision about what roads are built may affect other peoples: he doesn't give any reasons for this belief, he just refuses to consider it.

It would be nice to live in a universe where there are no such things as conflicting rights (a universe without babies wouldn't be as pleasant), but, however simple it might make libertarian arguments, that universe is not this one.

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Mon May 14, 2012 6:28 am UTC

I'm rather a fan of personal rights myself. So I don't think there should be much to be told by anyone how a sane adult should lead his life.
Still there are babies, people with dementia or severely retarded mental capabilities, aggressive mental illnesses etc.
I do not think anybody should own anyone ( I hate when some people do seem to act as they own their children). But as we can clearly see a 2 month old baby can not stand for itself or make rational decisions for its own safety and well being - we will have to let a guardian do this for it. As it is quite natural to think that babies parents have its well-being in mind, then we let them be its guardian. If they prove that they don't have it in mind or are just really incapable of achieving it then sometimes it might be justified to change the guardians.
I can even imagine a totally libertarian place where we don't take any care of those adults who are mentally deficient. Sort of a "tough luck" kind of deal. (I hear "Let him die" - from that famous the Ronpaul debate in my ears) But if a society thinks babies should be left to fend off for themselves then it shouldn't last more than a generation.
Also there seems to be that issue that all those adults who are mentally deficient should still be able to buy monster trucks and assault rifles.

It seems to me that lot of ultra-libertarian people think of a world were every person is a rational competent agent. It is a nice thought - but it is certainly not the deal. even otherwise rational people can be irrational, emotional, incompetent and overconfident in some areas of their lives or at some times of their lives but this has no place in calculations.
For example if Pfhorrest think that requiring a licence for a citizen to handle something dangerous is evil, and people should be kept misusing their equipment by threat of punishment occurring on said misuse. Yes that threat would deter a sane person who is capable of adequately measuring his (in)competence. It would not deter someone literally child-minded (bangy-thing fun whee, me ride my monster-truck and bang-bang all the way jey), somebody overconfident (of course I can drive this semi-trailer full of flammables, I can do it with my left hand only - just watch) etc.
A sane responsible person would him/herself like his/hers capabilities tested by a professional before using dangerous equipment (it's kind of a definition of responsible), If they have confirmed capabilities then good if not - well: "Thank god that I caught on I need to learn/train/exercise some more".

User avatar
Widmerpool
Three for the price of one!
Posts: 37
Joined: Sat Apr 28, 2012 6:57 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Widmerpool » Mon May 14, 2012 9:10 am UTC

Steeler wrote:xkcd seems consistently phoned in recently

What does "phoned in" mean?
El temps es breu; nemini parco.

User avatar
Widmerpool
Three for the price of one!
Posts: 37
Joined: Sat Apr 28, 2012 6:57 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Widmerpool » Mon May 14, 2012 11:47 am UTC

drazen wrote:*I should engage in rational self-interest.
*Accidents happen, and I may become one of the non-producers at any moment.
*Therefore, I should hedge my bets by saving for the future, or joining an independent organization that provides insurance/protection."

...or voting in an administration that will act as my insurer. Or encouraging my family to not dump me in the street when I become too costly to them. Or anything else that will serve my interests.
drazen wrote:*I should engage in rational self-interest.
*People with no money and little hope of getting money tend to commit crimes, even violent crimes.
*While a police force can protect me, they tend to be most effective only after-the-fact.
*A perhaps more effective method of curbing crime, and a better use of my money, is to simply purchase a security system / buy a gun and shoot the criminals / learn self-defense / etc.."

...or vote in an administration that will act as my security provider. Or make private ownership of firearms illegal. Or make private ownership (and open carry) of firearms mandatory. Or anything else that will serve my interests.
drazen wrote:(Seriously, you think because people commit crimes, we should capitulate to them and make concessions to them for free?

To be fair, that's not exactly what was said. I read it as being more like "you'd be well advised not to let (too many) people's desperation get so bad that they're ready to rob you or kill you". Just ask Gaddafi!
drazen wrote:Terrorists would love having people like you in charge.)

Those people are in charge where I live - and it works extraordinarily well, thank you for asking.
drazen wrote:*I should engage in rational self-interest.
*Capitalism is the best method for self-interest to find expression.
*Capitalism only functions when there is a small but substantial pool of unemployed to provide mobility in the workforce, so that jobs can shift as needed"
(Admittedly, this isn't happening, but that is because we have a system that allows government regulation to be drawn up by corporations, which is NOT capitalism and is in fact EXACTLY what Ayn Rand was warning people about!)

I'm not sure if your complaint is that corporations get a say in the regulations, or that there are regulations at all.

FTFY. HTH. HAND.
El temps es breu; nemini parco.

User avatar
Widmerpool
Three for the price of one!
Posts: 37
Joined: Sat Apr 28, 2012 6:57 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Widmerpool » Mon May 14, 2012 12:09 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:We need courts, yes. That is the primary function of government; the only function of government per se, though states these days have assumed many functions besides government. The question at hand is what kind of charges can rightly be levelled in those courts.

The "only function of government per se" is to govern - a claim that is empty, because tautologous. The establishment of courts is not a necessary part of that function, as many a warlord would tell you.
But in democracies, the administration has the additional duties to (a)do what the governed want it to do and (b)obey its own laws. So, if the governed want it to act as a health insurer, it has the duty to make it so. If the governed want a law that prevents employees being fired, its function is to pass such a law. If we want a law that requires people to carry firearms, the government's job is to give us that law.
By all means try to persuade us to vote for the sort of government that would abolish the police and expect us to defend ourselves, or abolish traffic laws and expect us to suck it up. But don't expect us to do such a thing if we think it wouldn't serve our interests. There is no logical case (i.e. one based on the nature of government per se) for what actions the administration should or shouldn't be allowed to engage in.
El temps es breu; nemini parco.

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Mon May 14, 2012 12:52 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:That is the point of outlawing dangerous actions, right? To deter people from doing them? It's not like passing a law magically forces people to change their behavior. It just attaches a punishment to the behavior to persuade people to avoid it. I am just arguing that only actions which actually harm people should actually be punished, and actions which only potentially harm people should only potentially be punished; when the harm is actualized, so is the punishment, and as the chances of harm vary, so do the chances of punishment.


I think the point of outlawing dangerous actions is extremely muddled. The point of the legal system as a whole is muddled.

One point of legal punishment is to deter the actions that are being punished.
A second point is to get revenge against the people who do something wrong.
A third is to deter private vengeance and vendetta, -- as we've seen from the drug war gangfights, vendettas disrupt life for whoever is in the area.
A fourth is to get an official record of who is right and who is wrong. This helps the reputations of the people who are declared right.
A fifth is to provide comfort to citizens. Domesticated animals are more placid and productive when they think there is a farmer and his dog on duty to protect them. Domesticated humans likewise.
A sixth is to provide gainful employment to policemen and prison guards etc, who otherwise would probably turn to crime.
A seventh is to provide revenue.
An eighth is to provide closure. If something bad happens and people tell you "I'm sorry. It's bad. There's nothing you can do about it" then you feel worse, right? You feel better when you do something about the bad stuff, even if what you do is utterly ineffective.

If the point was mostly to deter bad actions, we would and should do behavior-mod stuff instead. Put people repeatedly into situations where the bad actions might happen, and provide immediate clear negative reinforcement for the bad actions, while providing positive reinforcement for good actions which are incompatible with the bad ones. Sometimes we might put the behavior under impulse control, too. Like, if we're concerned about Stanley getting violent, put him in police uniform and bring in somebody who's heavily padded to reduce damage. Shout "Officer Stanley! Detain that criminal!" and the padded man resists but is easily taken down. Sometimes it's Stanley in his normal clothing and you should "Stanley! He's evil! Get him!" and if he attacks, the padded man resists vigorously and then everybody tells Stanley he did the wrong thing. Don't listen to the voice when it says to do bad. Only attack bad guys who refuse to come quietly, and only when you're a cop.

If we were serious about reducing reckless driving, we would have police and whoever wanted to, video drivers. When the video shows somebody doing something unsafe, require the person to go to the publicly-funded driving school and brush up on his methods. He could do simulated driving where his wrong behavior causes a crash every time. If you're in the right-hand lane of a six-lane highway, and you move to the middle lane without checking that nobody's doing the same from the left, usually nothing happens. But in the simulation usually there would be a car there which wasn't there a second ago -- somebody who moved into the middle lane without checking that you were doing it too. Etc. You might be required to pay a fraction of the cost.

But what we actually have, is police with radar detectors who catch people speeding, and they catch people driving through red lights. Occasionally they stop people who're doing "reckless driving" but they don't like to do those because then it's less obvious to the perp that he did anything wrong and he's likely to complain and take it to court or even commit violence. The people who are caught are usually forced to pay fines and threatened with losing their licenses, with no particular effort to teach them better. The system is primarily a tax, and secondarily to improve driving by taking away people's licenses.

It should be clear that the purpose of laws and punishment is not primarily to deter bad behavior or encourage good behavior. While of course it has spawned a bureaucracy which has its own goal of surviving and expanding, I think the primary purpose is to help citizens feel better. Bad things happen, and we do something about them. We are not powerless! We can do something! And if it doesn't work, we can spend more money and do it more. That feels better than believing there is no solution at all.
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

webgiant
Posts: 252
Joined: Mon Aug 17, 2009 5:36 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby webgiant » Mon May 14, 2012 2:08 pm UTC

sanjavalen wrote:
Jonesthe Spy wrote:Excellent comic, especially the subtext. I find it quite true - Rand's ideas can be very attractive at first, especially to teens just starting to explore their own independence and rebelling against what may or may not be arbitrary authority. I came across her first through Rush's 2112, still one of my favorite albums. But once you actually start to get past the surface, she's really really repellant. Sadly, she's been very effective at persuading a lot of people that their instincts for greed, arrogance and selfishness are virtues instead of vices.

And regardless of what you think of her philosophy, I'm sorry but if you like her actually writing you do have terrible taste. The woman was a horrible writer - cardboard cut out characters that exist only to exemplify her philosophy, ridiculous dialogue, completely ridiculous plots. I saw the old joke about Rand and Tolkien earlier in the thread ("One has orcs") and if you go back and read the parts of Lord of the Rings where the orcs are talking amongst themselves, they have far more character and depth than Rand's mouthpieces.


I won't comment on the literary evaluations, but exactly how do you explain someone like me if Rand's philosophy is just this collection of horrible ideas and awful, evil things?I've been living it for a decade now, and am comfortably beyond my teens. Married, child on the way, lots of happy friends. Our community group even has a couple second-generation Objectivists that are swell people to know and be around.

I mean, I see a lot of generalizations about Objectivists and Objectivism, here - but I am standing here, a real life Objectivist, and I seem to be a walking rebuttal to these assertions. I'm curious how you would reconcile the fact that I am actually nice with the fact that I am also a very stringent Objectivist.

You remind me of every Christian who supports gay marriage, every Muslim woman who goes around without a hijab, and every unmarried Jewish person who hangs out in mixed gender settings: a cafeteria-style, pick-and-choose follower of your chosen belief structure, and not a fundamentalist.

Which is perfectly OK, mind you, since it means you are also sane. It takes insanity to believe everything Ayn Rand says about Objectivism as true, just as its insane to believe everything in any religion's Holy Book. But it also means you're like those people who say they hate The Affordable Care Act but like all its parts: not really who you claim to be, and all the better for it.

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5395
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Mon May 14, 2012 7:11 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:[snip]

It should be clear that the purpose of laws and punishment is not primarily to deter bad behavior or encourage good behavior.

There is a difference between purpose and use. Laws and punishment are certainly put to many different uses, as you list. But to say that something is the purpose of something is to say that it is the correct or proper use of it. If purpose were just use then there would be no such thing as misuse; we could never tell someone who is misusing something (just an ordinary object or piece of technology, not necessarily of any moral significance) "that's not what that's for". Obvious it is being used for that otherwise there would be no occasion for that comment, but if that were its purpose too there would likewise be no occasion for that comment.

Widmerpool wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:We need courts, yes. That is the primary function of government; the only function of government per se, though states these days have assumed many functions besides government. The question at hand is what kind of charges can rightly be levelled in those courts.

The "only function of government per se" is to govern - a claim that is empty, because tautologous. The establishment of courts is not a necessary part of that function, as many a warlord would tell you.
But in democracies, the administration has the additional duties to (a)do what the governed want it to do and (b)obey its own laws. So, if the governed want it to act as a health insurer, it has the duty to make it so. If the governed want a law that prevents employees being fired, its function is to pass such a law. If we want a law that requires people to carry firearms, the government's job is to give us that law.
By all means try to persuade us to vote for the sort of government that would abolish the police and expect us to defend ourselves, or abolish traffic laws and expect us to suck it up. But don't expect us to do such a thing if we think it wouldn't serve our interests. There is no logical case (i.e. one based on the nature of government per se) for what actions the administration should or shouldn't be allowed to engage in.

I think you missed the distinction I was making, which was between government and state, hence why it was "government" I emphasized, not "per se" as you did. Everything you say is true of states. States are the entities typically charged with government, but not everything a state does is governing, and states don't always do much governing (and in principle, something other than a state could govern). To quote Wikipedia, "Their function is to make and enforce laws and arbitrate conflicts." Courts are where these functions come together: where the laws which have been made are applied to the arbitration of a conflict, and which of them to be enforced upon who in what manner is decided. States may do many things besides that, but in doing so they are not governing but doing something else.

Slither wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:The most important point in all of this is that you are your own property and no one else's, and that saying others have rights over your person is tantamount to saying that have (at least partial) ownership of you. We have a word for that, and it's generally considered pejorative.

I think this is the first time I have ever heard that the word "mother" was generally considered pejorative -- and today is Mother's Day, too!

Nice smear tactic there. Would you say mothers own their children? How about fathers, how is that any different?

The word in question was "slavery". That is what we call it when one person owns another person, isn't it?

I'm going to ignore the condescending tone of the rest of your post and only address the one interesting thing you have to say:

Babies have to be taken care of, and aren't able to give permission to what others do to them. Children do frequently have their mothers do things to them without their permission, and this is generally considered to be good parenting. This, apparently, Pfhorrest hasn't thought about.

I have, in fact, it just hasn't come up in this discussion because we've been talking about presumably sane adults here, the kind of people who are legally responsible for their actions and so subject to punishment, which was the topic under discussion. I have plenty of thoughts on how to treat people who don't fit into that category, which ties nicely into another comment by someone else...

fifiste wrote:I'm rather a fan of personal rights myself. So I don't think there should be much to be told by anyone how a sane adult should lead his life.
Still there are babies, people with dementia or severely retarded mental capabilities, aggressive mental illnesses etc.
I do not think anybody should own anyone ( I hate when some people do seem to act as they own their children). But as we can clearly see a 2 month old baby can not stand for itself or make rational decisions for its own safety and well being - we will have to let a guardian do this for it. As it is quite natural to think that babies parents have its well-being in mind, then we let them be its guardian. If they prove that they don't have it in mind or are just really incapable of achieving it then sometimes it might be justified to change the guardians.
I can even imagine a totally libertarian place where we don't take any care of those adults who are mentally deficient. Sort of a "tough luck" kind of deal. (I hear "Let him die" - from that famous the Ronpaul debate in my ears) But if a society thinks babies should be left to fend off for themselves then it shouldn't last more than a generation.
Also there seems to be that issue that all those adults who are mentally deficient should still be able to buy monster trucks and assault rifles.

It seems to me that lot of ultra-libertarian people think of a world were every person is a rational competent agent. It is a nice thought - but it is certainly not the deal. even otherwise rational people can be irrational, emotional, incompetent and overconfident in some areas of their lives or at some times of their lives but this has no place in calculations.
For example if Pfhorrest think that requiring a licence for a citizen to handle something dangerous is evil, and people should be kept misusing their equipment by threat of punishment occurring on said misuse. Yes that threat would deter a sane person who is capable of adequately measuring his (in)competence. It would not deter someone literally child-minded (bangy-thing fun whee, me ride my monster-truck and bang-bang all the way jey), somebody overconfident (of course I can drive this semi-trailer full of flammables, I can do it with my left hand only - just watch) etc.
A sane responsible person would him/herself like his/hers capabilities tested by a professional before using dangerous equipment (it's kind of a definition of responsible), If they have confirmed capabilities then good if not - well: "Thank god that I caught on I need to learn/train/exercise some more".

I won't speak for "ultra-libertarian" people or anybody besides myself here, but I agree completely that babies and people who are otherwise not sane rational adults deserve different treatment than sane rational adults do. I do not assume that every human is a rational competent agent, but the law should treat rational competent agents as they deserve and not assume that everybody is a baby in need of a mommy or daddy to watch over their every move and coddle every boo-boo. However, when someone demonstrates that they are not of sound rational mind, then diminished legal responsibility and legal rights absolutely follow, because that rationality is where those rights and responsibilities derive from, and what separates people from just animals. (Humans are animals of course, but they are also people, which is what I mean by not just animals).

I hinted at this earlier when mentioning that how in control of their actions a person was is relevant in determining if they were recklessly endangering someone. Someone in a drunken stupor or an emotional rage or deranged or retarded or simply young and inexperience and naive, anyone insufficiently aware of the consequences of their actions or insufficiently concerned about those consequences, is much more likely to be recklessly endangering someone doing some possibly dangerous action than a sober, calm, sane adult is. The important point is that the law should not presume that nobody is sober, calm, sane, and adult enough to do something until they prove that they are; it should presume that they are, until someone raises a concern that they may not be, and the person that concern is about objects. Then there is a conflict to be resolved, and some governing to be done.

If there is no such rational objection to a judgement of irrationality being leveled against someone, it doesn't even have to go to court. A parent stopping their toddler from running into traffic doesn't have to go to court first to justify that. Likewise, if I've got a friend who gets drunk and starts waving a gun around and I can take it away from him before he hurts somebody, that is not necessarily a violation of his rights. If he sobers up and thanks me for keeping him from doing something stupid, all is good. If he remains pissed about it and presses charges against me, then I can cite his drunkenness as evidence of his endangering people to justify my actions in stopping him. Likewise, if a parent is ridiculously overbearing and controlling of their children far too long into their development, the children may have a case against their parents. I am not saying that people must always let anyone do anything no matter how obviously stupid and dangerous. I'm saying that the state should not presume prima facie that an act of some kind is in all circumstances stupid and dangerous and ban it across the board until someone can prove they are capable of doing it. I'm saying that someone must make the accusation that someone in this situation is doing something imminently threatening harm to someone, or if it's really so urgent (toddler running into traffic, drunk friend with a gun) do something about it themselves and risk maybe being themselves accused of harm; and then, if the resulting conflict cannot be resolved between the parties and needs outside arbitration in court, then the evidence gets weighed about the particulars of that case and whether anyone was really doing anything too dangerous.

J Thomas wrote:I think I have found a way to use you reasoning that supports a big part of the status quo. It goes like this.

If you do something that enrages a lot of people, you have adversely affected them.


No, but you bringing this up does raise an important issue to resolve: what is it to "affect" or "act upon" someone or something?

My rather technical answer is that every behavior has both a "communicative" and "manipulative" aspect to it, which in deeper physical terms break down interactions between people as "signals" in an information-theoretic sense, with the "manipulative" aspect of the act being the energy transmitted by the signal and the "communicative" aspect of the act being the information transmitted by the signal. Every signal has a certain energy content and a certain energy content, you can't have one without the other, but we can look at those aspects separately from each other.

A great paradigmatic example to use is a literal audio signal. The same words may be spoken at different volumes. We want to say there is nothing wrong with speaking any words in particular, but there is something wrong with blaring any words at all at ear-bleeding decibels at someone's house in the middle of the night. The information content (the words spoken) of both of these acts may be the same, but the energy content (the volume) differs. We regulate the volume, but not the words. When does the volume deserve regulation? When it rises beyond ambient levels and so has a notable manipulative aspect beyond its communicative aspect.

So if you do something which involves manipulation of nothing but yourself and your property, you have not "affected" or "acted upon" anyone else or their property, even if they receive information (say by watching you) from your actions, and they react to that information in a certain way. What they do with information received is all on them; but what kind of energy you impart to them is on you. If they become outraged about something you have done, when you did nothing to them or their stuff, then that's their problem. If they become outraged because of something you did to them or their stuff, then that becomes your problem; and they don't even need to be outraged, they can object for any or no reason at all.
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Mon May 14, 2012 11:55 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
J Thomas wrote:[snip]

It should be clear that the purpose of laws and punishment is not primarily to deter bad behavior or encourage good behavior.

There is a difference between purpose and use. Laws and punishment are certainly put to many different uses, as you list. But to say that something is the purpose of something is to say that it is the correct or proper use of it. If purpose were just use then there would be no such thing as misuse; we could never tell someone who is misusing something (just an ordinary object or piece of technology, not necessarily of any moral significance) "that's not what that's for". Obvious it is being used for that otherwise there would be no occasion for that comment, but if that were its purpose too there would likewise be no occasion for that comment.


I kind of like your idea. A difference between purpose and use. It's something you made up, that has no reality of any sort. But I kind of like it.

Except, what good is it? It looks to me like the purpose of your idea is to separate out the one good use you want, from all the other incidental uses you disapprove of. And I don't see that this is in any way legitimate. People use things for whatever purpose they choose, and their purpose at the moment is what they use them for. Just because somebody has a noble purpose you want to make official, doesn't really make that one any more important than all the others.

I think you missed the distinction I was making, which was between government and state, hence why it was "government" I emphasized, not "per se" as you did. Everything you say is true of states. States are the entities typically charged with government, but not everything a state does is governing, and states don't always do much governing (and in principle, something other than a state could govern). To quote Wikipedia, "Their function is to make and enforce laws and arbitrate conflicts." Courts are where these functions come together: where the laws which have been made are applied to the arbitration of a conflict, and which of them to be enforced upon who in what manner is decided. States may do many things besides that, but in doing so they are not governing but doing something else.


I see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government
Government is the means by which state policy is enforced, as well as the mechanism for determining the policy of the state.


In parliamentary systems, the word "government" is used to refer to what in presidential systems would be the executive branch and to the governing party. In parliamentary systems, the government is composed of the prime minister and the cabinet. In other cases, "government" refers to executive, legislative, judicial, bureaucratic, and possibly also devolved powers.


It sounds confused, as it ought to since the social concepts it describes are confused and there is little agreement about the meanings.

I won't speak for "ultra-libertarian" people or anybody besides myself here, but I agree completely that babies and people who are otherwise not sane rational adults deserve different treatment than sane rational adults do.


How do we manage to give the majority of non-rational people the treatment they deserve?

I do not assume that every human is a rational competent agent, but the law should treat rational competent agents as they deserve and not assume that everybody is a baby in need of a mommy or daddy to watch over their every move and coddle every boo-boo.


But don't you agree that when you pick a person at random, the odds are pretty strong that you will not have picked a rational competent agent? How should the law choose the rational competent agents out of the mass of irrationality?

However, when someone demonstrates that they are not of sound rational mind, then diminished legal responsibility and legal rights absolutely follow, because that rationality is where those rights and responsibilities derive from, and what separates people from just animals.


What method should we use to disenfranchise the majority of voters? And how should we get them to go along with it?

I hinted at this earlier when mentioning that how in control of their actions a person was is relevant in determining if they were recklessly endangering someone. Someone in a drunken stupor or an emotional rage or deranged or retarded or simply young and inexperience and naive, anyone insufficiently aware of the consequences of their actions or insufficiently concerned about those consequences, is much more likely to be recklessly endangering someone doing some possibly dangerous action than a sober, calm, sane adult is. The important point is that the law should not presume that nobody is sober, calm, sane, and adult enough to do something until they prove that they are; it should presume that they are, until someone raises a concern that they may not be, and the person that concern is about objects. Then there is a conflict to be resolved, and some governing to be done.


Again, what kind of testing should the government do to decide who's calm and sane? Since at any given time the majority of voters are not, some sort of testing is essential. It makes no sense to assume everybody is until after they do something crazy to show they are not.

If there is no such rational objection to a judgement of irrationality being leveled against someone, it doesn't even have to go to court. A parent stopping their toddler from running into traffic doesn't have to go to court first to justify that. Likewise, if I've got a friend who gets drunk and starts waving a gun around and I can take it away from him before he hurts somebody, that is not necessarily a violation of his rights. If he sobers up and thanks me for keeping him from doing something stupid, all is good. If he remains pissed about it and presses charges against me, then I can cite his drunkenness as evidence of his endangering people to justify my actions in stopping him. Likewise, if a parent is ridiculously overbearing and controlling of their children far too long into their development, the children may have a case against their parents. I am not saying that people must always let anyone do anything no matter how obviously stupid and dangerous. I'm saying that the state should not presume prima facie that an act of some kind is in all circumstances stupid and dangerous and ban it across the board until someone can prove they are capable of doing it.


You appear to say that there is no act which is so generally stupid and dangerous that it should be banned except for special circumstances where permission could be given. That's a giant claim. I haven't thought of a perfect exception yet, but I remember I once lived in a city where there was a tunnel drilled through a mountain to carry drinking water in a couple of great big pipes to 40% to 60% of the city's population. And the Water Works people kept that tunnel locked up. I'm not sure exactly what mean or stupid action they didn't trust random people not to do. Once in discussion about it, after finding it unlocked and exploring the place, a molecular biologist suggested explosives and a construction engineer suggested poison.

I'm saying that someone must make the accusation that someone in this situation is doing something imminently threatening harm to someone, or if it's really so urgent (toddler running into traffic, drunk friend with a gun) do something about it themselves and risk maybe being themselves accused of harm; and then, if the resulting conflict cannot be resolved between the parties and needs outside arbitration in court, then the evidence gets weighed about the particulars of that case and whether anyone was really doing anything too dangerous.


That sounds reasonable in theory. In terms of how cities are actually laid out, it's batshit crazy. No offense intended. You and I both have shown some tendency to carry logical ideas as far as they will go, which is one good way to notice important factors which might not be particularly visible at first sight. Anyway, what we need to do is redesign our cities and our economies to make your idea practical, and then we can change the laws to do things in a way that's more ideologically pure.

J Thomas wrote:I think I have found a way to use you reasoning that supports a big part of the status quo. It goes like this.

If you do something that enrages a lot of people, you have adversely affected them.


No, but you bringing this up does raise an important issue to resolve: what is it to "affect" or "act upon" someone or something?

My rather technical answer is that every behavior has both a "communicative" and "manipulative" aspect to it, which in deeper physical terms break down interactions between people as "signals" in an information-theoretic sense, with the "manipulative" aspect of the act being the energy transmitted by the signal and the "communicative" aspect of the act being the information transmitted by the signal. Every signal has a certain energy content and a certain energy content, you can't have one without the other, but we can look at those aspects separately from each other.

A great paradigmatic example to use is a literal audio signal. The same words may be spoken at different volumes. We want to say there is nothing wrong with speaking any words in particular, but there is something wrong with blaring any words at all at ear-bleeding decibels at someone's house in the middle of the night. The information content (the words spoken) of both of these acts may be the same, but the energy content (the volume) differs. We regulate the volume, but not the words. When does the volume deserve regulation? When it rises beyond ambient levels and so has a notable manipulative aspect beyond its communicative aspect.

So if you do something which involves manipulation of nothing but yourself and your property, you have not "affected" or "acted upon" anyone else or their property, even if they receive information (say by watching you) from your actions, and they react to that information in a certain way. What they do with information received is all on them; but what kind of energy you impart to them is on you. If they become outraged about something you have done, when you did nothing to them or their stuff, then that's their problem. If they become outraged because of something you did to them or their stuff, then that becomes your problem; and they don't even need to be outraged, they can object for any or no reason at all.


You are saying that people have no right not to be communicated to. That anybody has the right to expose you to child porn or torture/murder porn at any time without your permission. That if somebody communicates filth to you in a way that enrages you, it's your own responsibility.

I can sort of see that for rational adults. But in your experience online, what fraction of the online population do you think is rational that way? What fraction of us can be trolled?

The inmates are running the asylum, and we have to accept that, insane or not, they have as many rights as we do. Perhaps someday we could set up some sort of meritocracy, where the sane people govern everybody for everybody's benefit. They would use propaganda and all sorts of manipulation to persuade the people who can be manipulated that way, to accept their rule. Perhaps they would have methods of mental testing to make sure that the individuals who have significant control would actually want to do good for everyone and would be pretty smart.

But I've seen no sign that this has started. For now, it's obvious that crazy people are in charge and they do not run the government the way you think they ought to.
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

Slither
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun May 13, 2012 2:36 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Slither » Tue May 15, 2012 12:44 am UTC

Okay, let's recap.

The discussion here for many pages now has been on what to do when people's rights conflict. Pfhorrest stated:
Pfhorrest wrote:In other words, if you think it's possible for there to be two rights contrary to each other, and a need for someone to decide which one gets violated and which one gets respected, then your concept of what rights people have needs to be reexamined.

and
Pfhorrest wrote:You're right that we have to draw a line somewhere, but that line is not some nebulous thing that needs to be debated in committees weighing the implications of every action on everyone. That line is the very definition of property: property is anything you have rights in, and you have rights only over your property. We each own ourselves and have absolute say about what other people can or cannot do to us.

After a bunch of discussion, BlueSoxSWJ responded to Pfhorrest thusly:
BlueSoxSWJ wrote:You missed my point so thoroughly and completely that you accidentally proved it for me. The point that there's somehow some magical "natural code" that determines just where the exact lines are between everyone's property rights is fraught with an absurd amount of counterexamples, because there's no purely objective way to define all these terms you throw around as though they solve all your issues....

You later claim that dumping toxic waste into a public lake would subject the company to claims from everyone, because the lake is public property. Yet, we allow companies to pollute public waters all the time, because the economic cost of never allowing anyone to pollute public waters would be enormous. Should I be out suing every company that's ever polluted into a public water, even legally? I'm a member of the public, after all. And wait, why doesn't this apply to the air? Why don't I have a legal claim against you for all the driving you've done? I'm a member of the public, and I never gave you permission to pollute the air!

Or is this another case where there's somehow a magic "natural line" between legal and illegal uses of public resources which just so happens to fall exactly where you want it to be?

Pfhorrest responded:
Pfhorrest wrote:And you seemed to miss my point that property is defined by where the lines between rights are drawn, so a clash between property rights is a manifest contradiction; someone or other doesn't really own property they're claiming rights on the basis of. Who gets what property, and thus rights to what, is certainly an arbitrary matter; there's nothing inherent in this hunk of metal which makes it Alice's and not Bob's. But given some distribution of property, who has what rights follows directly from that: you have rights to your property, and no rights to things that aren't your property.

The most important point in all of this is that you are your own property and no one else's, and that saying others have rights over your person is tantamount to saying that have (at least partial) ownership of you. We have a word for that, and it's generally considered pejorative.

To this, I gave one of the obvious counter-examples: mothers and children. After all, according to Pfhorrest's argument, if babies have the right to be fed by their mothers, then the mothers are slaves. Likewise, according to Pfhorrest's argument, if the mothers have the right to force the kids to clean their rooms, then the children are slaves. Of course, reasonable people generally say that neither mothers or babies are slaves: they each have rights over the other.

Pfhorrest's response? To state: "Nice smear tactic there"! Interesting definition of "smear tactic"! However, he does admit that it is reasonable to have the notion of "guardians". Yay -- some progress: he now admits that there are some cases where the lines between different people's rights aren't clear-cut.

Now, how about we return to BlueSoxSWJ's questions: air and water rights. So, Pfhorrest, you responded to BlueSoxSWJ questions about air and water rights by stating "property is defined by where the lines between rights are drawn, so a clash between property rights is a manifest contradiction". You also stated that if someone polluted a public lake they would be subject to claims from everyone, but you didn't answer BlueSoxSWJ's question about how industry is supposed to take place. Also, where exactly are the lines drawn between people's ownership of air?

Pfhorrest wrote:I'm going to ignore the condescending tone of the rest of your post and only address the one interesting thing you have to say:

What was the (only) "uninteresting" thing in my post? Oh, yeah, I brought up the prior discussion of roads.

J Thomas and BlueSoxSWJ kept pointing out that you have indirect benefits from roads that you personally don't use. You used the analogy of people making an order at a restaurant: each person only orders what they individually want. BlueSoxSWG pointed out the problem with this:
BlueSoxSWG wrote:You again create a poor analogy, by ensuring that the personal decisions in your analogy have no effect on anyone else, thus assuming away the entire point of the conversation. You still give no consideration to the fact that government services, for the most part, are either there for everyone or for no one. (Or, even if it would be possible to differentiate services, it would cost more to do so then the cost of unwanted benefits.)
An improvement on your analogy is to say that the restaurant's (admittedly bizarre) policy is that everyone at the table has to make an identical purchase. Now how do you decide what to order?

Your response to this, in its entirety, was:
Pfhorrest wrote:So we're ordering a pizza then, and have to decide on what toppings to go on the whole pizza? My question then is why do we have to order a whole pizza -- if I just want a salad, why can't I get that, and you guys go in on your pizza together?

Now, that's just denial. So, how will roads be built and used, if you had your way, and why would it be better than the way we do it currently in places like the US, Canada, and Europe?

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5395
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Tue May 15, 2012 7:50 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:I kind of like your idea. A difference between purpose and use. It's something you made up, that has no reality of any sort. But I kind of like it.

I don't know where you get that I made it up. It's a pretty basic feature of the way the words are normally used. Imagine this conversation:

A: "The purpose of HTML tables is to structure tabular data, not to control layout."
B: "Nonsense. Tables are used to control layout all the time."
A: "Yes, and that is misuse of them, contrary to their purpose."

Did A and B's first statements disagree? Did A change his mind between his first and second statements?

You gave (perhaps intentionally I wonder?) a perfectly good example yourself, right now:
Except, what good is it? It looks to me like the purpose of your idea is...

You ask a rhetorical question "what good is it?" and answer "its purpose is...". That is the substance of it right there: a thing's purpose is what it's good for, what a good use of it is. And you are correct that this means the purpose of the distinction between purpose and use is...
...to separate out the one good use you want, from all the other incidental uses you disapprove of. And I don't see that this is in any way legitimate. People use things for whatever purpose they choose, and their purpose at the moment is what they use them for. Just because somebody has a noble purpose you want to make official, doesn't really make that one any more important than all the others.

This is getting back to arguing about 'is' vs 'ought' again. Every time anyone puts forth a "things ought to be this way" you reply with a "things aren't that way". That may be true, but it's orthogonal to the point you're responding to, which is that things not being that way, though true, is bad.

Now, I'm open to debate what really is the purpose of laws, i.e. what good are they, what is the proper use of them. But pointing out some things they are used for makes no case either way about what they ought to be used for.

(My favorite illustration of the ridiculousness of conflating 'is' and 'ought' is this: People murder people. Is that true? Is that good? Does either answer reduce to the other? They both concern the exact same state of affairs: people murdering people. What is the difference in the questions then, that they can have different answers?)

I won't speak for "ultra-libertarian" people or anybody besides myself here, but I agree completely that babies and people who are otherwise not sane rational adults deserve different treatment than sane rational adults do.

How do we manage to give the majority of non-rational people the treatment they deserve?

I disagree that the majority of people are unilaterally non-rational.

Almost everybody (and that "almost" is only a CYA against blanket statements) is imperfectly rational. Not always rational. Not always as rational as they could be when they are somewhat rational at all. But almost everyone is capable of reason to some degree or another. And they deserve a chance to be rational and be treated rationally before we just assume they are irrational.

As to how we give people the treatment they deserve when they're being irrational, we treat them like children. That is, we stop them from hurting anyone, make them fix any damage they caused (pay to fix it counts), explain to them why what they did was wrong (still appealing to their presumed capacity for reason even when they're not exercising it), and apply conditioning (punishment and reward) and any other applicable rehabilitation so as to deter reoccurrence even if they can't rationally control themselves.

In other words, very much what we do to criminals now, if anything a good bit nicer, more results-oriented, and less mindlessly retributive. The important part, though, is that all of this follows a determination that someone has actually done something wrong irrationally (and not e.g. via honest ignorance, which still deserves some but not all of the above), via a process that starts with the assumption that they are innocent rational people deserving of respect, and looking to see if there is sufficient evidence against that assumption.

How should the law choose the rational competent agents out of the mass of irrationality?

I'm not sure what you mean here exactly (what are they being chosen for?), so I'll respond with a counter-question: who do you presume is doing this choosing? How do we know that they are any more rational and competent than the people they are judging? This is precisely the reason to give people the benefit of the doubt: it is unwarranted arrogance on any of our parts to presume ourselves so much more rational than everyone else as to be arbiters of who is or is not rational (on top of the unwarranted premise that rationality is some boolean quality that you either have or don't, and not something that we all have in varying shades both between us and over time).

We don't have parents to watch over us. We only have ourselves to parent ourselves. We are all children, running the school with no adults to guide us. Which works, to the limited extent that it does, because children are not completely irrational either. And we are slowly growing up and learning to take responsibility for ourselves. We have to, because nobody else will.

What method should we use to disenfranchise the majority of voters? And how should we get them to go along with it?

This question falsely presumes (as explained above) that I believe a majority of people are prima facie irrational, which is the opposite of the bulk of my point. We shouldn't be disenfranchising anybody.

Again, what kind of testing should the government do to decide who's calm and sane? Since at any given time the majority of voters are not, some sort of testing is essential. It makes no sense to assume everybody is until after they do something crazy to show they are not.

So you are suggesting we blanketly disenfranchise everybody until they pass some kind of state-approved rationality litmus test? I thought you were trying to paint me as that straw man but now it sounds like you honestly endorse it.

You appear to say that there is no act which is so generally stupid and dangerous that it should be banned except for special circumstances where permission could be given.

If there are actions which are so broadly and obviously dangerous in the hands of ordinary people, then ordinary people attempting to do them will have lots of other people charging them with reckless endangerment all the time, and many of those will lead to conviction. (Note my use of "charge" here and everywhere, BTW; I'm not talking about suing someone at great length at your own expense, but filing charges with the police who will take your statement and follow up to see if a crime has been committed or not and if so prosecute it on behalf of you any any other victims). It will be little different from people reporting someone doing something blanketly illegal, except that the (few in such extreme cases) people who turn out not to have been a genuine danger will get off free instead of being convicted on strict liability. The police themselves can see these dangerous things and press charges too. What they can't do is see you doing something which is frequently dangerous in many circumstances and have you convinced just by proving that you did it; they have to prove that it was actually dangerous that you did it in those circumstances. No "your speedometer read a number that was higher than the number printed on this piece of metal, give us hundreds of dollars to pay my salary"; they have to show that you were driving recklessly, and your speed is but one piece of evidence in that matter.

That sounds reasonable in theory. In terms of how cities are actually laid out, it's batshit crazy. No offense intended. You and I both have shown some tendency to carry logical ideas as far as they will go, which is one good way to notice important factors which might not be particularly visible at first sight. Anyway, what we need to do is redesign our cities and our economies to make your idea practical, and then we can change the laws to do things in a way that's more ideologically pure.


I'm not sure where city layout came into this, can you explain?

But as far as making things practical before implementing stuff, I actually agree completely. I'm discussing the ideal end-state here, not how to get to it. I think that what ends you have in mind and your approach to reaching toward them are separate matters, and our political language confuses the two a lot. Regardless of the end-state desired, I use four terms to describe one's approach toward reaching that: radical, meaning "drop everything we're doing now and do it this way instead"; reactionary, meaning "what are you talking about, stop changing things, everything's fine"; progressive, meaning not reactionary, open to changes for the better (radical being a subset of this); and conservative, meaning not radical, concerned with maintaining the good we already have (reactionary being a subset of this). I consider myself, in these terms, a conservative progressive, meaning I think we have changes we need to make, a lot of them in fact, but that we need to approach that state-of-affairs carefully without breaking what we have right now with nothing lined up to replace it.

For an example (at the risk of opening up another huge can of worms): I think taxes are strictly speaking unjustifiable, however I don't advocate just eliminating all of them and "fuck civilization who needs that", and I regularly vote against the radicals who do advocate that. I think we need to acknowledge that there is an ethical problem involved and look for solutions to it, work on a way to keep civilization and pay for it by nonviolent means (taxation is backed by violence, that is the ethical problem). That is a direction we need to progress in. But we need to conserve the good things which currently depend on taxes while we do that.

You are saying that people have no right not to be communicated to. That anybody has the right to expose you to child porn or torture/murder porn at any time without your permission. That if somebody communicates filth to you in a way that enrages you, it's your own responsibility.

To the extent that they can do so without doing anything else that's genuinely wrong, sure. Linking to goatse should not be a crime. A right not to be spoken to directly implies that others do not have a right to speak.

I can sort of see that for rational adults. But in your experience online, what fraction of the online population do you think is rational that way? What fraction of us can be trolled?

What does that have to do with anything?

If I yelled at Fred Phelps "there is no God, but if there were, he would hate you!", and his family beat me to death with picket signs, would my words justify their response? Their response is irrational, certainly, but does that excuse them?

The inmates are running the asylum, and we have to accept that, insane or not, they have as many rights as we do. Perhaps someday we could set up some sort of meritocracy, where the sane people govern everybody for everybody's benefit. They would use propaganda and all sorts of manipulation to persuade the people who can be manipulated that way, to accept their rule. Perhaps they would have methods of mental testing to make sure that the individuals who have significant control would actually want to do good for everyone and would be pretty smart.

I think that would be a horrible dystopia and if you think that's what I'm advocating you've completely misunderstood me.

Slither wrote:
Spoiler:
Okay, let's recap.

The discussion here for many pages now has been on what to do when people's rights conflict. Pfhorrest stated:
Pfhorrest wrote:In other words, if you think it's possible for there to be two rights contrary to each other, and a need for someone to decide which one gets violated and which one gets respected, then your concept of what rights people have needs to be reexamined.

and
Pfhorrest wrote:You're right that we have to draw a line somewhere, but that line is not some nebulous thing that needs to be debated in committees weighing the implications of every action on everyone. That line is the very definition of property: property is anything you have rights in, and you have rights only over your property. We each own ourselves and have absolute say about what other people can or cannot do to us.

After a bunch of discussion, BlueSoxSWJ responded to Pfhorrest thusly:
BlueSoxSWJ wrote:You missed my point so thoroughly and completely that you accidentally proved it for me. The point that there's somehow some magical "natural code" that determines just where the exact lines are between everyone's property rights is fraught with an absurd amount of counterexamples, because there's no purely objective way to define all these terms you throw around as though they solve all your issues....

You later claim that dumping toxic waste into a public lake would subject the company to claims from everyone, because the lake is public property. Yet, we allow companies to pollute public waters all the time, because the economic cost of never allowing anyone to pollute public waters would be enormous. Should I be out suing every company that's ever polluted into a public water, even legally? I'm a member of the public, after all. And wait, why doesn't this apply to the air? Why don't I have a legal claim against you for all the driving you've done? I'm a member of the public, and I never gave you permission to pollute the air!

Or is this another case where there's somehow a magic "natural line" between legal and illegal uses of public resources which just so happens to fall exactly where you want it to be?

Pfhorrest responded:
Pfhorrest wrote:And you seemed to miss my point that property is defined by where the lines between rights are drawn, so a clash between property rights is a manifest contradiction; someone or other doesn't really own property they're claiming rights on the basis of. Who gets what property, and thus rights to what, is certainly an arbitrary matter; there's nothing inherent in this hunk of metal which makes it Alice's and not Bob's. But given some distribution of property, who has what rights follows directly from that: you have rights to your property, and no rights to things that aren't your property.

The most important point in all of this is that you are your own property and no one else's, and that saying others have rights over your person is tantamount to saying that have (at least partial) ownership of you. We have a word for that, and it's generally considered pejorative.
To this, I gave one of the obvious counter-examples: mothers and children. After all, according to Pfhorrest's argument, if babies have the right to be fed by their mothers, then the mothers are slaves. Likewise, according to Pfhorrest's argument, if the mothers have the right to force the kids to clean their rooms, then the children are slaves. Of course, reasonable people generally say that neither mothers or babies are slaves: they each have rights over the other.

Pfhorrest's response? To state: "Nice smear tactic there"! Interesting definition of "smear tactic"!

Yeah, because taking an insinuation that owning people is generally referred to by a pejorative term (obviously, "slavery") and twisting that into 'You see, my opponent hates mothers! Even on this, the day we honor them!' isn't dirty rhetoric at all.

(As an aside, you do raise an interesting question: do parents have strict deontic obligations to their children and why? My gut answer to the first question is "yes of course", but the 'why' is not obvious from first principles. Yay, a new puzzle to think about).

However, he does admit that it is reasonable to have the notion of "guardians". Yay -- some progress: he now admits that there are some cases where the lines between different people's rights aren't clear-cut.

You make it sound like I'm moving goalposts or something. I've never maintained that the line between different peoples' rights is "clear cut" in the sense that the facts of every situation are always plain and obvious and every conflict can be settled without so much as a day in court. Instead I maintained, and still maintain, that there is always some fact of the matter about who is in the right in reach circumstance, and nobody needs to arbitrarily decide which rights will get sacrificed or not. In many cases we will need to investigate the details of each circumstance to find out whether anyone's rights have been violated and what response is warranted. But that is different from saying that people's genuine rights are actually clashing and that some authority needs to make an executive decision on the issue.

It's like -- and in fact I'll argue that it is perfectly analogous to -- a religious zealot shouting "Look! Scientists disagree about [some subject]! The facts are contradictory! There really is no objective truth! Therefore Jesus is the only truth and we should all sit down and read our Bibles." Sure, scientists may disagree, but that doesn't mean that the facts themselves disagree and there is no objective truth; it means we have incomplete knowledge and further investigation is warranted before we can give a more solid pronouncement on the situation. And neither that, nor even the absence of an objective truth, would justify the subsequent appeal to authority; if anything, it would undermine any appeal to authority.

Likewise, people may make contradictory claims about their rights. But if so, at least one of them is wrong. Possibly both. It may not always be obvious who is wrong. Further investigation may be warranted before making a more solid pronouncement on the matter. But none of that means that any authority is needed to decide who gets what rights, or that the rights themselves actually contradict, or that there really are no rights at all.

You also stated that if someone polluted a public lake they would be subject to claims from everyone, but you didn't answer BlueSoxSWJ's question about how industry is supposed to take place.

I'm not responding to absolutely everything because it's time-consuming enough responding just to the things I have ready answers for. But if you insist, my short and not very thought out and probably not very satisfactory response to that question is that I support whatever environmental protection laws anyone wants to propose to protect our shared resources from any genuine harm. I don't have any specific thoughts on whether any particular industrial practices are genuinely harmful and what alternatives there are to them. Those are the matters which, as I keep saying, need to be investigated on a case-by-case basis. I am intentionally not making blanket pronouncements about what types of actions are permissible or impermissible because the bulk of my point is that such blanket pronouncements are unjustified and each case deserves an investigation of its own.

Also, where exactly are the lines drawn between people's ownership of air?

The same as with water. The two are pretty analogous, big bodies of fluids not privately owned by anyone in particular, with common rights to them held by everyone. What specifically are you wondering about?

J Thomas and BlueSoxSWJ kept pointing out that you have indirect benefits from roads that you personally don't use. You used the analogy of people making an order at a restaurant: each person only orders what they individually want. BlueSoxSWG pointed out the problem with this:
BlueSoxSWG wrote:You again create a poor analogy, by ensuring that the personal decisions in your analogy have no effect on anyone else, thus assuming away the entire point of the conversation. You still give no consideration to the fact that government services, for the most part, are either there for everyone or for no one. (Or, even if it would be possible to differentiate services, it would cost more to do so then the cost of unwanted benefits.)
An improvement on your analogy is to say that the restaurant's (admittedly bizarre) policy is that everyone at the table has to make an identical purchase. Now how do you decide what to order?

Your response to this, in its entirety, was:
Pfhorrest wrote:So we're ordering a pizza then, and have to decide on what toppings to go on the whole pizza? My question then is why do we have to order a whole pizza -- if I just want a salad, why can't I get that, and you guys go in on your pizza together?

Now, that's just denial. So, how will roads be built and used, if you had your way, and why would it be better than the way we do it currently in places like the US, Canada, and Europe?

The restaurant analogy was with regards to joint purchases in general, and the point of that last response was to counter the "We currently buy things to share with everyone and force them to chip in; if we don't force them to chip in, nobody will" with "Why do we have to buy things to share with everyone? Is there no way to each buy our own thing?" (Yes, differences in purchasing power are a legitimate problem in need of a solution, but that problem and this problem don't have to be conjoined). They are the ones contending that theirs is the only way; I am asking them to back that up and not dismiss that there might be other solutions available. I don't pretend to have all the solutions ready to go, but then I'm not putting forth any one solution as the only way either; only contesting their claim that theirs is.

I already addressed more specifically how the indirect benefit of roads would be indirectly paid for by the people who do business with the people who make use of those roads, the latter of whom would include the cost of road usage into their cost of business and pass that cost on to their customers (who receive the indirect benefit of it) accordingly. As for how to pay for direct road usage, I think the internet, particularly the old internet prior to the cable/dsl monopolies, makes a good model for open interoperation of a bunch of private networks, particularly combined with some good old fashioned coop/creditunion-style customer-ownership. Municipal public benefit companies owned by the residents of each municipality could build and fund the local roads. You would need a pass (like a driver's license) to operate on these roads. From there, interoperability agreements between the local road networks and with larger highway networks (and then between highway networks etc), much like interoperability agreements between ISPs, would keep you from needing to pay a toll every time you drove into another city.

But that's just one thought. I don't claim it to be the solution. I only maintain that it is not at all obvious that the one and only solution is to demand money from people at gunpoint. Roads are actually one of the easier problems as it's really clear who is or is not using the network. There are obvious problems with natural monopolies for such networks, but then it's almost impossible to build one without the power of eminent domain unless you, maybe, I dunno, paid the people whose land you wanted to build them on, maybe made them co-owners of the road company, so that the roads are jointly owned by the people whose lands they connect. But that sounds like socialism and we couldn't have that, now could we? (In case anybody doesn't catch that sarcasm, I probably haven't mentioned yet in this thread that I call myself a libertarian socialist, though more of a distributivist bent than the more common anti-propertarian ones, and I think jointly owned cooperative ventures like this, like farm coops, like credit unions, etc, are completely awesome and great examples of how socialism doesn't have to require a monopoly on the use of force to strongarm everybody into it).
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Tue May 15, 2012 10:52 am UTC

Slither wrote:So, how will roads be built and used, if you had your way, and why would it be better than the way we do it currently in places like the US, Canada, and Europe?


Not to steal Pfhorrest's thunder, but I want to discuss this.

tl;dr:
If we tried something different, we can't tell how well it would work ahead of time. We don't know what technology we would develop. Chances are it would give us different trade-offs. We might sacrifice some convenience or some speed in return for spending a whole lot less. Or we might find something that's better in every way. We might find something that costs less and works well, but only for relatively rich people. There are lots of ways it might go, and all we know about is the way we tried.

Spoiler:
Our transportation system is constrained by geography, by available materials, by the size of the workforce, by known technology, and by our ability to organize ourselves to get results. I want to focus on the technology. Technology doesn't just appear like a gift from the gods. We tend to create and improve on the particular kinds of technology that we think there is a market for. So our particular goals affect the way technology then constrains our abilities. A society with different goals might develop different technologies.

We have roads that are tremendously expensive. That's partly because one of the functions of our roads is to provide patronage to road-builders. Roads provide many jobs. If we had better technology we could use the same number of people to produce more roads, but we would have the political problem of deciding how much road to build and where the new roads should go. So improved and cheaper roads are an issue to the kind of engineers who build roads, but not so much to politicians who fund engineering research. They are more interested in not rocking the boat.

Our roads are a historical accident. We started out with roads that were only dirt paths people had permission to travel on. If the creek was up you waited to cross at the ford. Or if you were brave you could try to float across.

Canals were better, but they could only be built in a few places, at great expense. Canal owners naturally tried to recoup their expenses. Canals were natural monopolies.

Railroads were better still. Railroad tracks could be put into places that canals could not go, and they were far cheaper. The government gave railroad-builders lots of valuable rights if they would build railroads. Railroads were also natural monopolies.

Then when we got automobiles that was better still. You could take a car pretty much anywhere you could take a buggy. Cheaper and faster. But mudholes and fords and such were an issue. We could have given people big monetary incentives to build toll roads that would then be natural monopolies, but instead we lobbied the government to build and maintain roads.

Before, we created monopolies on purpose because we wanted the transportation. Better monopolies than not having the product at all. But toll roads are a misery and it's harder to keep people off a road than keep them off a train or a canal boat. The government could and did and does spend tremendous sums to build roads that anybody can use, mostly for free. It's our tradition.

What if we didn't have any of that? We would do something else. For example, we might develop a system of hot air balloons. If there's a wind going your direction, you rise to that level and off you go. Otherwise you wait. Slow and uncertain but low-energy. No need to take people's land; the balloons don't need much land. Maybe there would be lots of new technology that would make it work better than I imagine -- because we would look for better ways to do balloon transportation, and we don't much look for that now.

The government takes people's land for roads and pays them what the government decides the land is worth. We think that's a natural way to do it because we have a government that can do it. If we had a different tradition this custom would look mighty strage.
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

User avatar
eran_rathan
Mostly Wrong
Posts: 1840
Joined: Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:36 pm UTC
Location: in your ceiling, judging you

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby eran_rathan » Tue May 15, 2012 11:22 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:And you seemed to miss my point that property is defined by where the lines between rights are drawn, so a clash between property rights is a manifest contradiction; someone or other doesn't really own property they're claiming rights on the basis of. Who gets what property, and thus rights to what, is certainly an arbitrary matter; there's nothing inherent in this hunk of metal which makes it Alice's and not Bob's. But given some distribution of property, who has what rights follows directly from that: you have rights to your property, and no rights to things that aren't your property.


Most, if not all, property lines have some ambiguity to them.

Additionally, it is common in the western part of the US for 'mineral rights', 'water rights', 'airspace rights' etc. to be entirely separate from the actual property. You may own where your house is, but you do not have the right (even though you own the property) to anything beneath it, above it, passing through it, etc.

In the eastern US (metes & bounds states, basically the 13 Colonies + Ohio), however, the idea that those rights would be separate is taken as absurd.

The disposition of property and the rights of that property are legal issues, not necessarily arbitrary.
"Does this smell like chloroform to you?"
"Google tells me you are not unique. You are, however, wrong."
nɒʜƚɒɿ_nɒɿɘ

User avatar
eran_rathan
Mostly Wrong
Posts: 1840
Joined: Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:36 pm UTC
Location: in your ceiling, judging you

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby eran_rathan » Tue May 15, 2012 11:33 am UTC

In regards to air and water rights, and property boundaries:

DEPENDING ON THE JURISDICTION (because every state is different), you may or may not own the water that is on your property. Or, conversely, you may own it, but have no rights to use it, or have no right to stop others from using.

For navigable bodies of water, streams and such, one generally owns to the thread or center of the stream, unless the deed calls for language such that the center is specifically not called for ("to the bank, to the post at the bank, etc). However, the public generally has a right of passage over that body of water as a public easement, from high water to high water (in Maine, the statute reads, "for all traditional purposes; fishing, fowling, passage, and lumbering.")

In Maine, for great ponds (larger than 4 acres) and the ocean, in general one owns out from high water 100 rods (1650 feet) or to low water, whichever is shorter, unless your deed specifies otherwise.


In general, in the eastern US, ones' property lines exist on the surface of the ground, and extend to the center of the earth, and up 100 feet in the air (depending - it might be higher or lower depending on your proximity to an airport).
"Does this smell like chloroform to you?"
"Google tells me you are not unique. You are, however, wrong."
nɒʜƚɒɿ_nɒɿɘ

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Tue May 15, 2012 12:36 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
J Thomas wrote:I kind of like your idea. A difference between purpose and use. It's something you made up, that has no reality of any sort. But I kind of like it.

I don't know where you get that I made it up. It's a pretty basic feature of the way the words are normally used. Imagine this conversation:

A: "The purpose of HTML tables is to structure tabular data, not to control layout."
B: "Nonsense. Tables are used to control layout all the time."
A: "Yes, and that is misuse of them, contrary to their purpose."

Did A and B's first statements disagree? Did A change his mind between his first and second statements?

You gave (perhaps intentionally I wonder?) a perfectly good example yourself, right now:
Except, what good is it? It looks to me like the purpose of your idea is...

You ask a rhetorical question "what good is it?" and answer "its purpose is...". That is the substance of it right there: a thing's purpose is what it's good for, what a good use of it is. And you are correct that this means the purpose of the distinction between purpose and use is...
...to separate out the one good use you want, from all the other incidental uses you disapprove of. And I don't see that this is in any way legitimate. People use things for whatever purpose they choose, and their purpose at the moment is what they use them for. Just because somebody has a noble purpose you want to make official, doesn't really make that one any more important than all the others.

This is getting back to arguing about 'is' vs 'ought' again. Every time anyone puts forth a "things ought to be this way" you reply with a "things aren't that way". That may be true, but it's orthogonal to the point you're responding to, which is that things not being that way, though true, is bad.


The way I see it, things mostly get evolved. We more-or-less blindly try things out, and notice what we don't like, and invent patches to fix our problems of the moment. And then we use the patches when making other patches, until the whole thing is a giant muddle that nobody can understand very well.

Then you come along and pick out one piece of it, and say "Here's the one reason this is good, and worthy of approval" or "Here's the one reason this is bad, and should arouse disgust" and I don't see that your approval or disgust for isolated pieces of the puzzle is useful except that you feel good doing it.

Now, I'm open to debate what really is the purpose of laws, i.e. what good are they, what is the proper use of them. But pointing out some things they are used for makes no case either way about what they ought to be used for.


To the extent that people are problem-solving entities, everything we do is intended to solve some problem. What looks like a bug to you looks like a feature to somebody else. You can say that in your opinion everybody else's purposes are wrong and yours are right, but that doesn't tell us how to persuade them to let you change the laws.

(My favorite illustration of the ridiculousness of conflating 'is' and 'ought' is this: People murder people. Is that true? Is that good? Does either answer reduce to the other? They both concern the exact same state of affairs: people murdering people. What is the difference in the questions then, that they can have different answers?)


When you call it murder you are saying it's bad. "People kill each other" is somewhat more neutral. When is it good? When is it bad? Even when there's a population surplus, when the value of human life turns negative and some people have to die, there's still the question which people should die and some killings will be good and others bad. Deciding which killings are good and which are bad is a choice people have to make for themselves, if they choose to make that choice.

I won't speak for "ultra-libertarian" people or anybody besides myself here, but I agree completely that babies and people who are otherwise not sane rational adults deserve different treatment than sane rational adults do.

How do we manage to give the majority of non-rational people the treatment they deserve?

I disagree that the majority of people are unilaterally non-rational.


But surely you agree that many people often behave irrationally, and that we have an obligation to protect them.

Almost everybody (and that "almost" is only a CYA against blanket statements) is imperfectly rational. Not always rational. Not always as rational as they could be when they are somewhat rational at all. But almost everyone is capable of reason to some degree or another. And they deserve a chance to be rational and be treated rationally before we just assume they are irrational.


Sure. Also, if you're rational at the moment and you can do something that will predictably drive people crazy, don't you have an obligation not to do it? (I can see that both ways. If you might just drive people crazy but you might instead show them how to not get driven crazy so much, how should you weight those possibilities?)

As to how we give people the treatment they deserve when they're being irrational, we treat them like children. That is, we stop them from hurting anyone, make them fix any damage they caused (pay to fix it counts), explain to them why what they did was wrong (still appealing to their presumed capacity for reason even when they're not exercising it), and apply conditioning (punishment and reward) and any other applicable rehabilitation so as to deter reoccurrence even if they can't rationally control themselves.


That sounds like a good approach when the large majority of people are sane.

In other words, very much what we do to criminals now, if anything a good bit nicer, more results-oriented, and less mindlessly retributive. The important part, though, is that all of this follows a determination that someone has actually done something wrong irrationally (and not e.g. via honest ignorance, which still deserves some but not all of the above), via a process that starts with the assumption that they are innocent rational people deserving of respect, and looking to see if there is sufficient evidence against that assumption.


That sounds like a good idea to me. Except, you seem to be talking about letting insane people go about their random business until they do something that's provably harmful, and then do things in response. To my way of thinking it's better not to give insane people access to nuclear power plants, or dangerous chemical plants, or heavy machinery, or explosives, or most importantly don't let them get control of governments.

That last is hard when crazy people can elect crazy people president.

How should the law choose the rational competent agents out of the mass of irrationality?

I'm not sure what you mean here exactly (what are they being chosen for?), so I'll respond with a counter-question: who do you presume is doing this choosing? How do we know that they are any more rational and competent than the people they are judging? This is precisely the reason to give people the benefit of the doubt: it is unwarranted arrogance on any of our parts to presume ourselves so much more rational than everyone else as to be arbiters of who is or is not rational (on top of the unwarranted premise that rationality is some boolean quality that you either have or don't, and not something that we all have in varying shades both between us and over time).


Well see, if you don't have any way to choose who's being rational and who isn't, then how is your society different from a confederation of lunatics?

We don't have parents to watch over us. We only have ourselves to parent ourselves. We are all children, running the school with no adults to guide us. Which works, to the limited extent that it does, because children are not completely irrational either. And we are slowly growing up and learning to take responsibility for ourselves. We have to, because nobody else will.


Exactly! You are hopeful that we can gradually become saner as a society. I point out that we are nowhere close yet.

You appear to say that there is no act which is so generally stupid and dangerous that it should be banned except for special circumstances where permission could be given.

If there are actions which are so broadly and obviously dangerous in the hands of ordinary people, then ordinary people attempting to do them will have lots of other people charging them with reckless endangerment all the time, and many of those will lead to conviction.


"We" keep "our" nukes locked up precisely because "we" don't trust random citizens not to steal them or set them off. We don't make them easily available and then charge people with reckless endangerment after they try to do something particularly stupid.

It has often been argued that it's insane for us to make the things in the first place. If the only point in having them is to bluff, to threaten to use them but then not do it, let's just don't make them and say we did. But maybe it isn't a good thing to threaten to nuke people even when you're lying about it. But if you suggest getting rid of the nukes a majority of voters will disagree. They think that the only thing that keeps crazy people from nuking us is our nukes. To survive we have to show the crazy people that we're crazier than they are.

That sounds reasonable in theory. In terms of how cities are actually laid out, it's batshit crazy. No offense intended. You and I both have shown some tendency to carry logical ideas as far as they will go, which is one good way to notice important factors which might not be particularly visible at first sight. Anyway, what we need to do is redesign our cities and our economies to make your idea practical, and then we can change the laws to do things in a way that's more ideologically pure.


I'm not sure where city layout came into this, can you explain?


In one sentence: Our cities are not designed to let people live together without oppressing each other.

A whole lot of people can survive in cities the way they are. Every now and then people get metaphorically caught in the gears and crushed, but the most alert of them don't and most people kind of get by. We don't have the freedoms you recommend and we can't, without a whole lot of redesign.

But as far as making things practical before implementing stuff, I actually agree completely. I'm discussing the ideal end-state here, not how to get to it. I think that what ends you have in mind and your approach to reaching toward them are separate matters, and our political language confuses the two a lot.


It gets confused because political talk is (sometimes, I wish more often) about what to do. It's usually about what to do in the next month. When people are frantic they don't have a lot of attention for the long run. So we do a sort of random walk, where individual legislators choose things they think will do more good than harm. And getting re-elected is an important good thing that's part of it, because the fewer chances you have to do good, the less good you can do.

Regardless of the end-state desired, I use four terms to describe one's approach toward reaching that: radical, meaning "drop everything we're doing now and do it this way instead"; reactionary, meaning "what are you talking about, stop changing things, everything's fine"; progressive, meaning not reactionary, open to changes for the better (radical being a subset of this); and conservative, meaning not radical, concerned with maintaining the good we already have (reactionary being a subset of this). I consider myself, in these terms, a conservative progressive, meaning I think we have changes we need to make, a lot of them in fact, but that we need to approach that state-of-affairs carefully without breaking what we have right now with nothing lined up to replace it.


I completely agree! Also, I want to spend some effort thinking about how we might rebuild things after some disaster. We have to keep the good stuff we have now because it would cost more than we can afford to tear it down and rebuild it. But if it gets torn down anyway -- either because it has flaws that make it self-destruct or because outside forces damage it too much -- then we should have a clear idea how to rebuild it better. How sad if after a disaster we put things back the same old way because in our rush to rebuild we're too busy to think....

For an example (at the risk of opening up another huge can of worms): I think taxes are strictly speaking unjustifiable, however I don't advocate just eliminating all of them and "fuck civilization who needs that", and I regularly vote against the radicals who do advocate that. I think we need to acknowledge that there is an ethical problem involved and look for solutions to it, work on a way to keep civilization and pay for it by nonviolent means (taxation is backed by violence, that is the ethical problem). That is a direction we need to progress in. But we need to conserve the good things which currently depend on taxes while we do that.


Again I agree completely! Taxes have a certain amount of overhead which would be good to avoid. And the people who are least politically connected will tend to get the biggest tax burden, relatively. There are lots of problems with taxes even for people who aren't bothered by the ethics of collecting them at all. It would be very good to find workable alternatives. But our current system is too fragile to change real fast; we'd create a disaster.

It's kind of like looking at a natural ecosystem and making ethical decisions about it. "Predators are bad. Parasites are bad. Let's get rid of all the predators and parasites and make it be a good system." Ecosystems evolve by accident, without any ethics. It's hard to design a good system from scratch that can maintain itself. And yet the existing system isn't what we particularly want.

You are saying that people have no right not to be communicated to. That anybody has the right to expose you to child porn or torture/murder porn at any time without your permission. That if somebody communicates filth to you in a way that enrages you, it's your own responsibility.

To the extent that they can do so without doing anything else that's genuinely wrong, sure. Linking to goatse should not be a crime. A right not to be spoken to directly implies that others do not have a right to speak.


And yet a lot of people are precariously rational, and they don't want to be exposed to things that will unsettle them, except by their own choice.

We have some token efforts to respect that right. Like, websites that show graphic sex are supposed to say so ahead of time and give people a choice whether to click their way in. For this one limited area people have some right not to be subjected to stuff they don't want to see.

I can sort of see that for rational adults. But in your experience online, what fraction of the online population do you think is rational that way? What fraction of us can be trolled?

What does that have to do with anything?

If I yelled at Fred Phelps "there is no God, but if there were, he would hate you!", and his family beat me to death with picket signs, would my words justify their response? Their response is irrational, certainly, but does that excuse them?


Of course it doesn't excuse them. But when they go irrational they put themselves outside that system. They are like children who ought to be restrained, and taught better. Meanwhile, if it's clearly predictable that you can do something that will drive them crazy, don't you as a rational person have some responsibility not to? My guess is that you would argue that this conflicts with freedom of speech and therefore there is no such right at all, since no right can be allowed to conflict with freedom of speech. I'd be glad to find out I've misunderstood you.
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

User avatar
Pfhorrest
Posts: 5395
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:11 am UTC
Contact:

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed May 16, 2012 7:05 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:The way I see it, things mostly get evolved. We more-or-less blindly try things out, and notice what we don't like, and invent patches to fix our problems of the moment. And then we use the patches when making other patches, until the whole thing is a giant muddle that nobody can understand very well.

Then you come along and pick out one piece of it, and say "Here's the one reason this is good, and worthy of approval" or "Here's the one reason this is bad, and should arouse disgust" and I don't see that your approval or disgust for isolated pieces of the puzzle is useful except that you feel good doing it.


The very process of "fixing problems" and "usefulness" implies some kind of sense of normativity, otherwise we would just do whatever we happen to do and nobody would care about "fixing" any "problem". Everything is always doing something, so if every thing that is done is just as good as any other thing, then everything always works fine and there are no problems ever to be fixed.

I also don't dispute that our system of acknowledged normative principles is a cobbled-together patchwork of ad-hoc solutions, but that doesn't besmirch attempts at refactoring that intractable mess in any way.

To the extent that people are problem-solving entities, everything we do is intended to solve some problem. What looks like a bug to you looks like a feature to somebody else. You can say that in your opinion everybody else's purposes are wrong and yours are right, but that doesn't tell us how to persuade them to let you change the laws.

That's the purpose of debate: to hash out our reasons for our beliefs, what use, what purpose, we see in what, and (if the debate is productive) to hash out solutions that solve all the purposes put forward. That is how we persuade people: we show them that it it useful to their purposes. Just like we persuade people of facts by showing how they follow from premises they already accept.

When you call it murder you are saying it's bad. "People kill each other" is somewhat more neutral. When is it good? When is it bad? Even when there's a population surplus, when the value of human life turns negative and some people have to die, there's still the question which people should die and some killings will be good and others bad. Deciding which killings are good and which are bad is a choice people have to make for themselves, if they choose to make that choice.

Then pick any factual occurrence of something bad occurring. A man once forced sex on his preteen daughter and then shot her when she threatened to tell the authorities at school. Is that true? Is that good? Does either answer depend on the other, or can they differ? How can they differ when they are about the same state of affairs: a man forcing sex on his preteen daughter and then shooting her when she threatens to tell the authorities at school? What is different between the questions if the object they are asking about is the same?

But surely you agree that many people often behave irrationally, and that we have an obligation to protect them.

A strict deontic obligation, no. Is it good to protect them, in a supererogatory sense? Sure thing, of course. Does a failure to do so waive my rights to the extent necessary to get me to do so (i.e. warrant punishment)? No.

Sure. Also, if you're rational at the moment and you can do something that will predictably drive people crazy, don't you have an obligation not to do it?

A strict deontic obligation, no. Would it be nice? Of course. Would it be in my own interest? Quite possibly. But those do not make an obligation.

That sounds like a good idea to me. Except, you seem to be talking about letting insane people go about their random business until they do something that's provably harmful, and then do things in response.

The alternative is letting people who are just as likely to be crazy as anyone else preemptively control everything.

That's the point about emphasizing that states are just made of people. We often go on about how this and that is dangerous and must be kept out of people's hands, but the only other hands it could be put in for "safe keeping" are attached to more people. We have no choice but to depend on people because people are all there are to depend on.

One way or another, everything about a society will depend on enough people being sane enough; sane enough to at least accurately recognize who is more sane than themselves and defer governance to them, even if not sane enough to govern themselves as would be ideal. If we can't meet that criteria, nothing we try to do will help, because crazy people will delegate power to more crazy people. And if we can meet that criteria, then we've no need for authority seized by force.

Science makes another good analogy here. Having scientifically well-founded beliefs be the mainstream beliefs depends on enough people being scientifically minded; scientifically minded enough to at least accurately recognize who knows the science better than themselves and defer the investigation to them, even if not scientific enough to do investigations themselves as would be ideal. If we can't meet that criteria, no amount of the remaining scientists proving this that or anything will have any sway, because they will be ignored in favor of popular ideologues.

Science by authority would be futile because any such authority could be coopted by those who most need their science set straight, and governance by authority is just as futile because any such authority can be coopted by the very people most in need of governance.

Well see, if you don't have any way to choose who's being rational and who isn't, then how is your society different from a confederation of lunatics?

How is any society? The answer is that we're not all complete lunatics.

Also note that I never said there was no way of assessing who is being rational or not in any particular instance. Just that people aren't either wholly rational or wholly irrational; and that nobody can claim special authority to make any such assessment, although of course everybody must frequently make such assessments.

Exactly! You are hopeful that we can gradually become saner as a society. I point out that we are nowhere close yet.

Sure. And I contend that the only way to get there is to make people as a whole more sane and rational; and that treating them by default as insane and irrational is not the way to go about that, but instead appealing to (and thereby exercising) their capacity for reason is how to do so.

"We" keep "our" nukes locked up precisely because "we" don't trust random citizens not to steal them or set them off. We don't make them easily available and then charge people with reckless endangerment after they try to do something particularly stupid.

And I'm not suggesting that we hand out nukes on every street corner to anyone who wants them. "We" who built the nukes we have can decide to keep them locked up safe and sound and that's probably a very good idea. And if someone finds the materials and starts building one and someone goes "whoa whoa, you can't be trusted to control that kind of power safely!" -- well, then we investigate that accusation, and if it turns out to be true (quite plausible), then we've established that this person is doing something reckless, threatening imminent harm to people, and thus have grounds to threaten them with harm (punishment) if they're not reasonable enough to stop.

Of course it doesn't excuse them. But when they go irrational they put themselves outside that system. They are like children who ought to be restrained, and taught better. Meanwhile, if it's clearly predictable that you can do something that will drive them crazy, don't you as a rational person have some responsibility not to? My guess is that you would argue that this conflicts with freedom of speech and therefore there is no such right at all, since no right can be allowed to conflict with freedom of speech. I'd be glad to find out I've misunderstood you.

Responsibility only in a limited supererogatory sense; but no kind of genuine obligation or duty. Probably a good rational reason not to, like not playing with a bear cub. But there's plenty of things it would be a good idea to do, that I'm not obliged to do, like eat well and exercise. And there's plenty of things it would be nice to do, but I'm not obliged to do, like hold doors open for people. Those are all things people, in one sense or another, "should" do, but not things that warrant violent coercion to elicit.
Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades
"I am Sam. Sam I am. I do not like trolls, flames, or spam."
The Codex Quaerendae (my philosophy) - The Chronicles of Quelouva (my fiction)

J Thomas
Everyone's a jerk. You. Me. This Jerk.^
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Wed May 16, 2012 12:59 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
J Thomas wrote:The way I see it, things mostly get evolved. We more-or-less blindly try things out, and notice what we don't like, and invent patches to fix our problems of the moment. And then we use the patches when making other patches, until the whole thing is a giant muddle that nobody can understand very well.

Then you come along and pick out one piece of it, and say "Here's the one reason this is good, and worthy of approval" or "Here's the one reason this is bad, and should arouse disgust" and I don't see that your approval or disgust for isolated pieces of the puzzle is useful except that you feel good doing it.


The very process of "fixing problems" and "usefulness" implies some kind of sense of normativity, otherwise we would just do whatever we happen to do and nobody would care about "fixing" any "problem". Everything is always doing something, so if every thing that is done is just as good as any other thing, then everything always works fine and there are no problems ever to be fixed.

I also don't dispute that our system of acknowledged normative principles is a cobbled-together patchwork of ad-hoc solutions, but that doesn't besmirch attempts at refactoring that intractable mess in any way.


OK, I just want to point out that when you choose your norms you are doing it according to your esthetics. You want to say that your chosen norms are better than evolved norms, but everybody wants to believe that their norms are better than other people's norms. Still, I personally approve of attempts to make sense.

To the extent that people are problem-solving entities, everything we do is intended to solve some problem. What looks like a bug to you looks like a feature to somebody else. You can say that in your opinion everybody else's purposes are wrong and yours are right, but that doesn't tell us how to persuade them to let you change the laws.

That's the purpose of debate: to hash out our reasons for our beliefs, what use, what purpose, we see in what, and (if the debate is productive) to hash out solutions that solve all the purposes put forward. That is how we persuade people: we show them that it it useful to their purposes. Just like we persuade people of facts by showing how they follow from premises they already accept.


Sure. My point is that when we approach agreement about norms we like, there's no particular reason to think we are coming closer to any absolute or objective norm. Still, in my opinion it's worth doing. If I thought it was not worth doing then I would make efforts to break the addiction.

When you call it murder you are saying it's bad. "People kill each other" is somewhat more neutral. When is it good? When is it bad? Even when there's a population surplus, when the value of human life turns negative and some people have to die, there's still the question which people should die and some killings will be good and others bad. Deciding which killings are good and which are bad is a choice people have to make for themselves, if they choose to make that choice.

Then pick any factual occurrence of something bad occurring.


A factual occurrence of something bad? Something that factually occurred that I think is bad? OK. A man goes swimming at the beach and a shark eats him. I think this has happened a few times. In my opinion this is bad. I enjoy shark meat sometimes, but I don't like it when sharks eat people instead of the other way around.

A man once forced sex on his preteen daughter and then shot her when she threatened to tell the authorities at school. Is that true? Is that good? Does either answer depend on the other, or can they differ? How can they differ when they are about the same state of affairs: a man forcing sex on his preteen daughter and then shooting her when she threatens to tell the authorities at school? What is different between the questions if the object they are asking about is the same?


I don't understand your question. Say you look at a real grape. You can ask "Is it a purple grape?" "Is it a sweet grape?" "Is it a moral grape?". You can ask an infinite number of different questions about the same objects. I expect that was your point and that by agreeing on this I have agreed with something I don't remember. I'll be interested to see where it leads.

But surely you agree that many people often behave irrationally, and that we have an obligation to protect them.

A strict deontic obligation, no. Is it good to protect them, in a supererogatory sense? Sure thing, of course. Does a failure to do so waive my rights to the extent necessary to get me to do so (i.e. warrant punishment)? No.


I hope you agree that us rational people want to encourage the behaviors we like and discourage behaviors we don't like, and punishment is just one of the specialty tools in the toolbox -- one that should be used rarely because it fails for many purposes. If we start punishing each other because we disagree about what other rational people should do, we are attempting to achieve by sheer force what we could not achieve rationally.

"Negative reinforcement" is a tool that works better, a whole lot of the time. Sometimes it isn't easy to see the difference between those. A couple of things to remember about negative reinforcement -- people who feel powerful will try to negatively reinforce you for negatively reinforcing them. And when it works, it encourages people to avoid the things that lead to negative reinforcement, and one of the things that leads to negative reinforcement is associating with you.

Sure. Also, if you're rational at the moment and you can do something that will predictably drive people crazy, don't you have an obligation not to do it?

A strict deontic obligation, no. Would it be nice? Of course. Would it be in my own interest? Quite possibly. But those do not make an obligation.


It sounds like you make a distinction between things it would be good to do, versus things that other rational people should punish us for not doing.

For myself, I say that people are inconsistent. We evolved that way. We vary our behavior at random and subconsciously notice the results, and sometimes that helps us gradually get results we like better. For any particular thing that somebody says that somebody else should do every time, there are valid reasons to sometimes not do it. I say that one valid excuse to not do almost anything is "I was just too tired". (If that happens to be true.) It could be that getting that tired at that time was an avoidable mistake or a sin or something. But if you are too tired to accomplish a task, no one should expect that you will accomplish the task.

And I say that if rational people agree that a particular action should be done more, then they should encourage people to do it more in ways that actually work to encourage them. If they agree that a particular action should be done less, then they should encourage people to do it less. And when I say they "should" do something, I mean that I want to encourage them to do it, not that I will punish them if I find an example where they didn't do it.

That sounds like a good idea to me. Except, you seem to be talking about letting insane people go about their random business until they do something that's provably harmful, and then do things in response.

The alternative is letting people who are just as likely to be crazy as anyone else preemptively control everything.


That's not the only alternative. If the only tool in your toolbox is punishment when you have proven somebody has done something you don't like, then -- jeeze, man, that's sick.

That's the point about emphasizing that states are just made of people. We often go on about how this and that is dangerous and must be kept out of people's hands, but the only other hands it could be put in for "safe keeping" are attached to more people. We have no choice but to depend on people because people are all there are to depend on.


Sure, and you trust some people more than other people.

One way or another, everything about a society will depend on enough people being sane enough; sane enough to at least accurately recognize who is more sane than themselves and defer governance to them, even if not sane enough to govern themselves as would be ideal. If we can't meet that criteria, nothing we try to do will help, because crazy people will delegate power to more crazy people. And if we can meet that criteria, then we've no need for authority seized by force.


I think it's safe to say that at the moment the USA does not meet that criterion. What should "we" do about it?

Science makes another good analogy here. Having scientifically well-founded beliefs be the mainstream beliefs depends on enough people being scientifically minded; scientifically minded enough to at least accurately recognize who knows the science better than themselves and defer the investigation to them, even if not scientific enough to do investigations themselves as would be ideal. If we can't meet that criteria, no amount of the remaining scientists proving this that or anything will have any sway, because they will be ignored in favor of popular ideologues.


The scientists themselves can make progress even if the public ignores them. And aren't you describing what is happening? Popular ideologues try to get people to ignore science, while other popular ideologues use science to support their ideology. Which is which depends on which ideology comes closest to getting scientific support....

Science by authority would be futile because any such authority could be coopted by those who most need their science set straight, and governance by authority is just as futile because any such authority can be coopted by the very people most in need of governance.


And the popular imagination gets coopted too. One possible conclusion from this is that you can't possibly win, the bad guys will always win. Another possible conclusion is that we should find ways to help the good guys be more effective.

Well see, if you don't have any way to choose who's being rational and who isn't, then how is your society different from a confederation of lunatics?

How is any society? The answer is that we're not all complete lunatics.


Is it thus you console me?

Also note that I never said there was no way of assessing who is being rational or not in any particular instance. Just that people aren't either wholly rational or wholly irrational; and that nobody can claim special authority to make any such assessment, although of course everybody must frequently make such assessments.


OK! So we don't need an elite cadre of people who are officially rational. (That reminds me of a story. The story I heard was that L Ron Hubbard came up with a method that was supposed to drive people sane. He said when somebody had handled all their little insanities they became "clear". His method was kind of slow, and he tried it out on his wife. Scientologists of the time made a big deal about how he was sacrificing himself for her -- he could have been spending that time becoming clear himself. And then he announced that she was the first sane human being in the history of the world. Scientologists rejoiced! Then she divorced him on the grounds that he was insane.)

Exactly! You are hopeful that we can gradually become saner as a society. I point out that we are nowhere close yet.

Sure. And I contend that the only way to get there is to make people as a whole more sane and rational; and that treating them by default as insane and irrational is not the way to go about that, but instead appealing to (and thereby exercising) their capacity for reason is how to do so.


I say that the people who are actually rational (as opposed to officially rational) will see this is a valuable goal for them. Sane people do not like being surrounded by crazies. "We" should use whatever methods work toward that. Appealing to reason has a bad track record. Appealing to people's actual motivations to get them to think, might be better. Whatever works. Not just one single ideal method.

And if you agree to the goal of encouraging people as a whole to be more sane and rational, then don't you agree that rational people should avoid driving people crazy?
The Law of Fives is true. I see it everywhere I look for it.

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Wed May 16, 2012 3:22 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:"We" keep "our" nukes locked up precisely because "we" don't trust random citizens not to steal them or set them off. We don't make them easily available and then charge people with reckless endangerment after they try to do something particularly stupid.
And I'm not suggesting that we hand out nukes on every street corner to anyone who wants them. "We" who built the nukes we have can decide to keep them locked up safe and sound and that's probably a very good idea. And if someone finds the materials and starts building one and someone goes "whoa whoa, you can't be trusted to control that kind of power safely!" -- well, then we investigate that accusation, and if it turns out to be true (quite plausible), then we've established that this person is doing something reckless, threatening imminent harm to people, and thus have grounds to threaten them with harm (punishment) if they're not reasonable enough to stop.

How do you know If people are going to do something stupid with their nukes or barrels of anthrax? How do you even know that they have them on their property? Do you think authorities should just start searching someones property when their neighbour complains? That's not very libertarian of you. On the other hand probably the neighbour won't/can't complain because he has no idea what goes on in his neighbouring compound surrounded by walls. So if I decide to build and detonate a nuke on my premises, and I have walls around it - then nobody should stop me.Nobody is allowed to set foot on the citizen property without his permission and when also nobody should stop a citizen buying fissionables etc. without a licence (pfft. licences very unlibertarian). Then it makes so that I could buy whatever stuff I want, retreat to my compound behind the walls and nobody will make a peep.
Because you know it is mine own business that I do there. Or when somebody accuses of their neighbour of something hideous enough - then "f*** this talk about liberty we will investigate all his businesses and properties?". So you have eliminated the evil requirement to prove your capabilities to handle hazardous materials before I do so - with a much more moral procedure of squeal at your neighbour - "Who knows what things they do behind their home walls." (And if you don't think these kind of complaints shouldn't be taken seriously - then again in this case we can actually do nothing about the guy who hoards hazardous shit in his house as long as he does it secretly.)


I do imagine an Libertarian Utopia - a country inhabited by rugged individualists. Where there shall be no laws infringing on other peoples property and jada jada. Only laws enforced are the ones protecting propery rights - they are enforced by the police and justice system compromized by fellows who think it's a cool way to spend their free time.
Anyway one day it dawns to a lot of residents that lately an awful lot of them get sick and die young. Some of them have spent money to let their relative deceased ones to be autopsied - there seems to be a lot of different toxins and cancerogens inside those bodies. And most of them have died to cancer. Some of them to repsiratory problems jada-jada-jada.
Well the country Is quite uniformly covered with a toxic haze. It gets a bit clearer on the edges or when a major air current from neighbouring countries, when the winds whirl then there can be denser and lghter patches from time to time. So the residents have the excellent opportunity to aquire compensation and stop people infringing on their personal property - their very own bodies. They can sue those evil evildoers!!!
But the trouble is whole country is dotted with large compounds surrounded with 10 ft. walls and signs "Tresspassers will be shot". Should the investigators be expected to just waltz in any and all secluded properties to collect data - noooo of course not. So you will never know from which property the damaging amount of pollution comes. (To make things messier - maybe no-compound produces toxic levels of air-pollution - after all our utopia is filled with people with self interest in mind and they don't wan't to pollute their own yard. But alas - all their enterprises and production facilities themselves don't produce enough pollution by themselves but cumulatively the pollution levels in whole country will be hazardous.(Tragedy of the commons style situation)

No worries I said our country is populated by self-interested people - they know it is not in their self interest to live in a toxic dump! So they or at least majority of them agree to put on regulations and standards when where and how someone might produce pollution. (Like for example if there is a maximum amount of air-pollution a region can handle all-together, then no sum of enterprises inside it my exceed it. To ensure it this amount of pollution is sold by government or other regulating body as quotas to enterprises on an auction (gasp-the horror) ) and agree on measures of oversight and penalties to enforce all this. So they have finally came to the solutions set that is common in most civilised countries in our world. Alas their Libertarian Utopia is no more so libertarian anymore.

My own little randian piece of moralising literature. Couldn't quite keep it up for 60 pages though.

fifiste
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat May 12, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Wed May 16, 2012 4:48 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:If there are actions which are so broadly and obviously dangerous in the hands of ordinary people, then ordinary people attempting to do them will have lots of other people charging them with reckless endangerment all the time, and many of those will lead to conviction. (Note my use of "charge" here and everywhere, BTW; I'm not talking about suing someone at great length at your own expense, but filing charges with the police who will take your statement and follow up to see if a crime has been committed or not and if so prosecute it on behalf of you any any other victims). It will be little different from people reporting someone doing something blanketly illegal, except that the (few in such extreme cases) people who turn out not to have been a genuine danger will get off free instead of being convicted on strict liability. The police themselves can see these dangerous things and press charges too. What they can't do is see you doing something which is frequently dangerous in many circumstances and have you convinced just by proving that you did it; they have to prove that it was actually dangerous that you did it in those circumstances. No "your speedometer read a number that was higher than the number printed on this piece of metal, give us hundreds of dollars to pay my salary"; they have to show that you were driving recklessly, and your speed is but one piece of evidence in that matter.

The problem for me is not - If there are actions which are so broadly and obviously dangerous in the hands of ordinary people, then ordinary people attempting to do them will have lots of other people charging them - the problem for me is that lot's of them would not only attempt do do them but also succeed. Also why do you only talk about some weird "normal" people. Depending on the definition lot of them aren't. I don't like the idea that we should replace testing some-ones capabilities to handle dangerous stuff beforehand with an after-the-accident punishment. You can be able to stop their actions in some cases under your system but in lot of them you wont.
For example.
A) I see my enthusiastic moron of a neighbour storing chemicals that really shouldn't be stored together in his yard. I file a complaint and the police will go to his premises and stop him before anything happens
B)I do not see my neighbour doing anything suspect. My moron of a neighbour does his chemical business behind a fence. I do not know that there is any trouble until he blows up half a county. Now my relatives from the next county can sue those little pieces of him that remain. For all his property! (Toxic crater)
I prefer
C) My neighbour tries to buy chemicals. He is asked for licence. He goes to the inter-net and complains about evil guvrntmnt.

Your system will not help when someone is wholly irrational, it also doesn't help when someone is otherwise a sane person but is incompetent and stupidly overconfident in one area of his life. It actually will punish them - both by allowing them suffer firstly the consequences of a disaster they will cause through their incompetence and then to suffer from legislation from other victims of their overconfidence+incompetence.
But as far as making things practical before implementing stuff, I actually agree completely. I'm discussing the ideal end-state here, not how to get to it. I think that what ends you have in mind and your approach to reaching toward them are separate matters, and our political language confuses the two a lot. Regardless of the end-state desired, I use four terms to describe one's approach toward reaching that: radical, meaning "drop everything we're doing now and do it this way instead"; reactionary, meaning "what are you talking about, stop changing things, every-thing's fine"; progressive, meaning not reactionary, open to changes for the better (radical being a subset of this); and conservative, meaning not radical, concerned with maintaining the good we already have (reactionary being a subset of this). I consider myself, in these terms, a conservative progressive, meaning I think we have changes we need to make, a lot of them in fact, but that we need to approach that state-of-affairs carefully without breaking what we have right now with nothing lined up to replace it.

For an example (at the risk of opening up another huge can of worms): I think taxes are strictly speaking unjustifiable, however I don't advocate just eliminating all of them and "fuck civilisation who needs that", and I regularly vote against the radicals who do advocate that. I think we need to acknowledge that there is an ethical problem involved and look for solutions to it, work on a way to keep civilisation and pay for it by non-violent means (taxation is backed by violence, that is the ethical problem). That is a direction we need to progress in. But we need to conserve the good things which currently depend on taxes while we do that.


That is all quite nice and rational. (translate: rational = (as always in human communications)similar enough to how I think stuff works ).
I think our utopias are not so different from each other at all.
Utopically I think I'm some kind of an anarchist. My Utopia is a world with no laws or use of power, populated entirely by people who are benevolent geniuses, and abundant in any resources. But alas - it is an Utopia. This is the ideal to which I would like the world to approach, but I know very well it is a work of imagination not something you could actually accomplish. It is a useful fiction to so to speak set your "sights" on, something to "calibrate" by. I think a lot of horrible things in this world has happened when people have tried to make their own Utopia right here right now. (Godwin along - with all sots of nazis,commies and others.)
Practically I would like to give as many personal liberties to everyone as possible - without f**** everything else up. As with everything those rights have costs. In a way I think not only the well-being but even the survival of humanity is a sort of optimisation exercise. You just can't blindly ramp up(or down) on some aspect of it without seriously affecting everything else.
But yeah my ideal world would not have anyone telling anyone else anything what to do :D.
Who knows maybe when the humanity itself would transform radically- we could even approach such an existence.


Return to “Individual XKCD Comic Threads”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 33 guests