Friday, November 06, 2009

Objectivism & Politics, Part 32

Politics of Human Nature 16: Struggle for preeminence. Social darwinists use to argue that within society there existed a brutal “struggle for existence” in which stronger types “eliminate” weaker types. Although we now know this theory to be erroneous, at one time it seemed plausible; and the reason it did so is because there really does exist a kind of struggle or competition in society. This struggle, however, is not a struggle of life and death; it is, rather, a struggle for preeminence. As the Italian political scientist Gaetano Mosca put it:

If we consider … the inner ferment that goes on with the body of every society, we see at once that the struggle for preeminence is far more conspicuous there than the struggle for existence. Competition between individuals of every social unit is focused upon higher position, wealth, authority, control of the means and instruments that enable a person to direct many human activities, many human wills, as he sees fit. The losers, who are of course the majority in that sort of struggle, are not devoured, destroyed or even kept from reproducing their kind, as is basically characteristic of the struggle for life. They merely enjoy fewer material satisfactions and, especially, less freedom and independence. [The Ruling Class, 30]



The tendency in Objectivism is to ascribe the struggle for preeminence as a mere manifestation of “power lust,” which is itself “only a corollary or aspect of dependence.”

Basically, the power-luster holds the premise that men live either by ruling or by being ruled. The dictator is just as dependent, just as unsure, as his followers; he merely chooses a variant—and, in fact, a lower—mode of expressing it. When you find a great many power-lusters in a nation, the explanation is still the psychology of dependence, and the philosophy that gives rise to it. [Leonard Peikoff, “Philosophy and Psychology in History”]


In other words, the struggle for preeminence, which has characterized every society known to history, is brought about by a “psychology of dependence” and “the philosophy that gives rise to it,” particularly the premises “that men live either by ruling or being ruled.” Here we have the typical strategy deployed by orthodox Objectivists whenever they find themselves confronted by an unpleasant fact: they seek to evade the fact by making it appear weak and pathetic. It may be comforting to think of Hitler and Stalin and Mao as suffering from a “psychology of dependence”; but it is not clear that such “dependence,” whether “psychological” or not, accounts for what is objectionable in these mass murderers. Nearly all human beings depend on other human beings to some extent. The businessman depends on his customers; the stay-at-home wife on her husband; children depend on their parents, etc. etc. A ruler depends on his sources of power: his army, his police, his supporters among the elite; but why this dependence constitutes a “psychology of dependence” is not explained and seems to be a product of wishful thinking. It’s a rationalization aimed at making evil appear less threatening, and therefore easier to accept and live with. It ignores the real issue, however: the fact, for example, that the worst “power lusters,” the most dangerous men who struggle for preeminence, are those who use terror to achieve their dominance. It also, and even more critically, ignores the pervasiveness of this struggle through history: the fact that it involves not merely blood soaked dictators, but even ordinary folks, who, although they don’t necessarily lust for political power, nonetheless experience an obsession with status that leads to irrational outcomes and threatens the achievement of Rand’s laissez-faire. Consider Steven Pinker’s summary of the work done by economist Robert Frank on this issue:

Frank has appealed to the evolutionary psychology of status to point out … shortcomings of the rational-actor theory and, by extension, laissez-faire economics. Rational actors should eschew not only forced retirement savings but other policies that ostensibly protect them, such as mandatory health benefits, workplace safety regulations, unemployment insurance, and union dues. All of these cost money that would otherwise go into their paychecks, and workers could decide for themselves whether to take a pay cut to work for a company with the most paternalistic policies or go for the biggest salary and take higher risks on the job….

The rub, Frank points out, is that people are endowed with a craving for status. Their first impulse is to spend money in ways that put themselves ahead of the Joneses (houses, cars, clothing, prestigious educations), rather than in ways that only they know about (health care, job safety, retirement savings). Unfortunately, status is a zero-sum game, so when everyone has more money to spend on cars and houses, the houses and cars get bigger but people are no happier than they were before. [Blank Slate, 303]

The inborn craving for status doesn’t merely cause people to behave irrationally in the economic realm, it makes them ripe targets for the politics of envy. In an earlier post, I have discussed Rand’s take on egalitarian envy: she saw envy as a manifestation of nihilism arising out of the influence of Immanual Kant. But a far more plausible explanation for this envy is the craving for status, which inspires various individuals to act against their economic self-interest in order to inflict an injury on those who have attained a higher position in the social scale than themselves. Since this obsession with status is at least partially influenced by innate factors, it cannot be cured or gotten rid of through refuting the premises through which this obsession is expressed. People don’t crave status because they have accepted this or that premise; rather, the craving predisposes these individuals to accept premises which encourage hostility toward free market outcomes.

136 comments:

Xtra Laj said...

Geoffrey Miller's Spent is a book long discussion of this aspect of human behavior. Miller is a pretty popular evolutionary psychologist whose The Mating Mind is a popular classic in the field.

proudfootz said...

The corollary of the 'politics of envy' is the politics of blame in which society's winners must denigrate the losers in order to assuage their guilt over coming out on top in what is essentially an arbitrary measure of worth.

This seems to be an essential element of systems where status is distributed by some method of competition - those at the very top are able to look with contempt on everyone else (though with some fear of losing their status and the rewards that come with it if competition continues - thus tempting them to change the rules by pulling the ladder up after themselves), those in the middle envy those above and disdain those below, and those who end up at the bottom are locked out of the rewards that society teaches them to desire. In competition there *must* be losers in order for there to be winners.

This goes beyond mere 'status rewards' in systems where access to basic survival necessities such as food, shelter, and medical care are predicated on the results of the contest. In such cases 'envy' would be a loaded term.

Anonymous said...

Everyone would be a winner under objectivism...except for the losers, but them they would deserve their fate. Though what if they tried to form unions or political parties to tear down the objectivist republic?

gregnyquist said...

proudfootz: "The corollary of the 'politics of envy' is the politics of blame in which society's winners must denigrate the losers in order to assuage their guilt over coming out on top in what is essentially an arbitrary measure of worth."

This is a bit vague, so I'm not sure exactly what is meant here. While there is certainly element in luck in achieving economic, political, and/or status success, I would not go so far as to call it an essentially arbitrary measure of worth. There are people who achieve success through hard work and by creative entrepreneurship which benefits many people. As for this notion of blaming the so-called "losers" to assuage guilt, I don't see that at all. If there is anyone who feels guilt, it is precisely those who don't believe any blame should be assigned to the losers. For those who believe the system is a test of merit, there exists no reason to feel guilt.

"In competition there *must* be losers in order for there to be winners."

If you are talking about competition for status, this is true. However, it is not necessarily true for economic competition, because economic competition is not a zero sum game, and the productivity gains resulting from entrepreneurial innovation can potentially improve most participants in the economy, even those who did not directly benefit from the innovation.

"This goes beyond mere 'status rewards' in systems where access to basic survival necessities such as food, shelter, and medical care are predicated on the results of the contest."

Perhaps this is true of impoverished third world nations, but it is hardly true of first world capitalism, where basic survival necessities are taken care of.

gregnyquist said...

"Though what if they tried to form unions or political parties to tear down the objectivist republic?"

The problem is they already have formed political parties and unions; which is one of the reasons why an "objectivist republic" is not ever going to happen: to many interests would be lined up against it.

JayCross said...

It's also worth noting that there isn't really a permanent "top", "middle", and "bottom" of society. Many begin (in youth) as "the bottom" as determined by some measure of income or net worth, rise through "the middle" and eventually reach "the top" in older age, when they've accumulated decades of experience and earnings. These terms are so casually thrown around that you'd think they referred to permanent classes of people.

proudfootz said...

"While there is certainly element in luck in achieving economic, political, and/or status success, I would not go so far as to call it an essentially arbitrary measure of worth. There are people who achieve success through hard work and by creative entrepreneurship which benefits many people."

While I agree there are those who succeed through hard work, creative ideas etc, that is not itself the metric which determines economic reward or even social status. The biggest rewards often go to those who can game the system.

"As for this notion of blaming the so-called "losers" to assuage guilt, I don't see that at all."

I frequently encounter those who seem to attach moral judgements to those who do not prosper in the current economic conditions in this country.

At a time when so many are being thrown out of work, losing their homes, and being bankrupted due to illness there is certainly going to be a lot more Americans who apparently 'lack merit' and apt to be blamed for their predicament.

"For those who believe the system is a test of merit, there exists no reason to feel guilt."

While there may be some who are impervious to guilt feelings, they are not likely to be those who feel a need to blame the poor for their poverty.

"...economic competition is not a zero sum game, and the productivity gains resulting from entrepreneurial innovation can potentially improve most participants in the economy, even those who did not directly benefit from the innovation."

While this may be potentially true, the actual results seen on the ground show a widening gap between the 'winners' and 'losers' in the US.

"Perhaps this [necessities of life tied to economic status] is true of impoverished third world nations, but it is hardly true of first world capitalism, where basic survival necessities are taken care of."

This may be the case in Europe, but it the United States there is hunger for millions, homelessness is growing, and people die by the tens of thousands due to for-profit healthcare distribution.

proudfootz said...

"there isn't really a permanent "top", "middle", and "bottom" of society. Many begin (in youth) as "the bottom" as determined by some measure of income or net worth, rise through "the middle" and eventually reach "the top" in older age, when they've accumulated decades of experience and earnings."

There certainly is a certain amount of mobility - the recent events in the American economy demonstrate how quickly the net worth of millions of Americans can disappear through no fault of their own.

"These terms are so casually thrown around that you'd think they referred to permanent classes of people."

In any debate there will be a certain amount of sloppiness in the use of various terms.

I for one think it rather sloppy to use the term 'politics of envy' to describe the efforts to make a more humane system of rewards when it comes to food, shelter, and medical care.

gregnyquist said...

proudfootz: "in the United States there is hunger for millions"

I believe this is misleading. There are 25 million people who receive food from charities. But the point is, they are receiving food. And I am not aware of any functional person starving in America (unless they got lost in the woods or something of that order).

"homelessness is growing"

With the economy, that's not implausible. But as someone who has dealt with a lot of homeless people over the last fifteen years, I think it's unfair to use the issue of homelessness to indict American society for not being humane. The overwhelming majority of the homeless that I have dealt with over the years are either mentally ill and/or have serious drug or alcohol problems. Most of them are homeless because they have seriously alienated all their reletives and friends who have tried to help them over the years.

"and people die by the tens of thousands due to for-profit healthcare distribution"

I find this assertion grossly implausible. If there really are people dying for lack of health care, it has little to do with whether the healthcare is for profit. All health care, whether run by private firms or the government, is going to have a "for profit" component, because you have to pay the nurses and the doctors and those who provide the medicine and the medical facilities. Now all these are scarce resources; and not only that, but they have increasing marginal costs (i.e., the cost of adding the extra doctor or nurse, at a certain level, becomes prohibitively expensive). This means that there is only so much medical care to go around, so that, regardless of the mechanisms of distributing medical care, there are always going to be a few people that are going slip through the cracks. At some level, there has to be rationing; the debate is merely over how we want that rationing done: by the market, or by a bureaucracy.

gregnyquist said...

proudfootz: "I for one think it rather sloppy to use the term 'politics of envy' to describe the efforts to make a more humane system of rewards"

Well that's your own interpretation of the phrase "politics of envy." It is not what I meant when I used it. The point of my post is I'm trying to refute the political viability of laissez-faire. Regardless of how many unfortunate people there may be at the bottom of the social scale, it is still nonetheless a fact there are other people at varying positions of the social scale who envy people higher up on the scale; and that this envy can be used to form a very effective voting bloc against any policies that veer sharply in the direction of laissez-faire. In making this statement, I am not committing myself to any moral judgment either for or against this envy, or for or against its social and political consequences. The important point I'm trying to make is that this envy does exist and it constitutes an important obstacle to the achievement of laissez-faire.

Xtra Laj said...

It's also worth noting that there isn't really a permanent "top", "middle", and "bottom" of society. Many begin (in youth) as "the bottom" as determined by some measure of income or net worth, rise through "the middle" and eventually reach "the top" in older age, when they've accumulated decades of experience and earnings. These terms are so casually thrown around that you'd think they referred to permanent classes of people.

Sowell has often written this, but I have a few reasons to doubt that this is the whole story (read The Bell Curve for hints at how a nuanced counter argument might go).

Xtra Laj said...

Proudfootz seems to display strong liberal, tending more toward socialist sensibilities. Nothing wrong with that per se, as long as the sensibilities subscribe to validation by the same empirical tests that any facts are verified by.

An incomplete but good general inquiry into the major determinants of class structure in modern America is [i]The Bell Curve[/i], a book greatly reviled for elements of thesis, but I would recommend that anyone who reads it figure out for themselves what it predicts or states that is quite wrong. It's a good exercise in critical thinking.

proudfootz said...

We seem to be running into some disagreement over what the facts are concerning some of the effects of our economic structure in human terms. Nothing wrong with that per se, as long as our sensibilities subscribe to validation by the same empirical tests that any facts are verified by.

"people die by the tens of thousands due to for-profit healthcare distribution

I find this assertion grossly implausible."

Yet this assertion seems to be supported by scientific study of the topic:

"Nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year -- one every 12 minutes -- in large part because they lack health insurance and can not get good care, Harvard Medical School researchers found in an analysis released on Thursday.

"We're losing more Americans every day because of inaction ... than drunk driving and homicide combined," Dr. David Himmelstein, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard..."

http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNews/idUSTRE58G6W520090917

This does not seem to occur in other industrialized nations where laissez faire capitalism is not so glamorized.

"I think it's unfair to use the issue of homelessness to indict American society for not being humane. The overwhelming majority of the homeless that I have dealt with over the years are either mentally ill and/or have serious drug or alcohol problems."

While I have no doubt your anecdotal experience is useful in forming your opinions, studies show there are serious economic causes of homelessness:

"First, the most serious cause of homelessness is unemployment. According to a 1993 report by the U.S. conference of Mayors, "About 60% of homeless population works and is still homeless." (Ropers, R. H. 1988,) "Their average income is less than $176 per month."(ICH, 1991)"

http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/faculty/jkaret/cbny96/ap8kyopap.html

"in the United States there is hunger for millions

I believe this is misleading. There are 25 million people who receive food from charities. But the point is, they are receiving food."

It would be misleading to take 'hunger' to mean 'starving to death' certainly. But the fact remains that millions of Americans must depend on charity to prevent their starving to death shows there are some rather glaring gaps in our economic system.

"Q: Food insecurity exists at a significant level in the United States, according to the government. Ultimately, what would you say is responsible for this situation?

A: At the core, hunger is the result of employment instability and the lack of an adequate minimum wage."

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5021812

In the laissez faire capitalist economy dreamed of by some, this hunger would (and some might even say should) result in starvation.

Thus I would argue that it is not so much 'envy' which gives us pause about unfettered capitalism but well-founded concern over the very real and disastrous consequences.

Anonymous said...

Greg wrote

"All health care, whether run by private firms or the government, is going to have a "for profit" component, because you have to pay the nurses and the doctors and those who provide the medicine and the medical facilities"

Correct! The penny has finally dropped, so will you please, please, please stop describing government run health care as socialised medicine or socialism as it is nothing of the kind!

proudfootz said...

"Proudfootz seems to display strong liberal, tending more toward socialist sensibilities."

I'm curious to know what is meant here by liberal and socialist sensibilities? They are terms which are often used in a variety of senses - indeed some think of them as perjoritive terms.

As a follow-up do you mind sharing what labels you would apply to your own perspective?

Anonymous said...

Proudfootz, curiously when it comes to labeling things socialist here they tend to be very niave and ignorant. If a regime calls it's socialist, that is good enough for them. Even though that regimes lies about everythng else, when it says it's socialist it is telling the truth then!

Or, they consider nationalisation or welfare programmes socialist. Even though politicians, when they introduce these measures, do so to make their repsective economies more efficient in competing on a world stage.

Though I doubt they go as far as the loony objectivist who attack Obhama for being both a fascist and a socialist.

Anonymous said...

Is Nationalisation socialism guys?

As in the UK THE FINANCIAL TIMES accepted the nationalisation of Northern Rock as the "least bad of limited options" (Editorial, 17 February 2008). For THE ECONOMIST it was similarly "the least worst of several poor options". And they went on to say “"Critics who accuse the government of having reverted to its old socialist leanings of the 1970s are plainly wrong?"(18 February 2008).

However, nationalisation of industries carried out by past Labour governments, in the UK, during the 1970’s was not ‘socialist’. The State took over failed industries in order to manage them better in the interests of the wider capitalist economy. Northern Rock is expected to be loss making until 2010. It has repaid £15.4bn of the government loan, leaving a further £11.5bn to be repaid.

There was talk of nationalising all the banks as occurred in Sweden in the 1980’s. An argument was put forward for complete nationalisation by the Economic Editor of THE EVENING STANDARD, Anthony Hilton (The political tide is turning against our greedy bankers, 09.02.2009).

He said:

“…if everything is brought under state ownership it would become much easier to hive off the toxic assets into a “bad bank” where they could be left like a nuclear waste site, gradually to become safe and re-usable, while the clean part of the bank could quickly return to its traditional business of deposits and lending. In this case nationalisation works not because the state has deep pockets, but because it removes the private sector conflict between who pays the costs and who gets the profits. The taxpayer does both”

Not once did Mr Hilton state this was a “socialist” policy. In his view nationalisation was in the interest of the capitalist class as a whole.

At the end of February 2009, Citigroup and the US Treasury reached a deal that saw the government substantially increase its stake in the ailing bank from 8% to 40%. Again this had nothing to do with Socialism but the capitalist State forced to intervene to prop-up a bank in economic trouble which could not be allowed o fail in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole.

In the US there are free market fundamentalists claiming that the Bush- Obama bale out of the banks, housing and car industry is “socialist”. Some even claim that Bush and Obama are “socialists”. These crazed fundamentalists believe that any interference in the economy is “socialist”. In the 1930’s some Republicans attacked Roosevelt’s policies as “Communist” and F. A. Hayek’s book “THE ROAD TO SERFDOM” was intended as an attack on the “socialism” of the New Deal.

Even Keynes was denounced as a “socialist” rather than as a “saviour” of capitalism. According to the INDEPENDENT, following President Obama’s bail-out of Citi-Corp he was described in the Republican press as “a communist” (28.02.09). Market fundamentalists do not understand what capitalism is, how it operates and the role of the capitalist state as the “executive of the bourgeoisie”. In reality there is no such thing as free markets and capitalism without the Sate.

The policits of 'envy'?

As for Lehman Brothers not all was doom and gloom. Senior executives made their escape with millions of dollars in bonuses to waiting chauffeur-driven cars, smart Florida villas and the obligatory private boat. And they knew how the system worked. The disgraced former chief of Lehman Brothers 'sold' his $13.3 million Florida mansion to his wife for just $100 - two months after the investment bank went bust with debts of $613 billion. Richard Fuld transferred ownership of the 3.3 acre seaside property to his wife for $100 for the transaction, the minimum amount allowed to transfer property.

Many workers at Lehman, many on six-figure salaries - were not so street wise. They had invested their bonuses in the company’s share portfolio and lost everything including their jobs.

gregnyquist said...

proudfootz: "people die by the tens of thousands due to for-profit healthcare distribution"

gn: "I find this assertion grossly implausible."

proudfootz: "Yet this assertion seems to be supported by scientific study of the topic."

There seems to be a misunderstanding here. I'm not denying that thousands are dying because of a failure to provide healthcare; what I am denying is that "for-profit" healthcare is the main culprit in the business. I thought I had explained my position in my comment, but apparently it didn't register. The fact that the American system is (at least partially) "for profit" only explains which people don't get healthcare. It's a question of selection, not of exclusion. Every system is going to exclude some people (hopefully as few as possible). The fact that a given system cannot cover everyone is not a fault of the system itself: it's due to the fact that there exists only so many doctors, nurses, and facilities to go around; and that adding enough such personel and facilities so that (per impossible) everyone could get healthcare would be prohibitively expensive. No system, whether "for-profit" or "government-run," can cover everyone. Just as there are horror stories of people denied health care in the American system, there are similar stories for individuals in Canada and Western Europe. The main question is how those who are denied medical care are to be selected: by market mechanisms, or bureaucratic-legal mechanisms.

gregnyquist said...

""First, the most serious cause of homelessness is unemployment."

Here we have an example of "true but misleading." Yes, unemployment is a big problem among the homeless, particularly the chronic homeless. But the main reason why the majority of homeless are unemployed is because they are unemployable.

"But the fact remains that millions of Americans must depend on charity to prevent their starving to death shows there are some rather glaring gaps in our economic system."

Does it? How can you be so sure. Throughout all of human history there have been beggars, paupers, victims of great misfortunate, people who can never get their act together, etc. etc. They aren't products of any system: they are simply part of the human condition.

And why shouldn't private charities be our first resort in helping these people? Unencumbered by bureaucratic regulations, private charities are in better position to take advantage of important local knowledge, such as the actual needs of local people in distress. They may even be in a better position of distinguishing between those who can be taught and helped to take care of themselves and those who are incorrigible and will always be dependent. In the matter of assisting these unfortunates, government should be our last, not our first, resort.

Xtra Laj said...

so·cial·ism (sō'shə-lĭz'əm)
n.
Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

so·cial·ist (sō'shə-lĭst)
n.
An advocate of socialism.

Use liberal in a Sentence
–adjective
1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
2. (often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.
10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation.
11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
12. of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts.
13. of, pertaining to, or befitting a freeman.

Xtra Laj said...

As for myself,
__________________
con·ser·va·tive (kən-sûr'və-tĭv)
adj.
Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.

Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit.

Moderate; cautious: a conservative estimate.

Of or relating to the political philosophy of conservatism.

Belonging to a conservative party, group, or movement.


in a Sentence
–noun
an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

cap⋅i⋅tal⋅ist  [kap-i-tl-ist] Show IPA
Use capitalist in a Sentence
–noun
2. an advocate of capitalism.

Xtra Laj said...

Proudfootz, Anonymous,

I think you will be hard pressed to pin labels like "market fundamentalist" on myself or Greg.

For me, everything starts with human nature. Inequality, as in unequal distribution of talents, powers and resources, is part and parcel of the human condition. Regulated capitalism is the best way of dealing with this problem, though the specific regulations are important and will vary depending on the particular kinds of inequalities and talents that obtain in the society under consideration.

What Greg is pointing out is that "envy" is a natural human response to inequality, and that it in many ways has little to do with poverty or irrational philosophy - the fact that some people have more than others drives envy in people - rich people envy richer people.

I often ask people the following question: "Assuming your material wealth was the same was you had right now, would you prefer to be the wealthiest person in the world, or would you prefer to be a poor person?"

It's an interesting hypothetical to discuss and the fact that many people have to think about it tells you how much they consider their status/ranking as something of value in itself.

XL

Anonymous said...

Good old conservatives, the ones that introduced nationalisation in the UK and who grew the state as they did in America. The conservatives, in the US -the Republicans -are the biggest spenders of government money. As Reagan, in his first term of office spent a $170 billion more than Carter did, yet the era of big government was over.

But somehow the socialists get the blame for this?

As for the welfare state, in Europe it was Bismarck that created the modern welfare state in Germany in the 1880’s. Yet by what stretch of the imagination was the Iron chancellor a socialist? In the UK it was Lloyd George that introduced it to the UK. Hid Liberal party of the early 1900’s is probably way more conservative in outlook than Xtr Laj is. Yet the welfare state equals socialism, right guys?

Poor old Karl Marx was the only one that said the ready made state could not be made to work in the interests of the workers. Plus he told politicians never try to reform or regulate capitalism as it cannot be made to work in the interests of the majority.

So, no, I don’t want to play any mental games about would I wish to be the wealthiest of poorest person in society. Just want to make sure we are clear that nationalisation, the welfare state are government regulation of the economy is not socialism.

So before any conservatives start whining about socialists spending tax-payers money on welfare or government getting too big, remember it’s not us that wants this or drove it. It you that did that.

Anonymous said...

http://www.worldsocialism.org/articles/assumption_and_ignorance.php

Should clear up what socialism is and isn’t’ and dovetails quite nicely as it’s a reply to a letter from a Canadian objectivist.

Xtra Laj said...

Anonymous,

For the record, I have never voted in a political election in my life. I have no strong political ideological leanings that can be separated from my study of human psychology etc. Understanding human nature has more to do with self-education and dealing with the realities of the world, and less to do with explicitly advancing this or that political movement. The closest think that reads to me as a manifesto is Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, and anyone who reads it and tries to extract a strong political ideology will have to deal with the science within it first.

I consider strong belief in Rand or Marx etc. or political ideology in general that is supposed to transform society to be a form of childish behavior and an inability to accept human beings for what they are.

proudfootz said...

"the main reason why the majority of homeless are unemployed is because they are unemployable."

Is that so? How can you be so sure?

It certainly didn't help that Reaganite policies in the 1980s resulted in the abandonment of thousands of mentally ill to fend for themselves on the streets. No doubt some of these were caught up in the criminal justice system.

The fact remains that those who study homelessness cite poverty and lack of affordable housing as the major causes.

"Throughout all of human history there have been beggars, paupers, victims of great misfortunate, people who can never get their act together, etc. etc. They aren't products of any system: they are simply part of the human condition."

I agree there has always been poverty. Doesn't history show that some societies exhibit less poverty than others? That would seem to undermine a defeatist attitude that 'nothing can be done'.

But in the current economic crisis it is not clear that those who are losing their jobs, their homes, their access to healthcare, bankrupted by medical bills, etc 'just can't get their act together'.

Yes, luck is a factor. But some think our system is some kind of 'meritocracy' and thus their misfortune will be blamed on the victims and not on their stars.

"And why shouldn't private charities be our first resort in helping these people?"

AFAIK there is nothing stopping private charity. Of course there are less people able to contribute after the economy has been crippled by corporate looters.

"In the matter of assisting these unfortunates, government should be our last, not our first, resort."

So long as the society is concerned with stability and social order it seems governments will take an interest in the welfare of its citizens.

*As a side note I just heard on the 'good news' that home foreclosures in the US are down to only 300,000 a month.

proudfootz said...

XtraLaj -

So it would seem that I am not a socialist.

I suppose liberal would fit - I am interested in progress and reform.

If you are claiming the label of conservative, am I right in thinking there is nothing in the current system you would change or reform?

As a capitalist do you find the current mixed economy to your liking?

Xtra Laj said...


If you are claiming the label of conservative, am I right in thinking there is nothing in the current system you would change or reform?


With the power to do so, there are a few things that I might change or reform. But I'm more interested in the systemic causes of those things than any actual ability to change them. There is a humility that comes with study and understanding that I often find absent in those who advocate reform, though this is not always the case. Moreover, I would not lie to myself that such reforms tend to benefit certain groups at the expense of others - it is in rare cases that reform benefits everyone.


As a capitalist do you find the current mixed economy to your liking?


For the most part, yes, based on my life as is. I've done relatively well with the fortune of things I've inherited, especially my intellectual gifts, and things I've experienced, being born into an erudite family. I'm not so sure what the future will bring and whether aspects of the current capitalist system are sustainable, especially the focus on diversity without integration and the unrealistic attitude of many reformers to the sources of human inequality, but these uncertainties rest on a frame of mind and an analysis of trends.

Anonymous said...

Yet it’s the conservatives that are the biggest reformers and supporters of the mixed economy. In complete contrast to the socialists.

Anonymous said...

From Worldsocialism. Though doubtless the conservatives here will still continue to counfuse reformism with socialism…but one lives in hope.

The route of trying to change capitalism, or 'reform,' is the one that has been taken by most people who have wanted to improve society. We do not deny that certain reforms won by the working class have helped to improve our general living and working conditions. Indeed, we see little wrong with people campaigning for reforms that bring essential improvements and enhance the quality of their lives, and some reforms do indeed make a difference to the lives of millions and can be viewed as 'successful'. There are examples of this in such fields as education, housing, child employment, work conditions and social security. However, in this regard we also recognise that such 'successes' have in reality done little more than to keep workers and their families in efficient working order and, while it has taken the edge of the problem, it has rarely managed to remove the problem completely. What we are opposed to is the whole culture of reformism, the idea that capitalism can be made palatable with the right reforms, By that, we mean that we oppose those organisations that promise to deliver a programme of reforms on behalf of the working class, often in order that the organisation dishing out the promises can gain a position of power. Such groups, especially those of the left-wing, often have real aims quite different to the reform programme they peddle. In this, they are being as dishonest as any other politician, from the left or right. The ultimate result of this is disillusionment with the possibility of radical change.
If you are convinced, however, that groups or parties promising reforms deserve your support, we would urge you to consider the following points.
1. The campaign, whether directed at right-wing or left-wing governments, will often only succeed if it can be reconciled with the profit-making needs of the system. In other words, the reform will often be turned to the benefit of the capitalist class at the expense of any working class gain.
2. Any reform can be reversed and eroded later if a government finds it necessary.
3. Reforms rarely, if ever, actually solve the problem they were intended to solve.
This was summed up by William Morris over a century ago: "The palliatives over which many worthy people are busying themselves now are useless because they are but unorganised partial revolts against a vast, wide-spreading, grasping organisation which will, with the unconscious instinct of a plant, meet every attempt at bettering the conditions of the people with an attack on a fresh side." For more on William Morris, see William Morris: how we live and how we might live.
In other words, although individual reforms may be worthy of support, the political strategy of reformism—promising to win reforms on the behalf of others—is a roundabout that leads nowhere. Those wanting to improve society should seriously question whether capitalism offers enough scope for achieving lasting solutions to the vast range of social problems to which it gives rise. Of course, some improvements are made and some problems are alleviated. Yet new kinds of problem also arise in a society which is changing ever more rapidly, seeking new ways to make a profit.

Michael Prescott said...

"It certainly didn't help that Reaganite policies in the 1980s resulted in the abandonment of thousands of mentally ill to fend for themselves on the streets."

The explosion of homelessness in the '80s was mainly attributable to a change in federal law that allowed mental patients to sign themselves out of psychiatric hospitals at will. A large number of paranoid schizophrenics proceeded to do just that. Once "outside," they went off their meds and decompensated.

I was living in West Los Angeles at the time and saw hundreds of such people, who were obviously psychotic. They would engage in bizarre stereotyped behavior, like walking in a circle all day, or they would bark and growl at passersby.

A mental health professional of my acquaintance told me he saw the same people being recycled through the justice system month after month; they would be arrested for disruptive behavior (like wandering into a busy street to "direct traffic"), incarcerated for a few days until they were properly mediated and reasonably lucid, and then released. They would immediately stop taking their meds, and a couple of weeks later they would be "directing traffic" again, and the cycle would begin anew.

These people were definitely unemployed, but they were also unemployable. Neither capitalism nor socialism nor any other ism had anything to do with their plight. They were chemically imbalanced, and were refusing treatment.

Anonymous said...

"The explosion of homelessness in the '80s was mainly attributable to a change in federal law that allowed mental patients to sign themselves out of psychiatric hospitals at will."

Which -ism was behind this change? Seems suspicously similiar to the changes we had under Thatcher in the UK. My betting is on the Republicans behind this one. As a way to save costs they allowed the mentally ill to sign themselves out, probably hoping that their families or communities would look after and pick up the tab. Thereby saving government money, guess the only flaw in that was that these poor folks didn't have families or communites that would or could that.

gregnyquist said...

"Which -ism was behind this change? Seems suspicously similiar to the changes we had under Thatcher in the UK. My betting is on the Republicans behind this one."

Well, actually, there are a number of isms behind the decision to let mentally ill free. Remember Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"? Kesey was hardly a conservative; and his book did much to shape attitudes concerning the incarceration of the mentally ill. And curiously, nowadays, I tend to find more people on the right who regret this than on the left. The fact of the matter is, if the mentally ill had been kept in locked up in their asylums, there would be people left of center complaining about the mistreatment of these people. They would point out how horrible it is to be institutionalized (which is at least partially true), and how those institutionalized are often deprived of their rights (which also has a grain of truth in it). The human condition confronts us with difficult choices. Unfortunately, some people are not capable of facing up to this hard truth. In America, we have spent huge amounts of money trying to alleviate, if not cure, various social problems related to poverty and misfortunes of both the self-imposed and society-imposed variety; and we've hardly made a dent in these problems—indeed, in some instances, the problems have gotten worse! And rather than facing up to these failures, we are constantly told that the cure for all this folly is to engage in it in a more lavish and spectacular fashion.

Michael Prescott said...

"My betting is on the Republicans behind this one."

If I recall correctly, the law was pushed on "civil liberties" grounds. I think the ACLU was the major proponent, and Ted Kennedy was the maiin sponsor.

However, it's been a lot of years, and I haven't researched it to confirm my memory.

proudfootz said...

Michael -

"The explosion of homelessness in the '80s was mainly attributable to a change in federal law that allowed mental patients to sign themselves out of psychiatric hospitals at will."

As I said: this Reagan-era policy was likely a major contribution to the iflux of the mentally ill to the homeless population.

" ...the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980... was considered a landmark in mental health care policy. The key to the proposals included an increase in funding for Community Mental Health Centers and continued federal government support for such programs. But this ran counter to the financial goals of the Reagan administration, these were of c ourse to reduce federal spending, reduce social programs, and transfer responsibility of many if not most government functions to the individual states. So, the law signed by President Carter was rescinded by Ronald Reagan on August 13, 1981."

http://www.sociology.org/content/vol003.004/thomas.html

Perhaps Reagan's ideological commitment lead to this childish behavior?

proudfootz said...

Xtra Laj -

I certainly did not intend to pin any labels on posters here, whether it be 'capitalist' or 'socialist' - I was just trying to put forward for consideration whether the equation 'opposition to laissez faire capitalism = envy' wasn't really an ideologically driven formulation.

It seems to attach a perjorative term to what could reasonably be attributed to a rational opposition to such an ideology.

Xtra Laj said...

proudfootz,

"Envy" is definitely one reason why people despise capitalism so Rand wanted to attack it. Greg's general thesis is that Rand totally misunderstood human nature by making many innate features of human beings she considered "irrational" a function of bad philosophical ideas. "Envy" was one of them. Greg is not speaking of "envy" as vice per se, but envy as an integral part of the human nature that buttresses society.

My labeling of your position had more to do with what I thought was a belief in the malleability of human nature. It was my rejection of this malleability that destroyed my libertarian positions and made me both more conservative and egalitarian - conservative in my view of human nature and more egalitarian in my sympathies for those without my luck.

I understand some of what you are reacting to. But I think that evolutionary/Darwinian conservatism, based on a bio-cultural understanding of human nature, is a bit more complicated than you are giving it credit for. Reading into it all the same vices as conservatism does not work as simply as some critics wish it would.

Michael Prescott said...

"The key to the proposals included an increase in funding for Community Mental Health Centers"

It wasn't a funding issue. The explosion in homelessness circa 1980 was a direct result of the "deinstitutionalization" movement that began with the Willlowbrook scandal (1972). Eventually, changes in the law allowed institutionalized patients to sign themselves out at will. This was seen as a civil liberties measure.

Though the people pushing this movement no doubt had good intentions, the results were bad. The number of institutionalized mental patients dropped from approximately 500,000 in the early '70s to about 130,000 by 1980. Many of the deinstitutionalized patients were unable to fend for themselves and ended up living in alleys and eating out of garbage cans. They simply were not able to handle life outside of an institution.

No amount of funding can help people who are too paranoid to take their meds, and who have the legal right to refuse treatment.

Anonymous said...

Greg wrote:

“In America, we have spent huge amounts of money trying to alleviate, if not cure, various social problems related to poverty and misfortunes of both the self-imposed and society-imposed variety; and we've hardly made a dent in these problems—indeed, in some instances, the problems have gotten worse! And rather than facing up to these failures, we are constantly told that the cure for all this folly is to engage in it in a more lavish and spectacular fashion.”

Correct Greg! As any socialist will tell you, you cannot have capitalism without the problems of capitalism. But good to see its books like “one flew over the cuckoo’s nest” that are influencing American society and not Atlas Shrugged.

Anonymous said...

From,
http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/publications/allpubs/SMA01-3537/chapter2.asp


“The Mental Health Systems Act hardly had become law when its provisions became moot. The election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency led to an immediate reversal of policy. Preoccupied with reducing both taxes and Federal expenditures, the new Administration proposed a 25 percent cut in Federal funding. More important, it called for a conversion of Federal mental health programs into a single block grant to the States carrying few restrictions and without policy guidelines. The presidential juggernaut proved irresistible, and in the summer of 1981 the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act was signed into law. Among other things, it provided a block grant to States for mental health services and substance abuse. At the same time, it repealed most of the provisions of the Mental Health Systems Act. The new legislation did more than reduce Federal funding for mental health; it reversed nearly three decades of Federal involvement and leadership. In the ensuing decade, the focus of policy and funding shifted back to the States and local communities”

I guess it did all boil down to money.

proudfootz said...

Xtra Laj

"Envy" is definitely one reason why people despise capitalism so Rand wanted to attack it. Greg's general thesis is that Rand totally misunderstood human nature by making many innate features of human beings she considered "irrational" a function of bad philosophical ideas. "Envy" was one of them. Greg is not speaking of "envy" as vice per se, but envy as an integral part of the human nature that buttresses society.

While I would agree that 'envy' and all the other seven deadly sins may be integral to human nature, I feel it is counterproductive to make too much of 'psychoanalyzing' one's political opposition. If such a practice is carried to far we may be tempted to drop rational discussion altogether because as we all have human nature we can all be dismissed as 'merely' greedy, envious, angry, etc.

I had no intention of holding Greg responsible for the phrase 'politics of envy' and I apologise if I gave that impression. Having seen this formulation bandied about by those right of center to demonize critics of laissez faire capitalism it is my concern that it emits more smoke than light in the debate.

"My labeling of your position had more to do with what I thought was a belief in the malleability of human nature."

Whatever I may have said that gave you that impression was in error - I do not think that 'human nature' is that malleable. But I do not think it is fully understood, and far more complex than a one-dimensional tag such as 'envy' would imply.

"It was my rejection of this malleability that destroyed my libertarian positions and made me both more conservative and egalitarian - conservative in my view of human nature and more egalitarian in my sympathies for those without my luck."

Luck plays a much greater role in our success and failure than many people are comfortable with. But I would also caution that the systems in which we function also play a large part in shaping our behavior and the effects of that behavior on our material welfare and social status.

"I understand some of what you are reacting to. But I think that evolutionary/Darwinian conservatism, based on a bio-cultural understanding of human nature, is a bit more complicated than you are giving it credit for. Reading into it all the same vices as conservatism does not work as simply as some critics wish it would."

I didn't intend to offer a critique of conservatism per se, but I do agree that as championed by some outside of this blog what passes for conservatism is as riddled with vices as any partisan movement.

Xtra Laj said...

Another conflict of visions. One "side" is pointing out that the increase of homeless people was due to laws that allowed them to sign themselves out of mental institutions, while another side, which so far has denied the existence of mental illness and the reality of "unemployability", is claiming that it was because of a reduction in federal funding for mental health institutions.

I'm not holding my breath waiting for the day when we decide to stop talking past each other.

Politics in a representative democracy is often a game played with lots of bargaining. Was the law allowing mental patients to sign themselves out of institutions a part of the bill that reduced funding? Who pushed for what and who negotiated what to get what?

Agreeing to the existence of problems biologically inherent in human nature does not say anything about how to solve them. But neither the government nor the private communities can help mentally ill individuals if they cannot force them to take drugs that they need to behave normally. And traditionally, blaming society for the existence of homeless people, rather than the underlying causes of mental illness (usually genetic or drug related) etc. has been a key theme with liberals. We have to speak straight about the problem before we can even deal with it realistically.

proudfootz said...

Michael -

It wasn't a funding issue. The explosion in homelessness circa 1980 was a direct result of the "deinstitutionalization" movement that began with the Willlowbrook scandal (1972). Eventually, changes in the law allowed institutionalized patients to sign themselves out at will. This was seen as a civil liberties measure.

That certainly played its part in the massive influx of the mentally ill onto the streets.

Though the people pushing this movement no doubt had good intentions, the results were bad. The number of institutionalized mental patients dropped from approximately 500,000 in the early '70s to about 130,000 by 1980.

I believe this was part of what Carter's legislation was designed to address. Reagan junked it.

Many of the deinstitutionalized patients were unable to fend for themselves and ended up living in alleys and eating out of garbage cans. They simply were not able to handle life outside of an institution.

IIRC there was also massive cuts in social services that made life more difficult for those who were living on that perilous edge between poverty and destitution.

No amount of funding can help people who are too paranoid to take their meds, and who have the legal right to refuse treatment.

While this may be true, it does not support the contention that most of the homeless are mentally ill.

Or is the growing homeless crisis an indicator that Americans are increasingly suffering from mental illness?

Xtra Laj said...

While I would agree that 'envy' and all the other seven deadly sins may be integral to human nature, I feel it is counterproductive to make too much of 'psychoanalyzing' one's political opposition. If such a practice is carried to far we may be tempted to drop rational discussion altogether because as we all have human nature we can all be dismissed as 'merely' greedy, envious, angry, etc.

Agreed. but the frustration of talking past each other when we cannot agree on ideological, philosophical, empirically motivated or factual premises leads to a certain kind of frustration. And there is a very different attitude that comes from people who deal empirically with the tractability of human nature and those who do not.


Luck plays a much greater role in our success and failure than many people are comfortable with. But I would also caution that the systems in which we function also play a large part in shaping our behavior and the effects of that behavior on our material welfare and social status.


Such statements like this one you've made about luck need an empirical context, preferably a broader statistical one, to make them meaningful. For example, one could consider being born with intellectual gifts, probably the single largest determinant of wealth disparities in the United States, a matter of luck, which in a sense it is, but given its correlation with the gifts of your parents, there is a sense in which it is not.

But given that you have those gifts by luck, are the rewards that follow purely a matter of luck? And can we wish them away with some new policies?

The first retort of people who read The Bell Curve is often something like "the book is overly simplistic and is racist because it omits lots of salient facts". But the question is what facts does it omit and how would be go about testing and applying these facts to get new solutions? Dealing with these issues empirically leaves less room for filibustering. But more often than not, people don't want to deal with these issues empirically.

proudfootz said...

Xtra -

Another conflict of visions. One "side" is pointing out that the increase of homeless people was due to laws that allowed them to sign themselves out of mental institutions, while another side, which so far has denied the existence of mental illness and the reality of "unemployability", is claiming that it was because of a reduction in federal funding for mental health institutions.

I am on neither 'side' of this argument.

I'm not holding my breath waiting for the day when we decide to stop talking past each other.

Please don't.

Politics in a representative democracy is often a game played with lots of bargaining. Was the law allowing mental patients to sign themselves out of institutions a part of the bill that reduced funding? Who pushed for what and who negotiated what to get what?

Yes, it was a long and complicated series of events.

Agreeing to the existence of problems biologically inherent in human nature does not say anything about how to solve them. But neither the government nor the private communities can help mentally ill individuals if they cannot force them to take drugs that they need to behave normally.

That may be true.

And traditionally, blaming society for the existence of homeless people, rather than the underlying causes of mental illness (usually genetic or drug related) etc. has been a key theme with liberals. We have to speak straight about the problem before we can even deal with it realistically.

The problem with this is that it seems to agree that homelessness is a symptom of mental illness, or that the vast majority of the homeless are mentally ill, or that the cause of homelessness is mental illness.

None of these contentions have been supported by those who have studied the problem of homelessness.

IMO attributing homelessness to mental illness flies in the face of studies that actually have been conducted. The scholars who have investigated this cite poverty and lack of affordable housing as major causes.

Why does one 'side' ignore the science which indicates economic factors playing the most significant role?

Xtra Laj said...

Or is the growing homeless crisis an indicator that Americans are increasingly suffering from mental illness?

No, the growing homelessness in recent times has been more due to the fact that economic circumstances changed radically for people who did not live in a way that could handle economic stresses. America as a society has been increasingly funded by debt, so if an individual loses a job, he is unable to pay his debts, and therefore loses his home etc.

However, using this particular economic crises to obscure the problem of chronic homelessness does us no favors if we are trying to realistically analyze the long term phenomenon and contrast it with economic stresses like these.

In other words, since homelessness can have distinct causes, it might be best to be clear on what the distinct causes are, what they account for as %s, and what the long term solutions are. If economic stresses are causing the current rise in homelessness, then any solution apart from the alleviation of those stresses needs to be thought out as part of a systemic solution.

Moreover, to Greg's originak point, what you find is that many people are unwilling to live beneath their means for reasons of envy, and are surprised when they get knocked out by economic stress. I can use myself as an example - I'm probably not driving the cheapest car I could drive because I want to look socially respectable to my peers (and I still lag a few of them significantly). So I take on debt that I could do without to fund a car I can only afford with employment.

Greg's point in citing Frank is that you can either think of this problem as being conscious irrationality based on some conscious concept of rationality that argues that living beneath one's means is rational, or you can accept that such irrationality and craving for status is inherently human, and provide safety nets for people who are willing to engage in it. It is not that such behavior is good or bad, but that it is human.

Xtra Laj said...

The problem with this is that it seems to agree that homelessness is a symptom of mental illness, or that the vast majority of the homeless are mentally ill, or that the cause of homelessness is mental illness.

None of these contentions have been supported by those who have studied the problem of homelessness.


Let's deal with data then. I am not a fan of argument by rhetorical construct.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16564208/

Now, even in the last sentence of that article, you see an expert saying the following:

“The driver in homelessness is the affordable housing crisis,” Roman said. “If we don’t do something to address the crisis in affordable housing we are not going to solve homelessness.”

She said many of the chronically homeless have mental health and substance abuse problems. Others, she said, simply cannot afford housing.


So you see, even you are not facing up to the facts.

There is a difference between chronic homelessness, which is a circumstance where someone continually fails to find a home and maintain employment and short-term homelessness, which is becoming homeless in result to some major economic stress. Those who are chronically homeless tend to have mental illnesses. This is supported in just about every study of the subject.

Anonymous said...

Nice on Xtra Laj, you sound like those that want to find out what the cause of hunger is before you feed the starving!

Imagine, sorry son you can’t have this food you are suffering from the wrong kind of starvation.

Next you’ll be telling us there are a deserving and undeserving poor.

proudfootz said...

Xtra -

...talking past each other when we cannot agree on ideological, philosophical, empirically motivated or factual premises leads to a certain kind of frustration. And there is a very different attitude that comes from people who deal empirically with the tractability of human nature and those who do not.

I certainly hope we can avoid 'talking past each other' and deal with real issues. I have brought quite a few references to this discussion and it has been frustrating that the only counterpoint are a few anecdotes about 'crazy homeless guy directing traffic' and the like.

Is it explanable by 'human nature' or 'ideological commitment' that some seem to reject the science on this?

Such statements like this one you've made about luck need an empirical context, preferably a broader statistical one, to make them meaningful.

I didn't bring up 'luck' - I merely agreed with some posters who did. Was I bad?

The first retort of people who read The Bell Curve is often something like "the book is overly simplistic and is racist because it omits lots of salient facts". But the question is what facts does it omit and how would be go about testing and applying these facts to get new solutions? Dealing with these issues empirically leaves less room for filibustering. But more often than not, people don't want to deal with these issues empirically.

While I haven't studied The Bell Curve it seems that it is not a widely accepted scientific resource.

Some of the critiques do seem to address the points you raise.

proudfootz said...

Xtra -

So you see, even you are not facing up to the facts.

I am not a fan of argument by rhetorical construct.

Many of the homeless suffer from mental illness - no one has denied that.

Experts cite poverty and lack of affordable housing as the cause of homelessness. Certainly for some mental illness could be the cause of poverty. I never denied it - does anyone?

I'm glad someone finally decided it was time to move the goalpost to 'chronic homelessness'.

Anonymous said...

The conservative is saying it’s the fault it’s their fault (the homeless).

The liberal is arguing that it’s the fault of capitalism and we should reform the system to help the homeless.

Meanwhile the homeless just want a home.

Anonymous said...

Xtra Laj quoted this, to prove that proudfotz was ignoring facts

“The driver in homelessness is the affordable housing crisis,” Roman said. “If we don’t do something to address the crisis in affordable housing we are not going to solve homelessness.”

She said many of the chronically homeless have mental health and substance abuse problems. Others, she said, simply cannot afford housing.

Yet, am I the only one that noticed that the 1st paragraph backs up prouds point of view and the 2nd is talking about the chronically homeless and not the 'homeless'.

A bit sneaky Xtra Laj?

proudfootz said...

Study: 744,000 homeless people in U.S.

First national canvass in a decade finds a quarter were chronically homeless


So 25% are chronically homeless and a large percent of that 25% suffer from mental illness.

This should put the 'most homeless are mentally ill' meme to bed.

Michael Prescott said...

While it may be unscientific of me, I'm afraid I have more confidence in my own direct observations than in any academic "study."

I lived for 12 years in Los Angeles and observed hundreds of "chronically homeless" people. The great majority were obviously mentally ill. It doesn't take a degree in psychiatry to know someone is crazy when he is barking at you like a dog.

I also knew a psychiatric nurse who worked with homeless people on a daily basis, and who told me about the chronic mental illness in that population.

It may come down to a definition of the word "homeless." If someone has to sleep in his car for two nights because his apartment is being fumigated and he can't afford a motel room, is he homeless? Technically, yes. I would not be surprised if cases like this are included in the category of "homelessness" by the people who do these studies, precisely to inflate the numbers and minimize the stigma associated with homelessness.

I guess it comes down to how much we trust modern intellectuals to tell us the truth. I don't trust them, whether the truth in question is homelessness, global warming, jihadism on Army bases, or the post-racial healing qualities of President Obama. I think we've been sold a bill of goods by professional liars.

But those who feel differently can take heart. The liars are winning. Indeed, in most important respects, they've already won.

Anonymous said...

Michael you wrote

"It may come down to a definition of the word "homeless." If someone has to sleep in his car for two nights because his apartment is being fumigated and he can't afford a motel room, is he homeless? Technically, yes. I would not be surprised if cases like this are included in the category of "homelessness" by the people who do these studies, precisely to inflate the numbers and minimize the stigma associated with homelessness."

But where is your evidence please? I hate to call you un-scientific but have you forgotten that to be homeless is to lack more than a roof over you head? A home is more than just bricks and mortar you know. As for the guy sleeping in his car, whilst his aparmtent gets fumagated. I doubt he would thank you to say he is not genuinly homeless. Moreover, the apartment this guy can afford...sheesh, I doubt very much it's a home sweet home eh?

Of course you can't trust the modern intellectuals who try to seel you solutions to problems by working in the system that produces these very problems. Heck I bet you every college and university has an economics professor who has written a book that 'solves' economic crises.

Yet what is contained within that pages of that book are no more help to solving the problems of the economy than the chatterings of starlings.

Now, I leave it up to you guys, the conservatives and liberals to decide how many of the homeless are genuine or deserving or howver you want to describe it. That is the game you guys play, the one where you go "hey, 2 of those homeless guys slept on a mates floor last night, they ain't homeless". It is a bit like the old Victorian idea of the deserving or undeserving poor, in that respect.

Anonymous said...

Michael are you seriously suggesting Americans would have been better off voting for the other guy?????????

BTW, no I don't believe they should have voted for Obama either. You are right in that he won't solve the problems facing America today. But you knew that allready right?

gregnyquist said...

"I lived for 12 years in Los Angeles and observed hundreds of "chronically homeless" people. The great majority were obviously mentally ill."

My experiences confirm this, but with one addendum: many of the homeless people I have observed and/or talked to have serious drug and/or alcohol problems. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me if, in many cases, their mental illnesses are caused by drugs and alcohol. I'm not trying here to pass any kind of moral judgment on these people: I'm just giving the facts.

"I guess it comes down to how much we trust modern intellectuals to tell us the truth."

I'm not sure it's as much a question of truth as it is a question of how much knowledge statistics and social science research can grasp and convey. Statistics and research are great as far as they go; but the trouble is they don't cover all the bases. There are some types of knowledge, particularly local knowledge that can only be appreciated by people with in-depth, first hand experience, that can't be gathered scientifically. I've suggested, for example, that many poor people are poor because they're incapable (or perhaps unmotivated) from getting their act together. There's no way to confirm or refute this thesis "scientifically," because the characteristic of not having one's act together can't be measured statistically. You have to get to know a person, interact with them, imbibe their attitude about life and work, try to employ them, rent a room to them, etc. before you can make the judgment: "This person is seriously dysfunctional." Now I have known and observed a large cross section of poor people. I worked seven years at a hospital in a poor, rural area; I've spent years in low paying jobs, or working with people in low paying jobs; I've done some part time work for the local employment development. I have some first hand experience of these issues that is lacking many of our dear intellectuals, driven by their agendas and their easy living. And the fact is that the primary (not the only!) reason why people are poor is that they are either not smart enough or disciplined enough to manage their lives competently. They are constantly making bad decisions. They waste money on lottery tickets, cigarettes, booze. They spend too much time in bars and clubs. They eat out too much. They get talked into buying things they can't afford, like cars and big screen televisions. They run up credit cards. Some of them have trouble keeping jobs, not because they are "victims" of the system, but because they are flakey and have a strong sense of self-entitlement. Try employing some of these people! They're hardly worth the trouble. They show up late or not at all; and they don't do their work half the time. But of course there is no way to statistically measure any of this. You either have first hand experience of this or you don't.

Xtra Laj said...


While I haven't studied The Bell Curve it seems that it is not a widely accepted scientific resource.


No, it's not. The scientific part of it is only accepted by the experts in the field it concerns itself with (psychometrics). It is laymen who have a problem with the book. An analogy would be having the Nobel Prize winners in a field champion a book, while those with a passing understanding of the field call its findings pseudoscience.

I think anyone can read The Bell Curve and come to their own conclusions about its claims. Most of the controversy the book generated rested around its claims about disparities in measured racial intelligence having in part a genetic basis.

In any case, The Blank Slate. which does not go as far as the Bell Curve, presents many of findings surrounding the influence of genetics in human nature and the variability in human talents. I think anyone who studies behavioral genetics and identical twin studies and comes out without a tempered view of what the causes of human behavior are just sees the world very differently from myself.

Xtra Laj said...

The conservative is saying it’s the fault it’s their fault (the homeless).

The liberal is arguing that it’s the fault of capitalism and we should reform the system to help the homeless.

Meanwhile the homeless just want a home.


I think anyone who is even vaguely familiar with how I think knows that I rarely ever moralize or blame people. It is because I have a firm belief that I am lucky to have my talents and my place in the world and had I being born with a strong disposition to being mentally ill/depressed (I have been lucky to escape the clutches of addiction), I could just as well be homeless etc.

However, there is a difference between blaming people for where they are and saying that the reasons why they are where they are are not largely the fault of people who are more successful and are not going to be solved by the current popular approach to such problems, which is to pretend that the existence of poor people is the fault of rich people.

Xtra Laj said...

Now I have known and observed a large cross section of poor people. I worked seven years at a hospital in a poor, rural area; I've spent years in low paying jobs, or working with people in low paying jobs; I've done some part time work for the local employment development. I have some first hand experience of these issues that is lacking many of our dear intellectuals, driven by their agendas and their easy living. And the fact is that the primary (not the only!) reason why people are poor is that they are either not smart enough or disciplined enough to manage their lives competently. They are constantly making bad decisions. They waste money on lottery tickets, cigarettes, booze. They spend too much time in bars and clubs. They eat out too much. They get talked into buying things they can't afford, like cars and big screen televisions. They run up credit cards. Some of them have trouble keeping jobs, not because they are "victims" of the system, but because they are flakey and have a strong sense of self-entitlement. Try employing some of these people! They're hardly worth the trouble. They show up late or not at all; and they don't do their work half the time. But of course there is no way to statistically measure any of this. You either have first hand experience of this or you don't.

Ditto. As a leader of any organization, one of the difficult dynamics you have to manage is finding the right balance between selection and management. You have to select the right talent, but you also have to manage, in addition to the right talent, inconvenient, wayward etc. talent, even if only in the short term. When I taught high school, it was a no brainer to many teachers why private schools often performed much better than public schools - just about any school which can select its student population will do better than any school that tries to accommodate the full gamut of society. But to appreciate this fully, you have to appreciate the nature of social inequality. Not talk around it or wish it away.

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "Next you’ll be telling us there are a deserving and undeserving poor."

I sometimes run across this idea that there is no distinctions between people in poverty, that they are all one mass of unfortunate people, and that this is not world for merit or demerit at all; that it doesn't matter how a person conducts his life, how irresponsibly he behaves, how much he sacrifices his long-term well being to immediate gratification, it's all the same: he's to be regarded and treated no differently at all than the individual who truly is unfortunate. After all, we don't live in a world in which the "functionality" (to use a morally neutral term) of an individual's behavior has no relation whatsoever with his fate. In the eternal order of things, some types of behavior tend to enhance well-being, while others have the opposite effect. An individual who engages in behavior that tends to enhance his well-being yet who, nevertheless, finds himself in extremely adverse circumstances, strikes me as more deserving of our compassion, pity and assistance than does the individual who engages in self-destructive behavior. Human beings generally respond to incentives; and a society that makes no distinction between actions that promote well-being and self-destructive actions will not be long for this world.

Anonymous said...

Greg wrote:

"And the fact is that the primary (not the only!) reason why people are poor is that they are either not smart enough

(You measured their IQ then did you?)

or disciplined enough to manage their lives competently.

(Like a lot of people, you are either organised or you aren't, even wealthy people can be disorganised)

They are constantly making bad decisions.

(ditto, I amazed you think only the poor do this! Whereas ever post here you and other are moaning about politicians and intellectuals doing the same)

They waste money on lottery tickets, cigarettes, booze.

(Erm...no they dont. Though some do, as being poor is not much fun and cigarettes and booze can help you cope)

They spend too much time in bars and clubs.

(To help them forget their lives are awful I suppose. But then again so do soccer players in the UK and pop stars and it does not seem to do them any harm)


They eat out too much.

(Some of the poor have no choice as live in 'homes' where cooking facilities are limited or work such long hours they don't have time to cook)

They get talked into buying things they can't afford, like cars and big screen televisions.

(I think we are all guilty of that, plus if they did not by these goods there would be a lot of car workers drawing social security!)

They run up credit cards.

(Ditto)

Some of them have trouble keeping jobs, (recession!!!!!!) not because they are "victims" of the system, but because they are flakey

(try hiring a builder, plumber or a roof contractor and then you'll understand the definition of flakey!)

and have a strong sense of self-entitlement (try hiring a lawyer! Wow talk about self-important).

Try employing some of these people!"

Try employing some of the examples I've given above! Have you ever had a builder say to you, "great news, the job will be finished on time and come in at less than I've quoted for"

Oh and when was the last time the builder, plumber or carpeneter turned up 'on time'?

Anonymous said...

Ok Greg no I'll ask you does a member of the undeserving poor eat less than a member of the deserving? Do they not need a home to? Do they drink less? Actually they probably need to drink more, to help them forget that they are undeserving, worthless and constantly the architect of their own misfortune.

You wrote

"Human beings generally respond to incentives; and a society that makes no distinction between actions that promote well-being and self-destructive actions will not be long for this world."

What incentives would you have liked the bankers who sold all those duff sub-prime mortages to have been given? As I can remember they were very generously rewarded for their...? "Constantly making bad decisions?" Now try employing some of those people! Cor, talk about flakey, a real life for taoday forget about tomorrow attitude huh? They got the bonuses and we have to pick up the tab. At least with the poor, even if they only clean 80% of your toilet at least that's better than nothing.

Anonymous said...

Greg wrote:

"An individual who engages in behavior that tends to enhance his well-being yet who, nevertheless, finds himself in extremely adverse circumstances, strikes me as more deserving of our compassion, pity and assistance"

Like the Joad family in the Grapes of Wrath?

Yep, you can bet if Tom Joad were standing in line for his food stamps today, well his suit maybe threadbare, but he stand in line with his head held high, his back straight and his shoulders back and square.

He would not be wasting his welfare on booze or cigarettes. Though he did smoke a pipe, or at least Henry Fonda did when he played him in the movie.

It's good that you are so knowledgeable about the poor Greg, sometimes I think if only they read a tome called “THE WORKING-MANS COMPANION”, life would be better for them. It is full of great ideas, I'll admit it was published a long time ago, but read this quotation

"If an unmarried man saves three shillings a week for nine years he would then have enough money to live on quite comfortably for a year”


Presumably if the unmarried man was out of work it wouldn’t matter, and he would have a year in which he could either go looking around for a job somewhere else in some other industry or, as they recommended, he could get together with a few other workers and set up a little business of his own.

Here is another

“The workers will have saved some money placed in some new line of labour or resolved to do what is capital and labour and do together as a workman on his own account”

That also has got a slightly modern meaning. The unemployed have been told to go out and look for work rather than sitting around unemployed.


Then, of course, there are all the warnings that you’re familiar with today. And that is politicians telling workers not to strike and push up wages to far. I quote again from the book:

“When there is too much labour in the market and wages are too low, do not combine to raise the wages, do not combine with the vain hope of compelling the employer to pay more for labour than there are sums for the maintenance of labour”

Now Greg I don't know if you've ever heard of Samuel Smiles. He was probably the best know man in the UK in the 19th century and he exerted an enormous influence, although he’s now forgotten. He had business experience and as a politician he knew something about economics and he was what would be called a forward looking capitalist. Long before the government introduced free education he was campaigning for this social reform, not to benefit workers, but the quality of workers coming onto the labour market.

Smiles said capitalism needed an educated working class. He also campaigned for local authorities to open public libraries so that the workers after their hard days work could get down and study and improve their skills and all the rest of it.

If I may use some of the books he wrote you’ll recognise the assiduousness of yourself. One of them was called “THRIFT”. He wanted to help workers to save their money. And another was called “SELF-HELP”, with illustrations of character and conduct.

Now back then what he was writing was that If a worker saved and didn’t waste his money on drink and so on he was able more-or-less to look after himself when he was sick and when he’s out of work, or even when he retires at old age. But the worker who threw all his money away and was destitute, immediately became a charge on the parish and the employers had to pay, so they didn’t want destitute workers being a burden on the parish. Employers wanted the workers to avoid temptation and so on and not be a burden on the capitalist class.

I take you and Smiles both want that kind of worker?

Andrew said...

While character would be very difficult to quantify, I don't see why the above mentioned behaviors would be impossible. Debt loads and spending patterns are hardly outside the scope of statistical measurement. Even more complex behaviors such as behavior on the job and being flaky seem possible to analyze. Consider the twin studies mentioned. Why should intelligence or scholastic achievement be quantifiable but not job habits?

In addition, that form of evidence is highly vulnerable to problems such as confirmation bias or the fundamental attribution error. And it feels like special pleading.

The question of mental illness among the poor is complex. For one, correlation does not imply causation. It is entirely possible that substance abuse and mental illness are at least partially the results of the strains of poverty. Also keep in mind that most mental illness is diagnosed entirely by behavior. It's not as though you can give them blood tests the way you can for diabetes. As much as I agree that the barking man is obviously unbalanced, I also see how problematic that becomes when you strip it down.

One last observation: Stating that medical resources are limited only really proves that it is neither possible to offer medical care to an infinite number of people nor to offer infinite medical care to one. Obviously. Stating that any country has medical horror stories only proves that no system is flawless. It does not prove they are equal in their distribution of medical resources. And again, obviously. If I might be forgiven for being a bit cheeky, I doubt anyone in Canada has had to choose which finger to get re-attached after an accident. Besides, just how many people in Canada are without medical insurance/coverage?

Anonymous said...

I know, when I worked in banking my friend heard a horror story when the Barings bank went down. All the senior executives were running around, not trying to save the bank, to try to ring fence their bonuses so the auditors could not touch them! Talk about an attitude of self-entitlement and flakiness huh? For surely this would be hard to beat, one exective said "*bleep* the bank, what about my bonus?"

Try employing him?

Though it is intersting to see all the negative qualites that are attributed to the poor were wonce attributed to black people. Are the poor the new blacks?

At least when I worked in the finance sector if you lost a poor persons money, you know all thier savings you told them that and they just cried and hung up on you. Probably took a 2nd (minimuim wage) job to make up for it. Damn! When you told a rich person that, oh my god, the abuse you got! Total contrast, no dignity, was a real you-can't-get-away-with-this attitude. I mean you invested your life savings, like the poor, you gambled, you lost so take it like a man. But so few of them were prepared to do that.

But them again the poor can be nasty to, going back to the days of the Roman republic, if they were starving they used ot threaten to smash grain silo's and steal the grain. Often the senators and Emperors would have to buy large amounts and give it to them for free! The poor, they certainly don't starve in silence eh?

But in their favour you can often buy the poor off with bread and circuses.

Anonymous said...

I think with the poor they come in two varities.

The ones that accept they are nothing more than little people, living little lives in little houses are fine.

It's the ones that don't accept this, are envious and try to take more than they deserve. You know the type, that rally behind the labor leader, that snarls his face when the rich offer his members 3% and threatens to disrupt production wanting more than the market will stand. Those ones I hate, the ones that think that just because you do a fair days work you are entitled to a fair days pay.

Yeah, how does that work?

I mean if you paid a man or woman exactly what he added in value to your business, well there would not be any money left to pay the wealthy.

gregnyquist said...

Andrew: "It is entirely possible that substance abuse and mental illness are at least partially the results of the strains of poverty."

I could buy this if we were talking about poverty in Third World. But here in America, most of the poor, relatively speaking, don't have it so bad—at least not comparted to the poor in the Third World or the poor historically. Most of them have plenty to eat (indeed, obesity is huge problem among the poor in America), they often have televisions, cars, and, despite denials to the contrary, they do have access to medical care.

"Stating that any country has medical horror stories only proves that no system is flawless. It does not prove they are equal in their distribution of medical resources."

And who's going to have the privilege of distributing this medical care? Obviously, for-profit medical care distribution would be bad; but medical care distribution by bureaucrats would probably be worse.

"I doubt anyone in Canada has had to choose which finger to get re-attached after an accident. Besides, just how many people in Canada are without medical insurance/coverage?"

According to heartland.org:

"A July 2004 study by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, Paying, More, Getting Less concluded that after years of government control, the Canadian medical system is badly injured and bleeding citizens' hard-earned tax dollars. The institute compared health care systems in the industrialized countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and found Canada currently spends the most, yet ranks among the lowest on such indicators as access to physicians, quality of medical equipment, and key health outcomes."

And:

"In 1999, Dr. Richard F. Davies, a cardiologist at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa, described in remarks for the Canadian Institute for Health Information how delays affected Ontario heart patients scheduled for coronary artery bypass graft surgery. In a single year, for this one operation, the doctor said, '71 Ontario patients died before surgery, 121 were removed from the list permanently because they had become medically unfit for surgery,' and 44 left the province to have the surgery, many having gone to the United States for the operation.

gregnyquist said...

To reaffirm the importance of first-hand experience in these matters relating to poverty and the welfare state, there's no better source to turn to than Theodore Dalrymple, a doctor who spent most of his life providing medical care and psychiatric counsel to the poor in the Third World and Birmingham, England. In his article "What is Poverty", Dalrymple relates the reaction of Third World doctors to the English poor:

"By the end of three months my doctors have, without exception, reversed their original opinion that the welfare state, as exemplified by England, represents the acme of civilization. On the contrary, they see it now as creating a miasma of subsidized apathy that blights the lives of its supposed beneficiaries. They come to realize that a system of welfare that makes no moral judgments in allocating economic rewards promotes antisocial egotism. The spiritual impoverishment of the population seems to them worse than anything they have ever known in their own countries. And what they see is all the worse, of course, because it should be so much better. The wealth that enables everyone effortlessly to have enough food should be liberating, not imprisoning. Instead, it has created a large caste of people for whom life is, in effect, a limbo in which they have nothing to hope for and nothing to fear, nothing to gain and nothing to lose. It is a life emptied of meaning.

"'On the whole,' said one Filipino doctor to me, 'life is preferable in the slums of Manila.' He said it without any illusions as to the quality of life in Manila."

Andrew said...

While looking into Dalrymple (aka Anthony Daniels) I ran across really interesting fellow named Simon Winlow. Winlow is a sociologist and thus an intellectual. As such, when he decided to study bouncers he did what any intellectual would do: he became one. The result of his fieldwork is a book called "Badfellas".

The connection this discussion is that Dalrymple also wrote an article called "Festivity and Menace" detailing a visit to a nightclub and his interactions with bouncers. The view on bouncers given in these two works is very different.

I agree that first experience is important and so do at least some people in the related social sciences. But what are we to make of such experiences? It should be uncontroversial that several people can experience the same thing and yet come away with very different conclusions. When I read that article by Dalrymple (found easily by Google) I can feel his agenda in every adjective and metaphor. Do such stories work for anyone not already committed at least in part to the view being pushed? But at the same time it may be my own biases that are slanting my reading. I do not claim he is wrong, but at the same time he is hardly an impartial observer. We do not accept a doctor's personal observations to substitute for real drug trials. For that matter, surely there is a place for the more systematic and rigorous methodology used by scientists such as sociologists or anthropologists.

"I could buy this if we were talking about poverty in Third World. But here in America, most of the poor, relatively speaking, don't have it so bad"

I agree. Yet consider the numerous musicians that have spectacularly self destructed. They were hardly wanting for any material need. You talk about envy and vanity and the desire to be like, in status, our peers. What happens to those impulses in someone who has no hope, within their own mind, of achieving that status. Strain does not have to be merely the absence of food, water or even medical care.

Heartland is hardly unbiased, and the Fraser institute wears its agenda on its sleeve. The latter has been accused of cherry picking data in at least one study. But I did have that coming given the example I used. I have no desire to argue about the two countries' health care so I'm more than willing to call it a wash.

However, since you quoted Dr. Davies, I though it might be interesting to look at an actual article he wrote: http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/reprint/160/10/1469.pdf

gregnyquist said...

" It should be uncontroversial that several people can experience the same thing and yet come away with very different conclusions."

I don't believe the question involves the experience of one thing, but many things. If one person you meet in a given community is rude and nasty to you, you would have to be agenda-driven to make any generalizations based on it; but if you meet multitudes of people in community and nearly everyone is rude and nasty to you, you would have to be agenda driven not to make some generalizations.

"When I read that article by Dalrymple (found easily by Google) I can feel his agenda in every adjective and metaphor."

And what would that agenda be? And how does it affect his reporting of the facts? I've read his books, and there's very little advocacy in his books. To the extent that he has an agenda, it's merely frustration with left-wing intellectuals—a frustration that is quite understandable, given his work as doctor under a government bureaucracy where individuals with no hands-on experience are given administrative control over people that do. To me the only possible question one could have about Dalrymple is whether telling the truth. If he didn't make it all up, I don't see how his conclusions can be avoided.

"For that matter, surely there is a place for the more systematic and rigorous methodology used by scientists such as sociologists or anthropologists. "

But is precisely here that we would most have to worry about agendas and biases. The very complexity of the subject—the difficulty of accessing the local knowledge that is so critical in these matters—provides a lot of wiggle room for importing agendas. Xtra Laj has noted, for example, Murray's "The Bell Curve." Murray even more famously wrote "Losing Ground," the book that partially inspired the welfare reforms of the nineties. But these books are dismissed out of hand by many on Left because Murray has libertarian sympathies and therefore has an agenda. But the problem is, anyone can be dismissed for having agenda, so what are we supposed to do? Who are we supposed to trust? This is why, at the present time, I have more faith in what I have learned from my own experiences. From studying Polanyi, Hayek, Oakeshott and cognitive science, I have learned to appreciate the importance of local knowledge, and to understand the strengths and limits of scientific sociology. In the end, we rely on our vision of things to interpret and make sense of facts, a vision that (hopefully) is formed from the experience of actual reality (rather than just through books or hearsay). On these issues, there tends to be two competing visions: what Sowell has called the unconstrained and constrained visions, and what Steven Pinker rebaptized as the "utopian" and the "tragic" visions. An individual's vision of things may affect how they interpret their experience. But that only suggests that the debate at hand may be about competing visions as well as different experiences.

proudfootz said...

Xtra Laj said:

Nothing wrong with that per se, as long as the sensibilities subscribe to validation by the same empirical tests that any facts are verified by.

It's a pity some posters haven't heeded your pleas for a rational discussion based on empirical evidence in favor of the anecdotal.

Is this due to ideological commitment or some emotional need deeply embedded in their human nature? Not that there's anything wrong with that...

proudfootz said...

Xtra Laj -

...what you find is that many people are unwilling to live beneath their means for reasons of envy, and are surprised when they get knocked out by economic stress.

I agree that many people live beyond their means and borrow. Even some of the great entrepreneurs have been known to take out loans.

How much one can assign the motive of 'envy' to such behavior is something that hasn't been explored thus far in any empirical way - what we have so far done is the equivalent of a late-night bull session in the dorm at college.

proudfootz said...

Greg -

And who's going to have the privilege of distributing this medical care? Obviously, for-profit medical care distribution would be bad; but medical care distribution by bureaucrats would probably be worse.

There are many other healthcare systems in the world. Ones maintained by First-world nations cover virtually everyone and what may come as a surprise is that they have consistently better results than that of the United States, but cost half as much.

Their systems aren't resulting in nearly a million bankruptcies a year:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/05/bankruptcy.medical.bills/

Nor in tens of thousands of deaths due to lack of health insurance:

http://www.harvardscience.harvard.edu/medicine-health/articles/new-study-finds-45000-deaths-annually-linked-lack-health-coverage

It seems like the 'bureaucrats' around the world are doing a much better job that the 'invisible hand' when it come to making healthcare decisions.

proudfootz said...

Andrew -

...surely there is a place for the more systematic and rigorous methodology used by scientists such as sociologists or anthropologists.

I'm afraid there may be too much emotional commitment to certain ideological biases to allow room for what scientists have to contribute.

After all they are 'driven by their agendas and their easy living' - unlike everyone else. For they are burdened with 'human nature' while those free of such imcumbrances can diagnose complex problems without study.

It is so much simpler to rely on 'data' one has observed personally on the way to do something else or heard at a cocktail party.

Xtra Laj said...

How much one can assign the motive of 'envy' to such behavior is something that hasn't been explored thus far in any empirical way - what we have so far done is the equivalent of a late-night bull session in the dorm at college.

I'm sure you honestly believe this, but there are lots of experiments in psychology, both experimental economics and evolutionary psychology, that test such theories on a regular basis. Hence my reference in my first post to Geoffrey Miller's Spent. You can argue with the nature/results of the experiments and the motives of the experimenters all you like, but please be a bit more circumspect when making such statements with certainty.

Xtra Laj said...

Proudfootz,

Have you ever analyzed health statistics by race before? I think it is an eye opening experience, especially when comparing countries with different racial demographics like Canada and the US or Britain and the US.

Moreover, America, as a wealthier country than Canada or Britain, is far more exposed to the impact of lifestyle diseases, which cause most of the disease that affect the US healthcare system. So maybe the liberals are right in that regard - we can improve America's health by making it poorer! :)

Xtra Laj said...

Initially, it wasn't clear to me what about Greg's post that proudfootz was reacting so strongly too. However, I can now see that proudfootz thinks that Greg is denying that genuine compassion driven by care for fellow human beings exists and that the egalitarian instinct is driven more by a desire to bring down the successful.

Correct me if I'm wrong here.

proudfootz said...

Xtra Laj -

Initially, it wasn't clear to me what about Greg's post that proudfootz was reacting so strongly too. However, I can now see that proudfootz thinks that Greg is denying that genuine compassion driven by care for fellow human beings exists and that the egalitarian instinct is driven more by a desire to bring down the successful.

Correct me if I'm wrong here.


This is a much better attempt at understanding what my point was meant to be.

I didn't realize that Greg would react so strongly to my singling out the phrase 'politics of envy' - I thought it possible we could all share a mordant chuckle over the patently strawman nature of such an emotionally loaded phrase and how it might be used to dismiss out of hand political opposition to laissez faire rather than deal with the actual arguments employed by those who urge caution.

I agree that 'human nature' also encompasses such notions as compassion and fair play - something than a one-dimensional analysis as 'envy' doesn't seem to leave room for.

We can see that what I jokingly called a 'politics of blame' was manifested in the discussion by those who seem to want to believe the economic system has nothing to do with poverty and that it is simply a character issue - the poor are either lazy or crazy.

proudfootz said...

Xtra -

So maybe the liberals are right in that regard - we can improve America's health by making it poorer!

Really? Is that what they are arguing?

All the other First World Nations seem to be doing a much better job at healthcare, and they seem to enjoy a very good standard of living.

That we spend twice as much as virtually everyone else and have achieved the 37th best results should tell us something about about letting insurance company bureaucrats decide who shall receive health benefits and what those benefits should include...

proudfootz said...

Xtra -

I'm sure you honestly believe this, but there are lots of experiments in psychology, both experimental economics and evolutionary psychology, that test such theories on a regular basis. Hence my reference in my first post to Geoffrey Miller's Spent. You can argue with the nature/results of the experiments and the motives of the experimenters all you like, but please be a bit more circumspect when making such statements with certainty.

It's certainly possible that there is information of which I am unaware.

I'm curious how they can scientifically isolate 'envy' from all the other aspects of human nature and the complexity of the economic and social factors. It seems like a daunting task to say the least!

And supposing that is true, should I not be as skeptical of our 'dear intellectuals and scientists' as the other posters profess to be?

Anonymous said...

As a socialist I’m frustrated to with left-wing academics, they seem to think that the welfare state equal socialism. Which it does not as both private and welfare health care does not put the patient first. As a strike in San Francisco in the mid 80’s showed, Dr went on strike and the mortality rate went down. Oh and Greg obesity is often a sign of poverty in the first world. You don’t see many obese millionaires. The reason? Well when poor people get their pay packets they do tend to bulk up, human nature there as they know by the end of the week they will/may have little money left for food. Perhaps there needs to be a study of obesity in poverty. Though let me guess, the liberals will say it’s because the poor don’t earn enough or have access to good nutritional advice or have time to exercise and the conservatives will blame the poor for bad lifestyle choices. Neither will be of much help I’m afraid.

Anonymous said...

For the record, socialists have never considered the Welfare State to be anything but a capitalist measure to prevent socialism. Nor has socialists at any time promoted any of the concepts of the Welfare State, such as state sponsored education, state welfare payments, old age security schemes, unemployment insurance, state paid medical coverage.

As for the left-wing academics that is a different matter...

Xtra Laj said...


Really? Is that what they are arguing?


Well, we will be taxing lots of industry without reducing deficit spending. So even if that is not what they are arguing, that is what they are proposing. Not that Bush was a better model for deficit spending either, but someone has to bring some sanity back to government spending in the country at some point and I'm sure some people hoped that Obama might do some of that.

All the other First World Nations seem to be doing a much better job at healthcare, and they seem to enjoy a very good standard of living.

As someone who is not a disinterested party in these issues and someone who has looked closely at the data in a variety of ways, I think that the fact that you did not answer my first question is telling: have you looked at the data on health and healthcare when sliced and diced by racial categories? You'll see that when you control for that, the differences in the primary statistic, life expectancy, used to claim that Canada or France or Britain etc. have better systems than the US disappear. Unless you believe that racial disparities in health statistics are necessarily evidence of discrimination, this is something that needs to be explained. It just might be that all America has to do is change its population demographics to change its healthcare performance.

The next issue has to do with costs, and the costs generally surround the higher costs of the technology used in America, since America is the country in which the most expensive procedures are most commonly used. Other countries don't order as many MRIs or prescribe as many expensive drugs as we do. That is why America does well on treatment metrics, but those are more expensive with the best technology.

There are other issues, diet especially being the most important. America has made it very easy to be obese by eating junk food with lots of fat and sodium and low fibre, and most of the diseases that drive up costs in America are tied to bad dietary habits - diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

That we spend twice as much as virtually everyone else and have achieved the 37th best results should tell us something about about letting insurance company bureaucrats decide who shall receive health benefits and what those benefits should include...

No, it does not. The fact that you cite the 37th best result without questioning it shows that you hardly understand what went into it and are simply rooting for your ideology. There are eight counties in America that if removed from the life expectancy statistics in that study, virtually eliminate whatever advantage Canada has in life expectancy. Moreover, Canada in that study was only 31st. If this is such a big deal, is the point in nationalizing health care to move up 6 places?

The most that study, if its cost conclusions and other data on health insurance profitability are accepted, might tell you is that health insurance companies, to the degree that they have been good returns on investment, have been able to avoid the kinds of competitive pressures that reduce profit margins. That usually has more to do with barriers to competition. Medical costs eat into health insurance margins - the idea that any industry would be happier to have higher costs is hilarious to anyone who has studied business.

I personally have nothing against a government takeover of the healthcare system as long as the policies are honest. So innovation will be stifled, but we currently know enough about health to see that good living habits make plenty of innovation superfluous except for outlier conditions. Medicine has some of the traits of public education in that regard.

But of course, we don't hear anything about tort reform or allowing policies to be sold across state lines (thereby allowing people to buy the best and cheapest policies no matter where they are sold), and the levels of taxation required to fund the reform are staggering, made worse by the fact that the country is in a recession.

Xtra Laj said...

We can see that what I jokingly called a 'politics of blame' was manifested in the discussion by those who seem to want to believe the economic system has nothing to do with poverty and that it is simply a character issue - the poor are either lazy or crazy.

So how does an economic system *cause* poverty? The vices that supposedly cause poverty in the economic system that you claim is the cause do not do so in what economic system? Adam Smith never made out businessmen to be angels. He just pointed out that they help the common good through their economic activities far better than do gooders often do.

There are behaviors that do not produce wealth or solve problems - laziness is one of them. The incentive for people to work hard in capitalism is to produce wealth. The incentive for people to work hard in socialism is to help the common good. No matter how one feels about the matter, it cannot be denied that Bill Gates exists. Whether without him, Mother Theresa can exist (we'll leave out Lenin and Mao) is for you to decide.

Xtra Laj said...

It's certainly possible that there is information of which I am unaware.

I'm curious how they can scientifically isolate 'envy' from all the other aspects of human nature and the complexity of the economic and social factors. It seems like a daunting task to say the least!

And supposing that is true, should I not be as skeptical of our 'dear intellectuals and scientists' as the other posters profess to be?


Some of the experiments were performed based on predictions about how people would behave or how certain structures in gaming worlds or social networks would evolve if people were status seeking or status seeking produced certain kinds of results.

"Envy" would be analogous to a desire for what evolutionary psychologists call "status". Do an internet search for experiments on status seeking behavior. I only hope that the problems you would raise with those experiments are of a higher quality than your blanket acceptance of the study that ranks the US as 37th best would suggest.

Anonymous said...

But I’m a bit confused, as in the UK, when you talk about envy of those being hostile to free market outcomes. As here in the UK the biggest supporters of the welfare state were the business men and women who calculated, or some might say miscalculated, that in order to compete in a post WW2 economy Britain needed a welfare state.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it’s all getting a bit personal here. Will everybody interpreting every body’s data and finding it wanting and accusing them of all kinds of motives.
But, the $64 000 question remains, without sounding like King Canute, trying to stop the waves, how do we make the poor ‘better’ people? Or are they beyond redemption?

Good to see you don’t mind governments nationalising health care though I rather think that is up to the voters. In the UK we have the NHS, of which I’m not a supporter, but you can rail against it all you like. No government is going to dismantle it. They all have plans about how to reduce spending, Thatcher was famous for that, but she ended up spending just as much as anybody else.

Xtra Laj said...

But I’m a bit confused, as in the UK, when you talk about envy of those being hostile to free market outcomes. As here in the UK the biggest supporters of the welfare state were the business men and women who calculated, or some might say miscalculated, that in order to compete in a post WW2 economy Britain needed a welfare state.

In other words, you could be saying that the rich people are trying to appease those who will be envious of free market outcomes.

IMO, no reasonable person can totally reject some kind of safety net for the poor and homeless, especially those with chronic illness or those with temporarily unfortunate circumstances. That's one of the major differences between (evolutionary) conservatism and libertarianism - it is accepted that in a sense, those with lesser talents are unlucky and a safety net is a form of compassion and many conservatives have less of a problem with government getting involved in the production of such services than libertarians do.

Look at what Greg wrote here:

http://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com/2009/10/objectivism-politics-part-29.html

The problem is when, as we see from proudfootz, that poverty is *blamed* on rich people and asserted to be mostly a function of luck and fortune etc. and hardly a function of rarer talents, diligence, and productiveness.

Sounds like the pile of money theory, where money stays in a pile somewhere and the only reason why some people are richer than others is that they got there first, stole more than their fair share, and refused to leave any for those who got there late. This is not how the world works, but at the risk of being accused of caricature, I think that this is how many leftists think it does.

This leads to idea that poverty can be *eliminated* because of its supposed causes. The problem is not in the reality, but to some degree, how it is perceived.

Anonymous said...

No, the wealthy wanted the welfare state in the UK so they would remain wealthy! They needed this, or so they thought, in order to be competitive with the other industrial nations. They needed a fit, healthy and eductated working class to make them money. Sorry, thought I made that obvious. It is just another capitalist solution to the problems thrown up by capitalsim. In a way though it does appease the poor, or has done so far.

Anonymous said...

If produfotz blames poverty on the wealthy then he is missing the point. The capitalist system creates the conditions for the wealthy and the poor to exist side by side. Socialists don't blame the wealthy for poverty, though maybe the lefties do.

Xtra Laj said...

But, the $64 000 question remains, without sounding like King Canute, trying to stop the waves, how do we make the poor ‘better’ people? Or are they beyond redemption?

Exactly. That is the $64,000 question. The single largest phenotypical correlate with increased wealth in America today is probably IQ, and we haven't figured out how to reliably raise it. The five dimensions of personality have not been as tractable to change as one might hope. Mental illness is still a problem for most psychiatric institutes.

The world is complicated and I may very well be wrong, but I think for the most part, those are where the next battles against poverty will be fought - by tackling the human genome and figuring out how to temper certain debilitating traits/attitudes for wealth production. This is where I'm a guarded utopian.

Good to see you don’t mind governments nationalising health care though I rather think that is up to the voters. In the UK we have the NHS, of which I’m not a supporter, but you can rail against it all you like. No government is going to dismantle it. They all have plans about how to reduce spending, Thatcher was famous for that, but she ended up spending just as much as anybody else.

That's the problem with entitlement systems, but the problem with systems like the NHS depends on how they interlock with the larger economy. And that is why I'm not against government health care in itself - I just think that it is the kind of thing that could work in certain kinds of societies, but that America is setting itself up for huge problems if it is allowed here. Of course, some people will be better off, but it's hard to imagine America being better off.

The problem with the American welfare state is that there is a distinct GROWING underclass, made up disproportionately of Blacks and Latino immigrants, which leads to charges of racism. Moreover, America has failed to systematically assimilate this underclass and it is making the underclass grow by not limiting immigration. Poor people who do not pay taxes tend to vote for entitlements. So how to enforce fiscal discipline with all the conflicting motives? Wait for China to stop lending the US money?

As for Thatcher, politicians are what they are. But even if she said she wanted to dismantle it and intended to dismantle it, nothing is possible without political capital.

The gains in life expectancy we have had with improvements with medical technology have not been as radical as one might think, and most of them have been attributable to improved prenatal and child care which have lowered the mortality rates among the young, not extending the lives of adults. My point here is that healthcare improvement, from the data I have looked at, is not something that market outcomes *radically* improve (remember my analogy to education). Things like what you eat, whether you exercise, and what risks you take will likely influence your quality of life far more than having a great health plan.

Anonymous said...

Xtra laj wrote:


"As for Thatcher, politicians are what they are. But even if she said she wanted to dismantle it and intended to dismantle it, nothing is possible without political capital. "

Well that is something we both agree on! You don't subvert the system it subverts you. Something conservatvies and liberals have had to learn the hard way.

Xtra Laj said...

No, the wealthy wanted the welfare state in the UK so they would remain wealthy! They needed this, or so they thought, in order to be competitive with the other industrial nations. They needed a fit, healthy and eductated working class to make them money. Sorry, thought I made that obvious. It is just another capitalist solution to the problems thrown up by capitalsim. In a way though it does appease the poor, or has done so far.

Let's assume this is true. So what do you think distinguishes the working class from the wealthy (apart from wealth)?

Anonymous said...

"Poor people who do not pay taxes tend to vote for entitlements."

As oppossed to wealthy people who don't pay taxes?

We have plenty of millioniares in the UK, who through clever accounting pay £10 a year income tax!

Anonymous said...

Let's assume this is true.

We don’t have to it, if you have a more convincing explanation I’d be glad to hear it.

So what do you think distinguishes the working class from the wealthy (apart from wealth)?

The capitalist class own the means of production. The working class don’t. All they have to sell is their labour power. Now, by labour power I don’t and nor did Marx simply mean muscular strength or power. Labour meant physical and mental power.

proudfootz said...

Xtra -

Well, we will be taxing lots of industry without reducing deficit spending. So even if that is not what they are arguing, that is what they are proposing.

The very large assumption here is that 'taxation = poverty'. Perhaps this is a symptom of rooting for one's ideology?

...someone has to bring some sanity back to government spending in the country at some point and I'm sure some people hoped that Obama might do some of that.

Unfortunately Obama seems determined to continue to waste tax dollars on the same unnecessary foreign wars as his predecessor even as the situation detriorates at home.

Unless you believe that racial disparities in health statistics are necessarily evidence of discrimination, this is something that needs to be explained.

Even a passing familiarity with history should demonstrate that this is not out of the question in the Western world.

It just might be that all America has to do is change its population demographics to change its healthcare performance.

Every time someone tries to accomplish this there seems to be tragic results.

The next issue has to do with costs, and the costs generally surround the higher costs of the technology used in America, since America is the country in which the most expensive procedures are most commonly used.

Certainly costs are an issue, and whether the costly procedures and medicines are cost-effective. There used to be an old saying that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure - but not to the peddler...

health insurance companies, to the degree that they have been good returns on investment, have been able to avoid the kinds of competitive pressures that reduce profit margins. That usually has more to do with barriers to competition.

I seem to recall that the health insurance giants were admitting that they couldn't compete with a 'public option' in healthcare.

Laissez faire ideology would suggest competion is a good thing, but history shows that business prefers to eliminate competition.

I personally have nothing against a government takeover of the healthcare system as long as the policies are honest. So innovation will be stifled, but we currently know enough about health to see that good living habits make plenty of innovation superfluous except for outlier conditions. Medicine has some of the traits of public education in that regard.

We do seem to know enough about medicine to be able to do an adequate job - the problems now seem to be soaring costs and actually delivering the healthcare to those who need it.

Xtra Laj said...

As oppossed to wealthy people who don't pay taxes?

We have plenty of millioniares in the UK, who through clever accounting pay £10 a year income tax!


I don't know what the tax code in the UK is like, but in America, we know that when it comes to income taxes, the wealthy people pay by far and away the most taxes, even if anomalies exist in the tax code and tax collection. I would be very surprised if it was any different in the UK, especially if the wealthy consume more and pay more in VAT, but again, logic and statistics don't get in the way of clear arguments. If this is also true in the UK, I think your mode of argument is becoming a bit annoying.

Let's assume this is true.

We don’t have to it, if you have a more convincing explanation I’d be glad to hear it.

So what do you think distinguishes the working class from the wealthy (apart from wealth)?

The capitalist class own the means of production. The working class don’t. All they have to sell is their labour power. Now, by labour power I don’t and nor did Marx simply mean muscular strength or power. Labour meant physical and mental power.



On average, wealthier people tend to be smarter than poorer people (one of the main points of The Bell Curve. This is not a perfect correlation, but like all social correlations, is significant despite the noise in the data and a more significant correlation than just about anything else that has been postulated. In general, wealth tends to accumulate to rare and productive talents which people are willing to pay for. Of course, there is an element of tradition/history to wealth patterns in society, as well as some theft, but the correlations of wealth with talent are still visible. The question "why is he/she rich?" often has a logical answer.

Societies evolve. It is very rare that a social order arrives due to conscious planning. More often than not, individuals, based on their talents, propensities for risk etc., just gravitate towards where their skills provide the most reward. All this does not happen in a vacuum - there are questions of inherited wealth, personal circumstances and the law of the society (which only very few people have a strong impact on). But the social order is not an accident and often reflects quite a bit, based on nature and nurture, about the individuals within it. Disrupting it can just like taking a corporation and making the mail room boy the CEO and the CEO the mail room boy. You may learn pretty quickly that the CEO and the mail room boy are not in their positions as a result of accident.

Of courses, there is the occasional mailroom boy that is a genius and and who could do a decent job as a CEO if he learns the ropes. And there is the occasional CEO who inherited his position in a successful company despite not being very good at his job. But to treat such exceptions as the norm is the kind of thinking practiced by people who value agendas over reality.

Xtra Laj said...


The very large assumption here is that 'taxation = poverty'. Perhaps this is a symptom of rooting for one's ideology?


If I take away more money from you to provide you with a service that you do not need and (this is key) incur more debt in the process, am I making you wealthier?

If that is an issue of ideology, let me know. If it is not, take the time to think it through. Nothing I said was about taxation - what I said was about the government's ability to be fiscally prudent and productive with taxes, which is an empirical issue, not an ideological one.

Anonymous said...

"You may learn pretty quickly that the CEO and the mail room boy are not in their positions as a result of accident."

Yes, becasue that is what Marx thought eh? *rolls eyes*

Anonymous said...

"Societies evolve."

Wow, really? You must be one of the those smart, wealthy people if you can figure that out for yourself.

I won't pick apart the rest of the post this quotation comes from as it pretty much sums up the tone, if not the content of it.

Anonymous said...

"If I take away more money from you to provide you with a service that you do not need and (this is key) incur more debt in the process, am I making you wealthier?"

I take it you are talking about government spending here. But wait! In between re-classyfing tmaot ketchup as a vegetable (or was it a fruit?) did not Ronald Reagan tell America the era of big government was over, despite spending, in his first term, $170 billion more than Carter (even adjusting for inflation). Guess he found out that is is not by accident that you don't subvert the system it suberts you. He could not run American capitalism for less $$$$ than Carter could.

proudfootz said...

Xtra -

So how does an economic system *cause* poverty?

Are you really saying that you cannot imagine a link between an economic system and economic outcomes? That it all comes down to 'character' or 'race'?

Then we must accept that an economic system (let's use laissez faire as an example) cannot 'cause' wealth.

Anonymous -

If proudfotz blames poverty on the wealthy then he is missing the point. The capitalist system creates the conditions for the wealthy and the poor to exist side by side. Socialists don't blame the wealthy for poverty, though maybe the lefties do.

I do not blame the wealthy - such a formulation would be a misrepresentation. My position is that the current system in the US does create conditions whereby the working class is vulnerable to poverty - that it is not merely 'fate' or 'character' or 'race' as some seem to believe.

The current crisis should be ample refutation of such notions.

Anonymous said...

I are aware of no place on the planet today where working people can find that "the proceeds of their effort, their skill, their knowledge, their time" are rewarded anywhere close to proportionally to the benefits received by the capitalist class

For example, is Xtra Laj claiming that the capitalist who has wealth of $10 billion dollars, has worked 50,000 times harder than the person who has worked all their life to (maybe) own a home and little else? Is FT claiming that the wealthy person's effort, skill, knowledge and time, all combined are worth 50,000 times more than most other people's?
Socialists suggest that there is something considerably more significant than effort, skill, knowledge and time, involved in accumulating wealth. That something is exploitation—the employment relation itself.

Anonymous said...

"I do not blame the wealthy - such a formulation would be a misrepresentation. My position is that the current system in the US does create conditions whereby the working class is vulnerable to poverty - that it is not merely 'fate' or 'character' or 'race' as some seem to believe."


Apologies for the misrepresentation. I agree with you, the wealthy are not to blame for the problems of capitalism and the solution is never to increase the amount of taxes they pay.

Xtra Laj said...


Even a passing familiarity with history should demonstrate that this is not out of the question in the Western world.


I think that such a "familiarity with history" is often substituted for knowledge of hard facts with disastrous results. There are many examples of disparate racial statistics that were blamed on racism, which when further investigated, were revealed to be ludicrous charges if the logic was extended to look at the whole picture. The point here is that you should deal with the data, not substitute your ideology for the data (yes, I know that is often a loaded statement, but you get the general idea).

Unfortunately Obama seems determined to continue to waste tax dollars on the same unnecessary foreign wars as his predecessor even as the situation detriorates at home.

Glad you consider some spending unnecessary. I never got that impression with Bush and now with Obama. They seem to think that anything can transform the world.


Every time someone tries to accomplish this there seems to be tragic results.


The vaguer you are, the smarter you sound.


Certainly costs are an issue, and whether the costly procedures and medicines are cost-effective. There used to be an old saying that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure - but not to the peddler...


And who is the peddler, the doctors/providers or the health insurance companies?


I seem to recall that the health insurance giants were admitting that they couldn't compete with a 'public option' in healthcare.


Because doctors/providers often charge the health insurance companies whatever they need to charge to make up for what they lose on government insurance. Doctors are probably going have the lifestyles hit the hardest by health insurance changes in the long term.


Laissez faire ideology would suggest competion is a good thing, but history shows that business prefers to eliminate competition.


The relationship between business and competition is a bit more complicated than that - sometimes, business needs competition to achieve scale, for example. But when business needs some kind of monopoly power, it often does so with the aid of the government (again, why can't policies be sold across state lines for health insurance but they can be for auto insurance?)


We do seem to know enough about medicine to be able to do an adequate job - the problems now seem to be soaring costs and actually delivering the healthcare to those who need it.

Hopefully, this is how it will pan out.

Xtra Laj said...


Are you really saying that you cannot imagine a link between an economic system and economic outcomes? That it all comes down to 'character' or 'race'?

Then we must accept that an economic system (let's use laissez faire as an example) cannot 'cause' wealth.


I'm not into imagination. Is there a link, or is there not a link?

The issue is complicated, but I'm saying that with the exception of extreme cases, an economic system will mostly determine who the winners and losers will be. The core productive processes required to support human living are certain habits of mind and character, irrespective of what economic system obtains. The way in which an economic system "causes" wealth is by assigning the most productive talent to its most productive uses. If such productive talent does not exist or is badly misallocated, you won't have wealth (or at least, suboptimal wealth). Whether one system fosters these habits of mind/character or allocates productive talent more efficiently is an empirical question - I won't answer it using ideology, though I think that the empirical evidence speaks for itself for the most part given the basic nature of self-interest and desire for status. That issues of race, character, size of country etc. are implicated explains why less diverse countries like Finland, Norway etc. are one way, while large and less diverse countries like China and Japan are another way, but the USA is itself another way, and so is India.

I do not blame the wealthy - such a formulation would be a misrepresentation. My position is that the current system in the US does create conditions whereby the working class is vulnerable to poverty - that it is not merely 'fate' or 'character' or 'race' as some seem to believe.

The current crisis should be ample refutation of such notions.


All classes in the US are vulnerable to poverty - some millionaires committed suicide during the recent crises. Of course, fortune is not *merely* "fate" or "character" or "race", but it can be *significantly* determined by these things, and it seems that you do not consider these things significant and I do. Just as wealthier people are on average far better insulated from the effects of crisis, wealthier people are also on average more talented than poor people when it comes to doing the kinds of things that *produce* wealth (innovation, distribution, and unfortunately, fraud) in any kind of economy.

I think the current crisis itself is complicated enough that egalitarians should take as much blame as Wall Street Bankers. Never before in the history of the USA has anyone tried to make money by betting on the least credit worthy elements of society and making them loans they were unable to recoup. But this is exactly what government policy encouraged and forced banks to do with subprime lending.

Yes, the Wall Street banks created all kinds of exotic securities on this rotten base, and we can thank the Fed Reserve Bank for irresponsibly lowering interest rates rather than letting the economy take a hit. But these are policy specific issues that can be debated, and to me, are no different from asking questions about whether people should be allowed to drive with or without car insurance and whether it is a good policy to ensure that everyone has a car.

Xtra Laj said...

For example, is Xtra Laj claiming that the capitalist who has wealth of $10 billion dollars, has worked 50,000 times harder than the person who has worked all their life to (maybe) own a home and little else? Is FT claiming that the wealthy person's effort, skill, knowledge and time, all combined are worth 50,000 times more than most other people's?

No, Xtra Laj is not. Sometimes, someone works hard, but lacks the talent to make his work count. And sometimes, some people are smart, but lack the social skills or even the capital to spread their ideas. So rewards are not just about work or fairness.

And FT might actually be claiming that, given how money is used for economic calculation. But that is what money does - it allows us to allocate resources. How many drops of water should a trip to the moon be worth? Money allows us to make this comparison, with an understanding of supply and demand etc.

The example is Bill Gates. You may not believe that he is worth the wealth he has amassed, but many people bought computers that ran his software because they used those computers to solve many business problems more efficiently.

Socialists suggest that there is something considerably more significant than effort, skill, knowledge and time, involved in accumulating wealth. That something is exploitation—the employment relation itself.

Yes, but socialists think that everything that goes into life can be verbally accounted for, while discerning conservatives do not. There is information revealed in how people behave that isn't always obvious or easily verbalized. Therefore, it is often more convenient and even best to allow things to play out than to presume that some "rational" reordering of things will be better.

As an analogy, I had a girlfriend once who used to take the bus to work. I used to ask her why she didn't learn to drive and get a car, but she gave me all kinds of arguments that sounded pretty logical (to her at least) about why she didn't need one. I don't know what convinced her to get her license, but when she did, she said she never understood why she didn't learn to drive.

That's part of the problem with socialism, or even purely reductionist science - the belief that every single cause and effect can be isolated and controlled for or that human nature can be understood by description and has no hidden variables.

Anonymous said...

Now we have to trust the very same politicians, bankers and egalitarians to get us out of this mess. Trouble is, neither the left-wing or the right-wing seems to have the answer. So what do we do? Leave it to the market? Government to intervene to stimulate growth?

proudfootz said...

Anonymous -

Now we have to trust the very same politicians, bankers and egalitarians to get us out of this mess. Trouble is, neither the left-wing or the right-wing seems to have the answer. So what do we do? Leave it to the market? Government to intervene to stimulate growth?

We learned nothing from the S&L scandals of the Reagan era.

The same corrupt politicians and the same corrupt lobbyists will continue to conspire to find new and creative ways to cheat the public in the name of 'deregulation'.

The victims of these manipulations will continue to be pushed into poverty where the myth of American meritocracy will put the blame on their supposed lack of 'talent'.

proudfootz said...

Xtra -

Nothing I said was about taxation - what I said was about the government's ability to be fiscally prudent and productive with taxes...

But that is not a 'liberal v conservative ' issue as seemd to be implied by your earlier remarks:

So maybe the liberals are right in that regard - we can improve America's health by making it poorer!

...and:

Well, we will be taxing lots of industry without reducing deficit spending. So even if that is not what they are arguing, that is what they are proposing.

Sorry if I misunderstood your point.

Yes, I agree that deficit spending cannot go on forever - but the conservatives are just as guilty as the liberals in this regard.

proudfootz said...

Anonymous -

The conservatives, in the US -the Republicans -are the biggest spenders of government money. As Reagan, in his first term of office spent a $170 billion more than Carter did, yet the era of big government was over.

Yes, the era of 'big government' was over and the era of 'even bigger government' had arrived.

proudfootz said...

The issue is complicated, but I'm saying that with the exception of extreme cases, an economic system will mostly determine who the winners and losers will be.

That's exactly the point I was making all along.

Glad to see we agree on the fundamentals!

Xtra Laj said...


That's exactly the point I was making all along.

Glad to see we agree on the fundamentals!


The devil is always in the details. And for someone as empiricist as myself, the details matter just as much, often more than the fundamentals.

Anonymous said...

I’m glad your ex-girlfriend finally passed her driving test, though what this as to do with socialism is anybodies guess. I hope this was not an issue that lead to you two breaking up?

Anonymous said...

As for conservatives being guilty of defecate spending, they are also of guilt o intruding, nationalisation, the welfare state, social security, public works and other reforms which are nothing more than cruel confidence tricks on the poor. Though to be fair to conservatives they probably did this with the intention that these reforms would make things better and not worse.

Anonymous said...

"The devil is always in the details. And for someone as empiricist as myself, the details matter just as much, often more than the fundamentals."

Indeed Xtra laj, and as the Federal reserve has nearly 2000 economic models on it's computers to help the economy perhaps they will find one that will get the US out of recession?

Anonymous said...

"That's part of the problem with socialism, or even purely reductionist science - the belief that every single cause and effect can be isolated and controlled for or that human nature can be understood by description and has no hidden variables."

I’ve read a few books by Marx, but would never claim to be an expert. Though I am envious of you for reaching this conclusion. But, perhaps you could help me out, in which of his tomes to you read that this was the case? I’d be grateful if you could tell me. As I am sure that the above is not an example of arguement from intimidation.

proudfootz said...

Anonymous -

I am envious of you for reaching this conclusion. But, perhaps you could help me out, in which of his tomes to you read that this was the case? I’d be grateful if you could tell me. As I am sure that the above is not an example of arguement from intimidation.

The devil is in the details, they say. But sweeping generalizations and one-dimensional analyses are so much easier.

Look at The Bell Curve which purports to reduce economic performance and class status in our complex societies down to a single number: one's IQ.

Such purely reductionist science - the belief that every single cause and effect can be isolated and controlled for or that human nature can be understood by description and has no hidden variables - seeks to confirm biases than truly learn something that might lead to solutions to the problems we face.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that under socialism people would not act like secular saints...heck I hope there will be people like his ex who do act irrationally over getting their driving licence.

Xtra Laj said...

Arguments like these are often circular and get us nowhere. I have other demands on my time, so here are my last few comments, and they will deal with questions of fact:

I’ve read a few books by Marx, but would never claim to be an expert. Though I am envious of you for reaching this conclusion. But, perhaps you could help me out, in which of his tomes to you read that this was the case? I’d be grateful if you could tell me. As I am sure that the above is not an example of arguement from intimidation.

This is not in any of his tomes, if that is your basis for criticism. The general approach can be inferred from his analysis of how the future would evolve under socialism/communism.

Marx believed that human nature had been distorted by capitalism and could only freed by communism/socialism. In other words, Marx was making definitive predictions about what would happen to human beings under an economic system on the basis of his own prognostications, rather than by referring to the experience of people who had actually lived in such systems. The idea here is that human nature can be *changed* by economic systems. Therefore, many of the vices we see in human beings and society would go away if the economic system changed. This is the kind of thinking I'm criticizing - the belief that you can can predict reliably what you can change, eliminate and retain in human nature based on some logical argument, as opposed to actual testing or experience.

In other words, a conservative might say capitalism is the best economic system, but no serious conservative with the right insights into human nature would argue that under a capitalist system, there would be no homeless people, people would all be happy etc. and any agenda should be tempered with some consideration of unpredicted circumstances. There is a benefit-cost mindset and skepticism of perfection that should pervade any serious analysis in a conservative's thought. Often, it comes across as rationalization of the status quo, but no conservative is 100% conservative, just as no liberal is 100% liberal.

Xtra Laj said...

The devil is in the details, they say. But sweeping generalizations and one-dimensional analyses are so much easier.

Look at The Bell Curve which purports to reduce economic performance and class status in our complex societies down to a single number: one's IQ.

Such purely reductionist science - the belief that every single cause and effect can be isolated and controlled for or that human nature can be understood by description and has no hidden variables - seeks to confirm biases than truly learn something that might lead to solutions to the problems we face.


Now I hope you have read the book, because comments like this would most likely indicate that you haven't, or that even if you had read it, you don't understand statistics that well. First of all, any regression technique would only claim that a factor explains 100% of social outcomes if the model yielded a perfect correlation. It's quite obvious that the Bell Curve did not argue this as anyone who has actually read the book would see but it requires some understand of statistics to see why this is the case. What the Bell Curve argued was that IQ plays a strong role relative to other factors that people usually consider and that the correlations were stronger than the usual suspects.

Sociological and even some behavioral genetic correlations are often considered significant if they hit +/-0.2 given the potential for noise in the data and the fact that many such experiments show very low correlations that are almost zero.

But just important than even reviewing the Bell Curve's evidence is to look at how common IQ tests or tests constructed like IQ tests are used to separate individuals in society today. The SAT and ACT are both used for college admissions, the GMAT for Business school, and the GRE for graduate school, and the LSAT for Law school. The Army gives MSVAB battery, the Teaching profession has the Praxis, and even the NFL (yes, the NFL) gives the Wonderlic Test, which can sometimes be used to judge players on offense for some positions (offensive linemen in blocking schemes). Why are so many organizations using these tests if they don't predict anything?

Many social outcomes, when adjusted for IQ, eliminated racial differences in performance. The hiring practices of many of the best companies are built to bring in high IQ talent, especially technology firms.

This does not mean that IQ is everything. But when used in statistical models to predict social outcomes, IQ gave better correlation coefficients on many tests than many other factors did.

These are all empirical statements. How far you are willing to extend the significance of the results to samples other than the ones in which they were analyzed and whether you agree with the EXPLANATIONS for the correlations is up to you and might depend on whether you have to make bets or investments on the basis of evidence.

If someone wrote a paper about the role of height in basketball and claimed that being taller makes you more likely to be a better player, no one would complain. But when someone points out that higher IQs are positively (not perfectly) correlated with better social outcomes in the USA, what seems obvious and intuitively appealing is a battleground for ideological posturing.

Anonymous said...

Obviously he was a man of his times, just like you and I are. Our thoughts shaped by our environment.

But I am curious, you seem to contradict yourself as you say these ideas he held are not to be found in his tomes but then you do state he held them. Where are they to be found? In his private letters? I just wonder how you reached that conclusion if these ideas are not to be found in his published works?
But remember, just like the conservatives and liberals we Marxists are free to reject and discard any of his dogma that is sterile or outdated. We have not need for either.

proudfootz said...

Xtra Laj -

Thank you for your time and your insights in this discussion.

This is not in any of his tomes, if that is your basis for criticism. The general approach can be inferred from his analysis of how the future would evolve under socialism/communism.

I agree that any sort of prophecy regarding the future evolution of a society is fraught with peril. While I think Marx's analysis of economics is useful, his predictions should be treated with caution.

Marx believed that human nature had been distorted by capitalism and could only freed by communism/socialism. In other words, Marx was making definitive predictions about what would happen to human beings under an economic system on the basis of his own prognostications, rather than by referring to the experience of people who had actually lived in such systems. The idea here is that human nature can be *changed* by economic systems. Therefore, many of the vices we see in human beings and society would go away if the economic system changed.

IMO it is plausible that the expression of 'human nature' that can be in part determined by material circumstance, social systems, cultural factors, etc and this would seem to be supported by empirical studies which show that gene expression is affected by environmental factors.

This is the kind of thinking I'm criticizing - the belief that you can can predict reliably what you can change, eliminate and retain in human nature based on some logical argument, as opposed to actual testing or experience.

Given that 'human nature' is very complex, and that its expression through behavior is also very complex, it is foolhardy to think that it can at this point be reliably predicted what the outcome of changes will be.

In other words, a conservative might say capitalism is the best economic system, but no serious conservative with the right insights into human nature would argue that under a capitalist system, there would be no homeless people, people would all be happy etc. and any agenda should be tempered with some consideration of unpredicted circumstances.

This could be filed under the Law of Unintended Consequences.

There is a benefit-cost mindset and skepticism of perfection that should pervade any serious analysis in a conservative's thought. Often, it comes across as rationalization of the status quo, but no conservative is 100% conservative, just as no liberal is 100% liberal.

I agree that a certain amount of skepticism and empiricism has a role in any analysis whether it be conservative, liberal, or what have you.

Thanks again.

proudfootz said...

Xtra Laj -

Arguments like these are often circular and get us nowhere. I have other demands on my time, so you will have to excuse me if I choose not to devote much of it to a very large book that is widely dismissed a pseudoscience.

But here is an empirical example which would seem to indicate how the 'rules' determine what counts for success in a given system:

"How the rules of the game are constructed determines which of these factors becomes most important for winning and losing, and therefore which individuals have the most "merit." For example, we might think that those who play professional baseball have the most merit -- that is, they are the best players in the game. But the rules of the game determine which group of players is "best."

"In 1893, the pitching distance was increased, and the need for heavier pitchers increased as well. By 1908, pitchers weighed a whopping 12 pounds more than they did in 1894, and they were an inch taller. Similar tinkering with the rules -- lowering the pitching mound, tightening the strike zone -- have produced similar changes in the pitching constituency."

Murray seems to think IQ 'dominates' in producing important social outcomes, while subsequent research such as that conducted by Claude Fischer and his associates found that social factors predicted future success for children far better than a single IQ test does.

Like any other inheritable trait, human potential 'intelligence' has been found to be determined in part by environmental factors. So even if IQ is largely genetic (60% as Murray & Herrstein hold) it stands to reason that the remaining 40% could well trump the trivial differences found between ethnic groups.

For example it has been shown that intervention can raise IQs for at-risk infants by nine points, Head Start programs for children aged 3 to 5 can boost IQs by eight points, and a program aimed at seventh graders raised IQ scores by as much as 6.5 points.

So it seems Murray's pessimism regarding the malleability of IQ scores flies in the face of the empirical evidence.

Regarding IQ scores it seems Murray puts the cart before the horse.

Anonymous said...

" ...agree that any sort of prophecy regarding the future evolution of a society is fraught with peril. While I think Marx's analysis of economics is useful, his predictions should be treated with caution."

Spot on, that is why neither Marx on Engels ever say how the future socialist society will look like. They do say that is up to those that make it, if they ever do, to decide. I mean if you make a prediction that in the future every home will have a 32k computer! Well probably in 1982 that would have been great! But would be silly now.

Anonymous said...

"Marx believed that human nature had been distorted by capitalism and could only freed by communism/socialism."

A reference to where he though this would be appreciated. You don't need to quote chapter and verse, just the book.

Xtra Laj said...

But I am curious, you seem to contradict yourself as you say these ideas he held are not to be found in his tomes but then you do state he held them. Where are they to be found? In his private letters? I just wonder how you reached that conclusion if these ideas are not to be found in his published works?

Before I respond to any query that you have made about claims about Marx, I would like you to point out where I ascribed a comment to Marx before you made your initial inquiry asking me where Marx said what...

I made my first statement ascribing beliefs to Marx *after* you asked me to say where I got my comments about the nature of the commitment of socialists to science, but since you've now gone wild with this claim that I've ascribed all kinds of beliefs to Marx himself, please feel free to point out where I ever ascribed any beliefs to Marx *before* my last statement.

Xtra Laj said...
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Xtra Laj said...
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Xtra Laj said...

proudfootz,

Thanks for your comments. I find them greatly misinformed (see the comment on HeadStart about the gains being temporary)

http://www.lrainc.com/swtaboo/taboos/apa_01.html

but matters of fact are not answered by debates. Cheers.

Xtra Laj said...

Finally, read Pinker's response to Gladwell (whose letter is also posted). Again, Pinker is a Harvard Professor of Psychology, so if anyone should be familiar with whether IQ research is considered "pseudoscience" by experts or not, I'm sure even proudfootz will agree that it is Pinker.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/books/review/Letters-t-LETSGOTOTHET_LETTERS.html?_r=2

proudfootz said...

Xtra -

I never said anything about IQ research or 'psychometrics' per se being widely considered pseudo-science - that is your poor reading skills at work. You would look a little more intelligent if you were able to address my remarks instead of making up your own distorted versions.

Clearly it troubles you that research shows that IQ is not an immutable number that determines one's destiny.

Even the notion that IQ gains from Head Start programs are not permanent indicates that IQ is malleable: some can test low and raise the score, others can score high and later lose that position.

From your link:

"One of the most striking phenomena in this field is the steady world-wide rise in test scores, now often called the "Flynn effect." Mean IQs have increased more than 15 points--a full standard deviation--in the last fifty years, and the rate of gain may be increasing. These gains may result from improved nutrition, cultural changes, experience with testing, shifts in schooling or child-rearing practices, or some other factor as yet unknown..."

Indeed the very existence of the Flynn Effect demonstrates that IQ is not fixed.

I appreciate your emotional commitment to the claims eugenicists have been making since the search began for a 'scientific' justification for their beliefs.

However, since neither of us has infinite time to devote to this debate we may have to simply agree to disagree.

Xtra Laj said...
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Xtra Laj said...

However, since neither of us has infinite time to devote to this debate we may have to simply agree to disagree.

No problem. Since these issues are empirical in nature, and anyone can find out what the foremost psychometricians say about the subject (something I have followed closely over the last 10 years), I hope that given all the opportunities you have taken to ascribe all kinds of repugnant motives to myself, you will also take the time to apologize if you find out that I am not misrepresenting things and the experimental evidence actually supports what I am saying.

The literature on the Flynn effect has since 1997 when those things were written. But of course, I don't expect you to follow those debates as closely as I do. My interest in this issue has always been as a source of inequality, so "malleability" that doesn't affect the inequalities does not interest me that much.

Take care.