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Does Class Warfare Have A Free-Rider Problem?

Many people believe that the rich have captured government for their own ends. For example, rich people use their money and power to decrease tax rates on the wealthy and sabotage legislation meant to protect the working man.

But this raises a coordination problem. After all, suppose you are a rich person who makes $1 million per year. You would like the government to cut federal taxes on the wealthy from 40% down to 30%, which would save you $100,000 per year. One might think you would be willing to spend up to $100,000 to effect this goal.

But in fact it requires the concerted effort of all the rich people across the country to make this happen. A single $100,000 donation isn’t going to change federal level policy in such a spectacular way. Realistically your effort will be a drop in a bucket that your entire class needs to contribute to.

So we should expect free rider problems. Suppose a representative of the Rich People’s Union asks for a $10,000 donation to fight for lower taxes. There are hundreds of thousands of rich people, so you’re pretty sure your one donation isn’t going to push anything over the edge one way or the other. Supposing the tax cut goes through, you will get the same benefit whether you donated or not; supposing it doesn’t, you won’t gain anything either way. It’s easy to see that in either case the rational self-interested thing to do is to refuse to donate.

There are a couple of rare exceptions to this. If you are Bill Gates and make a billion dollars a year, so that you would gain $100 million from the tax cut, it might be worth bribing the necessary legislators all on your own, on the grounds that if something needs to be done right you had better do it yourself. Likewise, if you’re Exxon Mobil or the Koch brothers, then you might be a big enough chunk of the target population for certain specific environmental regulations that it’s worth using your own money to fight it whether or not others join in.

But a general focus on the interests of the rich? Not likely.

We can compare this to good people playing normal politics, who usually have a hard time rallying support for important causes like global warming or net neutrality. In the same way, rich people playing at the politics of greed should have a hard time convincing their target demographic to get out of bed and join in their attempts to soak the poor.

But in fact their job is much harder. When good people do rally the masses to their cause, it seems to be through an appeal to principle. Like “Yes, I know it would be much easier for you to sit back and let other people solve global warming, but you have an ethical responsibility to participate in this, and won’t you feel good about yourself knowing you’ve made a difference.”

Obviously if your campaign is “soak the poor to line our own pockets” this is harder to pull off.

Is there any model in which the rich could successfully manipulate politics for their own benefit?

I’m reminded of the research I looked at in Plutocracy Isn’t About Money. People seem to donate surprisingly little to political candidates, and donations don’t seem to help. This seems consistent with the idea that rich people don’t directly coordinate to bribe politicians in their favor. I suggested a couple of different hypotheses, like that maybe the rich win because of “soft power” – ie the media and universities and politicians are mostly rich or are run by rich people who just sort of naturally let their opinions percolate through without much deliberate effort.

An alternative explanation preserves our intuitive belief that the rich sure do seem to influence politics a lot. Maybe rich people, like poor people, participate in politics because of sincere belief in their moral values, and their values are by what seems a weird coincidence the ones that help make them richer.

Like, Mitt Romney’s zillion-dollar-a-plate fundraisers seem to always be pretty full. It can’t literally be in a rich person’s self-interest to buy a plate there. But a lot of rich people could have conservative-libertarian-pro-business ideas that encourage them to quasi-altruistically support Mitt Romney in order to push their values.

But this is really weird and interesting – much more interesting than it looks. It suggests that, in the presence of a useful selfish goal to coordinate around, a value system will “spring up” that convinces people to support it for altruistic reasons.

I’m not just talking about normal altruism here. A rich person motivated by normal altruism per se might be against tax cuts for the rich, in order to better preserve social services for the less fortunate. And I’m not just talking about normal selfishness either. A rich person motivated by selfishness would hang out in his mansion all day instead of wasting money on fundraisers. I’m talking about a moral system which is genuinely self-sacrificing on the individual level, but which when universalized has the effect of helping the rich person get richer.

It’s worth thinking about this in contractarian terms. A rich person, minus the veil of ignorance, wouldn’t support everyone pitching in to help the poor, because he knows he’s not poor and so gains nothing. A rich person, minus the veil of ignorance, would support a binding pact among all rich people to pitch in to support tax cuts on the rich, because she knows she would gain more than she loses from such an agreement.

But as far as I can tell, this calculation is never made on a conscious level. What happens on a conscious level is the rich person finds themselves supporting some moral philosophy – libertarianism, Objectivism, prosperity gospel, whatever – which says it is morally wrong to raise taxes on the rich, so much so that one should altruistically make personal sacrifices in order to stop them from being raised. And then these moral philosophies spread, and without any conscious awareness, the rich people find themselves coordinating very nicely to protect their class interests.

I hope you agree that if this is true, it’s spooky. I admit on this blog I sometimes mock human nature and human cognition a little too much, but this particular cognitive process is really impressive. I hope whatever angel designed it got a promotion.

So although I haven’t really thought this through too much, I would suggest a dichotomy. Either there’s some sort of spooky system that generates heartfelt moral philosophies on demand to solve coordination problems, or the rich aren’t actually coordinating and just consistently keep getting lucky.

I don’t like this because it raises more questions than it answers. Why don’t the poor coordinate this well? Too many of them? And if this is true, how much more credence should we give other conspiracy theories?

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300 Responses to Does Class Warfare Have A Free-Rider Problem?

  1. Ozy Frantz says:

    I don’t think “people pick moral philosophies that by complete and utter coincidence say that things that benefit them are moral” is quite powerful enough to overcome the fact that coordinating to cause social problems is an Obviously Evil thing to do. Rationalization is powerful but not quite that powerful. 🙂 Progressive bureaucrats are certainly coordinating to increase the power of progressive bureaucrats (and, for that matter, black elites are certainly likely to support affirmative action).

    • CaptainBooshi says:

      Similar to this, something I think progressive bureaucrats almost certainly coordinate to do (although I’m also sure it’s unintentional, as Scott describes in the post) is increase the scope of what progressive bureaucracy should try to help with. After all, if you truly believe you have the best problem-solving method, wouldn’t you want to spread as far and wide as you could?

      To be frank, I think this alone would make it unnecessary for progressive ideas to make more problems to maintain relevance. It’s not like there’s any end of problems to begin with, and actually being effective makes it more likely people will adopt your approach elsewhere.

    • MugaSofer says:

      If they had spontaneously acquired a morality that said “causing social problems is good because [reasons]”, then they would presumably say so in public. And we would know.

      But what if the same process that comes up with reasons to support selfish things also came up with reasons to support causing social problems?

      Like, what if this mysterious shadow reasoner figured out that crushing the dreams of children => makes them worse off => encourages people to support affirmative action, and then said “we need to teach children discipline for the real world, so let’s arrange the education system to be as unappealing as possible!” and “we need to save money, so let’s cut funding to these vulnerable inner-city schools!”

    • Anonymous says:

      “I don’t think “people pick moral philosophies that by complete and utter coincidence say that things that benefit them are moral” is quite powerful enough to overcome the fact that coordinating to cause social problems is an Obviously Evil thing to do”

      You do realise that you believe in patriarchy, which is men as a class coordinating through shared moral values and social norms to keep down women as a class, something most would also consider Obviously Evil. Same difference.

      • Brian says:

        See, I think that’s being sort of uncharitable. Like, what you say is only true if all men (all men in the patriarchy?) are consciously and proactively evil.

        I don’t think that’s a claim you want to make. Or that it’s a true or reasonable claim.

        I think the obvious explanation for the existence of the patriarchy, which assumes everyone is more or less good and reasonable, is that having specialized gender roles allows the tribe as a whole to do more work. And dissipation of entropy is always and everywhere the tendancy.

        In other words, the patriarchy exists because it works for the greater good.

        For the same reason, we’re now transitioning away from that system of organization. Rather than just having two specialized roles based on gender, we have a plurality of specialized roles that ‘generic capitalist’ can fill. This system allows us to do more work still.

        The world doesn’t care at all about human moralities or the happiness of individual (classes of) humans.

        Those social movements promoting human happiness are effects, not causes.

        EDIT: Re-reading Anon’s comment, I realized that Anon might not be advocating the ‘patriarchy-as-evil-conspiracy’ view so much as using it as a caricature of/weapon against Ozy.

        Forgive me if I mischaracterized anyone’s beliefs. I still stand by my general point, though.

        To be means to participate in this general process, and there is no outside.

      • social justice warlock says:

        Coordinating through shared norms feels good from the inside – indeed, the quale of doing the right thing is probably the knowledge that you’re engaging in just that – so this is not a good argument against either the Cathedral or patriarchy.

    • One thing you can do is adjust your moral views so that negatives become positives. I’ve seen arguments along these lines.

      For example, it’s often pointed out in debates about Basic Income that it reduces work effort by about 10% [1], thereby reducing total production and making the world poorer (though not necessarily 10% poorer). Basic Income proponents often counter with the claim that reduced work effort is not a bad thing, and is in fact desirable. So if BI reduces work and increases dependency on the program, yay!

      I don’t want to give too many examples in order to avoid derailing the discussion, but I’ve seen this turnaround often. “Creating dependency and reducing work is a good thing.”

      [1] The effect is a combination of reduced employment and fewer hours worked by employed people.
      https://decorrespondent.nl/541/why-we-should-give-free-money-to-everyone/31639050894-e44e2c00

      • Slow Learner says:

        Global production is sufficient to support the global population.
        Production involves resource usage and pollution.
        Therefore making a more equitable distribution of global production (basic income), while also reducing resource usage and pollution could actually be a win-win, depending on exactly how the interlocking factors fall out.

        • Thank you for demonstrating that I’m not imagining this argument/ideological behavior.

          • Slow Learner says:

            Sorry, do you dispute those assertions? 1) might be disputable, but 2) is self-evident and the conclusion follows…

          • I do dispute your assertions about reduced work output being desirable (at least at any margin remotely close to where we are [1]), but I’m trying not to derail the discussion.

            [1] Come visit India and you’ll see all sorts of non-polluting work that low skill people could do. Domestic labor and food production are all easy examples.

          • Matt says:

            Obviously Scott can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that defending your position here would count as undesirable ‘derailing’ — or at least no more so than bringing it up in the first place, and then dismissively refusing to engage with disagreement while repeating your original assertion.

            (That might have come out a bit sharper than intended, but I really don’t think it’s good practice to raise and scornfully dismiss a position you disagree with ‘just for the sake of example’, and then refuse either to back down or to engage with supporters of that position.)

            For what it’s worth, I don’t yet have a position on Basic Income. I’m sympathetic to the argument sketched by Slow Learner, but also aware that I would need far more detailed knowledge in order to predict whether a given BI policy would be excellent or disastrous or somewhere in between. High-level questions of total production and distribution seem like a good place to start, though, before drilling down to specifics.

          • Matt, it’s not relevant to my point whether the position is correct or incorrect. The point is simply that some ideologies will result in a value shift as well, so people won’t need to self identify as “evil” to promote policies which require their assistance.

            Another example I could bring up, and one where I agree with the value shift: “OMFG, if you end segregation, the result will be lots of miscegenation!” “That’s good – halfrican babies are so cute.”

            I’m not dismissing the latter argument at all. The point is that I don’t have to consider myself “evil” to engage in the “conspiracy” to oppose segregation. Rather, I consider halfrican babies to be a non-evil outcome.

            Similarly, the liberal in Scott’s first quote might favor policies causing government dependence (thereby requiring more liberal policies) but not consider that an evil outcome. As a result they don’t self-identify as evil.

          • michael vassar says:

            Wow. A real-life paperclip maximizer. There’s literally nothing to say.

          • Slow Learner says:

            I hope you’re not referring to me as a paperclip maximiser, because that bears approximately 0 relation to my actual views or their consequences. If you are at too great an inferential distance to see the difference, I suggest you wander off and keep your snide little comments to yourself.
            Alternatively, if you want to explain why a sense of equity towards human beings, an awareness of limits to the resources in our local gravity well, and knowledge the effects of industry on our ecosystems makes me a paperclip maximiser, feel free to unpack yourself a bit.

          • I know what a paperclip maximizer is, but I have no idea what the relation is to this conversation.

            Let me carefully state my point:

            According to Scott, some opponents of the welfare state/etc believe the goal of welfare state proponents is to increase the number of people dependent on it.

            Scott rejects this theory because such people would need to conspire among themselves for a cause they believe is evil.

            I assert that Scott’s rejection is invalid. This is because proponents of the welfare state may believe that increasing the number of people dependent on the welfare state is not evil. You seem to be one such person – if that is the case, Scott’s rejection is clearly invalid.

            Can you state concretely which claim I’ve made in this post that you disagree with?

          • Slow Learner says:

            I was responding to Michael Vassar with that comment. Nesting may have broken.

            To respond to you here, I disagree with your entire framing of the issue:
            One way to achieve high levels of uptake for welfare programs is to make them universal. This also tends to lead to high levels of public support for the program (cf the NHS here, Child Benefit here).
            Therefore if it is financially possible, someone who wishes to make a welfare program reach the entire targeted population AND make it unlikely to be repealed will do well to make it universal. A basic income is just one subset of this idea.

            The idea is not to make people dependent upon it – all welfare is aimed at supporting people. It’s like providing opiate painkillers – you do it because it’s effective for it’s stated purpose, not in order to make people depend upon it (and what’s wrong with depending on things? I depend upon my pay to be deposited in my bank account electronically every month. I depend upon my house being securely mine, despite the fact I rent it from my landlord. I depend on a whole lot of stuff – why is it only depending on services provided by taxation that’s a problem?).
            In the case of a basic income, it would be a highly effective way to serve the purposes of pensions, unemployment insurance, disability benefits and various other things we already do as a society. It would have additional benefits in making people less tied to abusive partners and shitty jobs (c.f. the drag that US-style employer-tied health insurance has on entrepeneurship – only the healthy and dependent-free can jump ship from their employer to start up a business, compared with the UK where various hurdles exist, but the cost of healthcare hasn’t stopped anyone from starting a business since 1947). The point isn’t dependency at all, though some subset of people may become dependent upon it in the sense of drug dependency, just as some people become dependent on morphine when they’re in hospital.
            Can you explain why you frame this through the lens of dependency, when that isn’t how welfare systems work? Especially not universal ones, where there isn’t a “welfare trap” of welfare payments decreasing as your earnings increase?

          • I frame it through the lens of dependency because the opponents that Scott paraphrases claim the harm will be reduced work output/higher dependency. Or in his exact example, HHS will pursue policies to make people sicker to increase the need for medicine.

            I assert that proponents of such policies (at least in the case of work reduction/dependency on BI) claim this will be a good thing. I can quote them, and I (possibly incorrectly) believed you were agreeing with them.

            Incidentally, BI does have a welfare trap if you believe in diminishing marginal utility.

          • Matt says:

            Thanks for explaining, Chris. (I think we’ve reached the nesting limit; I’m responding to September 16, 2014 at 8:56 am.)

            I think I understand you better now, and this seems entirely reasonable:

            “Similarly, the liberal in Scott’s first quote might favor policies causing government dependence (thereby requiring more liberal policies) but not consider that an evil outcome. As a result they don’t self-identify as evil.”

            But I’m still confused by:

            “One thing you can do is adjust your moral views so that negatives become positives.”
            and
            “Thank you for demonstrating that
            I’m not imagining this argument/ideological behavior.”

            Here you seem clearly to be talking about an ideologically-driven shift in values, and (perhaps implicitly, but quite strongly) dismissing the possibility that Slow Learner’s position could reasonably be reached independently of such a process.

          • Matt says:

            Reading your post again, I realise you quite explicitly state that you are talking about an ideologically-driven value shift. So, my basic point stands: you seem to be dismissing the possibility that someone might reasonably and independently come to hold a position like this –

            “Global production is sufficient to support the global population.
            Production involves resource usage and pollution.
            Therefore making a more equitable distribution of global production (basic income), while also reducing resource usage and pollution could actually be a win-win, depending on exactly how the interlocking factors fall out.”

            – rather than falling into it like a trap because their previous (and implicitly, the more sensible) set of values conflicts with their political stance.

          • Matt, it was not my desire to imply that the only possible reason for such a shift was a desire to increase one’s domain. Apparently I phrased things badly. I also would not have mentioned the segregation example if I did – my feelings about the cuteness of halfrican babies is not driven by my desire to end segregation.

        • Matt says:

          Reading your post again, I realise you quite explicitly state that you are talking about an ideologically-driven value shift. So, my basic point stands: you seem to be dismissing the possibility that someone might reasonably and independently come to hold a position like this —

          Global production is sufficient to support the global population.
          Production involves resource usage and pollution.
          Therefore making a more equitable distribution of global production (basic income), while also reducing resource usage and pollution could actually be a win-win, depending on exactly how the interlocking factors fall out.

          — rather than falling into it like a trap because their previous (and implicitly, the more sensible) set of values conflicts with their political stance.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think you don’t have much idea how government policies actually work; that is, how they get created, imposed, and implemented.

      As a very low-level faceless bureaucratic minion with experience in local government in both education and now in housing, let me tell you how things happen: piecemeal and like a patchwork quilt.

      We have a particular scheme for tenants who are on social housing waiting lists to get them rent support so they can find private accommodation. This particular scheme is going to be phased out (supposedly) and a new scheme (which is pretty much the same thing, only going by a different name) will be implemented.

      This new scheme has been tested and run as a pilot scheme in selected local authorities and everything already, so rolling it out nationwide will be a doddle and the old scheme will be thrown on the scrapheap, right?

      Wrong. The old scheme is still running, even after the date it was supposed to be finished, and the new one is still being tweaked, altered, changed and generally pulled about according as the national government does its sums on how much it can afford in the upcoming budget to bribe the electorate.

      What will the result be? Two schemes, both doing pretty much the same thing, but just different enough to make life awkward for your humble low-level minions, will be running side-by-side.

      And multiply that by decades of governments, both new parties coming into power and wanting to make their mark, and parties retaining power and wanting to come up with snazzy new vote-grabbing ideas, introducing all kinds of policies, laws, reforms and the like.

      That’s how you get bloat and duplication and spread and Big Government and six new committees and quangos to replace four semi-state bodies. It’s not a conscious conspiracy by anybody (I only wish it were, then there would be a rational plan that you could cut off at the knees to get the whole thing to stop).

      • dhill says:

        Yes and this is why the original post assumption that this kind of evil must be coordinated is just plain wrong. The bureaucrats don’t _want_ to harm anybody. It’s just that cost-benefit is negative and they depend on their job. That’s enough to stay quiet. And I’m reminded of Nicolas Taleb quote, that tries to placate this behaviour: “If you see fraud and don’t shout fraud, you are a fraud”. I know I’m myself not feeling good after reading this sentence.

  2. Vulture says:

    Maybe it would be instructive to apply this explanation to the examples at the beginning. Do a lot of black elites hold some kind of ideology which generally leads to the continued disadvantage of poor blacks?

    • MugaSofer says:

      >if this is true, how sure should we be of our previous belief that the Secretary of Health and Human Services isn’t coordinating with all the other progressive bureaucrats to deliberately cause social problems?

      Literally the last line of the post, mate.

    • meyerkev says:

      1) Assuming mismatch theory is true, affirmative action.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/the-painful-truth-about-affirmative-action/263122/

      2) The net effect of Section 8 is to take a lot of poor ghetto people, move them out of projects in rapidly gentrifying cities, and stick them WAY out in the far burbs where they have 3 hour commutes to work everyday. And if you believe in the “The ghetto is less a location than a set of behaviors”, you’ve just moved the ghetto away from the jobs, opportunity, and rich people tax base in the rest of the city to a suburb that is now both very ghetto and entirely funded by the nonexistent tax base of the ghetto people while the cities rapidly recover because you just imported a bunch of non-ghetto people fleeing the decaying suburbs.

  3. Andrew says:

    Who else is coordinating in this way?

  4. blacktrance says:

    I’m talking about a moral system which is genuinely self-sacrificing on the individual level, but which when universalized has the effect of helping the rich person get richer.

    How do you get libertarianism or Objectivism out of this? No libertarian I know is making altruistic sacrifices to keep taxes low. Yes, some may forgo some wealth for activism, but wealth isn’t equivalent to utility.

    • Vulture says:

      “wealth isn’t equivalent to utility” – well, yeah, but if people didn’t get something out of it, why would they keep all those little green slips of paper around?

      More seriously, political activism for any cause requires spending time and/or money and incurring various opportunity costs. If people didn’t lose any value through political activism everyone would do it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Really? They’re not sacrificing time or donating any money to causes?

      • blacktrance says:

        They’re giving money and time to causes, certainly, but that’s not a sacrifice, any more than, say, giving money and time to playing video games would be one. It’s a source of enjoyment. “Sacrifice” is when you give up something good to get something less good (if anything) in return.

        • Vulture says:

          Do rich people really get $100,000 (or whatever) worth of utility out of those tedious banquets?

          • blacktrance says:

            If you’re the kind of person who’d spend $100,000 on a political dinner, you’re probably so rich that it’s no great loss. As for the banquets being tedious, I imagine they’re quite fun if they’re full of interesting like-minded people. I don’t anticipate ever being rich enough to pay $100,000 to go to one, but I would be willing to pay some amount to go to one.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            I think the problem here might be different definitions of the word “altruism.”

            I think Scott and Vulture might be defining altruism as giving up things that cause a lot of benefit to oneself (i.e. having money and free time) in exchange for things that benefit other people in addition to oneself (i.e. one’s preferred policy being passed).

            I think that blacktrance might be defining altruism as not acting in accordance with one’s goals: since rich people genuinely prefer that causes they support get money to anything else they could do with the money, it is not altruistic for them to donate it. If they wanted a yacht and instead donated, then it would be altruistic.

          • Deiseach says:

            Isn’t it the same thing as the rich and the celebrities who pay thousands for charity dinners? Handing over the price of the plate (plus the money they’d spend on the new gown, jewellery, etc. that they acquire for the photo op on the red carpet or whatever) directly to the charity would be much more effective and efficient, but the real purpose there is to be seen to be engaged in the appropriate good causes and get the social capital that way. e.g. “Fashionista and movie starlet Pinkey McFashaway snapped at last night’s ‘Save the Tree Vole’ charity bash shows she has a big heart to go with her new surgically-acquired big boobs!”

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            So maybe group membership, rather than causing us to consider things right that we otherwise wouldn’t, causes us to find things fun that we otherwise wouldn’t?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          This sounds like a philosophical quibble that could make sacrifice impossible in priniciple: “Sure, he gave his life to help defend his country in the war, but clearly he wanted to do that, or else he wouldn’t have.”

          • blacktrance says:

            He could have been irrational to sacrifice his life, his impulsive action could easily not have maximized his utility. Humans aren’t always consistent/rational, and for some of them, this inconsistency can be exploited to convince them to give up greater value in return for lesser value. Someone’s chosen action isn’t necessarily the best thing for them to do, but there’s a prima facie presumption that it is, a presumption that can be overridden with sufficient evidence. In the case of the soldier, they’re choosing to die and forgo the utility experienced in later life, so we can reasonably say that it’s a sacrifice. But I don’t see this kind of evidence in the case of rich people being libertarians. It’s more similar to a hobby – for some people, an expensive hobby. Some buy yachts and enjoy them, others buy politicians’ time and entrance into meetups, and enjoy that. Evidence that would show that rich libertarians are acting irrationally would have to show that they’d be able to get more utility out of spending their money in other ways.

          • Anonymous says:

            This reminded me of Mark Twain’s What is Man?, which is essentially a dialogue where a cynical person argues just that to a younger naive type – that everyone acts in accordance with their own desires and is therefore everyone is incapable of meaningfully sacrifice or altruism etc.

            It’s an interesting viewpoint that some people seem to legitimately have, but I feel that it’s not a super helpful way of interpreting or talking about people’s actions or motivations. While it is trivially tautologically true that everyone who is free to act in multiple manners will act in the manner they prefer to act, I still feel like concepts such as altruism have meaning and usefulness.

          • James James says:

            “I couldn’t act on moral considerations if they lacked the power to move me. But that doesn’t mean my wanting to hurt those Slytherins has the power to move me more than moral considerations!”

      • Deiseach says:

        Trading time and money for power and influence. We had a local councillor (the man is since dead) who never met a committee he would say “no” to joining, with the result that he was going to about two-three different meetings every evening of the week.

        Sure, that was inconvenient and expensive in time, money and effort but the pay-off was that he had a finger in every pie, had an entire network of contacts everywhere, and could always ‘know someone who knew someone’ to do favours etc. for his constituents, who then reliably voted him back into office every election.

    • RCF says:

      “wealth isn’t equivalent to utility.”

      That depends on how one defines “wealth”. Arguably, “wealth” is indeed another term for utility, and money is simply an imperfect metric used to measure wealth.

      • Tom Hunt says:

        Yes, but this is a wildly non-standard definition of ‘wealth’, and dragging it into a discussion in which ‘wealth’ is a primitive is asking for confusion.

        We already have a term for utility. ‘Utility’.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      IIRC the Koch brothers have claimed that while they do benefit from the tax cuts/deregulation/etc. they support, they could make more money lobbying for government handouts. Of course, this could just be a plain lie to help advance their selfish cause, but it sounds pretty plausible to me.

      • Protagoras says:

        Being blatantly and obviously bought is offensive to the pride of politicians, besides carrying substantial risks of getting them into trouble if detected. Of course, the handouts can be disguised, and prettied up as being in the public interest after all, but that makes the whole process more complicated and expensive, and it also has the problem that when scaled up to larger amounts of money it becomes more likely to be detected. Thus, the Koch brothers may exaggerate how profitable it would be for them to spend money lobbying for government handouts. Of course, since they want everyone to think of government as corrupt and incompetent, it is hardly surprising that they would tell a story emphasizing the corruptibility of government.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, but every rich person – whether Right or Left -thinks they deserve their wealth because they worked for it, dammit! Unlike that sponger over there, who made their pile from government handouts squeezed from the hard-working wealth-creators/being parasites on inherited wealth squeezed from the sweat of the poor.

  5. Anonymous says:

    > Well, first, it requires that people have an almost comical level of evil

    No it doesn’t. Someone gets elected campaigning to solve problem X, they tell the secretary of H&HS to come up with a solution to X. they will almost always come up with a solution that just happens to increase the budget, importance, and size of H&HS. Solutions that don’t increase the importance, budget, and size of H&HS are not favored, first because H&HS is the source of a lot of ideas, second because people who spend a lot of time thinking about H&HS will tend to believe in it, and third, and most importantly, because benefit from playing santa claus. Anyhow, the pro H&HS solution is implemented. Maybe that solution works, maybe it doesn’t, but it never goes away, H&HS is now larger forever, if it doesn’t work, then you ask for even more budget/influence/importance and try again. Then in a few years, problem Y pops up and the cycle repeats. Progressivism isn’t so much a recipe for problem creation as a system that rewards failed attempts at problem solving, which leads to ever greater expenditure on ever larger problems be they real or imagined.

    >Second, it sounds like it requires literal conspiracy

    Again, no it doesn’t. All it does is require people to have a tendency to conflate “what is good for me” with “what I think is good for everyone else.” there is no conspiracy, there is not even any ill intention, just a lot of people acting in their own self interest. If you assume that rich people can believe in libertarianism because it benefits them, then why not assume that that is why black people believe in AA, or members of H&HS believe in the wisdom of expanding their own budget?

    >Third, this makes the same mistake I accused Marx of in the last post. It assumes a free solution to all coordination problems.

    If there is no conspiracy, there is no need for coordination. A stampede is not coordinated in any meaningful sense, but it will still kill you if you stand in its way.

    • grendelkhan says:

      Maybe that solution works, maybe it doesn’t, but it never goes away, H&HS is now larger forever, if it doesn’t work, then you ask for even more budget/influence/importance and try again.

      This seems to imply that all the proportions of this graph should be monotonic, which they are not. (There’s a trend, but it’s lumpy.) It implies that AFDC never ended (it did; it was replaced with a smaller, more restrictive program). It implies that the welfare rolls can only grow (real benefits fell by almost half from the 70s to the 00s).

      It’s a pretty idea, but it seems to model the real state of things only vaguely. Either that, or the forces of reaction are real and potent in American government, which I think contradicts some central tenets of the neoreactionary canon, right?

      • Brian Donohue says:

        AFDC was ended only over vehement protests.

        Besides, whatever this proves can be applied to the high and progressive tax regime we currently have in the USA. Where are the plutocrats when you need them?

        Also, SNAP popped up, and it’s pretty huge now.

        There’s an obvious symmetry here that people seem determined to not see.

        • grendelkhan says:

          AFDC was ended only over vehement protests.

          But it did end. Any popular program, or even an unpopular one, is going to have some level of public support. The initial claim was that these things stick around “forever”, that government programs are like a ratchet, that TANF is simply AFDC under another name. Claims about generally and noisily increasing size of government? Plausible! Claims that it’s impossible to undo any program, ever? Silly!

          Besides, whatever this proves can be applied to the high and progressive tax regime we currently have in the USA. Where are the plutocrats when you need them?

          “High”. “Progressive”.

          Also, SNAP popped up, and it’s pretty huge now.

          SNAP rolls fell along with AFDC/TANF rolls in the 1990s; it didn’t really take off until the Great Recession, and both rolls and average benefits have started to (slowly) shrink.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Seems like you’re cherry-picking when you talk about a SNAP decline in the 90s, and a decline in the past year, and gloss over the very large increase in between. So far this is still a very large net increase we’re seeing.

          • grendelkhan says:

            The original thesis was that government programs cannot decrease in size; any shrinkage is due to paper-shuffling. But all forms of welfare declined in the 1990s–even as AFDC was replaced by TANF, the average benefit and the number of recipients both fell. SNAP didn’t replace what was lost there; the SNAP rolls didn’t start rising until much later.

            It looks like there’s a general and gradual tendency for government to grow as a proportion of GDP over a long period of time (at least in the US). But on a local timescale, this tendency is noisy.

          • Brian Donohue says:

            My mistake. On the tax question, I assumed you were interested in the reality, not misleading debating points based on slanted statistics.

            Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish rationalists from rationalizers. I will leave you to your bubble. Good day.

          • grendelkhan says:

            If I’m using “slanted statistics” and “misleading debating points”, I’d like to know about it. You’re not obliged to make your flounce helpful or productive, of course.

            I agree that it’s not blindingly obvious to consider welfare rolls as a proportion of GDP as opposed to simply adjusting for inflation and population. I think it’s at least sensible in that it tells you what tax rates are required to sustain those sorts of programs.

            And I’m certain that Anonymous’s thesis upthread–that government spending is a ratchet, incapable of moving backward even temporarily–is wrong. This requires only a single counterexample, which I’ve provided. If my evidence is bad, if I’ve made a mistake, then I’d like to know. But all you’re doing is declaring yourself correct and leaving, which helps neither of us.

          • Brian Donohue says:

            @grendelkhan,

            I am probably mistaken in assuming that you approach the subject with an open mind, but…

            Don’t link to an article that is 4.5 years old in support of your view. Taxes have gone up since then.

            Don’t link to a source that tips its hand, viz.:

            “Of course, in a truly progressive tax system, they would pay much higher effective tax rates than everyone else.”

            Which is interesting, because even on CTJ’s own analysis, taxes are progressive, just not ‘truly progressive’. Oh, ah.

            But I’m not sure I trust this analysis anyway. How are corporate taxes imputed? Employer FICA is counted as taxes paid (ok). But a fair number of public sector employees aren’t covered by Social Security. Is this reflected? These employees contribute to their pensions. Are these considered taxes? Because they look like FICA ‘contributions’ for those covered by Social Security. And what about employer contributions to pensions and health care? Are these in the denominator? Surely these are part of employees’ compensation, just like employer FICA.

            A hundred years ago, there was no income tax. It would appear that plutocrats ain’t what they used to be.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Don’t link to an article that is 4.5 years old in support of your view. Taxes have gone up since then.

            Using that measure, they have indeed. They’re still lower than they’ve been (excepting a year or two in the early aughts) since the 1960s.

            Don’t link to a source that tips its hand, viz.: “Of course, in a truly progressive tax system […] even on CTJ’s own analysis, taxes are progressive, just not ‘truly progressive’. Oh, ah.

            The distinction they make is between “barely progressive” and “truly progressive”. The language is, at worst, clunky.

            But I’m not sure I trust this analysis anyway. […]

            Here’s some information about the model used. I encourage you to write the model-makers if you have questions not answered by the FAQ. If there’s a competing model which estimates the incidence of all taxes (not just federal income tax), I’d be interested in seeing that as well. I don’t particularly have an axe to grind for CTJ or for ITEP, but it seems like everyone else just counts the federal income tax (the most progressive component of the tax system) and calls it a day.

            A hundred years ago, there was no income tax. It would appear that plutocrats ain’t what they used to be.

            John D. Rockefeller acquired a fortune of one sixty-fifth of the whole country’s GDP. So, no, they’re not what they used to be. But they’re working on it, income tax or no.

          • Brian Donohue says:

            @grendelkhan,

            skimming the link convinces me that there is definitely some slant in these numbers. Not sure how much it matters though, because I suspect a fairer picture would still not meet your definition of “truly progressive”. Maybe we need a new word for what you’re angling at.

            Whatever that word is, I’m pretty sure most European countries would fail to meet your standard by a larger margin than the US. Why? VAT.

          • AR+ says:

            Speaking of “progressive tax,” I’ve wondered why a “flat tax,” isn’t itself considered progressive. I suppose it’s just anchoring. When I first heard “flat tax,” I thought something like, “everybody pays $10,000 per year.” THAT’S flat! The actual Flat Tax proposal is what I would be a “proportionate tax,” or a “linear tax,” or even, if the term wasn’t already applied to what it is, a “progressive tax.”

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Warning to Brian about tone and possibility of future ban if he keeps it up.

          • Brian Donohue says:

            Okey dokey. It’s your joint, and your posts are mostly excellent, and I applaud your aims, but there’s a funny vibe down here in the comments that, I think, routinely interferes with, rather than advancing, understanding. I find it kind of suffocating and react badly to it.

            Perhaps it’s a sign that I should “just keep moving, buddy. Nothing to see here.”

            Cheers!

      • The Anonymouse says:

        Let’s also not forget the corresponding rise of SSDI as “shadow welfare.”

      • cassander says:

        AFDC was altered and renamed, not eliminated, and overall spending on welfare defined broadly as means tested anti-poverty programs never declined, but has continued to increase over time. Basically one particularly unpopular program, after decades of fighting, saw some budget cuts and the money shifted to less politically vulnerable anti-poverty programs, most notably disability payments, which have skyrocketed. I doubt anyone who works for AFDC/TANF was fired, despite the reduced caseloads. I’ll grant you that some sorts of means tested welfare declined in the late 90s as unemployment fell to near record lows for an extended period of time, but that hardly disproves my point, the programs were not cut back, external conditions made fewer people interested in/eligible for them. eligibility for many has since been expanded.

        • grendelkhan says:

          overall spending on welfare defined broadly as means tested anti-poverty programs never declined

          This is a strong and specific claim–thanks! Can you show me a graph? Please make sure it’s per-capita and inflation-adjusted; everything looks like it rises over time if you don’t handle that.

          OASDI (which includes disability insurance) isn’t means-tested, but here’s a chart showing how many people have been receiving benefits. It’s not adjusted for population; quickly back-of-the-envelope’ing shows disability insurance going from 1.7% (1990) to 2.4% (2000) to 3.3% (2010) of the total population. Ah! And here’s a chart (from here) counting applicants for SSDI; it didn’t stop tracking unemployment until the late 1990s… which maps well to the AFDC/TANF transition date of mid-1997. So that’s plausible…

          Aha! Here’s a per-capita chart; this includes ‘welfare’ as well as the ‘sickness/disability’ portion of the ‘pensions’ category. It declined throughout the 1990s, and again from 2003 to 2007, and again from 2010 to now. The overall trend is upward… because the economy is growing. If you consider it as a proportion of GDP, post-Great Recession, we spend about what we did in 1993 on welfare-and-disability combined. Prior to the Great Recession, the trend had been generally downward since 1975.

          (Man, I love charts.) So it looks like no–unless you refuse to adjust for inflation or a growing economy, welfare spending, even including non-means-tested programs like SSDI, has declined at various points, even over decades.

          • cassander says:

            >t looks like no–unless you refuse to adjust for inflation or a growing economy,

            First, the inflation adjusted expenditure figures are show dramatic increases in spending, not decreases. ANd a Second, only in government is there the assumption that budgets automatically go up every year as the norm. by asking for these adjustments you are basically conceding the point. third, my point was not that government budgets, under absolutely no circumstances ever decline. My point was that there was a very strong tendency to expand. government programs are occasionally shuttered, but I can count the number of federal programs in a decade on one hand. And federal employees, of course, are virtually never fired. you are considerably more likely to die at your post than be fired by the federal government.

          • Matthew says:

            only in government is there the assumption that budgets automatically go up every year as the norm.

            Wut?

            A private corporation that has zero year-on-year revenue growth is considered to be in serious trouble.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Cassander:

            Second, only in government is there the assumption that budgets automatically go up every year as the norm. by asking for these adjustments you are basically conceding the point.

            It makes sense to think of government as a sector rather than an organization; we measure how big it is as a proportion of our entire economy, like we do with healthcare.

            I can see how it would make sense that the government should, if it’s doing a set number of things, get cheaper every year as we get more efficient at doing those things; it should cost a fixed amount of inflation- and population-adjusted money rather than a given proportion of GDP. I don’t agree with it–I think it makes more sense to think of it as a sector, but it’s not a crazy idea.

            government programs are occasionally shuttered, but I can count the number of federal programs in a decade on one hand. And federal employees, of course, are virtually never fired. you are considerably more likely to die at your post than be fired by the federal government.

            I don’t know what happened to the roughly 400,000 executive-branch employees the government shed during the 1990s, but I don’t think they all died at their posts.

            The proportion of people employed by the federal government–I think this measure includes the military–has decreased near-monotonically since 1950 or so. State and local government employment (which should be expected to scale with population) grew quickly (even counting population growth) around 1980, and more slowly afterward, but it’s still not monotonic. (It’s recently dropped to mid-1990s levels, and in any case, you’re making claims about federal programs and employees.)

          • cassander says:

            >I can see how it would make sense that the government should, if it’s doing a set number of things, get cheaper every year as we get more efficient at doing those things; it should cost a fixed amount of inflation- and population-adjusted money rather than a given proportion of GDP. I don’t agree with it–I think it makes more sense to think of it as a sector, but it’s not a crazy idea.

            if the number of things the government is doing keeps going up over time, is that not evidence of the correctness of my original proposition? and if the government is doing the same set of things but doing more stuff to them (e.g. hiring more and more people to fight more or less the same general level of poverty), then am I not also correct? I don’t see how thinking of government as a sector buys you anything.

            >I don’t know what happened to the roughly 400,000 executive-branch employees the government shed during the 1990s, but I don’t think they all died at their posts.

            they were reduced through attrition, i.e. simply not replaced when they quit, and their work was done by a vast army of contractors whose size it is official OPM policy not to keep track of. often the same people who quit get rehired as contractors. the size of the contract workforce is vast, there are nearly a million people just with security clearances, far, far more than the number of official civil service jobs requiring such access.

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/security-clearances-government-classified-information_n_972492.html

            >has decreased near-monotonically since 1950 or so.

            Of federal civil servants, yes, but probably not of people who work for the government. and again, we should expect this. Think of the tens of thousands of typists and mail clerks the government the government no longer needs. the number of employees at the social security administration should have gone down since the 70s, and while I don’t have the figures handy, I’d bet a lot it has gone up if you include contractors.

          • grendelkhan says:

            cassander: Contracting would certainly explain matters, but darn it, I’ve had a hell of a time getting counts of contractors over time. Which, if the idea is to make it hard to figure out how much stuff government is actually doing, would be working as intended.

            I wonder how you’d count that sort of thing. The feds acquire goods and services via a set of byzantine rules (so byzantine that you have to boil down a simpler version when you actually want to accomplish things); if you work for a company that gets half its revenue from federal contracts, are you half a fed, or are the people working on the project entirely feds for that year?

    • Doug S. says:

      I’m sorry, but [citation needed].

      Counter-citation:

      Myth No. 4: Bureaucracy is a Major Cause of Government Growth

      Conservatives also like to charge that bureaucracy is one of the main causes of government growth. They argue that government bureaucracies have an inherent tendency to expand. The reason is this: agency officials bent on their own career advancement are always pushing to increase their power and their budgets. Thus, bureaucracies – like cancer – inevitably become ever-growing entities with ever-increasing destructive effects. Bureaucracies are constantly eating up more tax-payer dollars and imposing more and more rules on American citizens.

      This criticism of bureaucracy seems plausible, but is it really true? The evidence suggests that it is not. Consider, for example, the assumption that we are plagued by an ever-growing federal bureaucracy. Figures show that federal agencies have not been growing at an alarming rate. If we go back to 1970, we find that 2,997,000 civilians worked for the federal government at that time. By 2009, that figure had actually gone down – to 2,804,000.16 So much for the constantly expanding federal bureaucracy.

      Second, it is not clear at all that bureaucrats are always seeking to expand their agencies and their budgets. This budget-maximizing thesis was directly contradicted by a study conducted by Julie Dolan.17 She compared the views of members of the federal senior civil service to those of the general public when it came to whether we should be spending more or less in a wide variety of policy areas, including education, healthcare, defense, welfare, environment, college financial aid, AIDS research, homelessness, etc. She found that in most areas the public was willing to support increased spending much more than the agency administrators. And in most cases, a majority of these administrators did not support increased budgets. This was due, she believed, to administrators having a more realistic and sophisticated knowledge of these issues and programs. Her conclusion: “In sum, the budget-minimizing tendencies of federal administrators reported here suggest that self-interest is not as powerful a motivator as previously believed, and they suggest we should revise our theories about self-interested bureaucrats inflating government budgets for their own gain.”18

      Another theory of bureaucratic expansion suggests that the government grows because once an administrative agency is established, it will stick around even when its program is no longer needed. In short, the bureaucracy never shrinks, it only grows. However, studies have shown that the conservatives are just plain wrong when they claim that outmoded programs are rarely purged from government. Robert Stein and Kenneth Bikers completed a study in which they examined the number of federal programs that were eliminated between 1971 and 1990. During that twenty-year span, an average of thirty-six federal programs were terminated each year.19 A pretty amazing figure. The commonly held notion that bureaucracies never die is clearly false.

      (What the footnotes go to.)

  6. Eric Rall says:

    Why don’t the poor coordinate this well?

    My first guess is that there’s a large overlap between the set of skills, talents, temperament traits, and cultural traits that are useful for “coordinating well” and those that are useful for “getting rich” and “staying rich”.

    • Deiseach says:

      Because (haven’t you seen this in American elections, or does it only happen over here?) when parties put forward possible policies that they will implement after they get into power, often big corporations/multinationals/extremely wealthy individuals will publically state “If this goes ahead, we/I will be forced to leave this country and relocate our/my vast industrial/economic empire to a more business-friendly regime” and potential or actual governments fall over themselves going “Wait, no, don’t take jobs and money away! You don’t like it? We can change it!”

      The poor say the same (“If this goes ahead, I will have to leave the country”), and our governments give them advice on how to apply for visas to Australia or Canada or anywhere else that are looking for surplus workers, and helpfully point the way to the airports and ferry terminals.

      • Eric Rall says:

        At the state level, we do see some of that (the corporation side) here in the US. How much happens and how effective depends a lot on region. Here in California, there’s some actual leaving but little threatening and almost no caving by the government. I get the impression that there are more threats and more giving in to the threats in other parts of the country, where the states are smaller (easier to follow through on the threat) and the governments are less ideologically committed against making accommodations for specific businesses.

        If any significant emigration by the poor occurs (either out of the country or from state-to-state), it’s not well-publicized. The impression I get is the contrary — I’ve read quite a few hand-wringing articles about how reluctant the poor are to leave their home towns and go somewhere with better job prospects. The only major exception is people who came to the US seeking work; I’ve heard quite a bit about reverse migrations of low-skilled immigrants (especially those who were here illegally) during economic downturns. But even that appears to be business-cycle driven rather than policy-driven.

  7. Ialdabaoth says:

    I don’t like this because it raises more questions than it answers. Why don’t the poor coordinate this well? Too many of them? And if this is true, how sure should we be of our previous belief that the Secretary of Health and Human Services isn’t coordinating with all the other progressive bureaucrats to deliberately cause social problems?

    Because part of the process that governs this coordination is looking up to your betters. The very-rich generate goals, and act towards them, and then the still-pretty-rich use motivated reasoning to figure out why they should act the same way, and suddenly the rich are all acting together as a block.

    When you’re at the very top of a hierarchy, that downstream ripple can dominate the entire system; when you’re near the bottom, it gets washed out in the noise.

    • Paul Torek says:

      This. Think of it as karma points publicly awarded by the well-respected.

      Edit: Silly me, Protagoras already said the same thing in the very next comment thread.

    • peterdjones says:

      You’re tacitly assuming that there is an implementable formula, ie the luck doesn’t play much of a role. There is much more of a formula for being middle class than being super rich.

  8. Protagoras says:

    I am myself not sure about the bureaucrats (though the affirmative action conspiracy is pretty implausible; it doesn’t seem to have the required features). But it hardly seems unlikely that members of a powerful class would be highly concerned with their status among their own kind. After all, for anyone, one’s own kind make natural allies, and in the case of a powerful group also powerful allies. And there are probably also the usual range of social pressures against defecting from the group consensus. If the ruling class weren’t fairly good at that sort of thing, they probably won’t be the rulers (or at least they wouldn’t hold on to power for long). Despite the dreams of Marx, it is much harder for the lower classes to coordinate in any similar way, both because their larger numbers make coordination harder, and because loyalty is so much less valuable; lower class people don’t make nearly as useful of allies. So even if the upper class have a high probability of shunning a lower class person, the lower class person still may be better off sucking up to the upper class, because if it ever does work the rewards of having an upper class ally are so much greater.

    In particular, I’m inclined to believe Adam Smith’s theory that the owners of capital coordinate to suppress wages. They justify it with various moralizing theories, as you suggest here; in Smith’s time it was not uncommon for people to argue that the working class shouldn’t be paid too well because they’d just waste the money and become lazy, while in more recent times they instead seem to prefer to appeal to various doubtful economic reasons why it would inevitably hinder efficiency. I don’t believe in most other conspiracies, but that one seems pretty well supported by the evidence I’m aware of (I also have some tendency to believe in the Military Industrial Complex being something like a conspiracy worth worrying about).

    • Erebus says:

      Inclined to believe that the owners of capital (and their stewards) coordinate to suppress wages? There’s no reason for the uncertainty: It’s a proven fact. See the recent Silicon Valley ‘no hire’ scandal, among others. Collusion to suppress wages, at the very highest levels of America’s most productive and profitable corporations, certainly exists.

      • Protagoras says:

        Yes, the empirical evidence of what seem to be instances of the phenomenon is part of what makes me inclined to believe Smith’s general thesis. Smith also claimed to observe a correlation between circumstances which made coordination among owners of capital more difficult and higher wages; I’m inclined to trust him, but haven’t examined the relavent data myself.

  9. Princess_Stargirl says:

    When you control for other factors being rich doesn’t even make you more opposed to taxes on rich people. Even controlling for education or SAT score takes away almost all of the affect. The more intellegent someone is (and wealth, SAT, education are all correlated with intellgegence) the more likely they are to be something like a neoliberal democrat. Which means realtive to the average they are signifigantly more libertarian on most issues, including taxing the rich more heavily.

    In general there is no evidence that people vote on the basis of their self interest (on most issues). The evidence is especially strong that people’s motivation is not to support their class interests. In my opinion the only genuinely plausible motivations people have for holding their political beliefs are honest trsutseeking and unconcious biases toward making themselves feel better. Lobbying is a somewhat different issue, since some individuals or companies can actually afford to pay off (possibly in the form of job offers later) politicians or regulators. But for the vast majority of people, advancing political arguments for personal gain would be hilariously stupid. And its unlikely to happen. Though probably people do care more about people like themselves and this will affect their politics.

    Also its a VERY good thing the rich get their way politically in the united states. Political knowledge and intellegence is correlated with wealth. And if you look at the results of surveys of politcal beleifs the rich almost always have more sensible beleifs. Especially in terms of social tolerance (lbgt issues, race) and support for reasonably free markets (they aren’t libertarians by any stretch but support slightly freerer markets than actually exist in the usa etc). If democracy actually listened to all groups equally the results would not be good. I am very agaisnt the neo-reactionary monarchy idea. But if a system can get away with disporpotionately listenign a group with above average intellegence I think it should (assumign the group is reasonably large).

    • cassander says:

      People don’t usually vote their rational self interest, because in most politics self interest is, at best, vague. When it isn’t vague you can be damned sure people will vote their interest, just look at union voting patterns. Of course, people are also very good at confusing “what is good for me” with “what is good for everyone else.”

    • anon says:

      > Also its a VERY good thing the rich get their way politically in the united states. Political knowledge and intellegence is correlated with wealth. […]

      This seems like backwards thinking. Contrast with, given that the rich get their way politically, it’s a VERY good thing that wealth is correlated with intelligence and holding values I agree with. etc. etc.

      • Princess_Stargirl says:

        This does not get accross that I have the following preferences:

        1) An unusual tolerant, knowledgeable and capable group have disporpotinate power

        2) Power be distributed equally

        3) An espeically intolerant, ignorant or incapable group have the power

        At least assumign the powerful group is large enough that politics are stable and so they don’t favor themselves too much.

        I for example am very happy the lower income brackets in the USA do not vote much. If everyone had followed the “vote or die” gay rights would not be anywhere near the current levels.

    • RCF says:

      “In general there is no evidence that people vote on the basis of their self interest (on most issues).”

      Anyone who votes is already not acting in their self interest, so the idea that voting patterns can be explained through self interest is manifestly absurd.

      • Princess_Stargirl says:

        I agree. But “self interested voter” is a pretty commonly held idea. Its sometimes even taken seriously by people who are usually reasonably thoughtful (no one is always thoughtful).

    • Deiseach says:

      But again, I’m quite sure rich people would support (in theory) the notion of ‘tax the rich heavily to improve services for everyone’. It’s just that in their own individual case, they think ‘the rich’ is that guy over there, not me, I’m just comfortable.

      Scott’s “guy who makes a million a year” doesn’t think of himself as rich, because now he’s comparing himself to the guy who makes five million a year, who is comparing himself to the guy who makes fifty million a year, and so on.

  10. Vaniver says:

    Their own contribution doesn’t help the cause very much on net, so their incentive is to defect and hope everyone else does it.

    I think you have the wrong model for what ‘contribution’ looks like here. Consider this recent Sailer blog post on this news article, about middle class blacks in a suburb of Detroit unhappy about lower class blacks from inner city Detroit moving in. For blacks, this problem is as old as Reconstruction- cities where blacks were culturally welcome turned into cities were blacks were culturally unwelcome, because “black” no longer meant “free Northerner” but instead “10% free Northerner, 90% poor Southerner,” and no one wanted poor Southerners around (or to be mistaken for them).

    As far as I can tell, a common historical solution is uplift- the Catholic church put significant effort into raising Irish immigrants to the US up to the local standards, and Jewish organizations put significant effort into raising new immigrants up to local standards, and today you can see it on college campuses where new graduate students from other countries get orientation sessions that deal with things like personal hygiene.

    First, though, uplift requires the factual acknowledgement of a difference in behavior and the moral certainty to declare one way better. You can still hear some voices calling for personal responsibility / acclimation to industrial norms, but the consensus seems to be ‘multiculturalism’ where we don’t condemn Henry directly or work to mold him to our standards unless he steps far out of line. (I would perhaps go further and speculate this is because uplift doesn’t always work, and when forced to decide whether biology drives culture or culture doesn’t matter, society could not swallow the first option and so had to take the second.)

    So if you attempt to keep undesirables out of your suburb and ‘somewhere else,’ you are both improving the quality of your suburb and worsening the situation. A social worker living in the suburbs and working in the city gets the best of both worlds, in some sense.

    • grendelkhan says:

      You can still hear some voices calling for personal responsibility / acclimation to industrial norms, but the consensus seems to be ‘multiculturalism’ where we don’t condemn Henry directly or work to mold him to our standards unless he steps far out of line.

      Here is someone pushing back against the ‘politics of responsibility’, as the phrase goes. The argument does not seem to be that it’s unreasonable to expect people to ‘acclimate to industrial norms’.

      • Vaniver says:

        From the linked article:

        Did the ghastly amount of violence afflicting black Mississippians spring from poor blacks “not holding up their end of the bargain?” Or was it the the fact that black Mississippians were living in a kleptocracy that had no regard for their lives?

        What a good question; let’s try to think of some empirical tests that could give us a clue. If only there were some people of comparable ancestry living somewhere else, where the structure of racism would at least be different.

    • Deiseach says:

      ‘Uplift’ to what are the current social norms doesn’t always work, because social norms change.

      19th century Catholic Church in Ireland did a lot of what you say about ‘uplift’, trying to drag the native level up to what were considered the appropriately virtuous levels of British Empire “Victorian values” (in large part, because of the attitude on the part of our colonial overlords that the Famine was, by and large, our own fault for being disloyal, rebellious and Irish).

      All that effort was then later turned on its head when Britain liberalised its social attitudes, and you got British film-makers making films about the Magdalen Laundries and lamenting the ignorant, repressive, bigoted attitude of Irish Catholicism.

      Hauling ‘the natives’ up to todays’ industrial norms may then be turned into a stick to beat you with by later norms.

  11. Nick T says:

    I’m really glad you’re starting to write about this.

    One thing that helps to uphold this kind of coordination is the tendency to favor (disfavor) people in your reference class who act for (against) your perceived shared interests. I.e., you’ll be more popular with your rich friends if you do the kind of pro-rich activism that they do, and you might be very unpopular (in less civilized environments, dead) if you altruistically support higher taxes. I expect that this is often the main local incentive that people feel in these cases. The question is what gets this off the ground and points it in the direction of collective interest. (Also, how people select the Schelling point of a “class”.) I don’t know the answer to this.

    All of this seems more plausible (fuzzily; I don’t know how to think mechanistically about how these things evolve) when I consider that the relevant instincts evolved in a sub-Dunbar environment, where coalitions were small and could be significantly helped by one additional person, and would notice and be likely to reward individuals that helped them.

    Developing an ideology that says social problems are hard to solve or that prohibits actions that would solve them, and then not solving social problems, seems a lot less self-transparently evil and more likely than causing social problems. Anti-reform revolutionary ideologies are more or less explicitly this, and are in the interest of people who have heavily invested in being revolutionaries. As for non-revolutionaries, at the very least, people are highly motivated to reject solutions to problems that would be more effective than the solutions they feel identified with. Given the rest of this post’s model, it’s a small step from there to being motivated to reject solutions that aren’t their groups or wouldn’t advantage their group, and another step to being motivated to just not solve problems whose existence advantages their group.

    • Slow Learner says:

      The question is what gets this off the ground and points it in the direction of collective interest. (Also, how people select the Schelling point of a “class”.)

      Rich people tend to socialise together. The same mechanisms that support assortative mating (you meet people who are part of the same institutions as you are; you tend to be attracted to people with similar cultural backgrounds; simply having the funds to entertain “properly” selects for those with a certain level of budget) will tend to form social circles of broadly similar wealth…and it’s fuzzy around the edges. A millionaire in a provincial town will mix with a lot more upper middle class people than a millionaire in the big city, because the millionaire in the big city will be surrounded by other millionaires.
      That’s the “class” sorted.
      Now for collective interest…Someone expressed mild dismay at the way their taxes and the cost of sustaining an appropriately upper class lifestyle in general has risen recently.
      Mild gripes about taxation and government waste ensue.
      It becomes axiomatic in this social group that taxes are too high, and that government spending is wasteful; thus when some of them have the chance to influence government policy, they are more likely to exert themselves in that direction.

    • Nornagest says:

      Also, how people select the Schelling point of a “class”.

      At least in the United States, there seems to be a strong trend toward calling yourself middle-class whether or not you are, in fact, middle-class; somewhere in the neighborhood of 90% of Americans self-report as lower-middle, middle, or upper-middle class. Now, there’s an argument to be made that e.g. “lower-middle” simply means “lower” (this is the approach that Pew takes in the linked article, explaining the title), but in this context I think the distinction’s significant.

      I expect this is partly due to certain well-known quirks of the American political mythos, but availability bias seems likely to play a role too: no matter where you lie on the economic spectrum, you’re likely to know people who are both better and worse off than you. Even when you live in a two-million-dollar house in Palo Alto, it’s still easy not to feel rich if your neighbors have a five-million-dollar house.

      • RCF says:

        Well, if you live in a two million dollar house, but you’re just barely able to afford rent/mortgage, you’re justified in feeling not very rich. I think the issue is that you have boundaries that are trying to chop up what is a continuum, and people are strongly motivated towards identifying as the middle category, both because it’s the default mode, and because both “rich” and “poor” have negative associations.

      • meyerkev says:

        As someone living in the Bay Area, I can confirm this.

        I’m in the .05% of my age group, but I hang out with other people who are WAY richer than me because I have roommates and they don’t (I also actually have a maxed-out 401K). Or they’re crashing on Daddy’s couch, so their $40K/year income becomes $4K/year in gas and $36K in discretionary income.

        And if I’m running around on “Makes six figures a year, has roommates, is paycheck to paycheck, can’t afford to see a doctor, and still doesn’t have a couch in the living room a year after moving out here”:

        1) I’m really against raising my taxes. At least until I get a couch. If they said “We’ll take an extra 5% and we’ll fix the traffic (and this will only cost 2% and then we’ll hand the other 3% to poor people)”, that would be worth thinking about. Since they’re saying “Let’s take an extra 5% and give you nothing and hand it to all these poor people (or waste $7 Billion on 1 bridge and $1.2 Billion on 1.5 miles of subway)”, that’s not really worth discussing.

        2) I’m noting that, at least outwardly, people making a third my income are in *basically* the same spot (albeit with less 401K and a bit less quick to drop $20 on an Uber to save 45 minutes waiting for the train). My ex-roommate making a third what I am just spent 2 weeks in Hawaii. WTF? Is everyone secretly drowning in credit card debt?

        3) I legitimately don’t get how normal people do it. If $160K turns into $3000/month in takehome after taxes, 401K, and health insurance (but not the $5K deductible. Which I can’t afford), plus a $20K one-off check every June that pays for things like plane tickets home for Christmas, car registrations, doctor’s appointments, and furniture for the living room, how screwed are the guys making $50K?

        (* Last one-off: Paid off car, paid off student loans, paid for weekend jaunt to Paris to see my sister who I hadn’t seen in a year while I was on a work trip in Dublin.

        Next one-off: Will pay for furniture in living room, will pay for seeing doctors (Just because they give you insurance is no guarantee you can pay the deductible), will pay for plane ticket home for Christmas.)

        I will never own a house. I am halfway to the income levels I’d need where I’d feel house-poor buying a house. I am the 2%. There’s a couple million people on the Peninsula with current prices starting at a million dollars/house (ignoring EPA and South Redwood City), so either the entire 2% lives in the Bay Area on the Peninsula, or I’m seriously missing something.

        I get how normal people do it in the Midwest. When a house is $200K, and a medium-level 2BR is $800, that’s doable. I don’t get how they do it in the Bay Area.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          We do it by never, ever, under any circumstances, choosing to live in the Bay Area.*

          *This also has the side effect of not having to spend time with Bay Area people, a nontrivial benefit. 😉

        • Zorgon says:

          Your estimation of value is vastly distorted by the availability heuristic of the place in which you live.

          There really is nothing more to it than that.

        • Eric Rall says:

          I, too, live in the Bay Area, and my pre-tax income is in the same general range as yours, but my experience is very different from yours. I own a house and I have enough left over each paycheck to make substantial contributions to my non-401k savings.

          I may be way off base because I don’t know all the particulars of your situation, I have some guesses on things that might be different:
          – I live in a relatively cheap part of the Bay Area (northern Sunnyvale). In general, the further down the Peninsula you live and the closer to the bay coast you are, the cheaper housing is. Consider moving to either Sunnyvale/Santa Clara (if you work south of about Menlo Park or Redwood City) or Fremont (if you work further up the Peninsula).

          – I have pretty cheap tastes in entertainment. I hardly ever drink at bars, cook most of my own meals, etc. The vast majority of my social activity consists of getting together with friends at one of our houses.

          – I put together a reasonable stock of working capital before moving to the Bay Area; SoCal and the Seattle area are more expensive than most of the rest of the country, but significantly cheaper than the Bay Area. Having no consumer debt and a reasonable amount of cash in the bank helps cushion a lot of “surprise” expenses and allows you to take a longer-term outlook on your big purchases. In your situation, it might be worth backing off your 401k contributions until you can get any consumer debt paid off and some money in the bank for emergencies.

        • Princess_Stargirl says:

          Where does one even find statistics for the .05 percentile by age group? I can’t seem to find any.

          I find it hard to believe though that low 6 figures is enough to put you in the .05%. (one in two thousand). I would guess you need to be making more like 300k+ ?

          Also if you are making over 200k then your post seems crazy. You couldn’t possibly need roomates.

          Do you mean the top 5% no the top .05% ?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          meyerkev, I hope you learned something about people’s reading comprehension.

        • drethelin says:

          You can very easily find couches for free on the curb around student move-in and move-out times of the year.

        • anon1 says:

          “If $160K turns into $3000/month in takehome after taxes, 401K, and health insurance” – that’s not normal, and that’s not related to being in the Bay Area. A couple of tax calculators indicate that state + federal taxes should be around $50K total, so that means that your health insurance plus 401(k) are $74K total. That is not normal. Maybe instead of drowning in credit card debt your ex-roommate just isn’t saving as much as you are.

          Being “paycheck to paycheck” because you are choosing to save, every year, enough for a cheapass like me to live comfortably on for at least four, is not what a normal person means by being “paycheck to paycheck,” and not having $5K easily available around because you put it all in investments is not what a normal person means by not being able to afford a $5K deductible.

          One other way that normal people who do for some reason choose to live in the Bay Area can save a fair bit of money is by not having a car. Because seriously, it’s expensive and you waste a lot of time looking for parking, and it’s just not worth it most of the time.

        • no one special says:

          This strategy is not unknown, but is rare. The only real odd thing is your attitude.

          Your strategy of paying down all your debt and maxing your 401k is a know strategy for being nicely settled — say retiring around 50.

          Is everyone secretly drowning in credit card debt?

          Yes, or student loan debt. If they’re doing well, they’re putting just enough into their 401k to get their employer match. Maxing your 401k is very rare. Comparison: My mother is now paying off her student loan debt with her social security checks. You’re probably as far from the median as she is, but in the opposite direction.

          I’d guess less than 10% of people are using your strategy. The odd thing is that most of them are bragging about how they’re eliminating their debt and saving for an early retirement, not whinging about how they don’t own a couch. Normal people buy a couch, take a vacation, have a car loan and student debt, and don’t max their 401k.

          The question to me is, why are you making these choices, given that you don’t like them? As the man says, we’d like to get a sample of your brain tissue.

        • Eli says:

          The Bay Area has actual problems aside from people just feeling jealous, actually. But you’re still rich.

          Errr… on any reasonable scale, you’re still quite rich, but the difference is that you live in an area whose economy is distorted as hell on behalf of a tiny clique of landowners, with the aim of maximizing the ground-rent they can extract from the actual productive economy. If Bay Area city governments grew some goddamn balls, stood up to their stupid-ass citizens, and built shit-tons more dense, transit-oriented housing like every sensible booming urban area the world over, you would not have the problem of making incredible sums of money but still feeling poor.

          You’re not poor, but you are real-estate poor. In a society that bases its emotional sense of financial security on real-estate asset ownership, that makes you feel poor (because you can’t acquire the asset that makes you officially a Grown-Up: a house in a burbclave). However, you are only real-estate poor because the current asset-owners are exploiting control over local government to heavily restrict the supply of liveable housing.

          TL;DR: You are not poor but you are heavily exploited in the Marxist sense (by your employer, and also especially by your landlord).

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s a good way of putting it.

            Vague libertarian sympathies or no, Bay Area local politics bring out the bloodthirsty anarchist leveler in me. Ideally we should be putting up skyscrapers as fast as Zhengzhou or Makati, with transit to match, but failing that I’d settle for stringing up some landlords from the nearest handy lamppost. (Hi, Multi!)

            Well, not really. That would cause more problems than it solves. But I find the thought calming, especially when I’ve been stuck in traffic for the last hour and a half.

  12. social justice warlock says:

    It seems to me that whenever you get exposed to Marxism directly, you cast a thousand curses upon it, but whenever you’re left to reason independently about things that aren’t race/gender/medicine/discourse, you come to pretty Marxist conclusions.

    A good next thing to do (not that I am secretly leading you down the forbidden Marxist corridors to redguardspill you, no, no, I would never do that, kind sir) is think about the kind of institutions that would enable this sort of spooky contractarian behavior. (Reading a lot of institutionally-focused history is a good way to develop (possibly biased) intuitions about this sort of thing, but you’re a smart cookie.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “It seems to me that whenever you get exposed to Marxism directly, you cast a thousand curses upon it, but whenever you’re left to reason independently about things that aren’t race/gender/medicine/discourse, you come to pretty Marxist conclusions.”

      This is the only way I ever learn about anything. Read a bunch of Hobbes, “Hobbes is stupid”, think for a while about complicated problems, suddenly realize my answers are the same as his.

      But I’m very confused here. Wondering if class warfare is impossible in principle hardly seems like the sort of thing Marx would do.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        No, it’s pretty much straight-up classic Marxism to say “oppressed classes have a false consciousness that makes class warfare impossible, until something changes and then you get a revolution and then a new oppressed class is formed and develops its own false consciousness, which all only ever happens once so we’re totally safe now hey put down that hammer.”

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’m still confused. I’m saying it’s not clear any class can have consciousness at all, and if they can it would be easier for the poor than the rich.

          • Matthew says:

            Whether a class can have consciousnesss seems a distinct question from whether the members of that class can be conscious of belonging to it… Maybe I’m just getting confused by your wording, though.

            I think most people in the world are pretty conscious of their class, even if it’s blurrier in the US than almost anywhere else.

          • Slow Learner says:

            Easier for the rich, surely – they go to the same schools, and the same parties, and tend to be more cosmopolitan, smoothing over the locality/sports-team/accent/etc based divisions that are more noticeable amongst poor people.

          • Eli says:

            Do the poor or the rich gather in expensive seminars with highly-paid speakers at prestigious universities to talk about whatever ideological ideas they might have over free catered hors d’oeuvres? Do you think that such seminars might be conducive, via ordinary irrationality and rationalization, to the formation of ideologies generally conducive to the holding of further seminars by the same people?

            Well there’s your answer.

            And yes, the poor once did have a coordinating institution. It was called “the pub”.

      • social justice warlock says:

        I can certainly sympathize – lately I find myself reproducing Max Weber (himself a reproducer of Marx.)

        Actually maybe I should revise some of my earlier recommendations to just say “read Max Weber” (if you can summon the time,) since on a substantive level he’s very similar to Marx even though their philosophy of science and their politics are very different. For the present topic I’d start with “Class, Status, and Party.”

        But I’m very confused here. Wondering if class warfare is impossible in principle hardly seems like the sort of thing Marx would do.

        Class warfare being impossible is hardly the conclusion that he came to. But how exactly class warfare is accomplished, what are the structural things that make it possible, &c., are simple correlates of suspecting that class warfare is really really important! And the answers you’re toying with are bringing you in the right direction.

    • drethelin says:

      Or Marxists aren’t incoherent, but Marx was. So Scott and Marxists, using their powers of intelligence and reason come to similar conclusions, which Marxists claim for Marxism and Scott claims for Rationality (or perhaps Scottism).

      Or there might be a case of mutual Illusion of Transparency going on.

  13. Matthew says:

    Why don’t the poor coordinate this well?

    I don’t know if this is how actual Marxists would explain it, but I think what the rich actually have historically coordinated around, whether consciously or not, is an ideology that produces “Let us manipulate the system to keep ourselves rich, and co-opt just enough of the poor — by raising them to a distinct middle class — that they don’t have uniform interests and can’t coordinate against us effectively.”

    • Lesser Bull says:

      As another low level bureacrat, boy howdy, how right you are.

      Successful progressive parties don’t have to consciously aim to create misery in ways that aren’t totally obviously the progressive party’s fault. It’s just that Darwin has decreed that they have to unconsciously achieve that effect, or else they will lose power. It’s simply natural selection.

  14. Tom Hunt says:

    I think, rather than conspiracy or coordination among humans, this problem might be better modeled as natural selection acting over memes.

    For the “progressives have an incentive to cause problems in order to justify progressivism” issue, the conspiracy-theory explanation is facially and farcically stupid. It requires only the most cursory knowledge of actual progressive people to conclude that no, there is no one out there who is explicitly thinking to themselves “I need to conspire to cause social problems, in order to let my faction gain more political power!” And yet, there are a plethora of impeccably progressive positions or programs which have, empirically, caused enormous numbers of social problems. And funnily enough, the prescription usually pushed by progressives to solve these social problems is just more of the same.

    Thus, selection over memes. No one involved in this whole disaster is ill-intentioned (with possible exceptions down at the noise level). They’re all genuinely convinced that the solution to black poverty is more welfare, or whatever. But the program they’re pushing is one that actually exacerbates the problem they’re trying to solve. And this is adaptive on the memetic level; if a problem is big and visible and metastasizing left and right, then people who are constantly warning about the horribleness of that problem and writing long papers about how to solve it gain social status and resources to attempt to fix the problem. This puts those people in a position to propagate their ideas about the problem. And if the programs involved actually solve the problem, then this forms a negative feedback loop, in which the problem goes away and society stops feeding resources to it. But if they exacerbate it, you get a positive feedback loop instead, so long as the people pushing the harmful programs can successfully pretend (to themselves and others) that their influence is helping rather than harming. And the harmful ideas about how to solve the problem are able to propagate.

    I think this is a pretty elegant explanation for a lot of historical phenomena in relatively recent times. At least, it should avoid the immediate implausibility of a literal enormous perfectly secret conspiracy among all progressives, or all black elites, or whatever.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t know, this sounds a lot like group selectionism, or at least foresighted-selectionism.

      Imagine two poverty-solving memes in two neighboring states. One is effective, the other fails and makes things worse. It seems to me that when the first state solves poverty and the second becomes much worse, the second state would adopt its plan and the more beneficial meme would spread.

      And on the individual level, the people who successfully solved the problem are the ones who get book deals and speaking engagements and get promoted (if we are indeed assuming no one is ill-intentioned).

      • cassander says:

        Scott, you assume failures are visible, salient, and lack defenders. Most are none of those things. Look at housing projects. Terrible idea, did immense damage, but they persisted for decades, long after it was demonstrable that they were a bad idea. This happened because they did not get created until they were the conventional wisdom, and most people accept the CW on most things. And then once created, they generated an enormous amount of lobbying pressure to keep them going. the politicians who handed out the contract, the builders, the people who lived in them, the bureaucrats who managed them, the planners who proposed them, all were hugely invested in calling them a success and defending them against those who said they were a bad idea. And the people who didn’t live near the projects and weren’t having their neighborhoods blown up to build them didn’t care, so they voted for them because it felt good to “do something” about poverty. of course, that is an idea that was eventually defeated, but it took, literally, generations to do so. Had projects been a somewhat less visible failure we might still be building housing projects, like we are with public schools.

        • Deiseach says:

          Housing schemes developed because people wanted to solve a legitimate problem – the slums.

          The designers and planners ignored the necessities of human society; they slapped up houses/apartment blocks, but forgot/ignored that people needed access to shops, needed public transport, needed all kinds of things that vast estates of houses on the outskirts of the city did not already contain.

          Plus, problem tenants tended to get lumped in together on the one estate after being transferred from other estates, so the practical effect was creating new slums.

          I’m currently working in a local government housing department, and seeing all this at first hand. One, just one, problem tenant can create a whole ripple effect that makes a housing estate (project, in American) troublesome.

      • Steve Johnson says:

        Right, and lets say that the poverty solution was something “unimaginably” reactionary.

        Then it didn’t solve poverty and had downsides and look at the people left behind, etc. The number one progressive priority is to stop the reactionary solution. Once you get rid of the offending solution then you taboo any discussion of returning to it.

        Example, where’s the big push to bring back Rhodesia which was superior in every way to Zimbabwe? Oh, that’s taboo to mention?

        • Protagoras says:

          Rhodesia fell. The reasons that it fell don’t seem to have reversed themselves (some issues like demographics seem to have become more hostile to such a system). So even someone who agrees that Zimbabwe is worse than Rhodesia was (as I do) may well think that it’s much more productive to try to bring about some third alternative, rather than pine for Rhodesia, which is surely never coming back and wasn’t all that great anyway.

          • Tom Hunt says:

            One doesn’t have to pine for Rhodesia specifically to note that a lot of the ways Rhodesia did things seem to have had much better results than the way Zimbabwe is doing things, and note that this is relevant. For instance, the whole ‘universal-suffrage democracy’ bit doesn’t seem to have worked out all that well. But it’s still taboo to even bring this up, because horrible racist white racism apartheid worse than Hitler.

            There is an argument to be made that returning to the status quo Rhodesia had is no longer practical. But no one is making that argument.

          • Steve Johnson says:

            Space aliens didn’t cause Rhodesia to fall. Progressives did.

            That was a plainly destructive act that was nonetheless coordinated.

            A restoration lead by former Rhodesian and South African mercenaries would be greeted with horror by progressives. If you live in the United States and make a major public point of advocating that mercenary groups overthrow the government of Zimbabwe and bring back the Rhodesian government you will lose your job and people will attempt to make your life miserable.

            That looks to me like an example of exactly what Scott claims doesn’t exist because it would require too great a level of evil.

            It does require a high level of evil.

            It does exist.

          • Protagoras says:

            Didn’t I just make the argument that returning to status quo Rhodesia is not practical? So it’s not true that nobody is making that argument.

          • Tom Hunt says:

            Okay, that argument is not part of the mainstream public discourse on Zimbabwe/Rhodesia.

            As far as I can tell, said mainstream public discourse consists largely of a lot of uncomfortable silence and ineffectual hand-wringing, and no one ever brings up the comparison to Rhodesia at all. Compare to the reaction when Rhodesia was actually in power.

        • Nornagest says:

          I don’t understand why Rhodesia/Zimbabwe keeps getting brought up in these discussions. If you look at graphs of its GDP, you find that it roughly tracks the rest of sub-Saharan Africa — both after and before the Bush War — until the last couple decades of the 20th century, when Robert Mugabe started really taking things off the rails. That seems to disprove at a stroke both the meme saying that it was some kind of colonial utopia before the revolution and the one saying that it crashed economically as a direct result of the revolution: sure, the dictator that that revolution installed did eventually end up screwing everything up, but it took him twenty years, which isn’t what we’d expect if colonial (which is, of course, to say white) management was the only thing holding the place together.

          • Leonard says:

            You seem to see 20 years in a human society as a long period of time. Whereas I see it as a relatively short amount of time. To me, it is stunning how soon after its “independence” Zimbabwe cratered.

            Yeah, white management was obviously a thing (if perhaps not the only thing) holding the place together.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, for one thing it didn’t really crater — it stagnated. There were periods of negative growth, but the GDP graph is jaggy, not consistently negative. (This is not uncommon in African nations, but it’s not universal — Botswana’s GDP graph for example is smoothly exponential. They’re doing better than China per capita, actually.)

            For another, a sufficiently bad move by a dictator can easily screw a nation up no matter that nation’s age or race, so the proper reference class for Zimbabwe reads to me as “insane dictator thing” more than “postcolonial malaise thing”. Ferdinand Marcos for example managed to tank the Philippine GDP by 20% between 1983 and 1986.

      • Tom Hunt says:

        Several factors:

        1. Social problems are kind of hard, and history runs no controlled experiments. This means that there’s a whole lot of room in the discourse for people to confuse the issue. The whole iatrogenic-escalation pattern runs on this—”Sure, the problem didn’t go away. But our intervention is the only reason it’s not far, far worse! Clearly, the answer is to give us more money to keep doing the same thing!” And this isn’t even necessarily incorrect in any given case, and trying to go back to the object level to solve it invites more obfuscation.

        2. This model doesn’t need to posit any cartoonishly evil actors, but that doesn’t mean all the actors are perfect, rational angels, either. The partisans of the non-poverty-solving-meme have plenty of reason to keep on that bus; intellectual pride, sunk cost fallacy, status quo bias, will all combine to make people reluctant to throw out a non-working solution which they proposed, or put a lot of work into, or is paying their salary.

        3. In many cases, a success is unobtrusive and easy to overlook, while a failure continues to be obvious and attract more attention. It’s easy to imagine the state with the good meme establishing an Office of Poverty-Solving which only actually needs a dozen employees and just keeps on solving poverty without making a big fuss about it, while the Office of Not-Actually-Solving-Poverty one state over keeps needing more funds, more employees, and so forth in pursuit of doing more of the same thing. And this enormously funded very large office is going to have more political clout than the Office of Poverty-Solving off in a different state, and its decision-makers are going to be reluctant to throw everything out and start again with a new paradigm, for the reasons discussed above.

        It is probable that in a world of perfectly rational angels, this failure mode couldn’t crop up. But there’s a quote somewhere about the superfluity of government in that case.

      • Mary says:

        Why would he get promoted? To do more anti-poverty programs? But you don’t need them. He solved the problem, which means it goes away, and he loses his job.

        Notice that the pursuit of social justice apparently keeps tumbling into vaguer claims, ones where you can’t prove as easily that they are solved, which keeps jobs not only by changing their aim, but by making it harder to claim that an aim has been reached.

        • Deiseach says:

          But it is also the case that, when the large visible obvious problem is solved, then the smaller ones previously hidden get revealed.

          Say you have a toothache and tuberculosis. Obvioulsy, the big problem that needs immediate treatment is the tuberculosis. But once that’s cured, then your toothache becomes very noticeable.

          Compared with TB, a toothache is not that big a deal. But anyone who’s ever had a toothache (which I imagine is most of us?) can attest that being told “But your TB is gone, why are you still complaining?” is not at all helpful.

          • Mary says:

            Yeah, but the reality is that the SJWs will overlook the toothache to bellyache about the possibility of a rash — three or four years in the future — if something isn’t changed.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        Consider the small scale: a bunch of neighbouring towns with subtle variations on the same meme. Some make things slightly better; some slightly worse. Given how hard things are to measure, a small improvement won’t overcome general stubbornness and in-group bias. But a small worsening will cause a small increase in energy in that circle and increased dominance for the meme. So a homolog-set will drift evilward.

        These memes will also develop defences. The last thing any meme “wants” is to be displaced by a neighbor. So these memes will develop special epistemologies, principal-agent problems and other means of enforcing status-quo bias to defend against each-other. There will be something of an arms race here, so these will get pretty sophisticated.

        Now, if a completely different set of techniques shows major improvement, that’s harder to ignore. But the memes’ defences are ready, so we can expect people to be pretty good at ignoring things.

        How does this work in real life? Well, let’s think of a case where someone solved a social problem while the rest of the world struggled. A really solid solution that clearly succeeded.

        Umm…

        I hear the US military did a pretty good job of stamping out racism internally. For anyone else trying to do that to copy them would be pretty unthinkable. But maybe their techniques actually wouldn’t transfer.

        I hear Norway had some success at stopping repeat crime via rehabilitation. Some activists in the US are talking about copying it, but it’s not part of the mainstream debate.

        I’m probably missing some really big success stories from further back in history, but I’m just not thinking of them right now.

        • RCF says:

          Your posts show how muddled the concept of “meme” is. The etymology suggest that it is analogous to “gene”, but it your formulation, “meme” refers to an entire complex of interwoven ideas that support each other. I’m not sure trying to argue the actual content is a productive avenue, when the nomenclature is so muddled.

        • Anonymous says:

          I get the impression that the 24/7 Sobriety program in South Dakota and the HOPE program in Hawai’i might qualify. They’re slowly spreading.

          • grendelkhan says:

            This is a really cool meta-analysis of social programs for young people. I don’t know why it sorts by total cost/benefit rather than the ratio of the two, but if you scan the second-from-right column, you can see that the worst program is “Scared Straight”.

            (I followed the footnote for ‘regular parole’, and I didn’t see how they got a ‘negative benefit’ result for it; the linked report says that parole for juvenile offenders costs money and does nothing, rather than costing money and making things worse. So either I’m missing something or one should have low confidence in the report.)

            Here’s another consequentialist analysis; this one examines programs to reduce crime (of which ‘longer prison terms’ is the one we’re currently using).

          • Daniel Speyer says:

            @grendelkhan

            Not a single counterproductive substance abuse prevention program? I can kind of see how that’s the tendency of their selection criteria, but I’m still sceptical.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Daniel Speyer: the table continues on to the following page; “STARS for Families” and “D.A.R.E.” are in the red.

      • Slow Learner says:

        And they also become “social problem experts”, called in to deal with other social problems of note.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Doesn’t this thought experiment prove too much? If this group selectionism is so effective, why do we have states going downhill in the first place?

        I also think you’re smuggling in the assumption that the system is selecting for “poverty reduction,” which is precisely what’s under dispute.

        (I could pull in a lot of contemporary political examples at this point, but as LW likes to say “actually checking our theories against reality is the mind-killer.”)

        • Steve Johnson says:

          Reality has an unforgivably reactionary bias.

          Not to mention how racist and sexist it is. Best to avoid it entirely.

      • Imagine, hypothetically that a nation solved poverty. Specifically, suppose that the bottom of the income distribution consumed more food than they needed, lived in houses with 2 rooms per person, had consistent access to flush toilets, electricity, television and phone. Suppose 75% of people at the bottom of the income distribution owned a car, 25% owned 2 cars, and 45% owned a home.

        From the perspective of a person who lives in India, this sounds like “vast wealth” to me. Most software engineers and other professionals can’t live up to this level of opulence.

        Do you believe this fact would be obvious, and people would think “wow, nation X solved it”. Do you think that nation would then turn their attention to other issues, while other nations would simply copy them?

        Apparently not, given that I just described the US. Instead, what happens is that the definition of “poverty” is redefined upwards and people talk about other statistics that intuitively sound emotionally similar but are fundamentally different (e.g. inequality).

        (Google obesity statistics from the USDA and the American Housing Survey to verify my numbers.)

        • Mary says:

          I have had people actually say, in face of those statistics and the observation that people on this planet are starving, that we should look after our fellow countrymen first. Indeed some have declared it’s human nature to be willing to pay for these people but not a starving non-countryman.

          They get very ticked off if you point out that there were indeed political philosophies based on that in the 20th century.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          My understanding is that many nations did notice that western liberal capitalist nations were super rich and try to copy them, except for most of the world, copying them was easier said than done.

          • Salem says:

            It’s not that hard to copy the West; the disagreement was on which features they should copy.

            Third world countries that started their modernization programmes early, such as Japan, saw the West as capitalist, and so got rich quickly, and are no longer counted as third world. But countries that started their modernization programmes after WW2, such as India, saw the West as moving to a “mixed economy,” and so they copied that. After all, if you want to be modern, you copy what the modern countries are doing now, not what they used to do a century ago… and they were of course encouraged in this by all the Western academics, so eager to implement their pet ideas. So India got the License Raj and long-term stagnation because it was trying to modernize.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          This is vast wealth. The problem is, as you mentioned, we ratchet upward: if the folks whose jobs depend on the existence of poor people get to define “poor” as X% of average income, they’ll never be out of a job.

          For the vast majority of history, and still in huge swathes of the world, “poverty” was basically defined as “gonna starve to death this year?” The U.S. has solved this. Now we fret about “food insecurity” and “food deserts.”

          While all of this does occasionally rankle, and make us old folks shake our fists at how kids these days just don’t understand, I suppose in a way it’s a blessing. Go ahead and tell me about how oppressed you are, from your iPhone. I think it’s pretty neat that the U.S. has basically solved so many endemic human problems that we have the luxury of complaining about trivialities.

          • Multiheaded says:

            Go ahead and tell me about how oppressed you are, from your iPhone.

            This is so fucking awful. Look, make fun of Tumblr all you want but they understand why this is fucking stupid and you don’t. You really aren’t aware of the many and different horrible ways that life works.

            Really, you really fucking think that in 2014 the ownership of a goddamn smartphone signifies that one is radically unlikely to sustain misery, violence and damaging long-term effects?

            Please.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Relative poverty is different from absolute poverty, but I don’t think that these things are ‘trivialities’. And it’s at least indelicate to tell people worse off than you that they shouldn’t complain so much.

            (Funny enough, we have someone making six figures in the comments complaining that they can only go to Paris or Hawaii, not both, and that their taxes are too high… but no one seems interested in finger-wagging at them to be grateful for what they have. It’s as though people who suddenly become interested in absolute poverty when the plight of their countrymen is brought up had ulterior motives or something.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Funny enough, we have someone making six figures in the comments […] and no one seems interested in finger-wagging at them to be grateful for what they have

            To be fair, cost of living here in the Bay Area, and especially on the Peninsula, really is hilariously, sillily high. I can absolutely buy someone around here making six figures and still feeling less-than-middle-class, given certain data points about how they’re handling those six figures; I’m in some ways living in less luxury now, as a well-paid Silicon Valley engineer, than I was when I was ten and living with my divorced mother who, at the time, wasn’t making much more than minimum wage.

            But to be extra super fair, that’s largely by choice, and by other standards I’m in very good financial shape. Which isn’t to say that local governments down here aren’t guilty of criminal mismanagement, but that’s another issue.

          • Multiheaded says:

            grendelkhan: thank you!

          • anon1 says:

            > but no one seems interested in finger-wagging at them to be grateful for what they have

            I tried a bit. Might have been too restrained though. Ended up deleting all the stuff like “I hope your taxes skyrocket, because even as badly as the City of San Francisco might be at managing that money, you’re clearly even worse if you can’t see how a normal person would live comfortably on a third of your income.”

            I do tend to lose people when I go a little further and tell them to ride a bike because the bus is too expensive, and explain how it’s really not that hard to eat on $2 a day. (It’s not! Well, if you like to cook and also aren’t doing much more exercise than biking a few miles a day.)

          • Grendelkhan, there is a subreddit with 144k readers devoted to mocking people complaining about one vacation/year.

            http://www.reddit.com/r/firstworldproblems/

            http://www.livememe.com/j5al7mp

            I don’t feel particularly bad telling people “worse off than me” they shouldn’t complain. Among other things, they probably don’t lack any material goods/services that I want or have (my consumption is well below that of the average poor consumer unit).

            More precisely, I feel a little bad that they are the jealous type, but I don’t feel bad that they can’t afford things that I could afford but don’t consume.

          • Anonymous says:

            “Really, you really fucking think that in 2014 the ownership of a goddamn smartphone signifies that one is radically unlikely to sustain misery, violence and damaging long-term effects?”

            We think it means that if you are in peril of starving to death, or freezing from the lack of clothes or shelter, it probably means that you are spending stupidly, not lacking in means.

          • Nornagest says:

            “I hope your taxes skyrocket, because even as badly as the City of San Francisco might be at managing that money, you’re clearly even worse if you can’t see how a normal person would live comfortably on a third of your income.”

            $160K is (more than) affordable in San Francisco or the Peninsula. $80K wouldn’t be too difficult either, although you wouldn’t want to max your 401K with income like that. $53K is… marginal.

            Case study the first: I had a friend who was making a bit less than that as a copywriter, living in a studio apartment in SF’s second-worst neighborhood, and she did only get by by running up some pretty serious debt. (She lives in Portland now, which isn’t a cheap city but is much more affordable.)

            Case study the second: I know someone else who teaches, along with his wife, in SF’s public school system. They and their child live in a small house in SF’s third-worst neighborhood, and make ends meet by driving for Lyft and doing the AirBnB thing.

            Living in SF on a normal-person salary is doable, but I wouldn’t call it comfortable by any means. Seems to require two or more of: having roommates on a temporary or permanent basis, living in shitty parts of town, going into debt, or tolerating very long commutes.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Chris Stucchio: I think it’s a near/far sort of thing, which is what I was trying to highlight. It’s a lot easier to mock hypothetical internet people for “feeling poor” than it is to tell this specific person here complaining about making ends meet in the Bay Area to stop being so ungrateful.

            Hypothetical relatively-poor people should just suck it up and ride the bus, but it’s much harder to tell an actual person that they should be happy to choose between spending a quarter of their waking hours navigating mass transit and living somewhere they’re sure they’re going to get shanked.

            (Also, /r/firstworldproblems is not dedicated to making fun of anything that people actually feel that they’re suffering from. Nobody there says “I had to sit in traffic for an hour straight… on a road not beset by bandits or plagued with landmines!”, or “I got cancer… which I had the opportunity to do because I survived childhood!”, y’know?)

        • I keep seeing things written by people in the US who are or have been very much poorer than that.

          http://whatever.scalzi.com/2005/09/03/being-poor/

          • I can think of a few possibilities.

            1) Things were worse in the 80’s when John Scalzi grew up. (I’m too lazy to check – most easily available stats start in the early 2000’s.)
            2) The census, CPS, BLS surveys, etc are totally wrong.
            3) Some tiny fraction of the US is really that poor, and we apply the non-central fallacy. I.e., we use the bottom 1.5% as a representative of the bottom 15%.
            4) A large number of people were as poor as Scalzi describes for a very short period of time, and they draw their anecdotes from that period.
            5) Scalzi and others exaggerate.

            Also, please take note. I live in India. What Scalzi describes does not sound poor to me. A car? A flush toilet? You are already middle class. Middle class folks here do care about one carb source costing 20% more than another, and my secretary is extremely happy that I pay her $5/hour.

            Most of what Scalzi describes is simply feeling sad that others are better off than you. That’s not the same thing as going outside to poop, daily water cuts, and sharing a two wheeler with 10 other people.

      • Eli says:

        And on the individual level, the people who successfully solved the problem are the ones who get book deals and speaking engagements and get promoted (if we are indeed assuming no one is ill-intentioned).

        No, the pop-intellectual with the slick marketing (see: Malcolm Gladwell) gets book deals and speaking engagements. Being right or wrong has very little to do with it.

  15. Stephen says:

    Does anyone just have a graph of Republican/Democrat support levels as a function of income? I feel like there’s a ton of different stereotypes about this: poor people support Republicans (rednecks), poor people support Democrats (oppressed minorities), rich people support Republicans (conversative CEOs), rich people support Democrats (liberal elite). I’ve never been able to make heads or tails of it (sometimes I think people just pick the stereotype that supports their current point) and it’d be nice to see the actual data.

    • Matthew says:

      The conventional “+wealth = +Republican” is correct, but the effect is somewhat obscured because it breaks down somewhat among the super-wealthy (who are a tiny portion of the population overall).

      You can see it broken down by household income of $75k+, $30k-$74.9k, and <$30k in the first table here. Even with recent gains among working-class whites, wealth correlates with being a Republican.

    • cassander says:

      this data is just whites, but it shows that making more money generally makes groups more republican, the effect of education is larger. ANd it bears in mind remembering that one category, whites with HS, but no college degree, has about twice as many people as all the other groups put together.

      http://andrewgelman.com/2012/03/23/voting-patterns-of-americas-whites-from-the-masses-to-the-elites/

    • g says:

      You might want to read “Red state, blue state, rich state, poor state” (it was an embarrassingly long time between when I first saw that title and when I realised it was a Dr Seuss reference) by Andrew Gelman.

      If memory serves, one of the things he found was: in each state, richer people are more likely to vote Republican, but in richer states more people vote Democrat. I’d guess it would be enlightening to look at what happens if you aggregate at other geographical scales besides “one person” and “one state”, but I don’t recall whether there’s any of that in Gelman’s book.

  16. Nick says:

    Why don’t the poor coordinate this well?

    It may be the poor think they don’t have much to sacrifice and so don’t bother, because strapped for money and time and etc. From what I’ve heard many CEOs and such do work long hours, but they have the money to spare and clearly still have the time to spare or no one would be going to said Romney-zillion-dollar-a-plate fundraisers.

  17. Steve Johnson says:

    Productive coordination is hard. Imagine building an apartment building by everyone doing some little bit that they choose to do with no communication between people.

    Destructive coordination is easy. Imagine a bunch of people making an apartment building uninhabitable without communicating. Dead easy! Hell, cutting off communication makes it even easier since you can’t yell at a neighbor for attracting rats and roaches by having a filthy kitchen.

    Unless you force people to work for non-destructive policy then destructive policy is the default. Most ideas are bad. The only coordination problem is making sure that no productive policies get implemented. That’s pretty freaking easy – just taboo them. Progressivism is extremely good at tabooing effective solutions to social problems.

    Oh, and actual message coordination exists among progressives – journolist, frex – and most of the effort there is simply making sure that everyone attacks any effective idea.

    How often do you see the Republicans (the fake opposition) make attacks that are in the form of “if you really want to x you’d y – that would be effective” – and be ignored or mocked?

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      You’re performing several slights of hand here.

      First, I think that your destructive/productive analogy is bad. Compare: “productive coordination is easy. Look at the economy: if you get out of the way positive-sum trades just happen. Destructive coordination, on the other hand, is very difficult. Logistics is the most important part of war and often falls apart.”

      “Just taboo them” is hiding a coordination problem. How do progressives agree on what is taboo? How do we keep someone from going “actually, punishing someone saying the taboo thing is tiresome, I wanna watch Hannibal tonight” or “fuck, man, not saying anything on the List of Forbidden Words is hard, I’m not going to do that” or “actually you are the REAL oppressor for saying Opinion X is unthinkable, please give me all the SJ Points”?

      Not to mention that, astonishingly, your theory requires that progressives all know what the good policies are and choose not to implement them For The Evulz. This suggests that progressives are better at figuring out good policy than literally any other form of government tried, and we should definitely keep them around and just do the opposite of whatever they say.

      • Tom Hunt says:

        Productive coordination harder than destructive is entirely true. Entropy is a thing. Logistics in warfare is an attempt at productive coordination in a high-entropy environment. The economy, meanwhile, isn’t really coordinating toward any goal, and it has a known tendency to run off into the jaws of Moloch. I’m giving Steve the point here.

        I don’t think it’s so much about progressives attacking effective solutions, as progressives attacking reactionary solutions (while the boundary of what counts as “reactionary” creeps wider and wider). And, of course, progressives are not all unified in this, and they get into truly epic internal rage-fests about it. But it’s a factional struggle, and people who share one identity tend to be good at coordinating to the degree of “everyone attack anything that smells of Enemy!” even if the rest of the time they’re at each other’s throats.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          My point is that, whether the consequences of a policy are negative or positive, getting a policy passed is a significant coordination problem– the same way that even though the *consequences* of war are destructive, war itself is a significant coordination problem.

          Is leftist coordination true? Radical feminists cooperated quite well with social conservatives on porn bans in the eighties.

          • Nick T says:

            Steve is claiming that the object of progressive coordination is blocking policies, not passing good policies.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          To restate Ozy’s point (I think), the concept of ‘destructive coordination’ conflates failing to coordinate, which often has destructive consequences, and coordinating towards a destructive end. Waging a war is a good instance of the latter.

          If everyone in a society had the goal of opposing reactionary policies, it would indeed be easy and only require non-coordination to ensure that none got implemented. But for one faction to impose certain taboos on all other factions, you need coordination.

      • Ken Arromdee says:

        ““Just taboo them” is hiding a coordination problem. How do progressives agree on what is taboo? ”

        That’s one place where competition between memes (or memeplexes if you want to get technical) comes in. Just by chance, fluctuations in meme prevalence and competition between memes will lead to one of them winning. No matter which one wins, it will be tabooing something useful.

        Also, there may be a path of inheritance and mutation from previous memes to current memes. And the previous memes may not have the same coordination problem. Consider going from the civil rights movement to SJ. We know how the civil rights movement got coordinated–but there’s a line of descent from that to SJ, so even if SJ couldn’t be coordinated starting from scratch, it didn’t start from scratch, it’s mutations on top of something that was already coordinated.

    • Clockwork Marx says:

      What good is an effective solution if it can’t realistically be implemented?

      For example, while something like an opt-out system of birth control would likely be an extremely effective solution to a problem, I can’t see it happening without either a major shift in public opinion or a major shift in the government’s ability to get things done.

      Are there any examples of obvious but tabooed solutions that don’t require one of these two major shifts in society? Or is the entire point just that effective solutions to many social problems require a major change of some kind?

      • Glen Raphael says:

        If a taboo works, you’d have to substantially modify public opinion to counteract it – the very definition of a successful taboo is that it makes the solution unthinkable for “all right-thinking people”.

        But for a concrete example of an obvious-but-tabooed solution, how about this: “To solve persistent unemployment, simply repeal the minimum wage law and end the restrictions on child labor.”

        • Slow Learner says:

          But that’s not an obvious *effective* solution, given that economies with no minimum wage or child labour laws are not noted for having full employment.
          For example, Victorian era England had virtually no employment law whatsoever and substantial levels of unemployment.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yeah – seems to me that adding a load of people to the workforce at sub-minimum wage would seriously *increase* unemployment amongst the section of society for who we care about that for (i.e. not children – who should be at school – and not the retired, who should be enjoying their twilight years)

          • Glen Raphael says:

            The minimum wage side of it is quite obviously effective. Consider Western Europe.

            (source: http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=24759 )
            There are nine countries with a minimum wage (Belgium, Netherlands, Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Luxembourg). Their unemployment rates range from 5.9% in Luxembourg to 27.6% in Greece. The median country is France with 11.1% unemployment.

            There are nine countries with no minimum wage (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland.) Five of the nine have a lower unemployment rate than Luxembourg, the best of the other group. The median country is Iceland, with a 5.5% unemployment rate. The biggest country in Europe is Germany. No minimum wage and 5.2% unemployment.

            Still want to raise our minimum wage to $10? Germany used to have really high unemployment. Then they did labor reforms to allow more low wage jobs, combined with subsidies for low wage workers. Now they don’t have high unemployment.

            In short, countries with no national legislated minimum wage don’t have ZERO unemployment, but they do manage to roughly cut employment in HALF. So that’s obviously effective.

            Getting rid of child labor laws is a bit more speculative but an extension of the same reasoning. To wit: a big part of the “permanent unemployed” problem is that people can get trapped in a cycle of “no job, no experience; no experience, no job”. Getting that FIRST real job helps develop job skills, build connections, figure out what you want to do, and makes getting every subsequent job easier. So we should make it as easy as possible for people to get a FIRST job. We do that by removing obvious barriers so it isn’t unusually expensive or risky to offer people with no experience a real job or to transition them from a temporary trial basis to permanent full-time work if and when they are ready for that.

            If the law says people can’t work at a real job until they’re financially independent of their parents, then the fact that jobs don’t initially pay very much is a bigger problem than it is if people can start working for real while still under their parent’s roof. If somebody really isn’t getting anything out of being in school, it’s better for them AND the other students that they go get a job instead. (As opposed to disrupting classes or working in the underground economy.)

          • Slow Learner says:

            Who do you mean “we”, kemosabe?

            A minimum wage of $10 would be…oh, approximately what we have at the moment, depending on exchange rate (where “we” is the UK).

            Any argument that uses current unemployment rates in Western Europe to make an argument about minimum wage laws while ignoring the realities of ongoing demand-led recession is in the hallowed halls of not-even-wrong. When you’re in a recession, and there is insufficient demand, something like a high minimum wage is helping to prop you up by sustaining demand among low-waged workers.

            I will also note that factually, while Germany had no national minimum wage until recently, it has long had minimum wages at a sub-national level, set by the Lander. Given that some of the German Lander would qualify as good-sized nations in their own right (Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemburg, Niedersachsen and Nordrhein-Westfalen all having populations above 10 million) any argument against a minimum wage at national level must surely have full force against them also?

          • Clockwork Marx says:

            Don’t most the listed countries without a minimum wage also provide expansive benefits for their citizens? Minimum wage isn’t as important if you have free healthcare and other forms of welfare to fall back on.

        • Army1987 says:

          “To solve persistent unemployment, simply repeal the minimum wage law and end the restrictions on child labor.”

          I can understand the argument in the case of the minimum wage law, but not that about child labour — to the extent that child labour and adult labour are at least partly demand substitutes, wouldn’t banning the former increase the demand for the latter?

        • Clockwork Marx says:

          Opposition to cutting minimum wage isn’t just some taboo from on high. It’s something that the majority of the unskilled workforce, students, people with marketable skills but low job security, people who make more then minimum wage but feel threatened by a drop in the baseline, etc all support because they see it as directly impacting their lives.

          Do you really think that the protests, riots and unions that originally pressured the government to establish minimum wage wouldn’t return in full force? Like it or not, any solution that makes a large chunk of the population want you dead isn’t a very good one.

    • Eli says:

      How often do you see the Republicans (the fake opposition) make attacks that are in the form of “if you really want to x you’d y – that would be effective” – and be ignored or mocked?

      Maybe it’s because I’m 25, but I’ve basically never seen this happen. Republican policies have a track record of being far worse than Democratic ones, actually, and as far as I can see it’s mostly because the Republicans have a religious taboo against using government as a coordination mechanism. Well, small correction: they have a religious taboo against anything that impedes on the near-unlimited exercise of power by a small cadre of the most rich and powerful individuals, whom they consider virtue-theoretically morally superior to everyone else (wealth is evidence that God loves you, after all, as is being an evangelical Protestant and American).

      Sorry, I know it was different some decades ago, but nowadays Republicans have to be dragged kicking and screaming into even the slightest improvement to public policy, even in cases that benefit white people, males, capitalists, etc. They basically just don’t believe government is morally justifiable, but also refuse to acknowledge that the kind of society they prefer (mostly suburban-rural, mostly white, upper-middle-class to wealthy, deeply religious and patriarchal) is heavily optimized and some agent (the state) must (violently) optimize the world to keep it that way.

      • cassander says:

        This is just silly. welfare reform in 94, NCLB in 2002, and bush’s ownership society programs. None of them could be called programs designed to help rich white people, and even if you don’t like the policies, you can hardly say the people passing them were religiously opposed to using government. hell, GWB passed the biggest entitlement expansion in decades with medicare part d.

  18. Mary says:

    Conspiracy?

    The civil rights movement didn’t allow whites in leadership positions on the grounds that even with the best of intentions they had a conflict of interest. The same goes here. Well-off blacks don’t have to consciously think — how do I keep poor blacks down so as to keep my grip on Affirmative Action? They can just shy off from what they suspect will be solutions, and justify them with such lines as black culture or victim blaming.

  19. Toggle says:

    Interesting! But there may be a slight variant that explains why there’s not an ‘affluent black people’ moral system like you hypothesize.

    When people adopt and take ownership of a particular ethic/worldview, they’re not usually trying to generate Bayesian priors or scientific predictions. It’s rare to consciously deliberate between different worldviews in the first place. They’re just going to ask questions until they get an explanation with the ‘stop asking questions’ signal, one that makes them feel like they know what’s going on now.

    And in almost all cases, that’s going to be an explanation that makes sense of their native ‘alphabet’, the stories and events to which they are most often exposed. For the wealthy, that is an explanation of why there are all these people asking them for jobs, and under what circumstances they should buy a house, and what wealth is and why you should get some. For posh blacks, that is going to involve some of that same ‘alphabet’ (depending on how posh we’re talking), but also a view of the struggles of poverty and the ways that poverty ends. The poor will have their own ‘mythos’ and ethics that explain what life is (and what money is) and how one makes the best of it.

    What I’m trying to get at is that the values of a distinct population will tend to reinforce the preexisting patterns of that population, because the organic growth of values does not anticipate drastic changes in the reference point. We don’t expect the wealthy to adopt a rich-get-richer ethic because it’s good for the rich, we expect them to adopt the ethic that entrenches that population. Similarly for the poor, for progressives and conservatives, &c. So you’d actually expect a value system in impoverished populations that propagated and entrenched poverty.

    As George Bernard Shaw once said: “Forgive him, for he believes that the customs of his tribe are the laws of nature!”

  20. jjj says:

    Another example:

    People who pirate media seem to be defecting from the group’s interests by undermining the financial incentive to create new movies and games. I mean, sure Kaj Sotala has some respectable arguments for piracy, but most people I hear just seem to be rationalizing their desire to steal movies and games.

    And yet, a lot of pirates act altruistically for the benefit of pirates as a group. For every pirate who selfishly wants to download media, another pirate has to altruistically seed it. And what about the pirates who sneak video cameras into the cinema? Why take on the hassle and legal risk, just so that people you never met can watch a movie for free?

    So it seems pirate’s selfish desire for free stuff has created a value system which causes them to altruistically support the interests of pirates.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, people sometimes do altruistic things, sometimes with real effort, like using a video camera. But piracy requires few altruists and almost no coordination between them.

      • jjj says:

        Really? I was under the impression that each downloader had to have an corresponding seeder. So if 3/4 of pirates don’t seed, that mean the remaining quarter have to seed 4 times as much to pick up the slack. So either most pirates seed, or a few pirates are making a Herculean effort to compensate for the non-seeders.

        • Anonymous says:

          The initial piracy (using the video camera) is expensive. Providing the bandwidth is fairly cheap, although there is a risk of prosecution. For small things like books, a few volunteers like libgen provide all the bandwidth (defrayed by selling advertising). For big things like movies there is more of free rider problem. bittorrent is technology to solve the coordination problem.

        • Tom Hunt says:

          Seeding is not a major effort, particularly. It’s a drain on bandwidth, but the computer mostly just does it on its own until you tell it to stop. Unless you’ve got bandwidth caps, it’s not much more effort or sacrifice to seed to 20x ratio than it is to stop as soon as the download is complete.

          More ‘altruistic’ would be those who obtain files and collate them to start with. This seems to operate under a similar sort of status-for-generosity dynamic that you see in, say, open source software.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Seeding also exposes the seeder to increased legal risk. Under US copyright law, acquiring and privately viewing a copyrighted work is generally a relatively minor civil offence, while public distribution is a much more serious civil offence and can be charged as a felony.

            I’ve only heard about lawsuits being filed against uploaders, and criminal cases only against people who operate infrastructure for facilitating piracy.

            [Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I don’t even play one on TV.]

    • Richard says:

      I’m not so sure about the whole ‘pirates are freeriders’ meme.

      As evidenced by things like Spotify, Netflix and iTunes, pirating is often more about convenience than unwillingness to pay. Physical media takes up space and is also a hassle to convert to a useful format. Most of my friends these days don’t even have a player for physical media (except in some cases vinyl), so buying CDs is kind of pointless.

      There is also a certain sense of outrage that the label takes 70%+ of the cash while the actual production costs have shrunk to practically zero.

      The bottom line is that if you provide people with a convenient format that they actually want, they are usually happy to pay for it. I suspect that the labels insistence on only providing a format that nobody actually wants has caused most of the pirate activity in the first place.

        • Doug S. says:

          I’ve pirated a few video games in my day – but most of them never had a commercial U.S. release. If it just isn’t available at all and I want it, I’m damn well going to pirate it and install that fan-created translation patch or whatever. If you won’t take my money, don’t blame me for not giving it to you!

          (Also, fansubbed anime for series with little prospect of an English-language release. Fansubbers have been known to pull the plug on a project when a series is licensed for U.S. distribution.)

  21. Omegaile says:

    >But this is really weird and interesting – much more interesting than it looks. It suggests that, in the presence of a useful selfish goal to coordinate around, a value system will “spring up” that convinces people to support it for altruistic reasons.

    I don’t find that weird at all. The general view is: people have biased views caused by the environment they live/grew up, and the problems they faced. People will overestimate their problems and underestimate other’s problems simply because they have lived their problems. They build their worldview based on that biased opinion, and then act altruistically towards that worldview.

    In the rich people example, they might see the annoyance caused by the government taxes/regulations, and construct their worldview based on that.

    There are other examples of this idea as well. In many situations, unions act in negative sum to the benefit of their own workers. A person afflicted by a certain rare illness may fight to spread awareness of their disease, even though there are more common and fatal diseases out there (and awareness is really a zero sum game isn’t it? public attention is limited).

    /begin slightly passive aggressive rant

    People sometimes say: “I know what’s afflicting you, I’ve been through that as well.” No you f#&!ing don’t! You don’t even know me that well. You are projecting your own problems on me!

    /end rant

    /end comment

    • Liskantope says:

      I don’t find that weird at all. The general view is: people have biased views caused by the environment they live/grew up, and the problems they faced. People will overestimate their problems and underestimate other’s problems simply because they have lived their problems. They build their worldview based on that biased opinion, and then act altruistically towards that worldview.

      I couldn’t have summed it up better myself. I see this all the time among the people I know, who come from a variety of backgrounds. So I don’t agree that the way these value systems “spring up” is “spooky” in the sense of being mysterious.

      There is probably some amount of rationalization involved as well — in the honest attempt to determine one’s basis for morality, it’s all too easy to be subconsciously swayed by one’s own self interest. But I prefer to think that the biggest factor is still what Omegaile described above.

  22. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Erm, are you claiming that class warfare (that is a somewhat charged term*) shouldn’t exist on theoretical grounds? Because it is an empirical question, not a theoretical one. Oligopolies exist (for example ISPs in the US) – companies cooperating to create services that are more expensive and worse than they would be given true competition. This doesn’t require mustache twirling or explicit cooperation. Just a general principle of “let’s not try to directly compete with the other ISPs and they will extend the same courtesy to us”. It works pretty well.

    As for why the poor don’t coordinate – they are worse at it, they are more numerous (which creates a bigger coordination problem) and they have less power. An employer can fire an employee without losing much. An employee cannot easily quit his job and find one that pays a fairer wage.

    *Edit: or rather a term I didn’t understand.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Net Neutrality is not Class Warfare. Oligopolies are small groups. It is easy for them to coordinate and police free-riders. A Class is a large group. The larger the group, the more people to police and the less important the individual contribution, thus the greater danger of free-riding.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Okay so coordination may not happen at the level of classes. But what if most of the coordination happened within subgroups of the upper classes – wouldn’t that result in a similar effect to true class warfare? I don’t know if that is the case though.

  23. drethelin says:

    I think Beliefs as Attire does a decent job of explaining most of this sort of phenomena

  24. drethelin says:

    Side note: I strongly approve of the new moderation trigger.

  25. Richard says:

    A rich person motivated by selfishness would hang out in his mansion all day instead of wasting money on fundraisers

    Well, only up to a point.

    I have travelled to quite a few unwholesome places; I was in the Soviet Union when the wall fell, I was in Bosnia just before Yugoslavia came apart, I actually dodged bullets in Sofia when the Bulgarians overthrew their government in 1997 and I trekked across the Zimbabwe/Botswana border when Mugabe had his guys using whites for target practice.

    The one conclusion I have gotten from these messy situations is that people don’t start shooting at the rich when they can’t afford a second flatscreen. They do when they get really hungry. I don’t mind my 52% tax rate as long as it keeps ‘the masses’ with decent food, shelter, healthcare and preferably education. Universal income seems like a win tbh.

    • RCF says:

      You’re missing the point. Sure, a selfish person would prefer “all well off people, including me, spend money to help out the poor” to “no one spends money to help out the poor”, but a selfish person would prefer “all well off people except me spend money” to “all well off people spend money”, and would prefer “no one spends money” to “I’m the only person spending money”.

      ETA:

      If you were responding to “A rich person, minus the veil of ignorance, wouldn’t support everyone pitching in to help the poor”, then that would be a valid response.

  26. Richard Gadsden says:

    Moral philosophies that make you feel like your successes are a result of your own efforts are likely to be more appealing than ones that make you feel like they’re the results of luck or systemic bias in your favour. That seems like a useful explanation of wealthy people’s attraction to libertarianism or prosperity gospel.

    • drethelin says:

      Alternately effort is an important component of success and the people who think success can be achieved by effort because of their ideology are more likely to be successful, even if that success still requires luck.

      Or to put it another way: If success=Effort*Luck, people who think it’s all luck will sit around doing nothing and get nothing and people who think it’s effort will put in effort and so the people who you see being successful will be disproportionately effortful

      • Zorgon says:

        But in your analogy, at least one of the dice rolls for Luck has already been made before the potential utility calculation is made (initial birth circumstances) and further acts as a penalty on any future Luck rolls made.

        So, while someone born with a +2 on their initial D6-3 roll of life might look at the Effort*Luck calculation and think “All I have to do is put in effort and the odds might come up in my favour!”, the person with the -3 is going to look at that and say “I don’t see the point when the best I can hope for is a straight return on investment.”

        • Eli says:

          Yes, that’s basically what privilege is.

          • Zorgon says:

            Certainly, but not the way the term is used by most progressives right now.

            The important thing to remember is that the person who already rolled +2 on their D6-3 roll hasn’t actually done anything wrong. They aren’t actually answerable to the person who rolled -3, nor should they be required to listen to them specifically. It should be possible for and incumbent upon everyone who rolled that dice to observe and be aware of its presence.

            Why is this important? Although I’m aware I’m stretching this analogy to its limit here, the thing to remember is that the person who rolled +3 on the die didn’t actually get to choose whether or not to roll. Lucky circumstances are not actually a moral quantity, in my view. The key for me is that we don’t produce an inverted hierarchy on the basis of nonselected traits to replace the existing one, and that is exactly what concepts like the “Progressive Stack” and, indeed, most uses of the term “privilege” seek to create.

  27. Emp says:

    In response to ‘Why don’t the poor coordinate this well?’, the answer is that on some occasions they do, the French Revolution, for instance, but by and large equality isn’t a sustainable equilibrium. People like having more resources than other people, and since a tiny minority of people are actually competent, they usually end up garnering disproportionate amounts of resources. You could magically fiat equality for all and within 10 years, we would be straight back to lop-sided wealth distributions. Almost every society in human history has had a few enormously wealth/powerful people, a small number of rich ones and the unwashed masses.

    Secondly, though no one’s going to admit it, rich people tend not to care in the least about others. This is a simple slippery slope; if you think it’s worth giving $1 to a beggar on a street, there’s no reason why not another dollar, and another one etc. Ultimately, if you’re willing to sacrifice personal comfort to aid others, you would no longer be rich if you consistently applied that principle. Most people donate to charity to preserve social reputation (or gain it) while not really wanting to change anything (if they really did, they should be donating more till they’re not rich).

    Thirdly, we’re all ‘evil’ in the sense we don’t really care about the interests of others compared to us. I’m not sure why you’ve modelled the behaviour of rich people along a prisoners dilemma line, it’s a repeatable game where there are demonstrable benefits to ‘cooperate, cooperate’. According to your reasoning anti-trust laws are not at all necessary, because someone could defect. Think of not donating to ‘charitable causes’ as a billionaire as being the equivalent of a ‘good person’ refusing to save electricity, support gay marriage, sign that online petition etc; it has the same social effects.

    Fourthly, it’s much easier for rich people to communicate, understand what’s in their interest and execute a plan than it is for ‘poor people’ who tend not to organize themselves along rich/poor lines. Most poor people are remarkably clueless about money and quite fatalistic about it; it’s almost as though they view the rich as a separate species that somehow just has money.

  28. RCF says:

    It’s interesting that the hypothetical chosen to represent the coordination problem, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, actually is an example of the “altruistic to one group, but selfish towards another”. Keeping silent is cooperating with the other prisoner, but defecting against society. Testifying is defecting against the other prisoner, but cooperating with society. So the PD is actually an example of where the coordination problem prevents anti-social behavior.

  29. NS says:

    This story is plausible to me. A well-intentioned person engaging in philosophical introspection might ask: “what is the best system of values and judgment I can find that I would be willing to accept from behind the veil?” But in the course of contemplating this question, the person may admit, even subconsciously, an additional constraint: “what is the best system of values and judgment I can find that I would be willing to accept from behind the veil and that permits my current existence?”

    I think this has the potential to produce the discussed results without necessitating either evil or active coordination. In fact, it seems entirely natural, as people are generally interested in justifying or giving meaning to their own existence.

  30. Harald K says:

    You should look at concrete case of the historical tobacco lobby and its satellites in order to see how it might work in practice. There was some genuine, ridiculous conspiracies at work there.

    I’ve wanted to celebrate a certain man for a while: the man who got me into reading blogs, Tim Lambert of Deltoid. When Linux was a rising star around 2004, there was some enormously misinformed things being said, and many asked “how is it possible to believe such things in good faith?”. Lambert investigated, and introduced me (and a lot of other slashdot readers, as they linked to him) for the first time to the world of corporate think tanks, and “astroturf” – false grassroots campaigns, corporate front groups.

    He kept writing about think tanks for long, long after everyone had forgotten about Microsoft’s PR blitz against Linux by way of the Alexis de Toqueville institute. Over the years, he’d write about countless groups, which if you heard them mentioned in a news article (and they were mentioned in news articles a lot!), you would have no idea of how closely they were run by corporate interests.

    He stopped blogging some years ago, there’s only a monthly open thread over there. But a great summary of the kind of things he wrote about, would be the book “Merchants of doubt” by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway. I heartily recommend that book, depressing reading though it is.

    What you see in the tobacco archives is scary. It’s a kind of doublethink. They never admit to each other that they’re pushing lies and spreading misinformation, despite agreeing on extremely underhanded tactics like fake grassroots campaigns. What unites them is a sort of libertarian fundamentalism. Dishonesty is permissible as long as the end goal is for capitalism to win, because – in a mirror image of marxism – that’s the only hope for mankind. And since the end goal is for capitalism to win, it can’t be wrong to e.g. take money from tobacco companies to sabotage public health efforts. The means are the only possible means, thus the ends must be right. Or it won’t matter anyway.

  31. RCF says:

    One of the talking points of the Left is that stronger campaign finance laws are needed, because currently CEOs can give money to campaigns without public disclosure or consent of the shareholders. Now, putting aside the question of whether that is factually correct, this strikes me, from a human nature point of view, an absolutely absurd assertion. Support a CEO has a big stash o’ money, and they can give that stash to a politician without anyone finding out, not the FTC, not the FEC, not their shareholders. It’s a complete black hole of non-transparency. Why in the world would they give this money to a politician? Why not keep it for themselves? And on top of this, the leftists seem to be simultaneously trying claim that the CEO is corrupting the politician, presumably to be in the corporation’s pocket, and asserting that the shareholder’s money is being co-opted. But if the politician truly is being bought off by the corporation, why is that a betrayal of the shareholders?

    The coordination problem actually serves, to some extent, to be a check on corporate malfeasance. If the mob wants someone to commit a crime, it’s a simple matter to bribe them. But how can a corporation get one of their employees to commit a crime? It would have to somehow provide the employee with an incentive to commit the crime, and it would have to somehow prevent the employee from gaming the system and collecting the reward without actually committing the crime. This is of course not impossible, and does happen. However, solving the agent principal problem is massively easier when what the principal is trying to get is legal. Then, the principal can consciously decide on a course of action (the shareholders of a corporation might pursue a course of action that implicitly leads to illegality, but they can hardly have an explicit “should we break the law?” referendum), explicitly communicate that desire to the agent, provide explicit quid pro quo, set up explicit enforcement mechanisms, and appeal to the legal system if someone tries to game the system.

    For example, suppose a corporation has a choice between properly disposing of some waste at considerable expense, or illegally dumping the waste at considerable savings. If this were a legal cost-saving measure, the CEO could boast of saving the company money, and would likely be able to command a higher salary as a result, at no personal cost. But with an illegal action, the CEO is acting at considerable risk, and with little incentive. Yeah, CEOs benefit from their corporations doing well, but the corporation would have to experience massive gains for it to be worth it to the CEO.

    • Anonymous says:

      But with an illegal action, the CEO is acting at considerable risk, and with little incentive.

      No risk at all, and plenty incentive.

      For the risk: You don’t order illegal dumping, you order the waste department to cut expenses by 30% or get replaced.

      For the incentive: You report to the shareholders that you cut expenses by 30% and get a bonus.

    • Slow Learner says:

      Shareholders might protest to most of the company’s profits for the year going on political activity rather than on dividends. They would probably prefer to receive the dividend, and then have any political expenditure come from themselves, in their interests, rather than from the company in the company’s interests.

    • Clockwork Marx says:

      Politicians need money to finance their campaigns, while a one-time donation wouldn’t make much of a difference to either party, a reliable flow of money keeps the politician afloat while giving them an incentive to support policies that benefit their donors. It doesn’t need matter if it’s a black hole, the point isn’t to signal values, it’s meant to link the CEOs self-interest to the self-interest of the politician.

  32. RCF says:

    “It can’t literally be in a rich person’s self-interest to buy a plate there.”

    It could be, if they’re not pushing a general policy, but simply trying to buy favors.

    I remember being confused when I was a kid and saw commercials for a type of product, rather than a particular brand, such as “Milk: it does the body good” or “Cotton: the fabric of out lives”. Why would anyone spend money to help an entire industry? I’m still not entirely clear on what’s going on; I guess they collect money from everyone in the industry. I’m not clear on whether they have some legal backing, and if not, what they do about the free rider problem.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I don’t like this because it raises more questions than it answers. Why don’t the poor coordinate this well?

    Personally, having been both approximately poor and moderately wealthy (by 1st World standards – obviously I’ve been Fabulously Wealthy and Mindblowingly Wealthy on a global scale), I suspect it’s simply a question of willpower and motivation – I had no energy at all to spend on altruistic endeavors back when I was poor.

  34. aguycalledjohn says:

    Does affirmative action really work that way? If so then its an obviously badly designed policy. Lots of other countries have policies that do quotas purely economically which would seem much harder to explain by the elites being self interested.

    Slight tangent but this is something I’ve noticed a lot in commentary on SSC and similar areas. There seems to be a habit of, mainly but not exclusively libertarian/reactionary, commenters with an American background taking a contingent example from American politics as an immutable law of the universe, e.g. this, the rising cost of healthcare and the education funding system. Or more generally the increasing polarisation and gridlock of central government.

    If you’re advancing a claim about democracy as a class of government it would seem necessary to make your claim apply, at the very least, to every existing democracy. A lot of these problems are solved or much reduced in other democracies, particularly europeans ones who are also culturally fairly similar.

    Maybe we should call this the typical political system fallacy?

    • Doug S. says:

      (Would upvote.)

    • Mary says:

      “Does affirmative action really work that way?”

      Yes. AA consistently goes to the already prosperous members of the favored group — not only blacks in America, but untouchables in India and “sons of the soil” in Malaysia — which may explain why AA programs result in economic progress slowing down for the group, and when disaggregated, the prosperous continue to improve and the poor stop.

    • Eli says:

      You are completely correct, and I hereby invite you to join the group of people who understand politics well enough that we’ve shut up and got on with our lives while the children pretend America is a normal society and not a twisted, messed-up attempt to implement a libertarian utopia.

    • Anonymous says:

      What is an example of a country that has quotas like that?

      The rising cost of healthcare is universal among rich countries. Other countries have cheaper healthcare, but the cost is rising just as fast.

  35. Peter says:

    I’m surprised no-one has brought up Haidt here and his (?) wonderful coinage of “groupishness” (by analogy with “selfishness”). ISTR Haidt saying that the existence of groupishness was a bit of a puzzle for evolutionary psychology, and that he was thinking that maybe the biologists had dismissed group selection too quickly. There’s an idea (you can find biologists to back this up) that you can get group selection under some specialised conditions, and maybe human evolution gave those conditions.

    The other idea kicking around in my mind is a “differential empathy” explanation, I suppose I count Adam Smith’s other book as an inspiration. Assuming people are motivated to help others in proportion to how well they can empathize, people are going to be motivated to help a) “people like them” and b) people who have the resources to get their stories told. For “help” possibly read “adopt and propagate norms benefitting”. Of course this doesn’t explain why people should have empathy/sympathy that works in that manner; possibly “it’s the best thing evolution could throw together in the time available” might apply, maybe not.

  36. Fronken says:

    There are a couple of rare exceptions to this. If you are Bill Gates and make a billion dollars a year, so that you would gain $100 million from the tax cut, it might be worth bribing the necessary legislators all on your own, on the grounds that if something needs to be done right you had better do it yourself. Likewise, if you’re Exxon Mobil or the Koch brothers, then you might be a big enough chunk of the target population for certain specific environmental regulations that it’s worth using your own money to fight it whether or not others join in.

    Thankfully, rich people are allowed to cooperate openly and in public, by creating what are known as “companies”. This gets them out of the problem the Black Elite suffer from: create a company with the incentive to join of “make money”, then use the coordination benefits for evil.

    Logically, there’s no particular reason black people couldn’t create a legitimate political party and then hijack it for evil … except that it would have to include white people or it would be obvious what they were doing. Perhaps some sort of lobbying group, but that would make it hard to recruit the President.

  37. AR+ says:

    Perhaps elites are just better at solving coordination problems, of which free-riders are just one example, than the general population, and that this is part of what one must do to become and stay elite. Indeed, isn’t being better at coordinating effective coalitions than others the entire basis of our brains’ runaway evolution? Surely even ordinary examples of human cooperation might look like conspiracy to someone who didn’t understand how to pull it off themselves, once they noticed it.

  38. Nestor says:

    You also have the interesting cognitive dissonance of the poor who identify with the rich because it flatters their self image, ah look it’s actually a Steinbeck quote

    “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires””

    • Kay says:

      Isn’t the meaning of “false consciousness” that the “class consciousness” isn’t so much in the dedicated class we would expect it to be but in all others?

      The reason why we have a plutocracy today isn’t bribes but everyone was convinced to be in a fierce economical competition and “our” enterprises had to win. It is regional economic policy, kind of the inversion of the idea of socialist internationalism. This was finally pushed into a state “without alternatives” by the new left, because regional economic politics means jobs, employment, taxes and electors. Almost everyone could agree with someone else goals in the belief that they would be most beneficial for everyone. If the outcome is a plutocracy then this is mostly an emergent property of a society which believes in the power of money anyway.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”

      I’ve forgotten the actual figures, but one issue in the 2000 US presidential campaign concerned the “top 3% by income”. A survey reported that 23% of all voters thought they were in the top 3%, and 19% expected to get there. (These figures are approximate, from memory!)

  39. Trevor says:

    I feel like this comment from Lemminkainen yesterday is important:

    I strongly suspect that status-seeking is actually a human universal, but what status-seeking behavior looks like depends pretty deeply on what society looks like.

    As I read that, it suggests status-seeking behavior is the spooky system you’re looking for. As in:

    People value status. (Citation: http://www.overcomingbias.com/tag/status). So we expect people, all people, to trade some of their time, attention, and/or money and goods for some status.

    Coordination is a service that advantages groups relative to uncoordinated groups.

    So, if a group of people pay for status and also receive coordination, their collective group gains. (Sidenote: is this true of every individual in the group?)

    This is why all the high-status places to work are well-coordinated ones. I shouldn’t say “all”, I should say, conditional on us having some totally valid notion of “higher-status”, I’m 60% confident that 90+% of the 25 highest-status companies are also notably well-coordinated.

    This is also why a bunch of rich people engaging in the following conversation –

    – Reginald: Well, Percy, any plans for the weekend?
    – Percy: Probably play a little golf. Catch the game on Sunday. You?
    – R: Oh, I’m going to the Young Politicians Fundraiser. Have you ever been to one of those?
    – P: No, what are they about again?
    – R: [situationally appropriate sales pitch]. Want to come?
    – P: Hey, yeah, sounds fun. What time?

    – will find, ultimately, that they have given their attention, time, and/or money to a person who will coordinate them.

  40. I think laws are a small part of that sort of coordination– I’m willing to bet that if a rich person pays higher wages or gives employees notably more control of their work than other rich people, there’s going to be some social pressure to discourage them.

    More generally, giving people effective help means turning them into competitors, or at least treating them as though they are worthy of some respect.

    You can’t even count on parents to give effective help to their children, though many do. Some parents don’t give effective help because they don’t know how, but some put a good bit of effort into squelching their children.

    And if this is true about parents, there’s an even stronger effect when people try to help those with whom they have looser ties.

    There’s certainly some benevolence in the world. Effective help does happen, but it doesn’t surprise me if there’s destructive “help” (sometimes called hlep or helpiness) for reasons that go beyond ignorance.

    Example of effective help which isn’t nearly as common as it should be.

  41. Quite Likely says:

    I think the effect you describe is less spooky and more a key aspect of human psychology: everyone wants to self-justify. If I am a rich person who selfishly wants my taxes to be low, I will be attracted to a philosophy that says low taxes are morally right. If I am a poor person who wants high taxes on the rich to fund programs that benefit me, I will be attracted to a philosophy that advocates those positions.

    Basically people are fertile ground for memes that make what they want to do anyway look good.

  42. Quixote says:

    This post mentions the super wealthy, but then hand waves them away to talk about the merely rich. To really look seriously at how moneyed influences advance their position you need to look at the people who really have the most money, and that’s not the masses of merely rich.

    The 15 most wealthy people in the US easily have enough money to both wield huge influence, and to personally benefit greatly from the results of that influence. Heck, one of then alone has that kind of money. Coordination among 1 to 5 people isn’t free, but it’s not that hard.

  43. Eneasz says:

    >without any conscious awareness, the rich people find themselves coordinating very nicely to protect their class interests.

    >if this is true, it is spooky

    Huh. What’s the reverse of Missing a Universal Human Experience? I thought the truth of this was Universal Human Knowledge already, and I find I was very much mistaken. Not only did I not consider this spooky, I thought it was common knowledge on a basic enough level that no one bothered talking about it anymore. This is just another example of memetic complexes being independent of the substrate they run on. Isn’t that the main point of Meditations on Moloch?

  44. Ilya Shpitser says:

    It seems to me that a thermodynamic explanation suffices.

    There is a large set of ways a society could be, but only a very small subset is what we would like. Coordination is needed to steer into any given subset (does not matter whether “good” or “bad” from our point of view, all that matters is the size of the subset). Anything other than carefully coordinating/spending energy in the right way just lands us somewhere random, and likely in a “bad” place from our point of view.

    Similarly, in most ways society could be in our large set, probably the rich get their way much more often in most elements in that set, just by virtue of having a larger footprint on life in general. So I don’t think we need to posit any spooky mechanism. If nobody is steering, we end up somewhere random in the set, but likely in that “somewhere random” the rich are influential.

  45. Gaba says:

    “Why don’t the poor coordinate this well”

    Because they are poor. I know, tautology.

    It boils down to this: Working class i.e. poor people cannot afford the money or time to coordinate much of anything. Their entire life is the pursuit of self-interest (not bad) just to survive.

    And, though maybe an controversial claim, poor people tend to lack the wherewithal to coordinate, hence why they are also poor, they lack the wherewithal to get out of poverty, whether lack of intellect, social skill, mental disability etc.

  46. INeedAGoodName says:

    “If you solve the problem, you’re out of business” is not unique to progressive parts of government. It’s also a big thing in the parts of government that the right likes. It’s also in the private sector. It’s everywhere. It’s Moloch.

    How can you sell pills treating a disease that you just cured? You can’t. So, the marketplace gives us lots of treatments, but not many cures.

    A worker figures out a more efficient way to run the assembly line. It would make half the workers redundant. Knowing that he might get laid off by his own innovation, he keeps his mouth shut.

    If the police and prisons reduce crime, their funding gets cut. The american prison system was not designed from scratch to act as universities of crime, but it seems to have ended up that way.

    If the military destroyed all our enemies, their funding would get cut. Ever note how the typical war these days tends to be very expensive, and very long? The last time this happened was in the times of mercenary companies, when wars had names like “the 30 years war”, “the 70 year’s war”, and “the 100 years war”….

    Satisfied customers don’t buy things. They don’t need to buy anything because they’re already, you know, satisfied. Crack cocaine is the world’s greatest consumer good, not because it gets people high, but because the high wears off. If McDonald’s invented a hamburger that feeds you for life, they’d quickly sell 7 billion. Then they’d go out of business.

    The majority of voters are culturally conservative and economically populist. So the GOP talks culture, the Dems talk economics, and when they gain power they ignore their promisees. If their voters were satisfied on one issue, they would switch to the other party. And any extremist knows that by making things worse, you can make people blame your scapegoats even harder. See The “Thrive/Survive Theory of the political spectrum” on how illiberals have an incentive to make things worse. Religious people outright admit this with their slogan “there are no atheists in foxholes”.

    No conspiracy is needed, the incentives nudge people, who then unconsciously and automatically create a smokescreen of rationalizations.

    It would be an interesting utopia or weirdtopia that solves this. What if instead of cutting military budgets in times of peace, the military industrial complex got a bonus? Their job is to produce peace, so it’s really weird that we pay them for the opposite. Same thing with police: when crime falls, they should get more funds instead of less. And so on with every part of government – imagine a utopia where the government simply consists of an impartial stats-gathering organization to keep track of whether the metrics on this or that issue is getting better or worse, and system to adjust pay/funds to match. Life expectancy up, less time lost to sickness? Here’s a bonus for everybody in healthcare.

    It wouldn’t need a total reboot of how things are done, (though that’s still worth thinking about) it could start with a small bonus to make people keep in mind the actual long-term goal. Pay them for every move towards the desired end-state.

    A more ambitions weirdtopia we would not be micromanaging and telling people *how* to do things, we would just use incentives to make everyone’s self-interest match up. Think of bees and babies: they don’t come up with fancy policies and initiatives, their only input consists of stinging and crying at certain times, yet they still mostly get what they want. The key would be using carrots rather than sticks though.

    • Slow Learner says:

      This sounds like it’s going to fall to Goodhart’s Law so very, very hard.

    • Multiheaded says:

      +1 to the descriptive part of all that.

    • grendelkhan says:

      The majority of voters are culturally conservative and economically populist.

      What makes you sure about that first part? The trend lines for gay rights don’t look conservative, and the standard position on abortion hasn’t budged in forty years: a quarter think that abortion is some kind of right, a quarter think it should be flat-out illegal, and half think that it shouldn’t be illegal, but don’t want to identify with the first group, or can imagine situations in which it makes them queasy.

      Same thing with police: when crime falls, they should get more funds instead of less.

      The basic idea isn’t new. “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.” It’s apparently damned hard to implement, though.

      • social justice warlock says:

        I assume they meant culturally conservative and economically populist relative to elite preferences (and thus policy,) which is accurate.

      • Tom Womack says:

        It’s quite difficult to get funding for a non-police organisation to measure levels of crime and disorder (and fairly unfair to require victims to report everything twice); but if your test of police efficiency is the absence of reported-to-the-police crime and disorder you’ll find that it very quickly becomes extremely difficult to report criminal disorder in such a way that it stays reported and shows up in statistics.

        • grendelkhan says:

          It’s quite difficult to get funding for a non-police organisation to measure levels of crime and disorder

          The Bureau of Justice Statistics is part of the Department of Justice, but they’re not a police organization; they produce the National Crime Victimization Survey. There’s at least one book on comparing the NCVS to the Uniform Crime Report, which is the police measuring the crimes reported to them. It refers to an earlier (1991) book on the same topic.

          “During most of [the 30 years leading up to 2007], the two series have presented a consistent picture of crime trends. Episodically, however, the two series diverge.” So there’s some sort of check on the police being the only people who can possibly tell you how much crime there is, though it’s not as frequently-reported or easily-accessible as the police numbers.

    • There was a recent book about food companies working to invent foods which are pleasant but not satiating. Potato chips are optimized for getting you to eat the next potato chip.

      • INeedAGoodName says:

        I’m sure we could spend all day thinking of examples of this sort of thing. Everyone focus on an industry you know about.

        Planned obsolescence. Many products could last a long time and never go out of fashion, but then customers wouldn’t buy another. Hence flimsy products designed with form over function.

        I’ll do video games: you’d think every game would come with an editor and be mod-friendly. Yet most aren’t. Why? Well, if one game provided endless play value, it would be hard to sell the next one.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          Your video game example doesn’t work at all. Games generally don’t come with an editor and aren’t mod-friendly because making them so would require additional testing and refining and support, which isn’t worth the trouble unless customers are willing to pay enough extra for that feature to make it worthwhile.

          The tools programmers use to make levels tend to be primitive and fragile and just barely good enough to get the job done; turning them into a product would at a minimum require making the interface pretty and usable and fixing the bugs and providing support. But worse than that that, the game *engine* itself is often only solid enough to do what the game requires; developers build levels carefully designed to WORK AROUND any serious bugs/issues that remain. Which means opening up the engine to customers would also force you to make the engine code more robust. That is a huge additional amount of work to take on. It’s hard enough demonstrating that the game doesn’t crash (and providing support if it does) when playing through the one specific scenario you’ve designed; making it not crash for every conceivable scenario anyone could design is a whole different level.

          More generally, companies are perfectly able to survive selling long-lived/robust products when that’s what customers demand and are willing to pay for. If McDonald’s could sell you one burger to last all your life that burger would go for over a thousand bucks and selling it might be a *great* business – think of all the money they’d save on cashiers, cooks and parking spaces if they only had to be available enough to sell people one lifetime burger! Companies that sell cribs generally just sell one per person and yet somehow manage to stay in business. Most popular “examples of this sort of thing” are mythical and ignore the fact that prices are flexible.

  47. Leonard says:

    What happens on a conscious level is the rich person finds themselves supporting some moral philosophy – libertarianism, Objectivism, prosperity gospel, whatever – which says it is morally wrong to raise taxes on the rich, so much so that one should altruistically make personal sacrifices in order to stop them from being raised. And then these moral philosophies spread, and without any conscious awareness, the rich people find themselves coordinating very nicely to protect their class interests.

    I hope you agree that if this is true, it is spooky.

    I hope you consider “rich” analogs, including “rich in social status”, and “rich in learnedness”, and “rich in communicative ability”. If you do, you will discover that the high-status, the scholars, the teachers, and the journalists — as well as the rich in money — have a similar ability to spontaneously coordinate in their own self-interest. And just as the rich will tend to be libertarian, the high-status will be sexually liberal, scholars will believe in “public policy”, teachers in public education, and journalists that they are a fourth estate.

    Put in other words, you are discovering the Cathedral in your inimitable way.

    And yes, it is spooky. Moldbug has this exact observation, although the word he uses for the system is “creepy”.

    BTW, it should be obvious why the poor cannot do the same thing. Power in democracy comes from public opinion, which is to say, popular memes. The memes are spread how? Via public education, churches, print and TV, etc. All the ways in which people get opinions. Well, who controls these things? Not the poor. And even if it were true at some point in time that, for example, teachers were “poor”, why — given effective power within the system — would they stay poor? Would not teachers spontaneously evolve the meme “teachers are underpaid”, and educate everyone accordingly? And if they did, wouldn’t everyone good believe it, and vote accordingly?

  48. cory says:

    The rich already have a well established mechanism for solving coordination problems. It’s called the corporation: http://www.colorado.edu/ibs/eb/alston/econ4504/readings/The%20Nature%20of%20the%20Firm%20by%20Coase.pdf And of course corporations donate massively to campaigns and pay tons of professional lobbyists.

    Second, you’re simply wrong when you say that being able to donate at the 100,000 level doesn’t lead to significant power. Being able to make a 10,000 donation gets you face time with lawmakers, and being able to do it consistently get you consistent face time. And face time means power. Imagine yourself being able to have long, in depth discussions with politicians during which they have to listen and respond to your ideas. Can you imagine that this doesn’t have an effect on them? This could equally be regarded as an arms race in the other direction, with rich people competing with other rich people so that they have to donate more and more money to gain the same level of access.

    So we have rich people pre-coordinated in corporations to make sure that their guy wins and to buy professional lobbyists, at the same time individual rich people are buying face time to make sure they influence whoever is in charge. And then policies beneficial to the rich tend to pass. Nothing unusual about this at all.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Corporations do not donate to campaigns. Even after Citizens United, it is still illegal for business corporations to donate directly to campaigns (source). What Citizens United enabled was independent expenditures by corporations, which has mostly been taken advantage of by unions, nonprofits, and corporations formed for the explicit purpose of political advocacy (source).

      There are very commonly cited figures about how much various corporations donate to various campaigns. These are the result of a fundamental misreading of campaign finance reporting statistics. What the figures actually show is how much money was donated by employees of a particular corporation.

  49. mtraven says:

    I hope you agree that if this is true, it is spooky. … Either there’s some sort of spooky system that generates heartfelt moral philosophies on demand to solve coordination problems, or the rich aren’t actually coordinating and just consistently keep getting lucky.

    I don’t like this because it raises more questions than it answers. Why don’t the poor coordinate this well?

    Say one thing for Marxism, it has a well-developed theory for such things (if not what a normal person would consider an explanation) under the label “class consciousness”. And helping the poor get theirs going is what the typical old-school Marxist thought he was doing.

  50. Medivh says:

    “Why don’t the poor coordinate this well?”
    ( According to Popitz) the ones who are in power have a significant coordination advantage: They just need to agree to defend the status quo. The others have to agree not only on overthrowing the system, but also on the specific new order, which is a big coordination problem.

  51. Paul Torek says:

    By about the 4th paragraph in, I started singing that Joe Jackson song, “Right and Wrong” (lyrics)

    Like, Mitt Romney’s zillion-dollar-a-plate fundraisers seem to always be pretty full. It can’t literally be in a rich person’s self-interest to buy a plate there. But a lot of rich people could have conservative-libertarian-pro-business ideas that encourage them to quasi-altruistically support Mitt Romney in order to push their values.

    I think he’s got it!

    I hope you agree that if this is true, it is spooky.

    I do not agree, and maybe you don’t got it.

    Too hard for clever folks to understand
    They’re more used to words like
    Ideology
    But they say it’s not the issue
    Ideology
    They’re not talkin’ ’bout right or left
    They’re talkin’ ’bout, talkin’ ’bout

    Right and wrong, do you know the difference
    Right and wrong, do you know the difference

  52. DanielLC says:

    I’d say that there’s a system that generates heartfelt moral philosophies on demand when it’s convenient, that this system is subconscious, and that it hasn’t noticed the free rider problem.

    In our ancestral environment, the high class formed an oligopoly. If you’re high class and you support classism, it makes a big enough difference that the benefit outweighs to cost. We simply haven’t evolved to take into account that what we espouse does nothing.

  53. Ugh, too many replies so I don’t know if this is just retreading previous points, but:

    Coordination problems in class warfare: This, I think, is exactly the purpose of lobbying firms and special-interest groups. Combined with the emergent contract-thing (a very useful insight), it’s simply easier to write a check and have dedicated lawyers do the actual gruntwork of cajoling Senators into supporting such-and-such proposal (or straight up writing the laws for them, see ALEC). And those organizations are way more explicitly set up to favor the interests of big donors.

    The other factor is that often we fixate on the wrong targets for class warfare. Sure, there’s a lot of cable-news bluster about the marginal tax rate, but that’s not what prevents people from getting rich. That’s way more local-level stuff, like zoning to keep black people in shitty areas of town, privileging certain local-government contracts, local businesses, etc. over others, in ways that just so happen to benefit the already-rich in that area, and make it really hard to become that rich if you’re not. At the local level, it’s just plain easier to have a sort of conspiracy of buddy-buddy rich people, fueled by the emergent contract-thing.

  54. Anonymous says:

    If the poor were intelligent enough to coordinate themselves they probably would cease to be poor

  55. Platypus says:

    I kind of assumed it was because all our politicians are rich people.

    (Getting elected takes time and effort which only the rich have; Congressional salaries are not CEO-level but definitely way more than I make.)

  56. Eli says:

    But as far as I can tell, this calculation is never made on a conscious level. What happens on a conscious level is the rich person finds themselves supporting some moral philosophy – libertarianism, Objectivism, prosperity gospel, whatever – which says it is morally wrong to raise taxes on the rich, so much so that one should altruistically make personal sacrifices in order to stop them from being raised. And then these moral philosophies spread, and without any conscious awareness, the rich people find themselves coordinating very nicely to protect their class interests.

    There is nothing spooky or mysterious about self-serving rationalization.

    • Konkvistador says:

      You misunderstand. Scott is saying the spooky and mysterious part is that whatever part of the brain is producing the rationalizations *can* solve coordination problems. If that were the case it would be far from trivial.

  57. Lesser Bull says:

    *‘Why don’t the poor coordinate this well?’,*

    Isn’t the easy answer that the poor are poor? They have less resources to spend on signaling and quasi-altruism.

  58. Konkvistador says:

    The problem of rationalizing something evil like making problems worse is easy to solve. Simply honestly adopt as an unquestionable holy axiom that something that actually makes the problem worse is making it better.

    Then denounce anyone unvirtuous enough to notice.

    This meme can arise naturally out of:
    1. Doing things that are good for someone feels good
    2. People generally like feeling holy

    Once they are doing something and feel holy about it, rationalizations easily flow. If there are many people in a similar position to you they will quickly note and copy what you are doing.

    In cultures common problems usually have common solutions. For example in socialist Yugoslavia, bribing your doctor or lawyer who was paid only marginally better than the cleaning lady was outlawed, so people developed the habit of providing expensive easily tradeable gifts to recompense them for their services since their paycheck didn’t. I still have to regularly explain to older relatives that no, not giving my doctor an expensive alcoholic beverage is not a great risk to my health.

    • Tom Womack says:

      The result of China recently outlawing a similar system was really very substantial drops in the revenue of the companies who made the alcoholic beverages in question.

      (I am reminded of the man who ran a fine whisky shop in London, who complained that Chinese visitors would go to the tasting session, and then buy Johnny Walker Blue Label because that, and only that, was the currency with which public officials could be cajoled)

  59. Multiheaded says:

    I’m hating on SJ now too (just picked another fight with a highly respected activist who acted in a vile and Orwellian way, in fact) – so I feel the need to make it perfectly clear that I still hate racialists more than I hate evil progressives.

    • no one special says:

      Multi,

      I’s interesting to watch your transformation, here, though I only see shadows and edges. I wonder if it will be similar to mine, and what triggered it. I hope that some of my friends who have decided to double-down on SJ by being assholes to anyone who dares question their preferred orthodoxy will come around eventually as well.

      Have you written anything about your changes?

    • Matthew says:

      Thank you for providing a convenient anchor for a more meta comment I’ve been formulating for a while.

      I see pro-SJ commenters query from time to time why Scott expends so much virtual ink on the shortcomings of Social Justice, given that he obviously disagrees more with the principles of its opponents (He has, after all, written an anti-Libertarian FAQ and an anti-Reactionary FAQ, but seems unlikely to write an anti-Social Justice FAQ). I would like to argue here that Scott is broadly correct to do this.

      Conservatives and reactionaries threaten liberal policies. But this is the cut and thrust of history, and setbacks in one election or swing of popular mood can be reversed in the next. Furthermore, there are no shortage of liberal bloggers, including some intelligent and non-totally mindkilled ones, fighting the good fight against the forces of reaction.

      The darker elements of Social Justice Warfare, by contrast, are a threat to liberalismitself. The things Scott writes about in his “things I will regret writing” posts are the misdeeds of the illiberal center-left, which is eating away at liberalism. I want to see MLK’s dream that we judge a man or woman not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character realized, and this isn’t going to happen in a world in which it’s actually considered acceptable to silence someone by telling them to check their privilege. The dark tendencies of SJW are attempting to make actual liberalism unthinkable, and this is a much greater long-term danger than that posed by conservativism/reaction.* Is all of Social Justice like this? No. But the dark tendencies are spreading, and there are precious few places where anyone from inside the progressive tent is putting up a fight.

      *I realize thing probably look worse in Russia. I sympathize, but I think the wave of мракобесие will pass there too, even if it takes longer.

  60. AR+ says:

    I had an idea while thinking about this in the car. In sub-Dunbar groups, a single individual’s efforts are non-trivial on any cause they pursue. Even though it would be nicer in principle if everybody else agreed to it without having to do anything themselves, ie the free-rider problem described above, it doesn’t lead to the same conclusion because individual efforts DO make a difference.

    But then I thought, hold on, some people’s support is worth more than others, and this should have selective consequences.

    The higher-status you are in a sub-Dunbar group, the more your own individual support is worth to any cause you support. Towards the extremes, a single influential person is a large fraction of the group’s decision making power. The higher status you are, the more likely you are to be the decisive factor in group politics.

    Ergo, adaptation to this fact might lead to the following psychological trait in humans: The higher you perceive your own status to be, the more inclined you should be to take an active role in supporting political causes that you believe in/benefit you. Elites get politically active rather than staying in their mansions because being elite triggers an inclination to be politically active.

    Hence, “cooperation.”

    • cassander says:

      can you separate that effect from “the more you coordinate the higher your status rises”?

      • AR+ says:

        I don’t know. I’m just saying that the math of the free rider problem described above might not actually be there in the smaller groups we evolved in.

  61. Pingback: I’ll See Your Coordination Problem and Raise you some Selection Bias | The Only Winning Move

  62. David Moss says:

    “Either there’s some sort of spooky system that generates heartfelt moral philosophies on demand to solve coordination problems…”

    … or there some completely mundane mechanisms which cause people to value (intrinsically) supporting their groups. Like, for example, rich people socialising with other rich people, developing norms likely to be popular within that group e.g. lower taxes! rich people are hardworking and deserve a break! etc.

  63. I agree that the perverse incentives at play in progressives are less along the lines of “willfully make people sick” (except for psychos perpetrating hate-crime hoaxes and other false flag trolling type behavior). The expected sins are more along the lines of excessive “we need to do more” awareness-raising and promotion of schemes that involve lots of visible virtue (soup kitchen work, not effective altruism) – drawing excessive attention to keep their causes running full steam (+ funding). Inertia and use-it-all ask-for-more spending.

    Sure, there are free riders, but influential activists and union leaders make sure to capture plenty of benefits and concessions for the associates who supported them.

    I’d be interested in a compilation of examples of do-gooder org leaders (administrator, activist, or politician) sabotaging superior alternatives to the approach they’re promoting. I believe this happens, and it *does so* constitute willfully making things worse (than pursuing their stated values according to the most efficient proposal available, without an eye toward denying credit to rivals, without not-invented-here, without trying to grow in slice-of-GDP importance, without fear of admitting past mistakes).

  64. Sonata Green says:

    I don’t feel like reading through all the comments to see if this has already been said, but:

    The obvious interpretation to me is that there’s a general urge to have something that feels like morality, and emotional/psychological pressures/tendencies to have beliefs that make oneself out to deserve nice things, and – in a vacuum – these tend to intersect to produce a morality that at least superficially appears to be self-serving.

    However, our moralities do not form in a vacuum – we’re exposed to media and entertainment that are predominantly controlled by the rich. Thus, the beliefs that the rich hold tend to get disproportionate attention, creating a skew toward forming pro-rich moralities, and so the poor are more likely than the rich to end up holding non-self-serving beliefs. This creates a positive feedback loop of the rich accumulating more and more power, and without either coincidence or intentional conspiracy.

  65. Ebricky says:

    The cognitive process that results in peoples’ sincere belief in a perverted moral philosophy and attendant “altruistic” behavior is less impressive (though perhaps every bit as spooky) when you consider that it does not “spring up” organically and independently in each individual, but is imposed through ubiquitous suggestion by calculating third parties (media, celebrities, the fabulously well-to-do, etc.). The particular value system is created and disseminated to encourage like-minded folks to do their part to support the selfish goal. It’s unsurprising that similarly interested persons would adopt the suggested moral code. The more interesting phenomenon is that those uninterested in, or even victimized by the selfish goal are often persuaded to adopt it as well.

  66. dhill says:

    ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’

  67. RJMeyers says:

    The rich have a simpler coordination problem to solve: There are fewer of them and they often are involved in each other’s businesses, social networks, etc. They also have more resources individually (money, connections), so not only is the pool of rich people smaller but the effectiveness of each of them is much higher. Knowing the president of a bank confers much more influence than knowing all the other tellers at one branch. Being president of said bank confers even more… As you move higher and higher up the SES scale, connections and “who you know” become ever more important and a surprising amount of important decisions are made this way.

    There is also coordination over time to consider. Large institutional changes that greatly alter the fortunes of vast portions of society happen rather infrequently (think Great Depression and New Deal type changes). If sufficient coordination is temporarily achieved to influence an important crisis for your (and your associates/friends’) advantage in a new institutional regime, you can relax that coordination afterward and move to a more passive maintenance regime. That’s pretty much what institutions are designed to do–make what used to require active manipulation in violation of social/political contracts into something that is routine and mostly passively agreed on.

    It also helps to have various ideologies out there supporting your views and which may be disseminated among the general public via TV, books, and other media outlets. This further decreases maintenance costs and reduces coordination burden by creating at least some limited popular support for policies that benefit you and your associates/friends.