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Punish the cheaters

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Dec. 29th, 2003 | 03:33 pm
mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

I believe that differences in perception about who is "cheating" is what separates conservatives from liberals.

First some background about our understanding of fairness. One interesting discovery in the realm of experimental economics is that people have an innate tendency to try and punish cheaters. In one experimental game there are two actors, one who gets to determine the split of a cash prize and the other who can veto the distribution but has no other input on the split.

What the researchers discovered is that if the split becomes worse than about 1/3rd (I think) the vetoer will block the award. From a purely rational standpoint, as long as they get something you shouldn't ever actual veto the transaction, as some award is more than you had before.

However it seems that we have evolved a system that encourages us to punish those who "cheat" even if we can't benefit from the punishment, as teaching people a modicum of social responsibility benefits society as a whole.

What I recently realized is that conservatives and liberals focus on different forms of "cheating".

The conservatives complain mightily about the "welfare mother" who takes government handouts and never contribute productively to society. The reforms of the liberals of taxing the rich and redistributing to the poor seem to them to be the "lazy" exploiting them, the hard diligent workers.

The liberals talk about how the rich became rich not through their own hard work, but by the gifts of parents, luck, or better access to power. To them the redistribution of wealth is just because it evens out "cheating" due to "unfair" initial conditions.

I think this also explains why wealthy, straight, white, land owners tend to be conservatives. Since they have never always been operating in a space of privilege it never occurs to them that people might not have access to the same opportunities that they have had. Those who are further on the margins of society, have practical experience in the limitations imposed on them by their lack of access to social privilege.

The child in the inner city born to poor parents and educated in a crumbling school will never have the same access to social privilege that the wealthy child raised in the finest boarding schools will have. Those that believe that is true tend to be liberals, while those who think it false are conservatives.

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candid

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from: candid
date: Dec. 29th, 2003 09:26 pm (UTC)
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However it seems that we have evolved a system that encourages us to punish those who "cheat" even if we can't benefit from the punishment, as teaching people a modicum of social responsibility benefits society as a whole.

It isn't a system that encourages people to punish cheaters -- it's human nature. In virtually every society (1 2) you see the same thing, which makes it tough to blame the system.

What's more, your "group selection" ("bad for me, but good for the group") argument doesn't work, biologically speaking. A more reasonable viewpoint is that while isolated instances of punishment may cost me money, a strategy involving credible threats of punishment (1) makes me better off.

The conservatives complain mightily about the "welfare mother" who takes government handouts and never contribute productively to society. The reforms of the liberals of taxing the rich and redistributing to the poor seem to them to be the "lazy" exploiting them, the hard diligent workers.

Perhaps some conservatives feel "exploited" by the liberal reforms of tax and redistribute. But others look at those reforms and see a recipe for failure. Have the Great Society programs worked? Was the problem with the War on Poverty that we didn't spend enough? Many "conservatives" see the liberal urge to redistribute as wrong not because it's unfair or cheating, but because it doesn't really remedy the problems one might naively expect it to.

The converse is true as well. There are plenty of non-liberals who look at the Bush family, or the Hilton sisters, and bemoan the fact that those people get a leg up in life because of who their parents are. But is there a good solution? Any redistribution scheme you draw up is going to have consequences above and beyond the transfer of a few bucks from Paris Hilton to some poor kid.

In fact, I would agree with you that a poor inner-city child will probably never have the same access to "social privilege" as Johnny Millionaire. And yet, I'd rather live in a free society that allows such unfairness than in the kind of society that would restrict the generation of wealth (i.e. happiness) in the way necessary to prevent those inequities.

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Diane Trout

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from: alienghic
date: Dec. 30th, 2003 12:01 am (UTC)
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Actually I think there is some biological evidence for bad for me, but good for my kin behaviors in species as a whole. Such as parents fighting to protect their young. Additionally not only do humans protect closely related genomes, people will also die fighting to protect their cherished ideals (memes).

For instance most palestinian suicide bombers are actually reasonably educated "middle class" people who have decided to make the ultimate sacrifice for their kin and their idea of freedom.

Though the Great Society programs may not have worked as well as one might have wished, they certainly seemed to me to be far superior to laissez-faire 1890's style capitalism. I like the existence of independent government oversight to check the safety of my food. (The creation of the USDA was directly attributable to socialist Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle)

I think that letting children attend schools is far superior to leaving them in factories for 16 hours a day. Such as was common in england during the industrial revolution or in the various third-world free trade zones today.

Capitalists innately seek to maximize profits, some of this can be done through improved efficiency, but at some point, it must be done through exploiting labor.

For instance there are a number of claims that Coke has been encouraging right wing columbian paramilitaries to execute union organizers.

By shifting jobs outside of the US to countries without the protections provided by the Great Society they are able to lower their costs and increase profits. Companies that don't do that eventually lose market-share and are driven out of business.

Additionally the capitalists have been using their increased access to resources to buy political advantages. For instance the current head of the USDA was a former lobbyist for the national cattleman's association. And so it's of little surprise that they have been resistant to implementing a mad cow disease testing program like used in japan. Or how about Halliburton's access to contracts in Iraq for which there were no competitive bids.

It seems to me that capitalism left to its own devices would eventually devolve back into feudalism, where a small wealthy elite controls all the resources and the poor are held in virtual serfdom by their debts to the capitalists. (See for instance countries struggling to make debt payments to the IMF/World Bank, or people in America who lost their high paying manufacturing or engineering jobs and are now stuck in dead end retail jobs trying to survive.)

Also I would argue that wealth creation is not the same as happiness. Being free from starvation and deprivation is a requirement for happiness but once above that additional levels of wealth does not translate to greater happiness. For instance, at least in the US people who make $90,000 are not happier than those make $40,000, though both groups are happier than those making $10,000.

Happiness seems to also stem from things like social relationships, a sense of security, and the leisure time to develop ones own interests.

Since it seems to me that capitalism eventually degenerates into two highly unequal classes some form of structural readjustment must exist or else the only alternative to the system of repression that evolves to protect the rich capitalist class is violent revolution.

Also hopefully some people will keep working to develop other economic systems. Just because capitalism is the dominant system now, doesn't mean that it always has to be that way.

(That's it I'm sick and going to bed now.)

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