Sunday, October 2, 2011

Society should socialize away the status effects of my disadvantages, while allowing me to continue to reap all the status effects where I have the advantage

Most talk of redistribution and fairness strikes me this way.  Obviously, most people lack the self-awareness to recognize this even when it perfectly encapsulates their revealed preferences.
For instance, the very smart tend to want raw intelligence to be a big part of the metric according to which society hands out its goodies.  They call it meritocracy.  There are certainly arguments of efficiency, but there's no moral reason why, for instance, someone with a 3 sigma IQ and a 0 sigma level of physical development should be favored over someone with 2 sigma IQ and 1 sigma of physical development for spots at say, Harvard.  Those who have the power to do so or control over the cultural battlespace get to define the formula and then afterwards we all are expected to pretend that it is henceforth sacred.

But back to redistribution.  Few of us would deny that height, for instance carries significant perks.  I've benefited quite a bit from my own.  But when someone proposes something like this:

We all get apoplexy.  Or, God forbid
someone suggest that sexual access is an acceptable avenue for redistribution.  Despite the fact, of course, that redistributing status does also in fact redistribute sexual access, since social status is catnip for neurotypical women.

Now, I'm not going to say that redistribution is inherently evil.  I'm terribly uncomfortable with calling all or mostly everyone evil after all---call it humility if you like, or simply a reluctance to expand words such that they become useless for prediction or categorization.  Instead, let's call it what it is---attempts to aggrandize the status of groups, generally at the expense of other groups, since status is generally a zero-sum game.  Practically by definition, someone must ride in the back of the bus.  Even if we outlaw sitting in the last 2 seats, that won't matter, because we'll define the next rearmost seats as, 'the back of the bus'.  We do that because it is our nature as human beings, and I have neither the belief that I or anyone else can perfect or fundamentally change them nor the belief that I have the right to do so.  I do believe that there is someone who DOES, but that's a matter for one of my more theological posts.  Suffice it to say that for efforts of such redistribution, go ahead and try however you like, but please don't attempt to wrap what you're doing in moral language or a veil of righteousness.  You've got no more standing than the two absurdities I've linked morally.  Most advantages, after all, have very little that is actually 'earned' about them, including the ones that the redistributionist actually favors.


Koanic said...

Good article. That was a truly horrifying graphic. Where's the context for it?

Here are my thoughts:

Status is not a zero-sum game.

Status *ranking* is a zero sum game.

But the ranking does not encapsulate the entirety of status. Status can change without affecting the ranking.

For example, if you are a delta, and an omega friend of yours becomes gamma, this is a net gain to you, not a loss.

The zero sum model of status war doesn't work at the societal level. Rather, the proper paradigm is to look at aberrant status versus justified status.

Jehu said...

The context for that graphic is a parody of the recent rant about 'Nobody got rich on their own'.
Status is certainly a team sport, and it is the largest aggregations (e.g. race, gender, and the like) that I'm largely speaking of in this post. I could write a bit about much more localized status if there's a desire for it from the readers.

Anonymous said...

The problem is conflation of the function (net in-place liquidation value of assets) with the derivative (income, capital gains, value added, sales, etc.).

The result of this conflation is a brain-dead discourse in political economy.

OF COURSE people who have vast property rights should pay more for the existence of the entity that upholds those property rights — just as they should pay more for property insurance.

OF COURSE people who make X dollars a year should have zero tax burden as a result of those CHANGES in their net in-place liquidation value of assets.

Anonymous said...

I have three basic questions for all would be political economists:

1) If physicists conflated velocity with position the way you conflate income with wealth, where do you think technology would be today? Why do you think economic technology would be any better?

2) If the primary function of government is to uphold property rights, then why is government funded by taxing economic activity rather than taxing property rights?

3) Why don’t you ever answer the first 2 questions?

Anonymous said...

Confusing people about the distinction between “wealth” and “income” and then progressively taxing income while claiming to be taxing the “wealthy” is probably the worst single political economic crime possible to commit in public discourse.

“Wealth” is not “income”. “Wealth” is property rights – net assets – the net in-place liquidation value of assets, etc.

Since the primary function of government is the protection of non-subsistence property rights, it is sensible to charge a use fee for those rights. Note, I said “non-subsistence” property rights. The point here is that house and tools of the trade are protected from confiscation under bankruptcy law precisely because they are subsistence assets. Where government does not exist, subsistence properties are typically defended by the occupant, whose life is sustained by those assets. Government brings precisely the property rights we associate with civilization — assets beyond home and tools of the trade.

Failing to charge a use fee or tax for property rights allows the truly wealthy, whose property rights would disappear in an instant in the absence of government protections, to continue to accumulate net assets without limit and without paying the costs of protection of those property rights—shifting them onto the heavily taxed producers.

Jehu said...

That you Jim Bowery?
If so, oddly enough, I've got no issue with your favored taxation system (a small wealth tax coupled with a substantial citizen's dividend). I'd prefer it substantially to our present system. I won't, however, claim that there's a moral imperative for it, or, for that matter, for any particular taxation or redistributive system. My beef isn't with people attempting redistribution as such, although obviously I'll oppose any aimed against me, but rather with those who claim a moral high ground in such redistribution, particularly those who claim their favored redistributions are blessed by God but others are inspired by the Devil.

Anonymous said...

Charging a use fee for the protection of non-subsistence property rights and a citizen's dividend aren't redistributive.

Anonymous said...

In the state of nature, a man has land, his animal territory, or he dies. By the same token, true freedom is compatible only with a FREE DOMain: one's animal territory, one's self-defensible homestead, free from taxes.

However, when a man owns 10,000 acres and keeps other men with their families off of it, what is it that does that? Self-defense? Of course not. In a state of nature such a man's lifespan would be too low for him to even reproduce. When we, in our state of natural sovereignty as individuals, enter into a Lockean social contract to form a civilization that upholds "property rights", we are agreeing not that the government will tax and protect our animal territory, our homesteads, for us, but that government will protect much larger properties than we ourselves can't protect.

That is a service.

What rational individual sovereign would enter into a social contract with other individual sovereigns that would offer such a service, frequently involving dealing death, for "free"?

Jehu said...

Perhaps you've confused me with a libertarian. Or perhaps you're just seeking an opportunity to push a few memes. That's perfectly ok if you are, as I'm not unfriendly towards them.

There are however, aspects regarding redistribution though that I think you should watch out for. The first is the belief that what you're doing is not redistribution. Of course it is---any time you change the distribution of wealth it is by definition redistribution. The levels and distribution of wealth that would persist in the absence of a State having a supermajority (not monopoly) of violence is probably unknowable, and stateless circumstances very rarely persist long because states have competitive advantages in organized violence. You can certainly probably get people to agree to some level of taxation that scales with wealth (and probably also, that scales with how odious one is with respect to one's neighbors) based on the expected cost of defending persons and their property. Notice I don't say 'justify'--the negotiation of this sort of thing is well outside the moral sphere and should be well within the pragmatic one. Groups that have the power to impose redistribution should just do so without inflicting their sanctimonious nonsense on the rest of us. Groups that don't like that should resist it and ally with other groups as necessary. Groups that have a lot of good will built up should appeal to and expend that good will when trying to gain or avoid such redistribution. Words like good or evil shouldn't come out of anyone's mouth during the transaction.

Anonymous said...

Failing to account for externalities and charging others for their costs, whether deliberately or inadvertently, is redistribution. Accounting for externalities and charging for them is an attempt to mitigate as much as possible, or eliminate completely, this redistribution.

There is no moral language about "good" or "evil" involved here. It's an attempt to pragmatically account for externalities and charge accordingly for them.

Aretae said...


This one has been on my to-respond-to list since you posted. quite well done.