Monday, June 22, 2009

Sauron Himself Is But An Emissary - Part VI

Part I Is progressivism a grandson of communism, or a cousin?
Part II The Nature of Evil
Part III Expanding Brotherhood
Part IV Social Pressure
Part V A Thought Experiment
Part V-A A Thought Experiment - continued

How Things Work

Progressives lean against the hard work and supernatural explanations of how things work, and toward the beliefs that luck and rules of the system are more dominant. This is a matter of degree, not an either-or proposition. Furthermore, they have different opinions about what the rules of the system are, believing that much of (other) people's success comes from exploiting weaknesses and loopholes in the system as much as from discovering how it works. They believe that a lot of people game the system, and that is how they got ahead.

Note: If some other site links back to this part only and you disagree with the above, I urge you to do the thought experiments in Part V and V-A before complaining. If you don't, the above assertion will seem wildly unsupported.

In some cases, they believe that others must have gamed the system, because they are not nice people, yet somehow got ahead - graduating without the right ideas, being thought pretty without good features, or getting rich by doing something they think useless or evil.

I conclude from this that liberals believe that the machine is supposed to work smoothly, and life work out pretty equitably. When it doesn't, it is because something has gone terribly wrong with the culture, or the economy, or the authorities. In the normal course of events, people are supposed to go to work at a job that is useful, make a little money, and do what they want with the rest of their time. Some can't, and we take care of those, but when that picture of life does not occur, they go looking for where someone has screwed up the machine through prejudice, incompetence, or greed.

If one group of people has prospered, and one has not, how can that not be wrong, they reason. Someone must be cheating, or the rules must not be quite right. Society should intervene to make things come out right.

When you look at it that way, conservatives - or any Americans - don't necessarily disagree with this, to a point. Whether this belief descends from the Enlightenment or from thousands of years in small bands, everyone has a tendency to look at life this way. The difference is that progressives believe in this much more strongly, while centrists, conservatives, and especially libertarians believe that some rules of the system are not subject to change just because we don't like them.

Thus, a belief that Nature would go on pretty well if humans weren't screwing it up is much more common on the left. The idea that natural foods or natural medicines are better for you and confer some sort of body advantage is more common among liberals. The idea that all races must have similar endowments in all fields, despite uncomfortable evidence to the contrary, is common among all Americans, but universal on the left. Progressives are very disturbed by data which shows that some people in America are much more rich than the average.

This last provides a fascinating insight into liberal versus conservative thought. When one points out that African-Americans, even in Mississippi, have a higher average income than Swedes, progressives quickly retreat to the premise that Swedes are somehow richer in some less-measurable way, because they are happier, and share things in common, feel less separated, and have more security. This is not entirely untrue - one's perception of wealth in comparison to others does turn out to be related to feelings of well-being. But conservatives roll their eyes and wonder what on earth will make these liberals happy? By objective measures, African-Americans are better off. If they moved to Sweden, they would notice a downturn in wealth. Why should we be responsible for how people feel about their standing?

Yet I will caution again libertarians and conservatives ready to jump to conclusions here. This belief that the system is supposed to work is not unknown to you. You believe that a lot more effort and cleverness are needed to create wealth than progressives seem to think - that prosperity doesn't just happen, but is the result of putting a great deal of energy into an otherwise entropic system - but in understanding liberals, you have some foundation to draw from.

15 comments:

copithorne said...

The following article puts African American median income in MI at $21,000 -- half that of white households in MI.

I couldn't find a breakdown for Sweden. But this table shows that European median income is twice that figure:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Median_household_income

And bear in mind, African American households in MI are likely to be larger than households in Europe. So, on a per capita basis it is even worse.

There is nothing about your characterization of liberals that I agree with. I am not interested in assigning blame or credit for wealth and poverty. I'm just interested in what we can do to create policies to make for a prosperous country and a healthy society.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

copithorne - "I am not interested in assigning blame or credit for wealth and poverty." That is flat out untrue. You care very much, and it dominates your comments.

It appears I have struck home painfully.

copithorne said...

Can you refer me to a comment in which I assign blame or credit for wealth and poverty?

Your thread here is talking about individuals -- how they get wealthy and poor. That's the context in which I wrote that. But any context will do.

karrde said...

copithorne, small point of interest:

According to the United States Postal Service, MI is the state known as the Great Lakes State.

MS is the state named after the largest river in North America.

I assume you're using the postal abbreviation for the state names. I don't know of any other such system.

Where did either of you get that median income data from?

Remember, when you compare international incomes, you're also doing a currency exchange. While the dollar and the euro have been relatively stable, they have varied from a 1:2 exchange rate to a 2:3 exchange rate in the past couple of years.

Now, I'm off to explore the rest of part (V).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

This is great! You're flailing, getting random. But it's distracting from the main topic.

Gringo said...

From: Comparing US and EU economies. From the Timbro Institute in Sweden.

While Europe may be more equal, it IS also poorer than the US. Housing size is one indicator of this. You pays your money and you takes your chances, takes your choices. Methinks that most Americans would prefer the setup on our side of the pond, instead of being poorer and more equal-and less free- in Europe.

Table 3:3 compares dwelling space in various
countries. Average total dwelling space in Europe is just under 1,000 sq. ft. In the USA it is 1,875 sq. ft for the average household and 1,200 sq. ft for poor households. Adjusting for size of household, one finds that poor households in the USA have slightly more dwelling space than the average European. The average American household has a home that is 80 per cent larger than its average European counterpart. Europeans, in other words, are
more crowded in an American perspective.


Dwelling space ( square feet) per person
Europe, average 395.7
USA, poor households 438.6
USA, all households 721.2

page 24

karrde said...

Another point of interest:

AVI wasn't clear whether, when he said "average", he meant "median", "mean", or "mode".

(Bonus question: what is "mode" in statistics? If it is different from both median and mean, what might that say about the data?)

Median and mean can be vastly different, yet both have been called "average".

Usually, "average" means the mathematical "mean". Usually...

copithorne said...

We're really getting close to the heart of the matter now.

I'm sure this happens all the time in your work, AVI.

You encounter someone who feels blamed or judged or criticized. But when you ask them to illustrate what actions of other people cause these feelings, they can't answer or their speech becomes disorganized.

I would expect that you would point out this incongruence to them. And you would feel you were close to something important. But probably only one out of twenty times are they really to take it in and change their perspective on these feelings of being blamed, judged or criticized. Do you have a better way of pointing it out?

But here you have a tremendous opportunity to serve your clients by noticing what this experience feels like on the inside and crafting the antidote within yourself. What do you tell your clients in this situation? I can help you if you need it. But I expect you have all the resources you need to carry this investigation to its conclusion.

Thanks, Karrde, yes I actually thought that later that I meant MS instead of MI. The best information I got on European median income was from Wikipedia "median income." Median income would be decisive to me. If you, me and Warren Buffet go out to lunch we've got an average income of several billion dollars. But

Assistant Village Idiot said...

No, no, that's great copithorne. Just hold that idea that Democrats have got a plan, and despite their history, are going to save us money. Let me know how that works out.

copithorne said...

I expect that is what happens a lot when you reach this juncture with your clients, AVI. When you observe that they feel attacked but that they are unable to locate the source of that feeling outside themselves they change the subject to something completely off topic. Do they often throw in a passive attack to cover their tracks?

What do you do at that point? Do you have to let them go? Or is there some way you can bring them back to notice what happened just before they changed the subject?

karrde said...

But...

Statistics is fun, but it can be pursued fully elsewhere

The thing which concerns us is partly the question What is the difference between rich people and poor people?

Some would argue over whether Something should be done is the best response to whatever differences are present. (It is entirely possible that the problem is intractable...that is, it will not answer easily to any human effort under the present cultural/legal/religious regime. It is even possible for a person to argue that the current situation is not a problem.)

Others would argue vociferously over the Thing that must be done.

But all those arguments begin from somewhere.

When a man is rich, what do you think is the source of his wealth?

The choices present seem to be
(1) Luck
(2) Exploitation
(3) Providence
(4) Hard Work

Each of these encourages (but does not guarantee) particular views of the problems, and the place of government and social pressure in any attempt to change it.

They also affect opinions about what a wealthy person should do with their wealth.

Similar questions can be asked about wealthy and powerful nations, although the question of natural resources comes into play on the Causative Factors side.

I have my opinion on the subject of wealth and poverty, which I shared partly in Part V. I assume that AVI will share his, if he feels the need.

Copithorne, what is your idea? How does your diagnosis work out in modern America? Can you point to other times/places in history where your diagnosis-method takes in similar inputs and produces the same output?

If so, what was actually done during that time in history, and was it right or wrong?

Gringo said...

Interesting that I cannot find the figure that Copithorne gives us for income in Mississippi where he claims he found it.

I provided documentation that poor people in the US have bigger housing than the average European, and no response.

copithorne said...

Gringo, I didn't succeed in getting the link last time. Here it is:

Median income of Mississippi



Karrde, I think it is a philosophical question analogous to: do people have free will or are their choices determined?

We can come up with perspectives that uphold one side or the other. But it's a question of metaphysics rather than evidence.

Different perspectives might be the antidote to different experiences of victimization. If someone is feeling, "it is unfair that I am taxed. I achieved my wealth on my own" I might counter with one view. If someone else is feeling "it is unfair that I haven't succeeded. The deck is stacked against me" I might counter with another view. But the perspective is just medicine, not something that exists in reality.

The thing is, that this conversation actually turns out to be irrelevant to the question of how to create public policies which promote prosperity.

karrde said...

copithorne, my understanding of the conversation is that we are studying how people come to conclusions about wealth and its creation.

It is on-point if we can test the theories and figure out which one will produce better results.

(Or, as an alternative, which modes have produced better results in history, both distant and recent.)

Carl said...

I agree with Gringo and karrde.