Good government

One thing that’s sort of fun to do, is to apply basic economic concepts to states.

For whatever reason, economists will apply lots of concepts to individuals and companies but not to states.

For example, the invisible hand is the theory that: “individuals’ efforts to maximize their own gains in a free market benefits society.”

Applied to states instead of individuals, the invisible hand argues for citizenism.

Libertarians, instead, tend to be global utilitarians. Frustratingly, they refuse to explain why they believe it’s positively good for individuals and companies to pursue their own interests but bad for states to do so.

It’s likely the libertarians would reply with statements like “governments use force” and so they’re bad, or something like that. But let’s look at the actual consequences of global utilitarianism at state level.

The Soviets, for example, undoubtedly believed that all their actions benefitted the future of the world. In the process, they killed millions. On the other hand, Lee Kuan Yew was just trying to stabilize his own unstable country. To do so, he blatantly pursued the interests of his own people over those of other peoples nearby. The result was one of the best places to live in the world.

Examples abound. It really shouldn’t be surprising that pursuing your own, more narrow self interest is always better than trying to save the world. The latter claim justifies any heinous action. Further, the knowledge problem makes it impossible anyway.

In general, the good old lessons of economics seem to have a lot going for them when applied to governments. If only someone would tell economists . . .

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57 Responses to Good government

  1. James says:

    Most soi-disant global utilitarians are fake utilitarians.

    Fake utilitarianism is when someone rejects deontology—the idea that acts are inherently good or bad—and claims to want to maximise total (happiness – misery), but in practice tries to dole out hedons and dolors equally.

    For example: “Africans are less happy on average than Americans, therefore as a utilitarian I think that Americans should sacrifice their happiness for the sake of Africans.”

    This is not utilitarianism. It discounts the pleasure and pain of future sentient beings and concerns itself exclusively with the welfare of living humans. This is extremely parochial at best, and in fact I suspect it is incoherent (since there is probably no basis to distinguish the same qualia instantiated at different times, any more than two quarks can be distinguished).

    The driving force is the human intuition about unfairness, not empathy—so it is essentially disguised deontology. Real utilitarianism can be arbitrarily unfair and cold; I hold that utilitarians are exclusively concerned with increasing the probability that humanity begets a positive technological singularity. In theory this might involve trying to distribute hedons a lot more equally amongst all living humans, but that seems unlikely.

    The libertarians’ fake utilitarianism is compounded by the implausible deduction that selfishness (hedonic egoism) is entirely intolerable in the public sphere, yet entirely blameless in the private sphere.

    This absolutism is redolent of deontology, not utilitarianism. Since the supermajority of humans are inevitably quite selfish, any attempt to quash selfishness entirely is bound to be destructive, hence not utilitarian at all. This is true of selfishness on either side of the public/private divide (which, pace principled libertarianism, is not ontologically basic).

    • Candide III says:

      in practice tries to dole out hedons and dolors equally.

      I have pointed out the well-known problems of interpersonal (and intrapersonal for that matter) utilitarian calculations to you time and again. How are you going to solve the problem of doling out hedons and dolors? Count future sentient beings (of whom we know nothing and cannot be sure whether they will exist at all, much less what will their life look like) equally with living humans? Why shouldn’t each of my hedons be worth a trillion of yours? If your real goal is creating the technological singularity, you might as well admit it and dispense with the crutch of utilitarianism, which is broken anyway.

      • James says:

        <blockquote.How are you going to solve the problem of doling out hedons and dolors?

        I presume that you would sooner drown a squirrel than boil it in acid. This is difficult to explain, unless you believe that the boiled squirrel would probably instantiate more dolors (hence you are performing “inter-agent utilitarian calculation”).

        Count future sentient beings (of whom we know nothing and cannot be sure whether they will exist at all, much less what will their life look like)

        One is never sure of anything, but always has an optimal probability assignment. My brain assigns significant probability mass to the future in which superintelligent friendly AI exists, and this dominates my utilitarian calculus absent certainty.

        Why shouldn’t each of my hedons be worth a trillion of yours?

        If that’s how you feel, you are welcome to take decisions on this basis.

      • Candide III says:

        This is difficult to explain, unless you believe that the boiled squirrel would probably instantiate more dolors

        Why should it be easy to explain? Snarks aside, the squirrel will be just as dead whether boiled or drowned. It’s difficult to explain how its dolors count after that. Do you imagine each moment in time tagged with dolors?

        hence you are performing “inter-agent utilitarian calculation”

        I am not a utilitarian, so this misses the mark. My view is closer to the traditional view that by inflicting cruelty (like boiling squirrels in acid, odd that you should have thought of such an example) you damage your immortal soul.

        I wonder though how are you going to deal with

        If your real goal is creating the technological singularity, you might as well admit it and dispense with the crutch of utilitarianism, which is broken anyway.

      • James says:

        Why should it be easy to explain? Snarks aside, the squirrel will be just as dead whether boiled or drowned. It’s difficult to explain how its dolors count after that. Do you imagine each moment in time tagged with dolors?

        I confess that I don’t understand:

        #1 The granularity of time—how long is a “moment”?

        #2 Qualia—how does “subjective experience” reduce to atoms and quarks? What physical laws govern subjective experiences?

        But this seems orthogonal to my utilitarianism. You could critique any position by raising the spectre of questions like these. For example, how is the economic theory of supply and demand consistent with the fact that an economic transaction has to “happen” at some particular time, and no-one has ever observed a “particular time”? Or, how can you prove that murder (but not quarrying) is morally wrong when there’s no proof that murdered people have more “inner life” than a rock? At what precise moment in time does a “rape” occur—if you can’t specify this, how do you define the act objectively?

        The point of the squirrels is that every sane person, whatever his uncertainty about nebulous problems like time and qualia, has highly predictable and firm beliefs about hedons and dolors. Everyone, including yourself, acts as though a squirrel being boiled alive experiences more pain than one that is being drowned (or petted). People who criticise the notion of interpersonal hedonic comparison are obliged to explain exactly why they find the notion of boiling a garden pest alive more revolting than drowning it.

        inflicting cruelty (like boiling squirrels in acid, odd that you should have thought of such an example) you damage your immortal soul

        Even if you believe in immortal souls, I wonder why you think boiling is crueler than drowning (or cuddling), if not because of your intuitions about inter-agent hedonic comparison.

        If your real goal is creating the technological singularity, you might as well admit it and dispense with the crutch of utilitarianism, which is broken anyway.

        Creating the technological singularity would not be my goal if I thought it would create more painful than pleasurable experiences.

      • nydwracu says:

        I presume that you would sooner drown a squirrel than boil it in acid. This is difficult to explain, unless you believe that the boiled squirrel would probably instantiate more dolors (hence you are performing “inter-agent utilitarian calculation”).

        God save us from the robot-philosophers! Explain it in terms of empathy or something similar.

        Would you argue that a morally well-functioning human would see the hedons and dolors of a random person on the other side of the globe who he will never meet as equal to the hedons and dolors of his own mother? If so, utilitarianism follows; if not, it doesn’t, unless you’re prepared to admit to epistemological problems on such a scale that utilitarianism is probably untenable in the first place.

      • Candide III says:

        The point of the squirrels is that every sane person, whatever his uncertainty about nebulous problems like time and qualia, has highly predictable and firm beliefs about hedons and dolors.

        I disagree. You try to prove a general point with a deliberately chosen uncontentious example. There is indeed a sector of experience that most people judge in a very similar way, but it is rather narrow, being confined mostly to immediate bodily harm and the very simplest pleasures, which we coincidentally share with animals, such as squirrels. Try getting people agree on hedons and dolors of drinking alcohol, or sweets, or videogames, or reading books. Or even sex (“close your eyes and think of England” wasn’t that long ago). We all agree that being boiled is painful, but what about the pain of looking at ugly architecture or morbidly obese people, or (to pick an example from the other side) seeing your girl child put a toy train to sleep in a baby carriage?

        Even if you believe in immortal souls, I wonder why you think boiling is crueler than drowning (or cuddling), if not because of your intuitions about inter-agent hedonic comparison.

        Because of empathy, which does not entail or require comparison. I can imagine being boiled and judging that it must be very painful without comparing my being boiled with the squirrel’s being boiled.

        Creating the technological singularity would not be my goal if I thought it would create more painful than pleasurable experiences.

        Yeah, friendly AI research by Yudkowsky will guarantee that bad things™ won’t happen. Frame it and hang it on a wall, if you already haven’t.

  2. James says:

    Another lesson of economics that needs to be applied to governments is Hayek’s fatal conceit. Even though we have an apparently sub-optimal government, no-one is close to understanding all of its functions and behaviour, and this should give pause to those who are keen to chop the world up into a patchwork and have us be ruled by totalitarian dictators armed with a cryptographic command chain.

    The inferential mistake is: “our government has been designed by progressive lunatics, so isn’t highly optimised. We are smarter and more sensible than progressive lunatics, so we can bring more optimisation power to bear. Therefore, our new design will outperform the old one.”

    A more accurate inference: “our government has been shaped by the choices of progressive lunatics, but has also been optimised by the countless nudges and adjustments of ordinary people, both within and outside the ruling class. Our government is therefore likely to occupy a local optimum point in state-design-space. We can certainly move it to a higher peak, but must not be blasé about disrupting relatively sound elements in the existing design, many of which we know nothing about, nor about the dangerous transition across valleys in the configuration space.”

    • red says:

      Exactly what sound elements are left in our government? The only working elements seems to consist of people from the previous generation who are now retiring.

      • James says:

        In his series on America, Alistair Cooke mentioned that when people are appointed to the Supreme Court, their sense of responsibility increases to fill the role and they tend to become bulwarks against bad and disruptive ideas. This may be less true today, but it illustrates the point that one can’t assume too much and try to be too clever when examining the government. Whatever the formal nature of various institutions, one couldn’t possibly guess at all the surprising and unwritten human elements that infuse the system.

        For another example, consider the intelligence service. Who knows what the US military intelligence is doing? Lev Navrozov thinks that people who live in democracies predictably fail to understand the totalitarian mindset of countries like modern China—it might be very dangerous to disrupt the relatively free and open USG’s operations. To implement neocameralism would require the US military to be rebuilt from scratch (with cryptographic weapons, n’est pas?)

        The question is difficult to answer though, because the point is about fundamental uncertainties. I don’t know what sound elements there are in USG, or how dispensable they are, but I think that future anti-progressives should be careful to find out before trying to force radical changes. Back when communism seemed like an interesting experiment, the nature of the price system in communicating information about scarce resources was poorly understood, so it was difficult to specify what harm central economic planning could do, but its proponents in the West might still have exercised some epistemic humility.

      • Red says:

        “The question is difficult to answer though, because the point is about fundamental uncertainties. I don’t know what sound elements there are in USG, or how dispensable they are, but I think that future anti-progressives should be careful to find out before trying to force radical changes. Back when communism seemed like an interesting experiment, the nature of the price system in communicating information about scarce resources was poorly understood, so it was difficult to specify what harm central economic planning could do, but its proponents in the West might still have exercised some epistemic humility.”

        Communism has been tried repeatedly for thousands of years. Hell the Persian empire had a full on communist revolution back in the day. Never works. People keep trying not because they don’t know about all the failures, they keep trying it because they are striving for the small group and tribal system the that humanity grew from. Progressives have made it a rule to ignore history as they lurch from one disaster to another.

        Force radical changes? The future is either collapse through anarchy or collapse by elite replacement. In neither case is anything of the current system kept. Leftism is on it’s final course towards the iceberg. It will not be turned aside. It will not be slowed. The only question is how long it takes the ship to sink and wither we will all go down with it.

  3. KevinNowell says:

    The problem with that line of thinking is that “individuals’ efforts to maximize their own gains in a free market [benefit] society” only in the context of a legal framework that punishes anti-social behavior. And since, in economic theory, factors of production are paid their marginal product you can’t really say that selfish behavior society writ large.

    Its only by the acts of charity and altruism that the individual’s increased wealth allows him to perform or by the knowledge he imparts or the inspiration he provides that a person is really able to benefit society writ large.

  4. Alex J. says:

    Most libertarians are not global utilitarians. They support individual rights (e.g. speech, association, self-defense, property) and see most arguments couched in utilitarianism as arguments against individual rights.

    The (main?) individual rights based argument for immigration is: If a potential immigrant has a willing employer and willing landlord, what business does anyone else have to interfere?

    If your objection is about welfare or voting or what not, then so much the worse for all those things, as they are in conflict with individual rights as well.

    • James says:

      so much the worse for all those things

      Saying this doesn’t make welfare, voting, anti-discrimination laws, human nature etc. go away.

      The econlog professors probably have a small but real influence on USG’s policy, especially when one considers their effect on the internet libertarian constituency across time. However many policy recommendations they deduce from “protect individual rights”, given USG’s nature and given the issues that the authors choose to emphasise, they are increasing the probability mass of the 2050 America that has (welfare+voting+lots of brown people), and sucking probability mass away from the 2050 America that has (welfare+voting+not quite as many brown people), as well as the 2050 America that has (rebooted libertarian government+not quite as many brown people).

      • James says:

        And increasing the probability mass of (rebooted libertarian government+lots of brown people), but I think the net effect is to decrease the probability of a reboot happening. I’ll admit that thinking about these things makes my head spin.

        It seems that whatever I might think, whoever tries to reboot the constitution of America, Britain or many other Western countries is, as a matter of brute fact, going to have to coordinate a very ethnically diverse citizenry. Given this reality, the debate is worthwhile only to demonstrate the unsatisfactory nature of deontology.

  5. PA says:

    Singapore gets a lot if love in these parts. That’s understandable, if you’re over 35 and/or you have a family.

    But a normal red blooded man like I was at 22 would chafe in a Singapore. Freedom and security are a tradeoff. Singapore has much of the latter, too little of the former.

    There is a fun hypothetical question: where would you rather live ad an average citizen with no possibility of leaving — East Berlin or Mogadishu? Tyranny or anarchy?

    America today is a low-grade but growing nexus if the first of both: anarcho-tyranny. East Berlin is high tyranny with security. Mogadishu is high anarchy with freedom.

    Singapore is… nicer than East Berlin, I guess. That’s the best you can hope for, Sinic conformity and muzzled multiculture.

    Can I just have 1950 America? I like freedom, I like security, I like both being possible at the same time, without Mandarin supervision.

    • Foseti says:

      In Singapore, prostitution is legal (for foreigners) and de facto legal for residents. Booze is plentiful. Gambling is even legal. If worse comes to worse, Thailand is close by.

      I’d take that over Mogadishu any day. Actually, given the fact that you can easily walk home at 4am after drinks without any fear at all, I’d take it over New York.

      • PA says:

        I walked drunk at 4 am from Brooklyn to Little Italy last summer, true story. Walked the bridge. It was 2012, not 1978. It was perfectly safe.

        At 22, I could live in Mogadishu if the girls were swapped with Moscow’s. After 40, East Berlin would suit me just fine.

        Chinese are fine people, but I’d hate to live under their rule.

      • Foseti says:

        My point, more broadly, was that Singapore isn’t puritanical. It restricts only the things that need restricting to keep a lid on ethnic strife and to maintain a good environment for investment.

        The places you mention might be fun for a week, but not to live permanently.

        And at 22, I would almost anywhere if it was filled with the girls from Moscow.

      • PA says:

        “to keep a lid on ethnic strife”

        I understand. My larger point is that multicultural societies are just wrong. How long is Singapore gonna last?

      • Vladimir says:

        New York (or at least Manhattan) these days looks to me like an extremely well-governed place. I’m sure the local elites are constantly engaged in acrobatic doublethink to square the things that must be done to ensure this with their Universalist ideology.

        One thing that particularly struck me during a recent visit there is how polite, courteous, and non-intimidating the cops are towards regular passers-by, while at the same time doing an excellent job in subduing the criminal element. It’s almost like a perfect inversion of the modern anarcho-tyranny.

      • PA says:

        New York (or at least Manhattan) these days looks to me like an extremely well-governed place.

        It works as an expat colony and will continue to work as long as smart moneyed young flyover folk keep coming to replace their older peers who move out when kids reach school age.

        Manhattan has a steeply inverse age pyramid; few can afford private elementary schools.

      • PA says:

        Good observation on NYC cops, by the way. I notice the same thing.

  6. SOBL1 says:

    Ask the Austro-Hungarian Empire how long multicultural societies last. An odd thing about comparing current America to the Austro-Hungarian Empire is that the different ethnicities in the AH empire actually built their own industries and had decent capabilities. You dont see that with the pieces of America outside the Asian/White sphere. If pieces arent self sufficient, they can’t push for a break up. That’s what makes the US so weird. It’s the alliance of one set of makers with massive groups of takers for power.

  7. PA says:

    For the most part, the differnt ethinc groups within the Austro-Hungarian Empire lived in isolation from other groups. The problem with America is that it makes us all get in each others’ faces and get on each others’ nerves, all the time without pause… and it’s illegal to establish separation except when you can buy yourself some physical separation.

    Another thing, all of the ethnic groups in the old European multiethnic empires were self-sufficient. Outside of cosmopolitan urban environs, all were happy to not be around the other. Not so in America, where one group would telegenically die off in a spectacular Somalia/Rwanda orgy of hunger and blood if made to separate from others.

    In an interesting exception, pre-1965 America mashed various ethnic groups, mostly in the northeast. While not without its friction, things woked out. One, the State imposed a non-negotiable Anglo acculturation via public schools and social pressure (which most non-Anglos were happy to oblige), and most importantly — by equitabe possibility of intermarriage, with women from each ethnic group being of similar average attractiveness. Not so in today’s multiethnic America.

    • SOBL1 says:

      The AH empire also would use troops of one ehtnicity in a totally different area to help pacify any stirrings and to keep trained young men away from their people. You are right that the Fed govt forever forcing side by side living only makes the problem worse. When the basic building block of any culture like family formation is so fundamentally different (marriage + illegitimacy rates), it is impossible to have a positive exposure.

      WASP leadership was pretty good. The Northeastern part of pre-65 America also had mob problems. While much more precise in their violence, it was not a picnic. The St Valentiens Day massacre was a horrendous scandal nationwide. Now 7 men shot in Chicago is called Tuesday. Part of the problem too is that no one seeks to aspire to impress an ideal group anymore.

  8. Vladimir says:

    PA,

    It works as an expat colony and will continue to work as long as smart moneyed young flyover folk keep coming to replace their older peers who move out when kids reach school age.

    That’s true, but there’s no reason why the same model of good city government (with respect to practical things like public safety, infrastructure, etc.) couldn’t be applied elsewhere — especially since it was successfully applied after several decades of horrible decay in New York itself.

    What makes New York exceptional is that it’s city with a huge concentration of the elite who want a nice urban environment to live in, so they’ve figured out ways around their ideology that would normally make this impossible. Of course, since they won’t give up on the ideology, they did this by inventing rationalizations that apply only to their own locale, and they’d be horrified if some hicks elsewhere wanted to take a similar common-sense approach to law and order.

    (This is an exaggeration, of course. In many other places, local elites have similarly found a way around their liberalism and greatly improved their cities in the last two decades, and some practical workarounds of this kind have become the new norm everywhere. SWPL gentrification is happening all around North America. But New York, in my opinion, still stands out in this regard.)

  9. Handle says:

    “White Singapore”

    I think if you were to try to distill – and reduce into just two words – the dream ideal of the good government and society presented in bits and pieces on this blog, that’s what you’d get.

  10. aretae says:

    “Why…but bad for states to do so.”

    That’s because it’s somewhere between incoherent and evil. Depends what you mean.

    Companies are supposed to pursue the interests of the shareholders qua shareholders. Specifically, to maximize the monetary value of the shareholders’ investments. As shareholders, their monetary interests do not and cannot conflict. That’s lovely. And it’s substantially why corporations work…besides the heavy state violence supporting them.

    Corporations specifically do not exist to maximize the quality of the employee’s life…and so they do not. Indeed, maximizing employee value and maximizing shareholder value are conflicting goals. Indeed, even maximizing employee value is a conflicting goal, as different employees have different value sets. And indeed, effectively no companies even maximize shareholder value. Most companies maximize the value of the executives’ prestige, while providing some tolerable return…thus suborning the intended corporate value…and hurting both the general employee and the shareholder.

    Which individuals is the state supposed to maximize the value for, and at the cost of which other individuals? Insofar as “do what’s good for the state” does not mean “do what’s good for the individuals currently in the government”…the position is incoherent. Insofar as it does mean that, it’s obviously evil.

    • Foseti says:

      This post was Aretae bait, if it was nothing else.

      “Companies are supposed to pursue the interests of the shareholders qua shareholders.”

      Why? And how?

      Amazon, for example, has been criticized (and praised) lately for basically ignoring profitability (http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/10/26/amazon_profits_they_don_t_exist_but_the_company_keeps_on_keeping_on.html).

      Companies can pursue any sort of strategies they want.

      You’re the left-libertarian, I shouldn’t have to tell you that there are all sorts of ways for companies to stay in business and executives to get rich.

      Additionally, many companies have multiple classes of stock (you think Warren Buffett would take common share?!?) – often the interest of one class is opposed to the interests of another. Which one’s value should be maximized?

      The point is that economic theory says that companies *should* maximize shareholder value. The reasons for this are many, but they include the fact that it’s possible (whereas maximizing global utility is impossible, I would argue).

      It’s fine to say that states do X, Y and Z. But, what’s wrong, more generally, with applying these lessons to the state? Perhaps more importantly, why go to the other extreme and suggest that states should maximize global well-being? Sure, it’s difficult to maximize any given person’s well-being, but such problems are compounded when extended to all living humans.

    • K_C says:

      ” And indeed, effectively no companies even maximize shareholder value. Most companies maximize the value of the executives’ prestige, while providing some tolerable return…thus suborning the intended corporate value…and hurting both the general employee and the shareholder. ”

      This is largely based however on a viewing of the last 30 years of the stock market whereas gains are almost always considered by capitalization (share price increases) as opposed to profit distributions (dividends). This, of course, leads to a hamster wheel pursuit of merely higher stock prices (through whatever means necessary, including accounting tricks) and a management outlook that merely includes, at most, the next couple of quarters. Coincidentally (although I rather think not), this seems to parallel progressive governance as we’ve seen it manifest in the US in an almost identical (but leading) time frame.

  11. spandrell says:

    I guess I’m late to this discussion, but…

    “I presume that you would sooner drown a squirrel than boil it in acid.”
    Why do you think this is a matter of morality? There’s a craze in Iran and Pakistan about throwing acid in woman’s faces. Besides the cruelty of the whole thing it strikes me how people take the trouble to find some acid and manipulate it. But of course they want to cause that particular damage to the woman’s faces.

    Think closely, step by step, about how people really think. Let’s say I were to kill some squirrel. First I’d think about how to kill the little squeaking little bitch. If I had a sink full of water, I guess I’d drown it. If I had no water at hand, but had a bottle of acid, I might throw some acid on it.
    If I had no weapons at hand, but were close by to a dry well, I’d throw the bitch into it, sorta burying it alive. Which is a horrible way to die. But if I wanted to kill a squirrel, why would I take the trouble of killing it in any particular way? I’d just do what’s easy and quick.

    That’s how people think. Not about other people/animals hedons and dolors.

  12. James says:

    Nydwracu: Of course, no human is a pure utilitarian. I prefer to say that multiple decision-theoretic agents inhabit each human brain, but this is too counter-intuitive for most people.

    A realistic expectation is that people might take utilitarian decisions as political actors, and do what they please at home. In general, the welfare of a person’s mother is not the subject of politics.

    Utilitarianism, which recommends reducing existential risks and increasing the probability of a positive singularity, is a realistic alternative to deontological political goals like “make society more equal” and fake utilitarian goals like “make everyone a citizen of the United States”. It competes in the political sphere, not with your family life.

    An instrumental goal for “reduce existential risks and make a positive singularity” is “smooth the transition to a better form of government”, hence the relationship between utilitarianism and the dark enlightenment. A better-governed West would produce a thousand Yudkowskys, so reactionary politics may be a more efficient form of charity than donating to the SIAI.

    Candide III: I agree that the hedonic ranking of qualia like “sexual intercourse” and “eating nice food” is difficult. This doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, of course—we just don’t understand qualia well enough to say.

    Yudkowsky is a complex utilitarian: he thinks that post-singularity sentient beings should do lots of different pleasurable things, and inhabit a hedonic treadmill. I lean towards a simpler future, in which strictly superior qualia can be determined and are considered most valuable when instantiated at any point in time.

    This fine point doesn’t merit your antagonism towards utilitarianism, though. Granted that it isn’t obvious how to rank “watching a David Lynch film” and “watching a Hitchcock film”, it is obvious that both of these qualia are more hedonic than being boiled in acid. The instrumental goal, “bring about the singularity” does not hinge on whether all qualia are strictly comparable, as long as you accept that some qualia are obviously better than others.

    • asdf says:

      So basically your entire life philosophy boils down to producing a “singularity” and if it doesn’t happen its a complete failure.

    • Candide III says:

      I agree that the hedonic ranking of qualia like “sexual intercourse” and “eating nice food” is difficult. This doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, of course—we just don’t understand qualia well enough to say.

      I agree that achieving working communism is difficult. This doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, of course—we just don’t understand communism well enough to say.

      Well, now you (or rather Yudkowsky in your exposition) are falling back on standard utilitarian defensive positions: since the disutility of bodily harms is about the only thing most people easily agree on, let’s reduce bodily harms and hope for the blue moon progress in understanding qualia. Since we aren’t sure how to compare mothers’ and strangers’ disutility, and since we’re basically nice people who don’t want anyone to come to harm because of our pig philosophy, let’s just say that suffering bodily harm has a disutility of 1 and not suffering it has disutility of 0, and the world’s utility is minus the product of individual’s disutilities, or something nicely convex like this. This gets you around nydwracu’s objections about mothers in a way that’s difficult to reject on moral grounds: your opponent can be easily accused of ignoring the suffering of strangers, as nice a discussion-stopper as there ever was. In addition, if you are realistic about human nature, you have constructed yourself a nice support for your struggle towards singularity, because obviously only super-human intellect can work out how to make communism work reduce everybody’s bodily harm to zero. Hedonic treadmills indeed. Happiness for all, free, and let no one come away with their feelings hurt.

      The above is my idea of the “much simpler system” behind your singularitarian utilitarianism (see quote below). I can sympathize with the feeling, even if I disagree with you. Every young anarchist or communist is actuated, in part, by a similar feeling.

      Every philosopher, in addition to the formal system which he offers to the world, has another, much simpler, of which he may be quite unaware. If he is aware of it, he probably realizes that it won’t quite do; he therefore conceals it, and sets forth something more sophisticated, which he believes because it is like his crude system, but which he asks others to accept because he thinks he has made it such as cannot be disproved. The sophistication comes in by way of refutation of refutations, but this alone will never give a positive result: it shows, at best, that a theory may be true, not that it must be. The positive result, however little the philosopher may realize it, is due to his imaginative preconceptions, or to what Santayana calls
      “animal faith.” — Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy

      • James says:

        If the Russell quote applies to me, then my “animal faith” is rather dull, because serious meditation on the consequences singularitarian utilitarianism has led me to increasingly conservative positions.

        It is also a fully general counterargument, so the only reply you deserve is that your animal faith, rather than rational analysis, is the cause of your animus towards utilitarianism.

        You continue to ignore the log in your own eye, i.e. that your best ideas of what should be done involve “immortal souls”, which is not only nonsense but also unlikely to appeal to anyone intelligent. And you are still blaming utilitarians for humanity’s imperfect knowledge of “qualia”, which is a problem for any ethical system (e.g. a solipsist might argue that only he has an immortal soul).

      • Candide III says:

        your animal faith, rather than rational analysis, is the cause of your animus towards utilitarianism.

        In a way it is, yes. The question is whose faith is closer to reality. Also, you conveniently ignore the fact (which I have pointed out to you before) that utilitarianism was (and is, in a somewhat modified form) the progressive belief of the day.

        your best ideas of what should be done involve “immortal souls”

        They don’t. I said that my thoughts are closer to this than to utilitarianism, not that I believe immortal souls exist.

      • asdf says:

        “because serious meditation on the consequences singularitarian utilitarianism has led me to increasingly conservative positions”

        It couldn’t have been that serious. You had positions you want and then found rationalizations to justify them.

        The singularity is God for atheists. And quite frankly pathetic.

        “that your best ideas of what should be done involve “immortal souls”, which is not only nonsense”

        Why?

        “but also unlikely to appeal to anyone intelligent.”

        Now your just showing how weak your argument is.

        “And you are still blaming utilitarians for humanity’s imperfect knowledge of qualia”

        Religion understands that materialist proof of “qualia” is impossible. It has answers to this. Secularism doesn’t. Secularism’s answer is progressiveness. It takes willful ignorance to see otherwise.

  13. In general, the good old lessons of economics seem to have a lot going for them when applied to governments. If only someone would tell economists . . .

    That’s what macro-economics is for: to provide rationalizations for governments to disregard the laws of economics.

  14. Harold says:

    I read the following beginning of an article by Krugman and laughed and thought of you.

    “There are certain novels that can shape a teenage boy’s life. For some, it’s Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged; for others it’s Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings…. But for me, of course, it was neither. My Book – the one that has stayed with me for four-and-a-half decades – is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, written when Asimov was barely out of his teens himself. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a square-jawed individualist or join a heroic quest; I grew up wanting to be Hari Seldon, using my understanding of the mathematics of human behaviour to save civilisation.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/dec/04/paul-krugman-asimov-economics

    • Candide III says:

      Excellent! That first picture alone is worth a click. Choice quotes:

      what do I think of Asimov’s belief that we can, indeed […] develop a social science that gives its acolytes a unique ability to understand and perhaps shape human destiny?

      Well, on good days I do feel as if we’re making progress in that direction. And as an economist I’ve been having a fair number of such good days lately.

      I’ve been struck these past several years by just how much power good economics has to make correct predictions that are very much at odds with popular prejudices and “common sense”.

      [We have developed a] degree of intellectual integration that makes doing economics sometimes feel like we’re living in at least the very early dawn of Hari Seldon’s psychohistory.

      Indeed. I think it significant that Asimov has ended his Foundation series with an endorsement of a humanity where everybody’s conscience is melded together, with individuality a mere superficial frill. This is, I feel, the only way he found of getting around the conflict between his First and Zeroth laws of robotics.

  15. Firepower says:

    tldr:
    Libertarians (allegedly) believe it’s positively good for individuals and companies to pursue their own interests but bad for states to do so because:

    Individuals & companies have a right to pursue profit as part of the life, liberty, pursuit of happiness platform.

    And do not have the power of guns, imprisonment and death, as do States.

    • Foseti says:

      So states should be global utilitarians? I don’t follow the logic

      • Firepower says:

        I don’t get what you meant, either.

        You stated Libertarians believe it’s positively good for individuals and companies to pursue their own interests but bad for states to do so because “governments use force” and so they’re bad.

        You’ve supplied the answer. States that use force to pursue state interest depend upon suppression of its people, like the Soviet Union, Mullah Iran or Roman Empire. They are “good” in only that historians scribbling away at arm’s length in cushy university caves safely describe them as good.

        Such people are forced to buy a Soviet-Morsi Sedan, but in a free society, they choose between buying a Ford, a Chevy or a Toyota.

      • Foseti says:

        (Mainstream) Libertarians tend to believe individuals and companies should be selfish, while simultaneously believing that states should act in a globally utilitarian manner.

        It’s absurd to hold both those views simultaneously.

      • Firepower says:

        The Libertarian would not use “selfish” but “self-interest” to differentiate the accurate value.

        For instance: Citizens and companies both have the mutual interest in punishing theft of property. The State has so as well, yet if the state also has a self-interest of profiting from thieves purchasing absolution for their theft it fails, because the primary concern of Order is circumvented by profit. That, is chaos.

      • Foseti says:

        Again, I don’t have to agree or disagree with your logic to find it absurd that the mainstream libertarian believes that states should act as global utilitarians.

      • Firepower says:

        It is strictly your assertion that Libertarians believe states act as “global utilitarians.”

        That term’s not even been defined as of yet.

        I am describing the difference between State self-interest v Individual Self-Interest.

      • Foseti says:

        I don’t know a mainstream libertarian that doesn’t support open immigration for global utilitarian reasons.

      • Firepower says:

        Anecdotal evidence aside
        I hold mainly Libertarian views
        And I believe every immigrant
        must be shipped BACK.

        Libertarianism is not compatible with immigration when so many live off of Welfare.

      • Foseti says:

        How very unlibertarian of you

  16. asdf says:

    This thread is a bit old, perhaps I’ll repost when a new one comes out.

    In looking at the posts you made in the first month and especially your first post how do you feel you’ve succeeded in your goals? How have your views changed?

    The stated goal of your first post was to “make conservatives more libertarian.” It was stated that libertarian government would be the best government, though one should be practical politically.

    Your views would best be described as secular-right. I’m not entirely sure what it is you believe to be “the good”. How would one judge a society as better or worse in Foseti-land.

    You fear that the loss of religion could be bad, but you still believe it is false and mostly just a useful lie you hope plebs fall for.

  17. Jehu says:

    There are only two groups for which there is any real support for libertarianism, even the low-church variety. Those groups are people of Anglo or German extraction. Allowing immigration by any other group just moves the median voter in the other direction. Even allowing immigration from England or Germany right now is probably counterproductive, as most of the low-church libertarian strains have already immigrated.

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