Monday, March 8, 2010

FLG Wishes William Brafford Would Post More Often

...over at LOG. FLG says this not because William reads this blog, but because he may be one of the only authors over there who doesn't produce an overwhelming sense of despair at the level of dumbassery in the world. That includes the authors over there FLG agrees with politically.

William, unlike FLG, seems to be able to read what Freddie writes without trying to stab his own eyes out, and actually builds upon it:
My claim in its most straighforward form is something along the lines of, “there is no necessary reason that even well-designed markets will deliver morally satisfactory outcomes for the problem of human need, unless we define ‘morally satisfactory’ in such a way that ‘market outcomes are morally satisfactory’ is a tautology.” If we descend from the clouds of abstraction to the terra firma of reality, we may well find that market distributions are morally satisfactory in most situations, or that there’s no available alternatives that are more morally satisfactory. No matter what we find, to my way of thinking it’s extremely important to be clear-sighted about how our society fails to solve problems of human need. There’s a lot more we can say about what we’re failing to do than “we’ve got the worst system except for all the others.”

Go read the post yourselves, but the only thing FLG will add (although William does try to address it partially) is this:
Freddie goes wrong in trying to eliminate present suffering as if it were the only suffering. It is entirely possible, and FLG'd argue probable, that policies taken to eliminate current suffering make the ability to deal with future suffering more difficult.

Put simply: Redistributing wealth inhibits future wealth creation to some extent. If we magically were able to come to some consensus politically about what precisely constitutes suffering, and then redistributed the fruits of material production toward eliminating that suffering in the present, it is probable that we'd disincentivize the creation of additional wealth that will be needed to deal with future suffering. And we need more wealth because the population typically increases.

It's a bit of a catch-22. Pure property rights with no redistribution is an incentive to create new wealth, but doesn't help ameliorate suffering anywhere near as well as we'd like. Redistributing wealth to eliminate suffering reduces the wealth available to eliminate future suffering (especially when you factor in pop. growth).

So, while Freddie is correct here:
we don’t have the resources necessary to make a paradise on earth, but we do have more than enough resources to establish a minimum level of comfort for all people in certain areas of tangible need (say, food, shelter, clothing, education, health care). We don’t not because of insufficient resources but because of how those resources are distributed.

But that's only true today. Maybe tomorrow. After a years or decades of redistribution and population growth maybe not.

Markets aren't perfect. They fail. Regulation and even redistribution are needed. But it always astonishes me that so many critiques of the market system are static. They only look at time period 1 and forget that we need to worry about time periods after 1 as well.

6 comments:

william randolph brafford said...

Even now I'm rattled by the big bank meltdown, and I am not at all sure that our system would be able to adjust to really massive interventions without falling apart. In my pessimistic moments, I think that the real point of critique is to help the next society avoid our mistakes when they rebuild. I'm still very much a cautious incrementalist, which puts a pretty big gap between me and Freddie.

FLG said...

"I'm still very much a cautious incrementalist, which puts a pretty big gap between me and Freddie."

Oh, when I wrote "build upon" I didn't mean to insinuate that you were a more Freddie version of Freddie.

I should've written riffed on.

E.D. Kain said...

I wasn't aware that we were inspiring such despair!

FLG said...

E.D.:

It could be worse. At least you don't inspire fear and loathing.

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