Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Time Horizons And Uncertainty

Withywindle has a post up, which in a roundabout sort of way questions whether an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure:
It's a disease peculiarly liberal & technocratic, although not exclusively (note some of the examples), to seek to spend money on a variety of preventions, always sure that we will save money in the long run. And maybe we might, but the up-front costs are too much--there's an infinity of things to ensure against, and we'll go broke if we try; to speak nothing of not having any money to invest in technological innovation and/or pleasant consumer doo-dads. And the optimum strategy is to half-prepare--to have a C grade for maintenance of our transportation infrastructure--to have a bridge collapse every now and then, and then spend a bit more money on the other bridges once we see by dreadful example where the maintenance really needs work.

And, oh yes, that means the price will be paid in lost lives, in a gruesome little lottery. But the country will be better off in the long run--including longer lives and more lives, from the extra resources--by paying that price.

FLG is uncomfortable with that last part. If we consider this as part of risk management, then the upper limit on the amount of money we spend on any sort of prevention should be the probability of a event X the impact (in dollars). So, if, for example, we have $100,000 and we think there's a 10% chance somebody will try and steal it, then the most we should spend on protecting it, say buying a safe, is $10,000. Pretty straightforward. Calculations of this sort obviously become much trickier once loss of human life is involved, and FLG isn't quite comfortable with Witywindle's rather blasé stance.

What all this prompted in FLG's mind, given his risk management approach, is the broader topic of uncertainty. The commonly accepted story is that liberals are more comfortable with uncertainty. But when FLG looks at what Withywindle is writing, he's clearly comfortable with uncertainty. Conversely, when you look at the flagship liberal economic policies, (social security, publicly-funded health care, how unions negotiate contract on seniority, etc), aren't they about eliminating long run economic and financial uncertainty? Isn't it liberals who are more likely to say that the stock market is too risky?

FLG thinks his time horizons theory explains some of this discrepancy. The uncertainty that psychologists are talking about having measured in experiments is largely social in nature. And since it's social in nature and we're talking about measurement in a lab setting, it's inherently short-term. Even to the extent that the article FLG linked to is talking about the size of various parts of the brain responsible for weighing uncertainty and fear, he contends that even that is more about instantaneous emotional response, rather than longer term orientation. But he certainly could be wrong there.

There's an interesting divide here now besides FLG's normal short versus long run time horizons. There's the economic and financial versus social. So, okay, conservatives are more comfortable with economic and financial uncertainty, but what about social uncertainty? Here, FLG admits the liberals seem far more comfortable. To take but one example that happens to be in the news -- same-sex marriage. Conservatives are far more uncertain and concerned about the long-term effects of this type of change over generations.

As FLG has argued previously, he thinks this boils down to time horizons as well. Conservatives, a few crazies aside, were worried that the moment same-sex marriage becomes legal that it would result in pandemonium. It's about making a major change to an institution fundamental to the continuance of society. FLG, who most of his conservative readership would describe as overly sanguine, isn't too concerned. But he can see the argument.

Most of the liberals who argue for same-sex marriage and those whom FLG knows personally always couch it in the present. Bill and Bob want to get married. That's unfair. They have a right to do this. They're relationship isn't hurting anybody. Even if they got married, it isn't hurting anybody else's marriage. They, by and large, are completely oblivious to the longer term concerns of many conservatives and too often blow off all objections as bigotry born of religion.

FLG does find the argument that allowing same-sex marriage is conservative in that it promotes monogamy and stability, both of which are conservative goals, compelling. This is longer run analysis than simply Betty and Becky want to get married and that's that. They aren't hurting anybody, so it must be fine without any consideration about what sort of knock on effects over time this type of change have beyond the wishes of the people who get married. So, even in this social uncertainty arena, FLG still think time horizons is the primary driver.


Anonymous said...

"Conservatives, a few crazies aside, were worried that the moment same-sex marriage becomes legal that it would result in pandemonium."

My cousin is in a relationship with two men - in NYC. The desire to have children struck them about a decade ago as it did with a neighboring lesbian couple. One of the men got together with one of the women and went to Brazil where they, by pretending they were a couple to authorities - never sure if they engaged in civil union - adopted young 2 children - a brother and sister. The children were then brought back to the U.S. The lesbians took the girl to live with them and my cousin and his lovers had the boy live with them. Oh and my cousin runs a gay bed a breakfast in NYC with an international clientele - the 4 of them reside in the gay B&B as it's a brownstone. The little girl and her mothers have since moved away so the two children who were to be raised together by a man and woman under one roof as the authorities in Brazil led to believe, were not and do not live near each other any longer. This is a fairly good example of pandemonium.

The fascinating aspect is with the new law in New York, my cousin cannot marry his lovers. They've been together for over 20 years, contributed to society and even reared *a family*.

I'd like to hear your argument now- with same sex marriage passed in the dark of night ignoring the legal statute of a 3 day waiting period -think about the liberal reaction in WI when they thought a 24 hour waiting period over a Union dues bill had been violated and your use of "crazies" needs to be applied to the left as well in the interest of our latest highest goal - fairness as to why it is *fair* that my cousin and his two lovers and fathers of his children are *not* be allowed to marry?

Mrs. P

Anonymous said...

Oh, and to move this out of the same-sex argument, I have a friend whose sister moved in with a husband and wife and their children. Then she got pregnant by husband. After baby was born, husband had to divorce wife, and marry my friend's sister to make his baby legitimate.

The three adults and all of the kids still reside under the same roof with husband providing for all. Another baby has since been born.

Why can't they marry?

Mrs. P

Withywindle said...

I was putting on the blase a bit. Practically, I would give significant, non-monetary value to preserving human life--and so I think society does in practice. But we can't and shouldn't give it infinite value. Gleeful indifference isn't how I'd phrase it in my less provocative moments; but feckless sentimentality isn't right either.

FLG said...

Mrs. P:

On the first point, about your cousin, they lived in NYC before same sex marriage was made legal and apparently lied about their status.

That has not at all to do with gay marriage. That has to do with liars.

On the second point, I've argued that there could be a slippery slope to polygamy. But there is a difference between same sex marriage and polygamy, so it doesn't necessarily have to be slippery slope.

Anonymous said...

First, are you up for a party in D.C. next week of the Catholic blog mafia -sans moi? Elk and fam will be in your city taking in the sights and smells which grow riper each day but I digress. I'm rounding up the rest so let me know.

As far as lying, we learned with Bill Clinton, that everyone lies about sex. Why single out my cousin? The laws of this country are not fair and they were forced to lie. Thankfully they had the trust funds to get around the laws and make their dreams come true.

I'm not trying to be difficult here. What is the difference -legally- between same sex marriage and multiple partner marriage? All are capable of rearing children as the 2 examples I have used.

Mrs. P

The Ancient said...

Mrs P --

I can't really explain why, but it's boatloads of fun to see you defend -- however obscurely -- what used to be known as the polymorphously perverse.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ancient. I forgot - you are in D.C.aren't you? How'd you like to drink with a few friends of mine next week? One will be an Archbishop someday...

Mrs. P

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