Thursday, August 25, 2011

Time Horizons: An Eyebleedingly Dumb Idiot Edition

Look, FLG didn't think LOG could get any worse than when Freddie was blogging over there. But then Rufus went around intellectually sodomizing the Western canon like a baboon with rabies and the clap. Ever since, FLG has been less enthusiastic about peeking in to see what's going on over there. Apparently, in the mean time, they've gotten a new contributor, named Elias Isquith. Jason Kuznicki highlighted much of the paragraph below in the post that FLG initially read, but then here's the whole thing.

All FLG can say is Holy fucking fuckitity fuck.

I’m going to agree with this. In general, I’m not fond of the strain that I see sometimes in politics (on the right and left) that advocates policies which are kind of paternalistic in essence, whether it’s the “save you from yourself” kind or the “learn the consequences of your actions” kind. Let’s just try to do our best not to use the law to teach lessons, and simply focus on creating policy with first-degree benefits. Inflicting pain on the assumption that it will inevitably lead to better behavior doesn’t even work for training dogs, so why think it’ll work any better for human beings?

Alright, there are a bunch of things wrong here, including that training dogs has fuck all to do with how human beings learn but FLG will leave that aside for now. Pain might not work for dogs, but might work for humans because, I dunno, hypothetically speaking, HUMANS ARE SMARTER AND CAN DEDUCE THE SOURCE OF THE PAIN AND WHY IT'S OCCURRING?! Don't get FLG wrong. He's not arguing for pain for pain's sake or even for pain in general, but holy fucking fuck what a fucking idiot this Elias guy is.

But then, let's get to the real issue, FLG has, which, entirely unsurprisingly, ties back into FLG's Time Horizons theory. To recap for those new to FLG's place, FLG's time horizons theory states that conservatives are relatively more concerned about the long run and consequently tend to give more credence toward the theoretical, second-order/unintended effect and less emphasis on empiricism. Liberals, on the other hand, are more present, short run oriented, and are concomitantly more focused on empirical results, first-order effects, and relatively less on theory.

FLG says theory rather than ideology, even though many liberals pride themselves on being practical and finding practical, effective solutions rather than dogmatically pursuing policies (See Klein, Ezra), but this entire outlook is actually undergirded by the normative assumptions above that the present matters more than the future and that empricism is more important than theory. Again, relatively speaking.

Okay, FLG, where are you going with this?

Glad you asked. Let's focus on this one sentence:
Let’s just try to do our best not to use the law to teach lessons, and simply focus on creating policy with first-degree benefits.

What is this actually saying? It's saying don't worry about future, unintended, and second-order effects. Instead, worry only and narrowly about the direct and immediate impact of a policy.

To put it more proverbially, Elias is arguing:
The law shouldn't teach a man to fish, thus feeding him for a lifetime. It should provide a fish. What about the next day? It should give him a fish again.

Look, as FLG has said before, his time horizons theory, despite most other people's initial reactions, isn't meant to be normative, but positive. How much to weight the present versus the future, an individual's discount rate if you will, is something reasonable people can disagree about. In fact, FLG thinks by couching the argument in terms of present versus future we'd be more likely to come to some sort of agreement rather than accusing one side or the other of bad motives or stupidity.

For example, present unemployment is so high that it trumps the concerns about long-term fiscal problems is a reasonable and perfectly legitimate stance.

The thing that irks FLG, however, is that liberals (and FLG is probably swerving into normative and less conducive to productive disagreement here) are far too often completely ignorant of their blindspot when it comes to the future. They look at present conditions, empirical data, and then make a decision. Anything contrary to that must be insane or based upon bad motives. And these implied motives are almost always rooted in the present. Some short-term advantage or wielding of power. Rather than potentially legitimate concerns about future and less direct effects.

FLG thinks conservatives are less blind on these types of issues. It's easy to understand the moral case for alleviating present suffering. That doesn't mean it's always the right thing to do. It could, like putting butter on a burn, exacerbate the problem over the long run.

However, Elias, as it seems from this one post, is largely oblivious to this flaw in his reasoning to the point where he seems to imply that he wants the law to explicitly ignore these concerns as irrelevant or inherently suspect.


The Ancient said...

"Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?"

FLG said...

The Ancient:

Not I, said the fly. Was it you?

The Ancient said...

FLG --

Life is too short to kill fish in a barrel.

Aim higher.

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