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ecoist
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #100 on: Jan 11th, 2008, 9:54pm »
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Perhaps there is more than word choice at work here.  After thinking about everyone's posts, I got the impression that, underlying everything, Adam Smith's invisible hand (aka spontaneous order) is regarded as ridiculous nonsense!  Indeed, Andrew P. Napolitano's book, "A Nation of Sheep" details how ignorant most people are of how things work politically and economically.  So, I ask again, if corporate greed is so pervasive, why is it that the makers of Coca Cola failed to convince consumers to choose their new recipe for coca cola over their (now) classic (battery acid) coke?  If planned obsolescence is so profitable for car companies, why can cars go for 100,000 miles without even a tuneup?  If the FDA is so important for food safety, why does Kellogg have stricter restrictions on rat turds and roach parts in their corn flakes than the FDA requires?  And, as John Stossell showed, why is the Hudson river cleaner despite government claims to the contrary?
 
And back to war, European's regard of Bush's foreign policy is in the single digits!  They regard the US as the main danger to peace in the world!  I'm an American and couldn't agree more!
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #101 on: Jan 12th, 2008, 6:55am »
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on Jan 11th, 2008, 9:54pm, ecoist wrote:
After thinking about everyone's posts, I got the impression that, underlying everything, Adam Smith's invisible hand (aka spontaneous order) is regarded as ridiculous nonsense!
Adam Smith's invisible hand is just a subset of all possible mechanisms that might create spontaneous order.
I'm all for spontaneous order, but Adam Smith's approach to it is nonsense. People would have to be a lot more rational and more capable of overseeing the consequences of their action for it to be true. The fact you can always recast events in terms of greed/self-interest, especially if they suddenly turn out to have been different, does not particularly speak for it, at all. It puts it, imo, on the lines as pseudo-scientific theories such as Marxism and Freudian psychology. I have yet to be convinced otherwise.
 
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So, I ask again, [snip]
I could be quite long about it; but it comes down to it that companies are forced to behave better than they want, because consumer, worker and political groups make them and won't led themselves be send of with a bribe satisfying their greed instead of the results they think they ought to get for the people they represent.
Politicians are, overall, no longer (overtly) in the pocket of companies. And consumers and workers have fought for their right to have a say; sometimes at the peril of their lives when it would have been all too easy to take the money and live a 'good' life.  
 
Nevertheless, companies still get things like DMCA pushed through, chisel away at net neutrality and try to push DRM through our throats; to name but a few things. Where they can, companies happily go against our interests. Just as long until we find a stick to hit them with, and most likely it has to be a slightly irrational stick at that.
 
 
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And back to war, European's regard of Bush's foreign policy is in the single digits!  They regard the US as the main danger to peace in the world!  I'm an American and couldn't agree more!
It's a double edged sword, really. On the one hand they cause instability in some regions because of politic/economic affiliations and interference; on the other hand if the UN need to send a stabilizing peace force anywhere, it's inevitably the US that has to bear the brunt of it.  
Suffice it to say, if the US dropped off the face of the earth, I doubt it would be an immediate improvement. A lot of people might take it as an opportunity to finally fight it out.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #102 on: Jan 12th, 2008, 10:05am »
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Adam Smith's approach to it is nonsense. People would have to be a lot more rational and more capable of overseeing the consequences of their action for it to be true.

Just as I suspected!  You missed the significance of "invisible hand" in Adam Smith's theory!  People need not be "rational" or "capable of overseeing the consequences of their actions"!  Without any thought or concern for society's benefit, people often contribute to the betterment of society.  For example, foreigners enter the US illegally to feed themselves and their families.  Unwittingly, they are a net benefit to the American economy!
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but it comes down to it that companies are forced to behave better than they want, because consumer, worker and political groups make them and won't led themselves be send of with a bribe satisfying their greed instead of the results they think they ought to get for the people they represent.  
Politicians are, overall, no longer (overtly) in the pocket of companies. And consumers and workers have fought for their right to have a say; sometimes at the peril of their lives when it would have been all too easy to take the money and live a 'good' life.

Not sure I understand all of this, but I get the distinct impression that you believe that companies would steal from consumers if they could get away with it.  Certainly, there are such companies, but the vast majority are more concerned, for practical reasons, with profit, and realize that, to achieve such profit, they must provide a better product at a cheaper price than the competition.  This effort obviously benefits the consumer.
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It's a double edged sword, really. On the one hand they cause instability in some regions because of politic/economic affiliations and interference; on the other hand if the UN need to send a stabilizing peace force anywhere, it's inevitably the US that has to bear the brunt of it.  
Suffice it to say, if the US dropped off the face of the earth, I doubt it would be an immediate improvement. A lot of people might take it as an opportunity to finally fight it out.
 
Granted, the US can be a force for good as well as ill.  But that's no excuse for tolerating bad behavior!  You suggest "if the US dropped off the face of the earth, I doubt it would be an immediate improvement".  Of course not!  But who says the US should cease to exist?  No one!  The US should simply end its bad behavior and live by the noble principles that brought it into existence!  As one of our founders, Thomas Jefferson, said, "Trade with all, entangling alliances with none"!
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #103 on: Jan 12th, 2008, 12:07pm »
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on Jan 12th, 2008, 10:05am, ecoist wrote:
Just as I suspected!  You missed the significance of "invisible hand" in Adam Smith's theory!  People need not be "rational" or "capable of overseeing the consequences of their actions"!
If they don't, they can't act in their own interest.
 
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Without any thought or concern for society's benefit, people often contribute to the betterment of society.  For example, foreigners enter the US illegally to feed themselves and their families.  Unwittingly, they are a net benefit to the American economy!
The premise of Smith's theory is that the motive is self-interest, and that that brings about net benefit.
I disagree that that is the motive.
I don't disagree that the accumulate behaviour of humanity moves it ahead in some sense of the word; evolution sees to that. But individual motives are not such that they fit Adam Smith's theory. Our "selfish genes" (as Dawkins puts it) have made us such that we regularly act against our individual self interest, because it 'benefits' our genes; even though at the same time most of us (as people) don't care in the least what our genes 'want'.
 
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Not sure I understand all of this, but I get the distinct impression that you believe that companies would steal from consumers if they could get away with it.
They all would, as it is always in their best interest to get anything they can get away with taking; above the profit they can make by benign methods.
It's basic game theory. The only reason they would not, is if they either aren't motivated solely by profit or don't act rationally.
 
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Certainly, there are such companies, but the vast majority are more concerned, for practical reasons, with profit, and realize that, to achieve such profit, they must provide a better product at a cheaper price than the competition.  This effort obviously benefits the consumer.
It benefits the consumer as consumer, almost certainly. But as an employee whose job just got outsourced to india, not so much. There are hidden costs.
As long as the consumers don't know or don't care, businesses happily have us pay those costs. Rainforests still get destroyed for cheap palm oil; child labour is still used to make all sorts of good, possibly child slaves are used to produce cocoa beans that makes up most of our chocolate, etc.
And there isn't enough of a ruckus from the public to force companies to change from these ways yet; except for a few that are ideologically motivated rather than profit-motivated. And if there were protest, it wouldn't in general be because of self-interest from the public, but due to moral ourage on behalf of the victims. Because that's the kind of being evolution made of us.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #104 on: Jan 12th, 2008, 3:21pm »
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towr, you are rejecting a well-established theory with what appears to be virtually no knowledge of what the theory claims.  And you compound this baseless rejection with a highly negative opinion of human nature:
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And there isn't enough of a ruckus from the public to force companies to change from these ways yet; except for a few that are ideologically motivated rather than profit-motivated. And if there were protest, it wouldn't in general be because of self-interest from the public, but due to moral ourage on behalf of the victims. Because that's the kind of being evolution made of us.

I presented examples of benefits to society resulting from actions of people who had no such intentions.  You've ignored or dismissed them.  You presented examples of bad behavior by companies, suggesting the obvious falsehood that these aggregious behaviors are typical, when, in fact, they are rare when compared with the vast majority of profit-oriented companies that provide good service.  To see this, you need look no further than the hundreds of companies you deal with on a daily basis.  How many of them rip you off compared to those that serve you well, or at least adequately?
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #105 on: Jan 13th, 2008, 8:16am »
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on Jan 12th, 2008, 3:21pm, ecoist wrote:
To see this, you need look no further than the hundreds of companies you deal with on a daily basis.  How many of them rip you off compared to those that serve you well, or at least adequately?

And how many of them are acting "rationally" when they provide good service - at least in the short term, they'd make significantly more profit through less friendly practices.
 
Or consider the various small speciality shops that barely make enough money to stay open - their owners would make more money by either switching to a more mainstream product, or by selling up and changing careers entirely.
 
 
If I acted primarily in my financial best interest, I'd currently be working in the City somewhere with plenty of money coming in, but barely any time to spend it. Beyond a certain point, money ceases to be a primary motivator for me.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #106 on: Jan 13th, 2008, 10:12am »
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they'd make significantly more profit through less friendly practices

Yet another example of what appears to be a strong belief that the profit motive is inherently evil.  While trying to fashion an appropriate resoponse, I ran across some commentary by a renowned economist.  Here is an excerpt:
 
Greed, need and money  
 
By Walter Williams  
 
 http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Demagoguery about greedy rich people or greedy corporate executives being paid 100 or 200 times their workers' salaries is a key weapon in the politics of envy. Let's talk about greed, starting off with Merriam-Webster's definition: "a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed."  
 
 
That definition is a bit worrisome because how does one know what a person really needs? It's something my economics students and I spend a bit of time on in the first lecture. For example, does a family really need one, two, three or four telephones? What about a dishwasher or a microwave oven? Are these excessive desires? If you say these goods are really needed, then I ask, how in the world did your great-grandmother and possibly your grandmother, not to mention most of today's world population, make it without telephones, dishwashers and microwave ovens? "Need" is a nice emotional term, but analytically, it is vacuous.  
 
 
"Selfish" is a bit more useful term, and it's the human motivation that gets wonderful things done. For example, I think it's wonderful that Alaskan king crab fishermen take the time and effort, often risking their lives in the cold Bering Sea, to catch king crabs that I enjoy. Do you think they make that sacrifice because they care about me? I'm betting they don't give a hoot about me. They make it possible for me to enjoy king crab legs because they want more money for themselves. How much king crab would I, and millions of others, enjoy if it all depended on human love and kindness?
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #107 on: Jan 14th, 2008, 9:59am »
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on Jan 12th, 2008, 3:21pm, ecoist wrote:
towr, you are rejecting a well-established theory with what appears to be virtually no knowledge of what the theory claims.
Fine, let's for a moment assume that I am in fact a ignorant bloody fool with a penchant for spouting nonsense on subjects I have absolutely no clue about. Let's assume it isn't in fact based on anything brought up in this thread by certain person, common sources on the internet nor any body of literature I may have encountered in my years of study.  
Because we're never going to get anywhere continuing like this.
 
 
Let's start simple: What is this theory you speak of?
What does it say?
What domain does it apply to?
What do you apply it here, specifically?
What do you hope to accomplish with applying it such?
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #108 on: Jan 14th, 2008, 11:51am »
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You are absolutely correct, towr; I have no knowledge of your background on these issues.  I apologize for the insensitiviy of my comments.  I based my comments on what you wrote here.  You wrote that good for society cannot occur without the rational self-interested behavior of its members.  Adam Smith's theory says the opposite: that good for society can, and does, occur whether or not the actions of its members have that purpose.  Now to your questions.
 
What does it say?
Adam Smith's theory says that a free market is a net benefit to society whether or not the local concerns of its members embrace the general welfare.
 
What domain does it apply to?
The economic sphere.  It is not concerned with morality or justice, although, remarkably, it has net beneficial effects on both.
 
What do you apply it to here?
Not sure.  Perhaps it came up in response to issues raised tangential to war.  However, in my opinion, market forces explain why wars are less and less frequent, and less severe, over time because war is economically inefficient.  Also, something a long-dead famous American, Benjamin Franklin, said: "Those who would sacrifice freedom for a little security, deserve neither!".
 
What do you hope to accomplish with applying it such?
I hope to spread the word (hoplessly optimistic, eh?), the benefits of the free market to peace, harmony, and prosperity.  The key word here is "freedom"!  Freedom for others as well as ourselves.  By studying the effects of market forces, we can learn how to best achieve what we all want.  Forced charity, aka government welfare, is inferior to voluntary charity.  Public education is inferior to private education.  Denying same-sex couples the right to marry harms the social fabric, not defends it.  The war against drugs does more harm to society than the drug addicts do.  Denying aliens entry into a country to find work denies the economy of that country the benefit of a valuable economic resource.  All these things deny freedom, to the detriment of us all (well, except for the small-minded who want us all to behave in ways they deem is "for our own good").
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #109 on: Jan 14th, 2008, 2:24pm »
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[It seems I wrote so much it's a two-parter; the first section here is the more relevant, (fairly) non-opinionated, part to the line of thought I'm interested in exploring]
 
 
on Jan 14th, 2008, 11:51am, ecoist wrote:
You wrote that good for society cannot occur without the rational self-interested behavior of its members.
I don't recall saying that. If anything, I said that most of the good of society comes from the irrationality of people. And not from self-interest/rationality.  
But let's leave this aside for a while (we can always return to it later).
 
 
Quote:
What does it say?
Adam Smith's theory says that a free market is a net benefit to society whether or not the local concerns of its members embrace the general welfare.
Why, though? Or rather, how?
I mean, you can't describe the theory of evolution with "it says that new species occasionally come into existence".
 
From  http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072875577/student_view0/chapter4/ origin_of_the_idea.html
"According to Adam Smith, specialization and economic growth are motivated by self-interest. At the same time, pursuit of self-interest by individuals promotes the well being of the rest of the community."
 
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_of_nations#The_invisible_hand
"There are two important features of Smith's concept of the "invisible hand". Firstly, Smith was not advocating a social policy (that people should act in their own self interest), but rather was describing an observed economic reality (that people do act in their own interest)."
 
So it seems to me it's a descriptive theory of how self-interestedness leads/can lead to overall benefits.
But feel free to elaborate/correct me on this point, because at the moment what I think isn't really the point here.
 
Quote:
What domain does it apply to?
The economic sphere.  It is not concerned with morality or justice, although, remarkably, it has net beneficial effects on both.
What is the economic sphere? And does it apply everywhere in this sphere similarly?
 
From above I take it's about "pursuit of self-interest by individuals", or at least that's the starting point. Now in an exchange between equals, to both get what they want to any extent, they need to compromise and both would be better off on average, granted. But take a company and a consumer (or worker), then they're not equal, so in how far does the theory apply here? For example.
 
 
 
 


 
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What do you apply it to here?
Not sure.  Perhaps it came up in response to issues raised tangential to war.  However, in my opinion, market forces explain why wars are less and less frequent, and less severe, over time because war is economically inefficient.
Not exactly the kind of answer I was looking for, but nevermind that.
I think there are two important reasons wars become less frequent; one is because the weapons used by modern nations are too expensive, as are the people trained to use them (which also partly explains why most wars now are fought in third world countries that fight with much cheaper armament; but of course the fact they fight more wars also has it's effect on keeping them poor). The second major influence is that soldiers are valued much more as people these days; it is not acceptable any more when thousands of them die. This also has to do with the influence of the media; they make us painfully aware of the deathtoll, and the effect it has on the families that stay behind. War is costly emotionally, to a nation, in a greater extent than it used to. (Probably the greater value placed on individuality also plays a role; the group, nation, isn't as important relative to the individual as it used to).
 
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Also, something a long-dead famous American, Benjamin Franklin, said: "Those who would sacrifice freedom for a little security, deserve neither!".
Although it's worth saying on general principle, I'm not sure how it's connected to the previous part.  
And in opposition, on humanist principles everyone deserves both, even despite themselves.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #110 on: Jan 14th, 2008, 2:28pm »
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[part two]
 
Quote:
What do you hope to accomplish with applying it such?
I hope to spread the word (hoplessly optimistic, eh?), the benefits of the free market to peace, harmony, and prosperity.  The key word here is "freedom"!  Freedom for others as well as ourselves.
Each freedom limits another, and I don't think it's different in the case of markets.  
Laissez-faire capitalism pitted a very free employer/producer market against a very unfree worker market. That hasn't changed merely due to economic forces, but also due to political intervention; like getting rights to unionize and protection against unfair firing (well, in some countries).  
There has to be an equal standing between parties for a fair and free exchange to occur. But on the other hand, the way to get there, and the way to stay there (or move ahead) needn't be the same. If a free market was problematic then, it may not be now. But I don't think it is unconditionally better.
 
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By studying the effects of market forces, we can learn how to best achieve what we all want.
There are other forces in society that would also need consideration. Even if we want to achieve economic aims, I don't think we can dismiss those other forces. For example money is just one aspect of why someone might want to do a certain job: how respectable it is in society can play a role, or simply the power that comes with it.
 
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Forced charity, aka government welfare, is inferior to voluntary charity.
But preferable to neither.  
Can we replace government welfare with a system of private, or at least voluntary, charity in such a way that it would work out better for all involved?  
And if people prefer a government that provides welfare over one that doesn't, shouldn't they have that choice? And couldn't we even say that up to a point they do? It might be a lot of hassle, but it's possible to emigrate. (Not to mention we get a vote.)
 
You could also look at it as forced insurance. We're forced to have all sorts of insurances here, e.g. you need car insurance if you have a car, and everyone need healthcare insurance. Of course you could argue that's wrong too, and it should be optional; but without that insurance people would become a burden to society in the situations where they apply. If I had a car, but no car insurance, and ran into another car; well, how would I pay for the damage to the car I hit? If I fell ill but had no healthcare insurance; they can't just let me die, but who'll pay? If I lost my job, and there was no charity or welfare to help me out, what then? I'd have to live on the street and would be unlikely to get a new job unless I got one before I deteriorated to a state no sane person would think of employing me.
It's not to say there aren't possibly solutions, but it's not like there aren't problems to solve either.
 
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Public education is inferior to private education.
In principle? Or in the quality they currently provide?
In any case, I think/hope you will agree it is preferable that everyone is provided with adequate education.  
I'm interesting to hear what sort of suggestions you'd have in this area.
 
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Denying same-sex couples the right to marry harms the social fabric, not defends it. The war against drugs does more harm to society than the drug addicts do.
I'm not sure what economic forces would be at play here. Well, except that in the last case, drug-peddling is a case of supply and demand. Just general government non-interference arguments?
 
What is the proper role of a government?
 
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Denying aliens entry into a country to find work denies the economy of that country the benefit of a valuable economic resource.
It also (supposedly) protects jobs of people already living in your country. While it may be a benefit to the producer and consumer-as-consumer, it can be to the detriment of the worker and the consumer-as-worker (because he is both).
The end balance could go either way overall.
 
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All these things deny freedom, to the detriment of us all [quote]In some cases it exchanges one freedom for another; and I'm not convinced in every case of how detrimental it is.
In any case, even if it were better to change society in some of these respects, the question is how to do it without risking something worse. For example, abondoning a public school system for one in which only children of the rich can afford to go to school doesn't seem to me an improvement, so you need a way to make sure that doesn't happen. Now you could probably get companies as a whole to invest in the smart children, but then, shouldn't the other ones get some schooling as well? It's not a trivial matter.
"Free market" is not an alternative in itself, it is a constraint on alternatives, it still needs to be filled in/worked out.
 
[quote](well, except for the small-minded who want us all to behave in ways they deem is "for our own good").
Like behave according to the economic principles of the free market? Tongue
 
 
 
Related to some of the earlier points (e.g. welfare), on http://www.lostlegacy.co.uk/ we find that Adam Smith "did not consider it appropriate for society to be run by or for ‘merchants and manufacturers’, and nor did he accept that the rich and powerful, including kings, had the right to oppress with punitive laws. He did not encourage laissez faire (two words he never used) because he was aware of the limitations of markets and of the usefulness and limitations of the State, and nor did he support leaving the poor without realistic opportunities of sharing in their country’s wealth."  
 
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #111 on: Jan 14th, 2008, 3:28pm »
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Wow, towr, impressive!  You are not afraid to get to the heart of the matter.  I'll try to be as careful in my responses.  I have to log off for an hour or so, but let me say this.  Your quotes show that I am giving Adam Smith more credit than he deserves!  His theory survives, but without some of his questionable views you detail.  The more modern "spontaneous order" may have some flaws as well that I am unaware of.  Back in awhile.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #112 on: Jan 14th, 2008, 6:17pm »
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Darn it!  My response was deleted because it was too long!  I have to start all over again!  Sorry, this must wait until tomorrow.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #113 on: Jan 14th, 2008, 9:23pm »
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Maybe the deletion of all my hard work was for the best!  I think my responses are better now.  In particular, I will post shorter responses to allow more time to think.
 
Quote:
So it seems to me it's a descriptive theory of how self-interestedness leads/can lead to overall benefits.  
But feel free to elaborate/correct me on this point, because at the moment what I think isn't really the point here.

First, let's clear the air on self-interest.  It matters not what motivates one's actions in Smith's theory.  If Smith thought motivation mattered, he is wrong.  Yes, Smith's theory is descriptive of a reality.  His explanation for that reality may be flawed.  So, too, can an explanation of its modern metamorphosis, spontaneous order, be flawed.
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Now in an exchange between equals, to both get what they want to any extent, they need to compromise and both would be better off on average, granted. But take a company and a consumer (or worker), then they're not equal, so in how far does the theory apply here? For example.

What do you mean by "exchange between equals"?  Is an employer more equal than a worker when there are many workers applying for few jobs?  Is a worker more equal when employers are desperate to find workers?  Are doctors more equal when there is a waiting list for those seeking healthcare?  Is the consumer more equal when Walmart shows up to compete with local merchants who must charge higher prices because they cannot take advantage of volume sales?
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Although it's worth saying on general principle, I'm not sure how it's connected to the previous part.  
And in opposition, on humanist principles everyone deserves both, even despite themselves.

You are right!  My comment is irrelevant to the central issues here.  Sorry about that.
Quote:
Each freedom limits another, and I don't think it's different in the case of markets.  
Laissez-faire capitalism pitted a very free employer/producer market against a very unfree worker market. That hasn't changed merely due to economic forces, but also due to political intervention; like getting rights to unionize and protection against unfair firing (well, in some countries).    
There has to be an equal standing between parties for a fair and free exchange to occur. But on the other hand, the way to get there, and the way to stay there (or move ahead) needn't be the same. If a free market was problematic then, it may not be now. But I don't think it is unconditionally better.

"Each freedom limits another".  Right!  I can't be free unless you let me be free.  What's wrong with that?  What would be wrong is aggressing against others.  I should be free to do as I please as long as I do not deny others to do the same.  How is an employer/producer very free and a worker very unfree?  An employer/producer is helpless without workers.  A worker is vulnerable without an employer, unless he goes into business for himself.  Unions are a disaster!  Unions protect those who have jobs, not those seeking jobs (I know from painful experience)!  They siphon off a substantial portion of the wages they negotiate as union dues.  Unions have no concern for, or understanding of, the problems of their employers (witness the autoworker's union).  Bottom line, the decline of union workers in the US is precipitous!  Market forces show that unions suck!  Especially when given unjust powers by government regulations!
 
More to follow when I get some sleep.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #114 on: Jan 15th, 2008, 5:44am »
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on Jan 14th, 2008, 2:28pm, towr wrote:
What is the proper role of a government?

While people may disagree; on this issue, at least, the founders of the U.S. spelled out their opinion explicitly:
 
"We the people of the United States, in order to
  • form a more perfect union,
  • establish justice,
  • insure domestic tranquility,
  • provide for the common defense,
  • promote the general welfare, and
  • secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
 
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #115 on: Jan 15th, 2008, 5:49am »
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on Jan 14th, 2008, 9:23pm, ecoist wrote:
First, let's clear the air on self-interest.  It matters not what motivates one's actions in Smith's theory.  If Smith thought motivation mattered, he is wrong.  Yes, Smith's theory is descriptive of a reality.  His explanation for that reality may be flawed.  So, too, can an explanation of its modern metamorphosis, spontaneous order, be flawed.
So what is the core of the theory you're speaking/thinking of then? Because it's clearly not what I thought it was.
What is "Adam Smith's invisible hand"?  
What notion of "spontaneous order" are we speaking off, and how does it come about according to the theory?
Is there more to it than "people act, and things tend to get better because of it"?
Is it something like evolution applied to the economic field (although Adam Smith precedes Darwin)?
 
Quote:
What do you mean by "exchange between equals"?
Well, if self-interestedness is out of the picture, it may be less of an issue. But if there is a large discrepancy in power (physical, political, economic, any kind; depending on what the exchange is about) between the two parties, the stronger has little reason (aside from moral/sympathic concerns) to take the weaker's interests into account. So in a compromise there is the risk of the weaker party's interests fading away.
 
Quote:
Is an employer more equal than a worker when there are many workers applying for few jobs?
If there are no/few viable alternatives for the workers, and no forces strengthening their position (like e.g. unions, government labour laws), then the employer has them over the barrel, so to speak. People that have no choice can be exploited to one's heart content. And not only in an economic sense, where they are paid much less than their labour is worth. You can also think of things like sexual harassment, or 19th century practices like forcing them to buy their groceries in the company shop (at inflated prices) and forcing them to live in company housing.
 
Quote:
Is a worker more equal when employers are desperate to find workers?
Yes, you can make exorbitant demands on your employer if he doesn't have a choice. Just look at how certain movie/pop stars and sports people behave; you could easily be mistaken who supposedly works for whom. And again it's not just money, but all kinds of ridiculous demands you later hear about in magazines.
 
Quote:
Are doctors more equal when there is a waiting list for those seeking healthcare?
They might be, but if my perception of the situation is any reflection of reality, then many doctors are pretty overworked themselves.  
 
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Is the consumer more equal when Walmart shows up to compete with local merchants who must charge higher prices because they cannot take advantage of volume sales?
[edit](oops forgot to write something here.)
 
The consumer has the upper hand here; although there might be considerations to nonetheless support local merchant. The question is to what degree those consideration impinge on the consumer. (If it would make him an outcast in the community, his position would be much weaker).
[/edit]
 
Quote:
"Each freedom limits another".  Right!  I can't be free unless you let me be free.  What's wrong with that?
Absolutely nothing, but it is something to bare in mind. If you call for a free market, it needs to be considered what freedoms, if any, this competes with. People should be free of exploitation, for example.  
 
Quote:
What would be wrong is aggressing against others.  I should be free to do as I please as long as I do not deny others to do the same.  How is an employer/producer very free and a worker very unfree?
They aren't in principle, but they can be, and the reverse can occur as well.
 
Quote:
An employer/producer is helpless without workers.
But in some cases there's a plethora of workers, and the employer has no worries about finding any or replacing ones. The employer can't do without any workers, but he might do without individual ones.  
In third world countries, in factories owned by, or run on behalf of, western companies, there are still people being fired just for bringing up the poor conditions they are forced to work under.
 
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A worker is vulnerable without an employer, unless he goes into business for himself.
If he has skills that are very much in demand, he can have his pick of employers. He certainly needs work, but may well not need that particular employer he now works for.
 
Quote:
Unions are a disaster!  Unions protect those who have jobs, not those seeking jobs (I know from painful experience)! They siphon off a substantial portion of the wages they negotiate as union dues.  Unions have no concern for, or understanding of, the problems of their employers (witness the autoworker's union).  Bottom line, the decline of union workers in the US is precipitous!  Market forces show that unions suck!  Especially when given unjust powers by government regulations!
Clearly you have an entirely different kind of union in the US than we do here or in Japan for example (interestingly, many of their unions were formed by the companies themselves).
Unions here don't siphon off wages, you pay them if you're part of the union and you don't if you aren't. They negotiate labour conditions on behalf of all workers, not just their union members; and don't work to exclude new (non-union) workers from jobs . They also cooperate with employers if this is needed, in some cases agreeing to not compensate pay for inflation for several years, or even go to pay-cuts. (Obviously if the employer goes out of business that's bad for everyone involved.)
 
I will take your word for it that unions aren't working out in the US as they should (and certainly the stories I've heard of their history with mob-involvement doesn't do them any good). But I do think, to get them on an equal level, workers should be in some way organized; as should consumers. Because they're not just dealing with the butcher on the street, but multi-national conglomerates. While an individual person is easily ignored, an interest group as a whole has more influence. But you've shown it matters very much how that group is organized and function in the system as a whole and how it relates to it's own members.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #116 on: Jan 15th, 2008, 6:22am »
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on Jan 15th, 2008, 5:44am, SMQ wrote:
While people may disagree; on this issue, at least, the founders of the U.S. spelled out their opinion explicitly:
 
"We the people of the United States, in order to
  • form a more perfect union,
  • establish justice,
  • insure domestic tranquility,
  • provide for the common defense,
  • promote the general welfare, and
  • secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
It's fairly general (although the rest of the constitution probably elaborates on it).  
The fifth one is rather interesting. You could take it as an endorsement for socialist practices, or at the very least a cue to provide some means by which people don't have to live on the street and/or starve.
 
I think a lot of western countries do well enough on all those points, in their own varied ways. It doesn't really pin down government involvement in the economy for instance, or on social policies.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #117 on: Jan 15th, 2008, 6:42am »
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No, you're right, I guess it's more a statement of the proper purpose of government than the proper role of government.
 
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #118 on: Jan 15th, 2008, 11:05am »
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So what is the core of the theory you're speaking/thinking of then? Because it's clearly not what I thought it was.  
What is "Adam Smith's invisible hand"?  
What notion of "spontaneous order" are we speaking off, and how does it come about according to the theory?  
Is there more to it than "people act, and things tend to get better because of it"?  
Is it something like evolution applied to the economic field (although Adam Smith precedes Darwin)?

Yes, it is something like evolution applied to the economic field!  There are many aspects of society, under no central control, that are surprisingly orderly.  "How does it come about" is under intensive study by anthropologists and economists.  Why is the quality of our food supply so high when it goes through thousands of hands before it reaches us?  Government regulations do not adequately explain this phenomenon because that quality is higher than the government demands and the government has too few inspectors to insure quality control.  The most prevalent explanation for this "spontaneous order" (aka order without detectable control mechanisms, e.g., the "invisible hand") are the principles of freedom and property rights.
Quote:
Can we replace government welfare with a system of private, or at least voluntary, charity in such a way that it would work out better for all involved?  
And if people prefer a government that provides welfare over one that doesn't, shouldn't they have that choice? And couldn't we even say that up to a point they do? It might be a lot of hassle, but it's possible to emigrate. (Not to mention we get a vote.)

There is no perfect solution that serves all in need.  I'm claiming only that voluntary charity does a better job of helping those in need than forced charity does.  Why?  Because forced charity breeds recentment among those who must give up a portion of the fruits of their hard labor to others.  Because forced charity breeds an army of leeches, those who can fend for themselves but see an opportunity for a free lunch.  Because, even those who properly receive government largesse, lose self-respect and initiative and become permanent wards of the state, along with their children.  On the other hand, fewer of the needy become permanently needy because voluntary charity is not guaranteed; it can be withdrawn at a moment's notice.  Fewer leeches for the same reason.  And a lot less resentment, so more voluntary charity, from the affluent.  The proof of the pudding is in the historical record.  Examine American society before welfare was introduced.  Examine American society during the movement west, which occured faster than government could follow (source: the books of Bruce Benson).  You ask if citizens want government welfare, shouldn't they be allowed that choice?  Of course!  No one has the right to impose their will on others just because it is "for their own good"!
 
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #119 on: Jan 15th, 2008, 1:52pm »
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on Jan 15th, 2008, 11:05am, ecoist wrote:
Yes, it is something like evolution applied to the economic field!
Well, in this light, and with the self-interest issue out of the way; it seems my earlier objections were indeed misplaced.
 
Quote:
Why is the quality of our food supply so high when it goes through thousands of hands before it reaches us?  Government regulations do not adequately explain this phenomenon because that quality is higher than the government demands and the government has too few inspectors to insure quality control.  The most prevalent explanation for this "spontaneous order" (aka order without detectable control mechanisms, e.g., the "invisible hand") are the principles of freedom and property rights.
Would the quality be as high if there wasn't a standard, though?  
I think the focus it provides plays an important role. By deeming a given aspect of quality important enough to warrant a standard, consumers will expect it to be met and desire it to be exceeded (even when it may be ludicrous, like vitamin pills with several dozens or hundred times the recommended daily amount of vitamin C, an excess which absolutely useless).
And of course it causes quite a stir when it's discovered standards aren't met, which does happen occasionally. Better to err on the side of caution.
 
Quote:
There is no perfect solution that serves all in need.  I'm claiming only that voluntary charity does a better job of helping those in need than forced charity does.
I am very skeptical about this. But as an empirical claim, it should be possible to examine it.
 
Quote:
Because forced charity breeds recentment among those who must give up a portion of the fruits of their hard labor to others.
Then wouldn't they vote against it, rather than massively support it? (as they do in quite a few European countries; I can't say what's the case in the US). People around here don't seem very resentful about it, except perhaps the very rich.
And resentment of the taxpayer doesn't really relate to how well the people in need are helped, only how willingly they're helped.
 
Quote:
Because forced charity breeds an army of leeches, those who can fend for themselves but see an opportunity for a free lunch.
There can very easily be strings attached to welfare. based on the situation here, people do have to apply for jobs and/or follow schooling, and accept suitable jobs, otherwise their welfare payments can be cut or diminished.
 
Quote:
Because, even those who properly receive government largesse, lose self-respect and initiative and become permanent wards of the state, along with their children.
You seem to have a very bleak perspective on these things. I don't think it corresponds to how things are, at least not here; but I can't speak of the US. Living on the streets and having to beg isn't very good for ones self esteem either, though, I imagine.
Welfare shouldn't be a matter of throwing money at people and leaving it at that; that's rarely ever the solution to anything except getting rid of excess money. Encouraging, and enabling, people to get schooling and jobs would have to be an essential part of it.
 
Quote:
On the other hand, fewer of the needy become permanently needy because voluntary charity is not guaranteed; it can be withdrawn at a moment's notice.  Fewer leeches for the same reason.  And a lot less resentment, so more voluntary charity, from the affluent.
But will it be enough?
I mean, it would be better if people helped each other locally, helped each other get jobs etc. But would it happen to a sufficient extend (if to any real extent in this individualized world where many people no longer seem to care, or even know, their neighbours). We'd need a certain type of society, I think; one which I fear we don't have.
 
Quote:
The proof of the pudding is in the historical record.  Examine American society before welfare was introduced.  Examine American society during the movement west, which occured faster than government could follow (source: the books of Bruce Benson).
A lot of other variables have changed in that time, any of which may throw comparisons off; of course I already don't know what it was then, or for that matter, now. (I wasn't even sure whether the US had welfare.) But industrialization, emancipation, modernization, individualization etc have all influenced the situation extensively.
I would suspect, for example, that the pioneers of the west were a lot more community oriented than people are now (to tie in with the "type of society"-idea).
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #120 on: Jan 15th, 2008, 2:56pm »
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Since no system is perfect, one can criticize any system by listing its shortcomings.  So, such listings really prove nothing.  My criticism of forced charity is based on a fundamental principle, rejection of the use of force, except in self-defense.  Although I prefer criticism based on principles, this kind of criticism proves little as well.  The acid test is, which of the many ways of providing for the needy does the better job?  Only the facts derived from current events and history provide an objective, compelling, answer.  Unfortunately, I cannot give you short, convincing, examples that are readily available to you.  Some nations (Denmark?) have high taxes and an extensive welfare system and are among the happiest people on earth.  Other nations (Netherlands?) have the first two but are among the most unhappy with their system.  Even so, I prefer my kind of criticism because how we deal with the needy affects many other aspects of society besides the concerns of the needy.  I believe that specific policies based on consistent principles mesh better with the overall common good.  
 
You say that I have "a bleak perspective" of the effect of government largesse on the needy.  Sorry, this is reality, not perspective.  In the US the percentage of people on welfare has increased, not diminished.  When reporters chronicle the trials and tribulations of those on welfare, several sad facts emerge.  Government regulations discourage maintaining the family unit: women with children cannot receive welfare unless their husbands are absent.  The welfare check often exceeds the after-tax income from obtaining a job.  The needy often have such low skills, trying to find a job, or learning a skill to get a job, becomes more stressful than accepting permanent welfare.  We too often applaud good intentions and ignore their bad results.
Quote:
I would suspect, for example, that the pioneers of the west were a lot more community oriented than people are now (to tie in with the "type of society"-idea).

Good point!  Maybe an unintended consequence of forced charity is a loss of community spirit!
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #121 on: Jan 15th, 2008, 4:15pm »
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on Jan 15th, 2008, 2:56pm, ecoist wrote:
..among the happiest people on earth. .. are among the most unhappy with their system.

 
How exactly do we measure happiness ? Is it the absence of sadness ? How does being happy differs from being satisfied, sated, exultant, joyful, and countless other level of "happiness" ?  
 
( That also raises the question, does being unhappy means being sad, or just merely dissatisfied ? )
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #122 on: Jan 15th, 2008, 9:29pm »
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You are so right, towr!  My arguments against forced charity were weak!  Except for what forced charity, and voluntary charity as well, do to the self-esteem and moral character of its recipients.  So, I looked for what really bothers me.  What right does a starving person have to the food possessed by someone else?  When someone is ill, by what right can he command the free services of a physician?  When someone is the victim of a car accident, by what right can he demand that all drivers be capable of paying for his injuries?  In general, why is "I am my brother's keeper" a moral imperative?  How is theft moral?  "I am my brother's keeper" is a noble sentiment, but how noble is it if the "keeping" is forced?  I understand the sentiment that people, especially the rich, couldn't care less about the needy, so it is reasonable to want something to be done to insure that those incapable of caring for themselves get the care they need.  But that sentiment is spectacularly wrong!  Voluntary charity is robust!  And most governments, responding to their citizens, have procedures in place to provide assistance to those in need, all contradicting the assumption that most people have no concern for the less fortunate!  In the US, government provisions for the needy cost at least twice as much as the cost of private charities.  These government provisions do not reach the homeless, who are helped by private soup kitchens and their own street panhandling.  Yes, they also receive free emergency care, if they choose it or unwittingly receive it, paid for by the inflated charges foisted on paying patients.  So, my positions is, no one has a right to live well at the expense of another.  Therefore, the most moral, and practical, way to serve the needy, indeed, to serve the common good in general, is to eschew force and rely on the free and voluntary actions of individuals (including the hated, and wrongly characterized, greedy capitalists!)!
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #123 on: Jan 16th, 2008, 4:40am »
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on Jan 15th, 2008, 2:56pm, ecoist wrote:
Since no system is perfect, one can criticize any system by listing its shortcomings. So, such listings really prove nothing.
Proving things one way or the other is not the main concern, it's identifying what factors are important in any realistic approach to a system.
Systems aren't important in themselves but in what they do. So preferably you first choose the goals, then a specific implementation that best approaches it.
 
Quote:
My criticism of forced charity is based on a fundamental principle, rejection of the use of force, except in self-defense.  Although I prefer criticism based on principles, this kind of criticism proves little as well.
Well, in principle I'd like things to work in practice and not just in principle. So they're really the same types of concern. Principles of freedoms, principles of meeting everyone's needs, principles of personel development etc. There are a lot of principles that are relevant, and everyone will value them differently.
 
Quote:
The acid test is, which of the many ways of providing for the needy does the better job?  Only the facts derived from current events and history provide an objective, compelling, answer.  
Unfortunately, I cannot give you short, convincing, examples that are readily available to you.  Some nations (Denmark?) have high taxes and an extensive welfare system and are among the happiest people on earth.  Other nations (Netherlands?) have the first two but are among the most unhappy with their system.
I'm fairly sure we (Netherlands) were amongst the happiest; although funnily enough quite a few (unhappy) people were angry about that being said recently Tongue
But in any case, it seems to be a matter what works best for the people/nation in question, not a matter of general principle.
 
Quote:
Even so, I prefer my kind of criticism because how we deal with the needy affects many other aspects of society besides the concerns of the needy.  I believe that specific policies based on consistent principles mesh better with the overall common good.
Perhaps it's a matter of what set of consistent principles you choose.  
Our principles seem to work for us; I certainly wouldn't trade them in for all the money in the world. (Although, I suppose any 'us' would typically say that', it's hardly an objective valuation).
 
Quote:
You say that I have "a bleak perspective" of the effect of government largesse on the needy.  Sorry, this is reality, not perspective.
It is a reality, apparantly, where you are; but not where I am. So it is a perspective. So it cannot be a problem purely of welfare, but it must involve other factors, ones that form part of the problem there but not here.
Not everything that is a problem in one place will be a problem in general. Perhaps the few examples I know is colouring my view of the welfare state too rosy, but I feel it may be doing the exact opposite in your case.  
 
Quote:
In the US the percentage of people on welfare has increased, not diminished.
The obvious question: has the percentage of available jobs increased or decreased in the same time? Perhaps it will not change the picture (it may very well exacerbate it), but it needs to be asked nonetheless.
 
Quote:
When reporters chronicle the trials and tribulations of those on welfare, several sad facts emerge.  Government regulations discourage maintaining the family unit: women with children cannot receive welfare unless their husbands are absent.  The welfare check often exceeds the after-tax income from obtaining a job.  The needy often have such low skills, trying to find a job, or learning a skill to get a job, becomes more stressful than accepting permanent welfare.  We too often applaud good intentions and ignore their bad results.
Isn't that just due to a bad implementation of the instution of welfare, rather than necessarily a fundamental problem of welfare itself?  
For example, welfare could in principle work in such a way that if you supplement it/replace it with a job, you always end up (after taxes) with more than when without the job. It is, unquestionably, a big fault of a welfare system when that isn't the case, but not every system of welfare inherently needs to have this fault.
And learning skills and applying to jobs can, should, be a precondition to getting welfare; unless there is absolutely no hope for the person to ever get a job (it's rare for someone to be utterly unemployable, but it happens).  
Even subsidizing employers to hire the prolonged uneployed may help. (Although I'm sure subsidizing is evil in and of itself).
 
Quote:
Good point!  Maybe an unintended consequence of forced charity is a loss of community spirit!
Or, perhaps the reverse: loss of community spirit makes forced charity necessary (because no one cares enough to give sufficient charity). Or possibly a downward spiral of both effects.
In any case I'm fairly sure we lost our sense of community before welfare became an issue. I think it's in a large part a result of the mass urbanization due to the industrial revolution.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #124 on: Jan 16th, 2008, 4:46am »
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on Jan 15th, 2008, 4:15pm, JiNbOtAk wrote:
How exactly do we measure happiness ?
Typically it involves a poll with "rate how happy you are on a scale from 1-5" (or 1-10)
 
Quote:
Is it the absence of sadness ? How does being happy differs from being satisfied, sated, exultant, joyful, and countless other level of "happiness" ?
I think it's hard to give an objective measure (though you could use biological cues like stress hormones, endorphine, dopamine levels etc)
Most people can give some relevant response with regards to their level of happiness though.
 
Quote:
( That also raises the question, does being unhappy means being sad, or just merely dissatisfied ? )
I think it can be both, anything that isn't happy or content, but on the same axis.
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