Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Too rich to care

It's apparent to me that as society becomes richer it becomes more socialist. The reason I think is that the cost of socialism becomes relatively less and therefore more tolerable. My favorite example (because I made it up) has to do with bread.

Let's say we are a poor country and everyone has one loaf of bread. There is no extra food, that loaf of bread is it and without it, people will starve. Imagine that government comes along and demands 10% of that bread. What do you think the reaction will be? Obliviously people will resist. Their choice is between living and paying the bread tax.

Alternatively, society becomes richer and everyone has 10 loaves of bread. It only takes one to live, the rest makes you a fat American. If the government comes along and demands 10%, what will your reaction be? You'll probably give it to them. The cost of resisting is more than the cost of being a bit skinnier. I imagine that you wouldn't protest even if the government demanded 50% of your bread. Certainly not as much as when you only had one loaf.

While affluence is something we all desire, it is also an anathema to liberty. Wealth raises the cost of opposing encroachments on liberty. One would go to war to protect his daily bread. No one would go to war to guarantee he had six loaves of bread instead of five. The only way to ensure liberty is to raise the cost of the encroachments upon it.


IkM -- The IKM way of life said...

From an Operations standpoint, you always say that overloading resources on a project hides the inefficiencies of the system (or similarly over budgeting monetary funding hides the cost inefficiencies)...Isn't there a parallel ? :)

Adam Freund said...

I don't think the parallel is justified. The point I was trying to make is not about inefficencies at all. It is about our relative tolerances and relative moralities. In a nutshell, it's more of a crime to steal from a poor man than to steal from a rich man. In an absolute right and wrong sense it shouldn't matter, but it does in a relative sense.

I have another idea for a post which does paralled what I think you are saying. When I write that you can tell me if it relates. :)

p.a.whelan.nd said...

"One would go to war to protect his daily bread. No one would go to war to guarantee he had six loaves of bread instead of five."

However, history has demonstrated that leaders will go to war if their bottom line is effected. This suggests that a conscription program and mandatory deployment of conscripted, in addition to professional, military personnel might be required for elected leaders to have the proper incentives for conflict. Do you agree?

On a different thought, there is a different types of freedom. To be free to do something in theory and to be free to do something in practice are quite different. Example: I doubt that Ethiopia has any restrictions on commercial space operations. In theory, their citizens may be completely free to do so. However, you have to be in the US, Russia, Japan,China, India or EU to participate in the intensely regulated but existing commercial space market. Who would you argue is more free in this arena?

Adam Freund said...

I have heard the argument you are describing about conscription being a disincentive for conflict because this essentially means more people have skin in the game (at least this is what I think you are saying). I think the argument has a degree of merit if it could be guarunteed that no one was exempt. I don't think history has shown that to be the case.

I think a voluntary military is far more just than conscription. If the war is very unjust then people will not sign up to fight. People choose to join the military for many reasons: money, sense of purpose, etc. In an unjust war that sense of purpose would be diminished and it would be harder to recruit people so this would act as a check on our leaders. Note that in conscription there is only one check on the abuse of our leaders and that is public outrage. In a voluntary system, there are two checks, public outrage and the increasing cost of recruiting people.

As to your second point, I was going to write an article related to this topic (the one I referred to ikm above). Anyway, is your point that Ethopia's freedom is restricted due to their lack of ability? In that case we are all a lot less free than we believe because our actual opportunities are far more limited than the total opportunity space. Generally when I refer to freedom I mean the freedom to try. An ethiopian is free to compete in the commercial space market, whether he succeeds or not is a different issue.

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