Sunday, December 1, 2013
This is a sister post to my other post of the day. It is a reaction to reading this fascinating article about the work of James Buchanan.
One issue considered by Buchanan is the slavery contract. That is, it is conceivable that someone whose life is threatened would agree to be a slave.
Most of us would agree that the institution of slavery is immoral even if the slave has entered into the situation by contract. Obviously they would only do so under duress.
What is not so obvious is that the duress might not be inflicted by the slaver. Consider the situation of indentured servants in the American colonies. They were often teenagers who came to avoid poverty in England. It was not uncommon for masters to treat indentured servants worse than slaves because they weren't going to have them for as long.
Anyway, it is one thing to invade someones home and force the occupants to become slaves. It is another thing for someone to come up to you and offer to become a slave in order to avoid starvation.
Imagine an industrialist who takes great pride in doing things his own way. No one likes to work for him because he likes to meddle in his employees personal lives. He wants to tell them what to wear on weekends, who they can marry, etc. This would be a really terrible boss, obviously. What he really wants is a slave, not an employee. So would it be wrong for him to hire immigrants who agree to his terms because they would otherwise die if he didn't take them on?
The point of this hypothetical is that we would still probably object. People shouldn't be allowed to lord over other people, even if they saved their life.
But allowing guest workers is a bit like allowing slavery. People agree to otherwise objectionable employment terms because they have really terrible options at home. If we make these terms illegal, those potential workers will suffer on in poverty, but we can feel good about ourselves.
So how do I resolve this problem? I wouldn't automatically reject guest workers, indentured servants, or even slavery contracts. There is a possibility that doing so would do more harm than good. Instead, look at the elasticity of demand for labor. If we impose restrictions, how much of an impact will it have on the number of people who will get jobs? If the employers will hire people anyway and it doesn't really affect the marginal benefit they get from the labor, then impose the restriction to ensure some basic human liberty. If the result of preventing inequality is even more inequality (poverty, death, etc) then it might not be worth it.
I am a big believer in more open immigration. But for a moment I want to step back and analyze a huge problem with immigration: the externalities of being.
That is, people have an effect by their very presence. In particular, people exist in a society. We have obligations to other people in society. We are affected by what other people in society do.
Advocates of keyhole solutions attempt to mitigate some of these problems. For example, many people fear that immigrants will be a drain on the welfare state. The answer is that we don't have to give welfare to immigrants.
Other people are afraid that immigrants will change voting dynamics. So let them come and work, just don't let them vote.
But still, one might argue that if we let in a bunch of guest workers we might legitimize a society with a large underclass (if you think a legitimate underclass is worse than an "illegal" underclass like we have now). Maybe having unlimited immigration would result in a larger underclass. So the tradeoff might be between a smaller "illegal" underclass and a larger legal underclass.
Even a disenfranchised underclass has political power. Non-voting workers can still strike, protest, and consume. Due to their presence, people will arise who will benefit by representing their interests.
The point is that there is no way to escape the fact that we have to compromise with the people living around us. If we allow more people to come there will be more people to compromise with. They have power over us because of their proximity. Allowing more people nearer to us is equivalent to granting them this power.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Have you ever seen those All State field goal nets during college football games? Every time a participating home team makes a kick All State donates a couple hundred bucks to the schools general scholarship fund. Over the last 8 years, about 75 schools have received a total of $3,3 million. This amounts to around $1,000 per home game.
What they don't tell you is that the value of the advertising is about $50,000-$100,000 per game according to my estimates based on the cost of prime time advertising. So about 1-2% of the value of the advertising goes to the general scholarship fund. Another way of thinking about it is that All State spends about $30 million per year on sports sponsorship (for college football, professional soccer, and olympic advertising). So about 1% of All State's sports sponsorship money goes to scholarships. Since it seems likely that spending on college football spending far outweighs All State's spending on other sports, I think 2% is probably a good estimate of how much of the advertising value of the field goal nets is used for scholarships.
Another thing they don't tell you is that there is no reason to believe that schools participating in the program don't alter their budgets to put in a few thousand dollars less to the scholarship fund than they would if All State just gave them cash with no strings attached. In other words, the feel-good scholarship charity is little more than a marketing ploy that plays on our feelings about the value of education.
Also of note: the nets themselves cost at least as much as the value of the scholarships.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Every person is composed of an infinite number of distinct conscious entities at every moment.
There are two pieces to this proposition. First, that every moment is its own being. We often think of ourselves as extended in time. That is, I identify the "me" one minute from now with my current "me." This is the origin of the fear of death. If I am extended in time I can be cut off in time. I can have an end.
But if every moment is unique, there is no death because there is no extension. Every moment is a unique perspective on the past and on the future, and on all of space. Our perspective on space and time is the result of how our brains process sensory inputs into models, hopes, and memories that connect us to other moments in space and time.
Our past "self" contributes a great deal to our present circumstances. Where I walked to last minute determines where I am now. But my parents also determined a great deal about my present circumstances. I know that I am part of a generational chain, yet I also understand that I am distinct from my parents and from my children. I must also accept that I am distinct from my "own" past and future. I exist now. In a moment it will be part of the same personal chain, but it will be a different me.
Consider the following quote from Heraclitus: "No man steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and it is not the same man."
I used to focus on the river part, and just assume that "not the same man" meant a single man that has changed. But in fact there are two men united by a common person. What does that mean? There are two unique conscious entities (perspectives on the universe) that share a body at different times just like two individuals can share the same family line but be separated by generations.
For those of you familiar with the physics of space-time, the only true individual is an event in space-time. There is no extension in space, and there is no extension in time. There is only perspective on space and time.
Now on to the second, and perhaps even more intriguing aspect of the statement. An individual is composed only of a single perspective, but your body is extended in space (not just time). The implication is that your body is composed of many (if not infinite) different perspectives. Some of these perspectives are very different from your own. An individual cell might have some level of consciousness, but it is very limited. But the amazing thing is that although your brain works very hard to make you think you are an individual, there is no reason to believe that your brain is not actually inhabited by a collection of perspectives, many of whom are experiencing something very similar to what you are experiencing.
This concept has interesting implications for free will. If your body is occupied by an essentially infinite number of conscious entities, your contribution to your own free will is basically infinitesimal. It is as if you are one vote in an infinite democracy. However, since the experience of your fellow body consciousnesses is so similar to yours, their votes are also very similar to yours. Your body does what you want it to do not because you want it, but because an infinite number of like minded wills want the same thing.
It is evident to us that other people have a distinct consciousness from ours because they do things that we do not want them to do. But it is hard to observe the other entities within our own body because they are too close. They feel essentially the same that I feel, and they do what I do. When people have the different hemispheres of their brain cut off from each other it is clear that there are distinct thought processes going on in each side. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are distinct perspectives on the universe in every atom of your brain.
Each of us is Legion, a single perspective among many united in space and time to an infinite number of other conscious events by a single body.
The implications of this are immense. There is no death of the soul because a soul has no temporal extension. There is no selfishness, because the Self is composed of Others. There is only one glorious moment, a single Big Bang of knowing and acting that exists for its moment and connects to other moments in every direction in both space and time.
Does this mean we should not think about the future? The fact that we are only a moment may lead some to the nihilistic conclusion that nothing matters. But no, everything matters. Thinking about the past and hoping for the future are a big part of what defines our moment. They are a part of the connection we have to everything else.