Bill Harrison


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Do socio-biological determinants of health justify redistribution of wealth in grossly unequal societies?

Google "Low social status is bad for your health. Biologists are starting to understand why" to read an Economist article describing how relatively low social status acts as an epigenetic trigger, which can contribute to inflammation, heart disease, Alzheimer's, etc. In other words, relatively low social status makes you unhealthier, not just at the level of chronic stress and cortisol (see the work of Dr. Robert Sapolsky and the talk by Richard Wilkinson), but down to the level of your genes.

Consider also this idea by Robert Frank:

Namely, there are cases in which everyone pursuing their individual rational self interest leads to absurd or horrific outcomes, just as with the tragedy of the commons.

As primates, we are wired to seek and maintain high social status (for ourselves and our children.) If we fail to do so, arms race logic and our own epigenetic responses dictate that we will be worse off - you would be a sucker not to seek higher status, or to fail to give your children all the advantages (relative to other children) that you can, even if that means that kids who are smarter or more talented than your kids (impossible, I know, but humor me) don't get an equal shot.

See also this article describing how equality of outcome and equality of opportunity are essentially the same thing:

The government's role in the economy is to correct for such absurd outcomes, so that we can live and work more effectively together. In the 1950's we had a top marginal tax rate of 90%, yet today such talk is derided as "socialism," as though that's a bad thing. Given that relatively low social status has real negative (mental) health impacts upon people, how is it socially justified to have a country in which 25% of the income goes to 1% of the people?

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    May 20 2012: Hi Bill,

    To your question "how is it socially justified to have a country in which 25% of the income goes to 1% of the people?"

    It depends if you are asking the mechanism of justification or the justifications themselves?

    If I wanted to justify anything socially, I would posit arguements that rely on common assumptions as a basis for proof. For instance, the assumption that our current monetary sysem is the best system for value management.. or the assumption that taxes are as inevitable as death. Utilising such assumptions as a foundation bypasses the critical thinking of most people - and justification is gained.

    OR I would enlist ambient imperatives - e.g " do it this way or we will shoot you" or "If you don't do it this way, industry will collapse and you'll all lose your jobs".. (the latter being a mix of assumptions and imperatives).

    If you are asking for a serious analysis to de-justify income disparity, then one has to examine all the assuptions and imperatives used for current justifications and identify any flaws in them. Then you have to construct a less flawed (more socially justified) system of income.

    If this is your intention, well, Sapolski seems to have shown one potential flaw in the maintenance of elites and how baboons, at least, can be helped .. could this be done for humans? I suspect that only the elites would consider it. Maybe our elites will find some cast-off from aliens that does the trick. Usually it is done by bloody revolution .. which never seems to work out that well.

    Personally, I think that the increased promotion of empathy will have a beter result over time.
    For instance, the application of teh "law of the jungle" as a justification for human competetion has been expropriated out of context of Darwin's work and misrepresented back to us. It is teh empathetic basis of communication that gave humanity its Darwinian advantage. Anything that attenuates that advantage can potentially de-select us.
    This is where we must start.
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    Zaz Tao

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    May 3 2012: Yes.
  • Apr 28 2012: Particularly liked the Wilkinson talk, thought it wonderfully expressed in graphs something that I'd always intuitively felt was right. So why have I always 'felt'' that this sort of thing was right? Well authour Steven Pinker argues in several of his books that we are still ruled by the passions that we evolved while all living as hunter-gatherers. Lot more equality in hunter gatherer societies, also a lot of superstition, murder etc. But a lot more equality.

    Historical example time.

    In the UK at the turn of the 1900's Nathaniel Rothschild had inherited arguably the biggest banking establishment at the time, he was noted as a philanthropist, set up a department of charitable giving at his bank and even gave money persoanlly to the poor from his country estate. He became a leading establishment figure and in fact Lord Rothschild. Charitable giving was widespread amongst the rich at that time but still massive poverty amongst the poor and terrible health problems.

    The liberal government elected in 1906 began reforms to help the situation, state pensions, free school meals, national insurance and shockingly using tax to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. Rothschild said the rich should do their duty but it should be a matter of private conscience and not subject to state intervention he stated that capital should be freed from taxation, stimulating economic growth and benefiting everyone. He personally delivered a petition of complaint from the city (financial sector) to parliament.

    Sounding familar?

    Fortunately Chancellor Lloyd George was having none of it and instituted the reforms which proved enormously successful. Even Rothschild came round in the end and when war came in 1914 and Lloyd George asked 'how are we to pay for the war effort' the unlikely reply from Rothschild was 'tax the rich and TAX THEM HARD'

    Of course in todays society you'd have to prise that money out of the tax/secrecy havens and other arcane avoidance schemes...
  • May 20 2012: I believe as far as economics go, the lower socio-economic status results in lower wellness because the drive is for survival on a basic physiological level-

    If you look at where someone is on Maslows heirarchy of needs you can see how lower socioeconomic status may create people to be stuck at physiological or saftey.

    If you are not secure economically and you are not sure how long you will be able to have a roof over your head, you are not likely to think about getting exercise or taking time for meditation or quieting the mind.'s_hierarchy_of_needs
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    Apr 29 2012: Bill, using your definition of wealth, is there a way of redistibuting the wealth that comes from within as well as the wealth you can measure on a balance sheet?
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    May 19 2012: The Atlantic has also gotten around to stating what should be obvious:
  • Apr 30 2012: The statistics and reality speaks the truth.However having low social status and the stress it brings does not always make a person unhealthier. In some cases, this may cause some people to strive with all their might towards a higher social status and succeeded.
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    Apr 28 2012: Not to be the pessimist, but even if a government decides to work towards social correction, we still see the famous "Matthew Effect" at work. That's to say: even if corrective services and strategies are directed towards alleviating the misery of the lower class, it's the middle class who benefits most.

    Only a radical "communist" system seems to overcome this dreadful Matthew Effect (apart from a tiny elite that benefits). But then we know that these communist systems failed.

    So it's clear that social systems should correct for social inequality, but the strategies on how to do so are still not finetuned - not even after decades of social engineering experiments.
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    Apr 27 2012: If by permanent aristocracy you mean a hereditary one, you are introducing a new factor into the discussion, which has so far been focused on general taxation rather than inheritance tax and inherited wealth.

    As regards the tax situation in the 50s, the fact that high tax and economic boom were contemporaneous doesn't imply a cause and effect relationship - what makes you think there is one?

    And if you look at taxation of the rich, there are several factors you haven't considered. One is the global nature of commerce, which allows prosperity to move around the globe. Another is the definition of 'taxing more' - if you apply a flat rate tax to everyone you do in fact tax the rich more. A third is human nature - those who work hard lose motivation if they do not benefit from their efforts.

    And when you talk of the propaganda machine, we are all to a greater or lesser extent influenced by the wholsesale PR which spills out on all sides. The fact that we don't all have the same opinions indicates that we still make individual judgements. A viewpoint which differs from yours is no more and no less than a different viewpoint. So far in this thread I haven't seen anything to prove that channelling wealth through a bureaucracy provides any greater benefit than a system which allows people - at ALL wealth levels, to benefit from their ability and willingness to generate wealth.
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      Apr 28 2012: I don't think general taxation is analytically distinct from estate taxes or inheritance. It matters how we tax capital gains versus wages, because taxing the former less than the latter amounts to a continuous subsidy of the wealthy, which propagates the plutocracy.

      In the 1950's we had extremely high top marginal tax rates, and we also had one of the largest, most successful public works projects in US history - the Interstate Highway system. The up front costs of this were enormous - roughly 450 billion dollars in today's terms. But it also created many jobs, and broad prosperity (instead of prosperity for just a few), and we are still, to this day benefiting from the infrastructure investments that were made in the past.

      In one of our other threads, I did respond to "the global nature of commerce," and my response was that "wealth generation" and "making money" are distinct concepts.

      "Wealth generation" is a blunt concept. What is wealth? Do we mean individual wealth or the wealth of a society as a whole? If there are 300 million people in the country who own lots of pieces of paper claiming ownership to things, that's certainly one component of it. But suppose half of those 300 million people were extremely uneducated. You can toggle factors like education, public infrastructure, the strength of the legal system, the depth and availability of cooperatively validated scientific research, the public health system, etc., and then the question becomes - by wealth do we mean that a few people own lots of property in the midst of crumbling public services? How much wealthier are we living in a healthy society versus an impoverished one?

      It's a good thing to work hard and to make money - but not all money is earned by being socially productive, and if some rich people don't see themselves as invested in the community infrastructure that allows them to do well, then we don't want them in our communities.
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        Apr 28 2012: A couple of questions for you:

        What criteria do you use to determine that someone is wealthy?

        How do you distinguish between those who risk their money to make gains in a way which either creates work for others, or generates some other form of 'social good', and those who make money without risking what they already own?
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          Apr 29 2012: It depends on how narrow a lens you use to look at a person. You could define wealth as how much property a person legally owns. But that would ignore a huge amount of reality.

          How educated is that person, and in what fields are they knowledgeable? Do they enjoy life and love their friends and their family? Do they have a rich and intelligent view of the world? Are they well-traveled and worldly? Do they have a pleasant way of being in the world, and do they treat others with kindness and respect? Do they live in a community with other educated people, strong social safety nets, and strong public infrastructure or not? Is the air and water in their community clean, and is the food readily available to them fresh, affordable, and healthy? Do they give back? Are they healthy? Do they have access to affordable healthcare? If tragedy struck them or their community, how resilient would they be in the face of that adversity? Do the political and legal institutions they're governed by produce fair and reasonable outcomes?

          My point being that if you look with broad enough lens, you start to ask about "quality of life" rather than "property owned." If you see a man who owns lots of property, BUT he's an idiot, mean-spirited, with a narrow and bigoted view of the world and no compassion or respect for his fellow man; the infrastructure in his country is crumbling, but he doesn't care, and he makes money by skirting pollution regulations and lobbying for rules that allow him to do so; and the only field he's knowledgeable in is that of making money, developing his entire life philosophy around doing so by any means necessary. I consider that sort of man to be deeply impoverished despite his ownership of lots of property.

          And I am speaking, of course, about David Koch and his brother Charles (badam tsh!)

          But seriously, once you start looking more broadly than property toward something like "quality of life," wealth is a rich (:P) and complex concept.
  • Apr 27 2012: The American economy needs a course correction, yes. But it's unrealistic to believe we could ever achieve complete economic equality. Communist societies have been attempting that since the beginning of time and it never lasts, if it even happens at all.

    The same thing goes for social equality. You could take the top 10 champion racehorses in the world and make them into a herd, and even though every one of them is better than any outside horse, one of them will still be the doormat of the group. Equality is simply not a sustainable condition.
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      Apr 27 2012: Sure, and I don't expect complete equality by any means, but I do expect to live in a country where there is social mobility, and at the moment we don't have that.

      And while I don't believe in complete equality, whatever that even means, I do know that in the 1950's, coming out of the Depression, we had a top marginal tax rate of 90% so no one could make more than the equivalent of 2 million dollars per year. Beyond that, you don't need the money to live well, and there's a good chance that you're not making that money through socially productive labor.

      You can say that CEO pay has to be 500 times what the worker of the company makes, because that's just how human dominance hierarchies work. But that's not how it is in other countries, and that's not how it was in the past.

      The Founding Fathers were obsessed with getting rid of "titles of nobility" so that we would have a meritocracy instead of a permanent aristocracy/plutocracy, and for good reason. Right now, wealthy plutocrats buy lobbyists who influence legislators to write rules in their own favor rather than in the public's interests, and this systematically funnels wealth, health, education, etc. toward the wealthy and not the common man. This is not what was intended by "of the people, by the people, for the people."

      Here's a video of Ronald Reagan arguing that it is completely wrong for millionaires to pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries. He would be called a Communist or *gasp* a socialist by today's GOP:

      Here's Malcolm Gladwell on how the US tax system is completely off the rails in favor of the wealthy:
      • Apr 30 2012: You're right of course. I would rather handle the problem the way Japan does - with a more consistent tax rate but a much smaller gap between the highest and lowest incomes. Tax rates are too easy to change.
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      Zaz Tao

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      May 3 2012: "But it's unrealistic to believe we could ever achieve complete economic equality."


      We can do anything with the effort of just a small percentage of us working toward it.

      How many people working together did it take to:

      create the atomic bomb
      write the UN Declaration of Human Rights
      put 12 men on the moon and bring them all back safely
      make a robot that plays violin
      read the sequence of DNA of homo sapiens and others... the list is ever growing
      put a synthesized genome in a bacterial cell and boot it up successfully
      create the largest, most up-to-date encyclopedia in history and give it free to everyone

      We have had a crewed space station circling the earth every 90 minutes for the last 11 years, an SUV sized robot circling Saturn sending pictures that take an hour to cross the solar system, another zipping around Mercury, hell, we got one 16.7 light-hours out there tasting fresh Milky Way space.

      Yes We Can

      C'mon people! W e m a d e m o n e y u p. The Fed types a number into a computer and *poof* that many hundreds of billions of dollars are created and entered into the system.

      We don't need EQUALITY, just a bottom that's above subsistence.

      How absurd to think we did all that and much, much more and we CAN'T put 7 billion people to bed with full stomachs?
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    Apr 26 2012: Bill, it's not a mattter of what should happen, it's a matter of what actually happens. People have a motivation to increase the wellbeing of themselves and their families. Many have a motivation to increase their power and influence. You can argue that this should or shouldn't happen, but that won't change the nature of humanity. Like it or not, we have global mobility and a global economy and some people are in a position to take advantage of it.

    As regards tax rates in the 50s, that was also the period of post war economic resurgence - prosperity during that era cannot be credited purely to the American tax regime.

    As a matter of interest, do you feel that the charitable work of people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet should be restricted to American causes rather than having the global reach which they do? That would be a side effect of forcing the rich to keep their wealth in their own communities.
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      Apr 27 2012: I'm not arguing against people increasing the wellbeing of themselves or their families, but I am opposed to the existence of a permanent aristocracy/plutocracy.

      While I'm not crediting the tax system in the 1950's with all our economic prosperity, it's not unreasonable to think it was a factor.

      Also, raising taxes on the rich is not an all or nothing proposal, and the reflexive conservative counterarguments are completely inane. We shouldn't tax the rich any more ore else they'll leave. We shouldn't tax the rich anymore because they're job creators. We shouldn't tax the rich anymore because it wouldn't completely resolve the deficit. We should always lower taxes on the rich even though aggregate demand is what creates jobs and not trickle down economics, which completely fail as an economic policy.

      In a sane society, taxing the rich a little bit more would be completely uncontroversial, but the anti-government, anti-tax, pro-plutocrat propaganda machine has been working for the past few decades to make that an impossible proposition to advance, under any circumstances.
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    Apr 26 2012: No society is global, and money creates mobility. If wealth redistribution hits the biggest wealth creators, they will move elsewhere and take their wealth with them, so any wealth redistribution exercise takes from the middle cohort, not the wealthiest. The result is a society which is, overall, considerably poorer.
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      Apr 26 2012: If rich people have no vested interest in the communities in which they live, we don't want those people living here, because they will extract all the value they can out of the community and then leave. We want people who care about the communities in which they live.

      Furthermore, that sort of logic justifies a "race to the bottom." Why should the rich pay taxes at 10% when they pay only 2% in the Caymans? If the rich fail to see how the legal, technological, educational, and social infrastructure paid for by taxes contributes to their wealth, they are idiots and we don't want them here.

      Furthermore, once you have wealth, you don't have to worry about anything - including your ecosystem, including social productivity. You could argue that having high estate taxes, for example, encourages people to work and innovate so they can be better off instead of living off of the accomplishments of their parents.

      Also, low tax rates on rich people haven't created jobs in the past several decades. Aggregate demand creates jobs and broad prosperity, not "supply side trickle down economics."

      We had broad prosperity in this country when we had a top marginal tax rate of 90% in the 50's, which effectively limited income to the equivalent of about 2 million dollars today. One reason that that's a good policy is that if you lack the imagination to be happy with 2 million dollars per year, in addition to enjoying all the advantages that living in this country provides, we don't want you here.

      Finally, "Suppose you were given the choice of being born in America or in Ethiopia. What proportion of your eventual fortune would you be willing to give to be born in America? Given the great good fortune of getting to live and run a business in this country that has all the advantages an advanced country with a decent system provides, how can you think it’s all you? And then, how can you feel you don’t have any obligation to pay it back?" - Paul Krugman
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    Apr 24 2012: When it came to the video, I thought it glossed over 2 huge unasked question: why do people become happy vs unhappy when they do certain things, and why most people unhappy? I'd say the reactions in the experiment were a result of people's values. People have been taught by their parents from a young age that altruism - giving up something you want for no benefit to yourself - is good. So people will feel good on some level when they do it as adults especially in a situation they don't want to. It's just integrity to their values. However, if I'm right, then as I disagree with the idea of altruism being moral, I think the video is on the wrong path. I'd ask the question "What values and examples could children be taught from their parents and teachers that would cause them to grow up to be generally happier adults, compared to how unhappy they tend to become now?" I prefer the approach of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, which contrasts altruism vs irrational short term selfishness vs rational long term selfishness. She completely demolished the primitive idea of altruism and the self destructive narcissism that people call 'selfishness', and proposed an alternative: rational long term selfishness that does not derive self esteem from others. Very inspiring book, definitely recommend it.
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      Apr 24 2012: I think you're responding to Michael Norton's video, and not Richard Wilkinson's, and that's fine. But watch Richard Wilkinson's video for a discussion on how and why societies with less inequality tend to do better in the long run.

      Basically, I can accept your premise, that "rational long term selfishness that does not derive self esteem from others" is the way to go in the long run. But given that more equal societies tend to better in the long run for all kinds of reasons, you could be (and should be) pursuing your own rational self-interest by pursuing a society where social mobility is possible and likely based upon your efforts.

      And at the end of the day, that kind of society would be likely to produce happier, more autonomous individuals than one where your position in life was essentially predestined from birth.
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    Apr 24 2012: how would you like the following idea.

    i conduct a research that shows that people not having sex for a long time has adverse health effects. then i conclude that redistribution of sex is beneficial to society. thus, we need to take those couples that have lot of sex, and command them to sometimes have sex with those that get few or don't get any. such an idea is considered outrageous today, but given the large inequality in amount of sex people have, isn't it socially justified?

    i have two requests.

    1. if you think no, it is not justified, then you i want you to thoroughly analyze the situation, and answer why. the answer for that question (if you strip down the unnecessary adjectives) is the same as for taxation.

    2. i like thin women with long, straight hair. so if there are any socially sensitive women out there with such characteristics ...
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      Apr 24 2012: False equivalence. If you think property rights are on the same level as rights on your body, you are sorely mistaken - and this is basically at the heart of the liberal/libertarian disagreement. If I take a banana from you, or even several thousand dollars, that is a harm different in both kind and degree than if I cut off your arm or force you to have sex with someone with STD's or something.

      And given that health is more important to people's (and by extension, a nation's) well-being than a small number of people living in luxury, it would be socially justified to raise capital gains taxes on 1% of people on the basis of increasing social mobility for everyone else - because laws should be structured for the good of everyone and not just a few.

      In contrast, forcing people to have sex would have deleterious health consequences, your body is more important to your wellbeing than property, it would be unenforceable, and it would be insane. Unlike raising the top marginal tax rate to somewhere between 50 and 70%, which we've done before, with positive consequences for society.

      So again, false equivalence, because property rights and rights on your body are intuitively, practically, and actually very different. Taxing rich people isn't at all the same as forcing people to have sex.
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        Apr 24 2012: what kind of world you live in, if you think that money is not as important as flesh? don't you know that in order to acquire money, i had to work endless hours, sacrificing my eyesight, my wrist, my backbone. but most importantly, i sacrificed my time, hours that were my life, but now gone, and never come back. you believe that stealing a part of my life is any different than stealing parts of my body? do you have a job?

        let alone i didn't mean harm. sex is not painful, after all.
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          Apr 24 2012: A rich world. Rich people and poor people live in completely different worlds; that is the point. There are diminishing marginal returns to value on property/money. Once you have a lot of money, it's just money, it isn't life. It's bits of information on a bank's computer. It's ownership of a piece of company that you inherited from your parents without having to do anything.

          And that is what brainwashed poor people who don't have money fail to understand about very rich people. Poor people think - I worked very hard for my money, so multiply that by 1000 and that must be how hard the CEO worked or whatever. But that is completely false, particularly in the US today.

          It's fine to aspire to wealth. It's fine to get it. Maybe in Hungary the social services are so corrupt and terrible that you hate everything about the government. That's fine.

          But the US was a stronger, better country when it provided equal opportunities for social mobility to everyone, when occupational licensing was a lot cheaper, when there was an estate tax, when the top marginal tax rates were reasonable, and when capital gains taxes were more than 15%. Ronald Reagan would be considered a socialist today, it's gotten so bad.

          It didn't use to be the case that your social position was determined by your birth - you actually had to work for it, and people with more talent and who put more work in could beat you. Now, the poor kids aren't even in the running, because they can't afford college without going into ridiculous amounts of debt.

          As a result, idiots get put in charge, wealthy idiots can purchase politicians who write laws to structure businesses in a way to give them more money, and no one has to strive to be better, because your class is determined by how much money you have, not how you treat people and not how much you contribute to society.

          So when I say that taking money from rich people is qualitatively different from forced sex, I really mean it.
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        Apr 24 2012: that is good that you are starting to learn economics. alas, the principle of diminishing marginal utility works only in a moment of time and for one person. you can not compare utility between people, and even for a person at different times. how much people value their time and money is personal and subjective.

        but it is a usual routine to marginalize the harm you do onto others. all thieves do this, they say, he didn't need it, it wasn't that expensive, he didn't deserve it blah blah. it is just denial of responsibility. i would like to live in a world in which it is not accepted to rob someone and then find excuses for it.

        you can just stop patronizing me, and assume me being hungarian has anything to do with my opinion. it is a kind of dismissing. you want to invalidate my opinion, so you can ignore it. ain't gonna work. all i know about the economy and about the philosophy of freedom comes from the US.
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          Apr 24 2012: Actually, if you have any empathy whatsoever, you CAN make intersubjective comparisons of "utility" which is a bllunt, artificial, and obfuscating economic concept anyway. Food is more important to a poor person's survival than a Bentley is to a rich person's. If you can admit that food tastes better when you're hungry, and that is true for basically all people, then you can make intersubjective comparisons of value (yourself at time X and yourself at time Y).

          Your position, that taxation is theft and that property is always justly acquired, is based on your personal experiences. My view, that taxation is justified, property is not always justly acquired, and that you can make intersubjective comparisons of utility notwithstanding what economists who lack empathy tell you, is based on my experiences.

          I'm not trying to patronize you, but I am both attempting to understand how you can maintain such an extreme position, while also trying to get you to see from my point of view (and pretty much everyone else's) which is that taxation is not theft.

          A lack of empathy is a symptom of, what - narcissism? Sociopathy? Autism? All probably valid critiques of a libertarian worldview, which does not even try to imagine what it would like to be a rich person versus a poor person, or even a different person.
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        Apr 25 2012: if you actually have empathy, you see that people are very different. your vision of a rich man like fat banker with golden sunglasses is a shallow stereotype. there are rich men investing in technology passionately for example. any dollar you take reduces their ability to follow their passion. it puts years between them and their goals. just look at james cameron, who recently dove to the mariana trench. every tax dollar delayed that dream. i refuse to valuate that goal any lower than having a bigger flat tv, which is the aspiration of the "poor" in the US.

        i said that property is always justly acquired? where? when? what that's got to do with taxation? unjustly acquired property must be taken back. taxation is not a solution for crime.

        for me to accept that property is not theft, you need to explain what is the difference. i accept that a pig is not an animal if you tell me the rationale for that.

        you don't have to understand me. you have to understand what i say. even if it is not comfortable. don't go sideways.

        and now we arrived to a point at which you call your opponent mentally handicapped? this is a new low which i'm not willing to follow. please don't do that again.
    • Apr 24 2012: Wouldn't it be simpler to have the people not having sex... have sex with each other?
      You're actually wasting resources having people that are already meeting their sexually driven health needs have more sex.

      I know this is a stupid answer, but hey, ask a stupid question...
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        Apr 24 2012: and why don't we do that with money?
        • Apr 24 2012: because you can have your sex and keep it too... if one were to give you $5 they would not gain $5.

          But, hypothetically speaking, if someone were willing to have sex with you, he would also get to have sex. a win/win situation (or not maybe...)
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        Apr 25 2012: sex is a limited resource, i think i don't have to explain why.

        but again, what is the difference here? we could also say that poor people trade with each other to their mutual benefit. how is that different?
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    Apr 24 2012: I am all for experimenting with different ideas in society to see what works, but I would never dream of using force against non-violent people in order to enforce my ideas. Do you support the use of violence against people who do not wish to be forced to pay for your social proposals?
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      Apr 24 2012: I don't believe taxation is theft, if that's what you're asking.
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        Apr 24 2012: I'm asking something more fundamental, so to clarify: do you support the initiation of force (violence) against people who do not wish to pay for things you want to be funded, or who wish to opt out of your proposals? Or do you outright oppose the initiation of violence and reject any justifications for violence of this kind? Because if violence is off the table, then it does make it harder to just come up with universal solutions without the luxury of imposing them on everyone. However, on the flip side, a commitment to non-government solutions forces us to explore or create many new solutions for spreading good ideas, which can be very satisfying and also is far more likely to actually archive the outcome you want.
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          Apr 24 2012: So, I think there have to be some kinds of sanctions against people who don't pay taxes. Unless you're extremely wealthy, you're not allowed to opt out of laws against fraud, for example, or you go to prison. Wesley Snipes is serving a misdemeanor sentence for tax evasion at the moment, and I think either that or some fines/confiscation of his property would probably have been appropriate.

          While the "government using force to take property is always wrong" argument is cute, it has no correspondence with the reality of the situation, which is that the government enforces your legally/socially constructed property rights against other people, and can therefore damn well take some of it if you're given due process rights and your democratically/plutocratically elected representatives or judges can get away with saying it's okay.

          Also, given the government's role in correcting for externalities in various domains when people acting in their individual rational self-interest leads to globally harmful results (like in the tragedy of the commons, or pollution, or taxes, or as I'm arguing now - wealth/status/health) then, yes, the government/police/judges/lawyers can use force to enforce the law...including taxes.

          But back to the topic: did you watch Richard Wilkinson's talk? What did you think?
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        Apr 24 2012: I was discussing a moral issue about what 'should' be done, and you responded that it is irrelevant by describing the current situation of what governments do. It's a non-sequitur, like if I said "it's wrong to wrap people, surely you don't support that do you?" and you responding with "That's cute, but in fact many people are being raped and this is how it has been for quite some time."

        Property can exist perfectly fine without governments: in my interactions with my friends, none of them have ever stolen anything from me, we honour debts to each other and respect each other's property for 2 simple reasons that we have good will towards each other, and the social consequences of breaking this trust can be dire and are not worth it. Note that social bonds and repercussions to our reputation are enough to ensure that between us, the agreement of property is maintained without reliance on any centralised governmental authority. Many businesses rely on private mediators to settle disputes - over 25% of all disputes are settled by mediators I believe. These mediators typically offer no government recourse, but if you refuse to abide by their judgement then you will get a bad reputation, so agreements over contracts related to property are maintained without government. Credit card debts are repaid when much of the time there is no government penalty for declaring bankruptcy. Why? Because if you screw over your credit card company they will lower your credit rating - your financial reputation - thus making it difficult for you to do many types of transactions in future.

        Finally, on a more defensive level, for situations where violence is involved, businesses, neighbourhoods and individuals are perfectly capable of defending their property with security companies or personal firearms. As governments have killed more of their own citizens in the 20th century than all private murders in history combined, safety concerns are not a viable objection to this.
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          Apr 24 2012: Your friends respect each others' property rights under a backdrop of laws. It is not the case that a group of rich families has hired a large army of to take the property of poor people who can't afford private protection/armies, because we have laws against that kind of thing - reputation effects only work because the application of force is only appropriate when someone breaks the law.

          If you think someone rapes and kills your wife, you're not allowed to go get vengeance, because we don't live in a state of nature - there are laws, enforced by courts/judges/police, that if you don't follow, justify the use of force in some circumstances; but if you're accused, you're given due process, and if you're not you have legal options without having to use force.

          So it's all well and good to say that the use of force is always immoral, but that only works against a backdrop of laws that limit what power/wealth/force can do to you if you don't have them.