Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 22 May 2017 07:55:54AM 0 points [-]

I don't know the answer but let me write down some thoughts.

If I'm a point on the surface of a planet then I spend the day slowly getting warmer as I absorb sunlight and the night slowly getting cooler as I radiate my heat into space. If the days are longer then the temperature I reach during the day is higher, which means that when the night begins I radiate heat more rapidly into space. But conversely by the end of the night I've cooled down to a lower temperature so I absorb more heat from the sun at the star of the day.

In fact none of this should matter. Can't we say that the space at that distance from the sun has a particular temperature, and both planets are in thermal equilibrium with that space, so they have the same temperature? That's not such a convincing argument, since the space near a star is not a typical thermodynamic system.

What about atmospheres? They should help warm up the (solid) surface of the planet via the greenhouse effect. I guess the faster spinning planet has a thinner atmosphere, because of centrifugal force, so maybe it's colder.

Comment author: cousin_it 23 May 2017 12:50:41PM *  2 points [-]

I think the rate of cooling depends on temperature much more than the rate of warming up, because T_sun - T_planet >> T_planet - T_space. So a faster rotating planet should be warmer.

Comment author: ChristianKl 22 May 2017 07:17:40AM 0 points [-]

I'd prefer to legally define what constitutes a "reasonable" job for a given person, and allow anyone to walk into a government office and receive either a reasonable job offer or a welfare check.

This proposal sounds to me like you are not aware of how our present system actually works.

The idea of a market economy isn't that it's the job of the government to hand out jobs. It's not the role of the government to produce jobs. It's rather employees who need labor to get things done, that they want to have done.

As a result, a person who seeks welfare is generally expected to apply to jobs a write job applications. Do you find the practice of telling a welfare recipient to write job applications to be wrong or do you just don't know?

Comment author: cousin_it 22 May 2017 11:06:28AM *  0 points [-]

If the current system had no other benefits, except unemployment benefits which were available for a limited time and on condition of writing job applications, then yeah I'd consider it cruel and prefer mine. Mostly I was responding to entirelyuseless's comment. They pointed out that UBI might hurt society by removing the incentive to work, so I tried to devise a similarly simple system that would support unemployed people without removing the incentive.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 19 May 2017 02:01:17PM 0 points [-]

I disagree with your first comment about the $100 and the loaves, as I said, because you are overly simplifying. For example, even aside from the things I already mentioned, you also ignore the fact that the person needs to spend money or goods in order to produce the loaves.

That said, you might be able to refine that example or come up with another; I certainly do not think that markets infallibly have the result of rewarding value creation. I agree that free markets leads to that kind of inequality and that this is a not particularly great aspect of it. However, it is not reasonable to say "this is a horrible process" if you cannot propose a better alternative. And I am not even saying there is not a better alternative. I am just saying that no one has found one yet.

The fact that the Soviets used the St. Paul quote is revealing in regard to what usually happens if you attempt to replace free markets with something else. The problem e.g. with a guaranteed basic income is this: either people have to work, or they don't. If they don't have to work, then there is the implicit assumption that wealth does not depend on work, which in our world is false. So if enough people decide not to work, the system will necessarily collapse. This does not of course prove that a basic income is impossible, since you could simply keep reducing the amount of the income until enough people are working to keep it going. But it does show a serious issue. And on the other hand, if they do have to work, then they are slaves. And so the way the Soviets were using the slogan, they were making people slaves.

The only alternative (to the the impossible option of wealth not depending on work or to slavery) is to admit that if people choose to do so, they do not have to work, but they will suffer the consequences. Europe has a better unemployment system than the USA, for example, but even in Europe (at least in general and if I understand it correctly, and obviously the details differ in various places), there needs to be at least a bit of ambiguity about why you are unemployed. If you openly say, "I am perfectly competent and well qualified for many jobs, and I know from experience that I could get one next week if I wanted. In fact I just received an offer, which I rejected. I do not WANT to work, and I won't," even Europe will not continue offering you support.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 May 2017 08:54:48PM *  0 points [-]

Even if you're willing to work, some job offers are objectively pretty bad (let's say it's a five hour commute, the work is hazardous, and the salary isn't enough for your food and medicine). Do you think people should die if they refuse such offers and better ones aren't available? I'd prefer to legally define what constitutes a "reasonable" job for a given person, and allow anyone to walk into a government office and receive either a reasonable job offer or a welfare check. If the market is good at providing reasonable jobs, as some libertarians seem to think, then the policy is cheap because the government clerk can just call up Mr Market.

Comment author: ChristianKl 21 May 2017 09:54:05AM 1 point [-]

Land supply is fixed but land supply isn't the problem with rising rent. The problem is the number of flats. Toyko's rents didn't rise in the last decades but rents in a place like San Fransico rise because the government enforcing zoning regulations that prevent the building of new housing.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 May 2017 11:27:04AM *  0 points [-]

That could be because Japan's population and economy aren't growing much. In any case, even if rent isn't a good example, there might be other bottlenecks in the economy besides labor, so labor won't always win.

Comment author: ChristianKl 21 May 2017 09:16:33AM 2 points [-]

Why isn't the same force pushing down the price of labor then, making labor cheap in terms of bread

Because labor is in relatively fixed supply given that it takes decades to grow and child into an adult and educate it.

On the other hand, it's relatively easy to grow more wheat and make more bread.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 May 2017 09:24:17AM *  1 point [-]

That might work sometimes, but sadly market advantage isn't always connected to moral worth. For example, land supply is even more fixed than labor. If market advantage goes to the side with fixed supply, then most salary increases will be eaten by landlords raising rents. (Which pretty much happens in some places.) Also I'm not sure making labor is harder than e.g. starting a tech company. If market advantage goes to the side that's harder to make, then tech companies will use non-tech labor for cheap. (Which also happens, see Uber.) Like I said, immoral forces acting all at once.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 20 May 2017 09:10:30PM 1 point [-]

It seems like you have just reinvented the criticism "if you can extract almost all the value from each transaction (aka 'exploitation'), you will shortly be rich". Well, yes, but the point is that a market with competition generally prevents you from doing that. As someone pointed out, if you make 100 loaves then you have created 100 dollars of value; the question is how those 100 dollars are distributed. You construct an example where the baker is able to capture 99% of the value he created; good for him, but it relies on your construction of the price. Seeing the baker get rich, won't a bunch of other people decide that bread-making can't be that hard, make some loaves, and sell them for 98 cents? And so on until the price of bread is equal to the cost of production plus the smallest profit anyone is willing to live with, which in your example seems to be a penny.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 May 2017 08:57:17AM *  0 points [-]

This kind of "stuff gets cheaper, everyone benefits" advocacy is why I wrote that comment to begin with. The free market can't be always pushing down the price of all goods (measured in other goods), that's a logical impossibility. There's no magic force acting on one conveniently chosen side of each transaction. Why isn't the same force pushing down the price of labor then, making labor cheap in terms of bread, instead of making bread cheap in terms of labor? Oh wait, maybe it is. Maybe all these forces are acting at once and going into weird feedback loops and there's no reason why the end result would be moral in any way. That's my point.

Comment author: Val 19 May 2017 09:29:10AM 1 point [-]

If you make 100 loaves and sell them for 99 cents each, you've provided 1 dollar of value to society, but made 100 dollars for yourself.

Not 99 dollars?

Comment author: cousin_it 19 May 2017 09:31:18AM *  1 point [-]

Whoops! Fixed. Thank you.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 19 May 2017 04:51:01AM 3 points [-]

The reason the market approximates rewarding the providing of value is not because there is something morally special about that situation, but because without doing that, it is very difficult to get any value or utility at all, for anyone.

A system that rewards the creation of value results in a substantial amount of average utility, even if not high utility for everyone. But if you have a system that does not reward the creation of value or utility, there will be many people who will not bother to create any value, and consequently you will get low average value or utility. That was why St. Paul had to tell his communities that "if someone will not work, neither shall he eat."

If you think you have an idea for a system that will create higher average value or utility than markets do, as I said, you can propose one. I do not think anyone has yet made any reasonable proposal of that kind.

Comment author: cousin_it 19 May 2017 08:39:12AM *  1 point [-]

I know the usual arguments why rewarding value creation is a good idea, and I'm not trying to argue against that. Instead, my first comment points out how markets don't always reward value creation. They do a more complicated and recursive thing. You can think of it as "if your product is awesome but your customers are poor, you're screwed". Only even worse because there's feedback effects, where value creators can become poor just because other value creators are poor etc.

To put it yet another way, in a PageRank-like system the utility will tend to clump together, leading to inequality and monopolies. That's more or less what the system does. The original PageRank had some nasty attractors after people started gaming it, which is why Google is tweaking it all the time. Someone on HN once made a cheeky comment saying "the end game of capitalism is one corporation selling everyone oxygen", and I can see how blindly trusting a recursive system to be fair can get you there.

Also, your St. Paul quote is a famous Soviet slogan, instantly familiar to anyone who was born in the USSR, so I chuckled a bit when you used it to defend free markets :-)

Comment author: strangepoop 18 May 2017 11:40:32PM 1 point [-]

Incidentally, Gary Drescher makes the same (citation free) statement in a footnote in Chapter 7 - Deriving Ought from Is:

Utilitarian bases for capitalism—arguments that market forces promote the greatest good—are another matter, best suited for other books. For here, suffice it to note that even in theory, an unconstrained market does not promote the greatest good overall, but rather the greatest good weighted by the participants’ relative wealth.

I remember asking for a reference about a year ago on LWIRC, but that didn't help much.

Comment author: cousin_it 18 May 2017 11:58:05PM 0 points [-]

Nice find. Yeah, Gary and I are often in agreement :-)

Comment author: Lumifer 18 May 2017 04:13:22PM 0 points [-]

Maximizing in the short term or in the long term?

Comment author: cousin_it 18 May 2017 05:07:01PM 0 points [-]

Across all time.

View more: Next