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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Reward and Punish

Increasingly, in my discussions about public policy matters, I find myself advancing the apparently novel notion that:

You tend to get more of what you reward, and less of what you punish.

When discussing my views with devotees of various social welfare schemes, this idea is met with reactions ranging from blank incomprehension to spitting rage at my cold-heartedness. Yet, to me, it seems the most self-evident common sense.

Most social welfare schemes reward certain behaviors, and almost invariably result in an increase in those behaviors.

Two examples (more can doubtless be supplied by the commentariat):

  1. One of the centerpieces of the expansion of the welfare state was payments to single mothers, often on a piecework basis (the more babies, the more bucks). Lo and behold, an enormous increase in single motherhood ensued.

  2. Wisconsin recently adopted a new health insurance scheme for the uninsured working poor. As a result, many employers have dropped their insurance benefits, reasoning that their employees can get coverage from the state, so why should they pay for it? Effectively, the new scheme removes the competitive disadvantage of employers who did not offer insurance, thus rewarding such employers and increasing their number.

Yet proponents of these social welfare schemes never cease to be amazed that their schemes do not seem to be alleviating the “problem” they are supposed to address, and indeed the problem often grows worse! Leading to a demand for more of the subsidies that feed the problem, of course.

On the flip side, I recently saw how the punishment meted out by the regulatory state gives predictable results. The regulatory state, of course, punishes economic activity by adding to its cost and by adding the risk of enforcement action.

The repair and service department at the Subaru dealership in downtown Madison is incredibly decrepit and run down, even though Subarus sell like hotcakes in Madison and the place is always busy. I mentioned this to the manager, and he told me that they had not done any work on the place in many years, even though it cost them business and made it hard to keep good workers. Reason was, any renovation would trigger a raft of regulations that would require environmental testing, remediation, handicap access, sound reduction, etc. ad nauseum, which would cost more than the dealership is worth.

Taxation, of course, is another punishment meted out by the state, again with predictable results. It is not unusual to hear young people say that one of the reasons they don’t get married is because, under the US tax code, their tax burden will go up if they do. Examples, I am sure, can be multiplied ad infinitum.

The odd thing is, through the regulatory and welfare states, we seem to be subsidizing the behaviors that we don’t want, and punishing the behaviors we do want. The increase in (subsidized) irresponsibility, and the decrease in (penalized) productivity, may be unintended, but are hardly unforeseeable, and indeed are inevitable.

Samizdata slogan of the day

Over the years it has become apparent to me that to discount the position of others on the basis of their number is democratically sound but morally wrong. It’s this feeling that has brought me, and others like me, to samizdata and to a consideration of libertarianism.
- JohnJo

The enemy of our enemy…

…can also be our enemy too. Just because a person dislikes the regulatory state, that does not mean they see several liberty as first of all virtues.

Here on Samizdata.net, we have written many articles abominating the coercive law enforced process of moral relativism called ‘Political Correctness’. As a result, it is a measure of how bizarre some commenters can become when they starts accusing us of being PC because we do not have a problem with women joining the military, regardless of the fact none of us ever suggested a significant number of women have the physical strength to be front line infantry. It is apparent that the reason we are called ‘PC’ is that we do not think the only reasonable role for a woman in society is that of bearing and raising children.

Now I for one am all in favour of people who wish to have and raise children doing exactly that. Yet when it is suggested that a woman who might like to, say, spend her time flying a combat jet or wandering around lawless Basra as a military policewoman, we start seeing quack-science trotted out about ‘evolutionary biology’ and psychology and words to the effect that ‘real women are just unsuited to such things’ regardless of the mountain of evidence to the contrary… whilst somehow missing the rather obvious fact that actual biological evolution seems to have equipped woman, as well as men, with vastly powerful brains imbued with a capacity for reason and informed choices beyond crude instinctual motivations. Women have absurdly overpowered heads if the totality of their lives is driven by evolved psychological imperatives to immerse themselves in simple tasks such as having sex and keeping the house clean. → Continue reading: The enemy of our enemy…

Even the politicians get it

Another group of members of Congress have had a press conference after their return from Iraq. It seems quite telling how nearly every US politician, Republican or Democrat, find the ‘ground truth’ different from what they are hearing day after day from the Palestine Hotel bar.

If even a politician can see what is going on, what does this say about the intelligence of journalists?

Lie detection software for phone conversations

I did a posting yesterday on Transport Blog about how they’re now using lie detection software to monitor phone conversations from insurance claimants, to flag up potential liars, and then “give them the opportunity to change their story”. The result is a fall in insurance claims, and hence, presumably, potential cheaper car insurance.

I have a the overwhelming feeling that this procedure will bring bad news as well as good, in a White Rose Relevant way, when governments start using stuff like this for instance, as I dare say many have. But what form will this bad news take? I can’t think of any obvious badnesses, but I feel sure there are some. Comments please.

One suggestion. The insurance companies mentioned in this story are all saying at the start of their conversations that “this call is being monitored”, although I don’t believe they say straight out that this means a lie detection machine. Clearly others will not be so scrupulous, and will simply monitor all conversations and flag up what the machines says are lies, all the time. What are the White Rose Relevant implications of that?

On the face of it, I think I have the right to buy a machine that helps me decide whether I trust someone at the far end of a phone line. I could simply say “Is this a junk phone call?” every time I suspect it is, and if they say no but my machine goes “ping”, then down goes the phone. At present the danger is that with our own more fallible bullshit detection software that we all have in our brains, we do this to “real” phone callers who are merely a bit clumsy in identifying themselves, or whom we are a bit clumsy in identifying.

Presumably what makes this so much more usable now is that the kit has got a lot cheaper, and it supplies answers straight away, while the conversation is still going on.

Techo-food for thought here, I think.

My prediction for the week

George Bush, in the upcoming election, will take at least 45 States. To a 70% confidence factor, he will sweep all but his Democratic opponent’s home State. The reasons for this are as one might expect:

  1. Even the liberal media and Democrats in Congress are beginning to admit the war on terror overseas is going well.
  2. All the contenders for the Democratic nomination, with the exception of Joe Lieberman, who’s candidacy looks quite shaky, are turning strongly away from the center.
  3. With no need to spend any money on a primary campaign at all, Bush will go into the general election with an unprecedented war chest, which may exceed $170,000,000.
  4. Bush’s one possible Achilles’ heel, the economy, is showing strong signs of recovery.

Puff

Puff Daddy, or P. Diddy, or whatever, has a clothing line that he was shocked, shocked! to discover was being made in a “sweatshop” in the Honduras. Clearly, this was intolerable, so Puff did the only (politically) correct thing, and said he would terminate the contract if conditions at the factory were substandard.

So lemme get this straight. To show his solidarity with the oppressed Honduran workers making 90 cents an hour, he threatens to fire them all. I understand that this makes Puff feel better, but how is it supposed to help the workers?

To make it worse, Puff’s sweatshop was actually paying well above the Honduran average wage. I’m not quite clear on how moving a relatively high-wage job from a poor country to a more developed country with a higher-wage workforce is supposed to advance social justice, but obviously the Puffster’s grasp of ethical ephemera exceeds my own.

Liberty 2003: LA & LI

The European Conference of the Libertarian Alliance and Libertarian International will be in London from Saturday 22nd to Sunday 23rd November 2003.

The speakers include fellow Samizdatista David Carr and serial Samizdata commenter Paul Coulam.

FCUK

Future Conservative UK? It might stand for something else too and no, I did not have ‘French Connection’ in mind. You choose.

Over on the Adam Smith Institute blog, there is much speculation going on about the shape of the future Tory front bench.

I am only passingly curious as to who will be presiding over the continuing erosion of our civil liberties in the next government, regardless of which statist party wins, but I realise other people live for this stuff, hence the link to the worthy ASI blog… I will be pleasantly surprised if it makes a whole lot of difference. Presumably the tax burden will be (slightly) less under a Tory government.

However if you like what David ‘Big’ Blunkett has done to civil liberties in the UK, might I remind you that all he did was successfully implement most of the measure than Michael Howard was pushing for (largely) unsuccessfully as Home Secretary in the previous Tory government. Now imagine such a man not as Home Secretary but as Prime Minister. Lovely, eh?

And I don’t suppose I need remind anyone here who it was that introduced the complete ban and confiscation of handguns in Britain, except those used by the state of course… any takers on that question? And would anyone like to remind us by how much gun crime has fallen now that they are completely illegal in the UK? Any one?

A Samizdatista blogging on the go…

…from an Internet café in Japan to be exact. Michael Jennings is en route to Australia and stopped off at Narita International Airport long enough to blog about some very odd demands made of him before he was allowed to use the Internet.

Check out the article on White Rose.

French malaise

Sylvain Galineau at Chicago Boyz, who refer to us affectionately(?) as Les Samiz, thus imbuing us with confidence to comment on matters Françaises, has a fast-paced and insightful analysis of a backlash against the French establishment’s intellectual jihad.

The French intellectual spectrum has narrowed considerably in the past twenty years. Fourteen years of socialism, following the emasculation of the Right in 1981 by Mitterand, control of the main media outlets by former 1968 hippies and radicals, and a generalized popular addiction to state handouts have produced an extremely poor, predictable, rarefied environment where political correctness rules and little dissent is effectively accepted or tolerated as such.

Enter a bookshop and books by Chomsky, Krugman, Moore or Clinton are displayed prominently, available in their French edition weeks after they come out in the U.S. Good luck finding Julian Simon or Bjorn Lomborg in French, or anything that seriously and thoroughly challenges the daily Litany.

Combine such intellectually emasculated existence with the political elite of continental proportions and what you get is staid, bland, bitter, hateful and self-aggrandising public discourse. Wait, does not that remind you of someplace?

This generally dull, stultifying, suffocating homogeneity of thought is disturbing more and more people, as they grasp daily with the unintended consequences of social-engineering train wrecks and struggle to keep up with the increasing scale of governmental hypocrisy. One day, Chirac opposes a US intervention in Iraq on “principle”, as being “illegal” and “immoral”. Six months later, the very same government votes a UN resolution making the same intervention legal and legitimate, post-facto. After criticizing the “simplism” and “dangerous folly” or America’s defense strategy, the same French government then updates its nuclear dissuasion policy to include rogue states either equipped with, or seeking WMDs, and a study of pre-emptive strikes using mini-nukes. One day health care is an “obvious and necessary mission of the state”; the next, after a heatwave kills thousands while officials and doctors are tanning their noodle on the beach and already limited nursing staff rests at home courtesy of the 35-hour week, it is the “responsibility of each and everyone of us”.

Read the whole thing including a further comment by Sylvain in the comments section.

Halloween dilemma

I am attending a Halloween bash tomorrow evening, like many folks. Question – should I go as Ozzy Osborne, self-styled Prince of Darkness in the rock world, or probably new leader of the Tory Party and the man who was once dubbed as “having something of the night about him,” Michael Howard MP?

Much hangs on which way I choose to jump. Comments please!