Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, February 26, 2007

What Do I Want

James Bow has a post up where he briefly describes what it is that he wants from government over the next few years.

I was thinking about what I might say as a comment and I realized that what I want from government these days is actually fairly simple (assuming we avoid those devilish details):

1) Government should support those activities which have positive externalities (public research, education, etc.)
2) Government should minimize those activities with negative externalities (foreign invasion, crime, smoking, etc.)
3) Government should manage / regulate those areas where the market fails (health insurance, electricity transmission, firefighting etc.)
4) Government should take reasonable measures to limit human suffering (welfare programs, homeless shelters, universal health care)

What did I miss?


  • "What did I miss?"

    I wouldn't argue with any of the 4 abstractions you've made here. Over the short term we might quibble about the devilish details ( when does a negative externality get on the to do list ) but I don't disagree with the principles.

    Over the longer term, of course, you'd probably want to add something like maximize individual freedoms to keep things balanced.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 1:55 PM  

  • Yes, I figured that maybe respecting human rights might fall under ' Avoiding negative externalities' but maybe respecting individual and collective rights and freedoms deserves it's own, 5th, point.

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:40 PM  

  • Er...
    I think what was suggested was maximize individual freedoms. Phfft. Period.
    Sheesh. You guys always have to add preample and clauses to give you an out when you don't agree with someone's perceived freedoms.
    Again, get yourselves more to the middle Declan or we'll be seeing Stevie Harper and CPC for a long time.
    I've said it to droite voters aren't taking it anymore.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:31 AM  

  • Sorry, what is it that center to droite voters aren't taking anymore?

    By Blogger Declan, at 1:13 PM  

  • Declan
    Well - you didn't miss much since you used a shotgun to hit the target.
    Makes you sound somewhat like Mr. Dion even in your 5th point interpretation of Anon's "maximize individual freedoms".
    To answer your last question I'll use my shotgun to say government has become too intrusive in seeking to provide equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities.
    I think "bugger off" will be one message from center to droite voters.

    I liked this quote
    “…It is no small matter to know whether we are going to live in a society in which personal rights, individual rights, take precedence over collective rights. It is no minor question of secondary importance to know whether we are going to live in a society in which all citizens are equal before the law and before the State itself. And it is no trivial matter to determine if there will be a spirit of brotherhood and of sharing in the society we are going to live in…When collective rights take precedence over individual freedoms – as we see in countries where ideology shapes the collectivity, where race, ethnic origin, language, and religion shape the collectivity – we see what can happen to the people who claim to live freely in such societies. When each citizen is not equal to all other citizens in the state, we are faced with a dictatorship, which arranges citizens in a hierarchy according to their beliefs…” – Pierre Elliot Trudeau
    I think that our changing cultural identity would be more readily developed and made stronger by promoting individual rights over collective rights.

    By Anonymous doug newton, at 7:17 PM  

  • Doug - Anon. commenter seemed to me like the kind of person who votes for Harper because he wants government to have the power to compel testimony from people and lock people up without allowing them a chance to answer the charges so that anon. will be safe from terrorists, and won't vote Liberal or NDP because they support universal health care which is an insupportable imposition on their personal freedom.

    To answer your comment Doug, if government has become too intrusive trying to create equal outcomes they're doing a poor job given that outcomes keep getting more and more unequal. I'd be curious to know in what ways you think government has become more intrusive for the purposes of fighting inequality over the last few decades.

    I might agree that (some) governments have become too intrusive in trying to make people live forever (e.g. bicycle helmet laws and drug laws) but that's a different discussion.

    p.s. I like Dion, so I don't mind being told I sound like him.

    By Blogger Declan, at 7:54 PM  

  • My reference to your similarity with Mr. Dion was a comment on the general nature of your 4 points. I don't think he has the nuts and bolts to his emerging platform figured out yet.
    No we are not very successful in providing equal outcomes because you can't do that without handicapping individual freedoms. Equal opportunity should be the
    goal provided through equal individual rights under the law. No one should be treated differently. That's what I thought liberals believed.
    What now passes for liberal thought has come adrift in my humble opinion in the pursuit of equal outcomes by means of applied inequity. Affirmative action in all its variations tries to effect changes in our culture and society and succeeds in creating division not unity. I thought Mr Trudeau spoke like a liberal in that quote while Mr. Dion has considered affirmative action measures to meet his gender targets. This shows me that he is not what I would consider to be a liberal.
    Some Liberals supported Mr. Harper on the extension so does that make him radical and they merely misguided.
    I think the center to droite voter supports universal health care but thinks it can be done better just based on a hunch about the efficiency of bureaucracies.
    The situation in Caledonia is the most overt example of intrusion I can think of at the moment with bad consequences arising from this confused view of equality and rights.

    By Anonymous doug newton, at 9:24 PM  

  • "we are not very successful in providing equal outcomes because you can't do that without handicapping individual freedoms."

    But I thought your contention was that we *were* handicapping individual freedoms, so shouldn't it at least be working in creating equal outcomes?

    Personally, I question whether equal opportunity can co-exist with highly unequal outcomes. Recent experience in the U.S. (widening inequality accompanied by ever dropping levels of social and economic mobility) suggests otherwise.

    As for treating people equally, I agree that people should have equal rights but clearly that doesn't mean everyone should always get the same treatment. Pensions should generally be awarded to those who have worked many years, maternity leave to those who have children, added support for those who suffer mental or physical illness, etc. etc.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:46 PM  

  • Declan
    I must go to bed. Work tommorow.
    I will think about your response.
    Good night

    By Anonymous doug newton, at 10:08 PM  

  • Sleep well Doug, I should probably go to work tomorrow as well...

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:29 PM  

  • Hi Declan
    Interesting to see my mind going to sleep in my last couple of comments. Not that it is particularly sharp anyway.
    If you would explain what you mean by collective rights and freedoms that might help me to understand why you substituted respect for maximize and added the word collective to your 5th point. This seems to be the only issue.

    By Anonymous doug newton, at 1:27 PM  

  • To be honest, I didn't really make a conscious decision to substitute 'respect' for 'maximize'. I guess if I were to speculate, 'respect' reflects that individual rights and freedoms are something which exists outside of government. 'maximize' seems extreme to me. For example, maximizing individual freedoms would certainly mean shutting down all of our jails and releasing all the prisoners which seems a bit unwise.

    'Collective' was a deliberate inclusion. I think many people fail to grasp how there are many situations where rules increase our freedom. I make the comparison to a sporting match where the presence of rules and a referee to enforce them actually increases the freedom of players to play the game rather than reduces it. It all comes back to prisoner's dilemmas, game theory, collective action problems, tragedies of the commons or however you like to describe it.

    To take a more concrete example, a company may wish to take action to reduce its GHG emissions but can't do so because if it does it will be undercut by its competition. Only fair rules applied to all competitors in the industry will give it the freedom to pursue its desired course of action. This is why you sometimes see industries asking for regulation (see the payday loan industry for an example of this).

    At any rate, I was trying to get at the point that while individual freedoms should be maximized - all else being equal - all else isn't always equal.

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:41 PM  

  • I understand your point about respect rather than maximize.
    If setting universally applied rules for individual players without consideration of their team affiliation represents collective rights and freedoms then I guess I am for it but it does seem an unnecessary add on to individual rights and freedoms.
    "It all comes back to prisoner's dilemmas, game theory, collective action problems, tragedies of the commons or however you like to describe it."
    Time for me to read more about those subjects and come back another day better informed.

    By Anonymous doug newton, at 6:19 PM  

  • Hi Declan

    I have done some reading on the web and found many interesting sites covering the topics in your reply
    “It all comes back to prisoner's dilemmas, game theory, collective action problems, tragedies of the commons or however you like to describe it."

    I understand that reasonably people will recognize the benefits of cooperation over what might otherwise be their rational decision as an individual. These reasonable people may form a civil society in which those holding opinions contrary to the majority on cooperative actions must acquiesce. This seems to me to be the nub of the thing. The contraries now have to make a quantum leap in reasonability to accept their acquiescence. Not only have they abandoned their rational self-interest but also they must find a way to reason from their opposing opinion to a consensus with the majority. To do this the contraire must have some other over riding belief or system of beliefs that makes their continued commitment to cooperation possible.
    One belief that works for me in this regard is that as an individual I will reasonably acquiesce to the majority in exchange for a guaranteed right to life, liberty, health and property under a rule of law that is applicable to all.
    If the majority does not apply the rule of law evenly in pursuing their various cooperative actions then the basis for my acquiescence is jeopardized.
    That others have different beliefs that lend reason to their acquiescence is of course what makes horse racing and politics possible.
    And the question of what to do with those that don’t cooperate but still benefit is as old as the tribe.

    Another thing I found was this snippet by Leon Felkins that expands on your sporting match analogy.

    “In other words we need a pack of referees such as the football players have agreed to. The idea seems to work quite successful for them. The football players hire the referees, pay them, respect their decisions, etc., all because they realize that they could not play the game without them. Why not? Of course, part of the need is for someone to act as a judge on close calls. But a bigger part is to keep down cheating. It is accepted by the football players that, left to their own devices, they will cheat. Hardin and Hobbes are saying that the rest of us also need a referee -- which is commonly called "a government".
    Note that the football players pay the referees and they also control the books. The mistake we have made with government is that we have agreed to pay them but we also stupidly said, "We will let you keep the books". When we did that, we lost control! “

    Best regards Declan I enjoyed the reading.

    By Anonymous doug newton, at 12:51 AM  

  • I also found the Cybernetica Principia to be an interesting site

    By Anonymous doug newton, at 12:57 AM  

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