4 years ago: The workers in the vineyard

Feb. 24, 2009, on this blog: The workers in the vineyard

These are warped, stunted, soulless creatures who lie awake at night worrying that somehow, somewhere, some poor person might be catching a break that they didn’t 100-percent deserve. Some poor family might be getting extra food stamps. Some poor mother might be using WIC to get the good cheese.

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  • Sgaile-Beairt

    …good christian businessman muzzles the oxen that treadeth out his grain at ‘Bread of Life”….


  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Every time I see examples of this kind of crabs in a bucket syndrome I have to wonder how relatively non-poor people can be so spitefully petty about what poor people get.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

     My guess is they think affluence should be directly correlative with income. That is they think no one with less income than them should ever be able to afford better stuff than them. (Not even when it’s a motability car specially adapted and paid for by the UK Gov and which even billionaires can get if they meet the criteria y.y). They’re sulking because they can’t afford thing x so why won’t the government buy it for them as well. People make me facepalm sometimes.

  • arcseconds

     I think the answer is relatively straightforward.

    We’re pack animals, and society is a dominance hierarchy. One of the main ways we have to tell where everyone is in the pack is how much stuff we have.

    Betas instinctively offer appeasement behaviour to the alphas, and dominance behaviour to omegas who challenge the hierarchy.

    Poor people gaining stuff is such a challenge.

    compare also DuBois’s argument about the wages of whiteness — even poor white people could expect deferential behaviour from blacks.  It’s pretty hard to deny the similarity of form and function of deferential behaviour in humans and appeasement behaviour in non-human animals, so there’s an obvious connection there, and the outrage at blacks getting various kinds of treatment previously reserved for whites is not dissimilar (and sometimes identical with) the outrage at poor people getting ‘undeserved’ welfare, so we’ve got a strong connection to the case before us, too.

    of course, there’s a lot more going on with humans (and even with non-human animals, for that matter).  Plenty of people aren’t interested in participating in the dominance hierarchy. 

  • Chuck Finley

    Where did you study evolutionary psychology and who did you study it under?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I’m not too enthused about evo-psych m’self, but anyone who accepts the theory of evolution and accepts that we share common traits with other mammals would be a fool to disregard that there are similar instincts at work in group-social non-human mammals, since we’re also a group-social species, particularly among children.

  • arcseconds

     I don’t understand what you’re getting at with your question?

    For a start, my little sketch would, I think, properly count as comparative psychology, not evolutionary psychology.     You don’t need a theory of evolution to look at similarities between humans and animals — people have been doing that for thousands of years.

    For it to be evolutionary psychology, there would, I think,  have to be an argument as to how this behaviour is adaptive, or stems from pyschological traits that were adaptive, or at least look into the evolutionary history of the traits. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The main problem with evo-psych is people come up with the most amazingly stupid rationales for bad behavior (usually in males, in which case it’s dickbag behavior), by trying to cast a ‘scientific’ veneer of respectability over said actions.

    Just to give you a notion, there are people who use evo-psych to claim that rape is some kind of survival promoting reproductive mechanism

    Uh yeah


  • arcseconds

     I’m not a fan of evolutionary psychology as it’s currently practiced, either (or at least, as it was a decade ago, when I did have some exposure to it.  Maybe they’ve cleaned their act up since then. )

    It seems to be an excercise in armchair reasoning where handwaving plausibility (according to their presumptions, at least) replaces proof, and cultural notions get reified as natural behaviour.   I saw an argument given by a philosopher of science who demolished an evolutionary psychology paper using cladistics once.  You have to be suspicious of a field that pretends to be a specialisation of an existing discipline which doesn’t even bother to use one of the major tools of the discipline.

    (I did rather enjoy Ramachandran’s article  “Why Gentleman Prefer Blondes”, though. )

    However, again, I’m a bit puzzled as to why you are telling me this.  Does it have some relevance to my sketch involving pack behaviour?   As I said I don’t think it’s evolutionary psychology, but even if it was, carping about evolutionary psychology in general is kind of guilt by association.

    If it’s just a general rant about evolutionary psychology, then I totally understand — I’ve indulged in such things myself :-].

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Eh, I just wasn’t sure if you knew the bad rap evo-psych gets which is why Chuck Finley was tweaking you over it.

    You may also notice my defence of comparative patterns of behavior.

  • arcseconds

     Ah, so that’s what he’s doing :]

    Yes, I noticed that (thanks!), which was another reason I was confused. 

    Anyway, I’m glad to hear evolutionary psychology has a dim reputation, even though it has meant I’ve been caught up in some kind of mistaken bad company objection.   I kind of had a vague  impression that lots of people liked it and the criticisms weren’t all that well-known — too many discussions with scienterrific fanboys and seeing those awful ‘did you know’ psychology bits in newspapers, I guess.

  • Lliira

     Maybe they’ve cleaned their act up since then.

    They have gotten worse.

    From claiming that all men are naturally rapists and all women naturally want to be raped, to claiming that lighter skin in women is inherently more beautiful than darker skin, to claiming men naturally want sex with lots of women but women only want sex with one man, to the old standby of black people are stupider-but-better-at-sports than white people. They are willfully ignorant of every form of science, whether “hard” science or social science.

    If you can think of anything anyone has ever said to justify their misogyny, racism, any -ism at all, it’s in evo psych. Because that is what evo psych is for. People who actually want to study human behavior go into real fields like anthropology, biology, and history, not fields that are bullshit designed to tell rich straight able-bodied white cismen they’re allowed to do whatever they like to the rest of us, because it’s what God — oh sorry, I mean nature of course — intended.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I have absolutely no problem with the idea that certain aspects of human thinking have an evolutionary origin. That in and of itself is not a value judgment, and frankly it seems like it would be harder for it to be false than true.

    The issue I have with actual evo-psych is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen an evo-psych article that wasn’t written backwards. Every single one of them was very clearly written like this:

    1. Evolutionary psychologist does some antisocial behavior
    2. Someone calls out the evolutionary psychologist on their antisocial behavior
    3. Evo-Psychologist shouts “Oh yeah! I’ll show you!”
    4. Evo-Psychologist goes cherry-picking nature for something he can massage into being analogous to his bad behavioir
    5. Evo-Psychologist publishes a paper “explaining” how nature encourages, nay commands him to behave in this antisocial way
    6. The Huffington Post health section, being run by faith-healers, runs this as real science because “Why it’s perfectly natural for you to want to bone your girlfriend’s hot sister” is sure to increase their page impressions.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    The other way that evo-psych “works” is not the rationalization of antisocial behavior, but the attempt to force others into a strict (usually, but not always, gender-essentialist) mold.

    For example, there is the ever-popular “girls like pink because as natural gatherers they need to know which fruit is ripe” malarky.

  • arcseconds

     I’ve been told (by a guide at a historic cottage, but I’ve seen other references to it.  Maybe on this very ‘blog!)  that pink was considered masculine back in Victorian times.  Blue was a girl’s colour, because it was quiet and retiring (or somesuch).

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

     Definitely on this very blog.  On a recent link roundup.  Give me a moment and I’ll find it.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

     Yup, on this blog in a link roundup.

    ‘Who seeks kindness over control’ posted on the 13th of this month:

    “Pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy; while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

    The link goes here, which cites it as, “A piece of advice from a 1918 children’s wear trade journal”.

  • arcseconds

     Wow, I’ve really tapped in to an underground reservoir of rage towards evolutionary psychology!

    Maybe Fred needs to bring it up once every 12 months or so — could be cathartic.

  • Trixie_Belden

     I saw an argument given by a philosopher of science who demolished an evolutionary psychology paper using cladistics once.

    That sounds fascinating – was it a paper presented somewhere?  It might be well over my head, but it sounds fascinating.  Please don’t go to any trouble, but if you happen, off the top of your head, to remember any info that might help me track it down I’d be very interested.  

  • arcseconds

     I thought about it a bit more, and while it was a paper about evolutionary psychology, the bit where he used cladistics wasn’t actually evolutionary psychology.

    I’ve forgotten exactly what the evolutionary psychology argument was, but it was the usual kind of fare.   The philosopher, who’s name eludes me for the moment (names can be a struggle for me, but I think I might be able to get this one, he’s reasonably famous in his field…) ,  basically said “that reminds me of another sucky argument making the same kinds of mistakes!”

    He then produced the idea that heavy menses in primates was all about sexual promiscuity.   This seems a plausible argument why? Not because of any strong evidence, so presumably because of sexy-sex and ladyparts.

     It was that idea that he demolished with cladistics.     Basically the cladistics showed that whatever the reason for heavy menses, it has nothing to do with sexual promiscuity but rather being a large, African ape.

    So, you know, good idea to employ some actual scientific techniques from time to time. 

    (so given that it was a different argument, I now think its not too likely he did his own cladistics, but y’know,  his point was a pretty good one.  Anyone seen a evolutionary psychology paper using cladistics or any other evidence-based technique?)

  • Trixie_Belden

    Thanks – even without the name, you may have given me enough so that I can go  hunting, mess around and perhaps track the paper down.

  • arcseconds

     I think it may have been Paul Griffiths, although i’m not entirely sure on this point.  ‘From adaptive heuristic to phylogenetic perspective: some lessons from the evolutionary psychology of emotion’ looks like it could be promising, but paywall.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     It may in fact be true for ducks. What evo-psych people overlook in their analysis, however, is a very subtle fact that they, being evo-psych and not ornithologists miss is: humans aren’t ducks, or indeed anything like ducks.

    I really wish I could find that really fantastic lampooning of evo-psych from a few years back. Unfortunately, the original no longer exists, and neither google cache nor the wayback machine still have it. But to give you an idea, the title was “Dear Jesse: I want to eat my stepchildren. Is this normal?” (My understanding is that it was written in direct response to an article in some otherwise reputable scientific journal that was essentially an evo-psych apologia for hebephilia)

  • Trixie_Belden

    I remember that!  You shared the link with us – it was awesome!  Too bad it’s not still floating around on the Internet somewhere.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The main problem with evo-psych is people come up with the most amazingly stupid rationales for bad behavior (usually in males, in which case it’s dickbag behavior), by trying to cast a ‘scientific’ veneer of respectability over said actions.

    Just to give you a notion, there are people who use evo-psych to claim that rape is some kind of survival promoting reproductive mechanism

    Uh yeah


    I have always been of the school of thought is that biological considerations like that may be used to explain behavior, but they should never be used to excuse behavior.  We are ultimately responsible for our own actions, regardless of what factors may have precipitated them.  
    Besides, trying to use that to justify such actions is a classic “appeal to nature” fallacy.  Nature and evolution are amoral concepts, with no intrinsic ethical value, and a person is a fool to ascribe such characteristics to them.

  • mud man

    Personally, I think the workers who stood around all day at the Home Depot parking lot waiting for something useful to do deserve two denarii, because they were faithful to the end. The ones with a steady job (and probably lunch laid on, or at least good water) should be doubly grateful.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I think that there is a degree of, “If I’d known I could have…”

    For example whenever the topic of credit card debt forgiveness comes up my mother isn’t exactly in favor (nor exactly opposed) but kind of sort of angry/frustrated because she’s made sure to stay out of credit card debt and, assuming credit card debt relief were to come to pass,  our standard of living could have been so much better and our financial situation so much less precarious if she’d instead gotten into credit card debt.

    If the workers who showed up first had known that they could get the same wages showing up later in the day maybe they could have worked another job, or relaxed a bit, or spent some time with their kids, or whatever.  But they didn’t know, and so they spent all day working in the vineyard.

    Also the last being paid first is just kind of weird.  Sorry Jesus, but it is.  Pay the first ones first and then they can go away and be happy at getting what they were promised, the next ones next and they can go away and be happy at getting as much as the first ones, and so on.

    But the point is, if you’re working at the vineyard and you’re not amoung the last to show up, in hindsight it feels like you should have waited.

    Which is not to say that I disagree with helping those who need help.  I’m on foodstamps and am trying to get more aid.  (If I can get my medication and other medical care paid for maybe in the future I can work and pay taxes and all that stuff.)

    Without the foodstamps I would either go hungry or the working members of my family would be financially fucked because it would fall to them to stop me from starving.

    The rich and even non-rich but well off should not envy the poor.  But when the poor envy the poor I understand.

    And I also understand the fear of people gaming the system because I know people who are.  So I know it does happen.  I will not turn them in because I love them and in this case love trumps law.  Love even trumps doing the right thing because the resources they get would be better used on people who did need it.

    (And then I’m left with the question, “Yes they’re gaming the system, but could they survive without doing that?”  The ability to trick the system into giving you aid you don’t really qualify for does not necessarily imply the ability to support yourself.  Because if they couldn’t support themselves then I don’t really care what lies their aid is based on, I want them getting aid.  I’d also like it if one of them would stop being on (illegal non-health-related) drugs and the other would stop being a fundamentalist.  But that’s secondary to their survival.)

    But at the end of the day it comes to this: People need help.  We as a society are morally obligated to help them.  If in that process we also help people who don’t really need the help… so fucking what?  I’d rather have a plethora of people on food stamps in spite of not needing them than one person go hungry because they couldn’t get food stamps and did need them*.

    People envy the free ride others supposedly get.  If they envy the free ride so much why don’t they try it for themselves?  Surely if it’s so fucking easy to get undeserved help and these people are so much better than the people getting the undeserved help, they are themselves capable of getting the undeserved help that’ll stick them on the free ride.  Right?

    So why not go and try it for themselves?

    I get feeling like you’ve lost out on an opportunity when you made sure that you could afford your mortgage and then you hear about mortgage relief for those who didn’t.  But ultimately a lot of people were screwed over and they need help.  Furthermore helping them helps all of us because the real job creators are the consumers.  If consumers don’t consume the jobs dry up.  If consumers can’t consume because they’re worried about losing their home, not having enough money to feed their family, or whatever else, the jobs dry up.

    If we want the economy fixed, which will help all of us, we need to help the actual job creators.  That means the poor and middle class.  Two groups that are getting closer and closer as time goes on.

    My family looks middle class, but if you look at our finances I’m not sure we’re still there.  Surely that’s better than being poor both financially and in terms of living conditions and outward appearance, but it does raise the question of whether either of my parents will ever be able to retire, whether my house will be taken from me, whether my sister will ever be able to have stability, and so forth.

    * One last thing.  I know, giant wall of text, but one last thing.

    Were I setting things up, this is how I would do it.  I’ve never made any secret of how I’d change the tax code, so no need to get into that, but this is what I would do with respect to aid given to people:

    Everyone gets a government allowance.  This much for food, this much for housing, this much for… whatever.  Everyone from the richest to the most poor.  It cuts out the whole envious argument entirely, as well as the “You take away the incentive to work because then they’ll lose the benefits.”

    You still have the benefits no matter how much you make.  Bill Gates gets foodstamps.

    What this does is provide a solid floor.  Everyone can be sure of food, shelter, medical care, education, and so forth.  Even if you never earn a cent you can be sure of getting these things.  But you’ve still got an incentive to work because you probably don’t want to be on the floor.  Maybe you want more/better food than the payment from the government allows you to buy.  Maybe you want more toys.  Maybe you just like money for money’s sake.  Maybe you want satellite TV or whatever.  Or maybe, and this is in fact true of a lot of people, you just want to work for the sake of working.  Because it makes you feel useful.

    But what it does is it takes away at least some reason for the envy (“Why are you envious of X getting Y without working for it?  You get Y without working for it too,”) and it takes away the idea that these are things that only affect the poor.  If you increase foodstamp benefits then everyone gets a bigger check every month.  (Actually it goes onto a card, that looks a fair amount like a credit card.)  If you increase X then you increase it for everyone.

    Now, in some cases, the mortgage crisis as one example but natural disasters apply as well and I’m sure other things do too, across the board aid just makes no sense.  But at least when it comes to the basics (food, shelter, medical care, education) I don’t see why we shouldn’t be giving it to everyone.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I don’t think there actually is an adequate solution as long as you are proceeding from a system built on the underlying assumption that there needs to be a correlation between the amount a person contributes to the growth of the economic system and whether or not society deigns to allow that person to continue having food, shelter, health care and the other stuff necessary to living either (a) as a human being or (b) at all.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave


    I don’t see why we shouldn’t be giving it to everyone.

    I dunno.

    If I have an aid budget that is adequate to provide a “floor” to the poorest 5% of the population, and I instead spend that budget on providing a floor to 100% of the population, it seems the floor has to be quite a bit lower. I’m not crazy about that idea.

    Of course, if I assume I’m not constrained by a budget, that concern doesn’t apply, but I don’t see why I ought to assume that.

  • EllieMurasaki

    What do you mean when you say ‘floor’?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     I mean to refer to whatever it is Chris was referring to when they talked about providing a floor. Admittedly, I’m not exactly clear on what that is, but it seems to include “food, shelter, medical care, education, and so forth.”

    Why do you ask?

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t know that I can words it, but there isn’t any ‘only for the poorest five percent’ when talking about providing basic necessities. There’s people who have enough and people who don’t, and definition of ‘basic necessities’ may vary (or may have to vary depending on available resources’, but the government is obligated to make sure everyone has access to those resources. Somehow. That might be ensuring everyone has a living-wage job, or properly funding food stamps and cash aid, or a guaranteed minimum income, or whatever, but once it’s established that the government has that obligation, the government has that obligation. To ALL the people who live under its protection.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    What I’m saying is that, for example, I would much rather the government take the money that it could spend paying for food for me, since I can afford to buy my own food without much difficulty, and instead spend it on paying for food for someone who can’t actually afford food.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If you can afford your own food, then clearly the governmental obligation that you be fed is being fulfilled. What’s the problem?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    If I am not receiving food because I can afford my own food, no problem.

    Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    It isn’t clear to me that what you’re saying is the same as what Chris was saying, to which I was responding, but perhaps I misunderstood Chris.

  • smrnda

     On food though, given that the US government subsidizes agriculture to a great degree, it’s probably unlikely that very many people don’t end up, in some sense, with some part of their food costs being subsidized by the government.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino
  • EllieMurasaki

    That is truly distressing.

  • Lori


    If you can afford your own food, then clearly the governmental
    obligation that you be fed is being fulfilled. What’s the problem?   

    Chris’ suggestion involved the government making payments in some form to everyone, regardless of actual need. Dave pointed out that if you’re making payments to everyone the payments will, of necessity, be smaller than if you are  only making payments to the subset of the population who actually needs them. Dave would rather that larger payments go to the truly needy, than smaller payments go to everyone. He would specifically rather than his share go to people who are actually in need, instead of to him because he can afford to buy food without the payments.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Okay, all is clear now–though I see no reason why Dave could not accept the payment and then turn around and hand it to someone in greater need or to a private charitable organization.

  • Lori

    I suppose it would depend in part on how the payments were given out. There’s also the issue of Dave possibly not knowing & not wanting to have to know exactly who needs the money the most. If the government is looking at that and dealing with it then Dave doesn’t have to. He can give his charitable donations to causes that he may know more about.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     (nods) There’s no reason I couldn’t do that in that situation, agreed, and it would be a fine thing for me to do. As long as they get what they need without having to depend on my charity, it’s all good.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Okay, all is clear now–though I see no reason why Dave could not accept the payment and then turn around and hand it to someone in greater need or to a private charitable organization

    Dave could. Equally, Dave could. But in reality the large majority of people won’t. So you’ve got yourself an extremely inefficient way of getting resources to where they are most needed.

  • Gotchaye

     At the same time, if you want substantially more government spending for poor people, then it’s probably going to be extremely inefficient not to also spend a lot more on lots of people doing better.

    I’m not sympathetic to people crying over the difference between a 35% and 40% marginal tax rate on $400k+, but marginal tax rates do matter.  If you want a guaranteed minimum income of $15k, then at the very least you have to be giving /something/ to people making $14k, or else no one would have any reason to work any full-time job paying less than $9/hr.  No one would have any reason to work part-time for $18/hr.  And remember that part of the point of a guaranteed income is that you make it possible for people to accept certain sorts of low-wage jobs without being coerced, or to allow people who only want to work part-time to only work part-time.

    The more generous the benefit, the more people you have to pay at least a little bit to in order to guarantee a certain standard at a lower level of income without destroying all reason to work for a large range of potential incomes.  For the $15k minimum income, unless you’re paying something to people making up to $30k, everyone making less than $30k is facing an average effective tax rate of at least 50%.  And that’s a result only of the decrease in benefits with income; if there are other benefits that are also means-tested, or if there are real taxes people are paying, that would be even higher.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    All of which is fine with me; we have a low-income tax offset and have recently dramatically raised the tax-free threshold. Where I live $30k is still low income, so I’m completely fine with people earning $30k getting partial subsidy as a side-effect of getting greater subsidies to people on $15k. People on $75k, however, no.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I’d go with “Every single person gets a subsidy enough to live decently on, and the tax structure is such that we’re all working for ‘pin money'”

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’d go with “Every single person gets a subsidy enough to live decently on, and the tax structure is such that we’re all working for ‘pin money'”

    OK, well, Australia has 23 million people and a GDP of 1.5 trillion dollars. Estimates of “enough to live decently on” I’ve seen hover around $50,000 per person. So you’re looking at subsidising cost of living to the tune of $1.15 trillion, or more than 3/4 of GDP.

    Really? That’s really the best idea?

    (Australian dollars and purchasing power in these equations)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I’m not sure what’s wrong with it as an idea. It costs 3/4 of your GDP to give everyone a decent standard of living whether it’s the government doing it or not, and I think that it’s pretty well established by now that if you let the free market try to do it, you end up with 3% of the people having a fantastic standard of living and half the people starving.

    I mean, if everyone’s gonna live decently, it costs what it costs. So the government takes 3/4 of the GDP and makes sure it gets used to get everyone living decently, and the free market can have the remainder for its invisible hand to spread around how it likes.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Isn’t the Australian minimum wage around 15$ an hour?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    $15.96 per hour for an adult with annual and sick leave entitlements.

  • AnonymousSam

    Not bad considering the AUD is only ≈two cents less than the USD. $15.96 AUD would be $16.31 USD, or about 225% the US minimum wage.

    Clearly business must suck in your country, what with all the greedy workers and their thieving unions. It’s a wonder you pay for that national health care! :p

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I believe once you take purchasing power into account it works out as something like $US14.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which is still better pay than me.

  • AnonymousSam

    ^ What Ellie said. This is the country which tolerates a “job creator” who was paying me the equivalent of about $2.08 an hour for a job that was anything but trivial — and they were hot and eager to take that job away from anyone who didn’t like the terms of working there (12 hour days, no benefits, no accomodations), as they proved by firing my manager when his health went into the toilet and he asked for the network access to perform his duties from home.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Point of clarity: I make 180% of minimum wage. And I have benefits, which a lot of people at my pay rate in the private sector don’t.

  • AnonymousSam

    Yeah, it’s sad when people can be making well above minimum wage and be struggling… and then corporations are more than happy to hand people significantly less than minimum wage.

    (Icing on the cake? Shortly before he was fired, my manager told me that the company wanted to try an experiment where they would create a new pay grade for people who were particularly productive. I don’t know if they ever actually did, but apparently it would have made as much as twice the normal pay. I do know that apparently they were planning to accomplish this by firing employees and having those who entered the pay grade do the job of two people.)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Why not? In theory, GDP per capita means distributing the dollar value of the final output of all a nation’s production into the hands of everyone who lives within it.

  • Gotchaye

     There’s got to be at least some danger of that causing a big reduction in real GDP, though.  The long-term effects are uncertain, but in the first year after implementation productivity isn’t going to skyrocket and lots of people are going to do much less work.  $50k Australian is 75% of the median household income, and the average household has more than 1 person in it.  That kind of guaranteed income seems likely to me to cause a big drop in real GDP initially and substantial inflation later as prices and wages adjust.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Most Guaranteed Annual Income proposals usually propose a smaller income, like around $20k a year as the base, which isn’t as bad and can be clawed back in taxes from anyone who’s quite wealthy.

  • EllieMurasaki

    $20K sounds like an appropriate number for a US-centric proposal. Not enough to be a living wage, only works out to ten dollars an hour at fifty forty-hour weeks, but most of one.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which will affect these people how?

    What about if the guaranteed income is pinned to the local consumer price index such that it’s not possible for the guaranteed income to drop much below a living wage or stay below it for more than a few months?

  • Gotchaye

    The worry then would be a wage price spiral.

    The big issue is that, until robots, we need a certain number of people doing things like teaching and policing and driving buses and stocking grocery shelves and all that.  Ultimately that’s the real stuff that we want to pay for.  The ability for everyone to “live decently”  requires some minimum amount of stuff that can be distributed to everyone.  But lots of people would walk off the job tomorrow if they were promised a check for 75% of median household income every year in perpetuity.  Working 40 hours a week for an extra $40k each year really just isn’t going to be worth it, and most people make less than that.

    If the policy impacts the income demands of very large numbers of people – and at this level it almost certainly would significantly impact the income demanded by the median earner – then in the short term a lot less stuff gets done.  This drives prices up.  Employers raise wages, which they can easily afford because prices have gone up, in order to attract people who now have much more appealing options other than work.  If after all this you ratchet up the nominal value of the minimum income again, it’s going to repeat.

    For the record, I’d really like to try a $20k minimum income in the US.  $40k is starting to get pretty scary, and at the very least I’d like to ease up to that.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So what’s your proposal for ensuring that everyone has enough to live on?

  • Gotchaye

    To make sure we’re clear, I’m talking about giving $20k to everyone no strings attached, not saying that every job has to pay at least $20k.  So this is all in addition to whatever else.

    People with special needs should get more, and that’s a good reason to have programs other than a guaranteed income, such as some provision for universal health care, and something has to be done about the cost of education, but $20k per person /is/ enough to live on, if not very comfortably, for people who don’t have some unusual sort of expense (which is hopefully addressed by universal health care).  I do think that the guardians of minors should get guaranteed income on their behalf, and perhaps people should be able to get something like a special $10k allowance if they have particular disabilities or medical conditions that make working harder.  But I’m hopeful that in general this would take pressure off of people currently working 50+ hours a week for relatively low wages and create more demand for part-time positions while also allowing many people to really choose to work part-time, lowering unemployment as well as median hours worked.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Why not?

    I earn $127,000. You guys are suggesting that the government gives me $50,000 as a cash handout then dramatically increases taxes to get back that plus more to distribute to other people. That’s ridiculously inefficient! How about the government gives me no money as a cash handout and the efficiency that results from not hading out then taking back gigantic sums of money to rich people like me can instead me spent directly on people who actually need it.

    I think you guys probably don’t understand the fiscal environment that my country is in, which informs my opinion on these matters. I’m not talking about funding for things like education, healthcare and infrastructure. I support public funding of high quality, universally available healthcare and education. What I don’t support is the public purse giving cash for “general cost of living” to people who don’t really need it, because there are much better ways to spend it than on middle class people with a lack of perspective. The Australian middle class is doing very well but we’ve conned ourselves into beliving that we struggle to make ends meet, and politicians of all stripes pander to this misbelief. The end result is that the financial concerns of the largest and most politically powerful group are met at the expense of the greater needs of people living in actual poverty.

    For example, in Australia we have one of the most generous family payment systems in the world. No-strings-attached cash is given to people with children–not just poor and working class, but middle class and, until recently, very wealthy people. We also have very large subsidies for child rearing-related expenses that are either not means tested at all, or have a very generous income cap (e.g. $150,000 p.a.) Similarly, we have some quite generous payments and subsidies to people aged over 65–not just the poor or nearly-poor, but people who are quite comfortable thanks very much. These commitments combined with our demographic trajectory have created a structural budget deficit that means expenditure on people who really badly need it but aren’t politically appealing (like, say, poor people under 65 without children who really do struggle with the basic cost of living). It’s inefficient, ineffective and unjust.

    Short version: I earn plenty of money and should not be receiving government subsidies to my cost of living beyond universal access to healthcare, education, public transport etc. Giving me money then taking it back is hugely inefficient and unnecessary, when the option exists of just not giving me money in the first place.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino


  • Gotchaye

    But postage just doesn’t cost that much.  What’s so inefficient about taxing you $100k and mailing you a check for $50k instead of taxing you $50k?  And it actually does save on the administrative burden; there /has/ to be a system for determining and auditing a variable tax regardless, so why complicate things by requiring the determination of a variable benefit instead of just rolling something else into the determination of the tax?

    I’d still appreciate your thoughts on my post a ways back about marginal tax rates.  Again, that’s what matters here – we care much more about the function that maps income before taxes and benefits to income after taxes and benefits than we do about whether or not some benefits are cancelled out by taxes.  It’s these effective marginal rates that matter for incentives and all of that stuff that economists go on about.  The total tax burden is irrelevant as long as benefits and taxes are cancelling out rather than being redistributed.

    The “advantage” of means-tested vs universal benefits is simply that phasing them out by some finite income puts higher marginal taxes on the middle and upper middle class and lower marginal taxes on the rich.  I don’t have an in-principle objection to providing some benefit via a refundable tax credit such that you only actually receive cash if you’re paying less than the benefit in tax, while if you’re paying lots of tax you merely subtract some amount from what you owe.  The problem is when you phase out that tax credit by a finite income.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Mail me a cheque? When did it become 1985?

  • Gotchaye

    Right.  Having an automated system send your bank some electrons is even cheaper.

  • Launcifer

    About the time the Delorean hit eighty-eight miles per hour?

    In all seriousness – and this is a general question aimed at everyone – how would other areas of public spending be affected by such a scheme as people are theorising here? I’ve been following this all day with some interest (although most of it’s kind of going over my head, if I’m honest), but that one’s still kind of bugging me. Would things get ring-fenced or would tax rates vary depending upon projected spending on things like the transport system and whatnot?

    ‘Course, if this is something that’s been mentioned already and it really did sail right past my ear, then please let me know ;).

  • Gotchaye

    As long as we’re supposing the sort of political environment where a guaranteed income at a significant fraction of the median wage income is possible, there aren’t any tradeoffs of that sort you seem to be talking about – governments don’t require taxes in order to spend.  They should spend on things they want more of or which have expected returns greater than expected inflation, and they should tax things they want less of, plus they should levy the least harmful set of taxes consistent with controlling inflation and debt and whatnot.  But the debt constraint is pretty loose as long as significant economic growth over long periods of time is reasonably certain.

    Government spending can instead be financed by borrowing, and there’s surprisingly little evidence that borrowing lots and lots of money in a country’s own currency is a real problem.  Governments with their own currency also have the option of printing, although this is generally thought to be more inflationary than borrowing except perhaps in situations like the one the US is in now.  Countries without their own currency, like EU members, have more to worry about, but only to the extent that there’s a fear that the ECB and other members would allow them to default (so Germany and France are pretty safe).

    There would be tradeoffs between a guaranteed income and certain other government spending, but only because the goal of a guaranteed income is very similar to the goal of lots of other programs.  If it is not possible for someone to make less than some income, spending meant to help people making less than that income is obsolete.

  • Gotchaye

    So then the question is – why do you favor higher marginal tax rates on people making $30k than on people making $75k?

    Right?  Ignoring for now efficiencies gained by having the government spend on things directly instead of handing people cash, any tax-and-transfer system based solely on income is equivalent to a lump sum handout plus a set of marginal tax rates.  Giving some benefit to low earners but not to high earners is effectively a higher marginal tax rate in the region over which the benefit is phased out.  This effect vanishes after the benefit is phased out.  If you phase out a $15k benefit linearly between $0k and $45k, there’s an extra disincentive to work in that range.  But after $45k, you keep all of your marginal dollars (due to this; obviously if there’s an income tax that’ll still hit you).

    Using my example, there’s an additional 33% marginal tax rate on all income up to $45k.  On every additional dollar you earn, you lose 33 cents in benefits.  If US federal income tax is the only other thing going on, then people making $30k see an effective marginal tax rate of 48% compared to people making $75k see an effective marginal tax rate of 25%.

    I don’t know whether or not there are supposed to be efficiency gains from the poor facing much higher marginal tax rates than the rich – maybe the poor are more likely to work anyway because they need the money more –  but on face it looks weird to me.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    There aren’t IMV.

    And for all the right-wing bloviating about high marginal tax rates killing the incentive to work – they sure as hell don’t bother trying to find their ass with their hands in their back pockets and a map ’cause if they did and could, they’d know that at times people on social assistance face ~70-100% equivalent marginal tax rates on their incomes as they transition to income levels above assistance limits.

    Talk about killing incentives to work! It isn’t being killed for the rich that’s for sure, even in the 1950s and 1960s – it’s being killed for the poor.

  • Turcano

    On a much smaller scale, we already do this; it’s called the Earned Income Tax Credit.

  • Gotchaye

     We do, and the effective marginal tax rates it produces are quite significant.  It’s an extra 21% on top of whatever other marginal tax rate you’re paying between $16k and $40k, if you have 2 kids.

    Like I said, I’m open to an argument that there are good reasons to keep marginal tax rates lower at higher incomes, but if one’s goal is to make it /more/ possible for people to work part-time or for one partner in a couple to stay home, it strikes me as bizarre to make it so that two partners working 40 hours each make more than twice as much as one partner working 40 hours or both partners working 20 hours.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Honestly I don’t even understand why this conversation is still going, it’s pretty well established that Dave and I were operating on different sets of assumptions.

    If one assumes, as Dave was, that there is X amount of money that will make it into the hands of the people getting aid and that is sufficient to raise the lowest five percent to the same level as the next % above them or near enough to take them out of desperate need, then it is undeniably true that dividing that X amount of money amoung 100% of the population will leave the lowest five percent worse off than just giving it to the lowest 5%.  Twenty times worse off, if we want to be specific.

    If one assumes that the amount of money available for aid is not fixed, if one considers un/undertapped sources of revenue and takes into account the cost savings that come with universal systems (for a single example, you can cut out almost all of the bureaucracy that comes with having to determine who is approved and who is denied because everyone is approved by default) then things are different.

    I assume that the amount of money available for aid is not fixed, I think that with changes in how revenue is collected, as well as various changes that come with making things universal instead of for a certain few that have to be sorted through layers of bureaucracy before they’re even told, “Yes, you qualify,” or, “No you don’t,” that it’s possible to get resources where they’re needed by giving the needed resources (in equal quantity) to everyone, whether they need it or not.

    I further think that this has side benefits.  For example there are certain perverse situations now where people discover if they’d earned two dollars less they’d be much much better off but instead they’re no longer poor enough to get help with respect to this or that and so in the long run they end up poorer than they would have if they’d made a bit less this year (but they’re poorer too late to qualify for help with whatever the problem was, which by then has (hopefully) passed.)  If the benefits never go away then you never have the perverse situation where earning more makes you financially fucked.  (In spite of what some would have you believe, in the USA this is currently a problem for the poor and lower middle class, not the rich.)

    For another example it takes away the (admittedly stupid) argument, “Hey, how come they get nice things?  I make more than them and I didn’t get any nice things from the government,” because everyone does get the same nice things.

    And so on.

    But all of this rests on the assumption that we can provide things like universal healthcare, a universal supplement to people’s food budget, a universal supplement to people’s housing and utilities budgets, and so on without reducing the payments we’re currently giving to people (which partially comes from the assumed savings made by not needing to work out who “deserves” help, but mostly comes from assuming that new revenue can be raised by fixing the tax code) if you take away that assumption then Dave is right, assistance should go to those who need it most.

    If there isn’t enough for an equal division of aid to leave everyone with with the necessities then the division needs to be unequal so that those who would lack the necessities without help will still get them.

    And thus different assumptions lead to different conclusions.  As naturally they would.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I thought it quite self-explanatory. Look up the concept of the Guaranteed Annual Income.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

     Of course, if I assume I’m not constrained by a budget, that concern doesn’t apply, but I don’t see why I ought to assume that.

    One will always be constrained by a budget, but it doesn’t have to be the budget we have now.  The tax code is seriously fucked up, and reforms in that area can do a lot to expand the available budget*.  There’s also the issues of how scale can effect negotiating power.  If you’re providing healthcare to everyone then you’ve switched to single payer which is one of the best ways to keep healthcare costs down.

    (It also makes it in the government’s best interest to have medicines be developed by universities and such who will give them to manufacturers for free which basically amounts to instant generics, so investment in that area -grants to universities- can get costs down.)

    If I were able to make massive reforms to the way we do things (which would be necessary for what I’ve described), the tax code would be part of it (also looking at where the cost overruns are and what can be done to stop them.)

    *Also, the IRS is underfunded.  This is seriously absurd.  At the moment it is so underfunded that every 1 dollar we put into it we get ten dollars back.  Obviously that return would diminish as the IRS got closer to being properly funded, but right now it’s basically free money waiting to be had.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     (nods) Sure, if the budget is sufficiently unconstrained that expanding the community we’re providing that “floor” to to include, say, people like me doesn’t take anything of value away to people who actually need it, then my concern doesn’t apply.

  • David Starner

     At the same time, you’re cutting out a lot of bureaucracy, and in the process providing a lot better service to those 5%, by not forcing them to keep up with the bureaucracy and making it a lot harder to harass them about what they do with their food money.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     People envy the free ride others supposedly get.  If they envy the free
    ride so much why don’t they try it for themselves?  Surely if it’s so
    fucking easy to get undeserved help and these people are so much better
    than the people getting the undeserved help, they are themselves capable
    of getting the undeserved help that’ll stick them on the free ride.

    Conservatives do and think a lot of silly things, but I’ve always found Poor-Envy to be one of the most laughable.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Conservatives do and think a lot of silly things, but I’ve always found Poor-Envy to be one of the most laughable.

    This makes me think of a line from Soon (which is on my brain today since someone mentioned it yesterday):

    In Atheistopia (our term for the atheist-run world Jerry Jenkins created, which he seems to think is quite horrible but actually sounds awesome in many ways)…

    It had been years since [Paul, the “hero”] had encountered [a homeless person], what with modern anti-delusional medications, strict no-loitering laws, and aid programs more profitable than panhandling.

    It’s that last bit, “more profitable than panhandling,” that always gets me.  Because that’s why people panhandle, right?  For profit.  Because it’s a “free ride.”  Because it’s so much more fun to sit on a dirty street in the cold and wind and hold out your hand than it is to Get a Job, You Lazy Bum.  That is seriously the way some people think.

  • AnonymousSam

    Then again, as you pointed out repeatedly, Atheistopia really is a bloody awesome place — and Jenkins seems to continually imply just how horrifying it is that they’ve done things like cure cancer and make cars that travel at over 100 miles an hour safely and without a drop of gasoline. Those monsters!

  • http://www.facebook.com/WingedWyrm Charles Scott

    A normal rule of destopian societies, at least these days, is to couch them in terms that would make them all tempting.  Then, reveal that the core is something so horrible as to make it all meaningless or turn all the good things into bad things.

    In Brave New World, there is peace, the people are all well fed, through medication nobody grows old (but they are still mortal and do reach an end of their lives, but they don’t get wrinkles or suffer the normal ailments), the economy works and nobody truly suffers.

    On the other hand, nobody is allowed any depth of intellectual or emotional life.  Everybody belongs to everybody else, so one has an obligation to spread one’s sexuality around.  Nobody is allowed the quiet, alone moments to think, contemplate, or even something so simple as be content in life.

    So, I can see how Atheistopia would be awful despite the lack of poverty, cancer cures, and 100 MPH safe ecofriendly cars.  But, what is the core that Jenkins expects us to hate?

  • AnonymousSam

    Yeah, I was thinking of the Coldfire Trilogy’s version of the utopian society. It seems like the pinnacle of humanity until it’s revealed that part of the cost of its upkeep entails sacrificing certain children, and that that the faith instilled in the populace is actually the harbinger of a gigantic massacre waiting to happen. That’s how Soon winds up, having atheists hunting down and killing Christians because… y’know… Christians are evil.

    Of course, the biggest issue is the author, Jenkins, and his complete and utter lack of how atheists and religions really work. If a world came to the point that the setting of Soon has accomplished, it’s hard to say what it would be like, but “I sure hope I get to kill me some Christians, har har har!” would probably be uttered by no one, ever.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Plus, in the world of Soon, religion has been outlawed for thirty years.  Meaning that no one has had the chance to learn about Jesus–it literally is the “Jesus?  Who’s that?” world that RTCs think exists today.

    Yet, the moment our “hero,” Paul, starts praying to God to kill people, God goes right ahead and does it.  To the tune of thousands…then millions.  All of whom are condemned to hell for not believing, even though they lived in a world where it was almost impossible to believe.

    FWIW, I don’t think religion should be outlawed (I know, shocking), but Jenkins never does get around to explaining how the advances of this brave new world are in fact masking the horror.  And Jenkins does himself no favors by only showing secret, underground RTC cells, and no secret underground cells of Jews or Wiccans or Hindus or Muslims.

    Because RTC-ianity isn’t a religion, don’tcha know–it’s the truth

  • http://www.facebook.com/WingedWyrm Charles Scott

    So, the atheists would hunt down and kill Christians because…?  Is that, in some way, necessary for the utopic aspects to happen?

  • arcseconds

     A universal living wage is actually a reasonably popular suggestion in some circles.

    You can see there that it’s been argued that this would actually have a less overall cost than current means-tested benefits.  It’s certainly a very simple rule to apply, which means very low overheads, and for people who already pay more tax than they’d receive  it basically works out as a tax credit — in those cases it’s a not terribly radical reform to the tax system.

    One of the things that I like about it is that it removes the perverse incentives that exist around the margins of traditional unemployment benefits.  Getting a part-time minimum wage job on top of an unemployment benefit often means that you effectively get paid $2/hr or less once you’ve had your benefit reduced.  Sometimes it actually costs you!

    I think I could even be convinced that with such a wage in place that there’s no need for the minimum wage.  If you’re continued survival in a modest state is guaranteed, you don’t have a starvation gun pointed at your head, so whether or not it’s worth it to you to work for $2/hr turns into more like something I could accept as a rational economic decision and a fair basis for negotiation.

    (Immigrant workers probably do rather put paid to that notion, though)

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    But you’ve still got an incentive to work because you probably don’t want to be on the floor.  Maybe you want more/better food than the payment from the government allows you to buy.  Maybe you want more toys.  Maybe you just like money for money’s sake.  Maybe you want satellite TV or whatever.  Or maybe, and this is in fact true of a lot of people, you just want to work for the sake of working.  Because it makes you feel useful.

    Unfortunately, I have known more than one person who either previously did or currently does get living assistance from the government, whilst also espousing the position that the government should not be in the nanny-state business of telling people what to do.  They seem to fail to understand that government benefits are optional things a person can fall back on which, yes, come with a few strings attached (you must look for work or you can only spend this dole on particular essentials, etc.)  My attempts to explain that this is part of a deal they agree to when they go on the benefits and that if they did not like the deal they should not have accepted the benefits tends to be rebuked by the argument “I have kids, it’s not like I had a choice!”  

    Also, several of them are Ron Paul cheerleaders, for some reason.  :

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    My attempts to explain that this is part of a deal they agree to when
    they go on the benefits and that if they did not like the deal they
    should not have accepted the benefits tends to be rebuked by the
    argument “I have kids, it’s not like I had a choice!”

    Try using that one on Ron, or worse, Rand Paul.  They’d be screwed over so fast.

    Plus the obvious response is, “Of course you had a choice.  Take the benefits or watch your kids probably (but not definitely) die at the hands of the free market.  Same choice everyone gets.  If you don’t want the market to correct your kids by getting rid of your kids, don’t vote for the person promising their death.  Your choice was the same as the choice of anyone else who ever took government assistance.  And your disrespect for contract law means that no actual libertarian will ever respect you in the least.”

    Or something like that.

  • veejayem

    A lot of text maybe, but some good points.

  • smrnda

    A lot of people getting government aid work. Low wage workers, who have to bust their assess to please middle and upper middle class and upper class customers and who get paid low wages for it, then require government aid to be able to survive. The very people who rely on their labor resent the idea that their tax money is going to keep the workers who are exploited in their interest alive. 

  • Kevin Alexander

    I want to replace capitalism with mannaism. In a mannaist economy the federal bank would issue every citizen a bank card and deposit x dollars each week into their account. Then entrepreneurs would hustle to get the money by providing goods and services. Then the bank would tax the businesses to fund the scheme and the fiscal circuit is complete.
    It’s based on my economic theory that money is blood. If it doesn’t circulate to every cell then the body must die.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Also, a note about universal benefits. Canadian health insurance is popular precisely because it applies to everyone. Sure, the rich folks can go jet off to Jamica or Bermuda and have their private extra-gold instant MRI or whatever, but that’s their $$ to waste. But they still get health insurance cards and they can still see a doctor or go to a hospital like anyone else would.

  • mud man

    Here http://crookedtimber.org/2012/08/05/universal-basic-income-how-much-would-it-cost/ is John Quiggen the economics of a “floor” such as Dave talks about. Lots of useful stuff in comments also. I say again, I think the real point is that people would rather work as long as we can think of our work as useful, which is an area of modern life that needs improvement. Of course one person’s art project is somebody else’s cultural decadence, so we’re back to tolerance again. “See the lilies of the field … “

  • arcseconds

    Even if it is cultural decadence, there’s ever so many much worse things you could be being paid to do.

    We could think of this as paying people off! They get to live lives of idle cultural decadence, and in return they don’t consume much in the way of resources, don’t exploit anyone,  and don’t try to trick the rest of us into buying crap or voting for dubious political causes.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic


    If I’m following you correctly you’re comparing human behavior to, say, how a wolf pack behaves in captivity.  It’s the last two words of the previous sentence that interest me, as possibly indicated by them being italicized.

    Any particular reason for choosing that comparison?

  • arcseconds

    Dominance heirarchies are observed all over the place, not just in wolves, so no, I’m not choosing that particular comparison.

    My understanding is that this kind of analysis also applies to say, baboon phlanges, and alpha male baboons actually undergo physiological changes due to their alphaness.

    I’m far from being an expert in animal psychology, and I’ll admit right now (if it wasn’t already obvious) that this is sheer speculation (uninformed speculation?! on the internet!?!?).   So I’m sure there’s a lot of things wrong with it, but I’m also pretty sure it’s a lot better than other theories on the matter — such as the notion that getting the vapours over an anecdote about a poor person daring to have a modern communication device is actually rational at all.

    However, having said that there are two points I can make with regards to captive wolves.

    Firstly, my understanding is that the criticism of dominance in wolf packs based on captive wolves is not denying that dominance and appeasement behaviour don’t exist in the wild, and it’s not denying that dominance doesn’t have its part to play in wild packs.  It’s more that it’s wrong to assume its the only or even main social dynamic at play, whereas it does seem to become the main form of interaction in captive packs.

    I’m not assuming dominance is the only factor at play in humans.  All I really need for my sketch to work is that human beings are often concerned with hierarchy (surely that’s undeniable) and that some behaviour of humans with respect to hierarchy is comparable to dominance behaviour observed in other social animals (which is more contraversial).

    Secondly, I think captive wolf packs may well be a better analogy for modern human society than wild wolf packs.   My understanding is that the thing about captive packs is not so much that they’re captive, but that the wolves are adults who don’t know one another, who are just thrust into sorting out a pack organisation from scratch.     That seems to me to be more analogous to a large-scale human society than a wild pack where they’ve all known one another since childhood and are generally related to one another.   Especially if we’re talking about attitudes to people unknown to the subject, or groups of people who are in their ‘out group’.

    A wild wolf pack should be more analogous to a small scale society.

    There are some avenues for testing my little theory in there.

  • arcseconds

     that about exhausts my understanding of wolf packs, though, so if you know more, do please fill me in.

    I’ve had this idea in the back of my mind for some time (I’m sure it’s not original with me — seems kind of obvious (not obviously true, but an obvious line of enquiry)).  Even if it’s all rubbish in this particular case, it would be surprising if we couldn’t learn anything at all about human behaviour from the behaviour of other social mammals, so I’ve always been meaning to investigate the matter a little more.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Pretty sure I am not the person here most knowledgeable on wolf packs so I’ll leave it to someone else, someone more knowledgeable, to make any corrections needed.

    Thank you for your elaboration.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw


    If I’m following you correctly you’re comparing human behavior to, say, how a wolf pack behaves in captivity.  It’s the last two words of the previous sentence that interest me, as possibly indicated by them being italicized.

    The “captive wolves used as models for wolf social dynamics” thing causes me no end of irritation. The whole alpha/beta/omega crap was debunked decades ago, but people all over still seem to embrace it.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    The “captive wolves used as models for wolf social dynamics”

    After one too many fantasy novels with werewolf pack dynamics based off the old captive wolf models, I really want someone to write the werewolf novel where the established werewolf packs have sensible dynamics; it’s only the artificially created packs of recently-turned werewolves that act like captive wolves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw


    After one too many fantasy novels with werewolf pack dynamics based off
    the old captive wolf models, I really want someone to write the werewolf
    novel where the established werewolf packs have sensible dynamics; it’s
    only the artificially created packs of recently-turned werewolves that
    act like captive wolves.

    I actually came across an article on “bad urban fantasy writing” that tore into writers for not using the debunked captive wolf models on werewolves. Tagged as “do your research!”

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Well, werewolves don’t have to act like actual wolves whether they’re established or new.  In one story I was writing once upon a time there was an exchange like this:

    [Werewolf says something about howling at the moon.]
    Human: I thought wolves didn’t actually howl at the moon.
    Werewolf: They don’t.
    Human: Then why-
    Werewolf: Only werewolves howl at the moon.  Normal wolves don’t see the point.
    Human: Ok…
    Werewolf: I mean, we’ve tried to explain it to them… but at the end of the day some concepts just don’t cross speices lines well.
    Human: You can talk to wolves?
    Werewolf: For a given value of ‘talk’.  I prefer to describe it as communicate.  Fewer false assumptions that way.  Less baggage.
    [and so on.]

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     “We can talk to wolves, yeah. But they’re still wolves. They mostly just say ‘hey!’ and ‘What’s up with that?’.”

  • AnonymousSam

    I deeply wish we lived in a nation where survival wasn’t dependent on luck and ingenuity and people not being exploitive and tribal. My brain is engineered to write, but I’ve never completed something that seemed worthy of being published (the latest story, I hope, will be an exception — it currently stands at 20K words for those who are following my progress). Although I have a college degree, the only jobs I’ve ever had paid less than minimum wage (a lot less) and further wrecked my health. I’m praying that I can complete this in a reasonable amount of time and that it takes off, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s a pipe dream, but the only one I’ve got.

    It’s sad to think that there are a lot of people who’d see my death as no big thing because I’m clearly just a parasite trying to mooch off the welfare teat (nevermind that I don’t qualify for it). I feel like I’ve given it a real try. I still apply to jobs. Why should my life or death be dependent on whether people feel I deserve a chance, when all I want to do is write something that I hope will inspire others, or at least entertain them?

  • http://www.facebook.com/WingedWyrm Charles Scott

    Okay, here’s a question.

    Let’s get all the essentialist rhetoric out of evolutionary psychology.  Let’s take all the justifications out.  Let’s whittle evo-psych down to only the narrowest, most accurate aspect thereof…  What is the value of evo-psych under those circumstances?

    Is there any indication that evo-psych can be used to make predictions on behavior?

  • arcseconds

    Why would you expect it would? 

    Evolutionary biology doesn’t need to make specific predictions about current human physiology to be useful.   Most of what we know about human physiology wasn’t derived by evolutionary arguments, but by looking at human physiology directly, which seems like a much more efficient route to knowledge about it.  It’s enough for evolutionary biology to explain how it got to be the way it did.

    (that’s not to say it’s useless for making predictions, of course, making successful predictions, or at least deriving in a non ad-hoc manner things we already know,  is what you’d expect of a decent scientific theory.  But evolutionary biology doesn’t stand or fall on being able to make novel predictions that might wind up in medical textbooks.)

    Which is interesting — that analogy suggests that evolutionary psychology as it is today has got the whole thing backwards.   They’re trying to determine what is ‘inherent’ (itself a highly problematic concept… don’t get me started) by working out what must have evolved, but this is determining the (barely) known from the  unknown.     Really you’d expect the direction to be mostly working the other way around: going from known facts about human psychology (preferably things known to be robust in the face of cultural change) to an account of how they came to be like that.

  • AnonaMiss

    My favorite evopsych study was one in which they demonstrated [insert gender-essentialist thing here] by giving a group of ape children (I don’t remember the species – maybe chimpanzee?) human toys, and seeing which ones they played with. They grouped the toys into 3 categories: ‘masculine’ toys, ‘feminine’ toys, and ‘neutral’ toys, and wow! the boys played with the ‘masculine’ toys! the girls played with the ‘feminine’ toys! they played with the ‘gender-neutral’ toys at about the same rates!! Which gives you an idea of how bad their methodology was.

    For once the “study” wasn’t behind a paywall, and when I dug into it, it got better. You see, the pop science/pop psychology article I had originally found didn’t identify what toys were considered masculine or feminine or gender neutral. The “study” did.

    The ‘masculine’ toys were toy trucks, balls, and the like.

    The ‘gender neutral’ toys were dolls & stuffed animals – miniature approximations of the apes themselves.

    The ‘feminine’ toys? Were pots and pans.

    I shit you not, these asswipes were trying to justify their gender essentialism based on young female apes’ enjoyment of pots and pans. Because evolution! Clearly the female of the species is hard-wired, from many ancestor species back, to prefer tools that did not exist yet!

  • http://www.facebook.com/WingedWyrm Charles Scott

    Pots and pans?  Doesn’t pots and pans as feminine rely upon a cultural… at the very least comprehension of cooking?

    Were they approximating cooking or were the pots and pans used, much as I might expect many human girls to use them, as weapons?

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    Most kids, both male and female, that I know use pots and pans as percussion instruments.  Not that I expect an ape to have any more of a concept of a musical instrument than they do of cooking, but I don’t think it would be too hard for anyone inquisitive who has hands to find out that pounding on the bottom of a pan makes an interesting sound.

    Or maybe I just know weird kids.  This is also a possibility.

  • AnonaMiss

     Oh, definitely; you can have a good time playing with just pots and pans.

    They also make OK suits of armor, and seafaring vessels for dinosaurs to cross the Great Kitchen Ocean. (Dramatic confrontation with plesiosaurs, killer whales, or giant squid optional but highly recommended.)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That kind of study makes me wonder:

    1. Were the researchers unnecessarily human-classifying what the apes were doing, given that the apes would have had no prior experience with any of the things they were given?
    2. Was there any kind of unconscious or unstated biasing of the data, e.g. by researchers perhaps not realizing they were rewarding the gender-essentialist constructs they were using by perhaps making sounds of approval or the like?

    Really, sheesh!

    Every time some genius comes up with an “it’s instinctive and hard-wired!” to justify some completely absurd notion of human behavior it’s almost always someone using evo-psych quickie analysis to, as Ross noted, essentially argue from back to front.

    EDIT addendum:

    It’s the sheer fact that evo-psych is such discredited bullshit in the first place that makes me worry that comparative studies of mammals will be de-emphasized or disregarded even though the question of what human behaviors are, in fact, rooted in behaviors that are mirrored in other mammal populations is a valid one to ask.

    For example, the diverse range of sexual behaviors exhibited in some of the primates rather tends to militate against the notion that humans *must* adopt monogamy and only monogamy as the valid relationship-construct around which to, if desired, have children.

  • AnonaMiss

    My personal theory is that they had originally intended the dolls to be the feminine toy, and the pots and pans to be the gender neutral toy; but, when the little boy apes played with the dolls as much as the little girl apes did, they decided that dolls were gender neutral after all.

    This was a long time ago in net-years – somewhere between fall of 2005 and spring of 2007 – so I don’t remember the details, I’m afraid.

  • MaryKaye

    For chimpanzee behavior I’ve found the following two books useful (I keep thinking about writing chimp-based fiction but I chicken out; I really need to spend time observing the animals, and there aren’t any in Seattle).

    de Waal, _Chimpanzee Politics_ (captive chimps)

    Boesch et al., _The Chimpanzees of the Tai Forest_ (wild chimps)

    If one is going to look at a single group of animals for insights into humans, it would really seem best to look at chimps or bonobos:  not baboons, wolves, pigeons or ducks.  We are a lot more like chimps.  One could then look for specific correctives:  we pair-bond more than chimps, what are some other pair-bonding primates?  What is the general behavior of pair-bonding animals?

    My beef with much of the pop-science writing I’ve seen about this is that it does not flow from any detailed knowledge of the animals involved.  Worse, the parts that talk about humans don’t flow from any detailed knowledge of low-tech, small-society human behavior.  You cannot start from Fred Flintstone and expect to find out anything useful about humans.

    (Another fun book in this context:  _Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo_ by Eric Hansen.)

  • AnonymousSam

    Communes, perhaps, where people are encouraged to work together and their efforts channel into a business through which they can make a little extra. Community farms where a certain amount of produce is sold on the market, contracts to have community chefs who are employed by restaurants, etc… that’s all I can think of.

    Getting to a point where I’m in desperate need of something like that myself. My living situation is degenerating quickly. There’s a non-trivial chance that I’ll be homeless before the end of the year. Hard not to want to shake everyone and scream “Try something! Anything!

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Since I was the one who brought this whole thing up I think it would be unfair for me not to explain in greater detail what I was talking about.  I did make a post about it on my blog, but I don’t think that really addresses what people in the thread are interested in.

    I was not talking about just sending people money and counting on them to know what to do with it (Republicans and libertarians, this is the part where you start hating me with a passion.)  I’m on food stamps, it’s a good system.  Here is your food money, even if you’re the most irresponsible person in the world we know that you have food money because this is money that can only be used for food.  What I am talking about involves giving food stamps to everyone.

    There are multiple reasons for this.  One is that the way aid is distributed puts all the onus on the person who is struggling.  To get aid you need to:
    1) Know that there is aid.
    2) Know that you qualify.
    3) Do all the work of applying.
    4) Appeal if the aid people fuck up and deny you aid when you should have gotten it.
    5) So forth.

    Sometimes getting aid works very well.  Sometimes it’s something that you have to fight for.  And what should be immediately obvious from the above is that not everyone who needs aid gets it.

    If you give foodstamps to everyone then you know that everyone who needs foodstamps is getting them, something that is not true now.  You don’t force people who are already struggling to have another stressful job in their life (actually getting the aid), something that is not true now.  You make it so that there is no need for a large bureaucracy devoted to determining who really “deserves” food stamps and who doesn’t. At most you need something to make sure everyone gets a card, everyone gets only one card, and should the card be lost or stolen it gets replaced.  Something much smaller and less costly than what exists now.  Also something much less likely to mistakenly fail to give foodstamps to those who currently qualify.  Are you (in this case) American?  Then you get a card.  Very simple.

    It also eliminates thresholds.  Now I’ve never met anyone who intentionally earned less money in order to qualify for aid.  What I have met is people who worked just a little too much to qualify for aid and thus got completely screwed over.  What I mentioned earlier about someone making two dollars too much to qualify for aid and so ending up much poorer than if he’d earned two dollars less in that pay period is completely true.  Two dollars.  The rich in the US are not punished for working harder, the more they earn the more they take home.  Period.  The poor are punished for working harder because the aid cuts out.  (Though in that case it wasn’t food stamps, but still.)

    It also eliminates the argument from envy, “How come they get shiny thing and I don’t,” because you do get shiny thing.  And you can use the foodstamps to pay for the first part of your food costs and then use your own money to pay the rest.  Or not, if you’ve already got enough to have it covered I don’t really care what you do.  (And I’d probably put some cap on what you can have in your account, for example if you’ve got 6 months worth of food stamp money… what are the odds anyone is going to need six months worth in one month?  So I wouldn’t start refilling the account till it dropped below that.)

    So not money for food for everyone, foodstamps for everyone.  Similarly giving people a lump sum and counting on them to know they should use X amount of it to buy health insurance seems to make a hell of a lot less sense then just providing health insurance to everyone.  (Otherwise known as single payer.)  And if people don’t particularly like that if they have the money they can buy some commercial health insurance with their own money but regardless they get government health insurance as a result of being in the country.

    Similar things with everything.  I don’t want the government paying people some lump sum and saying, “Do with it as you please,” because that doesn’t work.

    Consider fire departments.  We do not collect enough taxes so that everyone can afford to pay a private fire department and then pay everyone that money so they can get the fire department of their choice.  First off, what if they decide to use the money on something else?  Then when their house burns down there will be nobody to put it out and even if the fire doesn’t spread to other buildings a burning building can do serious damage to the buildings around it.  (A building near my home recently burned, the fire department was there to contain the fire*, but they couldn’t contain the heat.  The siding on the buildings on either side of it melted and thus needed to be replaced.)  Second, we’ve tried private fire departments.  They don’t work.  More houses burn down, more fires are allowed to spread from house to house, sometimes they end up getting in each other’s way so the fire department someone paid for can’t actually get to them to save the house.

    Fire departments, being a necessity are something that we (usually) provide to everyone rather than giving each person cash with which to pay for their own fire safety.

    What I propose is to give everyone, regardless of their means, food aid, housing aid, clothing aid, medical insurance, and so forth.  Everyone gets enough aid to live on.

    It makes sure that everyone who needs aid gets it whether they have the spoons to fight for it or not.  (Some of the hoops that I’m being made to jump through seem like telling someone in a wheelchair, “Oh, getting help is easy, you just have to walk up those stairs and ask for it.  No, of course there isn’t an elevator.  Why do you ask?”)  Whether they know the aid exists or not.

    It makes sure that there are no threshold points where working harder screws you over.  It eliminates the principle force behind the constant unending argument from envy, “How come poor people get help?  I work hard and I don’t get help.”

    And for those who don’t need aid it just means that they can use up their aid as the first part of paying for whatever the aid is for.  Yes, they spend more on food than the food aid covers, but they can use up all the foodstamps first before they pay with their own money.

    That’s my proposal, and yes, it would cost a lot of money.  I favor a much more progressive tax code which I believe would do a lot to deal with that.  I favor funding the IRS enough that they can actually hunt down those who are tax cheats no matter how crafty said people may be.**  I favor taxing capital gains at the same damn rate as money actually, you know, earned via work.  (Or, at the higher levels, at a higher rate.  If someone makes 2 billion dollars by actually doing 2 billion dollars worth of work -has that ever happened?- I have no problem with them paying less in taxes than someone who made 2 billion dollars in capital gains.  Which has happened.)

    I note the savings that can be had by no longer having to determine who qualifies for aid.  I note the savings that single payer can bring.  I note that regardless of how much it costs this is a moral issue.  In a country this rich no one should go hungry.  In a country this rich no one should be homeless except by choice (some people do choose to be homeless and I have nothing against them) in a country this rich no one should have to walk through snow in shoes full of holes or be stuck in threadbare clothing because they can’t afford to pay for new clothes.  In a country this rich no one should be without access to medical care.  So on, so forth.

    The only way to make sure that everyone who needs aid gets it is to give it to everyone or turn the government into Big Brother so that they know all of the personal details of all of the citizens that they might give aid to.  That’s also the only way to make sure that there are no thresholds where earning more means keeping less.  That’s also, I believe, the best response to the argument from envy that lasts longer than the one person you happen to be talking to.

    Also, I note, that if done right it would actually eliminate the need for a minimum wage. Businesses would, at least, like that part.  Right now if you’re on minimum wage you probably make well under a dollar an hour after necessities are paid for, if the necessities were taken care of automatically then a dollar an hour would be a step up.  A rather big one in some cases.

    (Though I wouldn’t advocate phasing out the minimum wage until one was damn sure that the aid provided was enough to take care of necessities for everyone.)

    It may be apparent that I’m talking about taxing other people.  I am not a tax payer.  I would like to be a tax payer but I need medical help before I can get a job.  I tried to get medical help through the government but they fucked up (oh, good God did they fuck up) and when the opportunity to appeal their decision came up, even though an appeal probably would have succeeded I didn’t have it in me to go through the motions.  (Short version of what I would have liked to be able to say: Of course you had insufficient information, asshole, you didn’t contact either of the doctors I told you to contact.)

    Right now I’m getting medical help through University (I could have graduated with two majors without getting into any student debt, now I’m getting into student debt just so I can get access to a psychologist and a psychiatrist.  The medication I’m basically getting someone who can’t really afford it and would like to retire to pay for, for which I am very grateful (especially since she took it on herself to do it without me asking her to).)  And hopefully, given time, I’ll be able to work.

    If I had been given medical help through the government a decade ago I’d likely be a taxpayer by now.  Thus making them money rather than costing them money.

    But something else needs to be said.  In the USA, when discussing income tax, after all the loopholes and credits and deductions are stripped away, not to mention tax havens and whatnot, and not talking about capital gains because it’s on a different system, everybody pays the same.

    That’s why the top marginal tax rate is the top marginal tax rate.  The only reason that rich people appear to pay higher rates than the poor and middle class (again, leaving out capital gains, deductions, credits, loopholes, and cheating) is that the tax is by percent.

    This year every single single person (the double “single” is not a mistake) in the USA, from the richest to the poorest, will (before credits and deductions and not counting capital gains and all that stuff I said before) have to pay 39.6% on every dollar they earned over $400,000.  It’s just that for those of us who didn’t earn any money in that range, 39.6% of zero happens to be zero.

    Everybody pays the same is the model we use for income tax.  It’s a model that all sorts of exemptions and exceptions gets thrown on top of, but at its base everybody pays the same.

    The result of this is that (ignoring all that stuff I said to ignore before) it is never the case that making more money leaves you with less money at the end of the day.  That’s how everybody pays the same works.  Same treatment for everyone means no thresholds with perverse incentives.

    * They were also able to put out the fire before the building burned down, but apparently not enough to make it more cost effective to repair the building than to knock it down and build a new one.  Or maybe they did save the building but the owner thought if they had to spend all that money repairing anyway, they might as well start from scratch and get a house more to their liking.  I don’t know; I didn’t ask.  Until the house was knocked down my assumption had been that it was going to be repaired, not replaced.

    **I’m not kidding about the ten to one figure.  Right now the IRS is so underfunded that every extra dollar we give them allows them to give us an extra ten dollars in revenue.  Ideally it should be at a point where more money doesn’t get us any more revenue because they’ve already got enough money to catch all the tax evaders.  In practice people would probably demand that it stop being given additional funding when it was no longer profitable to add additional funding.  When every one dollar spent brings back one dollar there’s no problem because it’s essentially costing nothing to spend that dollar.  When every additional dollar spent brings back only $.99 then one is actually spending money that they won’t get back, and given how hated the IRS is I don’t think people would stand for actually spending money on the IRS.  (Whereas the argument, “We’re not spending money; we’re making money.  Which will cut into the debt and possibly one day lower your taxes,” has some chance of working.  Especially if one points out that we’re making money by catching criminals an bringing them to justice, law and order Republicans and all that.  The politicians may be corrupt, but I’m less convinced about the rank and file.)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    What I propose is to give everyone, regardless of their means, food aid,
    housing aid, clothing aid, medical insurance, and so forth.  Everyone
    gets enough aid to live on.

    You may talk of this and studiously avoid calling it “handing money over to people”, but the fact remains that since this effectively equates to funding peoples’ basic needs, it fits with the theory of fungibility of money.

    The universal basic income is not in fundamentals different from your concept with the exception that instead of receiving cards debitable for food, clothing, etc, people just get a monthly stipend.

    Considering that the average single person on welfare gets around $7,000 a year, with attendant bureaucracy meaning that for BC’s case, ~300,000 recipients get funded through a $5 billion budget, and this equates to the fact that $10,000 per recipient, on average, is wasted in overhead in the welfare system…

    Well, it strongly suggests that were welfare, Unemployment Insurance, and Canada Pension all folded into a basic income scheme run on the federal level, total federal spending nationwide would about double, which is feasible if one recalls that the feature of such a system is to raise tax rates on higher income earners to compensate for the universality of the benefit.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    You may talk of this and studiously avoid calling it “handing money over to people”, but the fact remains that since this effectively equates to funding people’s basic needs, it fits with the theory of fungibility of money.

    The reason that I distinguish it from simply handing money over to people is that handing money over to people doesn’t really work.  Instituting single payer works better than giving everyone funds and expecting them to buy health insurance with it.

    Now under single payer the money that they would otherwise have used to buy health insurance would now be freed up for them to use for whatever (provided that they would have otherwise used that money to buy health insurance) which means that from one way of looking at it’s no different from giving them that much money, but on the other side you have the fact that by instituting single payer you made sure that they got health insurance where by just handing them the money to buy insurance for themselves you didn’t make sure, which means maybe the spend the money on something else and then, when they get sick, they’ve got nothing.

    In Canada you already have single payer so maybe that example doesn’t mean much to you.  But I think what I’m talking about is different than a stipend in that the focus is on making sure that everyone’s basic needs get met rather than making sure everyone has the money to meet those needs if they manage it correctly.

    I don’t think someone’s ability, or lack thereof, to manage money well should determine whether or not they go hungry, for example.  And while someone managing money badly on food stamps might leave them going hungry to some degree (maybe they blow it all on cookies*), it’s simply not possible for it to leave them as hungry as they could be if that money hadn’t been set aside for food and only food.

    For those who would use the money well, yes, it’s indistinguishable from a stipend.  But for someone who would spend too large of a portion on getting really nice housing and not have enough left for their food and medical expenses then I think there’s a big difference there.

    And that’s the idea behind having different categories of aid.  Everyone needs food so there is food aid, everyone (or thereabouts) needs shelter so there’s housing aid, everyone needs medical insurance so there’s singe payer, everyone needs education so there’s a public education system, everyone needs fires put out so there’s a fire department, everyone needs protection from those who would break the law so there’s a police department, everyone (again, or thereabouts; in my climate: everyone) needs clothes so there’s clothing aid, and so forth.

    And I think that that compartmentalizing is better than giving people a stipend and saying, “We’ve worked out that this amount of money should be enough for you to buy food, rent/lease/buy shelter, buy medical insurance, pay for your children’s education, hire someone to put out your house should it be lit on fire, pay for someone to protect you from any criminal elements, buy clothes, and so forth.  Spend it wisely.”

    *Though that would probably get them sufficient calories so bad example.

  • Gotchaye

     I can agree that there are lots of things that it makes sense to have a dedicated system for, like health care and education, but I’m not really seeing it with food and (especially) clothing.  As long as the cash payments are made frequently, like a paycheck would  be, it’s going to be pretty hard not to have enough for food unless you’re determined to use that money for other things, and in that case selling your food allowance for cash is likely also on the table.

    It’s also just really, really hard to say “/this/ is how much you should be spending on each of food, on clothing, on shelter, etc”.  At least when it’s all lumped together a lot of the variation across individuals cancels out. What if someone wants to move in with a friend for a bit in a fairly informal arrangement while putting extra money towards some other things?  You need some bureaucracy to oversee this and arrange to reimburse the friend with some of the first person’s housing aid.  What if someone is happy wearing old t-shirts and only one pair of pants but really likes sushi?

    Plus, with housing aid in particular, universal aid probably helps nobody.  If everyone gets a coupon good for $500/mo in rent, then every landlord is going to charge $500/mo more.  The landlord knows that renters were previously willing to pay $X out of pocket in rent, after all.  The regular rent negotiation is just going to occur on top of the subsidy to landlords.  That’s a bit too strong of a statement – the aid will help to the extent that rental housing is a competitive market and landlords keep rents down in order to attract renters.  But it’s really not very competitive in most of the country.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Housing subsidies are an area where I’m well aware of the problem that they present, and it’s not just universal ones that present it.  The problem is here already.

    Locally I’ve been told that landlords never ask for less in rent then what they know those with rent subsidizes can afford.  So what if people without the subsidies can’t afford that much?  Unless everyone with subsidized rent has a place to stay they know that someone who can afford it is out there.  Thus that’s as low as they’re willing to go.

    I do not have a good solution to this, short of the government opening up its own competing housing and charging less in an effort to use competition to drive costs down I don’t really know what could be done, and even then as soon as the government housing filled up the private landlords could jump back to their original prices.

    Hopefully someone somewhere has a good solution, but here and now I do not.

    But that is, I might add, another reason why it’s good to keep housing separate from things like food.  If every landlord everywhere knows that everyone gets a subsidy of X, why would they say, “Well, I’ll charge X minus the cost of sufficient food”?  Much less, “Well, I’ll charge X minus the cost of everything other than housing that people need”?

    By keeping it separate you make it so the landlord saying, “I know you have X to pay,” can’t eat into the food budget or the clothing budget or the anything-but-housing budget.

    In answer to your other points, you seem to be assuming that the only thing people would be receiving are the necessities covered by the government.  That makes no sense.  Very few people are content to just survive.  And that’s what jobs are for.  To make money so that you can buy things that you want.

    At least that’s what jobs should be for, in my opinion.  Right now, for a lot of people, jobs are so that you can survive, and that’s not right.  Survival should be a basic right, not something that you have to work six jobs for.  Or even one job for.

    Everyone should be able to know that no matter what their job situation they will be able to survive.

    And that is all that I’m talking about government aid taking care of.  Survival.  Nothing more.  Survival with a not-crap standard of living, yes.  Survival with a margin of error enough that it’s not “barely survival”, but survival none the less.

    If you’re asking why can’t people have all of these nice things that don’t factor into survival, they can.  They just need to pay for them themselves.  Like they would in the absence of government aid.

    I don’t propose a society in which no one but the very rich does any work and everyone else lives happy lives of jobless comfort by leeching benefits off the very rich.  I propose a society where everyone has fundamental needs like getting enough food, getting adequate shelter, getting adequate clothing, getting adequate education, getting adequate medical care, and so forth provided for no matter what.  Whether they’re the richest person in the country or the poorest.

    But most people want more than that.  Maybe instead of a decent apartment they want a house with a white picket fence.  Maybe they want a bluray collection to rival Hollywood’s own, maybe they want a dog, maybe they want a psychic reading, or maybe (and this is something forgotten by a lot of anti social welfare advocates) they just want to feel useful: like they’re contributing something.  And for that the answer would be to get a job.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    And, also, this is a point worth making: aside from housing your examples boil down to, “What if we give people the ability to buy X amount of something and they buy less than X?”

    Then… so what?  They got more aid than needed and were decent enough people not to try to sell the excess on the black market.  (Yes, there is a black market for government aid.  At least in the USA.)  Sounds like the system is working.

  • Gotchaye

     The problem is that it’s unfair and inefficient. 

    It’s unfair because people whose preferences line up with what the government uses to set the amount of each aid category get more use out of their aid than everyone else.  When we’ve gone beyond “barely survivable” aid, we’re making judgments about which additional comforts are valuable.  If the point is to provide everyone with some amount of preference satisfaction beyond mere survival, then you can’t guarantee that with category-specific aid unless it’s much, much more generous than is necessary to give almost everyone the desired amount of preference satisfaction.

    It’s inefficient because that aid is going to get spent regardless of whether or not the person would much rather have the same value in cash to spend on other things.  When you remove any incentive for people who don’t have the state-endorsed set of preferences to consume less of the things they don’t actually care about very much, they won’t consume less of those things. 

    If two people don’t mind living as roommates in a relatively small apartment and would much prefer to put the saved rent money towards a really nice TV and sound system and going out to restaurants more often, what you’re proposing hurts them and hurts everyone else.  It hurts them because you’re not allowing them to make that tradeoff – you’re privileging people who place a lot of value on a certain sort of housing arrangement and who don’t have particularly expensive tastes in recreation or food.  It hurts everyone else because, without the option to better satisfy other preferences by making sacrifices in housing, they won’t make those sacrifices in housing.  They’ll each just get their own place, which is only a little better as far as they’re concerned, but which costs society substantially more.  They’re taking up resources which would be much better used in other ways.  It’s just wasteful.  They want to make that tradeoff, and we should want to let them make that tradeoff.

    The whole problem is that if “we give people the ability to buy X amount of something” /and/ we make sure that they gain nothing by buying less than X of something, then they have no reason to “buy less than X”.  It’s horribly inefficient.  For a reasonably generous amount of total aid, almost everyone ends up much better off if that’s in the form of cash rather than split up into different categories of goods which different people value differently.  This isn’t a problem for “barely survivable” aid – this problem goes away if nearly everyone would spend more than the aid allowance in each category even if handed cash – but you’re talking about something substantially higher than that.

    This would still be worth it if there were some huge problem solved by breaking aid into various categories, but it’s still not really clear to me what that is.  With health care and education, sure, people are going to be really tempted not to budget for those things.  But with weekly aid payments are people really not going to budget for food?  For clothing and housing?  These aren’t things like health care where you can “save” on them for a long time with no apparent ill effects; it’s easy to tell when you would benefit by going out and buying some clothes.