Friday, January 28, 2011

So, if you've been following, you may have noticed that I don't tend to discuss social policy much. I only tend to analyze things from the economic perspective.

This is because social policy inevitable involves decisions about ethics and morality which can get rather murky and involve what amount to certain gray areas. As an example, the abortion debate. I'm not going to get into my stance on it, just to point out that it involves religious beliefs, health concerns, population control issues as well as the freedom to choose ones lifestyle and what restrictions should be placed on that freedom of choice. You can't dismiss someone's beliefs, even if you disagree with them, as not being valid. If someone believes, as a matter of religion or faith, that life begins at conception then that is a valid belief. No matter when the organs or the brain are functioning, that won't change their belief because their idea of when "life" begins doesn't have to have anything to do with when the organs are fully formed and functioning. Therefore, their stance on the issue of abortion will come down to whether or not they believe it is ever okay to sacrifice the life of the child and if so, under what circumstances.

I have a friend who is obsessed with the idea that our legal system and social policies should be "fair". Define fair, please. Let's simplify and assume we're talking about fair being essentially equal to all. That leaves an important question up in the air; do we want a fair outcome or a fair process? A fair process that guarantees everyone a shot at a good outcome doesn't mean everyone will GET a good outcome. What outcome people will get will be determined by a number of factors. It's like five people with four apples drawing straws to see who has to go without; you each have an equal chance of drawing the short straw so it's utterly fair in that respect but at the end of the day one of them will be going without an apple. A fair process isn't guaranteed to produce a fair end result. So let's think about what goes into a fair result... wait, we can't because that's impossible to really define. Is it everyone getting equal shares of everything? Including all essentials and all luxuries? Is it everyone being happy with the outcome? What makes an outcome fair? And fair to who? Let's use a food analogy again. Let's say you've got five apples and ten people. Each person can have half an apple. That's fair, right? But is half an apple actually going to be enough for each person? Maybe a farmer, because of the calories he expends doing his labor day to day, needs more nourishment than a clerk who might expend several thousand fewer calories each day. So giving everyone equal amounts of the apples will leave some with much more than they need and some with much less. Is that a fair outcome?

Social policy is murky, filled with ethical issues, conflicting morals, different values and ideas of what equality and fairness means. That's why I don't like to get involved in discussing it very much.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Taxation and taking

Using the farmer analogy from earlier

Taking some of the surplus of a farmer's crop is not unethical if there is some benefit to the farmer from doing so. If the system which takes of the surplus also provides certain things of benefit to the farmer in exchange, this is called taxation. It is part of a societal contract. The system which provides the farmer with a method for enforcing his contracts and securing his property from theft or damage from others must pay the costs associated with providing those things somehow and it is perfectly reasonable that the farmer should bear part of the cost through taxation. That the benefit does not flow solely to the farmer is not a bad thing, either.

The problem with taxation is not whether or not it is right or wrong. It is necessary and is neither right/wrong nor good/bad in and of itself. It can be abused, however. The main problems with taxation can, I feel, be summed up in two questions.

1; How much taxation is appropriate? Too much taxation and you stifle the individual's effort to improve their personal lot in life which creates a disincentive to strive for something better. Too little taxation and you can't sustain the system.

2; What should taxation support? This is a major contention when it comes to discussing specific programs. When a person feels as if they receive no benefit from a particular program, they may feel like they don't want their money(or their effort/energy/the products of their labor, in any form) used to support that program. This can further be boiled down to "should we(society/the system) do/provide this particular thing?" Even if they don't disagree with an end goal, they might have problems with the structure. Ex. comparing two different universal health plans, one where the government acts as an insurer and one where the government acts as the provider. Even someone who believes universal health care is a great idea might have a preference for one of those over the other, believing one to be superior for whatever reason. Is one necessarily superior? Both have their pros and cons. Are either of them superior to what currently exists in the US? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know, I can't answer that; it can't be answered without examining which of the available options does the most good while doing the least harm while being sustainable.

But obviously, whichever program is thought to be best will end up being supported through that system of taxation I mentioned. I personally wonder, if we were to figure out what should be provided by a system, what level of taxation would be necessary to support all that should be provided?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I get frustrated at times when discussing policy with people. I’m not actually particularly attached to a particular set of policies more than any other, personally. I’m against consolidation of power into one place to too great an extent. Other than that, I tend to analyze policies from a fairly objective standpoint. Since it’s been in the news and I’ve discussed it here before, I’ll use healthcare as an example.

I’m actually not against the idea of a nationalized health service or a single payer system. I am not really specifically for the current distributed free-market care system in the United States. I’m against the idiotic rhetoric that most of the people who espouse changing the current system spout. The discussion of which system is “better” shouldn’t end with “other people manage to do it” or “x group of people will suffer if we don’t do this” or “it’s the good/moral/right thing to do.”

Any choice of systems needs to be analyzed from an effectiveness standpoint. What’s the point of trying to accomplish a good end if you wind up making the situation worse than it was when you started? Which system to choose shouldn’t be analyzed solely by saying “our goal is to ensure everyone gets healthcare when they need it.” There’s a lot that goes into making that happen. Can everything that goes into making that happen be provided for? If so, what’s the best way of doing that? I’m more concerned with finding the structure that can accomplish the end goal – whatever it might be.