Thanks for writing these! I often enjoy reading your game reviews. One thing I think that would be low-effort and really helpful to the reader would be to copy/paste or link to a succinct definition of the “tiers” that you always reference at the beginning of each review.
I do want to get into it a little on this:
I don’t want to get too deep into the economics of this move. I won’t discuss whether it is completely and totally insane, or how much it will permanently drive up rental costs since renting means the government might decide to seize your property outright and pay you nothing in return, while you maintain it under penalty of law at your own expense in the hopes that the government will one day give it back.
I am not here to dispute whether the *CDC* is the one to do this, but its worth engaging with the best arguments in favor of an eviction moratorium:
In ordinary circumstances, the purpose of evicting a non-paying tenant is so that you can vacate the property in favor of a tenant who will pay. But in a pandemic that is causing catastrophic levels of unemployment, large sectors of the economy shut down, and legal and prudential restrictions on travel, where are the paying tenants? One or two landlords may be able to find someone, but in the aggregate, allowing evictions now will just increase itinerancy and homelessness without really helping landlords much.
Law and Economics professor Neil Buchanan makes the economic argument at more length here: http://www.dorfonlaw.org/2020/08/why-would-any-landlord-evict-any.html
This is especially true given some of the criteria that have to be met to be eligible for the moratorium:
They have used their “best efforts” to first obtain all available government assistance
They are unable to pay the full amount of rent due to experiencing a “substantial” loss of income, or because they were laid off or had to pay “extraordinary” medical expenses
They are using their “best efforts” to continue making at least partial rent payments as close to the full amount as possible, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses.
Eviction would “likely” make them either homeless or force them to move into a shared living situation.
Although Trump’s people call it a moratorium, it’s really a very particularized defense to eviction that applies precisely to those people who it would be economically bad to evict—tenants who were (pre-pandemic) reliable payers of rent, who can’t pay now because of the pandemic but who, because they were reliable before, can expect to be reliable again when circumstances return to something like normal. There simply is no good reason to evict these people, and the consequences of such eviction would be ruinous for them, and yes, would at least marginally increase the risk of contracting and spreading COVID.
One thing that seems relevant to philosophical “bullets” is how often they come up. If your theory says that you should kill a live person to save 5 with their organs, that comes up literally all the time. Not in the sense that you know who will get the organs, but we all know that transplant lists are long and people regularly die because there is no compatible transplant available.
Obviously bringing up Immanuel Kant is not exactly breaking new ground, but its worth considering what would happen if many people bit that particular bullet. And that’s a major difference between the transplant problem and the triage problem—few people are triage doctors or nurses and even for them, that particular situation is rare. Whereas for the transplant problem, tools are such that almost every adult human being could physically murder a healthy person in a way that preserves their organs.
So I would think that a policy for “biting” philosophical “bullets” should include something about how often the hypo would actually come up in everyday life. If it comes up frequently, the intuition that you shouldn’t do that thing is probably more valuable than the clever argument. Intuitions should be considered “weaker” when applied to situations are rare or nigh-impossible to actually occur, since our intuitions were developed for common situations.
One thing I think that’s missed here is that the inflation rate isn’t independent of the investment returns. On average, investments generate a certain amount of real returns, so if inflation rises it will tend on average also to raise the nominal investment returns, cancelling out the effect of the inflation-related capgains “wealth tax.”
That can hold if you assume that a dollar collected is a dollar of value produced. As more and more wealth is concentrated in fewer hands, it becomes easier and easier to extract monopoly rents through market power rather than actually produce value by innovating. For example, Amazon is so big that it makes money by squeezing suppliers. One way it does this is by “accidentally” allowing low-quality counterfeits on its site and only making any effort to remove them when the supplier of the genuine item pays up. It’s not clear to me that shifting the producer surplus from the manufacturer to the retailer generates any marginal value for society, but it does earn Jeff Bezos a lot of money.
They are allowed to hire temporary replacement workers, and permanent replacements under some circumstances. Unions typically try to bring a lot of social pressure on said replacement workers (“scabs”) to discourage them from agreeing to be such a replacement worker.
One possible less-nefarious explanation for the reduced test numbers is that more tests were performed but fewer were processed because one or more central processing labs were affected by the storm. LabCorp and Quest, our national backlogged testing duopoly, have several major labs in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina that could have been impacted, and this could affect test numbers for other non-storm states if they sent their tests to these labs.
although importantly you can maximize the sum of individual benefit minus coordination costs
Although you have to be careful how you measure this. If you naively measure it in dollars, you can pretty easily come to the conclusion that the optimal distribution of property rights is for Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to own everything. But I don’t think that Jeff Bezos’s life changes one whit if his wealth changed from $185b to $300b, or $100b, or $10b, or even $1b.
Obviously there are positional aspects, but if you imagine that his wealth is being reduced by generally applicable laws then those laws would obviously apply to others too.
Right, the parent comment wasn’t necessarily intending to argue that all decisions about whether to open/close factories should be made by workers and/or towns, just to say that private ownership of productive capital does not in fact maximize the metric of “the cost or reward of a decision is felt by the decision-maker,” which was what you proposed.
I admitted in my comment that there might be other reasons to have private ownership of productive capital, one of which you identified—that building factories is good and we should organize society so as to encourage it. But I do want to note an imbalance: In order to create an operate a factory, many people/entities have some ability to affect the decision, which actually does seem commensurate with how they are affected:
Entrepreneurs/managers decide when an where to pursue factory projects
Providers of financial capital decide whether to lend or purchase securities, and if they do, they can receive monetary
Workers can decide whether to work in the factory at the offered wages/conditions, if no workers choose to do that there can be no factory
Towns can democratically choose to allow the construction of factories everywhere, only in certain areas, or even ban it completely; the residents of the town are affected in their environment, secondary business opportunities, and tax revenue by that choice
So, nobody can unilaterally open a factory, even in the relatively capitalist USA. They need buy-in from workers and towns, at a minimum, and often also banks. “The cost and reward of a decision” is felt by all these decision-makers, and they all have at least some ability to make the decision. Contrast this with closing a factory:
Owners of factories can close a factory unilaterally
As long as the decision to close a factory is for outsourcing or whatever, such that it’s profit-maximizing, financiers have no reason to stop that decision
Workers have no ability to prevent a closure, even though it affects them greatly
Towns have no ability to prevent a closure, even though it affects them greatly
The “reward” of a decision to close/outsource is felt by owners and financiers; the direct monetary cost of closing is felt by them if and only if that decision turns out not to be profit-maximizing, and even then, it often represents a small overall impact on their lives. The costs of a decision to close/outsource can be totally devastating to workers and towns, they feel the results to a far greater extent, and they have no ability to participate in the decision.
Yes, and no. The cost and reward of a decision financially impacts the decisionmaker, although sometimes the magnitude of that effect can be pretty small due to the diminishing marginal utility of money. Meanwhile, something like closing a factory can devastate an entire town, and none of the factory workers, lunch counters, teachers, families, etc. have any say in the decision, whereas their day-to-day experience of their lives is impacted far more profoundly by that decision than the life of the factory owner is.
So it seems like if you want the decision to be made by those who have the most skin in the game, who are affected the most by its outcome, then private ownership of productive capital seems like actually extremely misaligned with that. Now, there may be other reasons to organize society that way, but if you want to align decision-making power with those who are most affected by those decisions, there can be no doubt that the most effective way to maximize that particular metric would be to have factories democratically controlled by the workers and/or the towns.
I feel like this:
Interestingly, this view also makes NIMBYism seem natural instead of unnatural. If I own a house, I can use that ownership to prevent things from happening to the house that I don’t want. But do I just own the dirt and wood, or do I also own the ambient level of noise? The fragrance of the air? The view? The price? We can make our conception of property too large or too small
Conflicts with this:
Many of the problems we have now, I claim, are not caused by too much property but by too many decision-makers, or in this view, too little property.
Above, you seem to be arguing that property can encompass all sorts of rights to determine things. If you tear down your house in Berkeley and build an apartment building, its true that you have more property (as you call it, the ability to abuse your house). But, by giving you this right, your surrounding neighbors necessarily have less property, because they no longer have property in these things that you list: noise, air, light, price, etc. So, we might argue about whether changing the balance of those rights is good or bad (in this case I think it’s good), but you have to just make the case for that on normative grounds (consequences will be better, fulfills categorical imperative better, makes people more virtuous, whatever). You can’t shortcut that by saying that one state involves more property, or more properly more rights, than another. Every person’s right to act is the equal and opposite of other affected people’s lack of right to control the thing that affects them. You can’t get more total rights. This has been known and accepted for a long time in legal philosophy, most prominently and succinctly by Wesley Hohfeld.
This confusion about rights is most prominent in your reference to landlords and factory owners. You say:
Why have impersonal property, i.e. a landlord who rents out houses, a company that owns factories, massive tracts of land owned by the same farm, a bank that chooses which loans to grant and which to deny? The same basic reason, I claim; the landlord can make decisions about the houses that they own without having to consult anyone else, and this means decisions can be made faster and more cheaply.
These references conveniently don’t mention the people who would actually be most affected by decisions about the private property—the people whose livelihoods depend on it. A “landlord who rents out houses” may not care about any one house all that much, qua house. It is an income stream to him, and if it were replaced by a bundle of bonds that pay interest equal to the rent he receives he would be indifferent, or probably even happy (bonds are easier to manage). But there is someone who cares a whole lot about what is done with that house—the tenant! To them, the house is not just some property, it is a home. Its where they live, they laugh, play, eat, raise children, etc. And the more rights you give to the landlord, the less rights the tenant has.
It feels like this post is effectively a stab at using the language of rationality to try to adjudicate age-old debates between socialism and capitalism. After all, it’s an supposed to be a defense of [private] property. But if you want to do that (good luck!) its important to try to seriously engage with the socialist critiques of property instead of breezily eliding them, which are centered around this very concept. The fundamental point of the socialist critique of private property is that it assigns more rights to relatively disinterested absentee capital-owners at the expense of the rights that could otherwise be assigned to the person who is most affected. To use your shirt analogy, assigning the rights to the landlord/factory owner would be like assigning the right to choose what color shirt you wear to the shirt company instead of to the person who wears the shirt.
I upvoted your post because I think the discussion is a good one to have, but I think you have yet to have it.
I think you are seriously missing Ezra’s point, and i think a lot of people in the rationalsphere that I’ve read seem to make a similar mistake.
The primary point of Ezra bringing up historical context is scientific, not social. He is essentialy saying that global white supremacy is an enormous confounder to any possible effort to tease signal out of what data we have, and so we shouldn’t entertain the idea of changing policies based on something with proper implausibility and extremely weak (at best) evidence.
Ezra’s further point is essentially an outside view point: many times in the past scientists have convinced themselves based on now-known-to-be-bogus theories of the conclusion Murray is pushing. Thus, as a matter of good epistemics, we should be looking for good reason to believe this time is different, and there is no such reason.
I think Sam is totally failing to engage with either of these two points and is instead wrongly reading Ezra as making social arguments that the reliable data should not be discussed. Instead, Ezra is giving strong reasons why the data is a supremely unreliable map to the territory. I also think you may be making the same error.