Sunday, August 28, 2011

A thought experiment

Let's say there's two substances, I'll call them RM and PM. The vendors of PM say that their stuff provides all the benefits of RM, but without the possibility of death. The vendors of RM say that their stuff isn't very dangerous, and provides some benefits that PM doesn't provide. Both provide scientific studies (paid for by the respective vendors) that "prove" their point.

Now, I'm not a scientist. How do I evaluate these claims and come to a reasonable conclusion? Oh wait, I know, I can *hire* some scientists! These hired scientists could look at the published studies and conduct their *own* studies, could perhaps look and find out exactly how many of the people who use RM die, vs. whether they're healthier in other ways than people who use PM. Because the scientists that I hire are not in the pay of either PM or RM, they are more likely to tell me the truth, instead of telling me what their employer wants them to say. But wait... I'm not rich. How can I afford to hire my own scientists?!

Wait, I know, I'll get together with a bunch of *other* people and we'll pool our money together to hire scientists! But... what if we find out that RM is killing children? We'd have to just publish our results for free, or else be complicit in the deaths of children. But if we have a moral duty to publish our results for free, what is the motivation to join our group to pay these scientists? I go to Joe Sixpack and ask him to toss in some money to help pay scientists, and Joe says he's kinda short, so he's just going to wait until we publish the results for free. I go to Droopy Dwarf and ask him to toss in some money to help pay scientists, he says he prefers using his money to buy gold and is going to just wait until we publish the results for free. Nobody wants to pay scientists because they all want someone *else* to pay for it, then they want to freeload! So at that point, I'm baffled -- clearly this scheme won't work if it's possible to freeload because everybody's going to want to freeload, but we can't say "we'll do the study but keep it secret" because if we find out that RM is killing children, then we'd be complicit in the deaths of children. If only there was some way to make everybody who benefits from the study pay for the study so that there's no freeloaders. That's the only way to make it happen. Now... what could we call such an organization? Oh wait.

Now, here's my question to the Libertarians: Given the freeloader problem that I mention above, where morally it cannot be justified to keep secret information that some substance is killing children, yet if we publish to everybody, nobody wants to pay... how do we fund this organization of independent scientists (let's call them the "Center for Disease Control" just to pick a name out of hat) without forcing everybody who benefits from their work -- which is *everybody* -- to pay for it? If taxation is slavery, are the deaths of children whose lives would be saved if we knew RM killed children just "collateral damage" in Libertopia? Because as much as I try, I can't figure out any way other than government to deal with the freeloader problem and get this study of whether RM is dangerous funded. I.e., every "libertarian" solution I come up with ends up with dead children (presuming RM is dangerous to children, which we'll presume for the purposes of this exercise). The only solution I can come up with that works for finding out that RM is dangerous to children is the liberal solution, where everybody is forced to pay taxes to get the study financed.

Next up: We join together and create a government and direct this government to collect taxes to pay for this study, and this government study then finds that RM is dangerous to children. What happens next? That's a subject for tomorrow's post...

-- Badtux the Basics Penguin


  1. What happens next?

    Can I guess what happens next? The corporation that makes RM uses its clout to ward off the government regulators who might take action on the study, or uses its money to throw up a lot of dust with competing "studies" that are BS, but try to shed doubt on the integrity of the study that shows RM is dangerous? Because those are uses of corporate power, which Glibs always seem to overlook.

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  4. Taxation is only similar to slavery if it is forced upon someone and even then it is kind of insulting to people who have or are currently actually enslaved to pretend that taxation is really all that much like slavery. As long as a country doesn't prevent its citizens from leaving and renouncing their citizenship, no one is being forced to pay taxes. By choosing to remain and to follow the laws, they are in effect choosing to be taxed. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't fight within the system to lower their taxes if that is what they would like but it always makes me laugh when they start whining about all of the things they don't like tax money being spent on.

    On a side note, I had to laugh this morning because on of my libertarian facebook friends posted a giant rant about how pissed off he is as our country government for choosing to install a four-way stop instead of a light at an intersection he frequents. It is funny because if he had his way, there wouldn't be enough money for signs OR a light.

  5. There is also the likelihood that in publishing your *own* study, the companies that make RM and PM will sue you for liable, citing their own studies that contradict yours. Because they have huge pockets and can outspend you on high priced lawyers, and crank out even more studies, you will lose.

  6. Bukko, nope, that's not what happens next (note that this example occurs back when the U.S. had a functioning democratically elected national government, rather than today, and is based on a real-life set of events).

    Purple -- almost right. You'll have to tune in tomorrow to see :).

    Lynne -- the principle of, "if you benefit from it, you should pay for it" is sort of fundamental in a capitalist economy, a capitalist economy doesn't function in the presence of large numbers of freeloaders because it reduces or eliminates the incentive of the majority to pay to produce things of value (which is also why communism is Teh Fail -- Communism has no solution to the freeloader problem). Furthermore, the notion that taxation is slavery in a democracy doesn't pass the laugh and giggle test, because in a democracy, it is We The People who impose taxes upon ourselves. How can taxes that we ourselves impose upon ourselves be slavery? Oh sure, the freeloaders whine and complain that they have to pay taxes to pay for the services that the majority of us have decided that our government should provide, but they're freeloaders, who want the benefits (fewer dead children in this example) but without having to pay for them. Why should we listen to them?

    DJ: Good point. To do this, we need some entity that's larger than the RM and PM industries combined that can't be bankrupted if one or the other files a lawsuit. Hmm, what could we call such an entity? :)

    - Badtux the Thought-experimentin' Penguin

  7. What happens next is a "conservative" Supreme Court steps in an finds a way to negate the effects of positive outcomes.

  8. The libertarian stance that some gov't funding is acceptable&needed would work.

    Wait, wait - so libertarians are fine with the principle of "taking my money by force to do stuff collectively we al benefit for" - but they're against government?

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  10. Well, given the rhetoric that "taxation is slavery" from those claiming to be Libertarian, it's an easy thing to conclude that libertarians are in fact anarcho-capitalists, since without taxes there is no government. But as Purple points out, there are some libertarians who in fact believe in taxes and government, they just want government to be what it was in 1776, when all that government did was fund a military and the postal service. And they're sorta dubious about the postal service part.

    - Badtux the Snarky Penguin


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