April 2nd, 2005


Poul is a bicycle thief

I dreamt last night that Poul was a bicycle thief as I was riding through Russia, forcing me to take a cab from town to town, where I'd see him getting my bike fixed by bicycle repairmen in parks.

Also, I got laid.

  • Current Mood
    frustrated dreamy

Pope John Paul II

Karol Jósef Wojtyła was, in my opinion, the greatest pope in centuries. While he was bound by his beliefs to support things with which I do not agree, like laws prohibiting abortion and birth control, prohibition against the female priesthood and married priests, beyond that he was a huge force for good. In his ministry, he focussed on young people. I can remember huge outdoor masses for young people on all his trips. He also is the first pope to put himself in contact with the laity. Prior to him, pontiffs didn't travel much. Probably as much as Reagan's unintentional policy of bankrupting the Soviet Union, John Paul's opposition to communism brought down that system. He was inspiration for the polish independent trade unions that formed in the late 70s and early 80s that were at the forefront of the end of Polish communism. I think most of all, John Paul had a good heart. I do not believe he compromised for expediency, as some previous prelates have done.


Selfish? (Eco 200 assignment question)

(individual) When Mother Teresa accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace in October 1979 and decided to use the $190,000 award to construct a leprosarium, was she acting in her own interest? Was she behaving selfishly?

This depends on how one defines "selfish." By the generally used sense of the word, Mother Teresa was not acting selfishly. She was acting altruistically. Her actions benefited others and not herself. Depending on the organization of her leprosarium, it's conceivable she might have received some salary or other tangible resource as administrator of the leprosarium. But I doubt that remuneration was what motivated her to use the money thusly.

Under a more expansive definition of "selfish" though, she was certainly acting in self-interest. Her economic interests are not limited to money or resources that can be directly exchanged for money. I consider the interests of my family and friends when I make my choices, as the emotional well-being of my family influences my happiness. This emotional stability is an interest of mine that cannot be purchased directly with dollars, but influencing it by influencing the well-being of my family members could be considered selfish. Similarly, Mother Teresa derived a sense of satisfaction through the well-being of others. She could not exchange resources directly for that sense of satisfaction. One cannot simply measure and hand over pieces of emotion to another. Nevertheless, such exchanges do happen and people do make individual choices to maximize their emotional profit. Measuring the value of such exchanges though isn't easy to do. But we could consider the satisfaction Mother Teresa received from seeing leprosy patients helped as an equal exchange. At least she did at the time, though she might not have characterized it as such an exchange.


Choice? (Eco 200 assignment)

(group) A newspaper item reported that two-thirds of all mothers who work outside the home "do it for the money, not by choice." Are those really alternatives? Either for the money or by choice?

This depends on the framework under which a person is evaluating these mothers' actions. Under an economic framework, these mothers are making a exchanging remuneration for time and effort. They could make other choices as well, such as starvation. Or they could choose to exchange using less liquid resources, such as trading affection toward a partner for support from that partner's surplus earnings. Under an economic framework, everything is a choice.

Under a social justice framework though, we might consider these choices to be not realistic. Some options are considered so onerous as to not present a valid choice.

Under the view of choice picked by the newspaper article writer, a course of action is only considered a choice if the actor has more than one option that appears to be equally viable. Essentially, only if an external actor would have a difficult time predicting individual action would they consider it a real choice. Other actions would not be considered voluntary and thus not choices.


Choice redux. (Eco 200 assignment question)

(group) At the present time U.S. commercial airlines will carry an infant under two at no charge if the infant sits on the lap of a fare-paying adult, but will charge for an extra seat if the plane is full and the parents want the child placed in a child-restraint seat. If the government requires that all infants fly in child-restraint seats, the infant will have to have a ticket of its own to make sure that a seat is available. Should the government impost such a requirement? "There is no real choice about the matter," some have argued, "because a child's life is of far more value than the price of an airline ticket." Do you agree with that argument? What are the actual alternatives?

It certainly is a choice. Parents today make such choices all the time, even in situations where the alternatives are biased much more in favor of one action. Take using infant seats for automobiles. Despite overwhelming evidence that car seats save infant lives, many state government laws requiring the use of infant car seats, and social pressure from millions of parents who do use infant car seats, many still do not. These parents decide the cost of a car seat outweighs the cost of injuring their child. In addition to determining the likelihood that they will be in an accident, they also determine the risk of being caught be a police officer (and the subsequent fine). These may not all be explicitly considered, but they are considered.

In the case of infant seats in airlines, the costs are merely changed, and the number of actors in the equation have changed. In the case of automobiles, the actors are the parents, other drivers, and agents of the government. In planes, there are parents, the airlines, and agents of the government. Airlines will act as agents of the government, as the risk of large fines for not enforcing the infant seat requirement and the additional seat revenue make their choice a slam dunk. So the effort a parent would need to go through to avoid using an infant seat is much larger, given that flight attendants are likely to notice a child not in a separate seat. However, theoretically, parents wishing non-interference could band together and charter an airplane, or start their own, or make it worth existing airlines while to resist the government. Such actions are not likely however.

But tying back to my comparison to automobile driving does present parents with another alternative that could be taken should they feel the market influence by big actors such as the government and airlines is too onerous. Parents may travel by other methods other than flight: automobile, train, shp, or even bicycling. The possibility of not using infant seats in such modes of transport is a factor they could more easily consider.

I would be in favor of the government making such a requirement. I do not hold the view that market manipulation by the government is inherently evil. Such influence merely changes the costs in an economic model. It is a way for society to collectively change the valuation of intangible resources that are not easily valued easily. Individuals may affect government just as much as they participate in markets. The fact that they do not is simply evidence they do not see government as a market itself, when it could be viewed as such. Viewing it as such, I see it as a good way to influence parents to value the safety of their children more highly. My self interest is served by the value of the contributions these children would make to society (and me) in the future.


Collective choice? (Eco 200 assignment question)

(group) "In truth, the presence or absence of poverty in this economically advanced society is now a matter open to public choice." Do you agree? Can we choose to abolish poverty in the United States simply because we have enough wealth to do so? Is "public choice" different in any important respects from individual choice?

We could choose to abolish poverty because we have enough wealth to do so. Public choice is collective choices. Whether we could permanently abolish poverty I do not know. We could redistribute wealth once so that all citizens would have equal wealth and theoretically equal choices thereafter. But since skills and connections and other intangible resources cannot be redistributed, I doubt we would see poverty abolished permanently, though it might reduce it in the long term. I personally would like to see us find a way to continuously redistribute a part of our wealth to permanently eliminate poverty. Doing so is currently prohibitively difficult, due to many individuals not valuing poverty reduction above other values. They do not see this as part of their self-interest, where I do. Even were people to agree with me in sufficient numbers, it's difficult to find an equilibrium where a minimal amount of wealth is redistributed to promote an ideal minimal amount of wealth across society.

Many already agree with me in principle, though they may not think they do. Everyone who donates to charity is making the choice that common good is beneficial to themselves. They are voluntarily re-distributing part of their wealth for very little direct gain. I suppose they could be doing so for individual tax benefit, or for publicity value. But they are implicitly agreeing that societal benefit benefits all (including them individually). In many cases, they can see how the societal benefit does benefit them; better roads means less time in traffic for instance. But less poverty can benefit them individually as well. For instance, less crime as the less affluent see less benefit from it.

I disagree with communist and heavily socialist methods of redistributing wealth simply based on their efficacy. They do not work as they do not promote individual economic activity. My hope is that we could find a way to create a market for poverty reduction the same way we've created a market for acid rain pollution reduction, through the use of tradable rights to pollute. The raw concept does not work even in all types of pollution (I do not believe it will work well in mercury reduction), but through effort some market type of solution might be found.


Meeting rules (Eco 200 assignment question)

(individual) What happens when the rules of the game (written or unwritten) decree that important meetings won't start until everyone is present and that late arrivals will incur no penalty? Is it in everyone's interest to be punctual? Are these rules of the game likely to prove satisfactory over time?

Of course they will not prove satisfactory over time. I can answer this one from personal (and current) experience at my office. Attendees show up very unpredictably. They have no incentive to show up on time or even at all if they are considered important to making a decision. Often they will simply not attend and scuttle a decision made in a meeting because they don't agree with it. Other participants then show up at meetings less frequently because their participating in the meeting is meaningless. The key participants need to be convinced through means other than the meeting, making the attendance at the meeting a waste of time. The collective influence of the meeting attendees is reduced, and few see much gain over the cost of their time by attending. However, meeting attendance often rises again because non-attendees are convinced to start attending again because they do not want to endure the grumbling and backstabbing that results from their non-attendance. Good meeting leaders are effective at prompting attendance by reducing the cost to attendees and increasing the reward.

My company had a standing bi-weekly meeting for development managers for several years. Attendance fluctuated, as did the productivity and collective influence for the meeting. In February I volunteered to chair the meeting (as it had never had an official chair prior to that) on the belief that I could make it more worthwhile to attend through small actions. My economic benefit was increased stature for my success along with increased influence for the development managers, of which I am one and which I therefore receive part of. I can't say for certain if my own stature has increased, but the collective influence of the group has increased as attendance has increased and held steady and as more decisions are made by this group and they stick (are not subsequently discarded by non-attendees).


Line-cutting benefits of pregnancy? (Eco 200 assignment question)

(individual) In the early 1980s, when the Polish people had to stand in long lines in order to purchase most consumer goods, the government ordered that every third place in line be reserved for pregnant women or disabled persons. This was presumably done to reduce their discomfort. Do you think it resulted in less standing in line by pregnant women? Do you suppose any women became pregnant in order to be able to cut into the long lines?

I can't answer definitively on this, which could have been done to measure the success of the government initiative. I could see where this would have the intended effect if pregnant women were a small minority of the population. My expectation is that prior to such a decree that many pregnant women designated other family members to stand in line rather they queue themselves. After the decree, many might themselves wait because their families could receive better rations with acceptable effort. Given that even now occasionally there are women who have additional children for the welfare benefits, I could see some women (very very very few, though) becoming pregnant for such a benefit. It's not a very valuable benefit, and pregnancy has some large costs involved. In India today some parents are reputed to disable their children to increase their takings from begging on the streets, because the increased donations are seen as worth more than the cost of begging. I head that tale when I was in India, but it could be apocryphal. It is clear by the mere spreading of such tales though that many people see there being such a point where the value accruing to them would be great enough; they just didn't see themselves at such a position right then (or ever likely). I would similarly consider such line-cutting pregnancies as possible but extremely rare and unlikely.


Poul's kitties

On the bus home from the U-District, a girl who got on the bus had a Poul Costinsky kittie button.

Also, my voluminous posting today (13 entries and counting), seems to have cost me and least one reader. This amuses me. I think my previous record for entries in a day is around eight. And I may post more.