perjantaina, toukokuuta 26, 2006

Top-down vs. bottom-up

I just reread an old article by Milton Friedman on the US War on Drugs. In it he develops a strict dichotomy between two forms of economic organization, one centralized and the other decentralized. In his words: "One way is by market mechanisms: from the bottom up. The other way is by command: from the top down." At least to a libertarian, it's rather obvious which approach works and which doesn't.

But why is it that you can't have decentralized government or centralized markets? Why is freedom almost synonymous with markets while centralization invariably seems to lead to
institutionalized coercion and diminishing standards of living?

While I do think that coercion and centralization are bad, and that free markets and liberty go hand in hand, I don't really think the above dichotomy holds generally. There can be decentralized, local government, and it can be necessary for a well functioning society. Well-functioning, centralized markets exist as well, for example in electricity, and they aren't too different from state bureaucracies if you look at them closely enough.

However, as far as economic valuation goes, there is a basic, Hayekian argument in favour of bottom-up and in opposition to top-down organization. The basic institutional economics problem with top-down organization is that hierarchies have an apex by definition, and so if causation flows down such a pyramid, ultimately all of the nodes in the hierarchy will be subservient to the wants, needs and capabilities of the instance at the top. All of the economic actors within the hierarchy could in principle have their own interests, capabilities and resources which could be used to build a tremendously rich economic system, serving and utilizing all those different attributes simultaneously. But if decisions only flow downhill, they will all be conditioned on the attributes of the supreme decider. Information on local, personal or specialized circumstances cannot even in principle be taken into consideration, because such knowledge will not be available at the top; if it was, knowledge would be flowing the up the pyramid, and so the economy couldn't work purely top-down by definition. Thus while there might be millions of simultaneous variables to optimize for optimum welfare in an extended society, the degrees of freedom in a top-down organization will equal the number of degrees of freedom possessed by the top man.

On the other hand, if information and causation flows bottom-up, any piece of information could in theory be present at any level, even if only a small proportion of the sum total could be present at any level simultaneously. The only constraint is the ability of the actors at the different levels to summarize, prune and refine information in ways that minimize glut and maximize relevancy to the higher level actors. This is a significant problem in itself, but unlike top-down organization, it is not a categorical limitation on the degrees of freedom or the amount of relevant information available in the economic system as a whole.

I think this basic pattern is what makes bottom-up economic organization so much more successful than the alternative, even if we forget about practicalities like incentive compatibility: value is subjective, so the above argument shows that you can only produce lots of such value by aggregating individual choices. Going at it the other way around is impossble because as soon as someone above you in a pyramid gets to decide, by definition it will be his values, capabilities and limitations that dictate the outcome. Your potential will be wasted unless it is completely redundant (it never is), your particular knowledge will be lost unless it is entirely shared (it most definitely isn't) and value as you define will not and cannot be produced unless you happen to define it precisely the way your superior does (pretty much impossible, since part of you being separate individuals is your having several interests).

This is nothing new, of course. But then, we can generalize. If we define value by aggregation and then form some sort of consensus opinion at the apex which subsequently gets passed back down, the same problem arises. Since there is just one apex, its internal degrees of freedom once again dictate the space of optimization for the whole economy, regardless of how the state at the apex was arrived at. Thus, it's not just command economies which suffer from the above mentioned problem, but also all kinds of democracies, bureaucracies, private pecking orders and the like. If value is to be produced maximally, value creation has to be highly polycentral, and consensus valuations imposed back down on smaller constituent parts of the economy have to be avoided even if at the root they derive from aggregate, popular opinion.

In the end each hierarchical, political subdivision above the individual simply diminishes the capability of the economy of elucidating what value really is. All that remains is hard individualism, that is, free markets based on individual rights. The only possible deviation from this norm is when you can make choices affecting other people for technical reasons (i.e. technical externalities), which would naturally place you on the next hierarhical level with respect to them. It might be that some form of collective machinery (i.e. a minarchy) is needed to abolish this sort of natural hierarchy. But then that's it; just one, highly limited excuse for government really exists if you want to respect the subjective theory of value.

lauantaina, toukokuuta 20, 2006

John Stuart Mill 200 vuotta

John Stuart Mill täyttäisi tänään 200 vuotta, mikäli transhumanistinen pakonopeus ikääntymistä vastaan olisi jo saavutetty. Ikävä kyllä näin ei käynyt, mutta onneksi Mill elää vertauskuvallisesti vieläkin monissa liberalismin klassikkokirjoissa.

Häntä useimmiten ei lueta klassisen liberalismin kaanoniin kuuluvaksi, koska hän saapui paikalle vähän liian myöhään, ja monien muiden valistusajan jälkeisten radikaalien tapaan liittoutui mieluummin sosialistien ja muiden progressiivisten kanssa nationalismia ja konservatismia vastaan. Kuitenkin hänen liberaalimmat ajatuksensa solmivat hyvin yhteen useimpia protoliberaaleilta ajattelijoilta yhdistämättä jääneitä langanpäitä, ja tietysti, let's face it, Vapaudesta on pirun hyvä kirja.

Aiheesta kirjoittaa iso osa libisblogosfääristä, esim. Johan Norberg. Mutta parhaan käsittelyn aiheelle antaa Catallarchy-blogi, jossa on useita erikoispitkiä esseitä aihetta käsitellen. Hyviä juttuja kaikki.

lauantaina, toukokuuta 13, 2006

Maahanmuutosta, monikulttuurisuudesta, suvaitsevuudesta ja liberaalisuudesta

Yleinen olettamus yhteiskunnallisessa keskustelussa tuntuu olevan, että maahanmuuttoa ja siitä aiheutuvaa monikulttuurisuutta kritisoivat tahot ovat suvaitsemattomia ja epäliberaaleja. Klisheemäisten amisnatsien tms. perusjunttien kohdalla tämä pitääkin paikkansa empiirisesti tarkasteltuna, mutta kyseessä ei ole mikään määritelmällisesti tosi tautologia.

Loogisesti katsottuna ensinnäkin liberaalisuus ja suvaitsevuus ovat kaksi eri asiaa. Liberalismi on yksilönvapauden puolustamiseen perustuva poliittinen ideologia. On liberalismin vastaista suhtautua suvaitsevasti eli hyväksyvästi yksilönvapauden vastaisiin asioihin. Jos jossain kulttuurissa esim. pakkoavioliitot ovat yleisiä, suvaitsevuus tämän kulttuurin tätä piirrettä kohtaan on epäliberaalia.

Toiseksi, myönteinen suhtautuminen maahanmuuttoon ja monikulttuurisuuteen on eri asia kuin suvaitsevuus yleisenä asenteena. Joku maahanmuuttoon ja monikulttuurisuuteen suvaitsevasti eli hyväksyvästi suhtautuva taho voi suhtautua hyvin suvaitsemattomasti muihin asioihin. Jos suvaitsevuudella tarkoitetaan erilaisten, jopa yksilönvapauden vastaisten arvomaailmojen ja niihin perustuvien yhteisöjen hyväksymistä, silloin suvaitsevien ihmisten pitäisi hyväksyä mm. fundamentalistikristilliset yhteisöt ja esim. homoseksuaalisten suhteiden kieltäminen näiden yhteisöjen sisällä. Suvaitsevana itseään pitävät tahot eivät kuitenkaan varmaan hyväksyisi sitä, että esim. joku lestadiolainen lappilainen kunta kieltäisi homobaarien toiminnan kunnan rajojen sisällä. Suvaitsevuusihmisten täytyisi vedota johonkin yleiseen yksilönvapausargumenttiin voidakseen tuomita ko. kunnan homofobisen päätöksenteon. Tällöin he tulisivat kuitenkin myöntäneeksi, että suvaitsevuudella on rajansa: suvaitsevuus ei koske yksilönvapauden vastaisia ideologioita ja niihin perustuvia tekoja, koska yksilönvapauden vastaisia asioita ei haluta hyväksyä.

Ilkka Kokkarinen:

I also remember the first time I saw a woman wearing an all-covering burqa. This happened in a Finnish supermarket some time during the first year in university. (Pitäisi olla my first year, M.E. huom.) She was buying her groceries like a normal person, but a lot more fascinating thing for me to watch were the other women in the store as they noticed her. When they saw their burqa-clad sister and understood the significance of what they saw, the looks on their faces were a combination of disgust and shock that I found much more interesting than the burqa itself.

Satunnaisten suomalaisten naisten inhon- ja kauhunsekaiset reaktiot burqaan pukeutuneen somalinaisen näkemiseen voivat olla mielenkiintoisempia kuin burqan näkeminen sinänsä, mutta vielä mielenkiintoisempaa on suomalaisen ja muun länsimaalaisen vasemmiston suhtautuminen muslimien kivikautisiin asenteisiin. Normaali suomalainen nainen (ja mies) sentään ymmärtää, että muslimit sortavat naisia. Vasemmistolaiset poliitikot ja pseudointellektuellit sen sijaan ummistavat silmänsä muslimien harrastamalta naisten ja lasten sorrolta, pakkoavioliitoilta, ympärileikkauksilta, taikauskolta (mm. dzinneihin uskomiselta, evoluutioteorian vastustamiselta, holokaustirevisionismilta), homofobialta, rasismilta jne.

Maahanmuutosta ja monikulttuurisuudesta ei saa sanoa pahaa sanaa, jotta ei kuulostaisi poliittisesti epäkorrektilta. Virallisen monikulttuurisuusideologian mukaan Afrikasta ja Lähi-idästä tulevat maahanmuuttajat rikastuttavat länsimaista kulttuuria. Joka tätä epäilee, on multikultifanaatikkojen mielestä suvaitsematon natsi. Niinpä multikultifanaatikot itse suhtautuvat suvaitsevasti Afrikasta ja Lähi-idästä tulevien maahanmuuttajien kulttuuriin, johon kuuluu naisten pitäminen vankeina nyrkin ja hellan välissä, naisten pakottaminen huntuun tai burqaan kuolemanrangaistuksen uhalla, naisten alistaminen synnytyskoneiksi, alaikäisten tyttärien pakkonaittaminen aikuisille serkuilleen jne.

Multikulti-ideologit eivät kuitenkaan itse kehtaa avoimesti kannattaa niitä arvoja, joita islamilaiset maahanmuuttajat kannattavat. Muslimit sortavat naisia, mutta länsimaalaiset multikulti-ihmiset eivät voi sanoa suoraan kannattavansa naisten sortoa. Siksi he joko ummistavat silmänsä eli kiistävät muslimien harrastaman naisten sorron olemassaolon eli valehtelevat tahallisesti islamilaisen kulttuurin todellisuudesta (ks. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila) tai sitten suhtautuvat suvaitsevasti naisten orjuuttamiseen burqaan kahlituiksi pakkonaitetuiksi synnytyskoneiksi islamilaisessa kulttuurissa ja samaan aikaan sanovat naisten ja miesten keskipalkkojen n.20% suuruisen eron olevan hirveä epäkohta länsimaisessa yhteiskunnassa.

Sama kaksinaismoralismi koskee vasemmistolaisten multikulti-ihmisten suhtautumista kaikkiin muihinkin muslimien ja muiden kolmannesta maailmasta tulevien maahanmuuttajien primitiivisiin ajatuksiin ja näiden ajatusten paljon lievempiin versioihin länsimaalaisten ihmisten esittäminä. Esim. suomalaiset vasemmistolaiset ovat vaatineet yksityisten kristillisten koulujen kieltämistä, koska niissä opetetaan kreationismia. Samaan aikaan kaikki muslimit saarnaavat kreationismia, mutta vasemmistolaiset multikultifanaatikot kannattavat tunnustuksellista islaminuskon opettamista peruskoulussa ja lukiossa islamilaisten maahanmuuttajien lapsille, suomalaisten veronmaksajien kustannuksella.

Samat vasemmistolaiset paheksuvat syvästi länsimaalaisten oikeistolaisten nihkeää suhtautumista homoparien adoptio-oikeuteen, mutta eivät sanallakaan kritisoi tappouhkauksia homoille esittäviä imaameja.

Kun hollantilainen homoseksuaalisesti suuntaunut mies nimeltä Pim Fortuyn sai tappouhkauksia muslimeilta, hän ilmaisi suhtautuvansa moiseen hieman kielteisesti. Kostoksi tästä islamofobisesta asenteesta hollantilainen vasemmistoaktivisti Volkert van der Graaf tappoi hänet, koska vasemmisto ei toki voi hyväksyä islamin kritisointia. Vähät siitä, että muslimit esittävät tappouhkauksia homoille - sehän on ihan asiallista meininkiä vasemmiston mielestä, koska kukaan muslimi tai muu ei-länsimaalainen ei voi vasemmiston mielestä olla koskaan väärässä missään asiassa. Samaan aikaan samojen vasemmistolaisten mielestä on hirveää homofobiaa, jos jonkun länsimaalaisen mielestä lapsia ei pitäisi antaa Juha Föhrin ja Jorma Uotisen adoptoitavaksi.

Olen joskus ennenkin siteerannut tätä IK:n pätkää, mutta repetitio mater studiorum est:

And of course, there is the little chestnut that I must have already mentioned a million times: when a white Christian man says that gay marriage is not a 100% positive thing, he is a disgusting subhuman bigot who makes the progressive ashamed to even belong to the same species with him, but when the Muslim culture, instead of debating whether gays should be allowed to marry debates whether gays should be allowed to live, the progressives just gush how we must understand and accept this exciting alternative culture instead of condemning it and being all judgemental. This blatant hypocrisy reveals pretty much everything we need to know about the real motivations of leftists.

En tiedä, paljastaako tämä vasemmistolaisten kaksinaismoraali heidän todellisia motiivejaan, niitä kun voi olla monenlaisia. Ainakin se paljastaa heidän epärehellisyytensä ja/tai epä-älyllisyytensä. En tiedä, kumpi on pahempi: a) tätä ristiriitaa tajuamaton idiootti vai b) tästä ristiriidasta täysin tietoinen, orwellilaista kaksoisajattelua tahallisesti harrastava perverssi hullu. Edellinen tapaus on tyhmä kuin saapas, joten sellaisella ihmisellä ei pitäisi olla äänioikeutta. Jälkimmäinen edustaa lähintä mahdollista approksimaatiota siitä, mitä voidaan kutsua nimellä Pahuus.

keskiviikkona, toukokuuta 03, 2006

On the Argument from Marginal Cases

One of the earlier comments referred to libertarian positions on animal rights, so I thought this would be a good time to expand upon the subject.

From my point of view David Graham gets closer to the truth than most in his article, even if I disagree with the idea of animal rights broadly understood. Arguments from species typical behaviors cannot possibly work in the context of an ideology which has a long history of protecting the rights of the atypical against a tyrannical majority, and the argument from marginal cases does hold some special punch because it's one of the few arguments out there which take species neutrality seriously. But I think David also too easily dismisses Tibor Machan's practical reasoning: we wouldn't be talking about animal rights as a separate topic unless there was something different about the moral status of people and animals.

From my own utilitarian-contractarian background the problem is that natural rights theory fails to fully elucidate why rights exist, or to pay attention to the structure of rights as a useful, man-made system or a purposeful mechanism. When it does so, it overlooks the complexities, tradeoffs, practicalities and the haziness that go along with even the best systems of rights, and so leads to hard and fast decisions in limiting cases where none should really exist. Contractarians and utilitarians avoid this because of the explanatory power of their consequentialism, even if the more explanatory theory comes with a stiff price in simplicity and the power to actually settle concrete questions.

Before we can ask whether the nonaggression principle should also apply to animals, we have to know why it exists in the first place. The view I currently deem the most reasonable is that nonaggression is mutually beneficial in certain conditions, so it's rational to impose it provided the preconditions hold.

Historically the delegitimization of violence has been a slow process guided by social dynamics and economic pressures. At the broadest level it can be described as a combination of social competition, selection and innovation leading to the limitation of arbitrary aggression in favour of more economically productive forms of societal organization. At the root, coercion is a means of getting what you want, either regardless of the cost to others, or downright at the cost of others. In an environment with sentient, strategic, purposeful actors it spawns defensive aggression, and the end result of the two opposed externalities consists of needless dissipation of resources and an inefficient incentive structure in expectation. Limiting such dissipation and erecting incentives to continually negotiate for mutual benefit can be a significant economic gain, which provides both the incentive to reciprocally limit aggression and the means of actually financing the enforcement of the choice. Information and incentive constraints usually make this the easiest to attain in small groups of closely related people or tightly knit communities, which is why insider-outsider phenomena and the like exist, but later game dynamics in large crowds (e.g. the evolution of the propensity to retaliate at cost, and the arisal of territoriality) and downright innovations in social organization (e.g. the state, which at first internalizes much of the cost of aggression as the lowered personal welfare of the sovereign) can make the idea more broadly applicable. We then (thankfully) happen to live in a society where just the latter has taken place; for the most part we follow noninitiation of aggression, the rule of law and rational principles of government, and are immensely better off for it.

The main point is that rights only exist because they are both mutually beneficial and practically enforceable. As such, they are highly contingent on people's reactions and their capability of erecting commonly understood rules, adaptive individual propensities, mutualistic institutions, shared cultural norms and self-propagating ideologies having to do with law and morality. Dissipation only comes about with strategic actors capable of thinking ahead and reacting rationally, bargaining for limited aggression is rational only when the benefit is mutual, the concept of rights only makes sense when they can be enforced at reasonable cost (i.e. mostly self-enforced by a moral agent, constrained by self-discipline, and motivated by the deterrent effects of organized, strategic retaliation), and it makes absolutely no sense to talk about rights unless there is someone there to strategically bargain with you (i.e. there is always a social component to rights). This contingency also means that rights aren't quite as self-evident or set in stone as natural rights advocates would like to think; the rights to life, liberty and property do have a strong game theoretical reasoning behind them, but there are also circumstances where they might not be the best mechanism available. The reasoning is also based in efficiency concerns, which do not uniquely fix the distributional side of the equation; if two allocations of rights lead to equally efficient incentives and outcomes, the sharing of the gains is always somewhat indeterminate and more than one morally justified outcome/equilibrium of rights is possible.

Animal rights and the objections to them are a typical example where the underlying preconditions of rights do not hold, and where the concept of natural rights an sich easily leads to confusion. When Tibor Machan talks about the moral faculty of animals, what he's essentially saying is that animals don't participate in the moral game and so shouldn't share in its proceeds. They do not reciprocate our moral commitments, and the extent to which their violence towards us can be circumscribed by rational deterrence is highly limited. Hence, they are not within the realm of reciprocal, man-made morality.

This is not to say that they couldn't in principle be: apes, dolphins, many typical pets and so on can be taught and can even exhibit certain features of autonomous morality, so to the extent that this is the case, reciprocity holds. Once you domesticate an animal, you'll probably have certain responsibilities towards it, and if your pet dolphin responds strategically, to a degree concrete rights will accrue to it. But in practice this degree of strategic behavior and potential for mutual bargaining is extremely low. Thus, I doubt that the reasoning behind the right to life can be extended to any animal we're currently aware of.

As for marginal people, there the reasoning is markedly different, and at the base strategic. A sleeping or insane person isn't acting morally right then, that is true. But we do know that everybody will go to sleep at one time or another, and that anybody could go insane in the future. Thus if we rid sleeping or insane persons of their rights, people will expect that limitation of rights to apply to them in the future, and will prepare for the eventuality. This will already lead to dissipation of resources at the present time. Thus, in the most efficient scheme of morality, sleeping and insane people will have to have rights as well.

This is also where the species line acquires some relevance: the argument does not apply to animal rights because people do not expect to turn from moral agents into rightless animals over night. This line of reasoning is also interesting in that it shows a proper system of rights to exhibit some hysteresis: once you've displayed some characteristics which entitle you to certain rights, you will already be able to act strategically in the expectation of losing your rights, this would lead to societal losses if you indeed expect such a loss, and so you will have to be granted rights into the future even if you cease to display the entitling characteristics.

Then on the other hand such sticky rights cannot be unlimited. If you cease to be a full moral agent, for example by going insane, deterrence will no longer hold and you cannot be trusted to keep your end of the moral bargain. Thus, in this case we end up with the morals of care and/or paternalism. For example, suppose you've gone mad, stopped understanding why it is wrong to kill other people and started doing just that. Then it wouldn't make sense to punish you because that wouldn't lead to deterrence and you would presumably waste resources now to prepare for the punishment later. But it would still make sense and be right to engage in self-defence against you, to realize your property to cover the damages, and also to isolate you permanently from others even if there's no mens rea involved; this would probably be the least of two evils.

On the contrary, children have never been moral agents so they cannot acquire rights by the above mechanism. That is why paternalism probably holds to a degree with respect to them; actually what are called children's rights are mostly their parents rights against other people, with the kids basically having the status of property. This is for example why abortion is justified: an expecting mother can kill her child/property if giving birth would somehow be opposed to her own welfare.

However, there are once again caveats. Nowadays parents do have a choice as to having children, so with that choice comes increased responsibility. This is mainly a population control and resource allocation issue, and leads to responsibilities of the parents towards surrounding people in contraception, upbringing, education and financial support of their kids. Secondly, children are by their nature domesticated, so once you give birth and the physical tie between you and the child ceases to be, at least the basic duties of care and humane treatment apply. Third, kids grow up really fast, and start acquiring their own, independent rights. Those rights of course apply equally against the parents, and independently of any duty of care because the reasoning is once again different. And fourth, treatment—particularly bad treatment—early on in life is known to have significant effects on people's moral tendencies and abilities as adults, so naturally part of the moral pact between adults which allows all of us reproductive freedom is that we have to avoid mistreating our kids, so that they can be expected to behave once grown up.

Finally, I'll also have to refer to Peter Singer's views. Sometimes fundamental reasoning of the above kind does lead to the conclusion that some rights we hold evident really aren't. For example, it isn't a given that people have the right to life solely because they're human. On the contrary I would argue that one basic duty of care flowing from your choice of having kids or acquiring domesticated pets is to euthanize either under certain conditions, like severe enough disability early on.

The above is naturally just a hurried sketch, but I hope it still suffices to illustrate some of the main themes in my view of ethics: morality should be analyzed primarily in strategic, economic, rational and bargaining terms (the fundamental reason why animal rights are limited), similar looking rights can be several (e.g. rights to life of infant and parent), different looking rights can be differing implementations of the same underlying principle (e.g. rights to liberty and property), the most efficient system of rules often consists of convoluted layers of claims, counterclaims and exceptions (e.g. the situated rights and duties of husband and wife, particularly across time, differing marital arrangements and unanticipated events), the moral choice is between systems and reasoned bargains as a whole, not individual rules (e.g. incentive arguments tie choice with responsibility), often the choices are somewhat indeterminate (e.g. an inferior rule combined with innovative preparation to its consequences can be as good as the a priori better one) and because of the complexity involved, in the end the best morality comes about via trial and error, choice, rational thought, competition and other free market mechanisms, not a priori analysis or centralized legislative fiat (e.g. how the balance between the right to be left alone by your neighbours and the right to live as you choose on your own property even if that implies some externalities on your neighbours has been arrived at).