The Fairness Principle

We are always changing our systems. Every new law changes something. Why do we make these changes? The easy answer is to make things better. Better for whom? Ideally better for everyone. But often the changes made are designed, consciously or not, to make things better for some individuals or for some class or classes of people with no consideration as to what the change does for the system as a whole, and no consideration as to whether there are any benefits for everyone else.

We need a new principle to be used when designing and considering changes to our economic and political systems. This principle should be something like: No change should benefit one group at the expense of everyone else or at the expense of other individuals or groups. This principle should be applied especially to the production and fair distribution of the human necessities. We can call this the Fairness Principle.

The human necessities are those goods and services every person needs to develop fully as a human person. Specifically these are: Food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, opportunities to associate with, cooperate with, work with other people, maximal individual freedom consistent with the well-being of others, and non-violence. And this production and fair distribution of these human necessities must be done within the constraints of the earth’s limited resources and the preservation of the natural world.

If there are many people whose basic human needs are not satisfied, then these people cannot contribute as much to the production of the goods and services we all need. We want a just system. We don’t want a system where there are a lot of freeloaders — people who get the benefits of cooperative work but who don’t do their fair share. This is one side of justice. The other side of justice is that the system must assure that those who work have all the resources they need to do the work they do. This is why we want every person to have the human necessities.

The principle that no changes to our system should be made which favors particular individuals or groups over others is a kind of Fairness Principle. Why should we accept this principle? Because it seems unfair to change our system so that it takes away (or does not provide) goods and services from some people to give them to other people. This is more unfair if the goods and services taken away are human necessities. Then those whose necessities have been decreased become less able to contribute to the whole and the system works less well and everyone may be affected. If it is not human necessities that are taken away, then maybe it does not matter. So fairness in the distribution of human necessities is what matters most.

There could be rather immediate benefits if the above fairness principle were applied to the crafting of new laws. We can imagine a constitution where it would be required that laws conform to the fairness principle. Then courts could review laws and void them on the grounds of unfairness with respect to human necessities. Or maybe the courts or some new institution (maybe a part of the legislation system) would analyze and say yes or no to proposed new laws.

So special interest legislation could be reduced greatly. There already is some rule that is aimed at preventing legislation naming a specific individual, corporation, locality as the beneficiary of a law. Our legislators go around this rule by adding enough conditions so that only the desired individual or corporation or location qualifies for the benefit. But clearly the legislators could decide not to allow such fakery. The legislators already make all kinds of rules for themselves that the laws they write must conform to.

We all know our legislators are not going to make these changes any time soon. But don’t dismiss the idea just because it will not be implemented soon. I am exploring how things could be, not how they are likely to be next month or next year.

Many people recognize that our legislators have been bought and paid for by the rich, the 1%. Legislators write and pass legislation favoring those who contribute to their campaigns, their party, or who do favors for their family and friends. It is proposed that if we could only “get money out of politics” we would solve this problem, get our democracy back, and then start making the progressive changes we all want. It is more complicated than that. There has to be a revolution not only in the minds of the voters but also in the minds of those who are supposed to be our representatives.

What kind of different ideas must our legislators acquire? One idea is the Fairness Principle.

How can we help them change their minds so they make new laws to change our systems to systems that are better for everybody? For now we must continue thinking, researching, and writing.

 

 

Step by Step Revolution

Why do we have to have a step by step revolution? Are there other ways that would work? When we look at our present systems, we see that they need to be changed in many ways. Look at just a few of the ways our present systems are making things worse for people instead of better. Unemployment is high and not coming down quickly; in many countries it is increasing; and in a second economic downturn it will be getting worse. Economic crashes are occurring more often and they are getting bigger. We expect inflation, but maybe there will be deflation first. The near future, the next few years, seems unpredictable. Will there be another crash and another great depression? Those who are employed don’t know how long their jobs will last. Young people wonder why they should go to college when there may be no jobs for them when and if they graduate. College expenses have been increasing faster than inflation and students must take out loans that they will not be able to pay back for many years. The housing market has been messed up in multiple ways and no one has much confidence that owning a house is a good deal any more. Environmental degradation and destruction continue unchecked. New wars continue one after another. The banks which caused or hastened the crash continue essentially unregulated. In any case they always find new workarounds for any regulations. They violate our laws, local, state, and federal and are not punished, whereas ordinary people, the 99%, are arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned for minor victimless offenses. The politicians and government officials are bought and paid for. Our democracy has been hijacked. Many people mindlessly absorb ridiculous propaganda from the TV and have no clue how they are being used by the rich. And the government/corporation complex operates in secret and is taking away our rights, our freedoms, slowly, one at a time, so we don’t notice.

I could go on, but too much of this listing of what is wrong with our present political and economic system can lead to defeatism, inaction, gloom, and mental depression.

With so much that needs fixing, we could crudely conclude that we must overthrow the whole thing —  get rid of it all at once, once and for all, and replace it by some better system we build from scratch. That may sound good but it won’t work for several reasons.

If we should get rid of the present system, what is the new system that we would replace it with? We just described in a few previous posts that the grand economic theories don’t work. And nobody can design a whole new economic and political system from scratch. We could not possibly know how such a newly designed system would work unless we could see it actually working. All such systems can only come into existence through evolution — they are built up from what came before, they are built by changing, by adding to, or deleting something from, what already exists, one step at a time. Real human systems are too complicated. That’s why no grand theory can describe or explain them. That’s also why we can’t just overthrow our present political and economic system all at once. It’s too complicated. Everything is interconnected with everything else. We are all interconnected with everyone else. That quasi-mystical idea that “all is one” has a real world practical meaning. If we were to destroy our present systems all at once, we would all starve.

So we don’t really have a choice. We must proceed step by step modifying our present systems. This will still allow the possibility that the system that results after many, many careful steps may be quite far removed from any economic system we now know. In other words we can still make big, significant changes and as a result arrive at a much different system than we have now. We can have a big revolution accomplished through multiple small directed evolutionary steps — steps that through trial and error bring us closer to our revolutionary goal of a just distribution of the human necessities.

There are many problems with our present systems for which, right now, we have no, or very few, ideas as to how to fix them. You will notice that I sometimes consider just our “economic systems” and in other places I write “economic and political systems”. This is because the economic and political systems are different although in practice they are inseparable. The evolutionary revolutionary process described above suggests that we use the democratic process to change our laws at each step. But how can we change the laws to produce systems that move us closer to our goals if our democratic processes have been captured by the elites, the rich, the 1%, the zealots for the present failed systems? There are some ideas out there, but I haven’t explored them enough yet to say anything now.

Also it will be helpful to examine some possible first steps. And it will be helpful to discuss the benefits for all of us if we should develop systems that bring us close to our just distribution goals.

 

 

Speeding up Cultural Evolution

In previous posts I have discussed deficiencies in human thinking as described in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. The discovery and explanation of these deficiencies can reinforce pessimism. We might conclude that human thinking is so messed up that we are doomed to failures, confusions, mistakes that it’s a wonder we ever do anything right. Our economic theories are mostly crap; our democracy has been captured by the 1%; wars continue. Our understanding of human thought and behavior is wrong. Why bother to try to change or improve anything. Since our thinking is full of errors, confusions, illusions, delusions, conceits, and unwarranted optimism we would be foolish to try to fix anything that isn’t working or is working poorly.

If unwarranted optimism is bad, unwarranted pessimism is much worse since unwarranted pessimism leads to inaction, depression, and even death.

So how can we be optimistic after reading “Thinking, Fast and Slow”? We can be optimistic because we can see it as part of the larger process of cultural evolution. Groups of humans more or less working together — families, tribes, clubs, associations, corporations, towns, cities, states, nations, all organizations — change and evolve their social and individual behaviors by discovering, generating, assimilating new ideas through doing science and art and other social and individual activities. We invent new things, we make inspiring movies and videos, we speak and write stories and novels and poetry, we create images, symbols, illustrations and paintings. This is the process of change and evolution of human groups and of human cultures in general. Evolution is more than just change. Evolution builds on what came before. Change could be anything. The way cultures change is by building on what they already have. Thus cultures change through evolution.

Kahneman provides scientific facts about mistakes in human thinking he and other psychologists discovered by doing psychological experiments on groups of people living mostly in the last half of the twentieth century. Some of the mistakes in thinking he described may result from the physical structure of the human body and brain. Examples might be certain optical illusions and the fact that our memories do not store all the information about an event that we have at time of the event (see the cold hand experiment — Kahneman p. 381-383). A person might think that if a deficiency results from such structural factors that the error is then inherent to the nature of humans. But humans are adaptable. I am not saying that we can learn to store in our memories all the relevant information for the cold hand experiment (although I suspect we could with training), or that we can train our sensory systems to avoid sensory illusions. But we can, if are aware of dangerous situations, if we learn the categories of situations in which mistakes sometimes or often occur, then we can work around them, we can avoid them by thinking in a different way. As Kahneman said:

“The way to block errors that originate in System 1 is simple in principle: recognize signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2. This is how you will proceed when you next encounter the Muller-Lyer illusion. When you see lines with fins pointing in different directions, you will recognize the situation as one in which you should not trust your impressions of length. …” — Kahneman p. 417.   

So Kahneman discovers and spreads the word about deficiencies in human thinking. This is not bad news. It’s good news. Now we know more about mistakes we often make and so we can correct these mistakes, work around them, or otherwise avoid them. This is progress. This is cultural evolution at work.

Most importantly, this new knowledge, as it spreads through the human population, will speed up cultural evolution since cultural evolution depends on human creativity which depends on human thinking, human choices, human decisions. So if we can learn to think better, learn to make better choices, learn to make better decisions, this will help us create new useful and beautiful things, help us create more humane and just social arrangements, improve our own individual behavior both with respect to ourselves (improved physical and mental health) and it will improve our behavior with respect to others.

There are many other things which have speeded up and which will speed up cultural evolution in the future besides just improving our thinking. Some are: cooperation, competition, care for others, maximal individual freedom, democracy, art, science, engineering, many human inventions such as writing, printing, mechanized farming and transport, mass education, computers, expansion of interpersonal communications (cell phones, the internet).

And for the future, to speed up cultural evolution, very shortly after now, maybe directed non-violent revolution — a pushed non-violent evolution towards a world whose economic and political systems will more justly distribute the goods produced by humans as a whole so that each individual person has the basic human necessities in order to live and thrive. These include food, clothing, shelter, education, health, maximal individual freedom consistent with the freedom and well-being of others, all in accord with the earth’s limited resources and preserving other life on earth.

This is not impossible. We can adopt this goal and work toward it. We will modify our economic and political systems carefully, one step at a time, always with the goal in mind, evaluating each step (did it get us closer to the goal, did it cause harm, did it have any unintended consequences). Then repeat, repeat, repeat. This is trial and error. But trial and error is mostly all we have here or in any other human activity. The grand, glorious theories have failed. Forget them. Maybe take some parts of them, some smallish principles, and see if we can use them to modify our present systems and move us closer to our just distribution goal. Since this is a non-violent evolution we must build upon what we know now. If some idea from our present systems would seem to bring us closer to our goal, use it, try it out, test it to see if it actually does work to bring us closer to our goal.

But look for new ideas too. Especially those which look likely to speed up our directed revolution.

Perhaps the very idea that there is some grand and glorious theory that can explain, model, and predict human economic behavior is itself a monstrous example of the Illusion of Validity. See Kahneman, chapter 20, “The Illusion of Validity”.

The very idea that such theories exist, or must exist, or could exist if only we could find them leads to a lot of wasted time and mental energy. Worse this idea is pernicious for at least two reasons. First is that the current candidates for grand theory are so wrong that they cause serious harm in the real world. Second, when people glom onto one such theory as the correct theory, the one and only true way, they cut themselves off from the possibility of change, and they try to cut everybody else off from the possibility of change and improvement too.

These are reasons why the revolution must not glom onto any grand economic type theories. Discard them all: Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, etc. (What other “ism”’s are there?). At most take pieces, smallish parts, maybe certain principles, certain ideas from any of them which look like they might make sense, might work in a new pragmatic framework that is being evolved carefully from our present system, and then adopt provisionally, check, test, evaluate, to determine if this old idea might actually work in our new evolving system to actually bring us closer to our just-distribution system.

Down with Grand Theories. The only test for any modification of our systems, any policy change, any new law, should not be does it conform to some theory, but rather it should be: Does it bring our systems closer to our just-distribution goals.