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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Economic Fairness

A statement of belief, that is not entirely without foundation in my personal study and observation: Any economic system must balance fairness with the transactional cost of ensuring fairness.


In the military, there is no pay for merit or for hours worked. The military functions solely because of the authoritarian structure present there. If not for the threat of force behind the orders of superiors, the military would be very inefficient. The military system completely lacks fairness.

In union shops you can run into a similar problem. Unions are good for jobs where there is little difference from one worker to another, but less good for jobs where there is a large range of expertise.

In high paying jobs, some randomness in compensation is acceptable so long as working hard and working well is compensated.

Now, this is only about one aspect of the economy--compensation. What about pricing? I think the same rule applies. It is wrong that a woman is likely to pay more for a car than a man, simply because of her gender. If car dealership posted two prices for cars, one for men and one for women, the transactional cost of curing the injustice would be small--we could just have the Corporation Commissions fine business who carried out the practice, or eventually take away their license. However, the current problem has to do with subtle biases, perhaps even unintentional behavior. This means the transactional cost could be very high to ensure fair treatment.

Nonetheless, I believe fairness is a crucial component in evaluating an economic system.

NOTE: Fairness is not sameness. Paying better workers more is fair. Charging a higher finance rate for those with poor credit is fair.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Personal evolution

My son is a pretty ferocious religious skeptic. He gives me daily briefs on his clashes with "weak-minded" Christian fundamentalist classmates, and waves off my efforts to point out that the points being made might be slightly more subtle than he is giving them credit for. He really wants me to give the slam dunk response like when I told him to tell his sparing partner that it was Kanye West, not Barack Obama, who said the government invented AIDS.

I remember being 14. When I went to church camp that summer I very sure that under no circumstances was it right to execute someone, kill someone in combat, or have an abortion. I also knew it was wrong to be gay. Now, God loves everyone, and people who make one of these mistakes aren't bad people, they just made mistakes and should be encouraged not to make such mistakes in the future.

Weird thing is, my mom & dad held none of those beliefs. They were generally against using force, Dad having served in a war he said he knew was foolish after his first day on the ground, but they weren't pacifist. And, I'm pretty sure they have always be pro-Choice. Not sure where they were about gay rights or capital punishment back then.

Certainty was just very, very important to me. I had to make things fit. I solved the problem of it being unjust for a person born in Saudi Arabia to be condemned for not being Christian by convincing myself that all religions were the same. That ultimately they all worshiped the same God I did. How's that for arrogant?

Monday, September 29, 2008


One of the favorite passages for lefties to quote is Matthew 25:40. "Whatsoever you do to the least these, that you do unto me." It's quotable because I remember the King Jamesy version. It also clearly contains an end-times theology referring to Jesus' Second Coming. Here's the whole passage. [Link] Trick with this is that Jesus almost certainly didn't say it. At least not in this context. As Marcus Borg points out in Jesus, passages like this that have Jesus referring to the Second Coming are out of place because most of his followers were having real trouble wrapping their heads around the fact that they were witnessing the First Coming. Second Coming was an idea that developed after Jesus was crucified.

It's like John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever shall believe in him shall not parish but have eternal life." This is the passage for literalists, and it is smack dab in the middle of a rebuke of literalism. Jesus tells Nicodemus to be born again, Nicodemus says, "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" You can almost hear Jesus mutter idiot between the lines.

The Bible just doesn't work well as a tool to whack people over the head with; not if you intend to be honest with it.

DISCLAIMER: For the sake of fun, I made up the King Jamesy versions of these passages. Numerous accurate translations are available at biblegateway.com.