Sunday, July 31, 2016

Revising Exam Answers

If we stay private till we plonk, we can't see the thought process people have gone through in order to come to their conclusions. We only see the end result. The path is more important than the conclusion. People change their own minds. The way we see the world changes as we see new things. The curse of knowledge makes it very difficult to ununderstand things. If you know that squiggles make words, you can't see squiggles - you can only see words. We are often forced to vote on things we don't understand. I think we should do more thinking in public, and be more open to changing our minds. We should be more critical of our own ideas once they are out there. Like being in an exam. You have a limited time to answer. You do your best. Then afterwards you see where you made mistakes, and you improve your answers for next time.

A friend and I are having a debate about some of the topical political issues. I am no expert. I have attempted to answer ten of his questions exam style. I sat down, and answered them in one sitting. Fancy marking my answers? More questions or direction to resources that would lead to better answers would be appreciated.

Exam Time

1. Should people have access to universal (free) tertiary education?

Various countries have different approaches. I am not familiar with the evidence. Intuitively it feels like learning shouldn't be a privilege, but I feel similarly to education as I do to housing. You can make things almost free by increasing supply. Water is almost free and incredibly valuable. Providing loans for people who can't afford it increases demand, but not supply, and so just makes things more expensive. I am hoping Education Technology makes education significantly more democratic. I am for a Universal Basic Income. That would allow people to make their own choice on what to spend money on, which would include education.

2. Should people have access to universal healthcare?

Primary and emergency healthcare does seem like a basic human right. Some cultures are better than others at holistic health, which also includes what you eat, how much exercise you get, whether you make time to relax etc. Work environments that are healthy etc. are as much a part of health as paid for treatment. Market forces struggle in healthcare and create perverse incentives. I suspect if a Universal Basic Income could free people who are natural carers from worrying about how to survive financially, more of them would focus on caring for free. Free healthcare does lead to very difficult moral questions around available, but very expensive treatments. That shouldn't stop us providing for the basics though.

3. Should environmental regulation be informed by the recommendations of environmental scientists or by the industries such regulations would affect?

Both. I think anyone who feels they have something to contribute to regulations should be listened to. Science, by definition, is open to to evidence that can prove it wrong. It should be rigorous in its approach. Regulations should direct activity away from wealth capture and towards wealth creation and attempt as far as possible to quantify and allow for negative unintended consequences. Industry  will be best placed to articulate their interests, and then government should be able to incorporate that, and the interest of society, into the rule of law.

4. Should we have a global carbon reduction target based on the recommendations of science?

Yes. That is what the consensus of the world's experts is. That should be factored in to creating the best possible steps to start targeting the various problems the world faces. Problems can't be looked at in isolation, and so negotiating these things at multi-national level can get ridiculously complicated. I am a fan of micro-ambitious measures. Things that the man in the street can do. Things like eating less (or no) meat, using public transport, and being aware of individual impacts of what we do. Any plans that stop us having to depend on negotiating big plans. Small bottom up plans are better.

5. Should the majority of the land at the ground plane in our cities be publicly accessible?

I am a big fan of shared spaces. I love parks and paths. The best cities I have visited have all seemed open to all, allowing all those who visit or live there to be cultural billionaires. The biggest menace for me in cities is cars. I am looking forward to more efficient transport that removes the need for private vehicles and opens up more of the tar to walking, bicycles and shared vehicles. Cities are our best chance to create communities where we can break down barriers and learn to live together. That needs space.

6. Should we sell public assets to fund public services?

I like the idea of Community Wealth Funds. Where public assets are held in custodianship not just for the current generation. The analogy of the fruits of the tree being fair game as long as you look after the tree, and use some of the fruits to grow more trees. Selling the asset to fund services doesn't sound like a good idea to me. Rather make the asset work and use the fruits to fund services... or put the money in people's hands to decide what services they buy.

7. Should political parties be allowed to receive money from companies?

I don't like partisan politics. I do think the US is an example of where money and lobbying have gone awry. An arms race where both sides spending cancels each other out in a Zero Sum Game. Transparency probably helps. In the Financial Services Industry, there has been a big change in terms of what companies are allowed to spend on intermediaries. I think that has helped. I think it is a problem that fundraising and sharing of ideas are so linked. I prefer the idea of us all being interested in building consensus and listening to all parties. We can do a better job with democracy. The mix with money is one of many problems.

8. Should governments fund research more or less?

There is always a trade-off between research and current expenditure. Some important areas of research are under-funded and others over-funded. The question for me is how do we ensure we are working on the most important problems? There is a tendency for people to build up the importance of their expertise in order to get funding. The funding becomes the focus. As we get richer, we can start stripping away these kinds of incentives through increasing Universal Basic Incomes etc. Combining improved incentives with better communication, I believe the community itself can find the right balance between how much is spent on the future, and how much is spent on now. The community itself can best decide how to be good custodians. 

9. What is more important, freedom or dignity?

I don't think it is a competition and I don't think values can be quantified. Values change as society changes and different communities make different moral trade offs. I believe most people value both freedom and dignity. Constraints on freedom make for better co-ordination and co-operation. Rule of law makes things work smoothly when everyone agrees on the rules and plays by them. Dignity gets fuzzy. Adam Smith spoke of money being put aside to maintain leaderships dignity. I think leaders can live simply. The Pope shows that. Most Monarchs, less so. Dignity also gets fuzzy with things like free speech. I am for different communities coming to different agreements about how to deal with these things. Allowing for a variety of combinations of moral ingredients.

10. If we have a global carbon reduction agreement, should trade be a vehicle for its enforcement?

Yes. In a world of scarcity, I do think markets are the most efficient vehicles (within agreed rules) to allocate things. If there is a limited supply, demand can push the price up till the demand decreases. The rules would need to allow for any unintended consequences, so should operate within a democratic system.

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