Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Political failures through attacking the wrong target

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One (!) of the more important reasons why politicians tend to fail is that the tasks chosen are often virtually impossible, and often through being aimed at the wrong target.

The fight against poverty, for instance, tends to have at least two faults:

Firstly, the typical aim is to exterminate poverty, where a much more achievable and fairer goal would be to exterminate undeserved poverty. Even that might be very hard and/or just approximately achievable, but it is within the realistically (approximately) achievable. Indeed, countries like Sweden and Germany are already approximately there. But to exterminate poverty, in general? There are too many who not only dislike* working for their money, but who either actively try to avoid such work or are too irresponsible to look for work. There are too many who spend what money they do have too unwisely or spend money that they do not have. There are too many who have children before having enough own income to get by without governmental aid. Etc. Trying to hold these above a poverty limit is not only a task to frustrate Sisyphus, but a task which is unfair to everyone else and can make it harder to keep the undeservedly poor out of poverty, because there is less money to go around. Other complications include e.g. that short-term financing through taxes can hurt future economic growth, which means that the cake to divide will not be as large as it could be; and that more money for the deservedly poor can lead to a dysgenic pressure, which gives us more of the same kind in the next generation.

*Yours truly included: I differ in that I do not expect others to pay for me without a “something for something” and actually work hard to get money when I need money. (And that I do not just want to avoid employment in order to be lazy, drink beer, and watch TV—I still work hard, just at tasks that are more fulfilling to me, like studies, blogging, and writing my first book.)

Secondly, the barrier for poverty is continually altered to include a large segment of people that are not poor in any real sense—people who live lives incomparably much better than their counter-parts even a hundred years ago, let alone two or three hundred years ago. Indeed, definitions of relative poverty like “anyone with an income below 60 % of the median income is poor” can create more “poor” merely though others growing wealthier and is at best an indirect measure of low income (let alone poverty in any real sense): what it actually measures is income disparities.* A better goal would be, e.g., to ensure that everyone has the opportunity** to earn enough money*** that a happy and self-fulfilling life is possible. This is something that does not require much money and other factors than money are more likely to be the main obstacles****.

*Other flaws include that it does not include existing wealth or expected pay-out over time. For instance, I currently earn nothing, because I use money that I have earned in the past to take a break from “regular” work to write my book. Does that make me poor by any even remotely reasonable definition? Moreover, that I earn nothing right now does not mean that I will not earn something in the future based on my current activities. I have no illusions about earning even a fraction of what Stephen King has, but he did go through a number of very lean years before breaking through. He might even have qualified as poor-for-real at the low points, but I daresay that most of us would willingly switch places with him, income-wise, if it brought the same type of wealth a few years later—and he could have been better off back then, simply through not writing and spending the same amount of time on a second job. What measure of poverty will catch something like that?

**Opportunity and not guarantee, in order to filter out the undeserving.

***Based on the current society. Other societies might see some other mechanism than earning money, but the point should be clear.

****What these are will vary from person to person. In my case, the single greatest obstacle is the constant exposure to human stupidity and irrationality, as discussed in many previous texts. Indeed, even this text discusses special cases.

As an aside, these two issues are among the reasons why I consider social mobility a much higher priority than reducing income disparities (while the Left, especially in Sweden, tends to be obsessed with the latter). On the contrary, when social mobility is high enough, large income disparities are a good thing.

Another fairly obvious example is trying to exterminate the effects of different abilities—something, again, both unfair and virtually impossible*. For this, we do not even need to look at e.g. U.S. racial discussions—we can equally look at Swedish and German “working-class children” discussions: Based on an outdated and scientifically disproved “tabula rasa”/“nurture only” thinking, Leftist politicians again and again make noise about how working-class children tend to have worse grades, worse careers, whatnot, than those with wealthier and more educated parents**; and, similarly, how adult members of the working class tend to have worse health and shorter life-expectancy. Now, some of this might very well still go back to differences in “nurture”, but, if so, far, far less than a hundred years ago. Note e.g. that Swedish schools are very uniform and that both Swedish and German university studies are almost free of charge. At the same time, there is a definite “nature” aspect, e.g. because IQ (or e.g. academic talent, for the IQ-deniers) tends to bring a better education, a better job, and a higher income (i.e. a higher SES) and has a heritable component, implying that the children of high/low-SES parents will have predisposition towards high/low-SES, themselves. There will be some regression to the mean and considerable individual variation, but not seeing a sizable effect would be highly surprising. For e.g. school to neutralize the alleged-by-the-Left effect of the parents’ SES, it would not be enough to create equal opportunities and a fair playing field—it would be necessary to give children from low-SES families outright advantages in violation of equal opportunities. Here, too, the key is social mobility: if a large proportion of the low-SES children end up with a high own SES and a similar proportion of the high-SES children do not, then things are in order and we can assume that opportunities are at least approximately equal.***

*At least, in a society that would not soon turn out to be a horrible dystopia. It might be short of Harrison Bergeron, but a horrible dystopia nonetheless.

**This, obviously, boils down to SES, but that term is rarely used in the actual discussions, simplistic and propagandist as they tend to be.

***How large that proportion should be is very hard to say, and it will likely vary over time, as a high social mobility will tend to polarize the intellectual “upper” and “lower” classes from each other over time. A better test might be to look at life outcomes based on e.g. IQ and some other psychometric measures, e.g. relating to industriousness, conscientiousness, or “delayed gratification”. If these have a significantly larger effect than parental SES on own SES then things are in order. (But it might be necessary to make such measures fairly early to avoid real or suspected effects of mutual influence, e.g. that more education would affect IQ, with the disadvantage that these measures would have an increased unreliability, as the correlation between the child and the adult is far from perfect.)

The health issues, similarly, will to a large part boil down to inborn difference in, e.g., conscientiousness and “delayed gratification”, that the one will prioritize long-term health over potato chips and will pay attention to the nutritional information on various foodstuffs, while the other will not, and so on. True, there might very well be circumstantial effects, like lower work satisfaction increasing the risk for potato chips, pizza, and beer at the end of the working day. Here something might be doable, but e.g. just “taking from the rich and giving to the poor” is unlikely to be very helpful. To boot, the lower work satisfaction might have been avoided if the employee was better at X, Y, and Z. Similarly, someone who makes a more rational and informed choice of spouse is likelier to have a happier marriage than someone who picks the first “cool” or “sexy” counter-part who is willing, and it seems highly plausible that a happier marriage will lead to a healthier life. Etc.

As an aside concerning the education aspect of SES, and education in general: It is a major fallacy to assume that because X was bright, competent, and had a degree, Y will be bright and competent, too, as soon as he has his degree. On the contrary, the bright and competent of the past often (not always!) had degrees because they were bright and competent to begin with. Pushing the dull and incompetent through years of higher education and graduating them through lowered academic standards will do more to undermine the value of the degrees and less to increase competence.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 30, 2020 at 3:14 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] the unholy Conservative/Social-Democrat alliances in German politics, or some of the issues from yesterday’s text**. This, note well, not counting the many cases where I strongly disagree with developments but […]

  2. […] text from last year dealt with political failures through attacking the wrong target. What if this is largely deliberate? Or what if poor means are deliberately chosen? Take school: […]

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