Forming a consistent political view

In view of the current US presidential election, I think it would be a useful exercise to see if I could form a rational political view that is consistent with what I actually know and believe from my training as a scientist. From my knowledge of dynamical systems and physics, I believe in the inherent unpredictability of complex nonlinear systems. Uncertainty is a fundamental property of the universe at all scales. From neuroscience, I know that people are susceptible to errors, do not always make optimal choices, and are inconsistent. People are motivated by whatever triggers dopamine to be released. From genetics, I know that many traits are highly heritable and that includes height, BMI, IQ and the Big Five personality traits. There is lots of human variance. People are motivated by different things, have various aptitudes, and have various levels of honesty and trustworthiness. However, from evolution theory, I know that genetic variance is also essential for any species to survive. Variety is not just the spice of life, it is also the meat. From ecology, I know that the world is a linked ecosystem. Everything is connected. From computer science, I know that there are classes of problems that are easy to solve, classes that are hard to solve, and classes that are impossible to solve and no amount of computing power can change that. From physics and geology, I fully accept that greenhouse gases will affect the energy balance on earth and that the climate is changing. However, given the uncertainty of dynamical systems, while I do believe that current climate models are pretty good, there does exist the possibility that they are missing something. I believe that the physical laws that govern our lives are computable and this includes consciousness. I believe everything is fallible and that includes people, markets and government.

So how would that translate into a political view? Well, it would be a mishmash of what might be considered socialist, liberal, conservative, and libertarian ideas. Since I think randomness and luck is a large part of life, including who your parents are, I do not subscribe to the theory of just desserts. I don’t think those with more “talents” deserve all the wealth they can acquire. However, I also do realize that we are motivated by dopamine and part of what triggers dopamine is reaping the rewards of our efforts so we must leave incentives in place. We should not try to make society completely equal but redistributive taxation is necessary and justified.

Since I think people are basically incompetent and don’t always make good choices, people sometimes need to be protected from themselves. We need some nanny state regulations such as building codes, water and air quality standards, transportation safety, and toy safety. I don’t believe that all drugs should be legalized because some drugs can permanently damage brains, especially those of children. Amphetamines and opioids should definitely be illegal. Marijuana is probably okay but not for children. Pension plans should be defined benefit (rather than defined contribution) schemes. Privatizing social security would be a disaster. However, we should not over regulate.  I would deregulate a lot of land use especially density requirements. We should eliminate all regulations that enforce monopolies including some professional requirements that deliberately restrict supply. We should not try to pick winners in any industry.

I believe that people will try to game the system so we should design welfare and tax systems that minimize the possibility of cheating. The current disability benefits program needs to be fixed. I do not believe in means testing for social programs as it gives room to cheat. Cheating not only depletes the system but also engenders resentment in others who do not cheat. Part of the anger of the working class is that they see people around them gaming the system. The way out is to replace the entire welfare system with a single universal basic income. People have argued that it makes no sense for Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to get a basic income. In actuality, they would end up paying most of it back in taxes. In biology, this is called a futile cycle but it has utility since it is easier to just give everyone the same benefits and tax according to one rule then having exceptions for everything as we have now. We may not be able to afford a basic income now but we eventually will.

Given our lack of certainty and incompetence, I would be extremely hesitant about any military interventions on foreign soil. We are as likely to make things worse as we are to make the better. I think free trade is in net a good thing because it does lead to higher efficiency and helps people in lower income countries. However, it will absolutely hurt some segment of the population in the higher income country. Since income is correlated with demand for your skills, in a globalized world those with skills below the global median will be losers. If a lot of people will do your job for less then you will lose your job or get paid less. For the time being, there should be some wage support for low wage people but eventually this should transition to the basic income.

Since I believe the brain is computable, this means that any job a human can do, a robot will eventually do as well or better. No job is safe. I do not know when the mass displacement of work will take place but I am sure it will come. As I wrote in my AlphaGo piece, not everyone can be a “knowledge” worker, media star, or CEO. People will find things to do but they won’t all be able to earn a living off of it in our current economic model. Hence, in the robot world, everyone would get a basic income and guaranteed health care and then be free to do whatever they want to supplement that income including doing nothing. I romantically picture a simulated 18th century world with people indulging in low productivity work but it could be anything. This will be financed by taxing the people who are still making money.

As for taxes, I think we need to go a system that de-emphasizes income taxes, which can be gamed and disincentivizes work, to one that taxes the use of shared resources (i.e. economic rents). This includes land rights, mineral rights, water rights, air rights, solar rights, wind rights, monopoly rights, eco system rights, banking rights, genetic rights, etc. These are resources that belong to everyone. We could use a land value tax model. When people want to use a resource, like land to build a house, they would pay the intrinsic value of that resource. They would keep any value they added. This would incentivize efficient utility of the resource while not telling anyone how to use it.

We could use an auction system to value these resources and rights. Hence, we need not regulate wall street firms per se but we would tax them according to the land they use and what sort of monopoly influence they exploit. We wouldn’t need to force them to obey capital requirements, we would tax them for the right to leverage debt. We wouldn’t need Glass-Steagall or Too Big to Fail laws for banks. We’ll just tax them for the right to do these things. We would also not need a separate carbon tax. We’ll tax the right to extract fossil fuels at a level equal to the resource value and the full future cost to the environment. The climate change debate would then shift to be about the discount rate. Deniers would argue for a large rate and alarmists for a small one. Sports leagues and teams would be taxed for their monopolies. The current practice of preventing cities from owning teams would be taxed.

The patent system needs serious reform. Software patents should be completely eliminated. Instead of giving someone arbitrary monopoly rights for a patent, patent holders should be taxed at some level that increases with time. This would force holders to commercialize, sell or relinquish the patent when they could no longer bear the tax burden and this would eliminate patent trolling.

We must accept that there is no free will per se so that crime and punishment must be reinterpreted. We should only evaluate whether offenders are dangerous to society and the seriousness of the crime. Motive should no longer be important. Only dangerous offenders would be institutionalized or incarcerated. Non-dangerous ones should repay the cost of the crime plus a penalty. We should also do a Manhattan project for nonlethal weapons so the police can carry them.

Finally, under the belief that nothing is certain, laws and regulations should be regularly reviewed including the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In fact, I propose that the 28th Amendment be that all laws and regulations must be reaffirmed or they will expire in some set amount of time.




9 thoughts on “Forming a consistent political view

  1. Its interesting that a basic guaranteed income is now commonly discussed (even by politicians in places like Canada, switzwerland, etc.) The modern form I first saw promoted by van Pariris (philosopher in Belgium—I used to stay at that a town since I knew a prof there) see
    (they have everyone from h simon, gintis, phelps, alperovitz, edelman etc in there)

    . I think Peter Thiel of paypal, and MIRI (machine intell research inst) , gay evangelical chjristian, and now trump supporter also is promoting this. (I even ‘applied’ for that job but there was only 1 job/1000 applicants). This goes back to Thomas paine, Milton friedman (and its basically same as negative income tax, so bill gates wouldnt actually get anything net).

    a complementary take on a sort of rational social order to the above might be (i’m sort of familiar with these people. as they say ‘peace, sells, but who’s buying’. Jefferson was also for abolition of slavery, after he died).

    ‘rational ‘ approaches also are competing with the alternative paradigms such as isis (ancient godess) and trump. Its interesting in that if you talk with people about ‘what happened in the 60’s’ one group will say it was all about MLK, Malcolm X, Vietnam, maybe the Kennedy’s while others say it was about goldstone bosons, nambu, higgs, weinberg, standard model (and maybe a bit of quantum biology—h frolich, umezawa, —-bose Einstein condensation in the brain used by penrose to suggest consiousness is non-computable).
    same with the 30’s—some say it was FDR and quantum mechanics getting polished up by dirac, Feynman…—others say it was Charlie chaplin and hitler. depends who you talk to.

    so maybe ‘rational’ policies (including ‘nudge’ as suggested by cas(h)s sunnstein) may muddle through, but may coexist with others simulatneously. a consistant system will be inconsistent if true. (or paraconsistent).
    (see edward nelson’s last proof (yale u) on the incosistancy of arithmatic. terrence tao apparently found an error).
    I knew people who would go through threatment programs and were told ‘don’t do this, don’t do that stay stay healthy’ but also ‘your genes makes you do this so you can’t help it’. some of these people who push this view (based on their extremely deep understanding of genetics they got by sitting through a 45 minute lecture) also promote a) self control and b) u can’t force your lifestyle on anyone else so I I want to bring every kind of poison in here it is my right and your responsibility to just say no——-u may have to keep saying it too so don’t have anything else on your schedule or mind..

    I saw some papers saying actually heritability of the ‘big five’ does not hold cross culturally—-its more an artifact of studies done on WEIRD people (henrich, ubc)—western, educated, industrialized, and r d which I forget).

    I wonder how one defines a ‘knowledge worker’. I used to see the term ‘symbolic analyst’. but this makes rush limbaugh and trump a knowledge worker, along with every tv reporter. theoretically wages depend on contribution to marginal productyivity. for example, mcdonald’s invented the hamburger, and fench (or freedom) fry. this had a huge spillover effect , leading to innovations in obesity and heart disease cllinics. the native americans only domesticated the potato.


  2. I agree with about 80% of this, especially the focus on the Land Value Tax (and related taxes), and on the future of work and income in a world with strong(er) AI.

    I don’t understand the preference for defined benefit (rather than defined contribution) schemes, especially as the institutions involved get more local (and have liquidity constraints that USG doesn’t have). You did live in Pittsburgh under Act 47, didn’t you? Defined benefit plans are mostly negotiated by groups that are poorly if at all connected to the ultimate payers (future taxpayers/CEOs/customers/workers), so there is a massive principal/agent problem that defined contribution solves. Defined benefit/contribution is also technically orthogonal from private/public provision of the insurance, although in practice the interest groups tend to line up. But it’s worth recognizing that defined contribution can still be publicly managed if that is desired.


  3. Generally liked this and agreed with it, except for the part about motive not being considered in the punishment of a crime. It doesn’t matter if free will exists or not so long as people will base their behavior on their evaluation of the motives of others and the consequences of the behavior of others and their own behavior. Thus intentional murders cause different emotional reactions than do negligent murders or accidental non-negligent murders. This is enough of a basis to treat crimes differently according to the motive. If someone intentionally murders your wife, you don’t care that free will doesn’t exist or that they are not likely to murder anyone else in the future. If societies punishment of the perpetrator does not loosely correlate to people’s emotional judgment, the system loses legitimacy.


  4. or or i think this is my blog and zine. (i dont understand all the www http etc.) D G Saari ‘chaotic elections’. .see also ‘deterministic chaos and the evolution of meaning’ by elliot wagner in british journal philosophy of science 2012. one group says using tononi’s integrated information theory due to finite memory the mind is noncomputable.(somewhere on arxiv, maybe mcguire of UK). (i agree with the conclusion, but not the way they got there. quite a few times i know i have been totally wrong (intuition is not a perfect guideline) (but i have also been right at times). i do think everything is ‘effectviely computable’ but this ‘everything’ leaves a whole lot out. as BYB say (Big G of ‘the wire’ ) ‘everyday is everyday’.


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