Weekend reflections

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Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
15 years ago

Fascinating line of thought that may interest our resident moral philosophers.

Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis in the US argue that dissatisfaction with the welfare system is not due to selfishness or lack of desire to help poor people, it is because many welfare programs violate deeply-held notions of fairness. This view is also held by many welfare-recipients who realise that their incentives are distorted by the system. The US public is still deeply committed to helping those in need; it is still popular to pay higher taxes to reduce poverty and many would pay more taxes for job training to get people off welfare.

Bowles and Gintis set out to show that there is a solid foundation for cooperation and sharing in two basic human motives which they label “strong reciprocity” and “basic needs generosity”. Strong reciprocity (SR) is the tendency to cooperate and share with others, as long as they play by the rules of the game. SR also involved the desire to punish those who break the rules. Basic needs generosity is the desire to provide at least the basic essentials of housing, clothing and food for people who cannot provide for themselves.

They coined the term Homo reciprocans for the person who cares about the well-being of others and about the fairness of the processes that determining outcomes. Futher summary and a link to their piece can be found on Catallaxy, 1st Nov.

Can’t get link to work!


So it worked freestanding but not

15 years ago

Darrell Hair’s been sacked by the ICC in a black versus white confrontation. Pure racism.

15 years ago

Noel Pearson’s opinion piece in today’s Oz is a well thought out critique on Kevin Rudd’s attack on neo-liberalism this week. I particular like his defence of Hayek:

“Also contentious is his vehement attack on Hayek. Hayek will never be a good target for demonising because people across the political spectrum will always acknowledge that he reminded the world about the importance of some aspects of the liberal heritage that were under-valued for a large part of the 20th century. Not only conservatives, but also social democrats have had to capitulate to some of Hayek’s liberal insights. Even those who do not agree with Hayek recognise him as a consistent representative of certain political and economic liberal ideas, having expressed those ideas clearly and successfully.”

15 years ago

Even crusades against child labour (something which looks horrible to us) often do the children more harm than good.

It cheers me up to see someone actually say that. I can’t help it, maybe I was too young when I read Ayn Rand, nothing makes me more suspicious than apparent altruism – and ‘fair trade’ in just about all its guises is a good example.

Which brings me to something…

I always read with increased interest when N Gruen starts wondering about the interaction between moral duties to others and free trade/immigration/guest work/whatever. I have a (doubtlessly unoriginal)* hunch that much of the history of what we call human rights, and of putatively other-regarding attitudes such as environmentalism, is in fact the history of increasing material wealth and consequentially well-being.

The link, of course, is that the better off one is the more time and ‘margin’ (in terms of impact on survival) one has to think about, and care about, others. The wealthier and better-off one’s immediate neighbours the more time and margin to think and care about further-off others, etc.

Does this suggest that, over the dead reluctant bodies of conservatives such as myself and the apparently limitless veniality of the UN and its hangers-on, our ever-increasing riches are slowly but surely paving the foundations of an international, or transnational or supranational or who-really-cares-what-you-call-it society?

*I suspect it was from reading the Economist some years ago, before, in fact, their internet archives’ reliable coverage. Incidentally, the Economist (or at least Megan McArdle and some friends

15 years ago

I’m just reading through November Quadrant. Great tongue in cheek line by Jenny Stewart is her article “A Brief History of Change”:

“We fuss about what George Bush is doing in Iraq, and whether the Australian Wheat Board could see the wood for the trucking fees.”

All right, just another spoonerism, but I thought it was funny. Anything to brighten up a miserable wet (but not wet enough!) weekend in Sydney.