Sandpit

A new sandpit for long side discussions, idees fixes and so on. Unless directly responding to the OP, all discussions of nuclear power, MMT and conspiracy theories should be directed to sandpits (or, if none is open, message boards).

18 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. I wonder why our modern attachment to democracy is incomplete, why it does not extend from politics into economics? We can note a spectrum of power that runs from the arbitrary, centralised and absolute through to the lawful, popular and distributed. This spectrum runs;

    Autocracy -> Aristocracy -> Oligarchy -> Meritocracy -> Democracy.

    Looking at the USA and Australia as examples, our political and economic life exists within the general orbit of oligarchy, meritocracy and democracy. We have kinds of periodic and limited democratic outbreaks at various levels (elections). Functionally, we produce and install or see “installed” representatives, meritocrats, technocrats and oligarchs at various levels and positions and these persons and functionaries run our society and all our enterprises on a daily basis.

    If we take the legitimacy of inherited power (monarchy and aristocracy) as having being largely rejected by modern advanced nations, then the real tensions left are those between oligarchy, meritocracy and democracy. Oligarchy occupies an ambiguous niche between aristocracy and meritocracy. An oligarch can indeed rise by a kind of merit, a kind of ability. It can be debatable how much of this rise is due to merit and how much is due to systemic factors which create rentier effects and wealth transfer effects which funnel inordinate gains to the nascent oligarch. An oligarch might also rise by inheritance. Wealth and corporate power are not direct political power in themselves but they can lead to access to direct political power or even to direct political power. The oligarch is the aristocrat of capital.

    Equally, we can note a real tension between meritocracy and democracy. Meritocracy appears necessary for an efficient running of politics and economics not to mention all daily tasks in an economy and society. People chosen on merit are competent, even skillful. The alternative is unworkable. We cannot choose incompetents to fly aircraft, build bridges or run companies, corporations or government. (Though the choice of Tony Abbott might call this last proposition into question.)

    The issue of meritocracy goes beyond the issue of position, reward and remuneration. A certain degree of social and economic inequality certainly must result from differences in ability and merit. It is hard to imagine an economy where a cleaner or a clerical worker could or should get the same remuneration as a pilot or a professor. However, we can imagine an economy where cleaners and clerical workers do get a decent living wage and opportunity is not limited by birth or family money so that anyone with the ability who puts in the work can become a pilot or a professor. Luck may play a part too. The world is never without chance, accident and exigency.

    Beyond the issues of position, reward and remuneration are the issues of governance. In the area of governance, there is or there appears to be a tension between meritocratic principles and democratic principles. All of our corporations and companies (above the level of family businesses) are kinds autocracies. They are run essentially by rich (even oligarchic) owners or their appointed managers. Workers have little or no say in how the company is run. The “aristocracy” which runs our large businesses and our economy (achieving the latter by money, influence and lobbying) is really a kind of meritocratic and technocratic elite. This merit is real and functional in this system in at least some senses without any implication that this merit is moral or not moral.

    The modern tension between meritocratic and democratic principles seems to inhere in the assumption that democracy is fine (even noble) in theory and that certain personal rights can and should be granted or secured by democratic means. However, it seems not conceivable that an economy can in practice be democratic. It seems that elitist rule (some form of oligarchy and meritocracy) must always control our economy.

    This leads to the apparent paradox that we reject the command principle for our entire economy (we will not run a full government command economy and arguably rightly so) yet we accept the command principle for every significant business and corporation. Each business and corporation runs by the command principle. There is not an internal analogue of open economic competition and there is not internal democracy. The internal “economy” of the firm is a command system run by oligarchs and meritocrats.

    Arguments for a free market include arguments that the distributed intelligence of all agents acting freely out of self interest is greater and more effective than centralised command intelligence. There are reasons to accept these arguments but there are also reasons to suspect that distributed intelligence is better at solving certain classes of problems and that centralised command intelligence is better at solving other classes of problems. (I won’t go into this here or the post will get too long).

    There might well be cases (and I believe there are) where the distributed intelligence of all workers is greater than the centralised command intelligence of managers. This raises the issue that beyond the positive principle in democratising workplaces there might well be a practical economic efficiency effect as well. It’s an interesting question. There still however would exist meritocracy and the need for it. The average worker cannot become for example the “quant” for a large firm or its IT guru. But should meritocratic principles be reserved for non-management technical expertise and discounted for management purposes in favor of full worker and citizen democracy?

  2. @Ikonoclast

    “The issue of meritocracy goes beyond the issue of position, reward and remuneration. A certain degree of social and economic inequality certainly must result from differences in ability and merit.”

    Do you really think that *merit* has much to do with who gets to climb the ladder highest and fastest in this society? The Tony Abbott example is not an outlier – look at the rest of the front bench. How did they get there? Privilege not merit.

    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore recently wrote much the same thing; “But if you don’t have a certain natural aristocracy in the system, people who are respected because they have earned that and we level everything down to the lowest common denominator, then I think society will lose out”

    Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss is a politician and lawyer and is a member of the Singapore People’s Party since 2015 and served as the Secretary-General of the opposition National Solidarity Party from 2013 to 2015, responded;

    “The danger of Singapore being led by a ‘meritocratic elite’ is equally dangerous, if not more dangerous than an aristocracy or Lords and Ladies because it perpetuates an insidious myth: that those at the highest rungs of society are there because they are somehow ‘better’ or more deserving – somehow more ‘meritorious’.”

    Of course there are differences in ability; humans would not have been able to adapt to the range of environments we have if we were all the same in our abilities so there sure is Human BioDiversity. We can measure the abilities that we know about but there are problems with measurement of psychological variables. particularly IQ. And there must be ‘abilities’ that we do not see because the need for them or the possibility for these abilities to be expressed and recognised has not emerged in this society.

    I do believe that we could create a society in which it was recognised that all human abilities are a potential source of wealth creation. It is clear to me that every young child has the ability to do something that will earn them respect and the right to be a valued part of their society.

    Children want to do something to be a valued and admired. Things go wrong of course and this desire to earn ‘merit’ is often destroyed or twisted by dysfunctional environments but that need for human reciprocity and to be regarded as somebody of merit, is there in all of us not just those fortunate to be blessed with *good* genes.

    I don’t think that ‘equality’ means that everybody has to get exactly the same stuff.

  3. @Julie Thomas

    I was using “merit” in a fairly narrow technical sense and I probably did not make that clear. The following quote will begin to explain matters although I am concerned to first clarify not “meritocracy” but the concept of “merit” itself.

    “Meritocracy (merit, from Latin mere? “earn” and -cracy, from Ancient Greek ?????? kratos “strength, power”) is a political philosophy which holds that power should be vested in individuals almost exclusively according to merit. Advancement in such a system is based on intellectual talent measured through examination and/or demonstrated achievement in the field where it is implemented.” – Wikipedia

    As I say, I am initially concerned to define not with meritocracy, nor even political power, but merely the notion of “merit”. This is where “merit” means the ability to earn a place through talent and learning as “measured through examination and/or demonstrated achievement in the field”. This is why I referred to qualified pilots, professors and engineers as examples of professional achievement through merit. They merit their positions through talent, learning and demonstrated achievement. This has nothing to do with moral merit as such.

    Merit of the above technical sort equates to competence at least and excellence at best. We expect these qualities in all sorts of workers from plumbers to brain surgeons (for example). It is to be expected that there will be remuneration differences based on this sort of merit. Of course, I don’t agree with excess remuneration for say bankers and financiers but talking about those issues will take me off course.

    In addition to more remuneration, merit of the above sort (competence to excellence) will lead to some people being better at deciding, persuading and leading (at command and control). This is a fact even if I don’t like it (and I don’t). However, this is exactly where I say there is a tension between meritocracy and democracy at a couple of levels. And I am not at all saying that the tension needs to be or ought to be always decided in favour of meritocracy over democracy. In fact, I am arguing that our society does indeed place too much power in the hands of the meritocracy and too little power with all the people (democracy). I have argued that there might be cases where the distributed intelligence and experience of workers is greater than that of their managers. This is the same as saying that democracy (group merit if you will) ought to be placed over individual meritocracy in that workplace and would result in more efficient and effective outcomes as well as fairer outcomes.

    There is also the very important principle that even if a person lacks technical merit (at this or that activity or even in many things) that person IS still a person and should still have a set of rights equal to all other persons. Among these rights, the democratic principle recognises that this must involve an equal say, an equal vote in all matters of community or societal concern which of course come back to affect the individual.

    In relation to our current professional politicians (of all persuasions), I would say that unfortunately the entire vetting and electoral process for them selects for “merit” (i.e. technical competence to excellence) mainly in the singular capacity of being able to lie with a straight face, a thick hide and a complete lack of conscience or remorse. We ought to begin wondering why our so-called democracy is failing us in this way and why our processes select for this type of person.

    If anything is at the base of this, I think it might be that capitalism as a system traps us at the oligarchy / meritocracy stage of political development and we cannot progress to the fully democratic because capitalism itself is in essence oligarchic and meritocratic. There is no sense in which oligarchy is good except for the oligarchs themselves. There are senses in which meritocracy is good but these are limited and not the whole; and the meritocratic principle itself is still open to abuse in many ways. Pretence of merit, the faking of competence, as exhibited by our professional politicians is a clear example of such an abuse.

  4. @Ikonoclast

    “I was using “merit” in a fairly narrow technical sense and I probably did not make that clear. The following quote will begin to explain matters although I am concerned to first clarify not “meritocracy” but the concept of “merit” itself.”

    Using a word in a narrow sense as per the definition is a problem for me as I can’t fit myself into this form of ‘meritocracy’ as anything but lacking any merit. But like you, I am concerned to clarify or more usefully broaden the concept of merit so that it does make sense to the ‘leaners’ like me.

    And my way of understanding merit is to begin at the beginning – not with Capitalism itself – but with the child raising processes that produce children who grow up with the values that attract them to capitalistic behaviours and ensure that they conform to capitalistic thinking.

    It is the values our children absorb from their environment that give them the ‘arguments or assumptions’ – their priors in the way that Noah Smith uses it in the post about derp – but I don’t like the word – that guide their behaviours – and we live in a capitalistic society so most children will be attracted to the behaviours that their society sees as meritorious.

    Humans are born with the ability to convince ourselves that lying for our own gain is justified in certain circumstance because I know better or I am better or I deserve this or I mean well and so on ….

    But human abilities differ – perhaps distributed on a bell curve – and so some people will have more of the ability to choose to *not* lie for their own gain because their values are different and they find merit in a less popular way of behaving.

    “Pretence of merit, the faking of competence, as exhibited by our professional politicians is a clear example of such an abuse.”

    Yep and they learn this in their homes right from birth and leaners like me don’t learn to do this; we learn that it is ‘always’ wrong to lie for one’s own benefit and that if one can do things better than a friend because we have the ability to run fast or think better, we do not use that ability for our own benefit because it is ‘wrong’ for them and wrong for us in the long term.

    Priors; there has to be a better word/concept.

  5. “Recent experiments” have found “that higher social class—defined by education and wealth—predicts unethical decision making. Behavioral scientists David Dubois, Derek Rucker, and Adam Galinsky reaffirmed this finding in their March 2015 paper, but they also identified situations in which the reverse was true.”

    “The researchers found that people of a higher social class were more likely to behave unethically when they would personally benefit. By way of contrast, people in a lower social class acted unethically when individuals other than themselves stood to gain. In other words, wealth predicted selfishness rather than unethical behavior per se.”

    http://thepsychreport.com/research-lead/social-psychology-research-lead/wealth-and-unethical-behavior/

  6. @Julie Thomas

    I don’t doubt it. My father-in-law leased and ran service stations in Brisbane in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a fully qualified car mechanic. If I can remember some of his tales accurately;

    “You’d get this guy from Melbourne, arse out of trousers, come up to Qld in a beat-up old Holden with his missus and kids. He’s looking for work. His car breaks down near my garage, I tow it in and repair it for him. He pays me straight out of his wallet and I can see it just about cleans him out.

    Then you get some hoity-toity type from Clayfield who gets their Mercedes fixed and you can’t get any payment out them for months.”

    Or words to that effect. It’s always been that way. Rich is Dishonest has a much higher probability of being true than Poor is Dishonest.

  7. Here is some interesting gossip.

    “Re-reading the debates about The Hand that Signed the Paper is like looking into a distorting mirror, at a view that’s both familiar and utterly strange. Aside from anything else, the newspapers in the early 1990s devoted far more column inches to the novel than media outlets would today. Back then, literary culture was still widely considered a good thing, in and of itself.

    Since then, the neoliberal turn has forced literature, like everything else, to justify its social value in market terms – which, of course, it can’t do. As a result, few editors today would allocate similar space to an argument about a book. Where’s the money in that?”

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/08/the-return-of-helen-demidenko-on-culture-war-and-the-value-of-truth

  8. Nicholas,

    The universe in which clever people are not using their abilities to be the best they can be?

    “Do you get bored easily? Does time fly by for you, or does it always seem to drag? Is it easy for you to concentrate on activities, or do you often find your mind wandering? Is looking at a friend’s holiday photos your idea of a good time, or the tenth circle of Hell? According to a new study, which I conducted with Silan Eser, your answers to these kinds of questions can predict how strongly you believe conspiracy theories.”

    http://conspiracypsychology.com/2015/05/09/bored-to-fears/#more-1118

  9. More on our ongoing criminality regarding the treatment of refugees.

    Back in November 2014 (from SBS):

    The Abbott government has closed the door on accepting all refugees registered with a United Nations agency for resettlement in Australia.

    Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday announced Australia will no longer accept asylum seekers who applied for resettlement after July 1 this year through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Indonesia.

    But AAP understands the ban on UNHCR applicants applies across the board to all countries and came into force on July 1.

    Mr Morrison’s office was unavailable to comment.

    The UNHCR’s Canberra office also refused interview requests.

    The next day:

    Mr Morrison says Australia will no longer accept asylum seekers who apply for resettlement after July 1 through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Indonesia.

    The minister has rejected claims the ban extends to UNHCR applicants in other countries.

    “The government’s announcement only applies to Indonesia,” he said.

    Today we learn:

    “While the decision has been communicated to UNHCR headquarters, the minister has asked expressly that it not be made public and as a result should be treated with appropriate sensitivity,” an immigration department official wrote in an email when the pause was put in place.

    Mr Morrison announced last November Australia would not take any more asylum seekers who had applied for resettlement through the UNHCR office in Indonesia after July 1, 2014.

    At the time he said the processing ban didn’t extend to UNHCR applicants in other countries.

    In my book that makes Morrison a liar.

    He might argue that he never actually denied that Australia was refusing to take ANY UNHCR REFUGEES WHATSOEVER, FROM ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD (remember that queue they are supposed to join?), but only said that the announcement was confined to Indonesia. He might think that’s clever, but I still call it a lie.

  10. To be fair, it should be noted that the ALP knew all about this from day one 9 months ago and did nothing.

    Even given the excuse that they might only have found out about it today, they are still silent.

    The ALP is more evil than the LNP when it comes to refugees because they facilitate everything the LNP does without a murmur. Scum.

  11. Megan :
    To be fair, it should be noted that the ALP knew all about this from day one 9 months ago and did nothing.
    Even given the excuse that they might only have found out about it today, they are still silent.
    The ALP is more evil than the LNP when it comes to refugees because they facilitate everything the LNP does without a murmur. Scum.

    The LNP is more evil than the LNP when it comes to refugees because they facilitate everything the LNP does without a murmur.

    No, wait. That makes no sense.

  12. If an LNP ex-politician called indigenous women “cash cows” there would be an uproar from all ALP supporters, but when an ALP ex-politician does it we have crickets.

    That was about 12 hours ago and I have scoured the internet without finding an ALP condemnation of what he said.

    If I was an ALP supporter I would be getting loud and vocal everywhere I possibly could to denounce those views and distancing the organisation from them as far and fast as possible.

    But I’m not an ALP supporter.

    Possible reasons:

    1. The ALP supporter agrees with the sentiment;
    2. The ALP supporter is tribal and protects their own regardless of what they say or do;
    3. The ALP supporter thinks that by being silent it will help the ALP’s election prospects.

    Maybe one of you can explain the silence?

  13. @Megan

    Number 2 is unlikely, since it’s doubtful whether Gary Johns still counts as one of ‘their own’ (and Number 3 seems unlikely for much the same reason).

    Since his defeat, Johns has drifted from the ALP and has been critical of his old party. Johns told Brett Evans that he might still be a member of the ALP but Evans says that in Johns’ heart he has moved on from the ALP.

    (http colon doubleslash en dot wikipedia dot org slash wiki slash Gary_Johns)

    Johns has distanced himself from the Labor party since he left parliament.

    (http colon doubleslash www dot theguardian dot com slash australia-news slash 2015 slash jul slash 12 slash aboriginal-women-pregnant-welfare-cash-cows-claims-former-labor-mp)

    I suspect a lot of ALP supporters are unaware that Gary Johns has distanced himself from Labor, but then I suspect that a lot of ALP supporters don’t even know that Gary Johns exists — and fair enough too. I suspect that many of those people who do pay attention to Gary Johns (ALP supporters or not) are well aware that he has distanced himself from Labor.

    I can add a couple more to your list of possible reasons:
    4. The ALP supporter hasn’t heard about what Gary Johns said.
    5. The ALP supporter has vocally denounced Gary Johns’s views, but those denunciations have not been well publicised on the Web.

    But the possible reason I’m going to nominate as my favourite is this:

    6. With a perception distorted by hatred, Megan has done a hopelessly bad job of ‘scouring the Internet’, which explains how she missed the following, which my search uncovered almost immediately.

    Labor has distanced itself from comments made by former MP Gary Johns

    The opposition’s indigenous affairs spokesman Shayne Neumann criticised the remarks.

    “It is stereotyping in a way that is unhelpful, inaccurate and offensive,” Mr Neumann told The Australian. “I disagree empha­tically with him.”

    (http colon doubleslash www dot theaustralian dot com dot au slash national-affairs slash indigenous slash labor-rejects-gary-johnss-cash-cow-remarks slash story-fn9hm1pm-1227439218799)

  14. @J-D

    Gary Johns jumped a million light years to the right with his public pronouncements the instant he lost his seat at the 1996 election. His political career appears to have been a freak accident. He was trapped in the wrong party. It must have been torture for him to have to suppress his true feelings when he was a Keating Government junior minister.

  15. Hm. With the latest edicts issued on stone tablets, and carelessly tossed with a thump at the CEFC’s board of directors, the egregious PM Tony Abbott has placed the board in a hopelessly compromised position: if they follow the ancient cuneiform demanded of them, the entire financial strategy of operation of the fund is thrown into jeopardy, as the risk profile changes from low risk, good return, to funding high risk, uncertain return (at all—could even be negative) renewable energy technologies; on that basis, I would expect the board to close the fund and to disburse the uninvested funds back to shareholder(s), that being the government. What a nice little electioneering war chest that would make!

    On the other hand, if they stand up to the egregious PM, he’ll guarantee the directors that they’ll never get another government job—ever. I just read an article stating the CEFC is seeking legal advice on the edict, so hopefully something sensible will prevail. Unfortunately, as far as other potential investors (e.g. big banks) go, they’ll be scared off of anything in the renewable sector now, as there is absolutely no certainty with respect to the government except that they’ll arbitrarily yank the rules of the day and replace them. In all likelihood, this collateral effect is the objective sought by the egregious PM Tony Abbott and his minions.

    This is the worst government in my entire life. Facts are irritants to be swatted away; difference of opinion is a capital offence; and, the rule of law is rendered a meaningless construct. The harm they are causing is so pointlessly destructive.

  16. The Toowoomba Chronicle, has published Gary John’s views and I am a bit surprised that there is not one comment supporting him; the couple of commenters who agree with the general theme – that those aborigines get more than us – thought the way he said it was “not the best”. They like their racism to be politely expressed, apparently.

    I’m still claiming that things are changing for the better even out here where you gotta wonder, considering that people have been voting for Macfarlane for so long and have got nothing back. Where is the range crossing he has been promising for so many electoral cycles?

    Macfarlane’s father was a scientist you know. I have heard that; he told the CSIRO scientists that. I have not heard if he is going to stand again next election when he promised that he wouldn’t if the by-pass wasn’t started by Christmas.

    So many questions but nothing in ‘The Chronicle’ about these matters.

    They did have an article and quote from an economist from CQU a couple of days ago about the Qld budget; it was not particularly informative or insightful so I suggested, in the comment section that JQ was an economist with a more useful point of view about what had happened and was happening.

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