Sandy as election spoiler excuse

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snoqueen
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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby snoqueen » Wed Oct 31, 2012 6:14 pm

First off, Arturo, I wasn't insulted or upset that you strongly disagreed with me. I figured you were just being who you usually are. No big deal. If that's an expression of disregard, it's not meant to be personal and is directed toward your line of reasoning.

One key to my phrasing, which has not been picked up earlier in this discussion, was "in the first few weeks."

In my opinion, in a disaster/emergency like this one, the first few weeks are when lives can be saved, some long term damage and delay alleviated, and the foundations for any eventual recovery set. It's no time for profit-making or taking, it's time for cooperation, generosity, humanitarianism, and lifting of ordinary bureaucracy (as Obama said in some of his first remarks).

As things get back to normal, local and distant contractors come in and provide a workforce for everything from utility restoration to debris removal to rebuilding of homes, railroad tracks, and businesses. They get paid from government, insurance, and private funds. This is fine -- we return to an economic mix same as we're used to living with in non-emergency times.

But the immediate aftermath is like the immediate aftermath of a bad car wreck. You don't ask the victims for their insurance cards, you provide first aid, transport, and emergency care. Later on someone tries to sort the money out.

Right now we're in the immediate aftermath period. Obviously there's no way to do major projects (like restoring the various transit lines to and from Manhattan) the way ordinary infrastructure work is done, with the scope of the work defined in detail, bids solicited, private contractors selected, subcontractors contracted, on and on. This would take years. We're on an emergency timetable instead, and the government -- the only entity large enough -- steps in and helps with money, loans, FEMA coordination, and more.

I think this is as it should be. Our economic system is a mix (both over time and across its spectrum at any one time) and to try to purify it doctrinally is not only unlikely to happen, but would likely have very unpleasant and difficult economic and human consequences.

I think most Americans, if questioned politely and without any intent to lead answers one way or another, would say we want to help and are glad to see what appears to be a fairly well-organized, very large response forming, one that would never be as well-organized if it weren't properly funded ((by our taxes), responsibly led, and well-staffed. Only a few people would probably say they wish the government would go poof and disappear leaving all these small communities and relatively small states on their own for the duration. So I think it's a reasonable guess that most Americans are right now seeing their tax dollars spent in an acceptable way.

We have a live example of the opposite in the Katrina response, which was judged by nearly everybody to be substandard and was the result of a deliberate attempt to cripple federal emergency response capabilities. It's early, but I hope we do better this time.

Incidentally, in your water example, what happens to people with no money to buy water? They should go drink sewage? You could have come up with something less obviously inhumane.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby ArturoBandini » Wed Oct 31, 2012 6:30 pm

Stebben84 wrote:In Arturo's world(and many who share his philosophical view) you ARE wrong and he IS right.
I honestly don't get this. How would this be any different for people who have other philosophical convictions? Let's say you believe in the legitimacy of democracy at a fundamental level. Does this not preclude the legitimacy of incompatible alternative viewpoints (e.g. dictatorship)? If you believe that A is right, and B is conceptually the opposite of A, how do you not therefore believe that B is flatly wrong? In the current case, Wags and I were arguing about whether disaster-related profit is or, conversely, is not obscene or immoral.

To be clear, I'm not talking about (in)tolerance of other viewpoints, that's another issue. I certainly do not advocate that other viewpoints be forcibly silenced.
The beauty of the argument(philosophy) is that it has really never been tested, so you can't prove it won't work, hence it WILL work and we're all just dumb, dumbs for not realizing it.
Yeah yeah, No True Scotsman and all that jazz. The same sort of non-falsifiability arguments can apply for any other ideologically-framed political or economic philosophy. Stepping out of the abstract and into empirical reality, recent events have already demonstrated that self-interested private entities can and do act in the public interest.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby ArturoBandini » Wed Oct 31, 2012 7:19 pm

snoqueen wrote:First off, Arturo, I wasn't insulted or upset that you strongly disagreed with me. I figured you were just being who you usually are. No big deal. If that's an expression of disregard, it's not meant to be personal and is directed toward your line of reasoning.
I'm glad that you didn't take personal offense, because none was intended. Please do continue to attack my line of reasoning, and I will gladly respond in kind.
snoqueen wrote:One key to my phrasing, which has not been picked up earlier in this discussion, was "in the first few weeks."
But private organizations, both for-profit and non-profits have already begun efforts to provide aid. Not weeks after the event, but hours (or even before the storm hit the coast).
snoqueen wrote:In my opinion, in a disaster/emergency like this one, the first few weeks are when lives can be saved, some long term damage and delay alleviated, and the foundations for any eventual recovery set.

It's no time for profit-making or taking, ...

...it's time for cooperation, generosity, humanitarianism, and lifting of ordinary bureaucracy (as Obama said in some of his first remarks).
I added whitespace to clarify the three separate claims you made in the above quote. I do not believe that the second and third logically flow from the first, or at least it's not obvious. Additionally, I don't see why profit (the opposite of statement #2) and statement #3 cannot occur simultaneously.
snoqueen wrote:We're on an emergency timetable instead, and the government -- the only entity large enough -- steps in and helps with money, loans, FEMA coordination, and more.
I agree, which is why I stated that I have no intention to materially hinder the recovery efforts as they are taking place. Given our current set of social institutions, FEMA is the best option, but that doesn't mean that better social institutions could not be developed.
snoqueen wrote:Our economic system is a mix (both over time and across its spectrum at any one time) and to try to purify it doctrinally is not only unlikely to happen, but would likely have very unpleasant and difficult economic and human consequences.
Sure, if any "doctrinal purification" happened too fast, there would be huge transaction costs (a neutral nonspecific way of saying "bad stuff"). No argument here.
snoqueen wrote:Only a few people would probably say they wish the government would go poof and disappear leaving all these small communities and relatively small states on their own...
I didn't say that the government should go poof, and I wouldn't say that now, especially given current circumstances.
snoqueen wrote:Incidentally, in your water example, what happens to people with no money to buy water? They should go drink sewage? You could have come up with something less obviously inhumane.
One of the core realities of existence is that resources are scarce - there will simply never be enough of anything to meet the needs/desires of everyone. No matter whose resource allocation mechanism we choose, someone will wind up feeling like they drew the short straw. In my proposed system, I admit that people with no money or other resources to trade with will have to depend on charity. In that situation, I would not hesitate to offer any surplus I had to meet their needs.

Sure, that sounds bad. But consider the alternative under a rationing situation - if there are scarcely 100 bottles of water and each of 200 people in line is entitled by rationing fiat to a single bottle, then the second half of the people will be left holding the bag. Some of these deprived people might have a more desperate need for water than any of the first 100. In a strict rationing system with scarce resources, bad things will result, just as they did in the elastic pricing scenario. Yes, the nominal unit of water being rationed could be changed such that everyone had to share a bottle with one other person, but this still would prove insufficient to meet the needs of those people that need a full bottle or more (they are very thirsty).

The likely result of a rationing system without "fairness enforcement" would be that groups of people in this situation would quickly rectify any water imbalance through voluntary charity or some sort of pseudo-market that might involve cash, barter, or other medium of exchange. Either way, people will quickly develop some system of quantifying value and need that goes beyond arbitrary fiat, as is the case with rationing. In short, they will develop a market spontaneously. Given that money is probably the most liquid and convertible of existing exchange media (e.g. it is arguably the best exchange medium), it holds that using this as a primary exchange medium should not be ruled immoral or obscene unless all lesser media are similarly denounced (e.g. no trading jerky for soap either).

And anyway, using dollars to allot resources does not preclude charitable and voluntary aide; actually it might make it easier to engage in charity. If water is being rationed, a rich man can only give away his one bottle to a needy child. Whereas if water is priced in dollars, he can buy as many bottles as his budget can sustain, in order to service others. Such an exchange system has the added bonus of coaxing additional supply out of hiding, because high prices signal that the commodity is in high demand and withheld surpluses of a commodity can yield high returns if brought to market.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby ArturoBandini » Wed Oct 31, 2012 7:25 pm

ilikebeans wrote:
ArturoBandini wrote:Like I suggested before, perhaps it's better to wait a few weeks until emotions have calmed a bit before discussing the fundamental disagreements of this matter any further.

You can wait as long as you want. On these fundamental issues of selfishness vs. altruism, as we've before in too-many-threads-to-count, it won't change how vehemently Wags, myself, and a majority of the vocal forons feel that implementing your worldview would be profoundly harmful to society.
At least you seem to recognize that it is an emotional response. 8)

Anyway, welcome to the discussion.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby snoqueen » Wed Oct 31, 2012 8:45 pm

ArturoBandini wrote:
snoqueen wrote:In my opinion, in a disaster/emergency like this one, the first few weeks are when lives can be saved, some long term damage and delay alleviated, and the foundations for any eventual recovery set.

It's no time for profit-making or taking, ...

...it's time for cooperation, generosity, humanitarianism, and lifting of ordinary bureaucracy (as Obama said in some of his first remarks).
I added whitespace to clarify the three separate claims you made in the above quote. I do not believe that the second and third logically flow from the first, or at least it's not obvious.


They don't have to. They are three independent constituent parts of my belief system regarding this situation.

Additionally, I don't see why profit (the opposite of statement #2) and statement #3 cannot occur simultaneously.


it probably is occurring simultaneously.

I'm saying the scale of the situation requires the assistance and participation of the federal government's disaster response capability. In the first hours and days that capability is most needed (as I said). As time goes on certain immediate needs can be met in other ways (or go away) and other long term needs are taken up, once again with government help.

Example of immediate needs being met or going away: Rescues from flooding are done in the first days. After a while people are either all rescued, or have drowned. It really helps to have as many boats and trained personnel available in the first hours and days, and because many small villages don't have these, the government helps. Nobody with a boat is making a profit here -- to collect fare from rescues would be obscene.

Example of long term needs: After Katrina, the federal government rebuilt New Orleans' levee system. The cities and villages involved would not have had the capability of doing this on their own. Of course profit-making reappears in the form of companies contracting with the government for the work of levee construction.

Public assistance gives way to private efforts over time, and there's a time for emphasis on one, then the other. It's an impure, complex, and ever-changing system. I think to engineer it artificially would be like saying we think horses are inefficient and should be eliminated in favor of this new organism we're going to build starting from scratch using bits of DNA.

Like, good luck.

snoqueen wrote:Incidentally, in your water example, what happens to people with no money to buy water? They should go drink sewage? You could have come up with something less obviously inhumane.
One of the core realities of existence is that resources are scarce - there will simply never be enough of anything to meet the needs/desires of everyone. No matter whose resource allocation mechanism we choose, someone will wind up feeling like they drew the short straw. In my proposed system, I admit that people with no money or other resources to trade with will have to depend on charity. In that situation, I would not hesitate to offer any surplus I had to meet their needs.


I'm not going to follow this whole argument to its bitter end because it's so hypothetical, but at this point let me just say there's a good reason we have moved beyond the notion of voluntary personal charity as the big solution to life-threatening shortages and emergencies.

That was what the bus full of nuns was saying when they followed Paul Ryan around all last summer. Charity can't do it all -- it's way insufficient and will never meet the growing needs all around us. Nobody says charity should go poof, any more than the government should. We need a mix, if only to temper the general human tendency to want to donate for specific causes and specific programs with the a more objective overview that approaches need in a more general way less swayed by popular appeal.


I like that in today's discussion, you appreciate the impossibility of changing the whole system by fiat right now (during the Sandy crisis), and of having the government more or less go away immediately. So when would the big change or the going-poof be possible? Given the fact we're never in a state of stability that lasts more than a moment or two, I see no realistic opportunity to make all this happen nor any instance where it is happening in the real world.

In the past, you've gotten further on this forum by arguing for little incremental steps the way we did with abolishing the bar-time hours last year, when we actually agreed they were pointless and a waste of resources, and conditions without them might actually be better. If you think your theoretical world is superior you might offer s few incremental steps to apply it to the crisis at hand, ones that might actually be adoptable.

Right now, you've neither described a desirable end state (not in enough detail for readers to grasp, anyway) nor offered any reasons why to get rid of laws and minimize government just on principle would be better than what we have presently. So what incentive do we have to agree with all this stuff you propose?

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby Donald » Wed Oct 31, 2012 9:21 pm

My wife survived the Rapid City flood of 1972, so she has some first hand experience. It takes both government and the private sector to recover from this sort of tragedy.

The first point to make is that most of the things that people need after a disaster like this are potable water and food that can be consumed without cooking. If the weather is cold, they may need blankets. City utilities are not going to be up for a week or more to most of the population, and then people will have to boil water or treat it before using it for drinking or cooking.

To deliver the goods and the proper information you have to have credible and effective government leaders and public workers. The media also is important to provide good information and direct people to the right places, times, etc., where provisions can be gathered. The National Guard, FEMA and first responders are critical to provisioning after an emergency. It's great if the private sector can provide some of this, but generally the local private sector is devastated by the emergency and is not up to the task. Government is absolutely critical, especially local government and local utilities with knowledge of how to get the local infrastructure working as fast as possible.

Government is also critical for deciding how reconstruction is to take place. Some people aren't going to have the funds to rebuild without government assistance, and the question of whether to rebuild close to the ocean has to be addressed. In Rapid City, they decided to bulldoze all the housing in the floodplain and create a greenway where any future flood would never take lives. It was very controversial, especially because people received payment for the value of their destroyed property, not the value of the property before the flood.

Then the private sector has a place. There will be lots of opportunity to buy property at a low price, and develop it.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby Stebben84 » Thu Nov 01, 2012 9:03 am

ArturoBandini wrote:I honestly don't get this. How would this be any different for people who have other philosophical convictions?


Wags already alluded to this. There is a difference in saying "you are wrong" vs. "I don't agree with your opinion" By saying the first, you are being an absolutist not recognizing gray areas.

Case in point:

ArturoBandini wrote:If you believe that A is right, and B is conceptually the opposite of A, how do you not therefore believe that B is flatly wrong?


I can say I don't agree with B without saying it is wrong. For example, I don't believe in homeschooling, but I don't think it's wrong(trying to use a somewhat non-political issue)

ArturoBandini wrote:Stepping out of the abstract and into empirical reality, recent events have already demonstrated that self-interested private entities can and do act in the public interest.


I agree to a certain degree, but much of my argument had to do with your $20 a bottle water argument. I am fine with people making a profit and even an over inflated one at that if they choose, but I think a line is drawn when it takes advantage of victims. As an absolutist, I think you would say it's either right or wrong(correct me if I'M wrong) Here is an example: When the protests were going on I was really struck by how many people were out there selling anti-Walker crap. Anyone could easily make this stuff for cheap on their own, but these people were basically duping people into buying garbage they didn't need. My response was, "meh, let people waste their money" On the other hand I find your example of the water despicable and feel like someone doing that is morally corrupt(whether they have the right to do that or not)

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby rabble » Thu Nov 01, 2012 10:54 am

Stebben84 wrote:My response was, "meh, let people waste their money" On the other hand I find your example of the water despicable and feel like someone doing that is morally corrupt(whether they have the right to do that or not)

Yeah.

The ethics of overcharging for trinkets during stable times versus the ethics of charging anything at all for basic necessities of health in a time when money loss is high, income is zero, and many "customers" are in a state of shock.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby ArturoBandini » Thu Nov 01, 2012 11:14 am

Profit during times of scarcity is not a moral matter, as I have stated before. It is a mechanism, along with elastic pricing, that most efficiently brings supply and demand into alignment in any situation, thereby maximizing social benefit. It is the best mechanism for allocating scarce resources. If you disagree with this statement, please indicate which alternative resource allocation mechanism you prefer, how it works, and why it is superior. You are basing your rejection of a market system on feelings about fairness, but in reality, this system produces the best material results.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby Stebben84 » Thu Nov 01, 2012 11:23 am

ArturoBandini wrote:ofit during times of scarcity is not a moral matter, as I have stated before.


You stated it, but never really proved why. Maybe I missed it, but it seems like one of those, "this is how it is" moments.

ArturoBandini wrote: You are basing your rejection of a market system on feelings about fairness, but in reality, this system produces the best material results.


Could you elaborate on what "material results" are.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby ArturoBandini » Thu Nov 01, 2012 11:54 am

Stebben84 wrote:
ArturoBandini wrote:ofit during times of scarcity is not a moral matter, as I have stated before.


You stated it, but never really proved why. Maybe I missed it, but it seems like one of those, "this is how it is" moments.
If any profit-taking is based on voluntary exchange (which I assumed to be a self-evident precondition of this argument - I'm not advocating theft or fraud), then where is the moral wrong, even with inflated prices? I have $20 and you have a bottle of water. I would rather have the water and you would rather have the $20. We swap. Both of us are satisfied with the transaction and are better off than before.

I concede that things might get more complicated if you are entering into detailed or long-term contracts that one party doesn't fully understand, or if one party lies to the other (imperfect information), but that's not really the case when it comes to emergency supplies as we have been discussing. People are exchanging cash for generators and tarps, it's pretty straightforward.
Stebben84 wrote:Could you elaborate on what "material results" are.
More material goods (food, water, shelter, medicine) for society as a whole. As empirical evidence of this I present to you the 20th century in the United States - an unparalleled rise in material wealth brought on in no small part by profit-seeking behaviors. Subjective and unquantifiable feelings about fairness will not be optimized in this situation, of course.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Thu Nov 01, 2012 12:01 pm

ArturoBandini wrote: I have $20 and you have a bottle of water. I would rather have the water and you would rather have the $20. We swap. Both of us are satisfied with the transaction and are better off than before.


If I am going to die of thirst and you have a $1 bottle of water which you charge me $20 for, you are a cocksucker, not a businessman.
I suppose in the sense that I will not immediately die, I am now "better off", but it's gonna be a pretty short-lived better considering after being gouged, I'm now too poor to afford food or shelter.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby ArturoBandini » Thu Nov 01, 2012 12:17 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:If I am going to die of thirst and you have a $1 bottle of water which you charge me $20 for, you are a cocksucker, not a businessman.
I suppose in the sense that I will not immediately die, I am now "better off", but it's gonna be a pretty short-lived better considering after being gouged, I'm now too poor to afford food or shelter.
If you were in exactly that situation, I would give you the water, assuming I didn't need it for my own survival. Either way, if you have just $20 and are dying of thirst in conditions where resources have become highly constrained, then you are in a bad way regardless of how we divvy up resources.

There's no need to use homophobic insults in this discussion.

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby ilikebeans » Thu Nov 01, 2012 12:17 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:If I am going to die of thirst and you have a $1 bottle of water which you charge me $20 for, you are a cocksucker, not a businessman.

Image

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Re: Sandy as election spoiler excuse

Postby jman111 » Thu Nov 01, 2012 12:21 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:
ArturoBandini wrote: I have $20 and you have a bottle of water. I would rather have the water and you would rather have the $20. We swap. Both of us are satisfied with the transaction and are better off than before.


If I am going to die of thirst and you have a $1 bottle of water which you charge me $20 for, you are a cocksucker, not a businessman.
I suppose in the sense that I will not immediately die, I am now "better off", but it's gonna be a pretty short-lived better considering after being gouged, I'm now too poor to afford food or shelter.

And if you don't have 20 bucks? Well, fuck you. You can't have the water. Go find some chump who isn't trying to make a buck to save your ass!


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