There is some cost to you in voting. While it may be small for some, it is significant for others. Some people go to a great deal of effort just to vote. What return do they get for this effort? Zilch! A single vote can only impact an election when there is a tie, which has essentially zero chance of happening in a state or national election. The typical response to this is "Well, what if everyone did that?" Of course, (...) that would be a disaster. But we are not talking about everyone, we are talking about ONE individual. (shrink)
It is said that society is in a moral crisis. And, what is worse, it seems to be deteriorating at an ever increasing rate. We all agree that something needs to be done. Our politicians and preachers say we need to help each other more, we need to have "family values", we need to contribute to society and we need to have high moral standards. But there is a fundamental logical reason why none of this is going to happen. This (...) article will explore that reason in detail. (shrink)
"For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few. Each citizen will have a thousand sons who will not be (...) his sons individually but anybody will be equally the son of anybody, and will therefore be neglected by all alike.". (shrink)
The "Prisoner's Dilemma" game has been extensively discussed in both the public and academic press. Thousands of articles and many books have been written about this disturbing game and its apparent representation of many problems of society. The origin of the game is attributed to Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher. I quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Puzzles with this structure were devised and discussed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher in 1950, as part of the Rand CorporationÂ’s investigations (...) into game theory (which Rand pursued because of possible applications to global nuclear strategy). The title "prisonerÂ’s dilemma" and the version with prison sentences as payoffs are due to Albert Tucker, who wanted to make Flood and DresherÂ’s ideas more accessible to an audience of Stanford psychologists. The Prisoner's Dilemma is a short parable about two prisoners who are individually offered a chance to rat on each other for which the "ratter" would receive a lighter sentence and the "rattee" would receive a harsher sentence. The problem results from the fact that both can play this game -- that is, defect -- and if both do, then both do worse than they would had they both kept silent. This peculiar parable serves as a model of cooperation between two or more individuals (or corporations or countries) in ordinary life in that in many cases each individual would be personally better off not cooperating (defecting) on the other. (shrink)
The social phenomena discussed in this series of essays all center around the problem of individuals in groups faced with the choice of doing what is best for themselves or what is best for the group. Instances of the phenomena are called by many different names: "Volunteer's Dilemma", "Prisoner's Dilemma", "Collective Choice", "Rational Choice", "Social Choice", and "Voter's Paradox" to list just a few. Unfortunately, the academic programs that cover these various manifestations of the "individual vs. group" dilemma do not (...) fall under one discipline. You will not find the "Social Dilemma" department at any.. (shrink)
Whenever you have a situation in which a person or group is in power over a community, some in the community will seek to obtain special favors at the expense of all others in the community. We are all familiar with this situation from our school days where some students would seek special favors -- like a high grade -- at the expense of the other students. Such behavior in the political/economic world is called..
Some people voluntarily provide public goods while others take a free ride. Are the providers acting rationally? Should they instead follow the example of the free-rider? What are the rational and moral justifications for voluntary provision? This dissertation examines five ways to justify voluntary provision: rational prudence, social norms, group agency, fairness, and altruism. It suggests that altruism provides the best possible defense. Considerations of fairness may also provide a justification in some circumstances, but generally this argument is vulnerable to (...) the objection that free-riding is often a legitimate way of protecting oneself from exploitation by other free-riders. In places, the dissertation relies on simple game theoretic models and intuitive economic equilibrium notions to analyze public good situations. The dissertation closes with a discussion of the government's role in providing public goods. An argument is made that, for certain kinds of goods (those over which preferences are public, but whose benefits are private), the standard public goods argument is not appropriate to homogeneous populations. If this is correct, other justifications for governmental provision must be summoned for goods of this form. (shrink)
If the answer is yes, then we should to be able to demonstrate that an individual sacrifice has a real effect on the common good. If my single, personal sacrifice can alter the final result, then I can say that my sacrifice produces more in rewards than my personal costs. But if my sacrifice makes no difference to the final result, why should I make it, especially if I receive the benefits of the sacrifice of others even if I make (...) no personal sacrifice? (shrink)
"This talk of holding back in the face of strong temptation brings me to the climax of this column: the announcement of a Luring Lottery open to all readers and nonreaders of Scientific American. The prize of this lottery is $ 1,000,000/N, where N is the number of entries submitted. Just think: if you are the only entrant (and if you submit only one entry), a cool million is yours! Perhaps, though, you doubt this will come about. It does seem (...) a trifle iffy. If you'd like to increase your chances of winning, you are encouraged to send in multiple entries without limit. Just send in one postcard per entry. If you send in 100 entries, you'll have 100 times the chance of some poor slob who sends in just one. Come to think of it, why should you have to send in multiple entries separately? Just send one postcard with your name and address and a positive integer (telling how many entries you're making) to. (shrink)
Suppose you tried to play a game in which the rules were arbitrary: each individual could set their own and could change them anytime. I doubt that you would want to play this game for very long. Most of us would rather play games that have a fixed set of rules that do not change during play. Logic is fundamentally a set of rules that we agree to use in our discussions. It is more than that, but that aspect of (...) it will be of great help in our discussions and our thinking. (shrink)
"All the limitative Theorems of metamathematics and the theory of computation suggest that once the ability to represent your own structure has reached a certain critical point, that is the kiss of death: it guarantees that you can never represent yourself totally. Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, Church's Undecidability Theorem, Turing's Halting Problem, Turski's Truth Theorem -- all have the flavour of some ancient fairy tale which warns you that `To seek self-knowledge is to embark on a journey which...will always be incomplete, (...) cannot be charted on a map, will never halt, cannot be described. " - Douglas R. Hofstadter.. (shrink)
On May 3, 1999, at the Cato sponsored conference, "Forfeiture Reform: Now, or Never?", Representative Henry Hyde announced that he was, once again, introducing Forfeiture Reform legislation to Congress. For six years, he has been trying to get legislation passed that would..
We are witnessing some incredibly baffling problems in the world today. It seems that as the countries of the world become more "civilized", more "democratic", societal problems and conflicts just get worse. The theme of this essay is that many of these problems are a result of an inherent and unavoidable paradox involving the conflict between the needs of the individual and the needs of the society that the individual is a member of. This class of problem, often called "Social (...) Dilemmas", while not unknown in the academic community has received little public attention. Yet these dilemmas may present insurmountable barriers to a peaceful world and harmonious societies. (shrink)
The most puzzling aspect of Social Choice theory is that people cooperate much more than the theory suggests. There are several reasons why this is so, including the fact that people are not always rational -- particularly by the definition of "rational" used by the Social Choice theorists! Another obvious reason is that people act out of ignorance much of the time.
What I would like to say about politics does not fit the mold of common discourse and most political essays. Frankly, I have a rather negative and skeptical view of the concept that a group of people somehow has the knowledge to know what is best and the right to impose their will on the rest of the population. In fact, I think it is mankind's greatest folly to think that we can pick out a group of people from the (...) population at large -- known to be selfish, brutish and not necessarily very honest -- and to believe that these selected individuals will some how rise above the level from which they came, and to believe in these selected individuals so strongly that we will even give them guns and a monopoly over force! (shrink)
There is probably no other field of study by the human race that is as full of nonsense as the subject of Political Philosophy. I believe that it would give even Religion some strong competition!. Otherwise rational people, intelligent people, even people educated to the highest level from our most prestigious universities, blindly follow some of the most ridiculous beliefs when it comes to politics. If fact, we are so confused about how to solve the problems caused by politics and (...) governing that we waste billions of dollars and an incredible amount of effort absolutely uselessly. (shrink)
The hottest political news at the end of January, 2001, were the stories about President Bush establishing, by Executive Order, the "Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives" , and his push for allowing religious groups to receive public funds for social service efforts. Bush and his new Attorney General, Ashcroft, have been strong proponents for federal funding of "faith-based" charity organizations (in fact, Ashcroft, when he was a senator, was the prime mover of the "Charitable Choice" initiative in the "Personal (...) Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996"). (shrink)
I have written a major essay on the problems that vagueness causes in governance and the way government and politicians take advantage of these problems. It is online at http://perspicuity.net/paradox/vaguegov.html.
"We believe the governmentÂ’s conduct in forfeiture cases leaves much to be desired. We are certainly not the first to be Â‘enormously troubled by the governmentÂ’s increasing and virtually unchecked use of the civil forfeiture statutes and the disregard for due process that is buried in those statutesÂ’" (Quoting Judge George Pratt in US v. All Assets of Statewide Auto Parts, Inc., 971 F.2d 896, 905 (2d Cir. 1992)). US v. $506,231 in U.S. Currency, 125 F.3d 442 (7th Cir. 1997).
"A class of men who are exceedingly tiresome are those who, having traveled, talk of nothing but their adventures, the countries which they have seen or traversed, the dangers, whether real or fictitious, which they have encountered, repeating the same things an hundred times over.
My Favorite Music I enjoy the original Country Music, BlueGrass, some Classical and Blues. But so what? Obviously, I would like to promote what I would like to hear (since I am a certified Selfish Person). It is quite annoying that I can find little good music on my radio.
It has always seemed to me that the universe is a bit more diabolical than one would expect. There are just too many strange and frustrating incidents that can not be attributed to pure chance. Can there be some validity to the thousands of "Murphy's Laws" that we have heard about or been subjected to? Maybe. Murphy's Laws may not be the worst of it.
"To be governed is to be watched,inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general (...) interest, to be placed under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed;then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. THAT is government;that is its justice;that is it's morality." P.J. Proudhon.. (shrink)
There is a very simple reason why people act the way they do and it is given by the following maxim: Maxim #1: Individuals tend to do the things they are rewarded for doing and tend to avoid the things they are punished for doing. Before you discard this simple maxim as being too simple to be of any use, let me explain just a bit. For a given situation, this maxim puts you one step closer and in the right (...) direction to understanding why people behave as they do. Let us try it on a simple example: Why do government employees waste money? If you want to know the answer to this then see if you can determine how government employees are rewarded and punished. You will then have the answer to your questions and you will find that government employees are just acting according to this maxim -- just as we would do if we were in their place. (shrink)
In my online essay on Social Behavior, I start with the following statement: Maxim #1: Individuals tend to do the things they are rewarded for doing and tend to avoid the things they are punished for doing. Further elaboration on that simple maxim is what this essay is about.