Oh dear Willy

No, no, no:

This instinct broadens into wanting not to cheat, and instead to co-operate.

No, that\’s not what the research says at all. For this reason which you mention but which you fail to understand.

Behavioural psychologists tell us that human beings come down disproportionately hard on those who cheat on the agreed rules for their own advantage.

You are once again showing that you really don\’t know your economics. This is all an offshoot of game theory, usually best known to us as the Prisoner\’s Dilemma.

Broadly put, the outcomes of this huge amount of research are that humans pretty much always are willing and ready to cheat. But it\’s the social enforcement, the punishing of those who breach the agreed rules, which do a reasonable job of keeping us on the straight and narrow.

Endless experiments have been done which show that humans will punish, at cost to themselves, people who are thought to be offering an \”unfair\” deal. Or who are thought to be violating some unwritten rules of what Homo Sapiens Sapiens thinks is \”right\”.

That\’s the very opposite of concluding that there is some instinct to not want to cheat. That\’s proof that the instinct is there, but there\’s a limiting mechanism imposed by others.

The thing is though, for this to work, for the social pressures to be effective, there has to be agreement upon what is \”fair\”. Something might violate the law but not that sense of fairness: in which case the social enforcement mechanisms won\’t work, because they are indeed triggered by that sense of fairness. The lesson of which is that if what you want, or the rules that you try to impose, are considered \”unfair\” then that very same human instinct towards punishing unfairness rebounds upon you, the rule maker.

Vast areas of the country are awash in smuggled cigarettes: because that sense of fairness thinks that £5 a pack and rising to help fund the Work Foundation is an unfair imposition. We simply don\’t see people turning in the sellers of these illegal packs of baccy.

There are other things as well of course:

The consensus is that next year\’s rise in the top tax rate to 50% will raise hardly any extra revenue, for high earners will successfully cheat on their obligations.

You\’re using a very wide definition of \”cheat\” there. There will be some who simply decide to substitute leisure for income: is that \”cheating\”?

This is amusing really:

The outstripping of the top 0.1% from the rest – in sport and business alike – has undermined the core belief in reciprocity on which association and rule-keeping depends.

The top 0.1% in the UK starts at about £350,000 as income. Will Hutton gets something like £175,000 a year from the Work Foundation. Grand a time for these newspaper columns say? That\’s another £50k. I don\’t know if he gets paid as a trustee of the Scott Trust or not but even if not, add in book royalties and I\’d suggest that our Will is indede part of that top 0.1%.

Clearly something about Will\’s moral compass that means that those social mores keep their hold upon him but not everyone else, eh?

They can behave unfairly without consequence.

Would that be like liquidating the capital assets of the Industrial Society so as to pay the wages of the Director of the Work Foundation then Will?

But the inequality which has caused all this has needed a justification, supplied by the pushers of market fundamentalism and neoconservatism.

Sure, and here it is. Globalisation causes an increase in inequality within a country or economy: those at the very top of the talent/luck distribution are able to play that talent/luck globally rather than simply nationally as before.

You might note that inequality has been rising in all of the advanced countries in the last couple of decades.

The flip side is that globalisation reduces global inequality: you\’ll have noted those hundreds of millions of Indians and Chinese rising from destitution to the middle class.

But enough of such quibbles. The real problem is that Will has failed to note that precisely because we have a social enforcement system against cheating means that we are not naturally not cheaters. IThe existence of the mechanism means that we must naturally be cheaters.

16 thoughts on “Oh dear Willy”

  1. Interesting word “fair”, a purely English invention.

    The left (non liberal Left in your case TW) dont like the idea of Humans being born with a moral instinct, to them we are Blank Slates (as pinker points out) to be molded by the righteous (mainly them)

    This is why they piss in the wind, believing falsely that the right “rules” will produce the “right” outcomes.

  2. Brian, follower of Deornoth

    Notice the use of the word ‘cheating’, here. Any attempt to resist armed robbery is now ‘cheating’.

  3. Sean the loathsome mis-use of the word fair by New Labour is a trick of context . Fair is a word used in context whereby the “Rules “ governing the transaction , have been agreed . Hence unfair play at cricket or unfair use of a stream or pasture where agreed or customary grazing rights pertain

    New Labour firstly confuse fair with equal and then crucially extend it to people with whom there is no relationship let alone an agreed one . “If” there is rule that I owe a duty to everyone in “ Society “ equal this or that then all sorts of things I do are not “Fair” if I do not , they are not . What you mean is equal and if so I merely request you say so. Fair has nothing to do with it

    Beyond that I think I may agree with you humans are born with an instinct for bonding and altruism but this operates along emotional not rational lines family , areas , country imagined community or tribe .One by one New Labour have sought to destroy these loyalties

    Will Hutton is on another tack he has finally admitted , from the left , that Brown’s gesture was a costly one and the IFS immediately showed conclusively that it would cost money as Brown had previously told the Labour Party often .He fails however to put this into a proper context . It is not only the top rate payers who avoid tax it is everyone and it is not by cheating so much as by altering behaviour , little illegality is involved . New Labour overestimated revenue on every single year of their misrule and the business of squeezing out of a country more than is squeezable is a vastly wider one that he pretends as well as being a fairly permanent one .
    Its rather ironic that this arch internationalist and derider of old loyalties should be appealing to some sort of National imagined community in which the cheat will be punished . Middling people have an instinct and it is this , if the tax payer can be divided he can be destroyed . The left will salami slice there way down from the top into the big money at the middle if we give an inch just as they introduce speed cameras in trouble spots before extending them to your living room

    This is actually quite stupid and ill informed article although I do not agree with Tims`s soulless and shallow vision of what a man is

  4. The purpose of globalisation is not to make China look like the world, but to make the world look like China – or Brazil, an authoritarian oligarchy run for the benefit of elites which encourage social dislocation and chaos amongst the people in a crude game of ‘divide et impera’, and managed by corrupt, incompetent and inefficient institutions.

    In the United Kingdom, they are succeeding. Our institutions have never been more inefficient. The scandals of MP’s expenses and Baroness Scotland, whose wilful refusal to resign is the most glaring example of a British’s politician’s belief in their own exceptionalism that one can recall, show how corrupt they have become. Contrary to the libertarian creation myth that all government is incompetent, over the past 150 years British government has been remarkably clean and competent by any historical standard; to suggest otherwise is merely to parade your own ignorance. However, that cleanliness and competence is now gone; the rise of globalisation over the same period as that in which standards in public life have declined is no accident.

    It is intellectually inconsistent to praise the economic ‘advantages’ of globalisation, as represented by wage-depressing mass immigration and the offshoring of high wage, high value jobs on one hand, and criticise the erosion of civil liberties on the other – both are prongs of the same policy. It is intellectually inconsistent to praise globalisation while criticising the undemocratic nature of the EU – no mainstream British party has ever proclaimed the advancement of globalisation to be worthy of a manifesto commitment, thus giving the people a chance to actually, you know, vote, or even have a debate, on whether they want it or not. That has been deemed too dangerous; to whom, nobody seems to know. Having been foisted upon the people as a fait accompli, globalisation is as fundamentally undemocratic as EU expansion, and should be opposed by every democrat. It is the consequence of policy, not the historically inevitable process its advocates might like to claim it to be. To justify globalisation on the basis that millions have been lifted out of poverty requires the intellectual demand that it is OK for a Westerner to lose their 10 dollar an hour job in order for a Chinese to earn a dollar an hour – if the Westerner is worth 10 dollars an hour, so is the Chinese.

    One might know one’s own economics or not – for what my own opinion’s worth, much of economics is a lot of pigshit that’s just not worth knowing – but to use the disgusting game ‘The Prisoner’s Dilemma’ as an exemplar of anything is absurd. Readers might be aware that another such ‘game’, created by John Forbes Nash, subject of ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and future Nobel Laureate, and entitled ‘Fuck You Buddy’ could only be played because Nash deliberately distorted his calculations (Source, Adam Curtis, ‘The Power of Numbers’). It is ironic that reductionist games designed to show that human beings are merely animals programmed to cheat their way to success can only be designed by cheating.

  5. “but to use the disgusting game”

    Eh? The game is an abstract baseline that allows comparison between computer algorithms and humans, giving insights into human behaviour.

    Perhaps you are one of these barking post-modernists who complain that E = mc^2 is a sexist equation because it puts the male speed of light above lesser feminine speeds, that Physics is inappropriate because it elevates rigid bodies above fluid dynamics, and that Principia Mathematica is a “rape manual” (because science is a male rape of a female nature).

    Mad as a box of frogs.

  6. Martin, you’re a Socialist, aren’t you? Well, your bromides against globalisation sound rather National. Next you’ll be going on about British jobs for British workers.

    (Incidentally, declaring economics to be shit isn’t as impressive as you may think; parading one’s ignorance rarely is.)

    On a related note, check out this post from the estimable Don Boudreaux over at Cafe Hayek:


  7. KayTie, your addiction to giving people labels, as if they were tins of Tesco own brand baked beans waiting to be priced, is tedious. It is indicative of a lack of intellectual curiosity which is all too common at all levels of our culture (according to Peter Oborne, the Queen’s favourite viewing is ‘Coronation Street’ and the Channel 4 racing). This bovine mental passivity is what has given us, inter alia, the party system, itself nothing more than a form of gang warfare upon the public. The studied contempt of some British for those who think off the reading list is not unlike the contempt once felt by feudal barons for their clerks, merely because they could read.

    As far as the pigshit quasi -religious pseudoscience called ‘economics’ is concerned, one’s opinions have been formed by empirical observation of the effects its application have had upon those of us who live in the real world, such as the injustices perpetrated upon the Russians between 1917 and 1991, or those Chileans who lived under tyranny so that Milton Friedman’s theories could be put into practice.

    If anyone thinks one can learn anything about human behaviour from an algorithm, then they are either insane or need to get out more. Human beings are not labrats – neraly seven decades after the fall of the Third Reich, it’s only some economists who still seem to think they are.

    There*is*nothing*wrong*with*the*idea*of*British*jobs*for*British*workers. The United Kingdom is a legal entity. If it exists for some purposes, e.g. the provision of public education, an argument which the free-marketeers lost, oh, only about 200 years ago now, then it must exist for others, such as the proper regulation of its labour markets. The non-benign neglect of its borders since at least 1997 (this morning, the first item on Yahoo! News is that the new face of Tesco is an illegal immigrant) has never been mandated, but has gone ahead anyway. This has been encouraged all the way down the line by the Kommerzkaste, relentlessly, remorselessly always, always looking to drive down wages (did you know that the Anti Corn Law league had to censor the guy who thought that free trade was a good thing because cheap food would help drive wages down to Continental levels?), just as surely as the higher elemets of the British Establishment have always hated the idea the British people own anything in common. In this desire to make the labour market more flexible and to privatise in the name of efficiency, they have been justified by the economists, who, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell, have performed the same function as Liebniz did at the court of the Queen of Prussia – to tell her that her oppression of her serfs was a good and wholesome thing.

    As far as Don Boudreaux’s concerned, I’ll listen to him once I’m sure he doesn’t receive Virginia taxpayer dollars. GMU sounds too much like a Warsaw Pact secret service for my taste.

  8. Globalism is not the same thing as the EU Martin , the Globe does not pass 30% /70% of our laws or act as a protectionist club or cost £5k per family or …well Icould go on on .Furthermore the United Kingdom ,which when it meant anything meant Greater England pre dates the modern State and is a lot more than a legal qualification for rights .I am not sure what you are suggesting though , is it as sort of National Socialism ?

    I am more than happy with ‘British Jobs for British workers’. When the BNP said it they meant it , when Brown did he was lying …. is that not a little uncomfortable ?

    You sound a little shrill by the way , relax .Are you actually a BNP supporter ? Oswald Moseley also combined loathing of global capitalism with National collectivism … are you a sort of radical rightist ?

  9. “That’s your best shot? How old are you, 12?”

    Older than you, sonny. When you stop with the adolescent student socialist slogans, we’ll talk with you like a grown-up.

  10. It may be a definition of communism that it seeks to defeat game theory. viz., e.g. Baroness Scotland, Mandleson, Blunkett etc.

  11. Newmania,

    “Globalism is not the same thing as the EU” –

    Not at all sure about that. One of globalisation’s defining features is that it has no single definition. I have encountered different definitions produced by, inter alia, Paul Krugman, Niall Ferguson, Stephen Roach, Will Hutton & Anthony Giddens and John Gray. It is all things to all men; or whatever anyone who uses the term would like it to be. Being thus incapable of definition, as a word it would appear to be meaningless.

    “the Globe does not pass 30% /70% of our laws or act as a protectionist club or cost £5k per family”

    Please re-read original remarks. I mentioned the EU in the context of the intellectual inconsistency inherent in praising the very undemocratic policy of globalisation, staggeringly undemocratic in the manner of its implementation, while also criticising the EU because of its democratic deficit. As a Scottish Unionist, it’s quaint to see mention of ‘Greater England’, a phrase of which Wilkes might have approved. Lest the mark of Cain be visited upon me, no, I am a BNP supporter, indeed came onto the blogosphere specifically in order to combat that regularly resurrected reductionist rubbish, ‘race realism’. Believe it or not, I used to have a page dedicated to hate of me on ‘Stormfront’ (it seems to have gone now – maybe the Mercian Warriors and Swords of The Saxons have gone back to playing ‘Dungeons & Dragons’). What I’m interested in, FWIW, is every human being getting a fair shake and being treated with a bit of dignity – things that a very heavy weight of history shows that economic theory is incapable of delivering. Shrillness? Probably guilty, but this is a blog comment box and I would much prefer to think of it as righteous anger. I do, however, get a bit pissed off at presenting arguments and then being accused of madness by patronising idiotarians (I have no interest in dried frog pills and, at 39, it’s been a long time since anyone has called me ‘sonny’; something of a red rag to a bull). If in turn I seem to be patronising them, it’s because they haven’t been patronised enough during the course of their lives, and, for the good of their souls, should enjoy a little of the experience, one enjoyed by people at the bottom of our society in just about every encounter they have.

    Speaking of which…


    When I wish to reflect on the nature of freedom, I go and look at the names on my local war memorial. Contrary to what their intellectual arrogance seems to have bred in them, itself a consequence of their priestly exclusivity, freedom is not a subject on the definition of which Milton Friedman, Don Boudreaux, or any other ‘free market economist’ has any monopoly. There’s a thought! Boy, wouldn’t they like the monopoly on the definition of freedom.

    Milton Friedman’s economic theories were tested on the country of Chile. These tests were only capable of being carried out because Chileans had been herded into the national football stadium and arbitrarily executed, without any kind of due process – murdered by a junta. If Friedman had been a moral man, he would have stood at arm’s length from Pinochet. He did not, an immovable stain on his record, and one which gives great insight into what his actual views on freedom were at that point in his life (his late ’50’s); economic freedom not only trumped political freedom, it also trumped human life. If that wasn’t what he thought, then it shows his judgment to have been so shockingly poor that the validity of all his other views must be questioned. Don’t cite any economic paper on ‘freedom’ to me; like ‘globalisation’, to an economist it appears to mean whatever you want it to mean.

    John Miller,

    Defining Communism as opposition to game theory; going from the sublime to the ridicluous there, I think.

  12. Martin
    You could have spared me your ‘apple for teacher’ reading list and your torturous argument from nebulousness will be saved for my personal collection . It amuses me ….. but having said that I think I agree with you that global capitalism and the imposition of super national Empire are both to be resisted. Not especially on Democratic lines as Conservatives ones. If you are picking apart the thread between Libertarian and Conservative you are onto something undoubtedly .
    As a Scottish Unionist you are , I am afraid , an angel beating his bright wings in a vacuum , you might just as well have been an incontinent old buffer going on about he Empire into the 60s. I have great sympathy, but there it is . By reducing the Union to a set of legal entitlements and a vehicle for gerrymandering New Labour have ripped out its heart which was memory and allegiance .You cannot legislate for these precious threads
    I agree the right do have a problem with Libertarianism conflicting with old loyalties and in the past Europe was the fault line .The left similarly have a problem with Internationalism or anti nationalism whilst maintaining everyone in this ( for them arbitrary ) area owes endless duties to everyone else . Here immigration is the battle

    As Conservative I live happily with these paradoxes what you may be is less clear

  13. “You could have spared me your ‘apple for teacher’ reading list and your torturous argument from nebulousness will be saved for my personal collection . It amuses me …..”

    Delighted to hear it; although one’s first reaction to the suggestion that one is amusing is to ask the questioner, ‘Sorry, but just who are you?’

    I’m very sorry if I made the mistake of not identifying your arrogance from the outset. But you’re a Conservative, and thus an adherent of an organisation whose sole aim is, like that of all political parties, to achieve power, use it and then hold on to it. They do not exist to serve the public, but the interests of their own membership; or at least that what Adam Smith would have said, I think.

    Let us cast aside thoughts of incontinent angels and old buffers beating their bright wings in a vacuum for a moment, and address your concerns. You describe the Union as having been reduces to a series of entitlements and a means of gerrymandering New Labour – where’s your evidence? Come on, man, spit it out. Show us the beef. That statement sounds very much like the trite repetition of received wisdom, peppered with dogma. If ‘memory and allegiance’ played any role in the history of the Union, Conservative policy from 1979 – 1997 certainly played a very significant role in sweeping them away. If ‘blowback’ has occurred, then the Conservatives have nobody to blame for that but themselves.

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