Unlearning logic

Here’s the problem: what does this have to do with income distribution in a modern capitalist economy? The answer is as follows: nothing. Absolutely nothing. In this island there is no state; people do not cooperate (actually they appear not to have any relationship whatsoever); there is no injustice; there is not even trade. So the thought experiment is worthless.

The point of models being to strip away all that other stuff in order to just discuss the point at issue. In this particular case the point at issue is what is unjust? More specifically, is it just or unjust to force the productive to increase their production in order to supply the unproductive?

there is no injustice

Of course: given that we are trying to explore injustice, we cannot assume injustice in our model. That is petitio principii, a violation of logic let alone economics.

19 thoughts on “Unlearning logic”

  1. Caplan strips away the essential features of a capitalist economy and so his conclusions are not applicable to one.

    You are somewhat correct about the injustice point, actually, although it’s not central to my argument. I was more getting at the fact that everyone earns exactly what they deserve in Caplan’s economy.

    Tim adds: So you’re saying that injustice is an essential feature of a capitalist economy then?

    Slightly prejudging matters isn’t it?

  2. I’m saying that the premise that everyone earns what they deserve is not easily established in a complex system just as capitalism.

    Tim adds: It’s not easily established in any system. Nothing special about capitalism in that respect.

  3. Tim: then we are in agreement. Caplan’s society is perfectly just wrt earned incomes, which is just another point against its relevance in the real world.

  4. UnlearningEcon,

    It’s an analogy not a five year plan. You have imo made an error in framing the analogy as against redistribution. It is not. It is against redistribution *by force*. There is nothing in the analogy preventing Harry being supported by Abel and/or the others combined*by choice*.

    You said: “I was more getting at the fact that everyone earns exactly what they deserve in Caplan’s economy.”

    In the analogy there can still be a difference between what Harry can earn and what Harry gets.

    The analogy sounds like the beginning of a maths question:

    10 comrades are on an island. They all need one meal a day to survive. Abel can produce 10 meals a day. Harry cannot produce any. The remaining 8 can each produce one meal a day. How many meals a day must be produced to form a communist utopia?

    Answer: 18. Harry is commissar and requires all to work at maximum output. Harry collects the meals and distributes them according to importance. Harry gets fat.

  5. ” More specifically, is it just or unjust to force the productive to increase their production in order to supply the unproductive?”

    The problem here is that in the real world, the productive aren’t productive because of their inherent abilities, but because of their access to and control of capital.
    Let’s add in a combine harvester that Able happened to find on the island, claim exclusive rights to and refuse to let anyone else use.

    Either way, am I alone in thinking that he damned well should get off his ass to save his pal from starvation….?

  6. I cannot politely describe my opinion on the comments above (except Gareth’s).
    Caplan’s island is NOT a capitalist society. There are no savings and no investment so no sharing between the labourers and providers of capital.
    Caplan’s society is a group of 10 people who *have to decide* how to deal with the situation where one guy can produce enough for everyone, 8 can just about provide for themselves and one cannot.
    There is *nothing* about what people deserve, only about what they can produce and what they need.
    unlearning econ – put on the dunce’s hat and stand in the corner
    William N Connolley – try reading the question before pontificating on a subject where there are no contracts
    Gareth – yes, you have actually read the question, but Caplan was proposing a philosophical question, (possibly intended to bias people against redistributive taxation), not a joke.
    mark – you are so stupid (or deceitful) that you not only confuse two different leftist arguments but stick them in the same sentence. The claim is that money managers aren’t really productive but only generate income by using other people’s capital, whereas productive workers like carpenters, farmers, engineers, bakers, builders are productive due to the combination of inherent abilities and acquired skills. Your added combine harvester has to, firstly reap crops every day of the year and secondly be solar-powered and thirdly have a robotic defence system that prevents anyone except Abel using it during his siesta while he is dozing. You should have postulated a fishing net that Abel uses as a hammock during his siesta.
    As to your last paragraph, that shows that you haven’t bothered to read Caplan’s post – *nobody* has said that Abel will not or should not voluntarily help Harry. F for homework.
    If I sound like a grumpy old man, well that may be because I am and this is the sort of thing that makes me grumpier.

  7. Well of course “people sift through various images until they find one that satisfies the story they wanted to tell.”.
    A likely scenario for the island is that all residents could be productive enough to feed 10 people. 8 are too lazy/selfish to do more than cover their own needs leaving Able to provide for Hapless Harry who can’t even be bothered to do that. Enter the redistributors who relieve Able of the other 8/10ths of his production so that Bert, Charlie, Dave, Eddy, Fred & Geoff can spend their time reinventing economics.
    There’s something hauntingly familiar about this tale…………

  8. ‘Caplan’s island is NOT a capitalist society. There are no savings and no investment so no sharing between the labourers and providers of capital.’

    So why does Caplan hope to draw inferences for a capitalist economy from it?

    As usual here none of you have really engaged my point, which is that the analogy is irrelevant to developed Western economies. All you can do is throw slogans (commie) and insults (dunce).

    Standard right wing echo chamber

    Tim adds: And you are ignoring the point of models, of analogies. Which is that we wish to ignore, quite deliberately, everything else which is going on and examine the interaction, possibly even the morality, of certain specific points.

    And in this specific example I’m afraid to have to tell you that you’re being extremely stupid: or uneducated.

    For a socialist, a communist even, society faces exactly the same moral conundrum that Caplan’s example exposes. You do recall that from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs stuff? Yes?

    And what has Caplan’s thought experiment set up? Exactly that in fact: how much can we insist that those with abilities produce for those with needs? Insist, note.

    And, err, you want to insist this is standard right wing echo chamber? When actually it’s a very neat explanation of the socialist/communist conundrum: how much force do we get to use to make it all work out how we think it ought to? While still insisting that all are free, whence the conundrum.

  9. I don’t understand, somehow supermagically we all are supposed to know what Unlearning means with his ‘modern capitalist economy’?

  10. Is not injustice measured by its response.
    Starting with anger to outrage to rebellion.
    When they start getting aggressive you will learn or else.

  11. I’m saying that the premise that everyone earns what they deserve is not easily established in a complex system just as capitalism.

    Everybody earns what they deserve? What nonsense is this? How do you establish “deserve”? Even “unto everybody according to their needs” is easy to measure. I will need (albeit not much) lunch today. Do I deserve it?

    Anyway, I thought it was long established that you don’t even earn what your labours will wring. You earn what the rate is for your alternative job. With, if you are lucky, a small margin.

  12. Either way, am I alone in thinking that he damned well should get off his ass to save his pal from starvation….?

    You are, but something I have observed – and I’d love to know if anyone has written a book on this – is that human behaviour doesn’t scale. If there were 20-30 blokes on a desert island, it is likely nobody would let anyone else starve. 2,000 blokes? A different story.

    It’s also why you cannot extrapolate the societies and behaviours of places like Norway, Singapore, and Hong Kong to apply them to countries with 60m people like the UK. At some point, the size of the population changes the behaviour.

  13. john77,
    Sorry, which part of what I said are you actually disagreeing with? The mechanics of having a combine harvester on the island?

  14. @ mark
    i) It is specifically a *desert* island
    ii) The have to work each day to produce food – a is combine harvester is used once for a couple of days in a year-long preparation, planting, tending and reaping cycle, not every day. One farmer with a combine harvester can replace dozens of reapers with scythes but the rest of the year it is idle

  15. Not sure what leftist arguments or stupidity have to do with the details of combine harvesters, but I will say that if it is ignorant to dissmiss a model on the basis that it doesn’t assume the things it wishes to examine, it is downright moronic to dissmiss adaptions to them on the basis of details which matter to no-one.
    I bow to your superior knowledge of farm machinery. Congratulations.

  16. What’s the ‘specific point’ Caplan hopes to draw from his analogy, then? The answer is that redistribution in contemporary societies is unjust, as shown by his statement ‘questions about the welfare state can’t be far behind’.

    Even his hypothetical island is ridiculous in its own right – as a commenter of mine pointed out, humans don’t exhibit that kind of disparity in – or lack of – ability to subsist. Caplan labels Harry ‘Hapless’ because he is a privileged white male who believes that the poor are poor because of their own faults (he wears this opinion as a badge of pride).

    If Caplan reframed his question as Harry being sick, disabled or a child then most would notice a profound shift in their intuitions. But he doesn’t, because then his analogy would resemble the real world.

    I stand by my argument that analogies are generally worthless because they are loaded with bias and sleights of hand.

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