THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 627, July 10, 2011
"The US Constitution is a Trojan Horse"
Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
Just as the basic scientific method is the bare minimum necessary to advance real knowledge, but there are specific methods within science (such as Bayesian reasoning) that come closer to the ideal of Solomonoff Induction and thus increase knowledge that much faster, it seems plausible that the Zero-Aggression Principle itself is merely the bare minimum necessary to support individuals' freedoms, and that there could be some particular methods within the overall aegis of libertarianism that are better than others at that task.
But in order to find out what those methods are, we need some way to measure which methods do bettersome way to quantify how much freedom an individual has. I don't recall having read anything on the matter in libertarian circlesif work on this has already been done, then I'd be happy to hear about it. But until then, I'll just have to try to muddle through on my own.
Sois there some reasonably simple way of measuring peoples' freedom to do stuff? Some groups have released studies measuring quality of life in different countries, amalgamating various factors into a 'happiness index' or 'quality of life' measurement... and somewhere in there may be something useful.
But we might have a set of numbers that are easier to find than that. Looked at one way, the general method used these days to determine how to allocate resources is through 'price' and 'money'; and the more money one has to distribute, the more freedom one has to distribute it to various things. So, in at least one sense, we could try comparing the 'discretionary income' of various groups, which is income minus the costs of the necessities of life (eg, food, shelter, health care, paying taxes to keep out of jail, etc). And, if possible, instead of the mean discretionary income, we'd be better served by the median, that of the average person in that society. For similar reasons, we'd also be better served by calculating the total discretionary income acquired throughout someone's lifetime, than simply looking at the annual figure. If this idea works out, then those groups which tend to be qualitatively higher in respecting individual rights (such as one or more of the sortings listed at [this link]) should at least roughly correspond to having higher median discretionary income. And, if not, then this is yet another wrong idea to replace with a better one.
Unfortunately, just because a given metric is chosen doesn't mean that the numbers can be immediately found through Google, in which case you just have to work with whatever closely-related numbers can be found. In this case, the closest I've been able to find so far is [here] , which lists about 30 countries by disposable income rather than discretionary. But since discretionary income is at least related to disposable income, we can try checking those 30 countries to their listing on freedom indices to see, as a minimal standard, if the top half of the list has more countries listed as 'free' than the bottom half.
(Noteat this point, I don't know what the answer will be. I have a guessbut that guess could turn out to be wrong just as easily as it turns out to be right.)
Looking at the data gives us:
1st column: Freedom House 2011
US: blue, green, green, blue
Singapore: yellow, blue, orange, orange
And counting up the columns:
1st half: Column 1: 14 blue, 1 yellow, 0 red.
1st half: Column 2: 4 blue, 9 green, 2 yellow, 0 orange
1st half: Column 3: 6 blue, 9 green, 0 yellow, 0 orange
1st half: Column 4: 12 blue, 2 green, 1 orange, 0 red
... so by all four measures, the countries with lower disposable incomes tend to be less free. This means that this idea doesn't immediately fail the sniff test... and so it just might be worth following up on, to see if this continues to be a useful quantification, and if so, what predictions can be made from it that can help guide us as we make plans to increase our freedom. Or perhaps some other measurement will be discovered to be more useful in helping us make such predictionsin which case it would be worthwhile to find it.
So, what useful ideas can the simple existence of "lifetime median discretionary income" as a metric give us?
The most obvious is that it when we're faced with a question of what we can do to increase liberty, we know that there are particular actions we can take which will have the greatest benefit, and we can concentrate on identifying them.
We can also get at least a rough feel of what some of those actions may involve, which we might not have otherwise thought of.
For an obvious example: When someone dies, they no longer receive any income at all; thus, working to prevent deaths, and generally extend lives, helps to increase the total discretionary income those people can accumulate over their lives, and is thus an action promoted by use of this metricwhich meshes very well with the standard libertarian view of the Right to Life being rather important. So far, so good.
For a counterintuitive example: To calculate discretionary income, both taxes and health care are subtracted from gross income. Reducing taxes means less is taken out of gross, and so is one of the most obvious ways to increase discretionary income. However, if reducing taxes increases the cost of health care by more than the taxes are reduced, then discretionary income will go downwhich the use of this metric advises against. What it does advise is to use whatever system results in the minimum cost for health care, whether that cost is paid directly or via taxes (along with some further suggestions about maximizing the benefit-to-cost ratio for health care practices). This perspective goes against the usual grain of libertarian thought, in which taxes are generally viewed as an unalloyed evil... but it may be worth considering what your true goal actually is: increasing liberty even if doing so requires the use of government, or getting rid of government even if doing so reduces individuals' liberty.
Perhaps this counterintuitive piece of advice means you think that the metric being used is utterly useless. You are entirely free to think that, and say so however you wish. I am also entirely free to ignore what you say if you simply disparage one metric without suggesting a better one. After all, as Heinlein wrote:
If anyone reading this is interested in using numbers to figure out the winningest strategies for maximizing liberty, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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