The Economics of Charity

Last night I went to a fundraiser for the situation in Japan, and as part of it they had a charity auction. Any money raised for disaster relief made me happy, but I couldn’t help notice that the economics of it seemed all wrong. For example, one of the items auctioned was 4 adult tickets to Chessington World of Adventures. Now, a quick glance at the website tells me that they sell for £110, yet at the charity auction they were sold for £30. And this phenomenon was repeated across the night. Would it not be better to sell these items commercially, and then donate the proceeds to charity? It would raise more money… but it would be less visible, and it wouldn’t gather a bunch of people together to congratulate each other on how generous they are. The entire evening seemed entirely about showing how great the attendees are, and very little about the actual victims.

File under “Charity isn’t about helping.”

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Of course I’m worth it. But is she?

Workshy Joe responds to my last post.

A lot of what he said can be summed up as “you’re not special.” Yep, agreed. Or rather, I am special, but I fall within a bell curve. Everyone is a creature of routine to a greater or lesser extent. Not everyone is diagnosed with OCD. Everyone feels bad at times. Not everyone has major depression that destroys years of their life. When I say I’m weird, I don’t mean that I’m a genius, or that I think substantially differently from everyone else, or that the normal rules don’t apply to me. I think I’m a reasonably ordinary guy with some strengths and some problems. But those problems and differences are real, and not just my own inventions to make myself seem like a precious snowflake, and the fact of the matter is that I strike most other people as weird.

The most interesting part of the post is when he compares Game to a foreign culture. Now, the key to game is procedural knowledge (“know-how”) rather than propositional knowledge (“know-what”), because it’s no good understanding Game theoretically if you can’t put it into practice. So, is it painful to take part in this foreign culture? I find it so strange that he thinks the answer is obviously no. To me, the answer depends on the foreign culture. If you don’t like spicy food, then you’re probably not going to enjoy Indian culture (or at least their cooking). Now, if you get a really good job in India, then that’s going to be worth the occasional curry. But any way you look at it, there’s a trade-off here.

Game is very much a foreign culture to me, and from my perspective it involves eating a lot of vindaloo for very little pay. I’ve been trying it for several months now and it really has been a painful experience. Now, I am not happy stuck in my rut, but it does not follow that I will be any happier outside it. Maybe there are other ways I can improve myself, and perhaps some of them involve more gain and less pain. Or maybe this is just depressive thinking, and making excuses, I don’t know. What I do know is that feeling sorry for myself is not much of a strategy.

**Joe is right that exercise, regular sleep and CBT can all help. However, if they’re suffering from depression, telling someone to take exercise is rather pointless. Anti-depressants can be a kick start, as can anti-anxiety medication and diet changes. However, you should bear in mind that what you tell your doctor is not necessarily as confidential as you would like it to be – particularly if you are contemplating suicide. The downside of seeking help honestly is that you may end up involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. Sad, but true.

Is the Game worth the Candle?

Some men are naturally alphas but are being held back by what they believe are societal boundaries, so they hide their light under a bushel. They “act beta,” not because they really want to act that way, but because they think it is how they are supposed to act, or that it is a winning strategy. For this portion of the population, Game can be a life-changer, because not only is it a better strategy, they will become happier and more at one with themselves. It may be painful at first to overcome social conditioning and discard cherished notions, but it will be well worth it in the end.

Now, I have certainly learned some things from Game. Don’t supplicate, and be outcome-independent are two big ones. However, there are other factors at work. Firstly, I am weird. Not in a bad way necessarily, but I definitely stand out. Game talks about how being indifferent to social convention is a good thing, but let me tell you right now that they are very selective about which conventions they break and how! One of the reasons that I have a tendency to act beta is that I am not well-attuned to social situations, and it causes me to err on the side of caution. Needless to say, women hate weird. Standing out from the crowd is good, but only in a popular way. Everything else is death.

Secondly, I am a creature of habit. I have a degree of anhedonia, which I think this is part of the reason why I am susceptible to depression, and this alters my experiences relative to most people. When you aren’t experiencing pleasure in things, then the fact that something is familiar becomes the decisive factor – almost the only factor. Familiarity offers safety, but more importantly it offers comfort. Novelty cannot compete. Indeed, it becomes a game to create familiarity for just this purpose. I once ate the same sandwich for lunch every weekday for a year, not because I liked it any more than any other sandwich, but because having this pattern was comforting. And I’m no longer in that pattern, so I’ve never eaten that type of sandwich since. As well as being weird, this behaviour is disqualifying in its own right. Women like variety, change, excitement and novelty. I crave routine.

Finally, I am anti-social. I dislike most people, and I hate social interactions. I have never wanted to be popular, but rather my fantasies have always been about withdrawing from society. Trying to interact with people is exhausting to me, and it has only got worse as I have got older. And this is perhaps the most crippling of all. It’s not merely that most women like pro-sociality. It’s not merely that being anti-social lowers your status. The biggest drawback is that I meet fewer women, so even if NAWALT I’m unlikely to meet the exceptions.

At this point you may be thinking I have Asperger’s Syndrome or something, which would be understandable but false. I knew a girl at university who had Asperger’s, and that’s not me. I can pass as normal, but it takes a great effort. She was like a caricature of me, and completely clueless about it too. But I shouldn’t mock, because she was also much more intelligent than me.

Now, people change over time, and I have changed in the past and no doubt will again. In particular I suffer from severe anxiety and I would definitely like to change that. But much of this stuff is not really changeable – I can act in a more pro-social way, but I can’t make myself enjoy it. Following the precepts of Game therefore requires going fundamentally against my nature – and it seems that the prize at the end is rather lacking. I don’t even want sex with lots of different women. What I mostly want is emotional support and comfort, which the practitioners of Game tell me I should give up on.

Now, I don’t think I’m a beautiful unique snowflake who deserves to be loved for who I am. Deserve has nothing to do with it. If I don’t try and make myself more attractive to women, I will probably never have the kind of relationship I want. But is it worth it to go down that route? I cannot help feeling that it is a huge amount of pain for questionable reward. I know I’m an odd, crotchety fellow (I think Alpha Game would call me a gamma) but I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks this way.

It’s Nice to be Important, but it’s More Important to be Nice

At BHL:

If you saw a drowning child and could easily save her, you’d think you’re obligated to do so, even if it ruined your $500 iPad. If you’re obligated to ruin a $500 iPad to save a child’s life, then you’re obligated to forgo buying the iPad in the first place, and should just use the money to save lives.

This gets exactly to the heart of what morality is. The moral law being propounded here is all-consuming – if you have generalised positive obligations to others, then it immediately becomes clear that your moral responsibilities are going to dictate all your actions. There is no room to pursue anything other than morality – the moral law is a tyranny.

But if you saw a drowning child and could easily save her, do you really have a responsibility to save her? Sure, it would be nice to do so, but do you have any obligation? One of the reasons I think the Common Law is sublime is that it gets this question precisely right. It says that if you’re the child’s parent or babysitter, or you’re the lifeguard at the pool, then you have a responsibility. But if you haven’t taken up a duty of care towards the child, it’s none of your business. As Lord Keith said in Yuen Kun Yeu v Attorney General of Hong Kong (PC) [1988]

Liability in negligence… [does not arise if a man] sees another about to walk over a cliff with his head in the air, and forbears to shout a warning.

It is confusion about this issue that is at the heart of disagreements about morality. It is why utilitarians are frequently trapped into saying that it’s wrong to love myself better than you. It is the difference between what it means to be nice – help old ladies across the road, save drowning children, wink at homely girls – and what it means to be moral – don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t break your promises. They are completely separate issues.

The political implications should also be clear. Unfortunately, in the real world there is no way to achieve that kind of government, so we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Alliances among the Tribes

The tribes in my previous post are socio-political groupings, not party-political affiliations. There are Mongols who vote Labour, and Rus who vote Conservative, and the votes change over time. The tribes groups have shared language and symbolism, they are not politically unified blocs. There aren’t bright lines between the tribes – but some distinctions are harder than others. So the Labour Mandarin can thrash out politics with the Conservative Mandarin, but really doesn’t understand or mix socially with the Labour Rus – hence incidents like this.

Labour

The core Labour vote is the Rus and the Aedui. The traditional Labour strategy was to max out that vote, try not to gross out the Mandarins too much, and hope to pick up some random votes in the other tribes. This will fight the Conservatives to a standstill in England, and then the Celtic vote will put you over the top. This was how every Labour government got elected prior to 1997 (apart from the exceptional 1945 election). The problem with this strategy is that the coalition is quite narrow, so there is no room for manoeuvre. Worse, it means that the government is just a proxy for the TUC, meaning it becomes zero-sum rent-seeking and unites the rest of the country against these tribes. Hence every Labour government prior to 1997 was a short-lived disaster. However, it did at least guarantee Labour a strong position as the long-term opposition, ready to pounce if and when the Conservatives ran into trouble.

This strategy was dealt a fatal blow in 1981 by the creation of the SDP. The eventual response was the strategic repositioning towards the Iceni (“New Labour”) – ironically, just at the time when it was least necessary. However, the real success of New Labour was not 1997, which the old strategy would have won anyway, but 2001. The success of the strategy was that by neglecting the Rus to pick up Iceni votes, it denied the Conservatives any kind of coalition of their own, and the Rus had nowhere else to go. However, it was a high-risk strategy – after all, the Labour Party was founded because the TUC weren’t happy with the Liberals. Moreover, it has not really been able to articulate a coherent vision of government, as it seems that Iceni and Aedui interests and politics are mutually opposed. Labour got just 35% of the vote in 2005 and won only because of problems in the Conservative coalition and quirks of the electoral system.

Save exceptional circumstances, I do not think the traditional strategy will work any more. Brown’s pursuit of it meant the Labour vote fell below 30% at the last election. Obviously much depends on what kind of voting system is used going forwards, but I think that the changes are likely to make the traditional strategy even less rewarding. But if the traditional coalition is too small, it is at least stable. The New Labour coalition is large enough, but fundamentally unstable – at least under the Blair policy vision. If Labour is to have a lengthy spell in government again they must somehow square that circle. Milliband’s strategy is to pursue the traditional strategy and hope dissatisfaction in the Conservative coalition (and Coalition) will win him the next election. This may work, but I do not see how it can possibly lead to long-term success.

Liberal Democrat

The Lib Dem problem can be expressed in various ways – they do not have a clear ideology, they are not the preferred party of any tribe, they are unclear what coalition they are trying to build. Another way of putting it is that the Labour coalition is given impetus by being not-the-Tories, and the Conservative coalition is given impetus by being not-Labour. The Lib Dems not sure what they are for, but worse, they are not sure what they are against. This leads to them pointing in two directions at once, and causes general paralysis. It is likely that this period in government will be a disaster for them, because if the government succeeds it will (rightly) be seen as despite much of their party, and if the government fails it will (rightly) be seen as due to much of their party. This is the natural result of trying to please Taunton Deane (Cornish) and Sheffield Hallam (Rus/Aedui) at the same time. The Lib Dems have dribs and drabs opportunistically picked up from all the tribes, but no real centre of gravity.

The long-term strategy of the Lib Dems is unclear. When New Labour tacked right, Charles Kennedy could have tacked left, and tried to engage with the TUC, who were crying out for a champion. It would have been risky, as Labour could have tacked back – but alternatively, it could have caused Labour to tack further right, or split. The truth is that the Rus, and to a lesser extent the Aedui, were there for the taking for a ten year period, and the Lib Dems passed up the opportunity to build a new coalition, on different terms to the Labour one. With the help of the Iraq War, this strategy might even have seen them as the major party in government by now. It might also have seen them wiped out, who knows.

The other strategy for the Lib Dems is that of the “Orange Book” i.e. a tack to the right. This is good governance, but questionable electioneering, at least if the Lib Dems see themselves as an independent force. As previously stated, the Aedui are a client constituency, so even if the Orange Book wins over Mandarins, they cannot take their lower-class followers with them. Meanwhile, this is weak-sauce for Mongols, Iceni and Corns – why should they join a weaker coalition that serves their interests less well? The logical conclusion of the Orange Book is that its followers should enter long-term alliance with the Conservative Party and become their liberal wing. This would probably involve splitting the party. Despite the wishful thinking of some Conservatives, I do not think this at all likely – I regard the Orange book as being an aberration, and its followers will likely be punished by their party in the long term.

The third strategy of the Lib Dems is to stay where they are and hope demographics helps them. The aim would be to maintain equidistance between the parties, and hope that younger, more market-orientated members of the Labour coalition bleed into them, as do younger, more socially liberal members of the Conservative coalition. But this assumes that the other parties are passive watchers of this game, and also that the future will be more centrist than the present. I find these highly unrealistic assumptions. It is at least as plausible that the Lib Dem voters will bleed into the other coalitions under this strategy.

The final strategy is to cross your fingers and pray for electoral reform. This is not so much a strategy as a postponement. Even if they get AV, or even PR, they will still have to develop a strategy. They are currently running at around 10% in the polls – however you count the votes, that is not nearly enough to be successful.

Taxonomy of the English Tribes

    The Setantii

Broadly speaking, the underclass. The Setantii were a primitive tribe based on Merseyside of whom the ruling Romans knew and cared little. Plus ça change! Their political involvement in traditional terms is low, but they need to be included because they occasionally erupt in chaotic political action, and because their non-political actions often set the tone for ordinary politics. All politicians claim to be concerned about this tribe, but as they rarely vote, they are more feared than cultivated. The size of this class is disputed.

Typical member: Welfare recipient
Media outlet: None
Votes: Low turnout, Mixed
Political champion: None

    The Rus

The traditional working-class. This once-mighty tribe used to dominate the north, but have entered a long-term decline which it is hard to see them undoing. They remain fiercely warlike, but are incapable of sustaining a long campaign, and no longer instil fear in their enemies, and even their allies take them for granted. The youngsters are deserting to other tribes, but there is still a good deal of solidarity and organisational strength in the older members, so they can still be a power-base for a political coalition, but can no longer act alone. Economically left, but socially they are quite mixed – and often extremely far right. This tribe is perhaps 15% of the population.

Typical member: Transport worker
Media outlet: The Mirror
Votes: Heavily (Old) Labour
Political champion: John Prescott

    The Iceni

Like the historical Iceni, this tribe are patriotic, independent and small-c conservative, although not heavily political. They are working-class and lower-middle class, working mostly in the private sector. Few political leaders come directly from this class, but it is the largest and most powerful at the ballot box, and as a result it is constantly courted. New Labour’s downfall between 2001 and 2010 was caused by loss of traction in this class. Economically and socially they tend centre-right, but can be quite diverse in policies. More than any other, this tribe is loathed by the Mandarins, who dream of building a coalition against them. This tribe represents perhaps 30% of the population.

Typical member: Construction worker, small businessman
Media Outlet: The Sun, The Daily Mail
Votes: Predominantly Conservative
Political Champion: David Cameron??

    The Aedui

The newest of all the tribes, the name is a reference to the Gallic tribe best known for being Roman clients. They are mostly lower-middle class state sector workers, who have been carved out of other tribes (mostly the Rus) by social and political change. They are not hugely political, are primarily concerned with their own narrow interest, but are socially and economically leftist. This group aspires to be Mandarins, and is led by them, but is cut off by a yawning social chasm they can never bridge. They represent perhaps 20% of the population.

Typical member: Teacher, nurse
Media outlet: BBC
Votes: Predominantly Labour, some Lib Dem
Political Champion: Gordon Brown

    The Cornish

This rural tribe still think of themselves as Middle Britain, and remain strong in the South-West, but elsewhere they are in terminal decline. Some would see them as the countrified members of the Iceni, but they are cut off from them by their refusal to embrace modernity, and this is reflected strongly in their language and symbolism. They claim to be non-political, but are in fact old Tories – although surprisingly socially mixed. Like their old enemies the Rus, they cannot quite understand why they do not run the country any more, and why their allies take them for granted. This has lead some to vote Lib Dem or UKIP. Along with their suburban members, they represent perhaps 10% of the country.

Typical member: Retired
Media outlet: Telegraph
Votes: Heavily Conservative
Political Champion: Ken Clarke

    The Mandarins

Although this tribe represents perhaps 5% of the population, they have disproportionate influence as most leftist political figures belong here. Their invective is mostly aimed at the Mongols, but their real contempt is reserved for the Iceni. This is the upper-middle class who comprise the Liberal Establishment, and they are extremely politically active. They are the English equivalent of what Moldbug classed as Brahmin. Their politics is economically left of centre, socially far left. They occupy positions of huge power, but still think of themselves as outsiders.

Typical member: Journalist
Media outlet: Guardian
Votes: Labour/Lib Dem
Political Champion: Ed Milliband

    The Mongols

These are the ambitious, business-orientated upper-middle class. Mandarins love to throw invective at them, but in fact are socially comfortable with them – socially, they are almost one class. Socio-politically, however, they diverge wildly in language and symbolism – this is a fairly new class that has been carved out of the Cornish by social and economic changes, but unlike the Cornish has fully embraced modernity. Economically they are far-right, socially they are moderately liberal. They are slightly less politically active than the Mandarins, but wield huge economic power. The Iceni aspire to membership in this class. They represent perhaps 10% of the population.

Typical member: Accountant
Media Outlet: The Times
Votes: Heavily Conservative
Political Champion: Boris Johnson

This is why my political analysis is that the Conservatives must be populist and pick up Iceni votes (while not offending the Mongols and Cornish). Discourse aimed at the elites cannot win, because there aren’t enough Mandarin votes to matter, and the Mandarins we persuade cannot take the lower tribes with them – the Rus and the Aedui are leftist client constituencies. They cannot be won over; the former has to be allowed to wither, the latter has to be broken.

Note that this is just England, the rest of the UK is different, with structural Labour majorities in Scotland and Wales.

More About Reaction

AMcGuinn and Foseti respond to my post about reaction.

McGuinn basically says that progressives are winning, and “we get as much state as we can afford, but just occasionally the left gets ahead of itself and we get a level of state destructiveness that physically cannot be sustained.” If only I could be so optimistic – we normally get far more state than we can afford. I agree that the Thatcherite reforms were primarily a victory for reality, but that’s all I’m asking for – that politics be grounded in reality. Progressives aren’t wrong about everything, you know. Besides which, for all the negative trends he mentions, there are plenty of positives, many of which have plenty of support on the progressive left – the marketisation of public services, the proper regulation of the police and freedom of information.

But even if I wanted to oppose progressivism, I simply don’t see how “reactionaries realistically oppose progressivism.” How does the reactionary opposition manifest itself? It has no power in politics, the judiciary, the civil service, the media or wider society, and I don’t see any prospect of it gaining any. Are reactionaries hoping for a coup, or what? You may view Conservatives as wishy-washy sell-outs, but at least there’s a reasonable amount of organisational strength and power. If there is a realistic reactionary force, it’s the TUC, and I assume McGuinn isn’t signing up for that.

Foseti, meanwhile focuses on foreign policy, and wants to return to “old-school international law,” wherein governments do not interfere in each others’ internal affairs. But when exactly was this school in session? Historically, governments interfering in another country to support the “legitimate” government against the mere de facto one is absolutely appropriate under international law. As so often, the “reactionary” position turns out to be one of modern invention – in this case, it is a Cold War maxim, and even then one more honoured in the breach than the observance.

Besides which, in the post originally linked, Moldbug went much further:

A stable, orderly world is the only interest of our foreign policy. We hope the Egyptian security forces can suppress the riots quickly and with minimum bloodshed… We call on the rioters to obey all official instructions, and return to home and/or work… If the rioters make unreasonable demands, their demands must be denied. If they make reasonable demands, these reforms must be withheld at least until the rebellion has failed and its participants thoroughly regret their actions, so that they appear as the gifts of the government and not the fruits of victorious rebellion.

These are not the comments of a disinterested third party refusing to interfere in another country’s internal affairs. This is a partisan cheering on the Mubarak government on the grounds of “order,” long after the its ability to supply that order had collapsed. It is bizarre to think that the US is “exporting” revolution, when so many of the world’s dictators are only sustained against revolution by US support. Mubarak in particular would have fallen years ago without American aid.

And here’s another example where the progressives aren’t wrong – liberal internationalism is A Good Thing. Yes, we should be as sceptical of the government’s ability to effect change abroad as we are at home. And yes, Foseti is quite right to point out that revolutions are bloody affairs and frequently regrettable. But I’m proud that this country helped stop Gaddafi perpetrating a massacre in Benghazi. Foseti says that when there is order, people aren’t being indiscriminately murdered… well, OK. So I take it then that he would have supported humanitarian interventions in Rwanda, Bosnia, etc, as the indiscriminate murders there showed a lack of order? Seems like we’ve turned full circle!

I previously described reaction as like painstakingly reassembling the pieces of an exploded bomb, then finding that it detonates again. But perhaps a better analogy would be that he is the environmentalist carefully preserving species in a zoo. It’s a noble endeavour in its way, but it should not be confused with rebuilding an ecosystem.