US,UN,Intervention: Political Spectrum

To answer the Consensus question fully I need to explain (as briefly as I can manage) what I mean by a lot of words for which other people may have slightly different definitions. And that last thread was becoming long and untidy so I am starting a slightly new side-thread.

First, I tend to say "Right" and "Left" instead of "Conservative" and "Liberal". There are reasons for this I don't want to get into now ("keep it short") but which you can see if I say "Mrs. Thatcher, being well to the Right of Ted Heath, immediately Liberalized tariffs and the steel industry. M. Mitterand, being a socialist and therefore far to her Left, was concerned that Mrs. Thatcher's views on Liberal Democracy would be detrimental to his own views on the need for more economic planning."

Nor do I want to go at length into "Economic Liberal" and "Social Liberal". We can talk about that later. And Yes, I do understand that one's philisophical beliefs about economics, politics and personal/religious freedom are not a scalar (a one dimensional measurement in which everyone can be sorted in alphabetical order by height). But these do tend to cluster together.

The Left believe in two things that form most of their view of the world:

1) "There is only so much," There are only so many jobs, only so much wealth and housing and oil and food. The corollary of "there is only so much" is "if he has 'more than his fair share' someone else is being shorted." The Left worry about "inequality of wealth" in the world and the Left see wealth redistribution as the solution.

The Right think goods and services are created. The amount of jobs, wealth etc (goods and services) that exist are there because someone made them. If people have a great need for more, someone will make more (at increasing unit cost but I don't want to get bogged down in details just yet). The Right do not worry about Inequality of wealth but about Poverty. Ii.e they don't care much about the ratio of wealth between Bill Gates and the poorest person in Biafra. They care about how many goods and servics the poorest person in Biafra has as an absolute number. They see the solution to poverty as "create more wealth (more goods and services)" not "redistribute the goods and services that are already there." (we can go into this at MUCH greater length if you wish)

2) The Left think "Somone should be in charge." If, as the Left think, we are all in this life boat with only so much fresh water and only so many rations, and if, in that life boat, some person might try to take more water than their share leaving everyone else short, then there should be someone supervising water consumption. The Left believe in Planned Economies. Socialism being pretty far towards the Left being an example of this. For people less far to the Left this explains why they tend to prefer lots of government regulation of work place conditions, recycling etc. They think someone has to be in control.

The Right do NOT believe that anyone should be in control. In fact the Right think it actually is harmful to have someone run things. The Right believe in a more chaotic, Darwinian, Brownian Motion unplanned world. The Right believe (in place of a Planned Economy) in Adam Smith's Invisible Hand.

(Everyone who has never heard of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand raise your hand. Hmm, I don't see any hands so you must be raising your "Invisible One." Let me explain. That is the idea that Adam Smith's desire, as he sits in London, that he wants to drink tea has a "magical action at a distance." People in Java whom he has never met plant and harvest tea; ship owners load tea in Java and bring it to London" and dock workers in London unload the tea, all without any overarching authority telling of them to do that.

(Pant, Pant, Pant)

I am on the Right. I think the core ideas that shape the Left's world view are wrong (not "silly", not "inconsistent" but "we tried that and we found, by observation, that it doesn't work." IE it is a consistent theory but the experiments have shown it not to apply).

And, being on the Right, I do NOT think Someone Should Be In Charge. Putting someone In Charge has always proved harmful in the end.


I think its bizarre (and alarming :) that I've been defined as a Lefty on two different site in two days. I never even suspected!

Yet I find myself believing that there are indeed finite resources. Of course, this would be because there ARE finite resources (just infinite potential). But, you can't go down to the bank and cash a check because you have the potential to make a lot of money next week.

And I'm pretty sure that someone should be in charge. However, just because I believe in SOME organization and authority doesn't mean I believe in "bigger is better" government.

Incidientially, the "darwin" theory of the economy (that only the fit will succeed and prosper) doesn't consider that once the "fit" survive they may become "unfit". The answer that then another more "fit" company will rise up doesn't consider that (1)An incumbent company will often have the size to squash a start-up, just as Microsoft tends to kill newcomers. (2) Customers will stick with the familiar as long as it is meeting minimum standards, as in "liking what you buy, instead of buying what you like". Brand-loyalty is a strong force. (3) A less "fit" product may be desirable in some situations because of standardization. For example, Windows is not the best operating system yet it is acceptably functional and has the added benefit that most people are familiar with it.

Posted by: Mrs. Quixote | 04/17/2004 - 07:30 AM

I'm a bit skeptical of the value of a one dimensional scale, but since most people use them, let me chip in with my two cents.

I agree that most on the left think wealth is a zero sum game and thus the economic role of government is to redistribute wealth while most on the right think wealth is created and thus the economic role of government is to provide an environment where more wealth can be created.

I think Drew should clarify what he meant when he said those on the Right do NOT believe that anyone should be in control. If Drew meant no one should be in charge economically, then I mostly agree. If he meant no one should be in charge at all, then I disagree. But I don't think Drew was espousing anarchy; I think he was simply discussing the Right's preference for minimal regulation on firms.

I am not sure where people would label me, but I believe companies should be lightly regulated (no regulations leads to monopolies, which leads to inefficiencies).

I also think my lovely wife misconstrued Drew's statement about wealth being created. She and I just had a debate about Drew's post and she thought Drew claimed that those on the Right believed in infinite resources what those on the Left believed in finite resources. Since she believes there are finite resources, she fell into the Left camp... Having just read Drew's post, I don't see any claim of finite/infinite; so this was just a misunderstanding (probably based on Lady Quixote's posting while parenting several children).

Posted by: Don Quixote | 04/17/2004 - 08:43 AM

If there was any misunderstanding about finite/infinite then I got it too. I understood Drew to mean "zero sum game" as the view of the Left.
I am assuming we are talking "economic left" (and right) rather than social, for simplicity.
I am more skeptical of this 1-D scale with each posting. My current estimate is that we need 3 axes minimum.

Posted by: Cobden | 04/18/2004 - 10:18 AM

Finite Resources:

I may have been _too_ skimpy in the interests of brevity. By "finite amount of wealth/jobs/energy" I mean a Malthusian sort of world view. Only so much farmland, only so much food can be produced per acre, therefore only a fixed amount of food (and a growing population so there is "Doom Impending"). But the amount of food that can be produced is NOT fixed at the scale of the next increment of food (think of Calculus finding the slope of a curve, not of solving the entire world's problems all at once).

Take Oil. Everybody knows "we are about to run completely out of oil in X years"

But we never will. Don't think about all the oil and all the future, think only about the next unit of oil (litre, barrel whatever). We are using oil. So some guy who wants to sell oil goes to get more. Not "all the oil" but just the next litre. Human nature being what it is, all the oil that was really easy to scoop up is scooped, But there is one more litre over there. It may be a little harder to get, at the bottom of the sea, or have a little more sulfur content, so it is more expensive to refine, but he can get just one more litre.

Since that single next unit cost him a little more, the guy who wants to get it will have to pay the producer a teensy bit more. One more unit is produced, yet another guy buys it (at a marginally higher price) and eventually you get in equilibirum again.

You will never "use up all the oil" for two reasons: As the cost of getting more rises, and the cost of paying for it rises, you will (always) get to the point where some people will decide it is just not worth it. They will ride a bicycle, get a car that is more fuel efficient or take public transportation.

And some other guy will come up with a substitute. For oil that might be ethanol or electric powered cars.

So the amount of oil consumed won't hit zero and the amount of _energy_ consumed (the big economic category) will continue to rise as long as the economy grows.

Bigger economy is just another way to say "more goods and services" ie more wealth. Having created that wealth, people will want to consume it, and having created that wealth they will be able to afford to pay more for energy.

I think "fixed amount of energy, of jobs, of housing" is a tenet of the Left. Look at what they do to fix problems: redistribute. The US tax code or Lionel Jospins plan to reduce unemployment by going from a 40 hour to a 35 hour work week to redistribute the number of hours of work in the economy. He was seeing the number of hours of work in the economy as a fixed quantity.

And I don't think any of these are fixed. At the margin they grow.

Provided "somebody in charge" doesn't bollux things up. In the example of guys deciding at the individual level that they would rather pay for an electric car rather than pay for oil at the current level, that will work _at the individual level_. It will NOT work if Somebody In Charge decides that now, in 2004, 10% of the driving public must switch to electric cars whether the drivers want them or not (we had a law in California forcing the auto sellers to sell 10% of their cars as electric cars. Then we had an electricity shortage that was worse than the oil shortage and we scrapped that law).

More on what I mean by "People In Charge" in my next post. And it isn't just economics. But it doesn't mean a free for all where everyone can decide for himself whether red lights mean "Stop" or "Go" either.

Stay tuned.

Posted by: Drew | 04/18/2004 - 11:09 AM

Hey Drew, you just re-stated Xeno's Paradox using oil instead of distance.

Posted by: Cobden | 04/19/2004 - 01:53 PM

If you use Oil in Xeno's original paradox you can just slide the last few millimeters .

Seriously: Exactly! And like the original Xeno's Paradox the solution lies in looking at "a delta, a change in supply smaller than episilon, an arbitrarily small change in demand" rather than getting lost in the Ultimate Answer.

(Achilles does actually catch the tortise, remember).

Posted by: Drew | 04/19/2004 - 02:01 PM

To return to the Left-Right thing.
I promised 3D (just like the graphics people) so here goes:
Social Form - coherence by size
Small Groups(loyalty to clan)...Large Groups (loyalty to King or nation, deference)
Low Tax...High Tax
Personal Behaviour
Strict social codes(1950s Australia)...Loose Social Codes (Los Angeles)

Many combinations are possible. For instance a small self-defined community with strict social codes and high group tax. Or perhaps a Right Libertarian group with near zero tax and loose social codes. Or a large Communist State with high tax and strict social codes. Or 1930s Italy with a Fascist dicatator and strong state intervention - how Right wing is that?

Also there are issues like the relationship between State and Religion or Weapons Control.

Posted by: Cobden | 04/19/2004 - 02:09 PM

(Achilles does actually catch the tortise, remember).
So we will run out of oil?

The Greek owned supertanker delivers the last load of oil worth extracting to the last operating refinery?

Posted by: Cobden | 04/19/2004 - 02:12 PM

A reader (lets just call her Mrs Q) writes: "I think its bizarre (and alarming :) that I've been defined as a Lefty on two different site in two days. I never even suspected!"

Dr Cobden replies:
Don't worry! Mathematicians tell us that exactly 50% of Americans are "one the Left" on a typical day. Many never suspect and go about their lives perfectly happily.
However you should check you are not suffering from the "Academic Left", this can be quite dangerous as exposure to poisonous doctrines can result!
Symptoms to check for:
* using the term "post-modernism" in telephone conversations
* quoting, with approval, French philosphers not yet dead
* organic wholefood catalogues printed on re-cycled paper about the home
* worring about "signs" and "signifiers" when watching films
Prompt treatmeant is essential:
* do not drink beverages out of demi-tasse (small cups), use a 16 Oz beaker at minimum
* watch another Simpson's episode
* do not accept lunch invites to "the Faculty"
These simple guidelines could save you from a lifetime of grief.
Good luck!

Posted by: Dr Cobden | 04/19/2004 - 02:26 PM

"The Last Oil Worth Extracting" is what people are ALWAYS shipping. That is what "worth" means. The last liter that I can sell to someone so desperate for oil he will pay me to extract it.

The price to extract asymptotically rises as the amount decreases. Eventually you get back in equilibrium i.e. there is hardly anyone willing to pay that. But they do find some way around it. When the price gets high enough you use a substitute that, today, is more expensive than the next dollop of oil but will not be should the price rise.

As to the Greek Tanker Owner, well, he will ship it if he is not too distracted by the cat fight between the ex-Prima Donna and the ex-First Lady going on on the other side his private island.

Posted by: Drew | 04/19/2004 - 02:30 PM

"Personal Behaviour
Strict social codes(1950s Australia)...Loose Social Codes (Los Angeles)"

Let me chew on that. I agree "Social Conservative" really means "Traditional" or "Sticks to Strict, old time code of behavior."

And I agree thare are "anything goes" people. But I don't agree the "Social Left" (The Department of English at Stanford University for example) have anything at all loose or inclusive about the attitudes they will permit to be voiced anywhere in their neighborhood. They are _at least_ as dogmatic as the Hard Core Social Conservatives.

If you doubt this say "God" (or worse "George Bush") in the Faculty club and watch what happens.

Hmm, there are two kinds of Strict Code people. Sort of like in 1600 there were "burn you at the stake if you are Protestant" people and "burn you at the stake if you are Catholic" people. Identical in actions, and in their "compassion and tolerance." Differing only in the beliefs they were use to justifiy lighting the pyre.

Posted by: Drew | 04/19/2004 - 02:53 PM

Freshly, out of breath from talking to much on another thread. (huff puff)

First I will state that I have virtually no knowledge of economics whatsoever. I do have what I think is a Logical mind - logic (in the form of boulean logic) is what I have been doing for 20 years or so.

I do think people might be being a tad simplistic, and optimistic too, I think. Which is nice! - I like simplicity and optimism. North Americans (I'd imagine?) see infinite perspectives from having vast horizons? I stood out on the flat, flat plains of Alberta and I'd never seen so much sky! I stand at night where I live and I almost never see decent stars in the sky anymore - we are just too crowded in the UK and light pollution blots them out. I don't just mean in the city either.

Oil as we know it may follow an asymtotic graph as described, and the last drop may be the one drop of crude my Dad has encased in a paperweight (he worked in the oil industry) but it will effectivley become too expensive against other processes at some point and we may well end up using vegetable oil or something else. Electric cars might fill the gap - but we still need energy for those from somewhere, and electric aircraft - while in research - are a long way from replacing oil fuel based ones.

Basically we have non-replacable energy sources and renewable ones. At some future date we will have to be significantly reliant on renewable. When the last depleted sources of avgas will not fill a plane sufficiently to even get down the runway - and cost $20billion - we have met a limit.

So it moves over to refined vegetable oil perhaps - and smells like a airborne chip shop. We need to find land to grow those oil plants - the energy content comes from solar energy. This becomes land not used for feeding people? Unless the world population stops growing we may be looking at an uncomfortable and more selfish future...

We even have a finite limit of renewable power - the power of the sun falling on the planet. At the edge of our atmospere that incident enegy is roughly 1.4kW/m^2 - nice! Roughly equivalent to 2HP/meter^2. A 150hp motor car will need at least 75m^2 of 100% efficient solar power to run at that power level. That 1.4kW/m^2 is a pure figure based on black-body maths with no atmosphere and no losses in conversion. Less than 50% of this actually reaches the planet's surface. Current solar panels are about 15% efficient? Some quickie maths and that 75m^2 is now 1000m^2. 0.1hectares. Sounds useable. If you can do that directly - but you have to store that energy, more losses - and industry to create that storage and make the car - and it just gets worse?

Some renewable resources can also possibly be killed off aswell - like Fish one day? - like the Moa? Without someone "in charge" to regulate the quotas we could just end up with long term boom bust cycles- or just a future trickle of Birds-Eye Fish Sticks costing the same as a jar of caviar does now. The poor are eating Soylent Green by now...?

Air/water pollution. There's a worry? Without anyone "in charge" are you confident that major companies will self regulate? Lose profit for cleanliness. Or will they just start making a profit selling gas-masks and replace fish cakes with Algae cakes?

Wind and tide power have limited applicable areas - but as the price of power increases, more and less efficient areas will be exploited. Solar power uses food acreage - they can't both have all the sun's incident energy...

The date "X" may well be in a million years, but I'm pretty sure living will be pretty miserable for the majority of life on the planet by then.

We might escape to the galaxy? Not all of us, a few 10's of thousands maybe - not billions?. We cannot assume that "technology" will be there in time to "save the race".

Current electronics technology can already see the wall it is driving into. Power density. There are some alternate technologies being envestigated - they might work...

Energy and Time is always a problem. It's possible Nuclear Fusion might save the planet from turning into a huge spherical solar-panel - it's not an area of expertise for me... Geothermal might be deemed "renewable" but I suspect this is a technical misnomer - it's just a huge ready charged "battery". Infinite? No.

The Sun itself is just a huge nuclear reaction - it has only about 4.5billion years to go?

"The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true."
James Branch Cabell 1879-1958
American novelist and essayist

Hmmn - I sound like a Lefty too - or a Green. Actually I guess I've kind of "abstained", from both politics and the human future?

I suspect the human race has a finite limit of time left, one way or another. Sorry guys! 8)

We just do not seem to "self regulate" as a "species characteristic", except perhaps in the same way a bacterium or virus does?

Speaking of bacteria? How are we doing on the anti-biotics technology front? What sort of future safety margin do we have left????

Posted by: Cassivellaunus | 04/19/2004 - 03:08 PM

"Only So Much"

Please note I am not asking all of you to agree with the position I characterize as "Right". That was the point. Some of you will be far to one side, some far to the other side and some (like wishy-washy middle of the road AQ *G*) sort of in the middle.

But one important difference ("one of the axes of political and social thinking" as Dr. Cobden would put it) is:

Left: There is only so much. We should learn to get by with less. We need to redistribute more fairly with less inequality.

Right: Let's just make more.

I think everyone understands what I am trying to say about this being a main division between groups of people, and I am sure the crowd here sees things from different parts of that spectrum.

Posted by: Drew | 04/19/2004 - 08:00 PM

"Someone Needs to be in Charge"

By "someone needs to be in charge" I do not mean, as it's opposite pole "there are no rules." The opposite is "we are all adults and all equally able to decide what is right."

"Nobody is in charge" doesn't mean no police and no traffic laws. It means "There is no one who is a member of the Great and the Good."

I asked about the vote on the EU constitution in another thread. For those who live in "Fly Over Country" the EU is going to vote a Constitution up or down. Each country is voting.

In some countries the vote will be by referendum (all the voters vote). In other countries the government, usually the legislature will do the voting.

This is an excellent example of "Someone Needs to Be in Charge" vs "No one should be in charge"

Do you think a) that this is such an important issue (it certainly is important) that it should be put to a referendum where the entire (adult) population gets to vote? Then you think "Nobody should be in charge" in the sense I mean it.

Do you think b) this is such an important issue, so complicated and nuanced, so far reaching in its effects, economic, legal and political, that only those with trained minds who are willing to devote themselves to a life of public service (the career politicians and civil servants) can really have the understanding of the issues needed to decide what is best? That Alf Doolittle, down at the local with his mates, certainly can't be allowed to let his crude prejudices decide something so pivotal?

If the latter you think "Someone should be in Charge"

Some of you will think the one, and some the other (that again is the point. It is an axis along which we have different views).

But I have noticed that people on the "limited amount" end of the How Much Is There axis tend to also be on the "Someone should be in charge" end of the "Need anyone be in charge" axis. I don't think they are independent variables. In part, as I said, because of the limited-rations-in-the-lifeboat mentality. Among other attituds ;-)

Posted by: Drew | 04/19/2004 - 08:11 PM

I think the ruthless Cass has summed up the energy situation in physical terms.

Let's see about the Left-Right distinction and Energy.

Some local Greenpeace trendies explained to me that they have a "Green-Grey" axis to describe how "right on" someone is environmentally.
Now the UK Conservative Party is quite "Grey" (especially was under John Major). But so is the Left-bent National Union of Mine Workers. So was the Communist Government of former Czechoslovakia which used to strip mine low quality coal and give it away to the People's steelworks. Whereas the centre-Right German CDU is fairly Green.
We can see that Greenness is not soley the provice of Lefties, except perhaps in California.

Posted by: Cobden | 04/20/2004 - 04:01 PM

We even have a finite limit of renewable power

What about breeder reactors?

Posted by: Don Quixote | 05/06/2004 - 12:58 PM


Today happens to be the 25th anniversary of Magaret Thatcher's ascent to power. Several of her positions on still-relevant issues are being published today, including her view on consensus, which I suppose people will agree with or fault depending on their view of Lady Thatcher.

"To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one beleives and to which no one objects."

Posted by: Drew | 05/10/2004 - 12:59 PM

We even have a finite limit of renewable power

What about breeder reactors?

I'm not sure of your point?

You cannot make energy from nothing. Entropy is the real King here.

There are two basic forms of Energy as exemplified in Schroedinger's equation.

basic stuff (sorry)
Total energy = Kinetic Energy + Potential Energy

What we have are large sources of both - in our "black box model" of the Earth/Sun etc.

Kinetic Energy - the motion of the stars, planets, moon, impacting meteors etc
Potential energy - the nuclear energy of heavy metals and fusion potential of the lighter ones, geothermal energy, oil etc

Once we've fused or fissioned everything to Lead ("top dog" entropy wise IIRC)- nuclear energy is dead too?

Posted by: Cassivellaunus | 05/10/2004 - 06:03 PM

None of this really relates to the original question. Yes, there is a finite amount of matter and energy in the universe.

a) We will never "run out" of energy because, as any energy source becomes rarer and more expensive to scoop up the next dollop, the number of people willing to pay for that next dollop of energy will decrease. You will never get to the last molecule. No one will pay the exhorbitant price for that last molecule.

b) The body of human scholarship devoted to deciding _how_ to distribute a scarce resource is economics. "Deciding which of several uses clamoring for any resource and deciding when to substitute some other resource instead to try to get the same usefulness" is really the core of economics. And the economic answer for how you decide how to distribute energy, or oil, or rutubaga leaves is: "A market that either is, or closely resembles, an auction in which all buyers and all sellers have complete knowledge of the quantity and quality of all goods/services offered and the prices of all bids to buy or sell."

The answer is not "have someone who is really smart say how to distribute rutubaga leaves and have that really smart person decide when you need to substitute dead oak leaves instead of fresh rutubaga leaves."

That latter answer, which seems reasonable, has been found not to work.

Posted by: Drew | 05/10/2004 - 07:23 PM

None of this really relates to the original question.

True! Am I getting confusticated about what thread I'm answering sometimes - or what? 8) Oil Reserves or Consensus!

I'm still not convinced that a purely Economical/Monetary analysis of rutubaga leaves - or whatever - is the only analysis worth considering?

Posted by: Cassivellaunus | 05/12/2004 - 12:48 PM

My point about breeder reactors was in answer to renewable energy in the remotely foreseeable future.

But as you and Drew point out, this line of thought should be continued in the Oil Reserves thread.

To your other question - I don't think the economical anaysis is the only analysis worth considering. The economic analysis will provide the most efficient way to distribute scarce materials over the long run, but it provides little input to the question Should we be doing this?

Of course, this does lead back to Drew's original point about the difference between left and right. If you tend to believe essential resources are very limited, you have one perspective. If you believe raw materials are reasonably abundant given innovative and well educated people (who can find alternative and superior ways of accomplishing things given sufficient motivation), then you have another perspective.

Posted by: Don Quixote | 05/12/2004 - 01:49 PM

Bingo! Quixote has summed up the point admirably (even though he is a primate).

Although political views are not one dimensional, people's views do tend to cluster. There are two general groups, and I think the main reasoning that leads one to one group or the other (if, indeed, one "reasons" as opposed to making an emotional selection) are

A- Economically, mostly - that if one believes "stuff is running out" one chooses the left

B- Not only in economic areas but in most areas of social interaction - that if you believe "well educated people" (an elite) is better at deciding what everyone should do you likewise choose "left".

Cassy pretty clearly doesn't agree with the position of "the right" by that classification. But he seems to me to prove the point of two groups, sortable by the criteria I am proposing.

Posted by: Drew | 05/12/2004 - 05:01 PM
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