When insanity works, but not the way you expect

Sometimes insanity works… but not the way you expect.

Consider the Napoleonic Wars. Men in orderly rank and file marching into battle with rifle and musket, to face volley fire from opposing rank and file of uniforms. Were the men marching insane? Would not a soldier’s chance of surviving be greatly increased by running away from the line of men firing at his formation? Undoubtedly, yes, it would. Would his own formation have a marginally lower chance of winning if he were to do so? Yes, again. If the man next to him ran away, would he increase his personal chances of survival, too? While decreasing, a bit more, the chance of failure for their side? Yes, absolutely, to both. It is crazy to stand and fight, if you can increase your chance of survival by running away. But if enough people on your side choose to run and survive that fight, you also doom your side to total defeat, and being hunted down by the victors and having your land, property, and women taken, because they were collectively crazy enough to stand and fight. It’s a fine line between disciplined and insane.

This is why desertion is punishable by death. Deserters take a very short-sighted, selfish view of the war by making their personal survival on a specific battlefield be more important than the big picture. By not being swayed by the personal tragedy of the individual, the battle can be won, and MORE individuals will survive to live long and prosper, because the incentives are aligned with the goal. Ironically, armies of volunteers, people that choose to place themselves under this sort of discipline, are even more effective than conscript armies subjected to such harsh measures to enforce obedience, even though the threat of it still needs to be there.

Compare that to our welfare system. We look at an individual, for example a single mother with a new-born child, and we take pity on her, saying we should help out such an “unfortunate” person. It would be heartless to abandon such a person, right? And so, we offer her a stipend to buy food and “necessities.” But what does this do to the incentives in the system? Which is more reliable, a husband with a job, or a government check? A rhetorical question in today’s economy. Suddenly, the incentives to men to work hard and be productive, in order to secure a mate and regular sex, is greatly reduced, simply because she’s no longer forced to rely on him. Indeed, if he’s a deadbeat his wages can’t be garnished, and he himself is eligible for benefits! Then, for every additional dollar he earns, an ever increasing chunk will be taken via taxes, etc. On the other side of the “couple,” there is a greater incentive to unwed women to have children than for married women, because the unwed mother will be eligible for far more subsidies than the married one, who may indeed be paying to support the bastard kids as well as her own!

The other part of the equation, the government, sees another perverse incentive. While the nation sees great benefit in productive, independent, self-supporting human beings, individual politicians benefit by having as large a government-dependent class as possible, as a means of “farming votes” by handing out money via government programs in exchange for political support. Trying to “be nice” with other people’s money simply doesn’t work. In fact, it often makes the problems worse.

The incentives in the current system are insane, utterly self-destructive for the nation in the long run, but of great benefit to the individuals in the very short run (often the very same ones that harp endlessly about “sustainability”). This system of incentives must change.

17 thoughts on “When insanity works, but not the way you expect

    • It’s not quite as easy as shooting the economic deserters (even though that is what the left traditionally does.)

    • Seems extreme, but disallowing people on welfare benefits from voting would likely fix the problem. To be fair to those who temporarily find themselves on hard times, I’d craft the statute to apply only to long-term welfare recipients – say, those who receive benefits for more than 24 consecutive months and six or more of the previous 12 months (i.e. they have to be off benefits for a while before their voting rights are restored). Helping the needy is a laudable goal, but allowing them to vote themselves more free stuff would be an unethical/illegal conflict of interest in any other setting.

      Simply put, politicians won’t pander to those who can’t support them when it counts: at the polls.

      • I would phrase it as: if during the past five years you have received more in government assistance than you have paid out in taxes, then your right to vote is removed.


        • I’d say not tied to how much you “paid in”. Receive “benefits” == no vote. Also, “benefit” level to be set 2 or 3 election cycles prior to receiving — no voting for benefit increases “near” in time to an anticipated “need”.

          • … and the people have the right to refuse “welfare”.

            Without that clause, I can easily imagine a “free handout” from .gov deliberately intended to disenfranchise certain groups.

        • The converse (or contrapositive? inverse?) of “no taxation without representation,” that is, “no representation without taxation” is one of several possible options that would solve the problem. However, because that would totally nuke from orbit the Democrat voter base (figure they’d lose between 35 and 50 million votes), they would never, EVER go for it. Such a proposal would be a totally existential threat to them. And at this point, even if they did, it’s unlikely the courts would support it. “Fairness” and all that.
          You would have to find some way to change the political incentives, first.

      • This is the right idea. Government workers, and government beneficiaries, should be disenfranchised from the vote.

        Never happen, of course. We’re too busy making sure illegal immigrants can vote (at least once).

    • There are a number of workable solutions that will fix the problem. However, I don’t see many politicians supporting them until the system is well and truly bankrupt and broken, and the blood is already in the streets, because the incentives are for the pols NOT fixing, only perpetuating, the existing systems. We need to change the incentives for the pols, first, so that the laws that will fix the welfare state flaws can be passed.

  1. Don’t worry too much. The exponential growth curve makes the end result inevitable. No one knows when the end of the dollar will be, but we can rest assured that it will come. Have you diversified into hard assets or other currencies? If not, you really should. There will come a day when everyone around the world realizes that there is no possible way that all the promises that have been made will be paid. $17 trillion and counting.

    • Yup. I expect 2017 will be, um, exciting. Several big programs hit major cash-flow inflection points in that year according to current projections, we’ll have a new president and a lot of new senators and representatives, and the Federal debt will likely go over 20 trillion. If interest rates return to their long-term average and don’t overshoot, ~5% of 20T is one trillion $ a year in interest alone, when we are still projected to be borrowing >0.5T$ every year. Borrowing money to pay interest on your debt is banana-republic failed state territory, and it’ll be “inflate it away or repudiate it” time.
      Yes, I’m diversified into hard assets, but also under-employed.

  2. Rolf; What you’re trying to say is that charity is well and good, but robbing the taxpayer for “charity” is turning something beautiful into something horrible and evil.

    Everyone; I am saddened by all the calls to require taxpayer status for voting, and similar ideas and rationalizations. They all ignore the elephant in the living room– Government has not the authority, nor should it ever have the authority, to tax and redistribute in the name of charity. If you accept the premise that it does, you have lost the argument, and any “fix” you propose to “make it work” is digging you deeper into the hole.

    Reject the premise! Until you do, you are pissing into the wind. But most people can NOT reject the premise, because they’ve been fooled by the other premise, that advocating for “taking away” government subsidies makes you a bad, heartless person. The ruse is well and truly complete in that case, and there is no winning, only various ways and paths to failure. You must first understand that charity and coercive redistribution are not the same thing, that they are in fact opposites.

    When you use language like, “‘We’ must take care of the needy…” you are participating in a deadly lie if by “We” you mean the coercive power of government. Shame on you. Snap out of it!

    And no; there is no political solution. If you want to help, then start a real charity, an apprentice school, or what have you in mind to help people cope and function. Work to make government subsidies unpopular and unwanted. Spread the word and walk the walk. Otherwise quit yer bitchin’.

    • Oh, I agree with you entirely. But if you simply say what you said without explaining the logic, the cause and effect from the individual case to the general, most people will reject your argument out of hand, and call you a loon, uncaring, cold-hearted, and more. I was trying to develop and argument that would have people who generally support welfare nodding along as they followed the analogy, and each step of the way, so they can realize the truth of the argument when they get to the end, even if they don’t like it.
      I was simply phrasing it in the typical language of the statist.

      • How about;

        “When you take the idea of “charity”, and turn it into coercive redistribution, you’ve missed the point– Charity is our personal responsibility, so let’s not make the mistake of confusing charity with the coercive power of government.”

        Does that sound all crazy and loony and mean, or simple obvious and true?

        We can follow it up with the inarguable fact that our constitution does not grant the power to redistribute in the name of charity.

        We can then follow THAT up with David Crockett’s excellent speech to Congress on the subject (I’m sure you keep a copy on your hard drive, linked from your desktop) and the other comments made during the time of the Founding on that subject.

        If all that fails to convince someone, then we should forget about them and talk to someone else– We can’t get everyone onto the boat, ever, and so we must work with those who are willing walk the walk. That starts with ourselves.

        Again and again; there is NOT going to be a political/legal solution to this problem, or to be more accurate; the politics will follow the culture. Let’s keep the horse in front of the cart.

        Also, and this can never be over-stated; the plain, simple, basic truth may be “impactful” to some, but nothing is as powerful and persuasive. If it fails then it fails because some people are bitterly opposed to the truth. Let that come to light by speaking the plain, basic truth. Then and only then do we all know where we stand.

        If you are going to be rejected, then the best and most advantageous REASON to be rejected is because you spoke the plain truth for the sake of plain truth without rancor and with no other agenda. THAT is battle we must have, rather than bickering over degrees of insanity as seems to be in-fashion.

        IF it were somehow possible to make coercive redistribution “work” (though no one has atttempted to define what that would actually mean) I would still oppose it. It’s a moral argument, first and foremost. The fact that it is illegal, and is being done anyway on a massive scale, is a side note.

        • Again, I agree. But many people on the left, and even the middle and right, will not see anything wrong with redistribution of wealth. They think it’s common sense. I was trying to build an argument that could start somewhere many people would agree with, and take it where they don’t want to go, in logical steps. If you start at a place (such as soldiers marching in formation to shoot at each other) where they have not really thought about at all, and you can get them agree the insanity is only a “seeming” contradiction and conflict between the good of the one and the many, then you can get them on a track of thinking they would not normally reject out of hand from the start, as many will when you start talking about coercion versus charity.
          Just another approach.

    • Lyle —

      It’s the difference between phliosphical purity and political reality.

      Ending tax transfer programs is simply not feasible — even most who are reliably “conservative” (fiscally) espouse the need for some form of reliable safety net.

      What *may* be feasible is to say that, just as Congresscritters cannot vote themselves a pay raise that takes effect before an intervening election, welfare recipients shouldn’t be allowed to vote themselves more funds while they are receiving (or have recently received) unearned benefits.

  3. Eventually the lines will converge. When you get less prison time for murder with a gun than for being caught carrying without the proper license, regular folk will commit crimes, just for the civil rights protections.

    When taxes get too high, people will stop paying taxes. Businesses will stop paying. Only government workers and government contractors (who can be forced to pay) will pay taxes. The whole economic system will switch over to a Black Market. Screwing up ObamaCare will only hasten the change. If you have to buy your own insurance anyway, and can’t trust the retirement plan, why not get paid under the table for whatever work you do?

    Right now, muslims get a lot of authority and special treatment, because of their willingness to commit savage violence. Rednecks of Middle America can deliver that level of violence.

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