Is Pragmatarianism (Tax Choice) Less Wrong?

post by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T04:47:18.722Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 69 comments

I sure think it is!  But I could be wrong...

This is my first article/post? here and to be honest, I have this website open in another tab and I keep refreshing it to see if I still have enough points to post.  I wish I would have taken a screenshot every time my karma changed.  First it was 0, then it was -1, then it was back to 0, then I think it jumped up to 5.  I thought I was safe but then this morning it was down to 0.  So if this post seems "linky" then it might be because I'm trying to share as much information as I can while my window of opportunity is still open.  

Pragmatarianism (tax choice) is the belief that taxpayers should be able to choose where their taxes go.  Tax choice is the broad concept while pragmatarianism is my own personal spin on it... but sometimes I use "tax choice" when I mean pragmatarianism.  Eh, at this point I don't think it's a big deal.  Really the only thing nice about the word "pragmatarianism" is that it functions as a unique ID... which is extremely helpful when it comes to searches.  Don't have to worry about wading through irrelevant results. 

Here are some links from my blog which should help you decide whether pragmatarianism is more or less wrong...

Pragmatarianism FAQ - a good place to start.  It's pretty short.  

Key concepts - a work in progress.  Some of the concepts are linked to entries which have PDF files with a bunch of relevant quotes and passages.  If you like any of them then please share them in this thread... Quotes Repository.  I shared a few but they didn't fare so well... so I'm guessing that most people here aren't fans of economics... or they aren't fans of my economics. 

Progress as a Function of Freedom - hedging bets, the impossibility of hostile aliens, the problem with "rights".  

What Do Coywolves, Mr. Nobody, Plants And Fungi All Have In Common? - the universal drive to choose the most valuable option, the carrying model as an explanation for our intelligence, a bit on rationality.

Builderism - where better options come from, globalization, debunking Piketty, eliminating poverty. 

My Robin Hanson trilogy...

Is Robin Hanson's Path To Efficient Voting Pragmatic Or Brilliant Or Both? - maybe we should have a civic currency?

Rescuing Robin Hanson From Unmet Demand - how many other people are in the same boat?

Futarchy vs Pragmatarianism - is it logically inconsistent to support one but not the other?  


AI Box Experiment vs Xero's Rule - my first brainstorm attempt to wrap my mind around the idea of an AI box.

Is A Procreation License Consistent With Libertarianism? - would a procreation license be less wrong?

Why I Love Your Freedom - my critique of the best critique of libertarianism.  A bit on rationality.

So what do you think?  Am I in the right place?  

What else?  Of course I'm an atheist!  And I love sci-fi... and for sure I want to live forever.  The major obstacle is that too many people fail to grasp that progress depends on difference.  I do my best to try and eliminate this obstacle.  Unfortunately I suck at writing and my drawings are even worse.  Oh well.

Let me know if you have any questions.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-02-12T14:56:02.155Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


I have seen your comments pushing this idea of yours on a number of economics blogs, and I have wanted to reach out to you for some time. Your idea is not obviously a bad one. It is not obviously a right one either! But it does not take such a great deal of imagining to see how allowing taxpayers to allocate their taxes could be an improvement on the current system.

However, your presentation is...imperfect. You need to realize that your idea is weird and a substantial change from the status quo. "Weird" and "change from the status quo" are difficult handicaps in the political sphere. You need to be able to articulate your most important arguments and ideas in short, powerful statements. How Robin Hanson advocates futarchy might be a model for you. I myself intend to advance some arguments that, while quite uncontroversial as derivations from economic theory, are nevertheless disapproved of within the profession, like how a mathematician starts to fidget when a physicist treats dy and dx like two different variables, only if the physicist were completely right and the mathematician knew it.... It is not easy, and it can be frustrating.

You must be prepared to do the bulk of the work in this conversation, even when you have already done the work. That means a post full of links to your other posts is insufficient even if your other posts are sufficient. And they are not. Your FAQ, for example, is woefully incomplete. It does not even explain what your idea is.

You need to engage substantively with the weakest points of your argument and the public choice literature. There is a great deal of work for you to do to fully understand this position. For example, do taxpayers vote on how the total tax fund is allocated? Or do they each choose where to send the taxes they personally pay? If the former, your core argument, that taxpayer-allocated taxes will yield improvements because the allocations will reflect the opportunity cost of the taxpayer choices, is wrong. (It is wrong or at least very incomplete in the latter case as well, but I "see what you mean" and have no desire to quibble.) If the latter, you need to explain how this choice happens. Does a form come with the income tax form allowing you to circle "military," "environment," "welfare," and so on, indicating where your money should be sent? If you choose "military," does Congress then spend the money as it pleases so long as it claims the spending is military-related, or can one then choose between "tank," "gun," "therapy," and so on? How would this work for a sales tax? What if you want the money to be spent on an option Congress doesn't offer? And so on. These are the sorts of things that should be in your FAQ.

Does this lead to better policy because it makes lobbying pointless? Or do lobbyists turn from Congress to voters, manipulating them with propaganda, advertisements, and misleading rhetoric? Do we have less war, because the voters would never choose to impose such a conflict on themselves, or do we have more war, because ignorant, uneducated voters are more subject to jingoism and outgroup-hatred than the educated members of Congress? And so on.

Will policy be worse because taxpayers are substantially ignorant about what Congress does? (Imagine their surprise when they try to lower foreign aid and end up increasing it tenfold!) Or will policy be better because Congress won't be able to do anything taxpayers aren't aware of? Or will it be the same because taxpayers will basically vote for the status quo? And so on.

If taxpayers don't vote, what does this imply for your scheme?

Is your scheme always a good idea under any conditions? Would a dictatorship benefit from this kind of system? (The taxpayers can't kick the leaders out, but they can "suggest" where money should be spent.) When is your scheme a bad idea? And so on. Try to beat your own argument.

See what people like Robin Hanson and Scott Sumner do to advance their ideas, which are a bit odd and yet substantially grounded in familiar economics, and try to sound more like them. See what they do to make their ideas strong, and try to gain that kind of strength. And so on.

Good luck. You are not obviously wrong, but you are running a marathon uphill while underwater. It is going to take a very special approach and lots of practice. Be patient, improve yourself. Expand on that FAQ so that people have some idea of what you're talking about.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T21:23:10.429Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for your feedback. From the FAQ...

How would it work?

At anytime throughout the year you could go directly to the EPA website and make a tax payment of any amount. The EPA would give you a receipt and you'd submit all your receipts to the IRS by April 15. Anybody who didn't want to shop for themselves would have the option of giving their taxes to their impersonal shoppers (congress).

For sure my presentation is imperfect. And I definitely wish I could perfectly copy Hanson and Sumner. Unfortunately, I don't have their skills. My skill set is in researching and thinking... definitely not writing. Do I wish it was the other way around? No way. I really wouldn't want to be Moldbug!

In large part because I suck at writing... the reception to pragmatarianism has been less than positive. My perception of the immense benefits keeps me going as well as the fact that not a single critic has cited a single source which supports the idea of allowing a small group of people to allocate everybody's taxes. Our system doesn't exist because the evidence supports it... it exists because that's how we've always done it.

Of course it was my hope that the majority of people on this website would seriously consider my evidence and arguments before they voted... but my webstats show that this is clearly not the case. Instead, people here simply showed their considerable bias. It doesn't seem like whatever is going on here is really working. Yes, there are a few exceptions like yourself... but every forum I've participated on has roughly the same amount of thoughtful thinkers.

Anyways, because the evidence is on my side, it's a given that eventually more and more people will realize this. It would happen sooner rather than later if I was a better writer but... I can't cry over spilled milk.

Replies from: Lumifer, eeuuah
comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-12T21:33:40.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyways, because the evidence is on my side, it's a given that eventually more and more people will realize this

This sentence is prima facie evidence that you're flying off to the cloud cuckoo land...

comment by eeuuah · 2015-02-13T02:40:11.126Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You keep bringing up sucking at writing as a core reason there's a poor reception to your ideas. This doesn't seem correct to me, the mechanics of your writing seem fine. A couple things you could do to improve to improve your posts:

  • Cut the length. I've noticed this especially with your comments. You can't assume a reader is going to take five minutes to really dig into what you're saying. You need to make your basic case in the first twenty seconds or so, and keep it brisk.
  • Inline information. Instead of throwing a bunch of links out there, explain a little of an interesting idea, and then give the reader a link that will help them learn more.
  • Your tone. You can be a little heavy handed, which will discourage readers from clicking into your links. Talk less about the people in the conversation (yourself and the audience), and more about your core idea.

Learning these things was very helpful to me, and I hope I can pass that along to you.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-13T03:48:21.876Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the value of my idea was readily apparent, then I wouldn't be in this predicament. If people readily grasped the value of markets then socialism never would have been attempted. But here we are with a command economy in our public sector.

So it's not just my writing... it's also the fact that I'm trying to explain a concept that people have been struggling with for a really long time. Your suggestions are pretty reasonable but I don't think they will boost me near enough to clear this epic obstacle. But maybe they can boost me enough to gain the attention of people who can?

comment by Epictetus · 2015-02-12T21:54:00.383Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some issues:

  • Makes planning extremely difficult. It's hard for leaders to make consistent policy when they don't know how much money will go to which project.

  • Subject to wild fluctuations. An event like 9/11 could strongly skew spending and leave other programs underfunded. In practice that means employees get laid off, infrastructure doesn't get maintained, etc. Damage of this sort is more expensive to repair than it was to maintain.

  • Requires a lot out of the voters. I doubt very many people are interested in going over the federal budget and deciding how much money they would want to pay for each item.

  • It's very easy to take a little bit of money out of your national debt payment contribution and apply it to a pet cause. This relies on other people picking up the slack. It wouldn't be long before S&P gave your bonds junk status.

  • Bureaucratic nightmare. How are people to communicate their preferences? Write-in budget outlines? Voting booths? It's a lot of paperwork and someone's going to have to process it. Electronic systems have the usual vulnerabilities.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T23:40:14.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • You're making my plan... aka pragmatarianism... extremely difficult to implement. Why not just give me a bunch of your money rather than harass me about the viability of my plan? Sheesh! Just because it's your money doesn't mean that I have to prove to you that I'm not going to waste it. Seriously guy.
  • A huge fluctuation in demand is unwarranted? We'll have throngs of people tilting after windmills? The way markets work is that people who bark up the wrong trees generally have less influence than people who bark up the right trees. We'd be really screwed if it was the other way around.
  • Does Elizabeth Warren Know What Keeps You Running?
  • If a pet is too small, then it could be said to have insufficient demand breadth.
  • Shopping. It might help to read the FAQ.
Replies from: Epictetus, JoshuaZ
comment by Epictetus · 2015-02-12T23:56:00.383Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another thought occurs: if no one gave money to the IRS, how would collection enforcement work?

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-13T00:13:04.500Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there's absolutely no demand for the IRS then this "pet" is vanishingly small. No demand for the IRS? As in, everybody would trust everybody else not to try and free-ride? It doesn't seem likely. But who knows?

There's actually evidence (that I'm too lazy to dig up) that people do tend to voluntarily contribute more when the public good actually matches their preferences. gasp That's a real shocker isn't it? Maybe that's why I'm too lazy to dig it up.

Also, it's not entirely unreasonable to predict that like with crowdfunding... maybe government organizations would start offering some type of rewards to contributors. In other words... the carrot might gradually replace the whip.

If you're intrigued by the possibility then here you go... razotarianism.

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-13T23:55:17.481Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there's absolutely no demand for the IRS then this "pet" is vanishingly small. No demand for the IRS? As in, everybody would trust everybody else not to try and free-ride?

There's a massive leap in everyone trusting everyone else, and people feeling like the best use of their money is to make sure other people give their money. Human psychology is relevant here.

I have to say, having now made a few comments on this: I think aspects of your idea might be doable or might work on a much smaller scale. It might be interesting to try this for a small town and see what happens, or to try it on a large scale with a fraction of tax money- both of these would not have many of the problems that people have raised with doing this on a very large scale. But as the plan stands there are too many problems for jumping to anything like the scale you want, and you aren't making the strongest case for your idea.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-13T23:52:18.152Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're making my plan... aka pragmatarianism... extremely difficult to implement

What is going on here is that they are raising practical implementation problems. They aren't making it difficult.

A huge fluctuation in demand is unwarranted?

Whether they are "unwarranted" or not they don't work well. Many projects take many years to complete. If one engages in rapid changes many civil and scientific projects will stall. This is part of the problem with the current space program in the US: each US president drastically alters the space priority as they desperately try to have a legacy like Kennedy's. What they don't apparently appreciate is that Kennedy's space program was left partially intact more because he was a martyr than anything else.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-14T01:31:34.429Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry about that. I made my point poorly. What Epictetus was doing to pragmatarianism is exactly what I would want him to do to any government plan. It should be just as difficult for the government to implement any of its plan as it is for me to implement my plan. It's great to have more, rather than less, people inspecting a plan for problems. According to Linus's Law... given enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow. Allowing people to choose where their taxes go would put a lot of eyeballs in the public sector.

Regarding your second point... it's addressed by the comment where I brought up the example of putting a man on the moon. Also, wouldn't you guess that there'd be less demand fluctuations with the public than with presidents or congress? The public really doesn't switch back and forth between conservative and liberal like presidents and congress do. I'd think that, for the most part, the aggregate demand for most things would be a lot steadier than the "demand" we get from our seesaw government.

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-14T19:35:26.745Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think Linus's law applies here, since that's with areas like programming where a) the eyeballs are experts and b) it is close unambiguous once a bug has been found that it is a bug.

Also, wouldn't you guess that there'd be less demand fluctuations with the public than with presidents or congress? The public really doesn't switch back and forth between conservative and liberal like presidents and congress do.

This is a really good point and seems like the strongest argument for your proposal.

comment by mwengler · 2015-02-12T15:23:10.348Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So we'd have one "voter" funding single-payer healthcare and a bridge 2 miles up the river while another voter funded health-insurance subsidies for low-income and a bridge 1 mile down the river.

You would have "single issue funders," someone who thought we weren't spending enough on the environment would go 100% into environment.

You can't find an aggregate advantage by simply summing up across the votes of people. Coming up with an even vaguely coherent plan or set of plans takes a lot of work. Without a process to do this and people to work on this, you will wind up with something even worse than a horse designed by a committee.

There must be some general term for the kind of fallacy behind pramatarianist thinking. Other examples are: 1) students should design their own curriculum to get a degree, 2) automobiles and smartphones should be designed by a focus group, actually even worse, by a focus group consisting of the entire population, 3) everybody working on a movie should vote on how the budget of that movie should be allocated between different scenes in order to produce a movie that EVERYONE will like.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with choosing your own curriculum, but you should not be able to get a degree labeled "physics BS" or "Math PhD" based on a curriculum you choose yourself.

If you think having everybody vote on what the parts of a car should look like will get you a better car, then it is reasonable to think pragmatarianism will get you a better budget. But, unfortunately, vice versa.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T21:41:25.783Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're critiquing the idea of creating a market in the public sector. What's the difference between a market in the public sector and a market anywhere else? There's a difference... but your comment sure doesn't address it. Instead, you're simply critiquing a market.

Every day you participate in a market. You have your preferences and you spend your hard-earned money accordingly. The supply follows from your demand, and my demand and everybody else's demand.

Anything else is a non-sequitur. The supply either follows from our preferences... or it does not.

Right now the public sector reflects exactly what happens when the supply does not follow from our preferences. It's a given that this is going to change in logically beneficial and highly predictable ways...

Variety? Skyrocket

Quality? Skyrocket

Cost? Plummet

The public sector is going to transform from monolithic to modular. Marginal improvements are going to be quickly made as inferior components are swapped for superior components. This is exactly what happens in markets.

Replies from: JoshuaZ, RichardKennaway
comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-13T23:59:04.292Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're critiquing the idea of creating a market in the public sector. What's the difference between a market in the public sector and a market anywhere else?

They did address many of the problems implicitly. One doesn't for example in a real world situation have anyone try and pay exactly what they want for the version of the movie they want. Investors pay for a series of movies, then people either buy tickets or not. This aspect is solveable if one instead has pre-set programs one can allocate tax money to.

Note also that nothing in your system deals with the problem of public goods- people can benefit from something without paying for it and for many goods that's a natural situation.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-15T08:47:19.551Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's my explanation, just for you, why it's not a problem that taxpayers could benefit from public goods that they hadn't contributed to... Liberal Lilith's Sexy Benefit Curves.

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-16T19:32:13.403Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this is a very effective way to have a dialogue with you repeatedly writing things up on your blog. It creates a trivial inconvenience for readers here. It also doesn't help that your blog entries don't link back to where the comments came from, which leads to a serious loss of context issue. If someone from elsewhere comes across your blog they will have a lot of trouble following. (Also I don't think it helps in your blog that you insult people whose values you strongly disagree with.)

I'd respond to the content of the post, but I'm not sure there's anything there which responses to the actual issue. The problem with free riding of public goods is not one of values, but one of incentives. Without economic incentives, many people won't contribute to things that they benefit from even if they think they are good things.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-16T23:41:10.219Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't do it all of the time... just when what I've written is too long and/or there's a picture/diagram/video. The blog entry linked to this forum post. If anybody was truly interested in more specific context then it's easy enough for them to ctl-f using relevant phrases.

I insulted people whose values I strongly disagree with? Sure, ok. But wouldn't it be an infinitely bigger insult to them if I opposed their freedom to allocate their taxes according to their values? I'm sure there are people whose values you strongly disagree with. Do you support their freedom to allocate their taxes according to their values?

That's too bad that you didn't think that my blog entry adequately addressed your point about free-riding. Let me try again. Do you have Netflix? I do. I watch various shows and movies but I don't value them all equally. But what if Netflix allowed me to allocate my monthly fees to the content that I valued most? After Netflix took its cut, they would pass the money on to the producers of the content that I dollar voted for.

Clearly there would be some content that I would consume that wouldn't be worth my contribution. This is your concern. It's not my concern though. Limited resources would constantly be shifted away from the creation of the least beneficial content and redirected towards the creation of the most beneficial content. This would maximize the amount of value that we, as a society, derived from our limited resources.

For more elaboration... Crazy Cable Confusion: Costless Content Creation

Elsewhere you wrote...

I don't think Linus's law applies here, since that's with areas like programming where a) the eyeballs are experts and b) it is close unambiguous once a bug has been found that it is a bug.

When I tried to reply to it I was informed that "Replies to downvoted comments are discouraged. You don't have the requisite 5 Karma points to proceed."

It will probably help if you read The Cathedral and the Bazaar. The only thing it will cost you is time! If the opportunity cost is too high then I suppose you can just take my word for it that you're wrong.

Linus's Law doesn't just apply to finding errors/problems... it also applies to finding solutions... and treasure. The more kids looking for Easter eggs... the more Easter eggs that will be found. Given enough eyeballs, all Easter eggs are shallow.

Pragmatarianism would put a lot of eyeballs in the public sector. How could it not? Given enough eyeballs in the public sector, all problems/solutions will be shallow. If there's a problem with public healthcare then pragmatarianism would increase our chances of finding it. Pragmatarianism would also increase our chances of finding a solution to this problem.

Perhaps it might seem like the opportunity cost of more people looking in the public sector is that we'll have less people looking in the private sector. Because, nobody can look in two places at exactly the same time. Except, if people spend more time looking in the public sector then clearly it's because they perceive that doing so increases their chances of finding and pointing out landmines/treasures.

In other words, we really don't maximize progress by limiting where people can look... and act on whatever it is that they find. With this in mind, we would clearly maximize benefit by allowing people to give their taxes to any country's government organizations. If Lilith gives her taxes to the Brazilian EPA rather than the American EPA then evidently she found a better Easter egg.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-02-12T23:03:32.911Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're critiquing the idea of creating a market in the public sector.

What you are describing is not a market.

comment by Dagon · 2015-02-12T08:39:51.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems pretty confused RE the purpose of taxes. There's no possible way for this to be any more than a PR stunt - tax authorities are imposing taxes, and hold dearly the right to allocate the proceeds.

I think anytime you see a movement that puts in their FAQ "taxpayers would boycott congress if they weren't happy with the tax rate", you probably have to just give up on the group and move on to someone with a more detailed model of public choice.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T10:27:21.885Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Congress holds dearly the right to allocate the proceeds? Why are they holding onto the right so dearly? Did they miss the part where tax choice on facebook only has 79 likes? There's a vanishingly small amount of pressure on congress to relinquish the right.

We live in a democracy... economic ignorance is the obstacle. People don't understand how they benefit from other people's freedom. If they did, then they would have voted this up rather than down.

If you perceive that there are important details missing from my tax choice model then I'm all ears.

Replies from: ChristianKl, Dagon
comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-12T11:22:43.832Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People don't understand how they benefit from other people's freedom. If they did, then they would have voted this up rather than down.

No. Starting a discussion with the title is political concept X less wrong, indicates that you are ignorant of how this community thinks about rationality and thus get voted down. Not arguing the case for the concept adds further insult to injury.

Even if people would agree with the basic idea, the post likely still would be voted down.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T11:31:01.461Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you understand how you benefit from other people's freedom? If so, would you mind explaining it to me?

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-12T11:35:12.686Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. No.

Neither of those questions have a relevance to my post.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T11:44:32.629Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Honestly I didn't quite understand your post. This is the closest I got...

"People do understand how they benefit from other people's freedom... but they voted this down because they prefer to focus on style rather than substance."

The second part can't be right though so I just chose to respond to the first part.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-12T12:06:45.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

but they voted this down because they prefer to focus on style rather than substance

Engaging in rational arguments is more than a style issue. If your post isn't making a rational argument for the position that you advocate, then it has no substance, regardless whether there are other people out there how could make a rational argument for the position.

comment by Dagon · 2015-02-12T10:43:50.169Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Two directions to approach the question of "why they hold that right so dearly":

1) this direction of funding is a huge part of how they get paid and reelected. It's the major reason that lobbyists and firms are willing to spend money on influencing congress.

2) this direction of funding is intimately tied to the justification for taxes in the first place. If congress doesn't agree with the spending, it wouldn't levy the tax in the first place.

If the government feels it necessary to take money forcibly, it's because the government believes it can spend that money more wisely than the taxpayers. If it believes the tax base should individually choose how to allocate their money, it doesn't need to tax them and poll for how to spend it, it can just take less taxes in the first place and let the populace spend/give directly to important causes.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T11:00:51.857Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right now this post has -4 points. I'm pretty sure that it wasn't congress who rated this post down. This means that there's absolutely no reason for congress to hold onto the right so dearly. There's absolutely no threat that anybody is going to take it from them. Voters don't want the right for themselves.

If tax choice on facebook had millions and millions of likes then I can understand why you'd argue that congress was nervously holding onto their right so dearly. They would be confronted by a clear and present danger. But right now the tax choice facebook page only has 79 likes. Would you consider that to be a clear and present danger?

The challenge that's in front of me really isn't to convince congress to give up the right... it's to convince people that they'll really benefit from the creation of a market in the public sector. And the fact that I have to convince people of this means that they really don't understand how or why markets work.

If people truly did understand how/why markets work then they would either vote this post up or explain what's wrong with my understanding of how/why markets work.

Replies from: gjm, Dagon
comment by gjm · 2015-02-12T11:07:51.636Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If people truly did understand how/why markets work then they would either vote this post up or explain what's wrong with my understanding of how/why markets work.

Or decide (rightly or wrongly) that getting into a substantial political argument with you is unlikely to be worth the trouble, and not bother.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T11:19:53.319Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But it's kind of a disservice to other people if you're capable of articulating the flaws in an argument in a public forum but you don't bother to do so.

For example... it would have been a disservice to people interested in libertarianism/markets if I didn't point out the problems in the best critique of libertarianism.

Replies from: gjm, None
comment by gjm · 2015-02-12T12:42:44.324Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a disservice if articulating the flaws in that article is the best thing you can do with your time. Without that proviso, you get Someone Is Wrong On The Internet syndrome.

(And, as SolveIt points out, people inevitably have other priorities besides helping others in every way possible all the time.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-02-12T11:23:01.338Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's also a disservice to not donate all but a tiny fraction of your income to poorer people. How many people do you know that does that?

comment by Dagon · 2015-02-12T17:18:15.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(note: downvotes aren't mine - I think it's an imperfect post on a flawed concept, but it's interesting and relevant.)

I'm not sure how to logically go from "only 79 likes on facebook" to "congress doesn't feel any pressure" to "congress will welcome the change". And I tend to agree with the people who ignore the topic: my basic position is that where markets are functioning, we don't need government involvement in the first place. And the reverse - where the government has decided to control something, it's because they believe markets are not able to deliver results they like.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-12T16:27:48.860Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In general, LW sets a really high bar to discussing politics to start with, so this sort of post starts with a heavy negative handicap. In general almost any community (and LW is included) will not react well to new people showing up immediately with a non-standard pet topic. It is the sort of thing where if one spent more time here people would a) be more accepting and b) you'll have more of an idea of how to present your ideas in a way people will listen.

comment by Emile · 2015-02-12T18:00:04.963Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A bit of a nitpick (which could explain some of the reception you're getting here): I don't think the term "Pragmatarianism" is a good description for your proposal, it's just an unrelated name that sounds good. Might as well say 'I'm calling this proposal "Sensible Tax Policy"' or 'My idea, called "Reasonablism", is that...', etc.

A more modest and descriptive name would probably be better received, especially in places who dislike marketing.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T21:51:25.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You think "pragmatarianism" sounds good? Have you said it out loud? My tongue usually trips over it. I'm not a writer or a wordsmith so anybody is more than welcome to come up with a better name. Preferably one that meets the google alerts standard.

From my perspective, giving your taxes directly to the EPA is as practical as giving a donation directly to the World Wildlife Fund. Having to convince millions and millions of voters in order for more of your own taxes to be spent on the environment is the epitome of impractical. Yet, we do it because that's how we've always done it.

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-13T23:35:43.305Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The issue isn't so much that it sounds good except in so far as it has a name connected to a word with positive connotations and the actual degree of connection to that word is slim. I'd suggest "Personal tax allocation" or something similar which is more free of connotations.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-13T23:57:02.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ha, the connection is slim for you! It's fat for me. But you're arguing that it's slim for most people. I can see that.

I do appreciate your suggestion..."Personal tax allocation"... but I'd really prefer one word that meets the google alert standard. By that I mean you should be able to subscribe to a google alert for the word (without quotes) and not have to worry about being inundated with irrelevant result notifications. As faulty as "pragmatarianism" is... it really meets the google alert standard. Every single notification I receive is relevant to the topic.

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-14T00:20:58.072Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It may help to keep in mind that the "Google alert standard" while probably personally satisfying, is more likely to signal weirdness.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-14T01:16:14.412Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's weird to want to keep up-to-date on topics that interest you? Uh, I take it you don't subscribe to any google alerts?

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-14T01:20:03.673Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, but that's not the people who are being aimed at here. Having a new word comes across as weird to people who haven't heard of an idea before. And if you tell them that an idea is no new and is so much just one's person that they are using a name so they can keep track of who else is talking about (which incidentally also can potentially come across as egotistical or overly sensitive).

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-14T01:59:06.144Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personally, I think it's great, and not at all weird, that I can subscribe to a google alert for "futarchy" and not have to worry about being swamped with irrelevant results.

It's pretty important that important concepts have unique "tags". Otherwise you run into problems. For example...

The concept of "exit" is fundamentally important. But good luck trying to search for relevant pages just using that word. You'd have to do a bit of scrolling before you'd find any pages dedicated to the concept as its used here... Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

In my opinion, it would be a really good idea if somebody gave this concept a unique name. This would help people learn about its relevance.

comment by DanielLC · 2015-02-12T05:23:13.976Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One obvious failure mode is things that the voters don't realize are important not getting enough money. Imagine if when people donated to charity they could choose how much went to overhead. Do you think they'd get enough overhead money to run efficiently?

There would also be problems with inconsistent budgets and all the different branches of government spending large amounts of money on advertising.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T05:58:15.298Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I explained in the FAQ it's logically impossible for "important" things to be underfunded.

Let's say that we implemented pragmatarianism. After a year we polled people to gauge their opinion on the EPA's funding. What do you think the results of the poll would be? Would there be a disparity between the results of the poll and the EPA's actual funding? If so, would you trust people's words or their actions?

Right now I guess that most people don't value the environment as much as I do. But it's just a guess because in the absence of tax choice there's no way that I can possibly truly know how much society values the environment. Does it really matter that I don't have this information? Should I spend all my time hitting everybody over the head with pro-environment information anyways? Should I bark up a tree regardless of whether there's a cat in it? Should I leap without looking?

If budgets are inconsistent then it's because demand is inconsistent. Shall we supply something regardless of demand? If so, then how could you possibly object to anything that the government does with your tax dollars?

You started off with concern regarding what voters don't realize... and then you ended with concern regarding advertising. For some reason I really love the idea of government organizations having to persuade me that I'm going to really benefit from how they are using society's limited resources.

Replies from: Anders_H, ChristianKl
comment by Anders_H · 2015-02-12T07:37:25.594Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I explained in the FAQ it's logically impossible for "important" things to be underfunded.

Logically impossible? You chose the wrong website to make that argument. See 37 Ways Words Can Be Wrong, in particular The Parable of Hemlock

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T07:51:51.320Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Errr.... "logically impossible" isn't an argument. My argument is that, in economics, importance is a function of opportunity cost. But you're certainly welcome to attack my semantics rather than my actual argument. Is that what this website is about? I thought its purpose was more... substantial.

Replies from: gjm, Anders_H
comment by gjm · 2015-02-12T14:13:48.812Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When someone says "I don't like this proposal because I worry that important things will be underfunded", they do not mean "... because I worry that things will be funded less than people's willingness to pay indicates".

They mean, e.g.,

  • ... because I worry that people may (quite reasonably) be ignorant of things that, if they knew all about them, they would want to be funded
  • ... because I worry that such a scheme will give precedence to the interests of the rich (who pay more taxes and therefore have more power to affect what is done, overall, with tax revenues) but I don't actually care 100x more about someone who pays 100x more taxes and I don't think the government should either
  • ... because I worry that even if each individual taxpayer has sensible and coherent preferences, aggregating those preferences by simple addition might send money to the wrong places
  • ... because I worry that in order to make choices that actually serve their interests, individual taxpayers would have to put an inordinate amount of effort into learning and understanding the details of what the government does and what everything costs

Let's think a little more about the last of those. An obvious solution would be for there to be organizations that put in that effort so that individual taxpayers don't have to, and propose coherent allocations of tax revenues. Obviously any such organization's recommendations will be based (implicitly or explicitly) on potentially controversial opinions on facts or values, so we'd want there to be multiple organizations of this kind, each of which gives taxpayers some indication of what they care about and what they believe, and says what they think should be done with tax revenues.

You might notice that at this point we have approximately reinvented political parties. They would probably have some advantages and some disadvantages when compared with existing parties. It is certainly not obvious to me that they would be much better. The implied mechanism for combining "votes" is rather different (a sort of weighted averaging rather than picking a single favourite); again, it has advantages and disadvantages and might end up either better or worse.

What seems perfectly obvious to me is that you can't just say "importance is a function of opportunity cost, therefore whatever this system does is optimal by definition". Or, rather, you can and you did but you shouldn't. The kind of optimality guaranteed by Economics 101 is not the same thing as "getting what we actually prefer", and couldn't possibly be.

comment by Anders_H · 2015-02-12T08:06:14.173Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is not a semantic objection. Your argument implicitly defines "important" as "that which will be funded by your system of government". This is structurally the same argument as the parable of hemlock.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T10:44:28.231Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My definition of "important" is either correct or incorrect. I looked over the parable of hemlock and didn't see anything which leads me to believe that my definition is incorrect. Maybe I missed it though.

In a pragmatarian system, people would choose where their taxes go. Because of the opportunity costs involved, people's choices would reveal what's most important to them. Earner valuation would ensure that society's limited resources were put to their most valuable uses.

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-12T16:25:19.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Definitions are not "correct" or "incorrect" that's part of the point of the sequence on how to use words. Words can capture an intuition better or worse, or they can be useful categories, or they can communicate ideas well or not well, but they can't be correct or incorrect. And if something follows trivially from the definition of something then there isn't content. Neither reality nor morality can be altered by how one defines words.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-12T11:22:32.110Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

After a year we polled people to gauge their opinion on the EPA's funding.

Most of the people you pool don't know how much funding the EPA gets and what they could do with marginal dollars.

For some reason I really love the idea of government organizations having to persuade me that I'm going to really benefit from how they are using society's limited resources.

Nativity is likely the biggest reason. It corrupts the process when politicians with the majority can spend money from the public purse on convincing voters of their political goals.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-02-13T00:50:44.728Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not a magical solution to all the world's problems, but likely a useful idea as a charitable donations tax credit which aggregates to some small percentage of the budget. A donation voucher of fixed amount.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-13T02:14:23.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The world's problems can't be solved if intelligence is inefficiently allocated. Pragmatarianism, by facilitating the efficient allocation of intelligence, would be instrumental in solving the world's problems. But I agree that there's nothing magical about value signals.

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-13T23:47:06.089Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The world's problems can't be solved if intelligence is inefficiently allocated.

This seems like a highly non-obvious claim. What is your reasoning? How inefficient does it need to be?

Take an outside view. What is the probability that one person comes up with a specific idea that is absolutely critical to the success of the world's problems?

Also as a pure practical issue: if one is trying to get people to listen, the best thing to say when someone says this isn't a magical solution is something closer to "sure, of course not, but it can probably help a fair bit for the reasons I outlined". People are much less likely to listen if one does try to argue that one's idea really is the one critical idea.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-14T00:51:40.387Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just to be on the safe side, by "efficient allocation of resources" I mean when the supply (of goods and services) matches the preferences of consumers. Maybe it helps to think of an arrow hitting the target. The arrow being the supply and the target being the preferences of consumers. The closer the arrow (the supply) is to the target (our preferences) the more efficient the allocation of resources.

Intelligence is by far our most important resource. And by "intelligence" I mean any sort of insight/idea/thought which helps the arrow move closer to the target.

For sure it took quite a bit of intelligence to put a man on the moon. Most people will consider this accomplishment to be a good example of solving a big problem. But was it really an efficient allocation of intelligence? Did the arrow really hit the target? In order to answer this question we have to know where the target is.

If the government is good at knowing where the target is then why in the world do we bother shopping? Shopping is the process by which we communicate to producers when they've hit the target. Whenever you buy something you say "hey man nice shot!" The reward you offer for good shots provides producers with an incentive to make better shots. If the government can truly know where the target is then markets are a massive waste of time. Well...assuming we ignore the government's lack of incentive to act on its knowledge.

In reality, government producers are no better than private producers at knowing where the target is. Therefore, if we want to ensure that intelligence is efficiently allocated then we have to allow people to shop for themselves in the public sector. If space exploration is truly a pressing problem for society... then taxpayers will allocate their taxes accordingly and the corresponding shift in resources (ie intelligence) will help move the arrow closer to the target.

Regarding your purely practical issue... I see your point... but I was really just looking for an excuse to dangle the "efficient allocation of intelligence" and see if anybody would bite. You bit! I caught you! Are you a big fish? Or shall I throw you back?

Honestly I've only recently thought of the efficient allocation of intelligence. It happened the other day when I found out about a blog that has like 400 comments on some of its entries. The topics are intelligent so the first thing that popped into my mind was that.... if there's clearly so much obvious demand for intelligent discussion then why don't they start their own forum? I referred to the situation as the "awkward allocation of intelligence". This really got me thinking about how intelligence is allocated. It's pretty fascinating so I didn't need much of an excuse to throw it out there and see if anybody wanted to chomp on it with me.

comment by Val · 2015-02-12T15:13:28.477Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The question is, how much tax choice.

Being able to allocate 1% of your taxes to the charity you choose, makes sense. It is actually in effect in some countries.

Being able to allocate 100% of your taxes as you like would be an unmanageable mess because people on average have no idea what is needed to keep a country or an economy running.

Somewhere in-between? Where? Without exact definitions what you mean by "tax choice" every discussion would be completely pointless.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-12T22:56:37.963Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is a country or an economy if not all the people in it? In essence you're saying that allowing people to allocate 100% of their taxes would be an unmanageable mess because people on average have no idea what is needed to keep themselves running.

Like I said in the FAQ... congress would still be there. If you have any evidence that leads you to believe that Elizabeth Warren knows better than you do what keeps you running... then you'd certainly have the option to give her some, or all, of your taxes.

If, in a pragmatarian system, most people do give their taxes to their impersonal shoppers... well... then you were right! Congratulations! We'd have solid evidence that most people do not know what keeps them running. Your theory would be proved correct. And no harm or foul by having it proved!

But what if your theory is incorrect? What if most people do not give their taxes to the impersonal shoppers that they voted for? Clearly this would mean that most people did not have enough evidence to believe that their impersonal shoppers know better than they do what keeps them running.

Can you see the problem with our current system if your theory is incorrect? If your theory is incorrect then it means that we're currently giving an absurd amount of money (power, control, influence, responsibility) to a small group of people who really do not know what keeps us (the country/economy) running.

Is it possible that your theory is incorrect? Clearly I'm willing to bet a lot of my time on it. Maybe you should keep the possibility of being wrong in mind the next time you scratch your head or blame the other side when the economy/country ends up in the ditch.

Yet difficult as he [the modern politician] finds it to deal with humanity in detail, he is confident in his ability to deal with embodied humanity. Citizens, not one-thousandth of whom he knows, not one-hundreth of whom he ever saw, and the great mass of whom belong to classes having habits and modes of thought of which he has but dim notions, he feels sure will act in ways he foresees, and fulfill ends he wishes. Is there not a marvelous incongruity between premises and conclusion? - Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State


What is the species of domestic industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him. The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. - Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations


What do we want with a Socialist then, who, under pretence of organizing for us, comes despotically to break up our voluntary arrangements, to check the division of labour, to substitute isolated efforts for combined ones, and to send civilization back? Is association, as I describe it here, in itself less association, because every one enters and leaves it freely, chooses his place in it, judges and bargains for himself on his own responsibility, and brings with him the spring and warrant of personal interest? That it may deserve this name, is it necessary that a pretended reformer should come and impose upon us his plan and his will, and as it were, to concentrate mankind in himself? - Frédéric Bastiat, What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen


It is a paradox of our age that the interventionists think the public is too stupid to consult Angie’s List before hiring a lawyer, and so they need politicians to weed out the really bad ones by requiring law licenses. Yet, who determines whether a person (often a lawyer!) is qualified to become a politician? Why, the same group of citizens who were too stupid to pick their own lawyers. - Bob Murphy, Do We Need the State to License Professionals?

Replies from: Val
comment by Val · 2015-02-13T15:12:43.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you should spend a little more time among the average, common, non-academic people, and learn how they think. Then you will understand why your ideas wouldn't work.

Replies from: Lumifer, Xerographica
comment by Lumifer · 2015-02-13T15:44:25.293Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you should spend a little more time among the average, common, non-academic people, and learn how they think.

Cf. "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." -- H. L. Mencken

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-13T20:15:26.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pragmatarianism is the theory that democracy ignores the fact that talk is cheap.

comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-13T20:03:40.315Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there's a problem with how common people think, then where's your critique of allowing them to vote for congresspeople?

The part that you really fail to appreciate is that taxpayers are the people who you voluntarily give your money to. Based on your actions... you clearly want them to have more influence over how society's limited resources are used. Why do you want them to have more influence? It's because they've given you concrete proof/evidence, in the form of a product or service, that they are using their influence for your benefit.

Even though you spend so much time shopping around to get the most bang for your buck, you immediately turn around and use your votes (words) to reduce the influence of taxpayers. Voters, such as yourself, shift massive amounts of influence from taxpayers to congresspeople. If congresspeople truly create more value for voters than taxpayers would... then why are you so certain that voters would allocate their taxes themselves rather than give them to the people that they say should have more influence?

Maybe you should spend a lot more time comparing the choices of humans to the choices of coywolves, plants and fungi...

What Do Coywolves, Mr. Nobody, Plants And Fungi All Have In Common?

Do us all a favor and come up with a decent explanation for why we should trust your words (votes) rather than your actions (spending).

Replies from: Val
comment by Val · 2015-02-14T01:26:05.579Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do us all a favor and come up with a decent explanation for why we should trust your words (votes) rather than your actions (spending).

It's simple. The representatives don't micromanage our daily life, they only work on laws within the confines of a constitution. Have you heard about the separation of powers? They can also make only minor, gradual changes to the existing system without risking a revolution.

On the other hand, a completely free-choice taxation system would bring a lot of instability into the system. How could your economy follow drastic changes in the tax allocation, which will inevitably happen as people's moods are changing. For example, the school system would get one year 150 billion $, the next year 17 billion $, the third year 200 billion $. How could you plan ahead in such a chaos?

Another question is, how would you introduce such a system, assuming it worked? Just come up one year with it, and when people get to fill their tax forms, they will be surprised by a long form where they will need to specify where they are allocating they taxes to? Do you really expect that it will be at least a little similar to how the allocation was last year? Because otherwise the system couldn't handle the large differences. Do you expect that everyone would know by heart how much the upkeep of certain institutions costs? Do you expect every citizen to become a financial expert and know what to allocate where to stop some essential services form completely collapsing because they received only a tiny percentage compared to what they got last year?

You came up with a lot of theory without any proof how it would work in practice, so please, show us a plausible scenario with concrete examples how you thing your ideas would be implemented.

You also didn't answer my original question: to what extent would the choice extend? Completely free? So if no one allocated to the police (because they hate receiving speeding tickets) then would the whole police just disband? The more I think about your proposal, the closer it looks to anarchy.

If not completely free, then what would be the limits?

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-14T10:14:53.036Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The entire point of pragmatarianism is that the supply of public goods should be determined by the demand for public goods. If the demand for public education is $150 million then that's how much public education should be supplied. If, the next year, the demand for public education dropped to $17 million then why in the world would you think it's ok to continue supplying $150 million dollars worth of public education?

In a pragmatarian system... that difference of $133 million dollars wouldn't just vanish or go back into the taxpayers pockets. If they didn't spend it on education then it's because they spent that $133 million dollars on other public goods. Why did they spend it on these other public goods? Evidently because they valued greater quantities of these other public goods more than they valued greater quantities of public education.

If you want to argue that taxpayers consistently make terrible value judgements... then why wouldn't you want to consistently apply your argument? Why wouldn't you also argue that farmers are going to make equally bad value judgements in the private sector? Why would you worry about public education being incorrectly supplied but not worry about food being incorrectly supplied?

In the private sector nothing prevents a farmer from gambling all his income away in Vegas. They have this option but most don't choose it. Instead, they spend most of their income on the inputs that they need to keep their farms operating.

In the public sector, however, these farmers wouldn't even have the option to gamble all their taxes away in Vegas. Yet, you're more worried about their value judgements in the public sector than you are about their value judgements in the private sector. Again, why are you inconsistently critiquing the value judgements of taxpayers?

Maybe it's because you're under the impression that farmers don't depend on any public inputs? Perhaps Elizabeth Warren can help clear this up for you...

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

According to Elizabeth Warren, farmers and everybody else got rich because of public goods. And I absolutely agree with her. Here's where I fundamentally disagree with her...

  1. That Warren knows better than farmers do which inputs, public or private, they need more of to keep their business thriving.
  2. That Warren has more incentive than they do to get the most bang for their buck.

Warren lacks the knowledge and incentive of millions and millions of taxpayers yet you want her value judgements to replace the value judgements of taxpayers. If your motivation is the perception that you benefit more as a result of this replacement... then wouldn't you benefit even more if this replacement was extended to the private sector?

If you truly want more benefit... then allow taxpayers to have the influence that they've earned. Extending their knowledge and incentive to the public sector will benefit us all immensely.

This isn't to say that the value judgements of taxpayers are always going to be correct... but how could it not be important to know when they are incorrect? When disparities in valuations are readily apparent, this facilitates the exchange of information. "Hey buddy, why you running?" "There's zombies chasing me". If you notice that the DoD suddenly has a huge influx of funding... then you might want to figure out what other people know.

To learn how it would work check out the FAQ.

Yeah, if nobody allocated their taxes to the police then the police would disband. Again, maybe taxpayers know something that you don't. Is that so hard to imagine? It's really easy for me to imagine which is why I love the idea of incorporating all this info and incentive into the public sector.

I haven't heard a plausible argument for why it should be 1% allocation rather than 100%. Until I do then I'm going to argue for 100%. But this certainly doesn't mean that I won't celebrate a 1% step in the right direction. But if farmers truly needed training wheels then we would have all starved to death by now.

Replies from: Val
comment by Val · 2015-02-14T13:22:38.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People need time to learn a profession. At least a few years to learn it, and at least a decade to be good in it. You cannot expect tens of thousands of teachers to lose their jobs and retrain to become medics, just for them to have to retrain as policemen next year, because the allocation changed.

If the allocation in a certain sector dropped significantly, you argue that it just shows that demand dropped. But what to do with the thousands or maybe millions of people suddenly without a job?

If the allocation in a certain sector increased significantly, because demand suddenly soared, how would you get so many trained professionals for those jobs? You couldn't train them overnight.

Demand will fluctuate significantly, because people are emotional beings. For example, I've seen in a European country, that a party's votes dropped from over 50% to below 20% in a year because their leader was found out of doing something stupid. A completely new government was elected, but life went on with little changes, because they didn't drastically changed the tax allocation, the new government made just small changes. Had they completely eliminated the funds of a sector, people would have gone on strike or maybe started a revolution.

Now imagine what would happen if an image of a dying child circulated through the media, with a message that there isn't enough money for health-care. Next you know, that sector receives more then double the founding. How quickly you think you could train new staff for it? The same time a scandal breaks out because of a single teacher being found out that the abused a child. Tax allocation for education would drop significantly because of that single event, and now tens of thousands of teachers are without a job, and hundreds of thousands of pupils don't have a classroom to study in. Even if next year the situation is stabilized, hundreds of thousands of students missed a school year, and there would be a job opening for tens thousands of teachers: how could you fill these instantly before the beginning of the school year?

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-14T15:13:43.338Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only time we see such drastic changes to labor in the private sector is when it's caused by creative destruction (ie cars causing the shut down of buggy whip factories) or outsourcing. But even if for some unknown reason labor displacement was more pronounced in the public sector than in the private sector, then this concern would motivate more people to allocate their taxes towards improving the public safety net (ie unemployment benefits, job training, etc.). With pragmatarianism you maximize the number of people who can soundly sleep at night.

People are emotional beings? If people misallocate their resources for whatever reason (emotion, irrationality, carelessness, mistakes)... then they lose influence/power/control over how society's limited resources are used. Think about it. Mistakes decrease your influence. Clearly there are few lucky exceptions... but they are by no means the rule. Taxpayers are the people who make the least mistakes. As a result they have gained, rather than lost, influence over how society's limited resources are used.

You keep conflating voters and taxpayers... not only that but you still don't seem to appreciate the fact that talk is cheap. Voting is talking. Therefore, voting is cheap. You can't apply how people vote to how they spend their money. If you could, then we wouldn't go around saying that actions speak louder than words. Neither would we encourage people to put their money where their mouth is.

If you're going to effectively critique pragmatarianism... then you really have to have this concept under your belt. And you're in luck because here's a page just for you... louder. While you're at it... you might as well make sure you thoroughly grasp these other key concepts.

Who in the world would people strike or revolt against in a pragmatarian system? Their neighbors? Power wouldn't be centralized... it would be completely decentralized. You're going to need a bigger bullhorn. If you wanted to change people's minds/values then you'd have to do it the hard way... just like I'm doing it. It's too much work unless you're pretty sure it's worth it.

An image of a dying child doubles funding? You might want to consult those non-profits which have used this technique.

Again, for sure there are going to be knee-jerkers out there... but a fool and his money are soon parted. Don't take my word for it....

And the rich do not tend to throw their money away easily; those who do, do not stay rich very long. - Robin Hanson

People who've earned their money by doing their homework generally aren't going to spend their money without doing their homework. And we'll have far more people doing homework in a pragmatarian system than we do now with the current system. Why? Because as you would know if you had done your homework (ie read the FAQ)... our current system of government is the cause of rational ignorance. With the current system, unless you're a lobbyist, it doesn't pay to do your homework... so why bother? In a pragmatarian system, being able to sleep soundly at night is a pretty good incentive to make sure that your tax allocations are based on adequate evidence.

Replies from: Val
comment by Val · 2015-02-14T16:08:38.727Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You still didn't answer how you could keep up retraining the workforce to constantly shifting demands.

Also you didn't answer how you would introduce your system without causing great societal upheaval or even societal collapse as millions of people would lose their jobs and millions of other jobs won't have a skilled workforce. If you don't come up with a plan how to handle such drastic changes, then your "pragmatarianims" has absolutely no difference from complete anarchy.

It seems this discussion is leading nowhere. Instead of discussing it, you seem to play an artillery game, just like what politicians do in a public "debate": you answer to the few of my claims you think you can refute, while completely ignoring those which you can't.

Replies from: Xerographica
comment by Xerographica · 2015-02-15T10:05:26.420Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's really fine if you want to predict that pragmatarianism would cause great social upheaval. But you really have to appreciate that this prediction of yours is a double edged sword. You're essentially arguing that there's a huge disparity between the current supply of public goods and the actual demand for public goods. If you can convince me that there's absolutely nothing wrong with this disparity that you're predicting exists... then you completely take the wind from my sails.

Unlike yourself, I'm not extremely confident that this disparity does indeed exist. For all I know the guesses of congresspeople, for whatever reasons, are extremely good. If they are extremely good then there wouldn't be any great social upheaval if taxpayers could choose where their taxes go. Public education and public healthcare and defense would all receive pretty much the same amount of funding that they are currently receiving. No harm no foul. There wouldn't be millions and millions of public employees trying to learn how to do whichever public jobs were in greater demand.

Based on my research though... I really wouldn't be surprised if your prediction was correct. So let's predict that you're truly omniscient! You correctly foresee great social upheaval that would be caused by the correction of the massive disparity between public demand and supply. Are you really going to argue that this correction isn't worth it?

Fortunately, we aren't without precedent here. It's 1977 and I'm Deng Xiaoping and you're my biggest opponent. I'm arguing that we should create a market in China and you're arguing that doing so would cause great social upheaval. Well.... it turns out that we were both correct. Millions and millions and millions and millions of people migrated from their farming villages to the cities in order to work in a multitude of new factories that were started thanks to a massive inflow of foreign investment. As a result, millions and millions and millions and millions of people were lifted out of poverty and China quickly caught up to the US. For the extended version of this story please see... builderism.

To put it somewhat less scholarly... imagine that the government is paying somebody to kick you in the balls. If you derive benefit from this person's productivity... then, if we transitioned to a pragmatarian system, you'd allocate your taxes accordingly. If you want to predict that this guy who's kicking you in the balls would lose his job if we implemented pragmatarianism... then... you're arguing that he's doing something that nobody in their right mind would pay him to do.

Command economies misallocate resources... that's just what they do. Our government, with its hordes of lobbyists who represent diverse interests, isn't a perfect command economy but, given that taxpayers can't choose where their taxes go, it's close enough for me to strongly suspect that significant amounts of society's limited resources are being misallocated.

If your prediction is correct that pragmatarianism would cause a massive correction to the allocation of society's limited resources... then for sure it's terrible that so many people would lose their jobs... and I should hope that taxpayers would help support the smoothest possible reallocation... but you're going to have to come up with a pretty good argument to convince me that we're better off allowing massive amounts of society's limited resources to be majorly misallocated.

comment by Slider · 2015-02-12T12:19:07.907Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can not have a voluntarily given constant amount benefit also those that didn't opt to give it. This is highly unstable. You either have to threaten with not being able to benefit if not paying or make the amount paid vary between how many people opted in.

It would also expand the circle that would have to be competent in state money handling to a very large circle. Part of the reason why having representatives is an upside is that most people make very similar decisions but if everybody needs to come up with them independently that is a lot of duplicate work. Rather have a couple persons from each of the qualitatively different traditions (so you don't miss a type of decision) have the same output with less work. With representateievs they can work full time to make quality decisions. Those that don't earn a living with it have their day job to hinder their abilty to contribute to the various negotiations.