Thursday, May 05, 2011

Redistribute Sex

For those who haven’t followed it, Robin Hanson called attention to a video in which college students in favor of “wealth redistribution” are asked their opinion about “GPA redistribution”.  Unsurprisingly, their reaction is negative yet largely incoherent.

Robin writes:

My point isn't to say one can't come up with reasons to treat these differently. One could, for example, argue that we prefer differing school signals to help employers sort people into jobs, to achieve higher productivity so that the pie is bigger when we redistribute money. My point is that most people can't think of such reasons, making it pretty unlikely that such reasons are the cause of their opinions.

Robin then allowed that little can be learned from the inability of college students to instantly articulate their objections to such an off-the-wall proposal as GPA redistribution.  On reflection, XPostFactoid lists some objections, which Megan rebuts, although I think she give short shrift to this point:

[I]t's still true that student performance bears a closer relationship to grade than the social utility of the average person's work does to that person's earnings.

More specifically, metrics for assessing student academic performance are specifically contrived to measure individual mastery of the subject matter.  Leaving aside for the moment Half Sigma’s notion of the difference between “value creation” and “value transference” in the modern economy (a notion I find broadly persuasive, by the way), consider that if GPA was accumulated the same way as wealth in the market economy, then students would be free to exchange the answers to test questions they know for answers they don’t know – complete with IP protection!  But of course, this isn’t allowed:  testing conditions are set up to most resemble those of subsistence farming, in which wealth and GPA are only a function of an individual’s ability to extract them from the raw earth.

If we really want students to reconsider the morality of wealth redistribution, then Brandon’s comment on Megan’s post is apropos:

But what about sex redistribution? It's not fair that a small number of people are having lots of sex with many attractive partners while others have sex only infrequently with unattractive partners, if at all. The government needs to step in and do something to address this inequity.

I chimed in:

So much of the welfare/affirmative action/civil-rights apparatus, in effect if not in design, redistributes wealth and opportunity from men (who create and control it) to women.

Yet not only will women object to redistributing the resource they control, they have set about dismantling such equality-inducing arrangements such as marriage / legally enforced monogamy as once existed.

Conservatives believe in economic freedom, and we are prepared to tolerate a fair amount of economic inequality to preserve it.  Yet we frown on social inequality and would enforce social regulation to prevent it.

Liberals, in contrast, believe in economic equality and happily redistribute wealth to that end.  But they believe in “social” (i.e. sexual) freedom and positively revel in the inequality that results.


Grim said...

The funny thing about the entire system is this: Money is a stand in for Social status and thus a modify when it comes to getting an attractive mate. By removing Money/supporting a family as a social modifier then only Social status remains to determine how men do in the mating game. Worse getting rid of the only 1 female per male rule creates an artificial shortages of females. Thus creating the most unequal system in all history. It's basically the old Muslim slave model but done in a far more clever manner. Most men don't even realize they are slaves.

Anonymous said...

We've had differences in status and sexiness for a long time - we evolved around those sorts of transactions. On the other hand, money is an evolutionarily novel invention. I suspect that this contradiction is partly a result of this difference. We evolved elaborate hypocritical moral-type intuitions to make sure we don't throw away reproductive opportunities based on abstract theorizing. But money wasn't a life-or-death issue in the ancestral environment.

Anonymous said...

Nice thoughts. The reasons for the college students being unable to see the difference between money and grades are many.

1. They have been told all their lives that they can't be selfish. Thei conditioned to believe that people with lots of stuff whould not say no to people with little stuff.

2. As students, none of them have lots of money, so they see themselves as on the winning side of that exchange. And since they have never been anything but students, they cannot yet imagine someday being taxpayers.

3. Unlike money, additional Grades can be manufactured with zero labor or raw materials. Every college has some level of grade inflation so there is very little distinction between those at the top and those just below them. If any students are lacking in grades, the other students instinctively understand it is because the failing students must be intentionally trying to fail, so they feel no sympathy for them. They cannot imagine that people in the real world also suffer the consequences of intentionally failing. But also they know that the school can just manufacture grades for the failing people without taking anuything from the top students. This teaches them that government can do the same thing for aiding the poor. Just make more money.

4. As students, every need they have including tuition is paid for by scholarships, parents' savings or student loans. So in essence, they have no real world experience with earning money and having it taken away to support some one else's priorities. They have never suffered that pain, but they have benefited from it. So they have no basis to feel any differently.

5. Modern young people have been insufficiently educated in morality, or perhaps maleducated. They believe that theft is OK as long as you get the government to do it for you. Churches, schools and government are all equally at fault in this since they play institutional roles in propagating public morality. The lure of free money is just to tempting to ignore.

Justin said...

I think part of it lies in the impossibility of redistributing sex. The concept doesn't even make sense.

Redistrubuting GPA is also non-sensical, since it is never exchanged in the first place.

Redistribution of wealth is inherent in any cooperative economic endeavor. The only question is, what are the rules of that distribution?

Jehu said...

Oh you of little imagination
You can redistribute sex in the same way that you redistribute money and status---with guns and cages and the threat of the same. It's just that you (and most people including myself) have been desensitized to one imposition and not the other. On a less scary note, you can also redistribute sex by reducing the extent to which we as a society devalue the 'provider' aspect of a mate with respect to the 'exciting' aspect through a generous 'safety net'.

Anonymous said...

If nothing else, we could decriminalize and subsidize prostitution as a sort of "welfare" for those unable or unwilling to obtain sex by other means. Pay for it with a tax on beauty, or at least on male height.

Elusive Wapiti said...

Phi wrote:

"Conservatives believe in economic freedom, and we are prepared to tolerate a fair amount of economic inequality to preserve it. Yet we frown on social inequality and would enforce social regulation to prevent it.

Liberals, in contrast, believe in economic equality and happily redistribute wealth to that end. But they believe in “social” (i.e. sexual) freedom and positively revel in the inequality that results."

The really interesting thing about all this is to consider how much economic factors confound social factors, and vice versa.

One can't have economic inequality without having much of that economic inequality bleed over to the social sphere. Likewise, social inequality quite rapidly leads to economic inequality too.

Thus the laissez-faire nature of cons wrt economics seems incongruent with their very strong lefty tendencies when it comes to sexual regulation. Same with liberals wrt their laissez-faire attitude toward sexuality but harshly Left-wing attitude toward economic distribution.

Brandon Berg said...

For the record, I wasn't seriously proposing any sort of sex redistribution scheme, if that wasn't clear.

Also, I don't think that the symmetry you posit really exists. Conservatives generally aren't in favor of the government stepping in to regulate our social lives to anywhere near the extent leftists favor the government regulating our economic lives. Conservatives generally think that abortion should be legal, and that homosexual relationships shouldn't be subsidized the way heterosexual relationships are, and...well...that's about it, isn't it?

Certainly conservatives tend to disapprove of a lot of other stuff, but they don't actually want the government to step in and regulate it.

Anonymous said...

A somewhat related observation by PeterW:

{P}eople tend to favor competition in areas where they’re strong (right: markets, left: social relations), and egalitarianism in areas where they’re weak (right: strong social norms, left: taxation and redistribution). That’s a bias we have to be aware of.

I have a long day tomorrow, but to add to my to-do list: Check and see how women and men poll separately on legalized prostitution. Theoretically, it weakens women's sexual power and therefore they should be more critical of it than men. But I don't really know if this is true.

Brandon Berg said...

In the GSS, 51.5% of men, as opposed to 42.9% of women, agreed either strongly or somewhat to the statement, "There is nothing inherently wrong with prostitution, so long as the health risks can be minimized. If consenting adults agree to exchange money for sex, that is their business."

Unfortunately, that lumps together two logically distinct propositions (that prostitution is not morally objectionable, and that it should not be legal), and that was the only question related to prostitution.

Brandon Berg said...

Worth noting, also, that women were quite a bit more likely than men (40.9% vs. 25.6%) to disagree strongly with that statement. In fact, women had more polarized views on the topic. Men's responses were split more or less evenly between agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat, and disagree strongly, whereas 2/3 of women had a strong opinion (disagree strongly or agree strongly). Women were actually as likely as men to agree strongly.

Dr. Φ said...

Trumwill: this brings to mind Robin's thesis that liberal sexual morality is characteristic of "foragers" and thus has deeper evolutionary roots than does conservative "farmer" morality, which developed more recently in response to specific social contexts and pressures. Absent those pressures, morality defaults to forager norms.

Not saying I agree with everything Robin writes on this score. But I will admit that it would flesh out what we mean by social conservative "weakness".

Brandon: you are correct that conservatives are deeply ambivalent about government regulation in a way that liberals are not; really, restoring the legal status of marriage is the only regulation we advocate unreservedly (when we do anything other than just whine about "values").

Dr. Φ said...

That said, I will also point out -- again -- that one of the dominant causes of our present sexual regime is the economic emancipation of women. This emancipation is a direct result of the growth of government and a network of laws written to achieve precisely this effect. That should give pause to talk about the allegedly more natural "forager" morality.