On the concept of balance

balanceI was reading an article earlier where the core theme was balance between duties and choices. For instance, a labor union can strike, however then they are not being paid, an a factory owner can refuse to give into the demands of the union but then he is not making any money. In this case, you have a carrot for both parties in that if they come to an agreement they can both get paid, and a stick in the form of that they are both losing money by not coming to an agreement. These types of checks and balances are what keeps every structure in working condition because they promote stability and moderation over instability and excess. Democratic countries are often built with “majority” clauses, and/or multiple branches of government, which does slow things down, but also ensures that there is wide support and that it does not devolve into majority tyranny. Take the draft in the United States of America, every man has to register for selective service within 6 months of turning 18, in exchange they get the right to vote. This means that every man who votes for hawkish and interventionist foreign policy knows that this means that he risks being sent off to war if there is a draft. This has the effect of somewhat limiting the willingness to go to war, and encourages voting for a policy that relies on both diplomacy and force, not pure force. In the same way, if I forgot to lock my door, the insurance company can refuse to pay if I get robbed, because through my actions I placed an unnecessary and excessive risk on them.

Thus, this comes down to the right of self-determination and individualism, in that these choices have obvious and apparent downsides that can affect the person making the choice. The opposite side of the coin is determination of others and collectivism, where the majority can make a decision that affects people who disagree with the decision negatively. In effect, a form of risk transferring, where the risk of your decision is not carried by you, but by someone else. This was a major contributing factor to the 2008 financial crisis, where the risk of subprime mortgages were transferred from the banks doing the lending, to the investment banks selling CDOs, to the insurance companies that sold insurance to the investment banks. In essence, it becomes a game of catch with a hand-grenade where everyone is passing the grenade and trying to avoid being the one holding it when it blows up.

What concerns me is that many of the major social movements of the last 50 – 100 years have been about disconnecting risk from reward, which creates a society that is not constrained in the way enlightenment philosophers and the authors of natural law intended. If you stack the “rights” part of a scale full, and empty the duty part of the scale, then your result is a lack of balance and a lack of balance means a tipping point. The reaction coming from the political right both in Europe and the United States, is a reaction to rights without responsibility. If we take feminism as an example, the focus has and will always be “What can society do for women” not “What can women do for society” in a balanced approach this would have been “What can society do for women and what can women do for society?” This is why, when women were given the right to vote, it did not come with any caveats, to balance their voting decisions. For instance, a woman can vote for war, and never have to serve or be drafted, thus she does not risk suddenly finding herself shipped off to a foreign state to stare down the barrel of a gun. Women were given equal rights to work, yet social programs and the legal system was not amended and still operates from the premise that women are to be supported by their male relatives.

Everything has a cost, and the burden of that cost should be distributed among all of those who are part of it. It is strange to me how this is understood when you go out to dinner as a group, you either split the check equally (collectivism) or you all pay for your own meals (individualism) in the first case, the decisions of every member of the group is based on a high level of trust, that one or two members will not act in their own self-interest and order the lobster while the rest order soup or a burger. In the latter case, each member is responsible for his or her own decision regarding their meal and thus bear the full cost of it. If 2008 should have be a lesson on anything, it is that sooner or later the balance has to be paid up, otherwise the consequences threaten to rip social structures apart at the seams. However, this seems to not be part of the decision fabric in the modern discourse anymore. Where the discussion of issues such as the migrant crisis is between the “Good, and kind people who have empathy and want to help” and the “Evil bastards who want to watch people die“, rather than the people who think that using their collective resources to assist people from out-groups is great way to spend resources vs people who have an alternative idea about how to utilize those resources.

That’s all a country is really, a group of people eating dinner together while discussing how to split the check and how to make sure that they can afford to have dinner again tomorrow. Government is a resource management company that citizens contribute to in exchange for a vote on how that company is run. The key to running this company is that it remains balanced, to ensure stability. If the country over-extends that has consequences as we’ve seen in the PIIGS countries, taking on too much risk for not enough upside. If a country does the opposite, and does not take on enough risk, they die a slow death, to their own lack of drive. It is the same way with all of us, we can get a job that will be relatively secure and pays our bills, where we will drone on for 40 – 50 years, until we die or retire, never accomplishing much in our life, or we can do like Donald Trump did and gamble on being able to complete Trump Tower.

Summary and conclusions

When the founding fathers only gave the right to vote to a few, their thinking appears to have been that those who were given the right were the best educated, and those who had the highest risk by making a poor decision, namely those with the most invested in the nascent nation. These were the men who had the most to lose if their decisions were poor, thus they were given more rights than anyone else. In today’s modern world, we have created systems that share more with “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” than with responsible structures that ensures that a nation does not waste its resources, be they financial, population or otherwise. The reality is that human beings are inherently selfish but we are trained by society to hide it beneath a veneer of civility, all of us seek to obtain the maximum reward for the minimal effort, because this has historically given a survival advantage. However, our societies were also constructed in a way that would let our nature assert itself without it damaging the system integrity, for instance through outlets such as sport, business, and politics. For the most part the modern Western World operated on the principle that if you want the state (collective) to do more for you (the individual) you have to give us something in return, usually this meant higher taxes or “government revenue” so that the additional services could be financed.

This kept the system balanced as those who voted were also those who financed the government with their tax payments, therefore their demands for government services were often made after a consideration of the additional tax burden. However, once the West moved to a system where you much more than previously have 2 tiers of citizen, those who pay and those who withdraw, there was no upside for those who pay, but only upside for those who withdraw to demand more services, more payments and more government. There is really only one way to solve the problem, which is more individualized government where groups are evaluated separately, and treated differently, where those who withdraw more from the collective account also have to pay more into it, while those who withdraw less are permitted to pay less into it.

What people do not see is that in demolishing the “Patriarchy” many have obtained a surrogate patriarch in the form of government. Which is not to say that I’m necessarily convinced that smaller government is better, but I am convinced that the rights of the the many and the few must be in balance to obtain good results. If you work an extra 400 hours in a year, but get paid as if you worked 50, or if you struggle your way through college getting a STEM degree and find that you barely get a return on that investment, it removes incentives that are socially positive, while it adds incentives that are socially negative. It creates an incentive to put in minimum effort for maximum results, and allocate your time and resources elsewhere. Instead of starting your own business, working 80 hours a week and be rewarded a few years down the road, you may elect to work 40 hours a week for someone else as the former does not offer an attractive balance of risk and reward.

The concept of balance is simply the relationship between incentives and discouragement that is placed on a person or a group, that affects their behavior within the group or in their relationships with other groups. To demonstrate this:

If you had to work 80 hours a week to make $60.000 a year with the alternative being a “citizen wage” of $50.000 a year for working 0 hours a week, how many would be willing to work those 80 extra hours every week for $10.000 pr year?

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2 comments on “On the concept of balance

  1. […] conservatives. Church and State. Border security (an SF story). Ideological mechanics. Basics of balance. Wrecked names. Responses to the Cowen “neo-reaction” post by Nydwracu, Anti-Gnostic, […]

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  2. […] wrote a post recently on balance, and the reality is that any unbalanced situation does inevitably return to a balanced state. A […]

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