Scientific fact regarding coercion

from [ Marc Abrams (991119.0927)

A fitting end to the coercion debacle courtesy of Bill Powers in 1992. Very
nice post Bill

[From Bill Powers (921109.1430)] Rick Marken (921109.0900) --

Good thoughts on means and ends.

We need to be explicit about one problem with means and ends -- "using the
end to justify the means." This becomes a bad thing sometimes -- for
example, in adopting the philosophy that it's better to let 20 innocent
people go to jail than to let one guilty person go free. The desire for law
and order is often used to justify means that involve violation of rights
and other cruelties.

The problem here is not so much in trying to reach the goal -- which we can
agree is good -- but in forgetting that we have more than one goal at a
time. Not only do we want to protect people from criminals, but we want to
defend Constitutional guarantees for everyone. The real objection isn't to
using the end to justify the means, but in forgetting that the means must
support more than one end at a time. This often involves a conflict, and
some people don't like the complications involved in finding resolutions in
tough situations. So they go with the solution that agrees with their
highest?priority goal and rationalize or ignore the other side of the

This tells you something about a person's priorities. Catching criminals
rather than protecting the innocent from harrassment would be the first
choice of someone who has power, wealth, and social standing and doesn't
anticipate being falsely accused of tawdry crimes. Protecting the innocent
from false accusation would be a higher concern for someone who is a member
of part of society in which tawdry crimes often occur; someone who has no
power or recognized social standing, who can't afford paying court costs and
lawyers to fight a false charge, and who looks, dresses, and speaks no
differently from the criminals and thus can present no superficial evidence
of being an unlikely suspect. There would also be much more concern with
apprehending thieves and robbers among those who judge their own worth in
terms of their material possessions than there would among those whose main
possessions are their friends and their freedom, which are harder to steal.

With regard to your comments on "trickle down" economics:

It has struck me that one of the main discriminators between the clusters of
ideologies must be, simply, wealth. The philosophy of trickle-down economics
says, basically, let us rich people make all the money we want by any means
we can achieve, and some of that will trickle down to the rest of you when
we spend it. In the implied economic model, poor people are necessary. It
takes fifty or a hundred people at the lower end of the economic scale to
make possible the life styles of every one or two who receive most of the
income. Given any current level of technology and productivity, there is
simply no way that all people can live like rich people. For some people to
be rich, many more people must remain poor. The greater the disparity
between the bottom and the top, the more people must work for small incomes
to allow for a few people to have huge incomes; the more people must
becontent with fewer and lower-quality possessions and less fun to allow a
few people to acquire many high-quality possessions and play rather than

Those with very large incomes naturally want to preserve that situation.
They also want to maintain the power needed to protect themselves from the
natural efforts of others to get more of the available income for doing less
of the necessary work. They promote a work ethic in which self?esteem is
coupled to being a good employee who observes the rules and works for the
offered wages with gratitude. Rich people can fund lobbies for influencing
legislation that would affect their own freedom, their own wealth, and their
own power. They are against regulation because meeting regulations would
reduce their incomes. They use economic principles instead of morals because
the economic principles show how to maximize return on investment, whereas
morals might limit doing some of the things that maximize return. The return
on investment that they are thinking of is, of course, the return they
receive, not that the nation as a whole receives.

So the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, simply because there is no
negative feedback to speak of in this social situation. The more wealth a
person accumulates, the more power that person obtains to resist
restrictions on increasing personal wealth and thus gaining even more power.
And the poorer a person gets, the less ability that person has to resist
having even more taken away.

The only protections the poor person has to oppose being forced down to the
level of subsistence or worse are government and crime. This, I think, is
why people at the lower end of the economic scale want more government, and
why those at the upper end want less. It is why crime is the most rampant in
the poorest neighborhoods. People do what is available for them to do as a
way of improving their lives, in their own judgment of what will work.

I am unsympathetic toward those who rail against taxes and government
regulation, simply because their own self?interest is so clearly the motive.
There can be bad taxes and bad regulations, but that is a matter of quality
and appropriateness, not quantity. Those who simply want less taxes and less
regulation in general do not have the good of the nation at heart; they are
simply trying to preserve what they have regardless of what is good for
others. This attitude comes from a narrow system concept in which only some
people deserve the best, in which only a few are qualified to tell the rest
how to live. It's inevitable that this sort of system concept would create
its own mirror image that guarantees endless social conflict. Marx may have
had an inkling of this, although he and his successors used a mystical
semi-religious theory of history to back up their common-sense predictions.
I think that control theory gives us a much simpler way of predicting the
outcome of such a "class struggle." When any small group makes life hard for
the majority, the majority will eventually get fed up and take whatever
steps are necessary to reach their own goals. One doesn't need to be a
political pundit or even a control theorist to understand that.

Best, Bill P.


Date: Mon Nov 09, 1992 4:27 pm PST
Subject: means, ends, politics