Monday, September 7, 2009

The Math Of Political Ideologies

As a geek, I tend to get excited over the possibility of applying logic, math and science to the mooshy topics of politics. We've talked about "test-driven" government (borrowing from programming), where any change to policy would have to be run through a series of rigorous tests to determine effect and unintended consequences.

But chatting with a friend today I began to realize that you can express the two main warring ideologies in politics with mathematical formulas. And it's kind of interesting. At least to a geek like me.

Let X = resources available
Let Y = cost of resource
Let Z = number of people
Let $= cost per person of resource

X × Y ÷ Z = $

This is a simple way of looking at a situation where resources are limited and are to be divided evenly among a group of people. Note this works both ways: For distributing resources and for distributing the cost of a resource.

This is, more or less is how collectivists and statists view problems. "If only," they think, "I—or some suitably clever person who shares my values—were in charge of collecting the money and distributing the service, then we could make sure everything was fair and equitable and just."

They fret because Y seems to go up all the time, as does Z, while X dwindles or doesn't seem to grow fast enough to cover some ultimate disaster. The whole "overpopulation" scenario is based on Z increasing exponentially while X flattens or decreases. This becomes the justification for a centralized planning system. To avert crisis.

But, of course, the system tends to reinforce itself: X dwindles while Y skyrockets. Z tends to flatten but can't keep up (down?) with the issues created by X and Y.

And you can tell when someone is really married to this mindset, because they can't see the problem any other way. (They'll even see the surrounding issues as relatively simple variables: if only everyone adhered to the orthodoxy in terms of diet, exercise, home size, whatever, all our problems—the ones they've very often created to justify their takeover of whatever—would be solved. This is actually true for them, because their ultimate problem seems to be that people are just too numerous and unruly.)

To someone with an appreciation for the complexity of human interaction, X can go up wildly, Y can drop crazily and Z going up is a good thing—because only people have the power to change X and Y in unforeseen ways.

In a larger sense, in Communism (including Socialism, which I think is pretty apparently a stepping stone), X is just a short-hand for wealth. A lot of people seem to operate under an even simpler formula:

X ÷ Z = $

Divide total wealth by the number of people and that gives you how much wealth everyone should have.

You can see the mentality, too: There's a fixed amount of gold, therefore why shouldn't we all share it equally? As if all the wealth in the world were just lying on the ground and—and this is not far off from what is actually said—disparity only occurs because some guys took away our wealth and made it their wealth.

Wealth is theft, in other words. Now, virtually everyone who utters this sentiment has some form of wealth. So you can safely assume that they mean your wealth is theft. They might be talking about someone else now, someone richer, but they'll get around to you.

But let's backtrack a bit: Is there a fixed amount of gold? (This goes back to my original X.) For that matter, is there any gold until someone pans for it/digs it up/picks it up off the ground, even? And then refines it?

Even real estate, which is considered to be fixed and finite, has to be explored, tamed or cultivated or exploited in some fashion before it becomes wealth. Finite? Even in this day of mapped out terra, there's building up—and almost completely undone: building down, building on the sea, building under the sea, given an anti-grav tech you could build in the sky. And that's just this planet.

Science-fiction, now, just like skyscrapers were sci-fi not too long ago.

It's all potential wealth, just waiting for someone clever enough, industrious enough, persistent enough to exploit it. And all wealth is created and must be maintained.

But in some philosophies, wealth, once created becomes everyone's. In practice, what happens at that point is that wealth ceases to be created. Worse, the wealth that already exists is left to rot.

This is often clucked about as selfishness and greed, which it can be. But the wild variable not considered is that wealth is also highly subjective, and any system which purports to distribute wealthy "fairly" must first evaluate that wealth. The Y in that first equation—the cost (or value) of the resource—is not uniform from person-to-person.

In other words, before you create anything in one of these "fair" systems, you have to confront the fact that an arbitrary person or bureau is going to set Y, that is, evaluate whatever it is you create.

Children are transparent when it comes to this sort of thing: If you want to kill a child's creativity and work ethic, simply evaluate whatever they produce. Obviously, trashing someone's output can make them stop producing, but even praise can have a deleterious effect. This is the pernicious side of testing and grading (and a mine field for parents).

Adults really are the same way. Even if you plan to give something away, creating it with the knowledge that not only will it be taken from you, but it will then be valued arbitrarily by someone who isn't going to consume it?

That's a joy killer. And, not coincidentally, a wealth killer.

And eventually you end up with this:

$ = 0


  1. $ = 0

    Develop your theory and publish it and it's likely to go down in history as the "Maelstromian Nightmare."

    I too am fascinated with applying physical theories to social situations. To date, I've worked out a theory for why we have 50:50 outcomes in elections (and will for some time to come).
    I'd like to formulate the equivalent for the Hammond Postulate to social change- something along the lines of easy change is always downhill, while real change is uphill and the tipping point for such change resembles the end result. I made a lame attempt at this one night on Althouse but it's lost now. :(

  2. I find if I forget something like that, I didn't quite have it down right. Sometimes I clean slate is helpful.

  3. I find if I forget something like that, I didn't quite have it down right. Sometimes I clean slate is helpful.

    That was mean blake

    *flounces off in a huff* :)


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