Sunday, November 4, 2012

Socrates had the same problem, really

On The O’Reilly Factor on Nov. 1, John Stossel, former correspondent for ABC’s 20/20 and current host of the Fox Business Network show Stossel, said that “the government should stop insuring areas” prone to disaster.

“What if nobody wants to insure you?” O’Reilly asked.

“Then you take your own risk. Then the private insurance market is saying, you live in a risky place, don’t build there.”

Stossel himself once received $250,000 in FEMA money, but said during the program he would not do so again.

What a libertarian looks like when he opens his mouth
Socrates had almost the same exact problem. That is, he used the Athenian right of free speech to call for a revolution to end free speech. And I'm sure, when someone pointed out that the only reason he was still alive was because of the Athenian tolerance for free speech, he was just as smarmy, self-righteous, and outstandingly hypocritical as John "I've got mine, screw you" Stossel.

Eventually, of course, the Athenians did take him at his word, and offered the choice between drinking poison or leaving the city. In one of history's greatest acts of narcissism, Socrates chose death rather than admit he might be wrong about something. His acolytes wrote the history books, and now we think of Socrates as a heroic martyr instead of the way the Athenians thought of him, which was as a trouble-making conspirator whose nephew had twice overthrown the government to create a police state.

Poor Stossel won't have such loyal acolytes to remake his historical image; but then, I think we all know perfectly well that if FEMA showed up and offered Stossel the loose change in their pockets, he'd vacuum it up without moving his lips out of that permanently self-entitled pout.


  1. So what was the goverment contribution after the great chigago fire?

  2. Are you suggesting that we should return to the society of 1871?

    If so, you might want to take a closer look at what that society was actually like. I googled "government contribution great chicago fire" and this was the third link:

    The government distributed massive amounts of aid, and it did so under martial law that was enforced in a racially segregated manner.

    Is that the libertarian paradise you hope to emulate?

  3. I don't mind that the federal government has a flood insurance program. I mind that the premiums do not cover the costs. I support nonprofit insurance programs. I'd prefer they were not run by the government but will not quibble over that small detail. What I don't understand is why we offer the insurance at a discount. Furthermore, why do we make payouts to all comers regardless of their paying of the premiums at all? If you don't have insurance and your property is forfeit due to a loss, foreseeable (like a flood) or otherwise (like an alien attack) why is that my responsibility? Part of the cost of buying something is protecting it from loss. The ex-post (non)insurance just drives up the initial cost of the asset because the real cost is hidden from view and then bore by all of us later. If the cost of ownership had to include the cost of insuring it then the initial cost would be lower and the recurring costs would be higher. The land will always be owned by someone though. Eventually it's best and most affordable use will be found. That use may not be the current use but that seems to be the one we always want to make anew. If you cannot afford to insure against loss you have no business purchasing that item in the first place. If a city cannot afford to rebuild, then perhaps it ought to be sodded over. Let the people move to a less danger prone area.

    People who chose to live in risky places would receive premiums for their labor as a result of the added costs if they were required to bear the costs of the risk of being there. These so called insurance programs, so called because their costs are not covered by their premiums, really only depress the costs of this labor which is a give away to the wealthy who employ those people.

    The arbitrary nature and the lack of an immediate cost really irks me too. Here's an example. My sewer line broke and needed to be replaced a few weeks ago. I'm out $5000. Same thing happened to my neighbor a few years ago. He is a lawyer and his home is larger than mine and he has pool with a built in stone and concrete water slide. Instead of him paying, he got "Shovel Ready" project money from Obama's bailout funds and instead of it costing $5000, it cost $30000. So instead of him self insuring or saving or borrowing, he just gets to have our grandchildren pay. It's bullshit. Why? Because if we all did it the system breaks down tomorrow.

    I want to be compassionate, but how do we protect ourselves from the moochers (people who live stupid places and expect bail outs because they are not paid enough to live there and bear the real costs, and miserable neighbors who work the system so that they don't have to pay their own bills)? I really want to know. Why can't people just be expected to bear the risks of their lives or have their lives materially change for the worst? I feel like most people really don't believe in the American dream of class mobility. These bailouts just keep everyone where they are. I'd prefer a world where bad actors paid real costs (even and especially the rich and powerful) and those who take risks and get really lucky or work hard and get a little lucky can see real tangible benefits.

    I'd have preferred that my neighbor's house to be sold at fire sale prices because it was full of poop so I could have had it cleaned and then moved in and got that sweet ass pool. Instead he got a sewer at 6 times the normal price and Zev gets to pay for it.

  4. It's not a matter of compassion; it is a matter of economics. People, as a whole, do better when society spreads risk and rewards in ways that are typically called "compassion" but are really just good fiscal policy.

    The problem of stopping the moochers is a separate problem, and one that has plagued society for a long time. It's not long medieval societies didn't have moochers; those moochers just used the point of a sword.

    The good news is, the moochers can't do that anymore. Now they have to use legal shenagians. While still not ideal, we are making progress. So the way forward is forward; more technology, more refined policy, more social infrastructure. These are the things we used to reduce mooching so far, and they will continue to do so.

    Tl;dr: higher taxes on everyone == less moochers. See: Nordic countries.