Should the Future Get a Vote?

by on May 13, 2014 at 7:14 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Philosopher Thomas Wells argues that future citizens need the vote today:

…future generations must accept whatever we choose to bequeath them, and they have no way of informing us of their values. In this, they are even more helpless than foreigners, on whom our political decisions about pollution, trade, war and so on are similarly imposed without consent. Disenfranchised as they are, such foreigners can at least petition their own governments to tell ours off, or engage with us directly by writing articles in our newspapers about the justice of their cause. The citizens of the future lack even this recourse.

The asymmetry between past and future is more than unfair. Our ancestors are beyond harm; they cannot know if we disappoint them. Yet the political decisions we make today will do more than just determine the burdens of citizenship for our grandchildren. They also concern existential dangers such as the likelihood of pandemics and environmental collapse. Without a presence in our political system, the plight of future citizens who might suffer or gain from our present political decisions cannot be properly weighed. We need to give them a voice.

But how can we solve this problem? Wells has some very good insights:

If current citizens can’t help but be short-sighted, perhaps we should consider introducing agents who can vote in a far-seeing and impartial way. They would need to be credibly motivated to defend the basic interests of future generations as a whole, rather than certain favoured subsets, and they would require the expertise to calculate the long-term actuarial implications of government policies.

But then his solution turns laughable:

Such voters would have to be more than human. I am thinking of civic organisations, such as charitable foundations, environmentalist advocacy groups or non-partisan think tanks.

Well’s solution (give these groups votes) is so tied to his conception of what the “enlightened” future will bring that it clearly fails the far-seeing, impartiality, credibly motivated and expertise requirements that he outlines as desirable. We need not conclude, however, that Well’s plea is disingenuous or impossible but we do need a better implementation.

Robin Hanson’s government of prediction markets (“futarchy“) is a better approach. It is know well understood that relative to other institutions prediction markets draw on expertise to produce predictions that are far seeing and impartial. What is less well understood is that through a suitable choice of what is to be traded, prediction markets can be designed to be credibly motivated by a variety of goals including the interests of future generations.

To understand futarchy note that a prediction market in future GDP would be a good predictor of future GDP. Thus, if all we cared about was future GDP, a good rule would be to pass a policy if prediction markets estimate that future GDP will be higher with the policy than without the policy. Of course, we care about more than future GDP; perhaps we also care about environmental quality, risk, inequality, liberty and so forth. What Hanson’s futarchy proposes is to incorporate all these ideas into a weighted measure of welfare. Prediction markets would then be used to predict and make policy choices based on future welfare. Incorporated within the measure of welfare could be factors like environmental quality many years into the future. 

Note, however, that even this assumes that we know what people in the future will care about. Here then is the final meta-twist. We can also incorporate into our measure of welfare predictions of how future generations will define welfare. We could, for example, choose a rule such that we will pass policies that increase future environmental quality unless a prediction market in future definitions of welfare suggests that future generations will change their welfare standards. It sounds complicated but then so is the problem.

In short, more than any other form of government, futarchy is based on far seeing, impartial, expertise driven and credibly motivated predictions of future welfare and it is flexible enough to allow for a wide definition of welfare including taking into account the interests of future generations.

Hat tip: Carl Close.

liberalarts May 13, 2014 at 7:25 am

Why no discussion of children? Having children is a (potentially) infinite extension of concern for the future for our current population of parents, uncles, aunts, etc.

Andrew M May 13, 2014 at 7:37 am

Yes, children. There are two options:
1) Lower the voting age (perhaps as low as 8 or 10).
2) Give each parent an extra half-vote per child.

Mark May 13, 2014 at 9:48 am

I saw a campaign ad for Jimmy Carter when I was a child. I don’t remember the details, but I remember thinking he seemed like a nice person. On election night, I asked my parents and my aunt and uncle if they voted for him. After they stopped laughing, we watched the landslide results. My oldest is turning 13, and he’s not ready to vote either. I could see 16, since that’s driving age in my state, and people at that age may see how policies today may affect them as they enter college and/or the working world.

NPW May 13, 2014 at 10:16 am

Riiiiiiight. Because parents and grandparents vote, today, with the future as a relevant issue.

“It’s for the kids” is a great manipulative tool, but it can be used to justify what we want now rather than the future.

Consider the common sense effort to get a balanced budget. The emotional appeals for the welfare of children is the most common tool to justify the rejection of efforts to pare back spending beyond our means, which is followed by condensation that national budgets are more complex than a household’s. The relative complexity observation is true, which makes that fact that people in charge of the nation’s purse strings failing to grasp such a basic reality all the more tragic.

We vote to destroy the future by justifying our current greed as beneficial to the future.

Giving more votes based on # of kids, not helpful.

ThomasH May 20, 2014 at 6:11 am

@ NPW
1. The argument for many “for the children” expenditures is that they are investments that reduce future expenditures. That is not in fact the case for some of them, but that needs to be shown, not waved a way as necessarily sacrificing “then” for “now.”
2. Changes in federal budget deficits are not a good indicator of policies that move consumption from the present to the future or vice versa. It is neither a necessary or a sufficient condition. To move consumption from the future to the present one has to reduce present investment and increase present consumption. An increase in the deficit that results from reduce a distorting tax, say the corporate income tax, presumably increases investment at the expense of consumption, mutatis mutandis.

andrew' May 13, 2014 at 7:51 am

Buy chocolate. Sell toothbrushes.

The united states of Mickey mouse clubhouse.

Hail President goofy…

lorenzo May 13, 2014 at 7:41 am

Another (crazy and impossible) solution that has been proposed to give the future a vote is to give parents additional votes. By allowing parents to vote 1+x times, where x is the number of their children, politicians would have to take into account parents’ interests and therefore would become more accountable to children.

Jeff May 13, 2014 at 8:27 am

No, they’d be more accountable to parents with lots of children. Both welfare moms and Mormons get much more powerful as voting blocs. Nobody is accountable to the children at all, children can’t hold current politicians accountable for anything.

US May 13, 2014 at 8:32 am

“politicians would have to take into account parents’ interests”

(with you so far)

“and therefore would become more accountable to children.”

(nope, don’t get that last part at all).

It’d still be the parents who would be doing the voting. And those parents would still be voting for things they want, not things their children may want them to vote for. Just like they do today. Even if the kid was mentally mature enough to understood the ‘don’t vote for spending huge amounts of money today on things you like, financed by debt I’ll have to repay when I grow up’-argument, he or she would still have no influence on how the parent votes. A proposal of this sort would do nothing to alleviate the problems associated with inter-generational conflicts of interest. Giving children the right to vote (a solution mentioned elsewhere in the comments) incidentally also does not seem like a solution to me, as children often don’t know what’s in their own best interest. Presumably this is part of the justification for not allowing them to vote today.

tomhynes May 13, 2014 at 11:04 am

Give fetuses the vote. Instead of bringing in voter id, just pee on the strip and get an extra vote.

God ( out of office) May 13, 2014 at 4:19 pm

While the overwhelming majority of humans is still selfish, greedy, ignorant and jealous, forget about building any form of sustainable system. It is irrelevant whether you live under capitalism, socialism or whatever… their hearts are not pure thus widespread corruption is inevitable. Of course there are large differences between countries and in general there seems to be an improvement but mankind still has a long way to go….

andrew' May 13, 2014 at 7:49 am

Just make him king since he thinks he knows the future values.

So Much for Subtlety May 13, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Well a monarchy is a way of introducing a more long term view. So is the old British House of Lords. Which pretty much everyone agreed worked vastly better than the elected short-term House of Commons. Probably why it had to be reformed into extinction.

Kevin C. May 15, 2014 at 12:52 am

+1

Prior Probability May 13, 2014 at 7:53 am

Great post, but it begs the questions: What have future generations done for us?

chuck martel May 13, 2014 at 9:39 am

You don’t know what “begs the question” means.

Andrew' May 13, 2014 at 10:39 am

I don’t know if he does or not. I don’t know if I do.

But it’s part of the joke. “We SHOULD give the future a vote.” “Why?”

Andrew' May 13, 2014 at 10:43 am

Or put more clearly “the future should have a vote because they don’t have a vote.”

It’s also part of my conclusion on this subject. We give them life. Good enough. Both as a practical as well as ethical matter. If we ever birth people into slavery to force them to blow up the earth that would be another thing entirely.

fwiw May 13, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Just curious as to what you mean:

What if, hypothetically, we gave them life but with a average lifespan of 30 years?

Thomas May 13, 2014 at 7:56 am

Way to many “Philosophers” in the western world.

And a basic misunderstanding: It is not a problem that future generations and foreigners have no vote.
Only people with anti-democratic sentiments dont get it.

A May 13, 2014 at 8:04 am

The question “should the future get a vote” may cause some confusion for people who are literal minded. People who actually exist will act according to their incentives, so this phrasing is just a roundabout way of reframing incentive sorting processes. The reframing may lend itself to increasingly fantastical thinking if policy makers take the metaphor too seriously, and forget that they are just modeling their own values, rather than literally representing the values of future generations.

Sam May 13, 2014 at 8:14 am

There’s probably a time inconsistency problem that makes a concern for all future generations impossible.

Brian Donohue May 13, 2014 at 8:20 am

Yes, of course. Having children extends your horizon. In the past, most people had kids, and there was never any question of trying to leave a better world than you found.

As in all things, of course, the Baby Boomers aren’t to be constrained by such thinking.

http://www.usdebtclock.org/

mulp May 13, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Reagan was a baby boomer?? After all, conservatives all agree that Reagan proved the deficit does not matter to conservatives if they are getting the tax cuts and spending hikes they want.

Reagan and supporters were the prime movers in making debt the fashionable thing and getting rid of all those FDR restrictions on debt, like needing assets in excess of the debt and having income to service the debt.

I admit to being a boomer who in 1985 bought the conservative claim that capital always goes up in price because value is obviously always increasing in property ownership. Biggest mistake I made. Rather than selling all the stock I earned and paying cash for the new house I bould, I saw both the stock price crash and my house price crash within two years.

What happened 1995-2006 leading to 2007-2009 was a rerun of the Reagan asset price inflation as representing exploding value and thus wealth creation, except with far more debt fueling the asset price inflation. I kept warning friends who were going into debt, but they were “creating real wealth.”

If the creating wealth from nothing with debt fueled asset price inflation is a boomer thing, then Reagan must have been swept along on a conservative boomer mosh pit into the White House. Free lunch economics is attractive.

Me, I grew up learning debt is a necessary evil for building capital, but the capital must be production and paid off quickly and needs to be hard to get, restricted to only those who have income to service it. Further, price inflation was seen as something to fear – that if your house goes up in price, then the next one you buy will be even higher in price and your kids will pay really high prices to. That made the almost universal advise of the 80s and since to buy a bigger and bigger house because productivity is not the reason for owning your house, but wealth creation by high debt leverage, so strange.

I see the change to debt being wonderful for creating wealth, rather that labor creating wealth, as just free lunch economics instilled in the 1980s.

Peter Sperry May 13, 2014 at 8:30 am

Couldn’t we reach the same objective by weighting votes of younger citizens. (15-30 = x5 weight, 30-45= x4, 45-60=x3, 60-75=x2, over 75=x1) No it would not give voice to the unborn, but the voters with the longest time horizon would have the most influence. Also fairly easy to implement with modern technology.

Mark May 13, 2014 at 9:34 am

Assumption: voters with long time horizons accurately represent their interests when they vote.

JWatts May 13, 2014 at 1:37 pm

That kind of weighting would have exactly the opposite effect. Over 75 year olds are seldom interested in the latest fad or buying the latest consumer product and they are much more likely to take a long term view on public policy. 15-30 year old are generally the exact opposite.

Edward Burke May 13, 2014 at 8:34 am

All well and good, except . . . the future does not exist.

Don’t take it from a science satirist, though: but do consider the “growing block universe hypothesis” along with the justly celebrated Fermi Paradox. I take the latter to suggest not only that our galaxy and universe are much less amply populated than most SF lit and movies anticipate, I take it also to suggest that our own future does not exist: not only have we not been visited by aliens, we have not been visited by any of our descendants from more distant reaches of time. (Perhaps rather than “no descendants” the Fermi Paradox simply demonstrates that our descendants will have no access to any “time traveling” technology, just as FP may show only that aliens have not mastered trans-galactic or inter-galactic travel.)

Present circumstance lacking all dependable transparency, I doubt rather much we can vote reliably “on behalf of the future”. If we are in fact equipped to do so, let us begin now a return to Latin. (“Perfecting the past” may prove the only substantive method of influencing the future.)

Kevin May 16, 2014 at 12:16 am

I honestly don’t give the Fermi Paradox much weight. I have yet to see a single reason why a sufficiently advanced civilization could benefit from interacting with us. We could stand to benefit from their scientific and technological prowess, but is it a black and white issue? Consider the case of isolated tribes in various parts of the world. Tribes that have not stumbled upon us, and have no knowledge of western civilization. There is little interest in our civilization, except from some curious anthropologists, to pay any attention to them what so ever, let alone to spend time, money, or resources to interact with them, to reveal our presence or our capabilities to them. So there isn’t some kind of moral imperative in our society to bring science and medicine to fellow human beings who are perceived as having a cultural and technological foundation extremely different than our own.Why would we expect our future selves, who have since developed all kinds of wonders, to have such an imperative towards us?

Another point all together is that there is assumption that we will necessarily benefit from the interaction. If we look at the case of tribes that have interacted with post- industrial societies, they have seen cultural upheaval, not always positive, as they struggle to make sense of what they experience. Often leading to far reaching consequences. Today it is illegal to go out of your way to interact with isolated tribes in many parts of the world. Interfering with garden worlds, or less developed civilizations would likely be a really controversial moral topic. When the civilizations you’re interacting with are your own in the past, things are likely even more complicated still. Interaction, is probably heavily regulated, and the reality is enforcement would be really cheap, and with predictive algorithms, inherently preventative in nature,

We’re getting closer to developing invisible hardware today, if a civilization was advanced enough to come here from another solar system, let alone another galaxy, or heaven forbid another universe, we wouldn’t have a chance in hell of seeing them unless they wanted us to. If they existed, and they found us, the only possible thing they could stand to gain by interacting with us is to pursue their curiosity; we might get Xenobiologists, anthropologists, and tourists, but that is it. Just looking at the present is enough to seriously challenge inherent assumptions in the fermi paradox.

John Mansfield May 13, 2014 at 8:49 am

Let the think tank worrying about the future be the electorate as it currently stands, each member voting for the future as he best estimates its interests and importance to be.

Z May 13, 2014 at 8:50 am

One way to do this is to eliminate sovereign debt. Other than to avoid invasion, there is no reason for a government to borrow money. Local government may have a need to borrow for infrastructure projects, but sovereign states can tax and print what they need. Banning debt, including pensions and entitlements, eliminates one way of obligating future generations that are not around to vote their interests. It has the added benefit of unmasking the trade-offs that are a part of all public policy.

The Other Jim May 13, 2014 at 9:11 am

Funny, because as I was reading this, I invented “Other Jim’s Law.”

To wit: Whenever someone talks about how we need to change our behavior to protect future generations, they are in no way talking about the devastating $17 trillion debt we are sticking them with.

Mark May 13, 2014 at 9:28 am

$17 trillion debt for an economy with nominal GDP of $16.8 trillion? That’s bad, but not devastating. A sober group of economists could figure out a reasonable path out. (Heck, a drunk group would do okay.)

Brian Donohue May 13, 2014 at 10:55 am

Mark, the problem is that we are winding down the ‘seven fat years’ of low dependency ratios due to Baby Boomer’s moving through their peak earning years. This should have been a time of laying up for the future. Oops.

The Other Jim May 13, 2014 at 2:26 pm

>A sober group of economists could figure out a reasonable path out.

Right. They’ve done a great job so far. Ever-toiletward we go.

Wake me at $18 trillion, will you? When’s that, August?

mpowell May 13, 2014 at 2:46 pm

We ended WWII with a larger debt/GDP ratio. That sure was devastating for the quality of life and economic growth in the US for the next several decades wasn’t it? I mean seriously, if you make this your hobby horse have you really put so little thought into the matter that you don’t realize that throwing out that big number means nothing? I know a lot of otherwise accomplished people who buy into this bullshit. Its a little dispiriting for public policy. Its not that hard to figure out its bullshit.

KPres May 13, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Geez, if only we could bomb Europe’s (and now Asia’s) industrial sectors into oblivion so we wouldn’t have any foreign competitors, then we wouldn’t have to worry about debt.

Brian Donohue May 13, 2014 at 4:22 pm

mpowell, at what point does this number cease being bullshit. $30 trillion? $50 trillion? Is your fairy tale without limit?

Can you imagine asking of today’s Americans one-tenth of the forbearance and sacrifice that the 1945 generation shouldered? The richest, fattest country in the world has been moaning like a stuck pig for five years. Our ancestors are embarrassed for us.

And of course 1945 debt cuts both ways. The government budget was slashed after the war, and we had that horrible post-war recession all the Keynesians predicted, right?

mulp May 13, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Without the tax cuts that conservatives promised would pay for themselves and thus pay off the debt faster, the Federal debt would be perhaps as high as 30% of GDP – $4 trillion, which would be more than four times the debt of 1980 when free lunch economics argued lower income made you richer:

Lower taxes would result in more tax income.

Lower wages would result in higher incomes.

Lower net assets would result in greater wealth.

Look at all debt to GDP over time, and it was not just public debt that shot up from 1980 onward, but all forms of private debt. And with the 80s, debt to pay for consumption, ie debt that was not backed by assets, became the primary means of generating GDP growth.

For example, student debt was only given on the education, the tuition, before the 80s. The student was expected to pay for living expenses.

The grants and debt for tuition are like investing in a startup and monitoring the progress along the way, and being willing to write off the investment if metrics show failure to progress. At least the partying was paid for out of the partier’s own earning, or by their parents, but they were flunked out if they didn’t have the work ethic to be a student.

Since 1980, debt for partying is standard practice, something that trains students that debt is the way to be happy. Since the 1980s, debt to pay for immediate consumption is the biggest source of debt. Most debt for housing is for consumption, not for productive assets. The big house is immediate consumption, not productive, unless you are making money by having business engagements in your home. Having a big house to store/display lots of unproductive stuff is consumption.

Going into debt to go on vacation was unthinkable before 1980 and effectively illegal.

Before 1980, bankers were really negative about lending, mostly telling me no. By the 80s, bankers were telling me directly to borrow more, and I was flooded with offers to go into debt.

Conservatives defend high interest debt to pay for consumption to be a public good because it gives people without assets freedom, choice. Before 1980, what bankers do today all the time was criminal.

This is the result of decades of free lunch economists setting global policy on debt as the way to create wealth, and as labor as not the way to create wealth. $1 of labor can produce at best $1 of wealth and most likely only a few pennies, but $1 of cash plus $9 of debt can create wealth by pump and dump churn asset price inflation. Assets since 1980 “always” gain value, unlike before when assets always depreciated in value.

HW Bush did correctly call the economics since 1980 “voodoo economics” in 1980.

Larry Siegel May 14, 2014 at 2:53 am

It sounds like you got a good credit rating around 1980. I’m probably a little older than you and I started getting solicitations to go into debt to go on vacation, buy various things I either did or didn’t need, etc. in the 1970s. Ronald Reagan didn’t invent debt and neither did Walter Wriston. It’s been around since Biblical times and we’ve had both public and private debt crises before.

Z May 13, 2014 at 9:29 am

The counter argument is “But that money is owed to the future generations as well!” That’s correct, but misses the point. Building up long term debt like Social Security defines relationships between people in unborn generations.

Willitts May 13, 2014 at 10:29 am

You are correct, as usual, but it is worse than that.

Future entitlements and future bond payments will be paid for by taxes on the same income streams. The massive redistribution is one problem, but insolvency is another.

Our bulldog mouths are making promises our chihuahua asses can’t pay for.

Privatization of SS will end the redistribution and foster more enlightened planning for the future.

Benefits of large capital spending programs accrue to the future, and so it is most efficient to finance the costs. Unfortunately, the benefits are overestimated and costs underestimated. The solution is to impose fiscal responsibility and limited power on government. It should be obvious to left, right, center, and radicals that vote buying with the public purse is a serious problem.

A Constitutional Convention is overdue.

Z May 13, 2014 at 11:36 am

The trend in human development has been toward ever larger cooperative groups. Old maps of Europe had many smaller political entities. Today they are on the precipice of one single state. The question is whether we have exceeded some natural limits. Since I was born, the Federal government has tripled in per capita size in constant dollars. Yet, it is far less capable of performing the basic duties of government.

FUBAR007 May 13, 2014 at 12:35 pm

“Privatization of SS will end the redistribution and foster more enlightened planning for the future.”

Good luck with that.

The only way libertarians and reactionaries are going to end redistribution–not just SS, but Medicare, welfare, and everything else–is if they revoke universal suffrage i.e. end democracy. And somehow manage to put down the mass uprising that’d inevitably follow.

“A Constitutional Convention is overdue.”

Agreed. Ain’t gonna happen, though.

My pipe dream is that it could be used as an opportunity to re-federate the country, push most functions down to the state level, and reduce the federal government to a mutual defense pact and, maybe, a currency union. Blue America and Red America could finally cut each other loose. Instead of endlessly trying to salvage a lousy, loveless marriage, we could finally negotiate the divorce.

mulp May 13, 2014 at 4:54 pm

“Privatization of SS will end the redistribution and foster more enlightened planning for the future.”

Yet again, free lunch economics.

Since 1980, lots and lots of tax dodging options have been provided to privately fund big retirement benefits on top of SS, but the net worth of median person retiring since the 80s has been declining, and they end up barely getting by on SS and often needing SSI.

Those getting SS vote heavily Republican, but no Republican calls for big immediate cuts to SS benefit payments, three decades after Republicans created all sorts of tax dodges to “create wealth” by private savings which should have resulted in those over 65 today not needing SS benefits.

How about cutting SS benefits based on a calculation of the amount the retire should have saved tax free from their income, so if someone had the equivalent of $100,000 today, they should have saved say $20,000 tax free for retirement, and earned 5% and thus have several million in tax delayed savings?

If you argue that those who had economic difficulty over the years and didn’t save, or had to cash out their savings, then you are arguing that saving for retirement is not just for retirement, just like SS is not just for retirement.

Half the people getting SS benefits are not retirees living off their SS earned by working and paying SS taxes. A good portion of retirees did work, but their own benefits would be lower than their portion of shared benefits of their spouse. Others are getting benefits without ever working because a parent died or became disabled.

SS benefits are paid regardless of the success of taking yet another risk in earning money – a person who builds things using everything he has and makes a lot of money earns benefits that do not go away if he takes another big risk, and fails totally.

By the way, all boomers grew up being told, “SS won’t be there when you get old”, but that stopped in 1983 when Reagan “saved SS” by hiking the payroll tax and cutting benefits:

“This bill demonstrates for all time our nation’s ironclad commitment to social security. It assures the elderly that America will always keep the promises made in troubled times a half a century ago. It assures those who are still working that they, too, have a pact with the future. From this day forward, they have our pledge that they will get their fair share of benefits when they retire.”

Gerard Mason May 13, 2014 at 12:32 pm

That’s right, it’s odd that the people most fervent about saving the planet by forbidding development also seem to be the ones most amenable to saddling future generations with enormous debt. It’s as though no one ever asked if those things were consistent.

Of course, future generations might simply decide, sovereignly, that they won’t pay, or will only pay in suitably-degraded fiat. Either way, lender beware. Makes you wonder if the ancient Biblical idea of a Jubilee every fifty years, where all existing debts are forgiven, wasn’t actually rather advanced. A loan whose term was a Jubilee year would presumably incur a much higher rate of interest than one that was intended to be paid back, like a kind of hire purchase.

ThomasH May 20, 2014 at 6:28 am

Please, please stop assuming that more deficit implies more present consumption and less future consumption.

jdm May 13, 2014 at 8:51 am

Prediction markets are highly valuable. We should legalize them in the U.S. and encourage their use. That said, I am unpersuaded that they would do much to address the fundamental problem Wells’ is addressing – that the interests, however defined, of the people of the future (more than several decades out) are given no weight in policy considerations.

By your (untypical) convoluted phrasing of the mechanism by which such markets could help us care about the future, “[they] can be designed to be credibly motivated by a variety of goals”, I wonder if you are also a little unsure. How can a market be “motivated”, credibly or otherwise? Only people can be motivated. It’s true that one could design an index that measures welfare in a broad sense as you indicate. It’s true that prediction markets could assess the likely impact on such an index by various policy proposals. But it’s much less clear that having such an index, and seeing the effects of various policy proposals on it, would make people care. Knowing the future, as best as one can know it, does not necessarily encourage people to care about it.

Had they existed twenty years ago, prediction markets would have predicted with near certainty that the pensions being offered to state and municipal workers in Illinois were unaffordable. To anyone who paid the least bit of attention to this, this was obvious, and civic organizations routinely warned that at some point the whole thing would collapse. Yet nothing was done about the issue, the average citizen remained completely indifferent to the issue, and only now, when the large bills are coming due, that the hand wringing has started in earnest.

Climate scientists have been warning for years about the inevitable collapse of the great ice sheets from global warming, leading to the submersion of all our coastal cities withing a century or two. Yet people remain supremely indifferent. Despite what they may say, to judge by their actions most people simply do not care what happens to their grandchildren and subsequent descendants. I don’t see how prediction markets would change that.

You linked to a good post yesterday from Cherokee Gothic in which he notes that US carbon emissions have been falling over the last few years mostly because coal is being replaced by cheap gas in electrical generation. This is true, but the reason gas has displaced some coal in the U.S. is not because it is less carbon intensive, it’s because it’s currently cheaper. If gas becomes more expensive than coal, we will go back to coal, regardless of carbon emissions. People only care about the number that shows up on their utility bill this month, not the many other real costs that are accruing to them and their descendants from climate change.

But by all means, we should encourage prediction markets. They could do some good by exposing some of the absurdities of the anti-science crowd who now, unfortunately, dominate the Republican party.

Fembot May 13, 2014 at 9:16 am

-1, for injecting boring political hackery into a debate about mechanisms

jdm May 13, 2014 at 9:45 am

I’m sorry if it offends your sensibilities, but the anti-science (e.g. global warming is a hoax) platform of one of the two major political parties in the U.S. is highly relevant to any discussion of the potential benefits of prediction markets. (Don’t get me wrong. i hate the Democrats too, for different reasons).

Just Another MR Commentor May 13, 2014 at 9:56 am

Sorry that’s just your incorrect opinion

Chip May 13, 2014 at 9:59 am

Oh please, you’re a political back with transparently no knowledge of climate science today.

We’re indifferent to the complete collapse of ice sheets because – contrary to predictions – Antarctic ice is at a record since satellite measurements began and arctic multi year ice is up 50%.

I’m so tired of hectoring dunces.

frothferous May 13, 2014 at 10:31 am

Is Chip a satirical commenter as well?

Zephyrus May 13, 2014 at 4:04 pm

And yet another ignoramus opines about things he has no clue about.

Your identity politics and mood affiliation have no bearing on reality, and you say things that you have no particular knowledge of the truthfulness of or relevance of just because they sound like they discredit something and a blog your read posted them. Take a hint: you’re a bullshitter, and not a particularly bright one.

Willitts May 13, 2014 at 10:36 am

You mean the pro-science crowd that loses climate data and adjustment processes, ignores contrary evidence, manipulates the peer review process, strangles the grant process, moans on every above-average cooling day, and relies on observations from glacier climbers?

AGW is certainly a hoax, but when it is combined with greed it becomes fraud. When combined with public policy, it becomes treason.

Zephyrus May 13, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Rage, rage against science because it conflicts with your ideological predilections! The angrier you get and the more insulting you get, the more you make the problem go away!

Andrew' May 13, 2014 at 10:49 am

1. I have no strong opinions, and neither should anyone, PROBABLY including the climatologists with their toy models still tweaking their calibrations
2. I’ve noticed they never want to talk about actual solutions, only strawmen. If they ever discuss any solution it is just carbon credits and carbon taxes. By all means, get on with the direct replacement consumption tax. Waiting…still waiting.
3. I have invented a system to solve global warming and it isn’t geoengineering. I’m not sure it will work, but I have a day job.
4. I’m not anti-science. I’m extremely pro science, which is why I continually point out the flaws of the science-booster/science finance complex.

Andrew' May 13, 2014 at 10:54 am

For global warming and future voting, get the discount rate right. So, along with futarchy, and NDGPLT, let’s have a discount rate market.

mulp May 13, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Is your solution to kill jobs and burn natural capital because in a time of high unemployment and millions abandoning work because work is highly disapproved of by society based on the low price (wages) offered for the unwanted labor to discourage working?

Or is your solution based on a return to capitalism by pouring labor into building productive assets that harvest energy from the wind and sun and pouring labor into the capital intensive high efficiency methods of heating and cooling like drill baby drill ground source heat pumps powered by wind and solar built with lots of labor in the drilling, factory construction of heat pumps, and the installation of the systems? Making the Tesla Model S the standard of car performance, especially when powered by Solar City power?

Is capitalism all about destroying capital so the world has less of value over time, or is capitalism about using labor to create more assets of ever greater value over time.

How can blowing up a mountain to burn a thin layer of coal be something that creates long term value? That is done to kill jobs in coal mining – the cost of underground mining to get to that coal is far to high to compete with wind power. Even when underground mining is the best option, today’s news makes it clear the cost of labor is too high to compete with wind so the mining is done with too little labor committed to safety and even at that, the coal mining company is insolvent.

And on 2, you sure aren’t looking for people talking about actual solutions. Elon Musk concluded long ago that the solutions were clear and that the risk of the solutions would not working were low enough to commit every resource he had, and has.

Robin Hanson May 13, 2014 at 11:45 am

The idea isn’t that the prediction market makes people care, the idea is that if we did care we could implement that concern and commit to it via committing to act on the recommendations of prediction markets.

jdm May 13, 2014 at 12:55 pm

I agree with that statement, and with that general approach. The conditional is important though. The facts seem to indicate that in aggregate, we don’t care much about what happens a few decades from now, let alone a few centuries. Given a choice between saving a penny per kwh on their electric bill and condemning all future generations to a biologically impoverished, climatically unstable world, my sense is that most people would not hesitate to choose the former.

Rich Berger May 13, 2014 at 8:51 am

I wonder if undocumented future workers will get a vote.

Brent May 13, 2014 at 8:53 am

Giving them life itself seems like a pretty great gift, even without considering the likelihood of a world where they have more leisure and consumption.

Michael Foody May 13, 2014 at 8:54 am

Maximum voting age of 70. None of their input will be missed.

Willitts May 13, 2014 at 10:38 am

Only net contributors to GDP should get to vote. Then every expenditure on the poor will clearly be charity instead of theft.

Michael Foody May 13, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Private property is itself a social construct. Nothing kept the second person to observe the invention of fire from starting his own. No force but violence kept someone from using land claimed by another. The rules we abide by are a mass hallucination meant to materially improve life. Claiming taxation as theft is as silly as claiming interest as theft.

KPres May 13, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Nope. In order to take the borrowers money as interest, the borrower has to approve of the conditions first. That’s why it’s not theft. When the state takes as taxation, the taxpayer has no opportunity to decline. That’s why it’s theft. Whether any of this is a “social construct” is irrelevant.

Michael Foody May 13, 2014 at 2:19 pm

That consent is the test of property is an illusion. Violence is the test of property (or convenience or secret knowledge). Property is just an object until violence makes it someone’s. Property is just a game of unlimited violence musical chairs, markets are just the time between songs.

KPres May 13, 2014 at 2:39 pm

@Foody

Wrong again. An object initially belongs to whomever created or discovered it. If you take it through violence, that’s theft. If you take it with consent, that’s not theft.

Michael Foody May 13, 2014 at 2:46 pm

object initially belongs to whomever created or discovered it. If you take it through violence, that’s theft. If you take it with consent, that’s not theft.
Ha ha, nice bedtime story on the how property works. Maybe tonight I’ll gaze up on Armstrong’s moon if he let’s me.

mpowell May 13, 2014 at 2:49 pm

KPres: Well I’m glad that we’ve settled then that nobody owns anything without a history of violence in its chain of ownership. So we can junk your model for rightful ownership and move on to something that we might actually be able to use.

KPres May 13, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Thanks for conceding. Anyway, if the US Government that Neil Armstrong worked for had wanted to claim the moon they could have and it would have been theirs.

KPres May 13, 2014 at 3:22 pm

@mpowell: I’m sure your “new” model will be very successful. A veritable worker’s paradise, no doubt.

Michael Foody May 13, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Fortunately private property as adjudicated by a democratically elected government works better than ‘collective ownership’ which is merely an alternative fiction. However under the status quo system neither taxation or interest is theft. These systems are man-made inventions, technologies for solving a problem, not some sort of metaphysical truism about the nature of the universe.

KPres May 13, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Nothing is a metaphysical truism so I don’t see why that’s relevant. What makes taxation theft is a consistant applied definition of the word “theft”, ie, not attaching some arbitrary “except when the government does it” exclusion. Taxation is theft. If you want to argue taxation is the lesser of two evils or something along that lines that’s fine but it’s still theft.

Michael Foody May 13, 2014 at 5:01 pm

You use your own language that only let’s you talk to objectivists and I’ll keep using English.

Tarrou May 13, 2014 at 8:58 am

How about giving the past a vote?

Willitts May 13, 2014 at 10:39 am

They must be content with grave rolling.

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 9:00 am

Let’s approach this from a different angle. Let’s say we are really evil and we *want* to live better today and we are perfectly happy to do it by taking from the future. How is it possible to pull that off?

Load up on debt? Errr no not really. Debt isn’t a time machine, it’s a redistribution machine. If you want to borrow $100B for fun and games today someone today will spend $100B less on fun and games to buy those bonds. Tomorrow while some taxpayers will have $100B less to spend on fun and games, the lucky kid who inherits those bonds will have $100B more (plus interest).

Don’t educate the children? Well you gotta do something with the kids in the present moment and unsupervised, uneducated kids don’t start causing trouble 50 years from now, they cause trouble almost right now. Don’t spend as much on long term infrastructure? I suppose…slap more paint on the bridge so it goes another year rather than rebuilding it from scratch right now. Even these, though, don’t really take income from the ‘deep future’. Stop maintaining the roads and they will become impossible to deal with in less than a decade, not centuries from now.

I put forth that it’s probably IMPOSSIBLE to really short change the future for the benefit of the present moment. I would also argue that evidence to support this assertion can be seen by the fact that it hasn’t seemed to have happened. Consider, during the Dark Ages life was short, nasty and brutish for almost the entire population. A trivial portion of what we enjoy today could have made a huge difference to that population if only there was some way to load it up into a time machine and send it backwards. Do you really think the population that burned witches at the stake and put energy into finding so many ways to torture people felt so much virtue in future generations that they wouldn’t even deny us a slightly less new Xbox system in order that they could live to 60 rather than 40?

Note what I am not saying is that it is impossible to make the future less well off than it could be. For example, Europe in 1955 would have been a better place if Hitler and Stalin weren’t so Hitlerish and Stalinist in the 30′s and 40′s. But they weren’t making the 30′s and 40′s better at expense of 1955, they made the 30′s and 40′s much worse than the 50′s so that wasn’t a true ‘chrono-transfer’ from future to past.

I challenge the commentors and Alex to demonstrate I’m wrong.

Mike May 13, 2014 at 9:15 am

Detroit… next?

Brian Donohue May 13, 2014 at 9:35 am

“I put forth that it’s probably IMPOSSIBLE to really short change the future for the benefit of the present moment.”

Cant and sophistry on behalf of the drug pushers of debt.

Surely, it is possible for one generation to improve the lot of the next generation. This was the story of this country for a couple hundred years. So, of course the opposite can occur. And is.

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 11:46 am

Of course the opposite can happen, but I was very specific in my conditions. I’m not talking about a horrible decision that leaves the next generation worse off. There’s plenty of those. For example, the post-Soviet USSR was worse off because of what the USSR did. BUT my condition is the USSR had to have had it *Better*. because of what they did. I don’t think you can make that argument.

Brian Donohue May 13, 2014 at 5:47 pm

The way I see it, spending $17 trillion more than you collect falls under “horrible decision that leaves the next generation worse off.” Because, unlike trained macro-economists, I have not mastered the techniques of magical thinking.

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 11:43 am

You’re saying the Detroit of, say, 1980 somehow transferred income away from the Detroit of 2010? How did they do that exactly?

sort_of_knowledgable May 13, 2014 at 4:35 pm

So you are saying that Detroit of the 1980′s made promises of retirement benefits and loan repayments to creditors was transferring income from the workers and the creditors at the time and it just came to light in 2010. It was not actually transferred from 2010. An alternate way of looking at it is that the creditors would not have given Detroit the ability to consume in 1980, but deferred consumption to fund alternate capital consumption so they would be repaid in 2010 and thus Detroit in 1980 transferred income from the creditors in 2010.

Boonton May 14, 2014 at 12:01 am

It’s very simple. We are both in a boarding school. Each day we get a cheeseburger for lunch. One day I say to you “I’m really hungry, let me eat your burger today and tomorrow I’ll give you mine”. I eat two burgers today and you eat none. Tomorrow I pay my debt and you get to eat two burgers. The cook isn’t making any more or less food today or tomorrow. To me it feels like I ‘moved’ a burger forward in time so I could eat two today. I didn’t, I just redistributed consumption in different time periods.

OK, so what if tomorrow they discover the meat is tainted and don’t cook anything? Well you don’t get to eat two burgers. That’s tough for you but the ‘debt’ didn’t cause that to happen. If burger production stops, burger consumption stops. Detroit produced car sales and consumed things like retirement benefits. When it stopped producing sales, it’s consumption stopped. Being very frugal in 1980 wouldn’t have addressed that underlying problem that bites Detroit today.

John Mansfield May 13, 2014 at 9:49 am

Natural resource extraction and manufacturing that leave toxic residue are a way of living for today and leaving costly consequence for the future.

mpowell May 13, 2014 at 2:53 pm

This is a good point, but I think Boonton is largely correct.

J May 13, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I think this is a great point, though I disagree about the debt. Taking on debt to finance consumption doesn’t require an equal reduction in somebody else’s current consumption. It can take the form of reduced capital formation. We could “steal” money from the future by failing to invest in net capital formation and just partying now.

I think the other way to “steal” from them is to fail to clean up our environmental messes right now and sticking them with that bill. But yes point taken, it’s harder than it sounds to just “steal” from the future.

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Does the future have a property right in our present? One could just as easily view capital formation as the future ‘stealing’ from our present.

Consider the Lincoln Tunnel. It was built nearly a century ago for a fraction of what it would cost to build it today from scratch and today it provides tens of thousands of vehicles access to Manhatten every day. If some terrorist blew it up, the cost would no doubt run into the billions. Yet did those who built it a hundred years ago get anything like the benefit it has provided over such a long timespan? If they could increase the tolls by only $0.05 and send that back in time to those people it would be a huge blessing for them while it would hardly be noticed by today’s drivers. So whose really stolen what here?

J May 13, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Well I think the concept of who has more of a “right” becomes kind of meaningless. Either we the living care about our great-grandchildren’s welfare or we don’t, and that should guide the decision. That’s why I put “steal” in scare quotes. I mean, capital formation is kind of like the future “stealing” from the present, but again we use scare quotes because present people care about their future consumption and the future consumption of the next generations, and that’s why we get the level of capital we get, not because of who has more “rights” in the matter.

In your below example, you’re pretty much describing the basic dynamics of capital formation a la Solow. But people’s saving behavior affects the steady state amount of capital and thus income. One person is not likely to make a huge difference, but if many people’s time preferences shifted or they decided they don’t care at all about their children or whatever, they would save less for a given interest rate, and that would result in lower capital formation.

Boonton May 14, 2014 at 12:04 am

Lower capital formation would mean a greater return on capital. People in the middle ages didn’t build European cities because they were concerned about their great-great-great-great grandchildren’s ability to consume a new Xbox every year rather than every two years. They did so because they felt rewarded in their present to do so.

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 2:45 pm

More technically, if consumption today is paid for by reducing capital formation the marginal return on capital would rise. The opportunity cost of, say, going on a round the world vacation rather than starting a business, would increase.

So in that world you happen to have $100K and so does your neighbor. You do the year long cruise and blow it. Your neighbor buys a pizza oven and opens a pizza shop. Because of the lack of capital formation, the return on capital is now higher. Your neighbor, in the future, is earning more from his investment than he otherwise would have. How is he earning more? Because people in the future are paying more for pizza and giving the $$$ to him. He gets to consume more because they are consuming less. Why does pizza cost more? Because years ago only one pizza shop was created rather than two.

Andrew' May 13, 2014 at 5:25 pm

But you haven’t expanded the pie!

Andrew' May 13, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Kids love peeing in a well. Old folks use too much end of life care. On the whole we probably under-invest in research (especially things like anti-aging because the pay-off is in the future). It’s easy to come up with things although it may be hard to prove them as falsifying your claim.

Bill May 13, 2014 at 9:11 am

Much of what we do today is for the future.

We build a road…that lasts into the future. We build a fighter jet, that lasts into the future. I pay property taxes to pay for the education of a kid or to build a school, and the kid will live in the future.

We build a high speed, that lasts into the future, oh, sorry, we didn’t build that because we were focused on today.

Sorry. But, it seems to me we do plenty of spending for the future in our budgets, and we also commit today to fund, say, VA benefits to a veteran in the future.

How much of our today spending is really for the present alone, and how much of it is for the future, and can you even make a neat dividing line.

Fembot May 13, 2014 at 9:19 am

We fly to Shanghai to eat at Denny’s….

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Part of your airline ticket goes towards investments in IT systems to make booking air travel easier, investing in planes, investing in the aviation infrastructure etc. part of what you buy at Denny’s goes towards investment as well.

And if you really did this, you’d lay out say $5000 to eat a meal at Dennys. Fine, that means you’re going to spend a lot less consuming other things. No daily Starbucks for you for quite a while.

Andrew' May 13, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Now you are just demonstrating how easy it is to hand wave in economics. Any microscopic waste or preferable opportunity cost is a net problem despite some sub-benefits.

The question is what examples would we systematically think we are making ourselves better off now at the expense of later. I have largely come to your conclusion, but something like anti-aging research makes me think it is not a generalized solution.

It’s also interesting that people think that voting, politicians and their 2-4 year time horizons will help.

Mike May 13, 2014 at 9:27 am

I agree …assuming the orgiinal infrastucture investment is wise. This will determine whether the future inherits a net asset or a net liability… I learned about the website I posted only yesterday from a EconTalk podcast…thought provoking.

Florian May 13, 2014 at 9:52 am

“I agree …assuming the orgiinal infrastucture investment is wise. This will determine whether the future inherits a net asset or a net liability”

I wonder: how can the future inherit a net liability?

The nature of any investment is, that it requires some sacrifice in the present in order to have some capital (and the resulting benefit) in the future.
Even if the investment is not wise (that is: large sacrifice today for little gain in the future) i don’t see how the future could be worse off because of today’s investments.

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 11:52 am

I’ve posed this question to Austrian oriented economics types who talk about ‘malinvestment’. Even a ‘bridge to nowhere’ is strictly speaking not a net liability. Even if it was stupid to build in, say, 2000 the people of 2010 can still use the bridge to do useful things like get from point a to point b.

Perhaps the Chernobyl power plant is such an example. Whatever power it produced probably pales in comparison to the costs of just keeping it from leaking radioactive material for the next few thousand years. So unlike, say, a useless bridge, we future people don’t even have the option to just ignore it…instead we must spend resources today to keep it’s harm at a min. This, however, is an exception. Most poorly planed capital investments can still be put to useful work today and is done so as the market works its magic. How many high end office chairs brought by dot-com startups, for example, were sold cheaply at bankruptcy auctions and are now making butts quite comfortable…even as we near two decades later!

Andrew' May 13, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Because you could have built the bridge in the profitable location. What Austrians deal with is why you would think the unprofitable location was going to be profitable.

So, is Chernobyl an exception, or just an extreme?

Boonton May 14, 2014 at 12:11 am

That is outside the bounds I set up in my original comment. Yes if I became a rapper in HS maybe I would be a thousand times richer today. If Hitler and Stalin weren’t dicks, life would be better in the world today. That’s not transferring income from the future to the past nor making the present (or what was the present) better at the expense of the future.

Even Chernobyl makes for a poor example. Chernobyl is a pain today. Back in the 80′s it was killing people and scaring the crap out of a lot more. I guess before it blew up it seemed like it was making life better but it’s not obvious to me that the poor decisions that caused it to blow up could really be described as a failure to ‘invest’.

Brian Donohue May 13, 2014 at 9:36 am

Well yeah, there’s spending, then there’s the more awkward part of financing the spending.

Willitts May 13, 2014 at 10:42 am

Cost-benefit analysis is perverted when the people currently performing (or not) the analysis don’t have to pay for it.

There is no question some benefits accrue to the future. A brief look at the past should convince you that costs are routinely underestimated and benefits overestimated.

Andrew' May 13, 2014 at 10:56 am

Except, Bill, I think you draw the wrong conclusion.

Doing these things on credit commits the future to pay for them.

So in some ways, to be considerate of the future we should live more for today.

Bill May 13, 2014 at 11:23 am

Andrew’, No, doing it in credit means that the future pays for the current investment that they will be consuming in the future. The issue is whether the liability will be matched by a benefit in the future of greater value.

Think of it this way: If IBM buys an asset today, issues a bond for purchasing it, and makes profit from the investment in the future.

The distinction between today and tomorrow is a construct. Put it in a broader context. A person today paying in the future for something they receive as a benefit over the course of time.

We don’t buy one day and die the next. We live, for the most part, during the lives of useful assets, and get the benefit of them.

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 11:57 am

This only makes sense if you’re talking about an individual or a piece of the whole. If I borrow today I transfer consumption from my future to the present. In the future I will consume less as I make my credit card payments.

It makes no sense for the whole, though. In the present moment someone or something consumed less in order for my credit card to work. That someone will consume more in the future as I make my payments. Debt can only redistribute consumption in the present moment, it is not some magical time machine that violates the laws of physics by transferring the future to the present.

If it was we’d be fools not to use it.

Bill May 13, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Boon, Please explain to me why it is foolish for me to buy a car on credit when I will be using it in the future? I would be dramatically curtailing my CURRENT consumption of other goods if I had to pay cash for something that gave me a benefit over time.

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Bill,

It’s not foolish. But keep in mind if you buy a car today on credit it means there’s someone or something else that *could have* brought that car cash but instead choose to lend the money to you. Your spending today has been offset by someone else’s decreased spending today. Likewise over time you will decrease your spending to make your car payments. Those payments become someone else’s opportunity to spend.

The borrowing does not transfer a car from the future to the present moment for you to drive so it does not ‘cost’ the future anything.

Bill May 13, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Boon,

re your argument: ” The borrowing does not transfer a car from the future to the present moment for you to drive so it does not ‘cost’ the future anything.”

I think you have it backwards: If you purchase a car now on credit, you pay for it now, AND in the future when you get the benefit of it as well.

Do you walk or do you drive?

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 11:51 pm

OK you are correct, in the future you will presumably enjoy the benefit of the car so, hopefully, you won’t mind as much giving up some of your power to consume (aka making your payment).

However in the future you will be consuming less of the economy’s output because of your decision to buy the car today.

Dan May 13, 2014 at 9:50 am

Generations yet unborn have the right to vote. Until they are conceived, in which case there is a suspension of the right for 18 years and 9 months. The 9 months are the tricky part, when your future voting rights may be permanently revoked.

Dan Weber May 13, 2014 at 9:53 am

They would need to be credibly motivated to defend the basic interests of future generations as a whole, rather than certain favoured subsets

I can’t help but think that this is code for “other interests have corrupted the future, so you should put me in charge, and I will be fair to everyone,” meaning “fair to my favored subsets.” And sure enough, that follows.

NPW May 13, 2014 at 10:23 am

This.

Rob42 May 13, 2014 at 9:54 am

This view that the future should have a voice in our decision making process strikes me as wrong. Should children have a voice in how their parent’s spend what would otherwise be the childrens’ inheritance? “Sorry, Dad. I know you and mom wanted to see Europe one last time, but a trip overseas is really expensive. I’d really prefer to have the money to take my wife and kids to Europe once you die. Why don’t you just have a cappuccino instead?”

Whatever future generations get from us is a gift, just as whatever we received from our ancestors was a gift. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to preserve it, but I reject the idea that the future has any entitlement to what they receive.

Chip May 13, 2014 at 10:02 am

Interesting that he wants to hand votes to environmentalists who clamor that the environment is collapsing even as environmental conditions improve in most of the world, and will in the rest once they clear about $7000 per capita GDP.

Did he express any concern for permanent deficits and unfunded liabilities?

Just Another MR Commentor May 13, 2014 at 10:21 am

The solution to all that is to make economic growth rates suring through mass immigration.

chuck martel May 13, 2014 at 10:03 am

The only worrying about the future in the past was directed at the next generation and that became meaningless when the next generation shoved mom and dad over by the fireplace and gained access to the bank account. This has come up now as more fodder for the climate change hysteria. No one seems to question the fact that the “founding fathers” locked the future of the inhabitants of a portion of North America into a system of government that has become increasingly bureaucratic, expensive and complex.

Art Deco May 14, 2014 at 9:41 am

I would not stick James Madison with the bill for the sort of government favored by the likes of Henry Waxman. The latter required systematic disregard for binding constitutional provisions.

Sam Toolan May 13, 2014 at 10:20 am

So show me an example of how this would work in an organization, and then maybe we can apply it to the public sector. Do betting markets improve the performance of private companies? Maybe a CEO for a publicly traded company puts his decisions forth to shareholders, and then makes the decision based on whether or not stock prices go up (meaning investors expect better profits in the future)? Not that it couldn’t work, but I don’t see anyone doing this.

Just Another MR Commentor May 13, 2014 at 10:22 am

CEOs already respond very well the shareholder goals

Willitts May 13, 2014 at 10:44 am

I can think of a few counterexamples.

Robin Hanson May 13, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Here a way it could work: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/04/if-i-had-a-mill.html But its true that firms haven’t been willing to do this stuff (yet).

Sam Toolan May 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Im not sure I understand. In the link, the “two conditional markets” are both just that–conditional. So you bet on an outcome a given condition, but say that condition does not come to pass. The CEO does not step down. What now? Are you now broke and out of money? Do you hedge your bet by also betting on the opposite condition?

There’s no incentive to join the market if you can lose your money simply because the board doesn’t listen to the market. What do investors gain from joining a conditional market?

Robin Hanson May 13, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Conditional bets are called off if the condition is not met.

Kevin Erdmann May 13, 2014 at 10:37 am

Future moral norms will likely be downright offensive to us in some ways, just like our norms wouldn’t sit well with most of our ancestors. Somehow I doubt that Mr. Wells would be that excited about defending the future where it doesn’t meet his approval.

The Anti-Gnostic May 13, 2014 at 10:56 am

The future belongs to those who show up. Muslims, Amish, Mormons, Hasidim and Catholics are showing up. The rest of us aren’t.

Marie May 13, 2014 at 11:41 am

Catholics aren’t much showing up. No bred papal super army, sigh.

Walk into most American parishes, grey hair everywhere. You might see one young couple with a few kids and an under-seige look in their eyes.

Now, there are still some nondenominational Christian churches out there that might have a parcel of kids to show up later. And I’d guess there are some overseas Catholic churches where the word has not gotten out yet and people are still having more than two kids per family.

Art Deco May 13, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Walk into most American parishes, grey hair everywhere.

A sure sign you haven’t been in a Catholic parish lately.

Marie May 14, 2014 at 7:58 am

We parish hop in my area.
Out of the dozen or so we bop around to, I’d count two where I’m likely to see a number of kids. I’d doubt half of them would have a family that outsizes ours at any given Sunday Mass (I’ve got three kids and a present husband).
People do self-select these days since you don’t have to go to the neighborhood parish, so there will be parishes with average age of 65 and parishes with average age younger. And I’m sure geography counts. But I don’t think the new traditionalist movements are turning around the American Catholic culture in general, or that waves of immigration are doing it. They are nice stalls, but we’re in decline, demographically. My friend with six kids feels under fire at her parish, she’s looked at as just another irresponsible breeder sucking up the planet’s resources, like she’d be looked at anywhere else. I got the “so, is this your last kid? It’s ours, we’re not having any more” comment/question in the back room at my kid’s *baptism*.

No, generally even Catholics consider our one big obligation to future humans to be making sure there are fewer of them.

Art Deco May 14, 2014 at 9:36 am

Madam, you said your parishes were suffused with old people, which is what you’d see in a mainline protestant congregation. Catholic parishes are disappointments in a half-dozen ways and they’re missing young singles, but they’re not geriatric centers.

Marie May 14, 2014 at 11:48 am

Well, I wouldn’t put us in the mainline Protestant church boat yet, but we started way behind them in oldifying and dumping kids, we’re doing our best to catch up.

My experience is clearly different from yours, I wonder if it is because we have a low Hispanic population where I live? That skews things.

You really see a number of large, young families in your parish? Is it not possible that your parish is friendly to them so they tend to aggregate there? Or do you just think my characterization of congregations as largely grey is hyperbole, but you agree that when folks see a family with five young kids in the grocery store they no longer think “they must be Catholic”? (Personally, I tend to think “that must be a day care field trip”).

http://pollingmatters.gallup.com/2013/02/a-look-at-us-catholic-population.html

Art Deco May 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Nope. Haven’t lived my life in areas with masses of hispanics.

Marie May 15, 2014 at 8:04 am

That’s not what I asked, I asked if your experience were that Catholic parishes today have a large proportion of young to middle aged people with families.

Trying to reconcile my experience (and, to a degree, the numbers) with your claims. But I guess I’ll just have to face the fact that you’ve proven I haven’t been in a Catholic church lately. I must have been mistaken in thinking that I had been.

careless May 13, 2014 at 9:21 pm

The seriously faithful of all denominations are breeding. Average Catholics are not all that much.

Marie May 14, 2014 at 7:59 am

I do understand the Tridentine Mass parish has a ton of kids running about. But it’s unfortunately a smaller parish overall. It can buck the trend but I just don’t see it setting it.

Urso May 13, 2014 at 10:46 am

Would be a laff riot; imagine asking people in 1964 “now imagine the people of 2014 had a vote in today’s election. What would be their #1 priority?” Odds that “gay marriage” and “global warming” would have come up? No, I’m sure the 1964′ers would be convinced that the #1 priority for 2014 citizens would’ve been containing the Red Menace.

Andrew' May 13, 2014 at 10:58 am

“Red Menace”

Do you refer to containing today’s Red Menace that is working their asses off to give us cheap stuff and lending us money?

Urso May 13, 2014 at 11:59 am

“I believe that the people of 2014 will agree with me that it’s ‘better dead than Red.’ Therefore I vote in favor of burying dozens of nuclear bombs irreversibly set to go off in 50 years. Trust me, I’m doing them a favor.”

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Did the generation that passed Jim Crow give the future Civil Rights generation a vote?

dangerman May 13, 2014 at 10:59 am
The Anti-Gnostic May 13, 2014 at 11:01 am

The solution, broadly stated, is to align ownership incentives with governance.

History is cyclical, not linear. Democratic governments are running out of future, so we are headed to neo-feudalism.

Nathan W May 13, 2014 at 11:11 am

They weren’t all that democratic to start with, in many respects.

I think we should test the limits of truly participatory democratic society before deciding to give totalitarian inclinations another try.

The Anti-Gnostic May 13, 2014 at 11:22 am

We already know what happens when we “test the limits of truly participatory democratic society”: there will always be more takers than makers; the takers will vote for free stuff until the makers quit or leave.

Feudalism is authoritarian, not totalitarian. Only socialism requires a totalitarian regime, because socialist premises do not align with reality. (Same with political correctness.)

Chris Hansen May 13, 2014 at 11:07 am

This would just end up solidifying into concepts such as “the people” and “the land” and “thousand year regimes” or possibly the “general will”. Liberty and respect for living breathing individuals is the worst solution to the problems of the world except for all the others.

Nathan W May 13, 2014 at 11:09 am

Isn’t that what a lot of environmentalism is about? Giving the future a say by not completely raping the earth before the future arrives?

I mean, the economy probably won’t completely implode if we engage in development processes in ways which are less likely to lead to species extinction or excessively rapid exploitation of existing non-renewable resources.

This isn’t the only voice. But it needs to be at the table.

The Anti-Gnostic May 13, 2014 at 11:44 am

No. That was Old Environmentalism. Things like wildlife management, land stewardship, toxic waste, huge wilderness areas for white backpackers to walk around in.

Old Environmentalism is in total conflict with things like moving Third Worlders to First World and New World countries so they can increase their consumption. We’ve since moved on from all that old, white hippy stuff to New Environmentalism: incorporeal notions like “climate change” which don’t actually involve things like banning fossil fuel combustion but are addressed through multi-billion dollar financial exchanges, subsidies, tax credits, etc.

OldCurmudgeon May 13, 2014 at 11:12 am

>Such voters would have to be more than human.
LOL, Citizens United on steroids.

Mesa May 13, 2014 at 11:12 am

This is a rare case of a philosopher not thinking big enough. What the human race needs is a purpose. The rest of it (planning for the future) will take care of itself. Absent a purpose, we inevitably get short term planning/consumption maximization.

The Anti-Gnostic May 13, 2014 at 11:53 am

That void is typically filled by religious faith. It’s hard to get people to agree on a common faith; you’d best just give them their own countries. Also, there are lots of people who want to outlaw religious faith.

Marie May 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

We already have a mechanism for balancing our needs as individuals against the needs of future people, or for that matter foreign people or just the guy down the street.

It’s called morality. Unfortunately, the concept has been discredited as a motivating factor for a culture. So we’re out of luck. Or rather, they’re out of luck. If we rely on any political device, technologized or no, to safeguard the rights and welfare of a group outside of ourselves, we’ll fail.

Chong May 13, 2014 at 11:37 am

The near term future will be much like the present.
Taking care of the present is probably the best thing for the future.

Predicting the long term is a fool’s errand.

Engineer May 13, 2014 at 11:38 am

Such voters would have to be more than human. I am thinking of civic organisations, such as charitable foundations, environmentalist advocacy groups or non-partisan think tanks.

Better solution is that only people with kids would be allowed to vote.

Art Deco May 13, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I love the bourgeois intelligentsia. They’ll be remarkably inventive to avoid a situation they consider intolerable – that public policy is influenced by the opinions of people they consider their inferiors (i.e. the rest of us). Thus you have a mess like this (ballots for the non-profit blob) and what is called in our time ‘constitutional jurisprudence’ .

Matthew May 13, 2014 at 1:37 pm

No, this is all wrong. Prediction markets perform well only because individuals in the prediction market have no incentive not to bet their beliefs. When ulterior motives are introduced–like skewing election commentary or passing legislation–then prediction markets go haywire. Don’t you remember how Romney backers dumped millions into prediction markets to try to make it appear for a while that Romney was ahead? And that was a situation where nothing even depended on the outcome of the prediction market. This is an especially big problem in societies with extreme inequality, like the US, because there really are individuals who are so wealthy as to be able to make prediction markets say whatever they want them to say.

Art Deco May 13, 2014 at 2:31 pm

The United States is not a society of ‘extreme inequality’.

KPres May 13, 2014 at 3:27 pm

I don’t know. I’d say the US government has an extremely unequal amount of power relative to everybody else. Not enough for some, though.

Boonton May 13, 2014 at 3:51 pm

That’s more of a problem with not enough liquidity in the markets. Romney backers were dumping their money into the pockets of people who bet on Obama in the prediction markets. Instead of trying to ‘buy commentary’ about the rising price of Romney shares, they probably would have been wiser to have used their money directly for actual ads and other measures that directly supported Romney.

Robin Hanson May 13, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Prediction markets are unusually robust to such manipulation attempts, compared to other institutions. Studies to measure the effect of manipulation attempts consistently find very little effect.

John Meyer May 13, 2014 at 3:53 pm

This is incredible. Are philosophers unaware of knowledge problems and fatal conceits?

If people thought like this in the 1800s, and banned at the new, polluting technologies of the time, the world would absolutely suck today. The nature of technological progress, and its relation to capitalism, is lost on modern philosophers — and yet, it’s one of the most important things humans should know about, arguably the biggest thing that has happened over the last two centuries. This is amateur hour.

ThomasH May 20, 2014 at 7:06 am

No, if people in the 1800′s had performed correct cost benefit analyses (including the future costs of CO2 emission)of the new technologies they would have been accepted if they could also assume that the future (us) would also perform correct cost benefit analyses (including the future costs of CO2 emission) of the new technologies, still a good assumption in spite of the current blip of unpopularity of carbon taxes.

Brian Mannix May 13, 2014 at 5:51 pm

This proposal has been around in the philosophy literature for decades, at least. I always found it indistinguishable from the old theory that kings rule by divine right. I, today, claim the right to use force to rule you, today, because I am chosen by [take your pick] (1) God, or (2) generations yet unborn. Prediction markets are an interesting twist, but not enough to make this an attractive idea. The markets would be designed, tweaked, regulated, and rigged, by people alive today.

I would argue that markets generally, with secure property rights (and without Piketty-style wealth taxes), are far better at taking into account the preferences of future generations than is any such political construct. My aspiration is to leave my children and grandchildren a market economy with limited government.

Joe May 13, 2014 at 7:06 pm

The proposed solution is putting the cart before the horse….

Since current citizens can vote in a way that can harm future citizens the the proposed solution is some complex method to allow the non-yet-voting citizen mob to have some affect on current voting, despite the fact that the future is unknown and they could be voting against their own interests through manipulation, or willful ignorance, or greed, or stupidity.

Sometimes, as a problem becomes overly complex, the solution becomes very simple, although the “great thinkers” / “busy bodies” / “academics” may have traveled to far down a path of thinking to go back to the simple solution that has revealed itself. Hence they put the cart before the horse, and demand the horse to move the cart.

The simple solution to this problem is to limit the length of time into the future in which a bill can have an affect. No more 10 year budget plans by president who have 3 years left in office. This would also limit propositions from going to the voters. Voters commonly mistake the state issuing bonds as something good without realizing that bonds=borrowing. Only allow spending borrowed money on certain types of programs mostly of emergency and urgent in nature and require the majority of programs be funded through existing revenue only.

Limit the ability of the government to knowingly mortgage the future, and limit the ability of the current citizens to unwittingly mortgage the future.

Horhe May 13, 2014 at 7:32 pm

We can’t reliably predict what future generations will give a crap for since their concerns will, most likely, be the result of what we in the present do or don’t do… or rather, how we choose to allocate scarce political and economic resources. I doubt institutionalized racist regimes would have catered to the preferences of emancipated, empowered, positively discriminated minorities in their future, even if they could have anticipated such a situation, which seems unlikely. And I doubt populations living during the Cold War, in fear of either the West or the East, or both, could have anticipated or summoned the political will to cater to their descendants’ preference for introducing gay rights or any other issue of the day. There is a causal link here – if i think that the future will have an environmental deficit which will be of concern to its inhabitants and I rectify that, then I need to find something else that will be the new concern of this new future that I am creating, ad infinitum. I just don’t see such an attitude becoming part of the political process.

To me, the moral thing to do in these situations is to maximize the breadth of the choices afforded to our descendants. We don’t know if they would like to maintain that pampas or convert it to agricultural land to promote food sufficiency in whatever politically unstable future world they may get, so you leave the forest alone unless you yourself have sufficient reason to use it, and leave the decision to others. Same thing should apply to technologies, not with the meaning that we don’t advance, but that we are as agnostic as possible with regards to standards and keep our options open by multiple lines of research, so we don’t find ourselves down a painful technological dead-end. The rejection of nuclear energy in certain parts of the world springs to mind, as well as the maintenance of old technology in the field based on comforting familiarity instead of actual safety and so on, but those are just my own biases.

Mindy Cam May 14, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Planning for the long term future of all citizens rather than election cycles or short term markets would be beneficial if agreement is possible to maintain credibility of that plan. Who’s needs would be met?

First on the agenda must be ensuring the planet survives. Climate change education and responsible steps are necessary. No world, no future. Credibile sceientists know this is crucial. Any denying is short term greed.

http://climate.nasa.gov/

Boonton May 15, 2014 at 12:15 am

Wouldn’t our increasing lifespans as well as the expected increasing lifespans of our immediate children be increasing the weight we give to ‘the future voters’ in general?

Mick Lee May 15, 2014 at 7:04 am

“In short, more than any other form of government, futarchy is based on far seeing, impartial, expertise driven…”

“Expertise driven”. This is simply another tact totalitarians of all stripes use to get around the “ignorant” masses in a democracy—you know, those unenlightened folk who don’t know what’s in their own best interest. And just who on the ideological spectrum do you think will populate this “expertise group”? It sure won’t be conservatives (just look who denominates our colleges and universities) and there will be just a token number of moderates.
Besides, just who can predict what will happen in the future? When I was a little boy, we were told that there would be so much that was to be by now. But where’s my jet pack? Where’s my flying car? Where is our colony on Mars? For that matter, how come I’ve never been into space on one of those tourist spacecrafts?
Nope, nothing doin’.

Boonton May 15, 2014 at 2:22 pm

“Expertise driven”. This is simply another tact totalitarians of all stripes use to get around the “ignorant” masses in a democracy

Step 1. Need not be so heavy handed. Take prediction markets. Imagine a simple security. It pays $1 above principle for every 1 percentage point GDP in 2075 is above some baseline. Likewise it pays $5 less than principle for every 1 point GDP is below.

Step 2. Encourage people and institutions to add such securities to their holdings. For example, make sure that tax law allows 401K’s to invest in them.

What will happen is now you will have a class of people with a vested interest in 2075′s GDP. Even if those people don’t expect to actually be alive in 2075 to enjoy it’s GDP. A policy that seemed like it would harm GDP in 2075 would meet political resistance as such a policy would hurt the values of those holding the bonds in their portfolios. This would happen whether or not the proposed policy was an example of ‘shifting’ from the future to the present.

www.google.com May 19, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Hello to every one, it’s genuinely a pleasant for me to pay a visit this web page,
it contains useful Information.

Greg May 19, 2014 at 1:44 pm

The author’s so called “far seeing” prediction markets only foresee 100 days out. There are good reasons to resist the author’s claims. See this article: http://wp.me/p130p0-ND

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: