Why IUCs?

Several people have indicated their boredom with interpersonal utility comparison. First, let me give the standard blogger response: If you don't like it, don't read it!

Second, I'll answer the (sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit) question: "Why discuss all this?" by quoting Scott:

In order of decreasing confidence on my part:

1. What I and Matt (who does it better than I {ed: Scott meant to add "but not as well as Patri"}) and everyone else are arguing is true, or at least stands a chance of moving us closer to truth, which is a noble pursuit that ought to be pursued.

2. Pragmatically, it doesn’t bode well for my side when they make bad arguments.

3. I suspect that without the notion of comparable utility, the idea of economic efficiency becomes hollow (or it puts a great deal more weight on a theory of property rights than it will support) and I’d like to see that idea preserved, since it’s useful.


Related posts:

Cardinal Schmardinal, Ordinal Schmordinal
Encoding Happiness
IUCs and the Law of Large Numbers
No Soul Suggests IUCs
Futilitarianism
I-CDDFP
I-CUP
Love and Intrapersonal Utility Comparison
What color does a submarine weigh? (True or False?)
Exploding IUCs on the roadside
Interpersonal Utility Comparisons
Pareto Efficiency and Justice
Can the Paradox of the Non-Comparability of Interpersonal Utility be Resolved?

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I don't get what you mean by

I don't get what you mean by putting more weight on property rights and it will support. Why would not having the idea of comparable utility trouble that theory? Even assuming the opposite, I don't see a problem.

If you steal my hammer and then are forced to give it back then the restoration of utility is identical. One hammer unit as valued by me is taken away and then restored. There is no need to consider how much you liked my hammer.

Brian, It would take me a

Brian,

It would take me a while to explain that last point, but since I'm unsure of it, I don't think now is the time. Skepticism on your part is to be expected, and is probably the appropriate response.

Give me a clue. At least

Give me a clue. At least resolve the ambiguity. Is it a personal theory or something you can point to?

Actually, with the previous

Actually, with the previous caveat still in place, I'll try to explain.

Quoting you:

If you steal my hammer and then are forced to give it back then the restoration of utility is identical. One hammer unit as valued by me is taken away and then restored. There is no need to consider how much you liked my hammer.

The theft of the hammer depends on a theory of property rights. You own the hammer, and thus when someone takes it, it has been stolen. Here's the rub---where did that initial property right come from? Some background theory of property rights, no doubt. So, the idea of theft of the hammer (and, consequently, theft of the hammer being a wrong that should be rectified) is based on a theory of property rights.

Now, if we have a suitably strong theory of property rights, fine. However, maybe the theory of background property rights isn't that strong---and without it, how can we justify the status quo (we could, just as easily, recognize the "thief's" right in the hammer, and after doing that, no theft would have occurred)? How can we justify recognizing your right in the hammer?

Some people take the utilitarian tack, and say we should recognize the right because it generally increases the utility of the world (and, implicitly, that is something we ought to aim for). Recognizing your right in the hammer allows you to plan for the future, to do carpentry, etc.

So, in order to sketch this background system of property rights (and it seems to me economic efficiency is dependent on some kind of property rights background) you can take either route, the proprety rights theory or the utility theory. Without interpersonal utility comparisons, I don't think the latter route is possible, which would mean only the property rights theory will suffice, and---as I said---I don't think it's theoretically strong enough to hold up that structure.

But we can already do that

But we can already do that without IUC's if we idealize other peoples actions with no property rights as drags on our productivity. Without property rights I can produce X, with I can produce X + Y. I can see the utility in the extra Y without getting into how other people value it.

But we can already do that

But we can already do that without IUC’s if we idealize other peoples actions with no property rights as drags on our productivity. Without property rights I can produce X, with I can produce X + Y. I can see the utility in the extra Y without getting into how other people value it.

Yes. But with property rights, you will have a right to something---without property rights somebody else would have had access to that thing you had the right to. Let's call this thing T.

So, with property rights, you have T and person P does not have T. Then, by hypothesis, you were able to produce X + Y, which, adding to your previous T, gives you a total set of: X, Y, and T. P has nothing.

Without property rights, you do not have thing T (we never recognized your right in it) and without that right, somebody else was able to get thing T. You can only produce thing X, by hypothesis. So you now have a total set of: X, and person P has a total set of: T.

The totals are as follows:

Situation 1 (with property rights): You have X, Y, and T. P has nothing.

Situation 2 (without property rights): You have X. P has T.

Which situation enjoys moral superiority? Which situation ought to be? If we're going to use utility as a means of justifying a situation, then in order to justify situation 1 as the correct one it must be that the utility you get from X, Y, and T (situation one) is greater than (or equal to?) the sum of the utility you get from X plus the utility P gets from T (situation 2). We can, assumedly, subtract (your) item X from either side, meaning that your utility from Y + T must be greater than the utility P gets from T (I'm assuming the utility you get from X is independent of the utility P enjoys in each situation---this assumption may itself not even be realistic). We can't cancel out the T, since on the left side of the equation it's a function of your preferences and on the right, it's a function of P's.

To do this felicific calculus, we need some sort of interpersonal utility comparison, otherwise we cannot compare your utility to P's, and thus will be unable to tell if situation 1 exceeds the utility of situation 2. If we have no IUC, we can't add utilities, and utility will not suffice for the justification, and we must rely on a theory of property rights to give us the rightness or wrongness of the situation, and---again---I don't think property right theories can live up to that task.

I apologize for this hastily sketched argument, but I'm afraid I'll be too busy to respond in any more depth today.

Which situation enjoys moral

Which situation enjoys moral superiority? Which situation ought to be? If we’re going to use utility as a means of justifying a situation, then in order to justify situation 1 as the correct one it must be that the utility you get from X, Y, and T (situation one) is greater than (or equal to?) the sum of the utility you get from X plus the utility P gets from T (situation 2).

I would not argue for the superiority from overall utility. Briefly: what is moral is what is in accordance with natural law. Natural law is an ESS on violence. You don't need IUCs to decide the ESS, it's an idea of game theory.

Or if you prefer an David Friedman-ish approach (not necessarily the approach of David Friedman, but rather the approach of using his idea of anarcho-capitalist institutions), the courts that provide property-defending law will beat the other courts in the marketplace.

Why would they beat it? Well, that's a longish story but I do believe it works. Essentially, property owners have a greater interest in defending property than property robbers have in taking property, not in the sense of having greater utility, but in the sense of having, in practice, on average, a greater real-world commitment to defending it than the attackers have to attacking, and also a superior starting position, and also better ability to network (honor among the honest is better than honor among thieves), and so on.

Some people take the

Some people take the utilitarian tack, and say we should recognize the right because it generally increases the utility of the world (and, implicitly, that is something we ought to aim for). Recognizing your right in the hammer allows you to plan for the future, to do carpentry, etc.

However weak the ESS or market-in-law approaches might be, I don't think they can be as weak as IUCs, because utility is intangible.

Scott, I don't understand

Scott,

I don't understand why you decided to give all of T to P. Surely without property rights I could take T from P and if he objects crack him over the head with Z, thus solving the problem. Your assignment of T to P was totally arbitrary. Without property rights if we can't recognize my right to T we can't recognize P's right either.

Just because I produced X + Y doesn't mean that P shouldn't be busy on his own producing Q + R. You see I was assuming that without property rights I would produce X and P would do his own thing and produce Q. Our total production would be lower because we would spend a disproportionate time fighting over not only the base resources but also our product.

So the true situation with property rights is:
I have 1/2T plus X + Y, P has 1/2T plus Q + R.
Without property rights we are missing the extra production of Y and R.

Note that none of this requires absolute utility, utility ranking, or utility comparison of any kind. Nor are we trying to maximize overall utility. The agreement wasn't that if we work together you get a cut of my production. The agreement is if you leave me alone then I will leave you alone.

Here's a concrete example. P and I are on a island full of coconut trees. In the past without property rights both P and I would spend a lot of time waiting for the other guy to climb up a tree and knock down a coconut. At which point we would steal the other guys efforts. This leads to lots of squabbling and wasted time. Instead of going up the tree and knocking several down you have to go up and knock one down then race down the tree to claim it before the other guy P (or anyone else) snaps them up. That's if we're stupid about things and don't recognize property rights. If instead we both respect each others ownership of our own production then things go smoothly. Each of us does the minimal amount of climbing and fighting.

This is not the natural state anyway. Most animals have territories and we are after all animals. There are reasons they do this. The state of nature is not everyone sharing in perfect communist harmony until that first greed capitalilst comes along. The state of nature already consists of claims to property and exclusion from that property. So it is more likely that we would already have ownership over separate coconut groves.