Preemptive Redistribution

Maybe I'm missing something here, but there seems to be a disconnect between two consecutive Fly Bottle posts. First, Will argues:

The argument on offer here is an argument for preemptive redistribution. We have to redistribute so that injustice doesn’t occur. But this kind of argument, like arguments for preemptive war, face a high bar. You need to be pretty convincing that in the absence of preemptive action, something bad will occur. I think egalitarians almost never get over that bar.

But then he follows up in the very next post with:

I also like mandatory retirement accounts for paternalistic reasons that are also sort of libertarian. Means-tested benefits for old people is a better idea than our stupid current system, but would encourage too little retirement savings. Why? Old people are so politically powerful that these benefits will be too high to make saving rational. So forcing people to transfer their own money to their future selves prevents them from later forcing others to transfer them money when old.

How is this not also a case of preemptive redistribution? We forcibly transfer money from people's past selves to their future selves so that they don't later predate on other people's past selves. But how is "old people stealing from young people using their superior political power" any different than "rich people stealing from poor people using their superior political power"? Is it that old people are more of a monolithic voting bloc than rich people?

While that may be true, surely many more government transfers -- trade barriers, restrictions on labor mobility, publicly financed institutions of higher education, professional licensing, intellectual property privileges, etc. -- are a transfer from the relatively poor to the relatively rich, compared to the number of government transfers from the relatively young to the relatively old. Hell, the costs of restrictions on labor mobility alone arguably swamp Medicare and Social Security combined, and those who most suffer from those restrictions do not have the ability to vote them down, since they are not U.S. citizens.

Incidentally, it always amuses me when people suggest that the solution to government capture by the wealthy is government capture by the poor, as if playing what has always been a losing man's game is going to one day, miraculously, turn into a winner. The only way to win a losing game is to stop playing.

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You've misread Will

Micha,

You've misread him.

The first group of sentences you yanked out of context was written to apply to one argument and I'm not sure Will meant it to be a general principle to apply where you have applied it. In fact you left off the the preceding sentences qualifying what situtations he thought it applied to.

"My conclusion so far is that questions about the justice of the mechanisms that lead to observed economic patterns really does exhaust the field of questions about distributive justice. There is no independent worry about patterns themselves having bad effects; because the bad effects Economics of Contempt and many others have in mind just are mechanisms or exploitation enabled by government capture."

He thinks it applies to arguments for "distributive justice". You only left a sentence at the beginning where he says "preemptive redistribution" which makes it sound like the term applies more widely that Will intended. He only intended it to apply certain kinds of redistribution and "self transfer" doesn't in my mind qualify.

In other places in the article he is talking about the Gini, which is a measure of interpersonal wealth differences. Which tells us what the term "justice" is all about. Some people think at face value that it is unjust to have differences.

If you look at wiki on Gini you will see that it says "Worldwide, Gini coefficients range from approximately 0.249 in Japan to 0.707 in Namibia." Any fool can see that Gini is not a measure we want to maximize.

So the only reasonable interpretation of what Will means by the term "redistribution" in the context of the article is as "redistribution from one person to another for the purposes of justice".

The "preemptive redistribution" is about lowering the Gini or wealth differences between people but self transfer doesn't do this.

There is already a differential in income between your past and future self and it already tends towards a richer future self. Income tends to grow with age, and savings tends to accumulate with age. This is regardless of how rich you have decided your retirement is going to be and thus what total savings you are going to make. In order to transfer wealth between you current self and future self to the point where your old age is protected requires that you save already.

In fact much of the differences in Gini between countries is due to savings. Japan (anese citizens) saves more than Namibia (ian citizens).

Any additional transferring wealth from a the past self to the future self over and above what an individual decides will actually increase Gini. Nor does this kind of self transfer cause "distributive justice". So obviously Will didn't have "self redistribution" in mind while writing this article.

You ask:

"How is this not also a case of preemptive redistribution? We forcibly transfer money from people's past selves to their future selves so that they don't later predate on other people's past selves. But how is "old people stealing from young people using their superior political power" any different than "rich people stealing from poor people using their superior political power"?"

Social Security acts as both a form of intra and inter personal wealth transfer and Will isn't advocating this. His first sentence, "I also like mandatory retirement accounts for paternalistic reasons that are also sort of libertarian." and last "So forcing people to transfer their own money to their future selves prevents them from later forcing others to transfer them money when old." are talking about what he advocates, self transfer. The middle sentences are an argument against interpersonal transfer.

He isn't supporting a scheme of the form "people stealing from people" in any form.

Personally, I believe in forced retirement accounts. I do so on non-libertarian grounds. That doesn't mean I don't take a very similar approach. Thing is that I do this in a similar way that I did for Good Samaratan law.

It is in the nature of some people not to be able to watch you starve to death in your old age. Even if you are not such a person when you get to be old and can no longer support yourself you have two options, steal, commit suicide, or beg.

Well if someone setting on a course of action to a life of crime we certainly have the right to stop them since it affects us. It's predictable trespass and we can certainly justify preemptive action in that case. So that covers the steal option.

The options of committing suicide or begging are problematic as they do involve involuntary involvement of others despite arguments to the contrary. It is in the nature of some people not to be able to stand-by while someone is committing suicide or starving. I would argue that their helping is not "voluntary" in the same sense as other actions like if they just decided to give you a gift, or they went out of the way to be extra generous and improve your life above mere survival.

Cleaning up after a suicide or feeding a beggar is an act that they cannot avoid taking. Even if they overcame their natural desires to help and didn't do so they would feel horrible, and that feeling is being forced upon them. In fact, I think in part the reason they help is not mainly to feel good about themselves, but not to feel bad.

That's just a fact of their human nature and libertarians have to live with it even if they don't understand it or feel that way themselves.

Now it is a fact about most everybody that they will accept help when they are in dire straights. When you are starving all that talk about "Well if I starve I starve" are soon forgotten. We know from past experience that people who are starving do things that they wouldn't normally do, and are in fact against normally. So by a reasonable person test we cannot trust someone who says "I'll just starve to death if I don't save and I won't actively beg for food."
The curmudgeon can't hold up his end of this bargain.

We also know from experience that no matter how rich circumstances can change where that wealth is lost. So we can just let the rich slide either. They need to be force in this regard also.

So we know what's going to happen here. A person not saving for retirement is going to get old, is likely not going to be able to work at some point, is then going to get benefits, the handouts of others, without ever having paid for them. He is in fact, by living in a society the beneficiary of a form of insurance which he is not paying for. He is free-loading of off the system. His mere existence and the nature of those around him makes this so. There is no way around it.

This amounts to a trespass in the same way a person making false insurance claims amounts to a trespass. They are getting benefits they didn't pay for.

It is the libertarian failure to grasp one of these steps that is the root of it's gut level rejection by others. I have actually reasoned out the actual principles. Libertarians fail on one or many of these steps. They fail to recognize the human nature of others, don't understand their own nature, don't see how it impacts others, fail to see the involuntary nature of this, etc.

At least some libertarians miss this; some like M. Friedman are for governmental intervention in these areas.

BTW, I've left off family support for the reason that I am considering an "individualist" society. I could cover family in a non-individualist society but that would require laws that force family to feed their parents. It would require intergenerational hereditary duties. I neither desire nor have justifications for that, and see many reasons why it's a bad idea to treat people as organs of their family after emancipation.

Micha, I'm arguing that we

Micha, I'm arguing that we need forced savings (forced intrapersonal tranfers) in order to preempt worse kinds of redistribution, taking for granted that there is going to be some coercion meant to ensure people do not fall below a certain threshold of income in old age. I think I've good evidence that the old would vote themselves benefits so large that it would lead to very unjust intergenerational transfers. I think the the loss of liberty in forcing delayed consumption is smaller, and would forestall large intergenerational transfers, and so, as a bit of libertarian non-ideal theory, I prefer forced savings over means-tested benefits. So this is a case where one kind of redistribution (within a life over time) preempts another worse kind (between separate people at a time). In that preemptive redistribution post, I was criticizing the idea that we need to redistribute income in order to preempt an injustice in the absence of evidence that any such justice would actually occur. If I was shown that highly skewed patterns of income did tend to cause losses of liberty, and that redistribution that would prevent such level of inequality would prevent those losses of liberty, then I'd probably be in favor of this kind of preemptive redistribution. So I wasn't making an in-principle argument against it. I was denying that the kind evidence that would justify it exists.

Will needs less traditional Public Choice

According to Bryan Caplan: Social Security and Medicare- The elderly are if anything slightly less in favor than the young.