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Just so we're clear - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Just so we're clear [Jan. 19th, 2009|10:34 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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A friend of mine says* he believes that people should have a right to a comfortable life even if they choose not to work. You already know I don't agree with that; in fact, I can't think of any other viewpoint that I disagree with more strongly. (I mean, sure, I might disagree with racism more, but then I don't think of it as a legitimate viewpoint and I don't respect people who advocate it.)

To me, choosing not to work is morally reprehensible. I was raised that way, and it's one of the things about my parents' belief system that I've chosen to keep. I don't advocate anything as extreme as denying emergency medical treatment to the wilfully unemployed, but I don't think they deserve any of the comforts of life at the expense of others. (If you're idle rich, I might find that unpleasant, but at least you're not a drain on society.)

If there were a technology that allowed us to put people in hibernation, wake them up once a year and ask them if they were ready to start working, and shove them right back in there for another year if they said no, then I might be okay with using it on people who can't support themselves and choose not to work ;-) (Obviously, being unable to work or unable to find work is a very different situation.)

I was on the phone with my grandma the other day. We don't normally connect very well conversationally, since our lives are so different. On this particular occasion, however, we re-discovered that we both believed in the importance of working until you dropped dead, and that nothing else mattered in life. I'm exaggerating a little bit, but only a little. It was great.

*I can't link to it because it was a friends-only post. Own up to your opinions, people!
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: hukuma
2009-01-20 05:17 am (UTC)
What about working on something that doesn't pay, or at least not immediately? E.g., think of Knuth working on TeX. Not everyone can get a tenured university position.

I think that there's a benefit to providing some basic sustenance to everyone. Some people will use it as an excuse not to work, others as a safety net, and yet others as a way to work on things that aren't valuable yet. The question is what level of sustenance that should be.

Of course, this is not to say that the ability to live off society should be a *right* per se; I just think it's not a bad idea to provide a kind of a floor, and adjusting that floor upwards as overall productivity increases.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-20 05:25 am (UTC)
"What about working on something that doesn't pay, or at least not immediately?"

i think that's great, but that should be supported by a part-time job, savings, a supportive family, etc. otherwise, who gets to decide who's just bumming around and who's contributing to society in a non-monetary way?

"I think that there's a benefit to providing some basic sustenance to everyone. The question is what level of sustenance that should be."

certainly. i was being facetious with the whole hibernation thing (added a smiley to make that clearer). i personally believe the level of sustenance should be very low -- emergency medical treatment, enough food to live on, basic shelter, and that's pretty much it. certainly not enough sustenance to work on TeX.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-20 07:57 am (UTC)
to clarify further, i think it's quite possible that overall economic output will increase if you move toward a more communal approach than what i advocate. however, this comes at the expense of fairness, i.e, distributing the rewards of said output in proportion to effort. this fundamental tradeoff appears to be at the heart of the difference between the economic left and right. i myself consider fairness to be the more important goal, making me a libertarian.
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[User Picture]From: hukuma
2009-01-20 02:00 pm (UTC)
I've been tending towards pragmatic libertarianism myself, which means that I value overall well-being of people more than the fairness principle. I.e., I like to encourage effort, but if an unfair redistribution creates positive externalities, I'm all for it.

It should also be said that the normal economic system rewards productivity, rather than effort. E.g., if you work really hard for a few years on your new project (name omitted since it was in a locked post), but no one uses it, you get no reward.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-24 08:53 pm (UTC)
you're right, i should have said productivity instead of effort.
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[User Picture]From: hukuma
2009-01-20 05:19 am (UTC)
P.S. there's no point in hibernation, since in subjective time for the lazy bums, no time will have passed during the year, so they don't have much reason to change their mind. It actually makes more sense for those unable to find work—freeze them until a job turns up. :)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-20 05:27 am (UTC)
oh, i didn't think of that! rookie mistake.. i should read more sci-fi :-)

i guess they should be informed of how the world has changed in the last year before being asked the question.. that might help a little.
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[User Picture]From: paper_crystals
2009-01-20 07:45 am (UTC)
What is your take on government support for people who for either medical or psychological reasons cannot work? (I know a little bit about this program. Mostly that it is extremely difficult to get into and requires quite a lot of documentation.)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-20 07:59 am (UTC)
i support that (i did made an exception for inability to work in my post). the only thing i have a problem with is the combination of wanton laziness and living off of government hand-outs; i don't oppose either of those two things individually.
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From: statictype.org
2009-01-20 07:47 am (UTC)
A friend of mine says he believes that people should have a right to a comfortable life even if they choose not to work

That's an, um, interesting, view point your friend has.

Even if you ignore the evolutionary precedent for selecting people who work harder, there's still the more pragmatic question of, who pays for the lazy people?

I don't find 'not working' morally reprehensible - if you have some slush fund filled up by a benefactor\relative\spouse\whatever then good for you - but certainly, they don't have a right to comfortable life.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-20 08:07 am (UTC)
"That's an, um, interesting, view point your friend has."

it's the majority view in many european countries.

"who pays for the lazy people?"

the socialist viewpoint is that modern industrial society greatly overproduces (essential) goods, and so we can afford to support a significant bum population in the hope that one of them will turn out to be a picasso (or because of the view that people can "choose" to "reject capitalism," which in our times essentially means not working).

the argument is very seductive, but any country that embraces it will decidedly face economic ruin in the long run.

"if you have some slush fund filled up by a benefactor\relative\spouse\whatever then good for you"

i'm not saying that rich people should have regular jobs, but if you decide to spend your life drinking pina coladas in maui simply because you can, that seems like a waste of precious life to me. it's not in the same category as living off of other people's hard work, but i do find it morally offensive. i acknowledge that you might not, and that's cool.

Edited at 2009-01-20 08:13 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: annamaryse
2009-01-20 09:36 am (UTC)
Let me start by saying, I work. It's what I do. If I'm awake, I'm either on my way to work, working, or home exhausted from working, and when I have time off I'm working on making my life easier for the rest of the time when I work.

My job defines me, it's what I do. I get accused of being a workaholic, but I like what I do and take pride in doing well. I am annoyed when a coworker clearly doesn't like working, and I'm sad when people don't enjoy what they do.

I don't care about whether one is rich or not, I find work fulfilling, and I wish everyone could find work that fulfilled them.

I don't like people who feel 'entitled' -- I prefer to avoid them. Sure, we deserve a basic living standard, but to better onesself and step above the crowd - that's a prerogative I encourage.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-20 04:25 pm (UTC)
that could easily have been me talking :-) thanks for sharing! it made me very happy to read it.
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[User Picture]From: medryn
2009-01-20 04:48 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure whether or not you are referring to my post, but if you are, I used the phrase "modest and dignified" which I see quite differently from "comfortable."
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-20 04:50 pm (UTC)
i was.

oh. so this entire post is based on a misunderstanding? oh well. let's say some fictional person said that then :-)

sorry for the unintentional misattribution.
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[User Picture]From: medryn
2009-01-20 05:04 pm (UTC)
Well, it might not be a complete misunderstanding. I suspect that we just slightly disagree on what constitutes minimum floor of comfort for a modest, dignified lifestyle. I've temporarily made that entry public, so that if you would like you can link to it and your readers can read it.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-20 05:12 pm (UTC)
$25k a year!! ok, that's more than what you need even for a "comfortable" life, in my mind.
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[User Picture]From: hlwoods
2009-01-20 06:33 pm (UTC)
Well, that would depend in turn, wouldnt' it, on where the person chose to not live? 25k goes a lot further in Mississippi than in NYC.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-20 06:44 pm (UTC)
i think the saying beggars can't be choosers was invented for exactly this situation :-)

if we're doling out $25k, we might as well cover relocation expenses to mississippi.
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[User Picture]From: hlwoods
2009-01-20 09:53 pm (UTC)
Well, at that point 25k is overly generous. Starting teachers only make 30. 10k is more than plenty considering how cheap housing is.

(And for additional giggles, buy them a hunting license and a skinning knife. Let them hunt/grow/produce their own food. It's not work if it's your own back yard, no?)
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[User Picture]From: medryn
2009-01-20 11:25 pm (UTC)
Yeah, $25k is probably too much. Maybe $10k or $15k would be better.
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[User Picture]From: tomtomtomtomtom
2009-01-20 09:10 pm (UTC)
Ha, $25k is still a good deal more than what I make as a graduate student!
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[User Picture]From: descartes_rock
2009-01-21 03:11 am (UTC)
I totally agree with you. It's absurd to suggest that somehow some guy who decides not to work has the right to reach into my pocket and take the money that I made through my blood and sweat so that he can live a comfortable lifestyle. He'll have to find his own money, thank you very much.
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