Tag Archives: society

On conspiracies

The Guardian has an opinion piece by Julia Ebner on how conspiracy theories undermine democracy. She mainly focus on the role of non-transparent algorithms used by platforms like YouTube in spreading conspiracy theories. Though we agree with her on that those algorithms should be transparent and the conspiracy theories are harmful to society, we are missing a fundamental piece. Continue reading On conspiracies

Experimental sociology

A big difference between the natural and the social sciences, is that the former heavily rely upon experiments. Social scientists can only conduct experiments in a very limited fashion, instead social scientists have to rely on “natural” variation in society/societies.

The main advantage of experiments, is that we can repeat them. If some physicist claims to have conducted an experiment in which a particle moved faster than light, other physicists can do this experiment by themselves and look whether they get the same results. And probably even more important is that in an experiment we can isolate variables, by setting up a proper environment.

It’s obvious we can do experiments with actual societies. Established interests will do anything to prevent any change they believe might harmful to them. Or just plain fear of the unknown, will cause popular resistance to any kind of social reform. But because we can’t do social experiments, we do not know which political ideologies might work, or in which conditions a certain type of society is most suited. Instead politicians of different schools of thought rely upon their beliefs what is good for society.

Though we cannot perform experiments with existing societies, we could do this with new societies. But where can we create new societies? After all every single part of Earth is either claimed by states, or is inhabitable for humans. The regular reader of this site would know what our answer would be.

When space settlements are created, we could use this opportunity to give different space settlements different social systems. After some time we can compare these space settlements, and evaluate the results of the different sets of social rules. By comparing space settlements with a wide variety of social systems, we can learn lessons about social reforms, which we can apply to terrestrial societies. The idea of “using” space settlements as social laboratories is not new, it has been actually proposed by Gerard O’Neill in his book The High Frontier.

Space colonization might open up a whole new area of social science: experimental sociology.

Artificial wombs and gender equality

Recently we did a post about the 21-hour work week, one of the arguments raised in favour of this proposal, is enhancing gender equality. By reducing working hours, parents of both genders would be enabled to a more equal share in the care of their children. There is no doubt that this idea would improve gender equality, however it is not enough. A fundamental obstacle to full gender-equality is pregnancy.

It’s a biological fact that only women can become pregnant, and unfortunately it is also a full-time job. Pregnancy has a huge impact on female physiology, especially at the later stages. Because of these inconveniences, working women who are pregnant has to decrease working hours or to stop working at all. For this reason, female employees are too often fired, not hired at all, or their temporary employment contract is not prolonged.

And this is only in case of one child, what if a couple wants to have more children? Young women often leave the labour force for a few years, when they are starting a new family. It’s obvious that this is detrimental for the careers of women. Too many women are giving up their ambitions. There should be a way for women to pursue both a career and a family.

As some regular readers might know, I am a great fan of artificial uteri. I have written about it before, albeit in the discussion of non-human animals. The technology would enable, if fully developed, the gestation of a human person outside the female body. At this moment it is not possible to carry out the entire pregnancy in an artificial uterus, only the final stages. But since the later stages are also the most problematic ones, many women would be helped.

No woman should be forced to use an artificial uterus. Some women will choose to be pregnant herself, other women will be glad to make use of this bright new technology. Also this can also solve another problem: sometimes a pregnant woman’s life by her pregnancy, in which case the pregnancy has to be terminated at the expense of the child’s life. For many parents this is a great nightmare. See this post for another possible application of artificial uteri.

In order to achieve full gender equality, any humanist government should encourage research to artificial uteri.

Estate tax and Basic Income

Introduction

A short time ago we published a post on monetary reforms, one commenter raised the issue of social inequality. In this post we will address the issue of social (in)equality and equality. Before we continue, we need to define what we understand with equality.

If we talk about equality, we need to ask equality in what perspective? When it comes to social equality, then we can either refer to equality of changes or to equality of results. Basically this covers the primary difference between classical liberalism and socialism, classical liberals focus on the equality of opportunities, whilst socialists focus on the equality of results. The reader might wonder: what about equality for the law? Equality for the law is a fundamental principle common to both classic liberalism and socialism.

Since Lagrangian Republican Association endorses classical liberalism, we will limit ourselves here to equality of chances.

Asset-based egalitarianism

In 1797 Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Agrarian Justice. In this paper Pain argued for the establishment of an estate tax of ten percent for close relatives and a higher percent for heirs who aren’t close relatives of the deceased. The revenues raised this way would be used for 1. an annual pension of 10 pounds for every person 50 years of age and older, and 2. A one-time payment of 15 pounds to every person at reaching the age of 21 years. In Paine’s age the average annual income of a labourer was 23 pounds.

In order to fund the ordinary functions of government, Paine argued for the imposition of a land value tax. Modern income taxes were only introduced from the latter half of the nineteenth century.

But why an estate tax? According to the labour theory of property one can become the owner of unowned object by mixing your labour with those objects. Or in other words by performing labour one gets entitled to the fruits of one’s labour. A tax on income from labour would therefore be immoral, since it’s equivalent to stealing. However, if you inherit property from someone else, you haven’t worked for it and consequently you don’t “deserve” it.

One counter-argument could be that a person has a right to dispose his or her property as he or she see fit. This is true, only as long as you are alive. But at the moment a person dies, he or she ceases to existed and non-existent persons are not able to have property. Consequently after death one’s property automatically becomes unowned. There is no rational reason why the next of kin of the deceased would have more right to get this inheritance than any other person. The only reasons for this are cultural ones.

The proponents of “traditional” inheritance law, should consider the following moral dilemma: Do people born in wealthy families deserve to inherit this wealth any more than people born in poor families to inherit their poverty?

There is another strong argument in favour of estate taxes. This argument is derived from classical republicanism. Republicans believe that civic virtue is the foundation of freedom. However, as explained by Michael J. Sandel:

Civic virtue required the capacity for independent, disinterested judgment. But poverty bred dependence, and great wealth traditionally bred luxury and distraction from public concerns. (Sandel p. 136, 1998).

The inheritance of wealth allows the accumulation of wealth over generation, concentrated in a few families. In this manner a class of people is created who are disconnected from the public interest. Since these people do not have to work, they can devout their careers to politics. Hence a class of ambitious politicians are created.

Paine’s plans would tackle two things: by imposing a tax on inheritances the emerging of a wealthy, powerful but corrupt class would be severely hindered. And secondly, by giving every person a small capital, young people would start their adult life financially independent. Therefore this proposal would encourage a republican form of government.

The reader might ask why giving people this money at the age of maturity? If the government would give the money at birth, the parents would have to manage it until their child becomes an adult. But if the parents have to manage the money, they might be tempted to waste the money, what would cancel its very purpose. Recall that in the late 18th century, most people did not have bank accounts. Nowadays, we could deposit the money on a blocked savings account, but this would effectively the same as giving the money at the day of maturity.

The case for equality of opportunity

Classical liberals, such as David Hume and Adam Smith, believe that inequality of results creates incentives for people to take risks and to accomplish things. Business owners are motivated by the prospect of profit to provide goods and services to the public, workers are motivated by wages to offer their labour. Those who chooses to take risks, should be rewarded for it.

In an ideal world all persons would be able to do whatever they want to do. But in the real world we have to deal with social-economic inequalities. In general those born to wealthy parents have a much better start position in life, than those born to poor parents. Wealthy parents can afford better food, better education and so on for their children. Being born to affluent parents is a matter of luck, not desert (unless you believe in some kind of reincarnation and future births are the result of karma).

The question is therefore whether a society in which people’s opportunities are highly determined by luck can be a just society. In his book A Theory of Justice (1971) American philosopher John Rawls argues that this is not the case. By making use of a famous thought experiment, the original position, he shows why.

Suppose you and I with some other people are to make an agreement about the rules of a new society. We know all relevant facts regarding the physical universe, but we do not know beforehand which position in this new society we will get assigned. This latter lack of knowledge is called by Rawls the veil of ignorance, and he argues this precaution will cause people to arrange the rules of society such that whatever role they will get in that society, they will receive a fair treatment.

According to Rawls people in the original position will derive two principles: 1. all people should have the same set of basic rights, and 2. the so-called difference principle. According to the latter principle economic inequalities are allowed as long as those who are the least benefited will have their situation improved. Therefore Rawls rejects the equality of results as the primary objective of social justice, while he argues for the equality of opportunity.

Thomas Paine’s proposal for asset-based egalitarianism, is fully defended by Rawls’ theory of justice. Actually one could argue that Paine’s idea is closer to Rawls vision of a property-owning society, than the modern welfare state.

The Basic Income Guarantee

A fundamental argument against Paine’s plan is that if you give people a one-time sum of money, many, if not most, of them will waste the money by spending it in a short period of time. Only a few people are likely to manage this money wisely, by investing it in education, a house or business enterprise. A solution for this problem would be to place the money in a savings account, and give people only access to the interest, whilst the principal remains untouched. Another idea would be to give people stocks in a national mutual fund instead of giving them the equivalent money, the stock will pay dividends to their owners but they will not allowed to sell their stocks.

Both the savings account plan and the national mutual fund plan, transform the one-time capital grant to a basic income guarantee program, since people will now receive a periodic income from either interest or dividends instead of a single capital grant. The idea of a basic income guarantee has been proposed at many different times in history. Many different versions have been devised and many different methods of funding such scheme have been suggested.

Before we continue, it’s a good idea to define what a basic income guarantee is. According to Wikipedia, a basic income guarantee is an unconditional payment of a sum of money at regular intervals. Unconditional means here, that save for citizenship no specific requirements are imposed. Every person gets the same amount of money, regardless of income or wealth. In other words a basic income is not  means tested.

This is in direct contrast with most modern welfare programs, which are only available to certain groups of people. In order to prevent welfare fraud, governments of welfare states need to spend much time and money to control whether people who receive welfare are actually entitled to it. By switching from a welfare state to a basic income guarantee system, the government will save enormous amounts of money. And additionally such system would also eliminate the constant violation of privacy which is inevitably linked to the welfare state.

Another argument in favour a basic income, is a classical one and has been used since the middle ages. By giving people a regular basic income, the poor will not have to resort to (violent) crime in order to survive. Those who use this argument believe that the cost of a basic income are way less than the alternative of a society dominated by crime.

A third argument, mainly used by (prominent) economists, is that the implementation of a basic income scheme would allow the abolition of minimum wage laws. The idea is that minimum wage laws result in systematic unemployment of certain categories of people. These people can now be employed at market wages, while they have still sufficient income to live.

Several authors differ on the precise height of the regular payment, but in general proponents of a basic income guarantee believe that such income should be sufficient to live a modest life. Those who desire more luxury should work to support their lifestyle. Empirical research has shown that the introduction of a basic income, doesn’t lead to a decline of the workforce. In fact the exact opposite happens.

Our vision

The basic features of the system we want to introduce in our space-based society, are the following:

1. A basic income for every citizen or permanent resident of 16 years of age and older, to be paid every month.

2. The amount of money paid should be sufficient to live from, therefore no other welfare programs and minimum wage laws will be introduced.

3. Workers have a voluntary option to take a total permanent disability insurance.

4. Employment at will, employers are free to hire and fire employees when they see fit, save for a limited number of restrictions. Employees can resign at any time for any reason.

References

Agrarian Justice On line edition of Paine’s pamphlet.

Sandel, Michael J. 1998. Democracy’s discontent. America in search of a public philosophy. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Federalism and Space colonization

In his 1986 article  Philip Bosshardt argued:

We have seen that cultural divergence works against federation. Barring unforseen developments in relativistic physics, settlements will never be in instant communication with each other. Message flow may resemble more the speeds of royal message runners in the Persian and Incan empires, taking minutes if not hours to traverse the distances between settlements. Modern technological societies could scarely function without the ability to shift huge volumes of information nearly instantaneously; without up-to-date information on events in the “provinces,” no ruler of trans-Solar System empires is going to know if his directives are being carried out. And at the other end of the chain of command, local governors will be reluctant to cede power to a ruling body that cannot have very good knowledge of current conditions. (Bosshardt, 1986).

This passage makes it clear that Bosshardt is talking about trans-Solar System federations or empires. The size of the Solar System is simply to large to unite it under one single political entity. However, this is no argument against small and local space federations. In fact, it is likely that many future Space nation will be federal states.

What is federalism?

Like many political terms federalism has different meanings in different situations. In the United States of America, federalism is mostly used for the movement or ideology which favours a stronger position of the national government. But in other countries such as Belgium or Spain, federalism stands for the opposite idea: transferring power from the national government to sub-national governments.

If we say that Republic of Lagrangia endorses federalism, we mean that we favour the creation of a federal state or federation. A federation is a state based on the principle of shared sovereignty: on some issues the federal governments has exclusive authority, whilst other issues belong to the exclusive domain of the states. Typically foreign policy, defense and inter-state relation are under federal authority.

Why does this matter for space settlements?

Because of their nature, Space habitats will be the fundamental political units of Space society. Space settlements are, in a physical sense, closed systems. The residents of a Space habitat can if they wish relocate their territory. A luxury not available to the people of, say, Pennsylvania.

This fact has important consequences for inter-settlement politics. When, for instance, Colorado and Utah have an intense conflict with each other, they are nevertheless forced to deal with each other. If, however, two Space settlements has a similar dispute either habitat can decide to relocate away from the other.

Individual Space settlements enjoy a greater factual sovereignty than US states or even members of the European Union. However, many Space settlements will be rather small, having a population from a few thousand to several hundred thousands. Therefore many settlements will be dependent from each other. For economic reasons, most settlements will specialize in specific goods or services whilst importing other from other settlements.

Regulation required by inter-settlement trade will be among the primary reasons of creating a federation of Space habitats. Further small Space habitats will have difficulties with setting up a proper defense force, by uniting themselves they will be able to manage a proper military. Also by creating a federal government Space people can pursue a more effective foreign policy, especially in relation with terrestrial nations.

One or multiple Space federations?

A single Space federation is impracticable for the reasons given by Philip Bosshardt, the Solar System is simply too big. For these reason alone, there will be multiple federations each in a different part of our Solar System. However, distance is not the only reason for multiple federation.

Since different people have different political ideologies. Therefore different Space settlements will implement different political and social systems. Socialist settlements will most likely prefer to federate with other socialist settlements, whilst libertarian settlements will federate with other libertarians.

Prison reform

This post is based on a presentation I gave as part of an undergraduate course on Modern Political Philosophy.

Crime and punishment is a subject which should be taken into account by Space colonists. If one thing is certain, there will be crime and criminals in any future Space settlement. Therefore we should consider how to deal with issues of criminal law. However, in this post we will not pursue what act should be considered as crime, only that we believe that the harm principle should be used to construe crimes [1].

An important question is whether we should use imprisonment as a punishment. Although the modern prisons system has been invented in the 18th century as a more civilized punishment, it has been controversial ever since. The prison reform movement is in fact as old as the institution itself.

American professor of criminal justice Peter Moskos argues [2]:

For most of the past two centuries, at least in so-called civilized societies, the ideal of punishment has been replaced by the hope of rehabilitation. The American penitentiary system was invented to replace punishment with “cure.” Prisons were built around the noble ideas of rehabilitation. In society, at least in liberal society, we’re supposed to be above punishment, as if punishment were somehow beneath us. The fact that prisons proved both inhumane and miserably ineffective did little to deter the utopian enthusiasm of those reformers who wished to abolish punishment.

Incarceration, for adults as well as children, does little but make people more criminal. Alas, so successful were the “progressive” reformers of the past two centuries that today we don’t have a system designed for punishment. Certainly released prisoners need help with life—jobs, housing, health care—but what they don’t need is a failed concept of “rehabilitation.” Prisons today have all but abandoned rehabilitative ideals—which isn’t such a bad thing if one sees the notion as nothing more than paternalistic hogwash. All that is left is punishment, and we certainly could punish in a way that is much cheaper, honest, and even more humane.

As an alternative Moskos make the following proposal in his book In defense of flogging [3]:

I propose we give convicts the choice of the lash at the rate of two lashes per year of incarceration. One cannot reasonably argue that merely offering this choice is somehow cruel, especially when the status quo of incarceration remains an option. Prison means losing a part of your life and everything you care for. Compared with this, flogging is just a few very painful strokes on the backside. And it’s over in a few minutes. Often, and often very quickly, those who said flogging is too cruel to even consider suddenly say that flogging isn’t cruel enough. Personally, I believe that literally ripping skin from the human body is cruel. Even Singapore limits the lash to 24 strokes out of concern for the criminal’s survival. Now, flogging may be too harsh, or it may be too soft, but it really can’t be both.

[…]

Because not only does incarceration not “cure” criminality, in many ways it makes it worse. From behind bars, prisoners can’t be parents, hold jobs, maintain relationships, or take care of their elders. Their spouse suffers. Their children suffer. And because of this, in the long run, we all suffer. Because one stint in prison so often leads to another, millions have come to alternate between incarceration and freedom while their families and communities suffer the economic, social, and political consequences of their absence.

The benefits of optional flogging as an alternative punishment for prison are clear, both for the criminal as for society. The life of the convict is not destroyed as is the case with years of imprisonment, but is still punished for his crimes. For society the main benefit is the reduced costs of administering justice.

Of course, Peter Moskos realizes that some criminals should be locked up, although this is not for the sake of punishment upon the criminal, but in order to protect society against the most dangerous criminals. Moskos further argues that optional flogging can and should be used in combination with restorative justice.

Video interviews with Peter Moskos:

In Defense Of Flogging As Alternative To Prison (CNN, 4.18 min)

In Defense of Flogging: Controversy Over Prisons and Punishment (PBS Newshour, 6.15 min)

Links

Review of Peter Moskos’ In defense of flogging by The Economist

Interview with Peter Moskos in Salon

Notes

[1] We see the harm principle as a rule of thumb rather than as an absolute rule. We acknowledge that this principle will not work in some circumstances, however we believe it is appropriate as a general rule.

[2] Peter Moskos, In defense of flogging in The Chronicle Review, April 24, 2011. (Visited on April 6, 2013).

[3] See previous note.

On the language of a space colony

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on June 13, 2012

In this post I will discuss the very important question of which language a space colony should have? I will argue that a constructed language would be our best choice, but I will first explain why this question is as important as I claim. Sequentially I will sketch the problems of selecting a natural language for a space colony and finally I will explain how these problems are solved by selecting a constructed language.

The first point we have to consider is  why we should agree on a common language. There are a lot of countries which do well without an official language, for instance the USA and the Netherlands. But these countries have de facto a national language, in a traditional homogeneous society newcomers have to learn that society’s language in order to be fully functional. So countries with a historical common language don’t need to formalize this.

A common language in a society, which is widely understood by its members, enables useful communication within it, think for example about the law. People has to be able to know the law and as matter of fact, the law has to be written in some language. It’s true that some multilingual countries write their laws in multiple languages, but most of these countries are bilingual, so the costs of translating laws and other official documents are quite modest. If the number of recognized languages increases, then also the associated costs will increase. The most clear example of this is the European Union, which has no less than 23 official working languages and as a result a large part of the budget of the EU goes up to translating (for instance the instant interpreting in the European Parliament).

It’s clear that Space colonists would want to avoid this absurdity, we have better use for our money (lower taxes would be for example a nice idea for attracting new immigrants), so they should rationally choose for one single language (important to note is that this will not mean that other languages are not allowed). So the next question is which language to pick?

For the sake of the argument I will assume that the official language of a single Space colony will be decided by democratic procedures, like a referendum (a practical consequence of this will be, of course, that several colonies will each pick another language). It would be a nice exercise to see whether this could lead to a situation in which a Space colony should decide to become deliberately a multilingual society and if so under what circumstance, and therefore contradicting my “theorem of unilingualism“. My hunch will be that it depends on the specific decision procedure, but I don’t think it will be appropriate to discuss this question here, so for those who are interested I will place this discussion in a comment of this post.

This will bring me to my main argument. At this moment, there some 7000 natural languages in the world, most of them are rather small. Although mandarin Chinese has more speakers, English is more widely spread (this is the main reason why this entire blog is in English) and has also more non-native speakers. This combined with the fact that a large part of the Space advocacy movement is located in the English-speaking world, has led by some to assume that English would therefore the logical choice for Space colonies.

Well, I have to disagree. English, like all other natural languages, is associated with a specific culture, in this case the Anglo-Saxon culture of Britain, North America and Oceania. So by choosing for English as official language, a Space colony is willingly choosing for the Anglo-Saxon culture, at least in the eyes of outsiders. It is my personal conviction that Space colonies should develop their very own cultures, which are clear distinct from any terrestrial “culture”. And the most important tool to realize this is by selecting a language which is not related to any other culture. As a corollary of this, I also believe that different Space communities will distinguish of each other by choosing different languages.

An other problem of choosing English, the same applies for every other natural language, is that it will discriminate against non-native speakers. Those who are native speakers are in an advantageous position in comparison of those who are not. Since I believe that Space colonies will not be established by cultural homogeneous groups, I consider this as unnecessarily unfair. In order to avoid the creation of unjust advantages for native speakers, we should choose for an artificial or constructed language. Since no colonist will be a native speaker of this language, all colonist will be equal in this respect.

Over the course of history, there have been many proposals for so-called auxiliary languages, with Esperanto as its most famous example. Because of its popularity, I will strongly advice against the selection of Esperanto as an official language of a Space colony, since in the last 120 years the Esperanto culture has developed its own distinct culture. I believe that the association of the Space colonization movement with the Esperanto movement, will be bad for both movements. But nevertheless those who are in charge of designing languages for Space colonies, can learn much from Esperanto and related projects like Ido or Interlingua.

Although it is not the purpose of this essay to provide guidelines for creating a language,  it would advisable that Spacer languages should be based on the principles of international auxiliary languages. This because the type of constructed languages is aimed at easiness to learn, and since the population of (early) Space colonies is likely to be multicultural.

Note

As I have promised, I will discuss here the question of multilingual Space colonies. First I have to note, that since most early space colonies will be multicultural, their citizens will speak many different languages in private relations, that is not where I am talking about, instead I will concentrate only on official languages.

Although it would be the rational choice to select one and only one official language, I believe there will be Space colonies which will be multilingual. Mostly as part of a comprise between different groups. Suppose that the citizens of the colony Bernal Alpha have to vote on an official language and have three choices: Esperanto, Interlingua and Novial. Let the result of this vote be as follows: 45% for Esperanto, 45% for Interlingua and 10% for Novial. Then there are two possible solutions: 1. a second vote between Esperanto and Interlingua, or 2. making both Esperanto and Interlingua official languages.

It will depend on the specific circumstances whether which option will be selected. How strongly are the voters “attached” to “their own” language?