The Unit of Caring

So this is not an article from an official channel, it's from a private tumblr blog, but I'm interested in discussing her proposals and framework.

1. Q: Do you support wealth inequality and capitalism?
A: So ‘socialism’ encompasses lots of policies, some of which I’m enthusiastic about and some of which I’m against, and so does ‘capitalism’. And then separately from my actual policy positions socialists I know tend to treat different harms as salient than I do, and to have different assumptions about human nature and different aesthetics, so even when I agree with them on policy and work with them on policy I end up being a bit of an outsider.

2. My big-picture opinions are: every person matters equally. For every person, it’s good when they have food, shelter, healthcare, spending money, and the means to build a good life for themself (which includes tangible means like ‘food’, less tangible ones like ‘access to education’, and super intangible ones like ‘the freedom to choose how they spend their time and use their resources’). The point of policy is to arrange for that as best we can, given the tradeoffs we have to make because of material scarcity.

I do not think that material scarcity is because of capitalism. Every economic system in history has had material scarcity, and countries that are more socialist do not observably have less scarcity. There are a lot of people and they want lots of stuff, costly stuff, stuff that demands the time and talent of other people to produce, and so there’s scarcity. Good policy is about how we reduce scarcity (by lowering the costs of producing things people want, and enabling more people to produce them) and about how we navigate the scarcity we’ve got, and I’m suspicious of anyone who claims that their economic system just won’t have scarcity. I end up feeling like when they do encounter scarcity they don’t have a just, principled way to make tradeoffs, and so probably their economic system will suck.

3. I’m really enthusiastic about markets. Markets solve a really important problem - who decides how much stuff gets produced? In a market economy, this gets solved with prices - everyone communicates how much they’re willing to pay for stuff, and then everyone looks at those prices and decides whether they want to produce stuff if that’s the going rate for it. Unlike with any other way of solving this problem, no one has power over anyone else. The government doesn’t decide how many phones will be available to consumers this year. Apple doesn’t decide either - if they make fewer phones, then more people will buy from their competitors. People don’t get as many phones as they want, but they can get any phone for $200 and can do that as often as they want. I consider all of those things really good features of an economic system.


4. Then my actual policy opinions are:
We should have universal healthcare. This isn’t because markets couldn’t possibly solve healthcare, but ‘universal healthcare’ is way more politically tractable than ‘healthcare thoroughly deregulated enough to be the kind of industry where markets aren’t worse than useless’, and universal healthcare does in fact work.

5. We should have a universal basic income. UBI solves one of the biggest problems with markets, which are that they are a brilliant tool for producing things-which-people-want, weighted by how much money they have. If everyone has money, then they become a brilliant tool for producing things which people want, full stop. I think even a UBI of $5000/person/year would give lots of people lots more options for how to live their lives, and make the worst-case scenarios of life a lot less scary.

6. We should have vastly more immigration. If someone wants to live and work here, that should be possible. This is a higher priority to me than the first two things, and if we can’t have all three I want this one first; I do think there’s a way to balance them but politically, in terms of priorities, immigration is mine.

7. We should significantly reduce regulation of the conditions under which two people can agree to work on something or build something. It should never be illegal to run a lemonade stand or a manicure parlor, or to do a haircut without a license, or to run a preschool without a college degree. As much as possible, we should solve worker exploitation by giving workers more money and more options rather than by outlawing labor arrangements. When we don’t have a good alternative to solving it by outlawing labor arrangements, we should keep really careful estimates of the costs, instead of treating policies as ‘free’ if the costs are distributed and not paid by the government.

8. We should make the cost of living lower. We should treat this as a very high priority. When housing and food are cheap, everyone has way more options; when those are cripplingly expensive, every other injustice is much harder to tackle. Zoning policy should be aimed at exactly one thing: keeping every city inexpensive to live in. We should fund tons of technological research into promising avenues to make construction cheaper, make agriculture cheaper and more reliable, and make consumer goods in general cheaper. I said I think a UBI of $5k/person/year is achievable and really beneficial, and I do think so, but it’ll be way more beneficial if we devote our energies as a society to making it possible to live comfortably in good housing on less money. Related to this, we should not break any processes or industries which are lowering the cost of consumer goods or inventing new stuff that improves peoples’ lives. We should consider it an important part of the fight against poverty to create the conditions under which those industries can keep at it.

9. So you can see why my outlook is pretty different than many socialists despite having lots of policy agreements - I’m focused on different stuff, and different things seem to me to be of critical importance. Happy to justify any of the claims I make above; I didn’t because it’d make this long post even longer, but you can send followup questions about any of interest.


10. Q: I worry that with the way markets currently operate, people buy lots of things that they don't actually deeply want or won't fulfill them. There's a focus on advertising and trying to get people to want things that give them short-term pleasures, or that will supposedly boost their social status. I'm not sure I trust the market to figure out how much stuff should get produced or how that stuff should be distributed. I want a system that encourages deeper reflection about what matters.
A: So I’m not going to say ‘that never happens’ - obviously it does - but I do want to say that people often diagnose other people as ‘buying things they don’t really want/that won’t fulfill them’ when what’s actually going on is that different things fulfill different people.

11. Stupid phone games like Angry Birds or Candy Crush are a great example of this. I hear lots of people assert ‘no one likes those, they’re just addictive wastes of time’. But I also know people for whom that kind of thing is load-bearing. They have anxiety and a simple, repetitive task they can focus on can help them calm down and steer out of a panic attack. They get into slumps where they don’t believe they can accomplish anything, and beating a couple levels of a simple, engaging game is enough to convince their brain ‘okay, sometimes when we try things it works and we succeed!’. They really suffered on their long commute until they downloaded a few engaging games which make the time speed by.

12. I definitely acknowledge that sometimes people buy things that don’t make their life better. But I really worry that if we try to prevent this externally - by taxing or banning ‘stupid things that don’t make peoples’ lives better’, or trying to adopt economic systems which don’t produce those things - we’ll destroy tons of real value because we failed to realize all the ways people are different from us, and the ways that the things which are destructive for us are empowering and healthy for other people.

13. So I want to solve this problem from the social angle, by encouraging people to be more aware of their own needs and of the conditions under which they flourish as a person, and by sharing lots and lots of individual narratives about figuring out what it looks like to live a good life. I think that this makes it easier for people to notice this for themselves. And I think there’s enough variance in what good lives look like that you can’t really solve it any other way.