Sweeney Todd’s welfare policy


After recently watching the movie ‘Sweeney Todd‘ one question popped into my mind, is the welfare policy he derives optimal? Below the flap I will discuss his welfare policy – if you haven’t seen the movie or watched the broadway show then read at your own risk. Although I don’t talk about the movie itself, and the welfare policy won’t tell you anything you wouldn’t find by watching the trailer.

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Expensive tomfoolery

I’m always told about how bean-counters everywhere like to cut costs, but every now and then something slips through the net. Apparently Japanese researchers are developing a paper airplane to fly from the International Space Station to Earth! As much fun as that sounds, I am baffled as to how they got funding.
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Acquitted but not necessarily innocent

We mentioned a while back that the way politicians’ reputations are besmirched by allegations of misconduct coudl be due to the mistaken recollections of their constituents. Of course, there are rational reasons to mistrust politicians who are investigated for misconduct too, as Stuart Armstrong points out:

more guilty people get tried and acquitted than the average of the population. So … the trial is evidence of guilt – noisy evidence, but evidence none the less.

So, barring a complete exoneration (rather than a mere acquittal) perhaps I am silly to have faith in people who’ve been tried for crimes or misconduct. Our justice system is designed to prevent the conviction of the innocent, rather than preventing the acquittal of the guilty. As such we should expect that far fewer people are wrongly convicted than are wrongly acquitted. Given that there are a reasonable number of convictions overturned in light of later evidence, it must be that plenty of those acquitted are guilty of what they are accused of. They can’ t be punished but that doesn’t make them innocent, and our beliefs should rationally reflect that.

Subconscious nationalism

I hate nationalism, I agree with the idea of valuing your nation above other nations, it just seems like an arbitrary way of dividing people. However, I just had what I think was a nationalistic experience. I was reading this article about how a Trans-Tasman publisher had its first-half profits driven down by a poor performance in NZ. As I was reading I felt embarrassed, I could hear myself thinking “I’m sure New Zealand is as good a market as Australia (if not better 🙂 ), they just must not be trying to sell their product properly”. However, after hearing myself think that statement, a statement that made practically no economic sense, I realised I was just being defensive. I was being defensive about the performance of the New Zealand publishing market.

We are all boundedly rational, and so we all need to follow rules of thumb in order to make quick decisions, or quickly analyse things. As people we can’t comprehend a world made up of individuals, we have to put people into groups in order to interact with society, this is one of our rules of thumb. However, it is important to realise how ridiculous I sound standing up for the New Zealand publishing market in my head, as that is how ridiculous we all sound when we argue things on a nationalistic basis.

People want higher incomes

I was reading an interesting article by Roger Kerr. Now there were a lot of good points here which I plan to discuss at some point, however I’m not going to right now. One thing that did catch my eye was a poll he used as evidence that our incomes are too low. According to this poll 96% of New Zealander’s want higher incomes.

Now this poll is stupid, deep down 100% of people want higher incomes. All the poll is tell me is that 96% of people are honest about wanting more money, while 4% of people want to make themselves feel good by pretending to not value material things. It reminds me of when I was a student working at the Warehouse and hippies would come in complaining about capitalism and social inequality while happily buying goods that would have ‘exploited’ foreign labour.

Who needs government anyway?

We talk about government intervention all the time, but there are those who believe that governments themselves are unnecessary in modern economies. Peter Leeson says

Anarchy, like all political-economic organizations, is riddled with problems. It is not clear that these problems are any
more numerous or severe than those that plague governments, however. …Where the state does not provide law, order, or the
institutions required to produce these things, private institutions emerge to perform these roles instead.

It may be that many small, everyday transactions, such as those cited by Leeson, would still happen smoothly without government involvement. However, as Rodrik points
, these sort of things don’t scale well. They tend to rely on repeated transactions between individual agents to maintain co-operation. Once people have to interact on a one-shot basis, as happens in most large economies, this co-operation breaks down without enforcement. If you don’t expect to transact again then there is no incentive to invest in a reputation as an honest trader.

There is also the problem of maintaining a functioning financial system in a large economy. This is very difficult to do without some
regulation, as the online life simulation Second Life is finding out.