Re: Free-Markets: Extro-Nazi's or Extro-Saints?

Hal Finney (
Thu, 11 Sep 1997 13:53:24 -0700 (PDT)

[I'll go ahead and re-send a few pieces of email from here. Again,
apologies if my later messages show up eventually.]

Queen Nadi writes:
> The proper way to view this may be stated
> as: the standard of living has been raised. No one can convince me that the
> "poor" ( which in common semantics means a life without proper shelter,
> medical care and adequate food) give a damn if we chose to think of them as
> "richer" than the starving homeless who lived in medieval times.

That seems reasonable, to say that the standard of living has been raised.

I don't think "poor" is generally used to mean exactly what you said.
Or, rather, the definition of what constitutes proper shelter, medical
care, and adequate food changes over time. Many people in the U.S. who
would generally be considered "poor" get enough food, but it may not be
as healthy or varied a diet as for wealthier people. Likewise a "poor"
person could have shelter and medical care that is better than what is
available to most of the third world, but is not nearly as nice as what
the middle class has available in the West.

The point is that being poor is relative. No doubt you are right that
a poor person finds this cold comfort.

Presumably, in the future, people with standards of living even higher
than our own will still be considered "poor", with just as much pity
and concern directed towards their miserable living conditions as we
feel towards today's poor. The poor of the future won't care that their
immortality and full-sense virtual reality give them lives of a quality
which even the richest people today can only dream of. They will look
with envy at the vast estates and human servants which only the rich
can afford (the poor being stuck with virtual estates and robot slaves).

Can you imagine someone with such physical riches feeling just as
oppressed, deprived, and downtrodden as the poorest of the poor do today?
Should we say that their feelings are justified?

We are a competitive species. We tend to measure our well being not
in absolute terms, but relative to other people, or relative to how we
were in the past or will be in the future. Game theory experiments have
shown that people tend to go for outcomes which improve their standing
compared to other players, rather than those which maximize their own
personal expected gains. Presumably this is a heuristic which has been
successful in making choices in the past. If you can do better than the
guy in the next cave, you're doing pretty well.

But as a result, as long as there are differences in outcomes, there
will be those who feel unhappy that other people are doing better than
themselves. Jesus Christ himself said "the poor you will always have
with you", and for once, I agree with him.