Friday, January 10, 2020

Carrots And Sticks

     One of the sturdy wisdoms the “progressives” have striven to eliminate from general acknowledgement and acceptance goes like this:

The only way to get someone to do something he isn’t already doing is to get him to want to do it.

     This is not “obvious” (i.e., in the usual sense of “Damn it all, how could I have overlooked that for so long?”) to most people. Yet it’s a fundamental truth about Mankind. Indeed, it would apply to any race of sentient creatures with independent consciousnesses.

     At this point, let us recur to our old friends Smith and Jones. There are exactly two categories of methods by which Smith can get Jones to “want to do it:”

  1. Smith can offer Jones rewards for compliance.
  2. Smith can threaten Jones with penalties for noncompliance.

     Sometimes, Category 1 involves getting Jones to see some aspect of his self-interest of which he hadn’t been aware. Sometimes it involves an “extra” reward provided by Smith himself. In either case, Smith is making an appeal to Jones’s own values and / or desires.

     Category 2 is a bit different in tone. Sometimes it involves calling Jones’s attention to some negative consequence he hadn’t considered, or had under-weighted. But in other cases it involves Smith’s forcible imposition of punishment upon Jones, should Jones fail to cooperate.

     Methods for “getting him to want to do it” are equally relevant to “getting him to not do it” – and here we enter the realm of public policy.

     Some years ago a libertarian activist named David Miller composed the following chart:

     This image provides a schematic summary of how Smith and Jones can interact, according to whether Smith wants to get Jones to do something specific, or whether he wants to stop Jones from doing that something. (It also illustrates, in a fashion no other simplification of human interaction can, what the word moderation really means, or ought to mean.)

     Let’s omit as uninteresting the possibility that Smith is indifferent to what Jones might do. While the great majority of us are genuinely indifferent to what the great majority of us are doing (“Have you ever considered that the rest of the world doesn’t give a damn about you?” – Walter Williams), every now and then that condition of “benign indifference” fails to apply. Those are the interesting cases.

     If Smith wants Jones to do X, he has three general ways to incentivize Jones:

  • Help: Smith can collaborate with Jones in some way: encouragement, provision of resources, offering a reward for performance, and so forth.
  • Hurt: Smith can harm (or threaten to harm) Jones for not doing X: he can harm Jones physically, or confine him, or take some of his property.
  • Kill: Smith can take Jones’s life for not doing X.

     A similar pattern applies if Smith wants Jones not to do X:

  • Warn: Smith can counsel Jones against doing X, or can promise to withhold some benefit Jones might otherwise expect (but to which he doesn’t have a moral right) should Jones go ahead with X.
  • Hurt: Smith can harm (or threaten to harm) Jones for doing X: he can harm Jones physically, or confine him, or take some of his property.
  • Kill: Smith can take Jones’s life for doing X.

     The symmetry “should” be “obvious,” as should one other thing which is emphasized by the vertical red lines: Outside the middle zone of the chart, things can get ugly. They imply the use of force, or the threat thereof.

     If we exclude a priori the use or threatened use of force, all we have are gentle methods of “getting Jones to do what Smith wants.” Gentleness, while it’s always attractive in theory, isn’t applicable in every case. Consider a very simple example that’s currently relevant to a certain Pacific Coast city: Getting people to not defecate on public property. How has the gentle method of tut-tutting while wagging a disapproving finger at the bums and vagrants as they drop their pants worked out for San Francisco to this point?

     The methods that involve force, when imposed by a government on those within its sovereign territory, are what we usually call law enforcement. Hopefully, this will come as no surprise to any Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch.

     Yesterday, John Hinderaker of PowerLine had some cutting things to say about the assertion of “rights” to impede the enforcement of laws that protect public order:

     Ardent Democrats may be surprised that voters care about crime and the problems associated with homelessness, but no one else is.

     He quotes Lawrence Tribe in a juicy example of the ways the Left “reasons away” law enforcement with specious rights-talk when it suits them:

     The supposed “rights” of those who are upset or psychologically threatened by the homeless, the deinstitutionalized, or others similarly situated are what I would call second-order rights, rights that a polity cannot fairly treat as having as strong a claim to protection, as trumps that override utilitarian claims as is true of genuine rights.

     Hinderaker comments thus:

     The derelict’s right to defecate in public is a “genuine right,” whereas your right not to have to watch people defecate in public is a “second-order right.” Presumably this is in the Constitution somewhere.

     What is not clear is whether the criminal’s right not to be imprisoned for his crime is “genuine,” while your right to be free of criminal violence is “second-order.”


     While there are certain problems attendant to the idea of “public property,” Americans have accepted the notion as the best way to preserve various aspects of public order. If the public can be persuaded to grant the status of “public property” to a facility, then the application of law and law enforcement to that facility follows naturally. The laws appropriate to the facility will depend on the nature of the facility.

     The thoroughfare — a passageway provided for persons and / or their vehicles to get from place to place – is one of the oldest kinds of facility to be deemed public property. Sidewalks and public streets are obvious examples of thoroughfares. Their proper use is to transit them from source to destination; there is no other. Thus the laws appropriate to them would fall into two broad categories:

  • Keep moving;
  • Don’t do anything to impede or discommode others.

     If laws to prevent bums and derelicts from camping out on the streets and sidewalks are appropriate, how much more so are laws to prevent such persons from using them as open-air latrines, impeding the passage and endangering the health of passers-by and persons with adjoining properties? And how much more fatuous could an assertion get than Lawrence Tribe’s nonsense about the “right” of the “homeless” to defy such laws without suffering a legal penalty?



pc-not said...

Tribe's justification is sounds like a Sol Alinsky tactic. Overwhelm traditional social and cultural norms with obtuse arguments that try to change the collective mindset. By not nipping these abnormal behaviors in the bud, we have let the whack job progressives gain traction with chaotic public policies. The intensity and speed of so many of these ills had been enabled by a rabid media assault on traditional American values.

JWM said...

Oh, holy cow. I went to bed last night fuming about this very thing, and I woke up this morning promising myself to keep my focus elsewhere. No luck, I guess.
My town here in So Cal has become a frontline in this battle. Transient squatters have taken over one of our local parks with all the attendant filth, crime, meth, heroin, and now the OD death of a 22 year old woman on New Year's day. You can drive by the park, and see the forest of filthy tents, and pile of stolen hacked bicycles as tall as I am.
Some ordinary, or I should say, extraordinary individuals in town have made a real and genuine effort to find the circumstantially homeless, and get them the help they need to get back on their feet. When three such individuals were found, we did a donation drive to help these folks with food, soap, cleaning supplies,and clothing. People here in town donated a truck load of stuff to help them out.
This was three such individuals. Out of hundreds who are prowling our streets shitting in the park, and stealing everything that isn't tied down.
I sat for over five hours this week in an emergency city council meeting trying to shut down the park and get rid of the encampment.
The chief of police spoke. In the course of a week officers have made forty five offers of shelter. They had two takers. Nearly a dozen beds at the shelter are empty. No takers.
During the meeting the "homeless advocates" brought in one of the campers to speak. Look in the dictionary for "urine soaked bum". The guy was a pathetic wretch. Yet within seconds of his reaching the microphone he informed us all that it was NOT HIS FAULT that he was homeless. He was the victim of divorce, understand. The guy claimed to be a veteran.
I watched the mayor of the town, and the city council take extraordinary action. They secured a bed at the shelter for that man for that very night.
He refused the offer.
The council voted to give the bums ten days notice before the camp must be disbanded, and the curfew strictly enforced. The bums are defiant. They claim the park is now their home, now and they won't give it up. Or so they tell us.


Paul in Boston said...

If the bums have a right to defecate anywhere, they should be rounded up and deposited in front of Tribe’s house and all the entrances to the Harvard Law School. How long will it take Tribe and his friends to come up with new legal theories? 3,2,1,...

Linda Fox said...

Love Paul's idea. Make those chuckleheads who argue for the bums' rights have to deal with the consequences.

I'd advocate getting some buses. Anyone who won't take the offer of housing (NOT individual) gets a one-way ride on the bus to the border of the state. As they leave, give them a sack of food/water, and $100 dollars. Fingerprint all, and if they return, send them SOUTH of the border with the same sack, and $100 pesos.

If they return, incarcerate them. Or, if honestly mentally ill, put them in an institution. Any worker who intends to discharge them has them dropped off at their house, with instructions to keep them on their porch for the next 6 months.