Opportunities and Information

Steve wrote a nice comment to my last posting, that demands a somewhat longer answer:

The thing about information is, that you can’t have it all. There can be no fairness, even if you had complete access to all information, time limits your ability to gather, interpret and act upon this information. I play the ancient Chinese game  wei-chi (better known by its Japanese name “Go”).  All the information is available to both players, but not even professional players (whose skills are scary to say the least) can act upon all the information. While the board is big compared to chess (19×19 fields), it is still infinitely less complex than real life problems … Sure, better access to information helps to improve the situation compared to one in which there is almost no information. But it is a mistake to think that this solves the problem, as even perfect access will not do that in an even slightly complex situation.

Further, there can be no equality of opportunities. I know it sounds harsh and it is. But the only way in which equality of opportunities can be achieved, is by removing the necessity of work. The agricultural and industrial revolution did this to some extent. Before that, 70% of the population were required to apply their work towards growing food, with little access to the world around them and little in the way of opportunities to follow their own desires.

A lot of this was taken up by industrial production. In fact, people look back at the times when there was relatively little in the way of opportunities as good times. When jobs were generally of the menial kind – either in manufacturing or mind-numbing accounting etc and generally easily available. A lot of those have been taken away by automation. They see the jobs as opportunities – but in fact they were obligations, which have now been taken away.

It is hard to see what will be next. Because some kind of employment will develop – a lot of it probably in social services. But it takes a reorganization of the economy to put that into place, because currently everything is based on the assumption that money has some kind of hard value. And if you spend money on services, it is seen as being “lost” to the economy – even though that is nonsense, because the wages those workers receive will of course be spend and come right back into the rest of the economy – in fact, they have never been outside of it.

That’s the kind of thing that happens when people extrapolate from their own experience (I spend money and it is lost to me, a corporation spends money and it is lost to the corporation, a nation spends money and it is lost to the nation) to the economy as a whole. No money is ever lost in an economy – because money is a fiction. The only thing that an economy can lose, is wealth. What is wealth? Well, Adam Smith said it as well as anybody could do:

The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally
supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.
According, therefore, as this produce, or what is purchased with it, bears a greater or smaller proportion to the number of those who are to consume it, the nation will be better or worse supplied with all the necessaries and conveniencies for which it has occasion.
But this proportion must in every nation be regulated by two different circumstances: first, by the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which its labour is generally applied; and, secondly, by the proportion between the number of those who are employed in useful labour, and that of those who are not so employed.

To which, I think, there is nothing to add.


One thought on “Opportunities and Information

  1. Thanks for the long reply. I feel honoured. I like to play “go” when I was a teenager, I found it more fascinating than international chess.

    Information is a very deep topic. It relates to everything, political, economical, cultural, philsophical, religious and others. I very much argee that we can never achieve absolute information fairness, but we also should try to narrow the inequality of information, because information has great influence on consent and choice making, future expectation and perception of risk and threat, and also innocence and happiness. The variation of information, namely knowledge, has the issue of private property right, like patents, and economic rent.

    The Protestant Church use the printing press to destroy the monopoly of information held by the Roman Catholic Church, to the great benefit and wealth of the European and humankind. Insider trading and Ponzi Scheme are illegal in many places. The “Plain English” campaign in the investment world or others greatly lowers the cost for others to access to information. Every accused in the criminal procedure is represented by a professional lawyer with adequate institutional and procedural information, to protect the rights of the accused. Transparency enables people to make free choice in politics and fight against corruption. The installation of public library is a way to distribute knowledge in a fairer way, while the “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) campaign is another. Finland even regarded broadband access as constitutional rights.

    I also agree that there is no absolute equal opportunity, as opportunity has the element of luck, talent and hard work. According to Milton Friedman, life is not fair and freedom is extremely important, according to John Rawls, we should try to eliminate the inequality of opportunity by tax and welfare. The US leans more towards to Friedman while the Scandinavian countries leans towards to Rawls. Both systems have their merits and support.

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