Thursday, July 20, 2017

Optimal Level of Discontent

This paragraph from Richard E. Wagner's To Promote the General Welfare impressed me:

What is perhaps of more concern for questions of justice is neither the distribution of income nor even the correlation between the economic positions of parents and children, but the extent to which people feel stifled by their backgrounds and locked into modes of life they do not truly choose. The widespread growth of such a sense could well undermine the basis for social order,.... If so, the legitimacy and stability of a social order would seem to require conditions that prevent the growth of such sentiments. However, objective measures of the results of economic activity mayb have little ability to describe the extent of this stifling of personal development. [p. 44]

For social growth, we need discontent with the status quo, but if the system itself is viewed as the status quo with which we are discontented, then we undermine society instead of help it progress. A player on a losing team is motivated to try harder in the off-season unless he thinks the league is backing a particular rival team, and then he quits the game in disgust.

To what extent can we prevent the growth of fatalism? Is there a social program or government policy that would work here without giving rise to criticism of state tinkering in private morality?

The faster rate of technological development can move more people out of any perceived ruts, but it doesn't do the job here because it's seen as random. Go to college and study something and maybe 15 years from now you'll be a millionaire because we all need what you were trained to do, but what's more likely is that 15 years from now we've automated what you learned to do in college. As this trend continues and accelerates, even the "winners" will feel increased fatalism.

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