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May 19, 2015


Matt Moore

It’s really sad that the Left can’t conceive of any valid reason to act against one’s material interest - even though they have spent decades (rightly) decrying the rise of consumerism.

Scenario A. You are poor. I offer you the chance to rob a wealthy pensioner’s house while he is away. We are certain not to be caught or punished. You decline. It is against your self-interest, but it is wrong.

Scenario B. You are poor. I offer you the chance to tax a wealthy pensioner’s house and spend the money on yourself. You decline. It is against your self-interest, but it is wrong.

Presumably you agree with the decision in Scenario A. It’s not false consciousness. It’s a recognition that even policies that can materially benefit oneself may be wrong or reprehensible ipso facto; that taxation is not always reasonable or fair, even if it reduces inequality or poverty in a static sense.


Matt Moore, why is it wrong to vote to tax the wealthy pensioner's house? And not just wrong, but "reprehensible ipso facto"?

Matt Moore

I'm not saying that particular policy is necessarily wrong. I'm just saying that policy right and wrong doesn't have anything to do with one's own self-interest. Literally nothing.

So, voting against one's self interest I find to be evidence of morality, not false consciousness.

Steven Clarke

It's a pretty arrogant claim for anyone to know what's 'good the country if not for themselves' - just because of the knowledge problem.

Sometimes I think people should just vote narrowly for what's best for them (which they will have a better, if imperfect, idea of) and then work to ensure the voting system can aggregate this.

You're quite right that history casts a long shadow. Some of Labour's problems seem to be people blaming them for the crash and being too close to the Unions. It was a good decade before I was born when the Unions last posed any real threat to the economy.


Matt: you're a libertarian. We've established that. What do you want, a biscuit?

More seriously: the Conservatives have built up a reputation as the Party of Real Estate by decades of (very) costly signalling. as this is by far the best performing asset class any "older saver" has in the UK, it's no wonder they might imagine:

a) money talks, bullshit walks. the Tories' multidecadal commitment to higher property prices will win out over passing flights of rhetoric, and somebody else will get to pay. lucky them, but eh, it'll see me out.

b) somehow their tenants are the good people, not evil "claimants", and it's possible to cut £12bn out of the benefits budget without touching LHA.

the second statement is self-delusion, but a common one, and the first is either rational, or at least adaptive.

Matt Moore

A biscuit would be nice...


@ Matt - people voting against their interest isn't just a puzzle for the left. It's a challenge to the basic economic conception of instrumental rationality.
@ Steven - yes, it is arrogant to claim to know what the "good of the country" is. But overconfidence about one's beliefs is perhaps be most widespread of cognitive biases.

Matt Moore

Thanks for weighing in Chris.

As I understand mainstream rationality theory in economics, there's no restriction on how the act of voting enters in the utility function.

In fact, it's weird that anyone prioritises policy benefits over the act of political identification, since the chance of actually changing the eventual government is essentially zero, and so you may as well vote however makes you feel good.


A tangent, but anyway...

Any thoughts on MPs in general, and the housing minister in particular, being BTL landlords? We'd think it a bit odd if the Defence Minister's wealth/pension was tied up in a range of defence companies, or the Health minister's was in Big Pharma. But the housing minister having a BTL property causes no comment.


I've formed the view that a persons ideology will generally reflect self-interest even if imperfectly, and even if it clearly doesn't on specific issues, and as CD here points out, even if it actually doesn't. So what gives.
Dunno - although it's interesting that almost all parties scratch each others eyes out to offer nothing less than any other party. I mean it's almost at NHS type levels. Of course there's lots of them , and they turnout to vote. The parties clearly don't dare risk messing with pensioner benefits, even if the beneficiary is well-off, and even if the obligate payee isn't.

Steven Clarke

@Chris I was just thinking if there is some analogue to Adam Smith's invisible hand. He believed "By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it"

With politics, it seems a reverse process happens. I think many people don't vote in a self-interested way, and actually wish to promote society's interest - people I've spoken to often frame their support for cutting the deficit, or immigration, or protecting the countryside from development, in these terms. In putting these policies in place, they may actually be harming their own interests.


@ Chris - people tend to be quite morony but not than cunty?


When Chris voted green was he doing so to advance his economic interests? By voting for a party that cannot win a Parliamentary majority he certainly did not help to reduce Tory cuts now did he? He knows how the electoral system works so he cannot blame ignorance.



I wonder how 'irrational' the sort of voting over redistribution that so exercises the Left truly is. Perhaps the perception is that the redistributed income/wealth merely stops by at the self-interested party's own door on the way to someone else who's deemed to be worse off still.

Certainly on a planet stuffed with seven billion people there's always someone who can be said to be even worse off. And failing a some 'one', there's always some 'thing' - frequently a thing of utterly no consequence lurking out there in the "environment", that only a specialist would ever even notice much less fuss over.

Thus, voting in the posited sense might be seen by many as simply an exercise in futility. After all, here in the USA, when people elected Bill Clinton in 1992 on such grounds, many of them found that the net redistribution seemed to be away from themselves. So it was (in part) that we then got Newt Gingrich and company in 1994.

Oh, how complicated are the webs we weave...


@Keith - did you read the post?


"You are poor. I offer you the chance to tax a wealthy pensioner’s house and spend the money on yourself. You decline. It is against your self-interest, but it is wrong."
Maybe, but remember we had domestic rates until 1990, and older persons bought houses when there were regulated rents.
Matt, property rights need to be enforced in order for there to be order. Whether that law should be changed or not, or if you think it is unjust, then you will try to change it. And the law should be applied equally to everyone.
My view is that the house - that is, the buildings/improvements should go completely untaxed and is private property. The land or "location, location, location" part should be taxed at 100%. It is created by all of society via public infrastructure investment, better schools/hospitals, etc. Plus this Land Value Tax (LVT) would have no dead weight loss as the supply of land is fixed. Land values are a monopoly and not created by the landowner. These land values are always collected either by bankers and landlords as mortgage interest and rent, or publicly, or less or not at all via rent controls and other distortions. We could then replace other coercive taxes (income tax, NI, etc...) with a LVT, a payment for the right to exclude others from land. Where it has been implemented (Pennsylvania - several cities) there has been a decline in the number of vacant buildings. Plus it will reduce/end bubbles.


"prioritises policy benefits over the act of political identification, "
If a sig proportion of voters demand X and spoil ballots or vote for alternatives, it is tempting for main parties to pivot to X. See UKIP.
Old people vote. It does matter.

Igor Belanov

Small landlords could be thought of as natural Tory voters going back decades, but that didn't stop the Tory party doing its best to wipe them out through the 1950s to the 1980s by concentrating their urban renewal efforts on slum clearance of old rented housing rather than building houses for general needs. A lot of Tory voting, then as now, depends upon people positioning themsleves against those they regard as their 'inferiors', rather than voting in terms of self-interest.


The benefit cap has been offset by right to buy etc. Landlords gain under this government.

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