A Basic Income Experiment Closer to Home

So there’s actually a case of a basic income of sorts in the United States. The short of it is that there’s a Cherokee tribe that decided to  distribute some of the profits of a casino to all the tribe’s members:

So when, in 1996, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains opened a casino, Jane Costello, an epidemiologist at Duke University Medical School, saw an opportunity. The tribe elected to distribute a proportion of the profits equally among its 8,000 members. Professor Costello wondered whether the extra money would change psychiatric outcomes among poor Cherokee families.

The results were impressive:

When the casino opened, Professor Costello had already been following 1,420 rural children in the area, a quarter of whom were Cherokee, for four years. That gave her a solid baseline measure. Roughly one-fifth of the rural non-Indians in her study lived in poverty, compared with more than half of the Cherokee. By 2001, when casino profits amounted to $6,000 per person yearly, the number of Cherokee living below the poverty line had declined by half.

The poorest children tended to have the greatest risk of psychiatric disorders, including emotional and behavioral problems. But just four years after the supplements began, Professor Costello observed marked improvements among those who moved out of poverty. The frequency of behavioral problems declined by 40 percent, nearly reaching the risk of children who had never been poor. Already well-off Cherokee children, on the other hand, showed no improvement. The supplements seemed to benefit the poorest children most dramatically.

So, add another bit of research that says increasing the incomes of poor people helps in many ways.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t deal with problems of implementation. The tribe got the money for this from a casino. There’s no equivalent income that we can tap into for the entire United States.

It’s also worth it to note that, as far as I can tell, this added to, and didn’t replace, parts of aid the tribe was already getting.

It takes less than a second

… to fall in love. At least, it takes less than a second for some of the right chemicals to flood your brain. Link

It takes a fifth-of-a-second for the euphoria-inducing chemicals to start acting on the brain when you are looking at that special someone.

That’s one of the conclusions of Stephanie Ortigue, who has co-authored a review of neuroscience research on love.

And an interesting bit about kinds of love:

One common distinction is between passionate love and the companionate kind, with the latter growing between couples over time.

My eighth grade Spanish teacher talked to us about this, over the distinction between “being in love” and “loving” someone (I think) that also was about the difference between just falling in love with someone, and having loved someone for years.

It seems like a lot of research into human behavior confirms things that we already know, but haven’t had fully categorized, or explained, by scientific means.

Different words for love? Makes sense, there’s different kinds of love that we’ve found.

Love at first sight? It’s the chemicals in your brain.

Does confession work? Looks like it does, even a non-religious one.

It’s sort of cool that science is confirming some of our past practices. We know more than we think we do.

Exploring the Boundaries of Science

Here are a few more articles I’ve read recently exploring the boundaries of what science can tell us.

In case you were wondering if scientific realism was a thing that scientists themselves were unsure about, here’s a blog post (via @realscientists) by a physicist about it, which concludes as follows:

So where does this leave us? Pretty much with the concept of realism in science in tatters. The internals of models changes in unpredictable ways when science advances. Even within a given model, the internals can be changed with mathematical tricks and for some definitions of realism, experiment has largely ruled it out.  Thus we are left with our models that describe aspects of reality but should never be mistaken for reality itself. Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), the great German philosopher, would not be surprised.

I wouldn’t go so far to say the concept of realism in science is “in tatters,” rather that it’s not a solid assumption as many think.

Next, this article (via @EpicureanDeal) talks about a new approach to quantum mechanics that uses Bayesian methods to interpret the probabilities:

His [Christopher Fuchs’s] view arises from a relatively recent interpretation of quantum mechanics called Quantum Bayesianism, or QBism for short. It’s an approach long championed by quantum physicist Christopher Fuchs, developed with collaborators Rüdiger Schack and Carlton Caves.

Their view is that quantum theory’s conundrums stem from banishing the subject — the scientist or whoever — from the facts about “objective reality.” When a physicist calculates the odds of finding an electron in various locations, or the probability that a radioactive atom will decay today, those probabilities are generally taken as objective facts about nature. So reality is like dice. Einstein didn’t like it. Nevertheless the world respects the probabilities that quantum mechanics provides, and never defies them.

Some of the weirdness in quantum mechanics stems from the fact that it seems that observations “create” reality.

Much of the supposedly inexplicable quantum weirdness dissolves when this view is adopted, the QBists contend. When a measurement is made, for instance, multiple possibilities encompassed by the wave function all disappear, except for the one corresponding to the result of the measurement. This “collapse of the wave function” has elicited all sorts of philosophical hand-wringing about measurements “creating reality” instead of just recording it. But from the QBist perspective, a measurement is just an experience for an “agent” acting as an investigator of nature. What gets created is merely a new experience for the agent.

Any such agent can use the rules of quantum mechanics to calculate the odds for various measurement outcomes on a system described by a given quantum state. But those odds are the agent’s personal judgment. That means that the quantum state in the first place is also a personal judgment of the agent. “The notorious ‘collapse of the wave-function’ is nothing but the updating of an agent’s state assignment on the basis of her experience,” Fuchs, Mermin and Schack write.

This interpretation of quantum mechanics places the agent in the center.

To a QBist, the personal experience of an agent is the most important thing about quantum physics. Quantum states cannot be objective elements of reality because they are subjective, personal information, used by an agent for calculating the odds of future experiences.

Which I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

Lastly, another piece from Michael De Dora about philosophy and science:

Yet an increasing number of people believe philosophy is useless or obsolete, and that all our efforts should be focused on science. This is deeply problematic, mainly because whether we realize it or not, we all must engage in philosophy before we engage in any kind of science. As Daniel Dennett has said, “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science, just science that has been conducted without any consideration of its underlying philosophical assumptions.” To deny this is to oversimplify.

Philosophy deals with the base assumptions about how we interact with the world. Everything else is built on top of that.

More on a Guaranteed Minimum Income

To follow-up on my previous post on the GMI, here are a few more links to other thought pieces about them.

Here’s a piece about an interesting thought experiment from Warren Buffet:

My political views were formed by this process.  Just imagine that it is 24 hours before you are born. A genie comes and says to you in the womb, “You look like an extraordinarily responsible, intelligent, potential human being. [You’re] going to emerge in 24 hours and it is an enormous responsibility I am going to assign to you — determination of the political, economic and social system into which you are going to emerge. You set the rules, any political system, democracy, parliamentary, anything you wish — you can set the economic structure, communistic, capitalistic, set anything in motion and I guarantee you that when you emerge this world will exist for you, your children and grandchildren.

What’s the catch? One catch — just before you emerge you have to go through a huge bucket with 7 billion slips, one for each human. Dip your hand in and that is what you get — you could be born intelligent or not intelligent, born healthy or disabled, born black or white, born in the US or in Bangladesh, etc. You have no idea which slip you will get. Not knowing which slip you are going to get, how would you design the world?

It really highlights the role of luck in people’s lives. There are simply many things that are out of your control, starting with who your parents are and where you’re born. Nobody gets to choose those.

That’s not to say that those obstacles are insurmountable, but that they play a part, sometimes a very large part, in our lives.

And the welfare state deals with specific instances of this. We have programs so children have health insurance (much of Medicaid), programs to reduce poverty among senior citizens (Social Security, Medicare), and programs to help low-income families (EITC, TANF).

These programs came up in a piecemeal fashion, in response to specific problems which were prominent at the time.

With rising income inequality, I’m not surprised that something like a GMI is now being discussed.

The second pair of articles discuss the guaranteed minimum income from a libertarian perspective.  The first attempts to find libertarian arguments in favor of a GMI.

1) A Basic Income Guarantee would be much better than the current welfare state.


2) A Basic Income Guarantee might be required on libertarian grounds as reparation for past injustice.


3. A Basic Income Guarantee might be required to meet the basic needs of the poor.

 It’s interesting reading, even though I’m not one of the intended audience, for its attempt to reconcile what, if implemented, could be one of the largest parts of the welfare state with a view that seeks to reduce the size of government.

The second is a response to that, and doesn’t agree that there can a be a case made on libertarian grounds for a GMI.

Concluding, so while I have a lot of sympathy for Matt’s suggestion for a Basic Income Guarantee I have major problems with his arguments for income redistribution. Hence, I continue to think a Basic Income Guarantee or a Negative Income Tax is a good idea as adenationalization strategy that could bring us (a little) closer to the ideal of a non-paternalitic classical liberal society.

The last article is the liberal case against the GMI (Universal Basic Income, or UBI in this article’s parlance).

Like good fiction, the way to read the UBI is not as a real proposal, but as a message about something else: our existing system. But the implicit critique of the existing system underlying UBI advocacy is not well-founded.

The alternative put forth in the article is to work with, and improve, the existing system.

I’m of the mind that the GMI is a proposal worth at least thinking about. As the author of the last piece says, GMI proposals are proposals, with none of the details worked out yet. But I can see the attraction in implementing one.

Turning the Page

While the view of the Harper government is understandable, it still seems unsatisfying to me. Perhaps it’s just my view of Guantanamo Bay coloring my thoughts.

The Harper government holds to the view Khadr is a dangerous, unrepentant terrorist, brought up in the notorious Khadr family that had close ties to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

That is not the view of teachers at King’s, nor of Khadr’s his psychiatrist from Guantanamo, retired U.S. military officer Stephen Xenakis, who visited the prisoner this fall. They see him as a thoughtful, committed student who wants to resume a productive life in the community.

If he’s not allowed to turn the page, what else can he ever be? I believe everybody deserves a second chance, but I can see why it can be very difficult to give people one.

For less extreme cases, it seems like second chances can actually help. This RSA animate video is about honesty and dishonesty, and they reduced cheating in an interesting way:

If you’re cheating lot, maybe you need to be able to open a new page.

So we did this experiment, so we do a non-Catholic kind of confession. People cheat a little bit, they cheat a lot, we give them a chance to say what they have done badly, we give them a chance to ask for forgiveness, from whatever spirits they believe in. What happens after those two actions together? Cheating goes down. Opening a new page does seem to be very successful.

There seems to be a built in assumption that you can’t eliminate cheating entirely. People will cheat, but you can reduce the amount of cheating by allowing them to confess, and giving them a second chance.

While it seems second best, any reduction in cheating would be good.