Intergenerational inequality

These are common views, held together often:

  • Modern people are more wasteful of natural resources than their ancestors
  • Technology won’t save us from this gluttony, all we can do is control ourselves
  • Humanity should minimize population as well as personal consumption now to preserve natural resources for future generations
  • .

    However if people are following a trend of using natural resources less efficiently, and this won’t be changed by future technology, current people seem likely use natural resources more efficiently than the next few generations. If this is true and the purpose is human wellbeing (as concern for future generations suggests), shouldn’t we try to have a larger population early on, at the expense of having a smaller one later?

    9 responses to “Intergenerational inequality

    1. Simple answer: Most people don’t like “harm reduction” arguments that argue that we should adapt to the things that they find to be highly sinful. This is a proposed “rational response” which people will find repugnant, like giving condoms to soldiers so they won’t spread STDs when they rape the locals (admittedly this is a more extreme example, but it’s one where you see almost all sympathy for harm-reduction go away.)

    2. Wasteful means using more, not using less efficiently?

      Wastefulness has already stopped *increasing*?

      This post is a good signal of your contrarian insightfulness but probably won’t phase any actual enviromentalist.

      • By wasteful I meant converting natural resources to human wellbeing less efficiently.

        Perhaps, but that doesn’t seem to me to be a common view. Is it?

        I guess I’ll have to signal my environmentalism some other way then.

    3. sorry, I don’t get it.

      As far as I understand, You are trying to come to a conclusion using loosely defined abstractions, which to me seems dangerous, mildly put.

      You are trying to reverse the ‘discounting the future’ argument,
      which -ahem- certain economists use.

      However if…
      -where are the facts supporting this proposition?
      Mankind accumulated knowledge and could put it to work more efficiently.

      If this is true …human wellbeing…
      -what ist that? something resembling a ‘definition’ is the basic needs approach.
      (Maslow, Corning, UN-charta).
      If You leave the basic needs approach, You get into trouble big time.
      What about a Sado-Maso couple?
      When ist their ‘wellbeing’ maximized?
      Wellbeing outside the ‘basic needs’ lacks a definition, at least I am not aware of any.
      PLUS, it lacks a metric!

      What You seem to suggest with Your usage of the abstractions is: Mankind: Procrastinate, and then blow Yourself up, because it cannot get any better.
      Aggregate wellbeing of the totality of all makind is then maximized.
      Which seems to me, when in a bad mood, the American way.
      Some twisted way to rationalize Hedonism.

      Wellbeing, or ‘worsebeing’, outside (above?) the basic needs, is dynamic, in that it works on Deltas, which fade away quickly, which is a psychophysical ‘fact’.
      So should we go into the psychophysics of pain or hunger or…?
      And put a metric on it?

      But maybe I am deadwrong in my interpretation of what You are argueing anyway.

    4. maybe I was a little bit harsh in my above comment, therefore some clarifications:

      Some ideas seem to be peripheral, but they are not.

      Maximum happiness (wellbeing, watered down: wellness) is a concept, deeply engrained into the American Psyche:
      The ‘pursuit of happiness’.

      It spread out into western civilizations, and reads now like
      “do’nt worry, be happy”,
      which infuriates quite a lot of our compatriots in other continents, apart from the happy few there.

      The deep chords You are striking, possibly unvoluntarily, rhyme
      to this In Dury song:

      Yes I’m a happy hippy, they call me Mr. Whippy
      When everything is crappy, being hippy makes you happy
      Yes I’m a happy hippy, and you can bet your bippy
      That everybody’s happy ‘cos everything is trippy

      I’ve found a new position
      I don’t use chairs and tables anymore
      I focus my attention from a lovely purple cushion on the floor
      When I look back on the rat-race
      I don’t regret a thing I’ve disavowed
      With the freedom of an eagle
      I can always keep my head above the clouds

      which is diffuse semantics, as I name it.
      But it is ok.

      Did Ian get it? NO!
      The layerings of existence are
      –a feeling of presence in the world
      –feeling connected by the give and take of other beings

      The crucial term is ofcourse ‘excessive’.
      We do not have excessive Givings of the Potlatch type anymore.
      We are mostly Takers nowadays.

      You see already?

      It is about the meaning of being ‘on the way’, which is a recognition of the fact, that most of our existence is about CHANGE.

      Not being a Buddhist myself, I accept that there are TWO methods to experience change:
      One outward, one inward.

      One is destructive.
      You guess which one.
      With some estranged curiousness I watch the Singularitarians of the type of
      Robin Hanson (who comments here at times) and Eliezer Yudkowsky, who take the outward path, and disregard the stable path, which is the ‘science of the subject’, inward looking, aka the ‘buddhist way’.

      To repeat myself: I am NO Buddhist, but sympathize.

      One of the symptoms of outward looking is the emphasis on ‘signalling’,
      which to me is is a silly concept, which one can easily see, if one puts it ito perfection: It is superficial connectedness. The silly art of the surface, which is in the ‘world’ to produce change and ultimately ‘wellbeing’.

      Ultimately this leads to the devouring of the universe, what the Singularitarians are all about.

      There is an important saying from Luther:
      “What if I gained the world and lost my soul?”
      I am a total agnostic, to be clear.
      But Luther said something VERY important:
      Which way You are looking determines the outcome.

      Sorry for the long post.

      Hope You rethink Your Singularitarian leanings, because they are the way to Neverland.

      If I am wrong, I apologize.

    5. Hi Katja,

      @OP: that’s a very simple yet elegant argument.

      However, in typical environmentalist contexts “wastefulness” refers not to the efficiency of extracting human utility from natural resources; rather, they address intrinsic utility to natural “harmony’ and untouched biomes. In this sense, “wastefulness” is simply a consumption and resource usage that is above a hypothetical limit that marks a maximal morally acceptable level.

      It’s a rather un-humanistic approach that reeks of delusional romanticism, yet I’m convinced it’s a prevalent viewpoint.

      The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is probably the most concentrated manifestation of this agenda… See:

    6. The assumption is the 1 unit less of consumption now will add up to much more than 1 unit of extra consumption in the future, even at present value (eating all the salmon in the world now would result in much less total salmon consumption in all present and future periods). Even if the marginal utility of consumption goes down, presumably they think the above effect dominates.

      • Fair enough for renewable resources at risk of permanent damage, but not for e.g. most forms of energy, minerals.

    7. I’m not convinced that “modern people are more wasteful of natural resources than their ancestors.”

      But even assuming your premises for the sake of argument, I don’t see how you’d arrive at the conclusion that we should “try to have a larger population early on, at the expense of having a smaller one later.” This seems to gloss over some predictable consequences — specifically, that increasing the population *now* would, all other things being equal, lead to an even larger population in the future.

      Regardless, I think the better approach than trying to (somehow) control the population rate is to raise the new generations to have good values.


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