Thursday, August 09, 2007

A light sprinkling

There was a light sprinkling overnight.

What do you mean, Spot. We didn't get any rain.

No, grasshopper. Spot means a sprinkling of comments from the professor. Let's look at 'em.

Comment to Oh, let's play the professor's stupid little game:

"...the public ... is not willing to accept any prospect of a catastrophe."

Your evidence for this statement is ...?

Ten words, Spot.

1. At what cost?
2. Compared to what?
3. How do you know?

The defect in the professor's argument is assuming that the cost of a disaster can be quantified.

Well of course you're right. Numbers are no match for self-righteous indignation and arrogance to knowledge you cannot have.

If you remember, boys and girls, this is the last sentence of the definition of cost-benefit analysis that Spot quoted:

The guiding principle is to list all of the parties affected by an intervention, and place a monetary value of the effect it has on their welfare as it would be valued by them.

In order for the stakeholders, the "parties affected," to be able to place a value on an "intervention," the stakeholders must possess the information necessary to make the choice, or perhaps more realistically, choose the political leaders who will make the choices that the stakeholders would make. With the benefit of hindsight—oh, damned hindsight that screws up our deformed ex ante thinking!—there are a lot of people who are thinking hard about the quality of economic decision making and the political leaders who were making them. Although they probably won't draw graphs with intersecting lines, so favored by the economics professorial class, Spot believes that many people have already concluded that the incremental cost of government to properly inspect and maintain bridges is a wise expenditure.

And compared to what? Saving the extra nickel or dime a gallon, Spot supposes. Implicit in the professor's question is the Republican attempt to pin this one on light rail, Northstar, health care, et cetera. But Spot doesn't think most people will see it that way. We're in the process of finding out.

Spot's favorite part of the comment is this:

Numbers are no match for self-righteous indignation and arrogance to knowledge you cannot have.

This is the professor's moral error. He lives in the world of incentives and trying to quantify them. But simple rapacity must not drive our philosophy. Spot's indignant—well, outraged would be more apt—about the bridge all right, but it's not self-righteous, it humanist. It is quite sad when you have to get your humanist values from a dog, professor.

That's enough for now. Look for responses to the other comments from the professor later.

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