News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Friday, October 01, 2004

From Dr D: i think i was perhaps aggressive un peu, but i felt i could trust you to take my comments in the right way. i am also to a certain extent a libertarian, but the question is to what extent, and what issues are we talking about.

i was going to ask how government restrictions affect you personally, and you have provided one in this e-mail. i hear what you're saying about private sector vs. public, though the private sector person is not likely to give you the full range of options available to you if it's not in their interest to do so. the average bureaucratic official is not, i'll admit, an ideal of knowledge, resourcefulness, and helpfulness.

the sort of person i would hope to be in government is chen xifan, my translation professor. he's at the end of a long diplomatic career and comes out of a law background. he could retire, but doesn't want to. he's at an age when the urge to self-promote isn't as strong as it was when he was younger. he's on the 319 truth commission just announced a few days ago. perhaps he's on the commission for selfish reasons. for self-promotion. because his friends are on the committee. because he's bored and wants something to do. because he wants to feel useful. there may be certain of his motives that may be less directly selfish. perhaps he wants to make sure the committee achieves its goal, because he thinks that's the right thing to do. perhaps he wants to play a small role in the effort to improve government functioning and, even larger, to stabilize the taiwan political situation. i think you'll agree that there may be many motives floating around in his head.

if you do agree with my multi-motive theory of mr. chen's behavior, then i wonder if you'll agree that such a theory is a challenge to an economic theory of human behavior. any economic theory that assumes that people act rationally to improve their economic interests has too simplistic a vision of human nature and human behavior. perhaps human nature and behavior are beside the point, but i think they're related to the point i started out discussion, which was what kind of person do we want in government. do we want aggressive salesmen types? behind the scenes financial movers and shakers? profit driven entrepreneurs?

perhaps we do want more of this kind of person, but the idea of salesmen legislators and "profit driven" judges makes me rather uneasy. not that my feelings matter, but that's not the kind of person i'd want to have in my government.
as for the matter of which functions should be performed by government and which should be privatized, i'm open to discussion. there's been lots of privatizing in taiwan since 1988...many functions, such as the postal service, the telecom industry, can be profitably (both meanings intended) privatized. perhaps the police can be privatized. it would help to look at what other countries do, so we know what's possible, what's worked in the past, we'll have more possibilities for what might work here. but each function should be treated individually. i think it would be a mistake to always come into a debate from a certain angle. for example, if we're discussing the privatization of garbage pick up, it would be unwise to come into the discussion with a preset conclusion that privatization is the best way to go.

the problem you describe with your phone does not end if you're dealing with a private company. it would depend whether the person you're talking to has an interest in keeping you as a customer, in satisfying you, in making money for you. if you're talking to someone whose pay doesn't change as a result of performance, someone who doesn't to some extent identify with the interests of the company, then it's no better than talking to some idiot in the government.
"plain absence of brainpower"--it's all around us, as is the absence of kindness. people are frightening; but evolution, culture, the fate of humanity, the fate of the planet, and the developmental processes that will take us to this fate are awesome and sublime.

do you ever wonder whether your position in society determines your political outlook, and if so to what extent?

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