Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Various and sundry


From time to time, I have the wish to discuss, reference, or clarify something that feels too general to write as e.g. an excursion in another page, but where I lack the time, or the topic the importance, to create a separate page. In such cases, I might opt to give a brief treatment on this page.

Note that any of the below entries might eventually be moved elsewhere, e.g. in order to give a fuller treatment on a separate page—once I do have the time.

Also note that my intention to give a brief treatment often fails. Once I get started, texts often turn out longer than planned, and chances are that at least some of the texts present at any given time would be long enough to warrant separate pages even in the now. (And are disproportionately likely to be among those later moved.)

The entries

Failure to consider human nature

Political, societal, and personal problems often arise from a failure to consider and accommodate human nature (especially, but by no means exclusively, on the Left/among Leftists). This, in particular, in two forms:

  1. A failure to take into account how humans will naturally tend to behave in various situations, under various rules, and similar. Two important special cases are (a) not considering the effects of varying incentives on behavior, (b) assuming that humans will behave as they “should”. (Where the “should” can be e.g. the personal preference of an ideologue, politician, social reformer, or educator. Such preferences do not tend to be universal.) Ideas like that humans are naturally good, that they will voluntarily work hard for the “common good” in a Communist society, and that they would never, ever cheat to get social benefits that they do not deserve belong in this category.

  2. Attempts to ignore, deny, overcome by brute force, or similar, human nature. Consider the “tabula rasa” fallacy, the view of humans as something entirely apart from “lower” animals, the view that the shells of clothes, apartments, books, habits, whatnot, that we put on fundamentally determine who we are, etc.

    Overcoming nature, within reasonable limits, might well be a worthy goal, but we must approach that matter in a reasonable manner, the most important point being the recognition of what we are beneath the shells and by nature. (As the hackneyed claim goes: The first step to overcoming a problem is to admit that we have a problem.) Once we understand and acknowledge the limitations, natural drives, and whatnots that nature places upon us, then we can work at overcoming them in a healthy and productive manner. (As an interesting special case, reading books on animals can, in some cases, improve our understanding of humans. Note e.g. “Gorillas in the Mist”.)

    Consider, by analogy, two short monozygotic twins who want to be successful basketball players. The one acknowledges his height (respectively, lack thereof), tries to find out what he can and can not do well in light of his height, finds the areas where being short might be an advantage (dribbling?) and then plays to his strengths, adapts his style of play and playing choices to take a height difference into account (e.g. by passing where someone else would have taken a shot or by making more 3- than 2-point attempts), etc. The other trains and plays as if he matched the average height of the NBA. Which of the two will have the better chances?

    An import special case is forgetting that we might gain or lose happiness depending on whether we stick to or deviate from what is, in some sense, natural. For a partial pun, consider something as trivial as getting more exposure to nature over living 24/7/365 in world of concrete. Many examples include a difference between what does makes us happy and what “should” (often, again, in the opinion of some ideologue or whatnot) make us happy. (With variations centered on other things than happiness, e.g. what makes us laugh, what we like to read, what causes sexual excitement.)

(This topic can be expanded very greatly. I hope to do so at some point, but it will not be in the near future.)

Government as the fox in the hen-house

It is often the case that the government involves it self in some matter where it does more harm than good. (And/or that politicians call for such involvement and/or that naive members of the public do so.)

Often, this is taken to the point that we have the proverbial situation of a fox guarding the hen-house.

Consider many market situations, where it is assumed that the markets cannot handle this-or-that, that those in charge of various free enterprises cannot make correct decisions in this-or-that area, or similar. Now, maybe this is true or partially true in some cases. But what makes the government better suited in terms of e.g. decision-making ability? (See side-note for other factors.) Governments have a horrible past record, are plagued by partisan concerns and ideological biases, draw on the work of civil servants (an unusually low competence group in modern times), and, if in doubt, fish from the same or a smaller pool of talent that/than free enterprises do. The politicians, themselves, are also often no where near where they should be for their respective jobs.


Politicians and leaders of industry, or whatnot, often pursue different goals, which is not the topic above. However, in as far as the goals of the politicians are somewhat legitimate (e.g. to increase the economic well-being of the masses), chances are that free enterprise would do a better job. For less legitimate goals, this might change—but why should success at something illegitimate matter? (Consider e.g. replacing equality of opportunity with equality of outcome.)

Some special cases might be justifiable for other reasons, e.g. to ensure that a certain railway is built. Here too, however, governments tend to do poor jobs, if in doubt because they use tax-payer’s money to pay some company to do the job with screwed up incentives. Consider risks like a government paying too little attention to costs, as it is someone else’s money at stake, contracts being awarded based on personal contacts and to indirectly favor the individual politicians, no serious controlling taking place, failures being mis-declared as successes to save the politicians’ faces, instead of being thoroughly investigated, whatnot. The companies so hired, of course, have few incentives beyond accepting payments and can often benefit from delays and cost increases, as this eventually means more money. (While this is not flattering for the businesses either, they are merely accepting a dupes money—the dupe who throws money at them is the real problem.) In a next step, such government failure can easily be painted as the failure of some business—and see how evil Capitalism is and how we need more government!


The issue of civil servants, and those in a similar position, is potentially historically interesting, in that a career as a civil servant was, in some place and at some times, something of prestige and accomplishment. Today, such careers face competition from many large enterprises and other potential sources of careers, including as elected politicians. (Note how the position of prime minister, or whatever the local equivalent, was effectively that of a civil servant in many past times, while it is, today, almost invariably an elected office. Ditto many other important positions.) To boot, the sheer number of civil servants has exploded over time, forcing a lower average competence level. Compared with some points in the past, the civil service might require ten times as many members and draw from a pool of real competence that is a tenth of what it used to be, due to competition from other career paths.

Then we have the issue of negative selling points for a career as a civil servant: A very illustrative example is the Swedish “statens kaka är liten men säker”—“the state’s cake is small but secure” (to some approximation; “kaka”, in particular, could have different translations). The idea is simple: If you join us, you will not be paid much, but you will have great job security! Now, what type of employee is this likely to entice and what type will be more willing to take his chances with the higher salaries and lesser job security in the world of free enterprise? Germany does not have the same cliché, but the same type of thinking is there—a lower remuneration is accepted in return for job security. (Other factors of a similarly negative character can play in, e.g. in that a position as a civil servant is often sought by the lazy.)

Similarly, the government often decides to meddle in the business of private individuals. Sometimes, this might be for the best; more often, it is for the worse. In particular, there is a massive problem with a one-size-fits-all and/or the-government-knows-best-for-everyone thinking. In reality, different individuals have very different priorities, life situations, and whatnot—and they move at very different levels of competence. It might then, e.g., be that the government presumes to make a decision that (a) might make sense for the average construction worker, (b) might be correct in assuming that the government knows better than that average construction worker. Even if the respective “might” is true, however, there is no guarantee for even a construction worker outside the average—and it might be horrifyingly wrong for someone like me. Certainly, I am not just smarter and better educated than the average construction worker—I am smarter and better educated than the vast majority of all politicians, including the likes of Olaf Scholz (German Chancellor at the time of writing) and Joe Biden (POTUS at the time of writing).

In a next step, however, real problems can begin: because the citizens are considered incapable of making good decisions for themselves, many decisions are moved to civil servants, who (a) form an unusually untalented subset of the overall population, but (b), somehow, magically, by dint of being civil servants, are considered capable of making decisions that a mere citizen is not. (Worse, many civil servants, especially in the social-services area, appear to be strong adherents of Marxism or some variation or off-shot of Marxism, which influences their work and their decisions for the worse.)


In many cases, the move to force the citizen to certain actions, e.g. participation in some mandatory scheme, is often (in addition or on its own) a thinly veiled attempt at unethical redistribution and vote buying. For instance, someone who earns well might have no need for unemployment insurance, because he (a) is unlikely to be laid off, (b) is likely to soon find a good other job, if he still is laid off, (c) typically has enough savings to cover some considerable time out of employment. However, should he be exempted from such schemes, the scheme has less money to pay out to those who are more likely to be laid off, less likely to find a new job, and less likely to have own savings—not to mention those who deliberately abuse unemployment benefits to finance a work-free life. (Also note the immediately following topic and how the above is a good example of something that is insurance in name but not fact.)

Health insurance and misguided attitudes

The U.S. comic strip “On a Claire Day” included an arch dealing with health insurance, beginning in June 2007. Several of the strips exemplify a faulty attitude to health insurance and the problems that can arise from them. Faulty attitudes, a faulty or absent understanding how health insurance works, a faulty or absent understanding of incentives, etc., are strong contributors to why healthcare is such a problem in today’s world, why politicians intervene in a manner that makes matters worse, whatnot—and the same applies, m.m., to many other issues.


The below is not a full analysis, only some remarks that sprung to mind during the reading of the strip.

Note that the U.S. 2024 (time of my writing) situation has grown even worse than the 2007 (time of the strip author’s writing) situation on many counts, through a continuation of misdevelopments and the mistakes of ObamaCare. In particular, detaching responsibility for payment from use of service even further is a horrifying error.

Some particularly noteworthy examples:

  1. 2007-06-18: Claire, an unemployed early twenties woman, compares insurances. One is at 500 USD a month, which she, understandably, cannot afford. But in what system is it reasonable that a young woman, with no known health issues, should pay 500 USD a month for health insurance? This amount is entirely out of proportion to the risks and the costs-in-a-sane-system.

    A part of the explanation is that it is not (as far as I can speculate based on the limited information given) not a true insurance, but one of those “you pay us 500 USD/month in a blanket manner and we cover any costs that arise” schemes. (If, likely, with a rider of “except for one-thousand-and-one-things that we will weasel out of”.)

    The effect of such a scheme, on top of the proper insurance sub-part, is that Claire pays more into the “insurance” than she, per expectation, would ever get back, making her better off with a proper insurance and “out of pocket” payment for lesser issues.

    The second appears to be a proper insurance: For a 100 USD a month, costs beyond 10,000 USD are covered. (Again, with reservations for interpretation.) We can discuss whether fee and coverage are in proportion and whether a limit at specifically 10k is suitable, but the general idea is much better. (For instance, maybe, especially for someone with little or no savings, amounts of 200 USD a month resp. 1,000 USD would be a better choice.) This is what insurance should do—cover the really big things that, without insurance, would hit us too hard if they hit.

    (Imagine a car insurance that would not just cover accidents, but the cost for regular maintenance, a monthly visit to the car wash, and the cost for re-fueling the car—and how much such an insurance might cost. The idea is idiotic—but it is exactly what many insurance schemes amount to.)

  2. 2007-06-23: Claire is told that a physician (“doctor”) would not even shake her hand, unless she held an insurance card in it.

    While likely not strictly true, it does show the systematic problems caused by the U.S. insurance system. There is no reason (except for risk of default on payments, which is a minor issue for e.g. checkups and trivial treatments) that someone who pays out of pocket should be less welcome than someone who pays through insurance. To the degree that they are, it perpetuates a vicious circle.


    Here we see that the citizens’ attitudes are to some degree forced by surrounding circumstances. A “health insurance should pay for everything” attitude is fundamentally flawed, but a “I have to be insured because the system punishes those who pay out of pocket” might be a necessary evil in a broken system.

  3. 2007-06-23: Claire takes a basically sound attitude of I-will-just-take-care-of-myself, which would likely work quite well for a woman her age and basic health, when combined with a proper insurance. She refers to the “pioneers”, who got by without health insurance—and is told that they “all keeled over by age 40”.

    Not only is this claim factually untrue, but the reasons for a lower life expectancy did not rest in having or not having health insurance, but in factors like a more physically dangerous life, the number of diseases without effective treatments at any cost, an insufficient understanding of hygiene, malnutrition, and similar. (We simply do not need the “insurance pays for everything nonsense”.)


    Moreover, the overall impression from the strip is less that Claire has a healthy attitude and more that she is trying to find excuses for remaining uninsured. (And, yes, I have serious doubts as to how sound the attitude of the strip author is.)


    I gave up on the strip comparatively soon after writing this text. This, in part, because of poor execution of promising ideas; in part, exactly because of examples of Leftist naiveté or agenda pushing on behalf of the author shining through. This included several entirely unnecessary jabs at Bush Jr. and, in-the-final-read-by-me installation, an attempt at raising Obama to the skies. (I did not keep exact notes, but consider a dialogue along the lines of “Marrying an X might not be so bad.”, “Isn’t Bush an X?”, “Oh, yeah, never mind.” anti-Bush, and claims like “Obama got a JD from Harvard! He must be super-smart!” pro-Obama for the respective gist.)

    With hindsight, and an eye at the timing, it seems somewhat likely that the health-insurance arch was also an attempt at exactly Obama-pushing.

  4. 2007-06-27: A friend (of a similar age and apparent health) tries to justify her own high payments with the claim that “It’s important to treat your body as a temple.”. Phrasing aside, this is a non sequitur: Health insurance does not lead to such treatments, nor does such treatment require health insurance. On the contrary, Claire’s idea of e.g. eating healthier is the better approach.

    Now, what the friend might have intended is that she now could go to a physician for even minor problems and suspicions of problems. However, this is unlikely to bring her much benefit (at least, at that age; at 80, it might be different). What it does is to drive up costs in the overall system, use up physician time that could be used for other purposes, and otherwise worsen the problems of health care. Note that even her own health situation might be worsened in the aggregate. What e.g. if she has a real problem on some occasion and she does not get timely enough treatment because too many physicians are bogged down prescribing vitamins to young women with a cold? Or if the demand for physicians has pushed competence levels down so that she is mistreated? Of if her physician is over-worked and misses something important that he otherwise would have found?

  5. 2007-08-06: Claire now actually is at the physician’s, for “feeling run-down”, and wants some type of medication against the issue. She gets the advice to eat better and to get some exercise. Her reply? A request for a pill to make her do that...

    Now, it might well be that Claire intended her answer as a joke towards the physician, but combined with her trivial reason for going to him in the first place (and her failure to try his fairly obvious advice on her own, before going), it displays a very poor attitude—and one highly likely to lead to an overloaded healthcare system, etc. I often feel run-down and I have yet to visit a physician for it. Instead, I get some rest-and-relaxation and catch up on my sleep, which actually works. A trip to a physician, on the other hand, would waste my time and money, leave me with some trivial advice or a pointless shot, and otherwise be useless. (This, unless some rare long-term condition is found. A visit to check something like that might be justified if rest-and-relaxation, sleep, better eating, and exercise fails over a non-trivial time.)

    (Note the overlap with the previous item, which was written before I encountered the 2007-08-06 strip. The 2007-08-06 strip gratifyingly reduces the amount of speculation above. A continuation of that arch points to Claire trying to take the easy way out. The “wants a pill” attitude might be a symptom of that and such an attitude could also negatively affect the health-care system, if in an off-topic manner.)

While I will not go into details of the flaws of various systems, I do point to the risks involved with variations of “single payer” (an extremely misleading term) and “insurance pays” systems. When there is no connection between use of a service and payment for a service, the use of the service will be suboptimal. Overuse and use by those who do not actually need/benefit is particularly common. In the other direction, those who charge (here physicians, hospitals, and the like) will tend to charge more and more, because charging more is not a deterrent for the patients/customers.


An interesting complication in the U.S. system, in my understanding, is that the original bill is often viewed as a starting bid and hospitals start well above what they actually expect to receive. The insurance company has the negotiating clout to pay an amount well short of the bill (and/or an aggregated set of bills). An uninsured patient does not have such clout and ends up obliged to pay the full amount of that starting bid.

Important: The main problem in the U.S. system (and the German and many others) is costs. It simply costs too much to get this-or-that treatment due to decades of flawed incentives and distortions. Cut the patient costs down to where they rightfully should be, and issues like “Millions lack insurance!!!” become far less important. (And with the resulting, more affordable, insurance, the proportion without insurance would likely shrink too.)


To avoid misunderstandings: With “Cut” I refer to a correction of incentives followed by the workings of market forces—not some governmental edict that tries to force a certain price level. Such governmental intervention tends to do more harm than good. (And, of course, the current situation is less a matter of “greedy capitalists” and more of overall misdevelopments that have been enabled or outright furthered by the government.)

An upside in comparison with the German system is that Claire actually had the option of going uninsured and, importantly, the option of going for a proper insurance. In Germany, we are stuck in mandatory insurance schemes that are based on ideas like “the insurance company pays for everything” (except that the insured pay so much to the insurance that they lose money on the scheme), “the ‘rich’ pay for the ‘poor’—social justice!” (instead of the “lucky pay for the unlucky”, as with proper insurance), and similar. In particular, those who do take care of themselves, by and large, pay as much as those who do not, despite the latter causing much larger costs. Likewise, those who go to a physician only when they have a legitimate reason pay as much as those who run to a physician for any trivial complaint. (The resulting incentives are horrible.)

Effect of productivity on e.g. working conditions

An interesting thought is how productivity of the workforce (or, more accurately, the average and/or marginal profit gained from a worker/employee/whatnot) affects e.g. working conditions, wages, what businesses are sustainable, what the effects of union activity or government interventions (notably, minimum wages) are, etc. Below I give some examples on a “food for thought” basis, especially with an eye at political pressures of various types.


Numbers are for illustration only, with no claim of realism or that they would match specifically the U.S. dollar.

Unless otherwise stated, I make the simplifying assumption that the only costs incurred are those to pay workers. This does not alter the general principles illustrated, but it does make the discussion much easier. (Consider, for a more realistic discussion, the need to factor in fix and variable costs of production in a factory, that the marginal value of even a productive worker can drop with the number of workers, and countless other complications.)

The repeated use of minimum wages for contrast is based on how well they fit in the particular scenarios used. The point is not that minimum wages are bad, let alone worse than many other problems, and minimum wages, at their current size, are not in my top-10 list of societal problems.

(I do, for the record, consider minimum wages a bad thing, at least beyond some very low threshold. However, (a) they are, again, not a top-10 issue, (b) I would use a wider range of arguments, were minimum wages the actual topic and/or target, e.g. the entry and re-entry hurdles that minimum wages cause.)

  1. Compare two workers that create revenue of 10 resp. 20 dollar/hour. A trivial observation is that the latter brings as much benefit per hour when paid 10 dollar/hour as the former when unpaid. Another that the employer will be much more open to pay the latter a given amount of money than the former (all other factors equal), as well as more willing to pay the latter more than the former. For instance, at a payment of 8 dollar/hour, the former generates a net profit of 2 dollar, the latter 12 dollar, implying that the one brings the net benefit of six of the former—despite “only” being twice as productive. (For simplicity, I will usually leave out the “/hour”.)

    In a next step, consider e.g. what might happen when a minimum wage pushes those 8 dollar to 10. Note how the first worker now brings no net benefit to his employer, while the second still creates a value of another 10 dollar (unless already better paid as a consequence of his productivity). Move to a 12-dollar minimum wage, and the first loses his employer 2 dollar, while the former still brings in 8 dollar. If the first is not outright laid off, his employment will now effectively be subsidized by the latter, who, in turn, might be much less likely to receive voluntary raises and other benefits, because there is less money to go around.

  2. Compare two different factories, where the average revenue generated by all workers are 10 resp. 20 dollar/hour.

    Which of the two factories is more likely to offer higher wages, various voluntary benefits, give company picnics, whatnot? Which is more likely to scrimp and try to cut corners, including on worker safety?

    Which will be affected how by e.g. union activity and minimum wages?

  3. If someone wants to help the workers, how is this best done? Do we impose minimum wages or do we help to increase productivity or, more generally, the net profit per employee? Note how the net profit (in a scenario without simplifying assumptions) also includes factors like company taxes and hidden taxes on salaries that are paid by the employer (but hurt the employee through reducing wage increases and issues like the ones discussed in this text). Likewise, consider the effects of VAT and governmental bureaucracy.

    For instance, take a worker paid 8 dollar who generates 10 dollar worth of revenue. Is he helped more by a minimum wage that gives him 9 dollar per hour (shrinking his “net productivity” to 1 dollar) or by a reduction of government interference that moves his revenue to 11 dollar (increasing his “net productivity” to 3 dollar)? What are his chances of being laid off or seeing his employer go bankrupt vs. his chances of better working conditions or a voluntary raise? Where will his long-term prospects be the better? Etc.

    (Note that I am not saying that he will necessarily benefit more from the latter. More generally, many of the questions posed in this text are best understood as food for thought. Some have clear answers that can be found with minimal thought; others are of e.g. the “well, it all depends” type.)

    Likewise, are union efforts better spent striking or improving the skills of the workforce, if improving the conditions for the workforce is the goal? (Note that strikes bring productivity to a temporary halt and, thereby, reduce average long-term productivity. If strikes are common, they can be a considerable obstacle. If poor working conditions, low pay, whatnot, are a result of low productivity, a strike for better conditions or more pay can be outright counterproductive through lowering that productivity further.)

  4. What will be more beneficial for the workers? Minimum wages or new and better technology that increases productivity?


    The effects of new technology go far beyond the scope of this text. However, it is noteworthy that the net effects of new technology usually have defied the fears of e.g. increased long-term unemployment. (So far, knock on wood.)

  5. Slavery is a particularly interesting example, where the low (but not zero) cost of work gives few incentives to increase productivity per worker/slave, which keeps productivity down, which keeps working conditions poor, which makes the slaves less likely to be productive workers, which keeps productivity down, etc.

    Looking at e.g. the “field” slaves of the U.S. slavery era, with an eye at working conditions, chances are that the productivity was quite low, well in line with the idea that slavery does more to hold societies with slavery back than to enrichen them. (I have also heard claimed, but have not looked into this, that the “cotton gin” was more important to Southern wealth from cotton than slavery. If so, with an eye at the previous item, it would be interesting to see who did or did not benefit in what manner.)

    It is also historically noteworthy that slaves with different abilities have had different trajectories, based on differences in what benefits they brought their masters. In ancient Rome, for instance, a slave with a solid education and a good mind, if landing with the right master, could lead a good life by the standards of the day, even to the point of being freed and growing independently wealthy.

Rational vs. cold and calculating

One of the fundamental problems with certain groups (often, but not necessarily, Leftist) is the assumption that anyone rational or proposing a rational approach would also be “cold and calculating”.

To exactly define what “rational” implies would require far more deliberation, and might result in a far longer text, than I have time for. However, a typical case would be to begin with some given goal and to see how that goal is best achieved; another, to begin with some set of premises/priorities/values/whatnot and to see where thinking takes us. (And, of course, any suitable mixture of the two.)

Nothing in this requires, e.g., that someone strives to maximize profits at any and all cost (“And to hell with everyone else!”). The common misperception (often, it seems, deliberate caricature) as “cold and calculating” presupposes certain goals and whatnots that, however, are not a part of being rational. Someone rational might have such goals, certainly, but he might equally have goals like “maximize the common good”, “save the community center”, and “find loving homes for abandoned children”, or anything in between.


Another problem might exist, however, namely that someone becomes so focused on a certain goal that other concerns are ignored, e.g. that human rights are trampled in favor of “the greater good”. However, in my impression, such an attitude is much more common among the irrational than the rational and, certainly, much more common on the Left than the non-Left. If in doubt, a fanatical dedication to a certain cause is usually a matter of emotions.

Indeed, many of the great evils, violations of human rights, and whatnots, throughout history have been rooted in lack of rationality, be it through someone or some group being driven by emotions or through failing to think matters through. A hatred of Jews, e.g., is a matter of irrationality and emotionality (consequences include the Holocaust and the 2023 Hamas-led massacre of Jews). Ditto e.g. a hatred of those with more money/land/education/whatnot (consequences include countless Communist atrocities).

For a more specific example, consider various forms of governmental aid and checks for actual eligibility, requirements on the recipients (e.g. that someone receiving unemployment aid must actively look for job), upper time limits, and similar. Many Leftists try to paint this as sheer callousness (at extremes, even as deliberate evil or deliberate oppression). In reality, it is a matter of applying reason to the situation. For instance, if there are no, or too lax, checks for eligibility, then many who are ineligible will receive aid, which will enrichen them at the cost of everyone else—including the actually eligible that have less money to go around and/or the tax payers who need to pay more to finance the aid scheme. Even if someone has an expansive welfare state as a goal (I do not, obviously; if in doubt, I see the expensive welfare state), rationality implies that such restrictions must be present in order to maximize the intended positive, and minimize the unintended negative, effects of the welfare state.

Likewise, who does more to help the needy—the bleeding heart that throws them each a fish or the rational mind that gives them the skills, tools, and opportunities to fish for themselves? (Even when the former comes back with more fish, day after day, and the latter leaves the needy to their own devices, once they have been set up for fishing.)

It is also very important to keep in mind that different goals and priorities are not necessarily a sign of different levels of e.g. egoism and idealism. Certainly, from what I have seen over the last three or four decades, egoism is more common on the Left while idealism is very common on the non-Left. (Whether the same applies in the juxtapositions emotional/irrational vs. rational is not a given, however.)

Consider the following statement by Walter E. Williams:

But let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn. Do you disagree? Well then tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you - and why?

(Quoted from the notoriously unreliable goodreads.come; however, I have seen the same or almost the same quote even in printed form.)

Why should the one who wants to keep what he has earned, let alone the one who wants that we all keep what we earn, be more of an egoist and less of an idealist than the one who wants the government to take the money that others have earned and give it him? In particular, the Leftist caricature of the greedy Capitalist who wants lower taxes so that he has more money is a caricature—a typical position among e.g. Libertarians, even those who are not very wealthy or well earning, is that (a) it is a matter of common fairness that we all have a right to our own income, (b) lower taxes, less redistribution, etc., leads to more growth, which will leave everyone better off in the long run. Here, (a) is idealistic, while (b) is an excellent illustration of a rational approach: a sensible goal exists and we choose a good way to reach that goal.

Finally, consider a community center in jeopardy: An emotional reaction that “We must save the community center!” is unlikely to be helpful—it might or might not save the community center, but it will not necessarily be for the best, and will, barring sheer luck, be worse or much worse than a rational approach. Instead, we have to take that rational approach, beginning with the question whether we would be better off if we save the community center than if we do not. This includes looking at alternatives, e.g. whether the important purposes can be saved without saving the whole center; giving proper attention to factors like opportunity costs (e.g. whether saving the community center might force the sacrifice of something else and whether a better use for the community-center money can be found); and other acts aimed at finding the best approach overall, not just the best approach to “save”. The community center must be seen as a means to an end—not as an end in it self. If the rational verdict comes down on “save the community center”, then we should save it. If not, then not.

Promising a better future

Looking back at history, one of the main ways to gain followers has been to promise them a better future, be it on Earth or in some afterlife, be it through rewarding own efforts or through arbitrary hand-outs, be it through “righting wrongs” or through favoring the chosen, whatnot.

This is a common approach on the Left, and especially the Marxist Left, with variations along the lines of “after the Revolution, we will build a Paradise on Earth”, “if you vote us into power, we will raise taxes for the Evil Rich and give to you”, “you are only poor because of Capitalism—vote for us and we will make everything fair and proper”, “the government can solve all your problems, it just needs enough power”—with endless variations, depending on e.g. the target group at hand. (Below, I will simply speak of “the Revolution”. This, however, mostly for convenience—similar issues apply to a wide range of Leftist promises and whatnots, and especially when there is a future threshold involved, e.g. that “if you vote us into power for the next election cycle, then XYZ”.)

From this, there are at least two issues of interest to the Left now as opposed to the Left in the 19th century.

Firstly, the promised carrot works best when it cannot yet be delivered because of external obstacles. If and when the Revolution comes, the Party actually has to deliver, which it might not be able to do. (In fact, for many promises, this is a near certainty, because of how economically flawed Leftist thinking and policies almost invariably are.) In a next step, some scape-goat has to be found, e.g. that Paradise is only prevented through “subversives”, “counter-revolutionaries”, enemies abroad, or similar.

From another angle, even a successful deliverer of promises, let alone an unsuccessful one, is faced with issues like a natural human tendency to be discontent, the “the grass is always greener on the other side” effect, different expectations in detail among different adherents, which are then fulfilled to different degrees, and that someone might find that what was “supposed” to make him happy actually does not. (To the last, consider e.g. someone who was a factory worker in a privately owned factory and is now a factory worker in a factory collectively owned by all the workers. The latter might seem more satisfying than the former to a Communist, but if work, and life in general, otherwise remains more-or-less the same, is he truly better off?)

Secondly, what happens when life grows better even without a Revolution or when the problem(s) that justified a cause otherwise disappear? Consider the massive improvements in living standards for workers since the days of Marx, how much the lives of U.S. Blacks have improved both absolutely and relative to Whites since the Civil War, or how women have become an outright privileged group. (More specifically, a group that has kept all old rights and privileges of women and added all rights and privileges of men, but usually without (a) accepting the obligations and duties of men, (b) extending women’s rights and privileges to men. Note how Feminists have been given everything that they asked for, yet seem to grow ever more dissatisfied as time goes by.)

Sooner or later, usually sooner, the point comes where it makes little sense to give sincere promises, make fair comparisons, etc., and great twists and turns become necessary. (From what I have seen, it is often dubious whether earlier promises were sincere and earlier comparisons fair, but the chance was, at least, better.)

For instance, in today’s world, the allegedly poor often have an obesity problem. Instead of then emphasising the purchasing power needed to grow obese (and the need to take own responsibility for one’s exercise and eating habits), health problems among the allegedly poor are ascribed to e.g. their being “‘underprivileged” or being victims of “structures” or some other vague and misleading formulation. We must now defeat poverty in order to prevent obesity!

For instance, goal posts are constantly moved, as with outrageous misdefinitions of poverty that are pushed by the Left: the poor are no longer those who have problems keeping themselves clothed and fed, but those who e.g. earn “less than half the median income”—which all but ensures that a significant portion of the population will always be mislabeled as “poor”, no matter how well off they are relative past generations and no matter how much society progresses. (As I have noted elsewhere, this type of metric is not of poverty at all, but of income distribution—among several problems. TODO import Wordpress text and link.)

For instance, it becomes ever more important to push “us vs. them” thinking and the alleged evil of “them”.

For instance, it is possible to prey on the ignorance of the masses and compensate for a lack of problems by screaming ever and ever more loudly about the remnants of problems that exist—or to outright invent them when they do not.

For instance, much can be gained by keeping own responsibility, own abilities, whatnot, out of the equation: any and all failure is caused by someone or something else, be it the young Black man who hung out with a gang instead of studying and ended up in prison instead of college (e.g. “Systemic Racism!!!” or “School-to-prison pipeline!!!”) or the incompetent and belligerent middle-aged woman who was passed over for a promotion (e.g. “Patriarchy!!!” or “Glass ceiling!!!”)—and never mind the Black men who did study and end up in college or the competent and friendly women who did get promotions.

Such observations explains quite a lot about the modern Left.


Various remarks:

  1. Even promising an afterlife is, in and by itself, a potential source of incentives, hope, fear, or whatnot.

  2. There is often a reverse side, e.g. in that someone sinful on Earth might be punished, not rewarded, in the afterlife, while those who “misbehave” in the now might be punished once the Revolution comes.

  3. Here we have yet another area where the Left and religions fight for a following in the same groups and with similar means.

    An interesting contrast, however, is how e.g. the Catholic Church promises something with more-or-less certainty in the afterlife, while e.g. Communist agitators promise something potential on Earth: If you behave like you “should”, you will go to heaven vs. if you (and sufficiently many others) behave like you “should” we will have a Communist Paradise on Earth after the Revolution.

    Another issue is the individual vs. the collective: The fate of a Catholic after death depends on his own actions and only affects himself. (With some reservations, e.g. for masses read in favor of someone dead.) The fate of a Communist on Earth depends on how many others behave and his fate will be shared by many others.

  4. In today’s Western world, there is actually a significant bonus for being Black in college admissions, measured at equal levels of own accomplishment. Ditto for being both Black and a woman in e.g. promotions. In both cases, to a considerable portion, because of Leftist propaganda tactics, as discussed above, the problems caused by countless unfounded cries of “Racism!!!” and “Sexism!!!”, and the “diversity” nonsense.

    Fake diversity could exemplify yet another tactic to overcome the problems that the Left has, but I am currently uncertain how to approach that aspect of the issue. A problem is that fake diversity does not have the countless counterparts that so many other Leftist tricks have.

Libertarians vs. Leftists on freedom

Main text

A common difference between Libertarians and Leftists, especially on the New Left and/or among those who abuse the word “Liberal” in the manner common in the U.S.:

A Libertarian might want everyone to have the right to do this-and-that, even while acknowledging that it can be a bad idea and that we are better off not exercising that right. For instance, that someone has the right to live on junk food, while foregoing vegetables, does not mean that this is a good idea.

Leftists often have two contrasting takes:

Firstly, the superficially similar that everyone should have the right—but that it would be virtuous to exercise that right.

(Including in many cases where it is hard or impossible to argue that the action would be virtuous, beneficial, or otherwise positive. At the extreme end, I have e.g. seen mentions of an increased number of abortions as a sign of progress. I am open to the possibility that relatively unrestricted abortion laws are a good thing, but under no circumstances can I see an abortion as something good. An occasionally necessary evil, yes; something good, no.)

Secondly, that what is not good should be forbidden or otherwise prevented by the government, even when it would seem to be a natural matter of personal choice. (This take is sometimes shared by Conservatives, if usually with very different priorities and, in my impression, less often.) To boot, “[not] good” must often be seen with a particular Leftist interpretation. Some Leftists might be content with favoring bans, restrictions, or additional taxes on what is widely considered negative; others might go after what is considered outright positive outside the Left, e.g. hiring help for the household and giving someone else a new source of income. (One of my earlier political memories is the Swedish Communists having conniption fits over the mere thought of making such help easier to hire. Swedish readers might recognize “pigdebatten”.)

The same applies, to some degree, to what is good, in that a Libertarian sees a right to forego it, while the Leftist is much more likely to want to make it mandatory. (See below for a lengthier example. Note the above comment on interpretation of “[not] good”.)

Going back to the original example, we would then, all too often, see one of two takes on unhealthy food: Either eating it is both a right and a virtue or it should be forbidden. (In this particular case, however, the question is sufficiently trivial and/or low-priority that most Leftists likely do not have very strong opinions in either direction.)

To what degree these two groups within the Left overlap, I leave unstated. However, I suspect that the overlap is considerably larger than might be believed based on the apparent incompatibility of the positions, the hitch being that different issues can see very different takes, with more regard for partisan concerns than logical consistency.

A particular absurdity in this vein were claims by some Leftist nitwit during the COVID-countermeasure era:


This was likely well over a year before the time of writing, 2024-03-19, so I do not remember the who, when, and where, beyond it being a woman. It might have been someone like Birx, Arden, Sturgeon, who all have a horrible track record; it might have been some far lesser figure among the COVID fanatics.

Sweden had fared well, despite having a cautious take on lockdowns. This was ascribed to Swedes behaving responsibly without being forced by the government. (Something that proponents of the Swedish approach had indeed predicted—if in doubt, and contrary to misleading propaganda, the risks taken by the individual were more likely to hit said individual than to hit others.)

At this juncture, someone sane, reasonable, and intellectually honest would have concluded that mandatory lockdowns, etc., were unnecessary and that advisories of various kinds were the better way to go—take Sweden as an example and trust the people to make individual decisions. This would have almost the same positive effects (if any) as mandatory lockdowns, while avoiding some of the negatives (see excursion).

A vanilla proponent of lockdowns might have simply dishonestly ignored the Swedish example or, with some justification, noted that the mentality of the populations in different countries can vary, implying that what was true in Sweden was not guaranteed to be true, or true to the same degree, in e.g. Scotland.

What was the conclusion of the nitwit at hand? Because the Swedes had acted responsibly, we should make lockdowns/whatnot mandatory! After all, if the people showed a certain behavior anyway, what harm would it do to make the behavior mandatory?

Excursion on the effects of mandatory lockdowns vs. voluntary choice

(The below is not a complete analysis, and only intended to show that there are considerable advantages to the voluntary.)

From an overall societal point of view, a voluntary system brings benefits like shorter reaction times, less need for regulation and bureaucracy, less need to control and enforce, less risk of miscommunications and delays in propagation of rule changes, etc. (I note e.g. that Germany long used a system of restrictions that depended on the current, ever varying, infection rates; that restrictions were accumulated from at least three levels, the federal, state, and county/city/whatnot levels; and that it was up to the citizen to inform himself about what restrictions were currently in place.)

From the government’s/politicians’ point of view, mandatory lockdowns obviously bring justified feelings of resentment towards the government, implying that even the most high-handed politicians and whatnots should take great care.

Looking, more importantly, at the people, a voluntary system predominantly has benefits “on the margin”. Exactly what these are will depend on what exactly the respective voluntary and mandatory systems contain, but consider e.g.:

  1. That someone who would normally stay at home has greater options when something goes wrong.

    This ranging from a lack of toilet paper to a medical issue. (Note the “stay away from hospitals unless you have COVID or are dying” attitude displayed in some countries.)

  2. The greater ability to e.g. exercise in low-risk settings and at low-risk times.

    Germany, for instance, had various rules about not leaving the home (at all or outside certain hours) for long stretches, notwithstanding that e.g. a solitary walk in the late evening carried a greater risk of being hit by a car than by COVID.

  3. The ability to save considerable time in stores, through not having to wait until an open-but-restricted store was sufficiently empty.

    At least Germany had rules that restricted the number of simultaneous customers in a store relative the floor space, leading to such counterproductive nonsense like queues outside the stores in order to get inside the stores.

  4. That some stores and restaurants that died would have just barely scraped by, through having lesser costs, a customer more here and there, and, above all, no mandatory period of complete shutdown. (A semi-voluntary such period might, of course, still have followed, if remaining open at a given time brought too little revenue relative costs.)

Another major issue is the breaking of habits, e.g. in that many have seen a mid- to long term reduction in amount of exercise (bad for health of the individual and an additional long-term risk for the healthcare systems, with costs pushed down on the tax-payers or whoever is stuck with the bill). Ditto, a lesser probability of visiting cafés, restaurants, and the like (bad for business, employment, tax revenues, etc.). Speaking for myself, as of 2024-03-19, I am still far from where I used to be in terms of walking and I have not had as much as a cup of coffee outside my home since last year, months ago. (Compared to several times a month pre-lockdown, as well as the rarer restaurant visit.). What if I, and so many others, had had more continuity in that I could have had a cup of coffee every once in a while, instead of an endless draft of nothing at all?

(There is also an overlap, as I often used to walk, say, three miles in the one direction, have a rest in a café, and then walk back. The lack of open cafés thus contributed to breaking my walking habits. Similar overlap and interaction between factors is common, e.g. in that a permanent closing of cafés can lead to fewer opportunities for that cup of coffee, which makes potential customers less likely to take walks, which reduces the number of café visitors, which can lead to the permanent closing of more cafés, etc.)

Nothing new under the sun

The more I read about history in various forms, the more I see that problems that seem, in some sense, “recent”, “modern”, whatnot, have a disturbingly long history. (With similar remarks applying to positive things, but these are of less interest to me.)

This includes a great many issues in and around politics, be it faulty government, various forms of capture, poor economics, whatnot.

A particular range of cases relate to the Left, where I sometimes have the impression that the main change is not in what problems appear, but in how large the problems have become after the Left has accumulated political victories, pushed goal posts, shifted Overton windows, increased further what should be minimized and decreased further what should be maximized, etc.

A good example mentioned in earlier writings is Feminism and how it was “never not rotten” (a phrase borrowed from a linked-to text that goes into depth on this issue), as well as a similarly themed text on Ellen Key.

For another example, consider the extensive treatment by Henry Hazlitt of problems with welfare states and, more generally, systems with a “the government pays for the poor” mentality in “The Conquest of Poverty”. (In all fairness, the motivations have sometimes been more opportunistic than Leftist, but, even here, the current Left insists on pushing something that has always failed.)

A personal speculation of potentially great importance (but where I have yet to do sufficiently in-depth readings), is that much of the current (and likely, in the plural, past) incarnation of the Left is explainable as a continuation or reappearance of an over-focus on “emotionality” (for want of a better word) that stretches back through history, manifested e.g. in Orphic/Dionysic cults in Ancient Greece and in the 19th-century Romantic movement. More generally, human motivations, human mentality, whatnot, has changed much less than the surrounding society and this tends to be reflected in political, societal, religious, etc., manifestations and developments.

The last paragraph also points to strong similarities between the Left and religious thought/methods/developments/whatnot (as I have noted repeatedly in the past), and it can pay to look for a certain problem not just in the history of politics but in the history of religion. This, in particular, for the Left. Consider issues like fanaticism, extreme intolerance against “heretics”, a prioritization of faith over reason and facts (“credo ut intelligam”), belief in (quasi-)holy books and (quasi-)prophets, etc. However, issues outside the Left are often present, especially when we move into the borderline area of “church politics”. (And portions of the history of the Catholic Church, in particular, sometimes have more to do with secular politics than with matters religious.)

The idea of “nothing new under the sun” is it self not new: Latin has a direct equivalent (“nihil sub sole novum”) and it could conceivably have been imported even in Latin. It is also it self an example of something recurring in variations over time, as with “the same old story”, “history repeats it self”, and the French “plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose”.

A particularly sad case is Santayana’s proverbial claim that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it—almost everyone seems to know it but hardly anyone heeds it. This, in turn, is a major reason for why so many “recent” problems have such a long history.

The idea, however, is older than Santayana, which brings us to a final frustration: over time, a great many have warned, cautioned, advised, upbraided, whatnot that, e.g., “X will not work” and “Y will lead to disaster”—in vain. Usually, they have been Cassandras even in their own day, and a generation later, or in the next country over, they have either been unknown or, like Santayana, seen lip-service, while yet another group warns, cautions, advises, and upbraids in vain.


A personal twist is that I spend much time writing for such purposes despite being well aware of how little effect my writings might have. Among my motivations is that, to stick with the proverb theme, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. I also note in words attributed to Luther that “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.”. My use might not be contextually correct, but the words do reflect my feelings on the matter.

Of course, if current developments continue down the wrong historical path, I might find myself in a situation more similar to Luther’s in due time.

Flawed theories based on pre-chosen principles

I have repeatedly made the observation that this-or-that well known (admired, influential, whatnot) book (author, theory, system of thought, system of explanations, whatnot) does not live up to its reputation—and often because it tries to explain everything with a set of underlying principles that are taken for granted. (At least one prior text deals with a concrete example: The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

While I have not investigated this in detail, I strongly suspect that the underlying principles are chosen for poor reason and the observations then bent to fit the resulting theory/model. In some cases, we might not just have a faulty set of principles but principles that might have no real-life equivalent, no equivalent at that level of abstraction/explanation, and/or no equivalent with an explanatory value that extensive.

Looking at historical developments, this might be the single most important thing that sets science apart from various earlier philosophical speculations, meta-physics, religious takes on nature, etc. For instance, because the circle was considered the ideal shape, the trajectories of planets “should” be circles, according to some old thinkers. In combination with geocentrism, also potentially influenced by what “should” be, this brought on absurdly complicated systems of calculations and epicycles—and the result was still unsatisfactory. Modern scientists base their theories on observations, try to fit the theories to the facts, try to find theories that are economical in explaining observations (as opposed to determined by a pre-observation “should”), etc.


The above gives the right idea and is true in essence, but is, of course, an over-simplification and, for a truly fair comparison, we must also consider factors like the greater limits on possible observations in past times.

Nevertheless, there was a very common and undue tendency to pick a “should”, be it based on virtual superstition or prolonged contemplation, while ignoring mere facts, observations, and whatnots. See any reasonable book on the history of scientific and/or philosophical thought, e.g. Bertrand Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy”.

The move away from this gave us the natural sciences. Later, various other sciences arose, often with an aspiration to emulate the natural sciences. However, these, especially in the realm of the social sciences, usually took a step backwards, put (often ideologically driven) “shoulds” in the center, ignored facts and observations, interpreted facts and observations to fit the “shoulds”, etc. The result was large fields of mostly poor or pseudo- science that often did more harm than good—especially, because they were taken to be the peers of the natural sciences by far too many. In reality, they might have more in common with old philosophy than with modern science.

In my own observations, those historians, economists, sociologists, etc., who keep a firm eye on facts and observations tend to deliver useful material, while those who go by “shoulds” usually (!) end up with quackery. I would strongly advice anyone reading materials from such fields to be very cautious, take everything (non-factual) said with several grains of salt, question whether the reasoning used makes sense, check whether claimed conclusions actually match reality, etc. This applies doubly in fields with a strong (usually: Leftist) ideological drive, like sociology and gender-studies.


To elaborate on “(non-factual)”:

Factual claims are less problematic, e.g. in that a history book can usually be trusted with simple and “easy” facts (when and how did a certain king die and who succeeded him) and often have more complicated facts in the right ballpark (how many died at a certain battle)—especially, when we get closer to the “now”. (But with some fields or authors, including gender-studies, not even simple factual claims are necessarily trustworthy.) Likewise, more ad-hoc conclusions/speculations are often reasonable, especially when dealing with easier problems (why was a specific battle lost). They should be taken with a grain of salt, and the realisation that they are ultimately opinion and not fact, but a single grain is usually enough. (If in doubt, the authors often combine them with reservations and caveats of their own.)

When it comes to more sweeping explanatory systems and claims presented as revealed truth, the situation is very different and the several grains are needed.

A perverse approach to costs and services

Politicians, government services, whatnot, often have a perverse approach to costs and services:

If there is a surplus, the message is “Great news, citizen! We can extend our services for you!”.

If there is a deficit, the message is “Bad news, citizen: in order to keep our services up, we have to raise your taxes [fees, whatnots].”.


With variations from case to case, including that the communication is not necessarily towards the citizens directly but from a government institution towards the governmental purse-string holder.

To what degree this reflects just the message or an underlying attitude is a point of speculation, but I would not be surprised if the decision makers are deliberately expansionist.

Overlapping, a common issue with budgets, even in the private sector, is that a surplus present towards the end of the fiscal year is spent wastefully in order to ensure that there is no surplus at the end, because showing a surplus could lead to a smaller allocation of money in the next budget cycle.)

Consider what long-term developments we have with this attitude and would have with one that went in the other direction, be it in a mere neutralizing manner (turning one of the two around to either lower taxes in the first case or reduce services in the second) or in a reversing manner (turning both around).

The current approach is particularly harmful because the citizens rarely have any opportunity to opt out, themselves choose less services for less money, or otherwise counter this perverse approach.

A similar issue can exist in the private sector, but is less dire exactly because the customer usually does have countermeasures, e.g. to jump to another provider of some service. Things can get very iffy in the overlap between the private and the public, however, as with German health-insurance companies, which can rely on (a) that everyone must be insured, which prevents customers from opting out entirely, (b) there being very high minimum rules for what must be covered, which prevents effective competition through better pricing and makes a switch of provider almost pointless to the customer. (Of course, German health insurance is not an insurance at all, but that is a different topic.)

A perverse approach to costs and services II

Overlapping with the above, there is a common issue with (usually, government imposed) mechanisms that hinder competition over price, which forces various businesses to compete by offering more services (often of a low-relevance kind) or through some mechanism that does more harm than good, or prevents them from meaningful competition. In a next step, these additional services and whatnots can increase the pressure for a higher price further, e.g. with politicians being lobbied with arguments like “We barely make a profit! We need higher prices to survive! Think of the poor consumers, should we go out of business!”.

German health insurance is one example (cf. above). German bookstores another (retail prices of books are fixed by the publisher and identical for all stores). German taxis yet another (prices are fixed by the county (?) and identical for all taxis). Health insurers, then, compete by forcing in low value additional services within the same price, e.g. coverage of homeopathic quackery. Bookstores can compete by means like having a coffee shop, but not by e.g. having low-price orientation. (Which gives the large chains a massive advantage, as they have the resources and floorspace for coffee shops.) Taxi companies, as far as I can tell, compete mostly through having more cars and getting a larger slice of a fix cake, with an enormous waste as a result. Competing with e.g. a better car or more pleasant drivers is largely pointless, as passengers at airports and train stations (and, maybe, elsewhere too) are obliged to pick the first car from a queue shared by all companies.

A potentially related issue, if largely unpolitical, is the drive to justify a high price of something through additional features, services, whatnot, which can drive the price up further. For instance, all other factors equal, a bigger TV costs more than a smaller TV, both for the manufacturer to produce and for the customer to buy. To give customers incentives to pick the bigger TV, it might be given extra bells and whistles not given to the smaller (or, worse, the smaller might be artificially “de-belled”). While the additional cost of these is usually small relative the overall cost/price, it does increase the cost and adds further upwards pressure on the price relative that “all other factors equal” situation.

On good and bad Utilitarianism

Utilitarian reasoning can be very valuable, but it is also extremely dangerous and can often be used to give a (pseudo-)justification for true atrocities. This especially when we enter the area of “the greater good”, “the needs of the many”, whatnot—especially, in combination with force exerted on others.

At least (!) three distinctions between good and bad Utilitarianism are needed to avoid such traps.

Firstly, the difference between applying Utilitarian reasoning to one’s own actions for oneself and to e.g. the actions of the government and actions directly or indirectly imposed on or affecting others through the government.

Consider, for an excellent example, Spock’s self-sacrificial attitude and claim that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. As a justification for laying down one’s own life, as Spock did, it is perfectly valid. As a justification for forcing someone else to lay down his life, it is an abomination.

Secondly, the difference between actions that are reasonably likely to benefit everyone and those that merely blindly maximize, e.g., happiness in the overall population with no regard for the individual and the negatives that the minority might incur. (This overlaps with the idea of Pareto effectiveness.)

Take an action that would give most of those affected more of some good, give a very small minority less, and leave the rest at roughly their original level, while keeping the “who gets what” reasonably random. (Consider the use of a budget surplus to lower taxes, with both a direct effect through the lowering and an indirect through the chance at greater growth.) Contrast this with an action that would take from a specifically chosen group in order to enrichen others—even should the latter form a larger group than the former. (Consider increasing taxes on the minority to hand out to the majority.)

Thirdly, the difference between combining Utilitarian thinking with other factors and going blindly by Utilitarianism. Such other factors can include who has or has not some existing right, who is more or less deserving of a certain effect, and similar. (The exact factors will obviously depend on the case at hand.)

As additional, if off-topic, cautions:

The measure to maximize must be chosen wisely. For instance, money is a highly imperfect proxy for happiness and well-being, and anyone wishing to maximize one of the latter two should be cautious about focusing on money. For instance, different individuals can value some given good differently, making a mere counting of goods, goods per person, and/or persons with goods naive. For instance, diminishing returns can make a large increase in a proxy misleading.

Whatever decision is made must consider potential long-term effects and side-effects that can make a seemingly Utilitarian decision turn non- or anti-Utilitarian. (To return to Spock, we might well have a situation where one Spock provides more value than a handful of red-shirts. Losing Spock to save them now might lead to the entire Enterprise being lost at a later time, for want of a Spock. Likewise, a selective tax increase for purposes of redistribution can have effects like a lowering of growth, which ultimately might harm even those intended to benefit.)