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Collecting water charges… It’s psychological, innit? December 22, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Well, here’s one I didn’t see coming. Maureen Gaffney arguing in the IT that:

I’m going to describe a series of classic psychological experiments by behavioural economists on how a social contract works, and what destroys it. The results are stark. They lay bare the long-term risks of the wrong decision about unpaid water charges. Perhaps even more importantly, they also reveal the long- term political and civic benefits of getting it right.

There’s more. Of course there is. Her conclusion is:

If Irish politicians want to build the kind of high-trust society where civic co-operation is high, and people are willing to contribute generously to the common good, then the right, although politically troublesome option, is for unpaid water charges to be pursued.

Yet the thought strikes that if one positions an argument on those grounds one is excluding a range of others. For example, what about the danger to social cohesion and trust in attempting to introduce policies that some of those introducing them were adamantly against for many decades – or the willingness to change position on it so rapidly in the face of public pushback, or the fact there might be other routes to pay for such services, or that there might be problems in relation to imposing charges at a time of broader economic and social difficulty and what that might imply in relation to the way trust develops in our society. Or that there’s an iniquity in imposing essentially flat charges on populations where the ability to pay varies widely and all that that implies for perceptions of fairness and equity. Or that the charges are simply the wrong way to go about this from the off. And so on. And all this before we get to whether these experiments are quite as robust as she appears to think or that they model matters sufficiently well to make such stark conclusions.

Hmmmm…

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Comments»

1. RosencrantzisDead - December 22, 2016

There is little worse than pop psychology applied to a political issue and contained in a newspaper column.

You can flip the argument, though. This is a response I am just developing now, so apologies if it is less than clear.:

People who paid their water charges, despite knowing that others would be boycotting, did so because they were unsure if enough people would co-operate. Events will now demonstrate to those doubters that they were wrong to disbelieve. A rational person would now not pay as they will lose out. This strengthens the movement further.

Imposing a charge on those who protested might undermine co-operation and the movement because it would mean that everybody will suffer a penalty (paying a charge) with the possibility of thise who do not pay suffering a greater penalty (interest, further charges etc.). If enough people prefer to front-load the payment (“early payers”), and there will always be some who prefer to pay now rather than later, then enough charges will be collected for the first year that it becomes viable to attempt collection the next. If you co-operated in this scenario, you will feel betrayed by the early payers and will be discouraged from co-operating in the future for the same reasons as Gaffney outlines above.

Note the early payer does not desire the imposition of a charge, rather she simply desires to pay a little as possible (zero being the most desired). However, her actions here are not rational, as her payment means she will have a greater amount imposed on her (collection becomes viable). Thus, we also get the imposition of a charge that no party (early payer or co-operator) want and a higher charge than the early payer wants to pay.

In sum, you can twist this many different ways.

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sonofstan - December 22, 2016

It’s sort of the Prisoners’ Dillemma multiplied by 1.5 million actors.

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2. 6to5against - December 22, 2016

If Gaffney’s article makes any sense, it’s as an good argument for well organised government. Is anybody doubting that that would be a good thing?

Perhaps she misses her own point. In a society that has clearly been collecting resources in equitably for decades, people are increasingly disinclined to contribute. If there was greater fairness, there would be greater co-operation.

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3. CL - December 22, 2016

I don’t recall ever entering into a contract, social of otherwise, to keep the current shower of chancers and parasites in power.

Psychobabble.

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4. ivorthorne - December 22, 2016

I’m glad we all see the flaws in the quoted article. The lack of self-awareness is astounding.

It’s as though she’s walking down the road with a barefoot refugee and people keep coming up and giving her gifts – small gifts like bottled water and a couple of Starburst. Denis o’Brien and Michael Lowry rush by in a land rover but she waves at them. Finally somebody takes pity on the refugee and gives him some shoes.

Now, she’s outraged. She had to buy her own shoes. Fair is fair, the refugee needs to learn the value of the social contract. She rips them off him and throws them into the ditch.

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