Friday, February 18, 2005

Of Squirrels and Men

First thing off, we have to deal with the age old concept of a free will. Consider, for the moment, a concert pianist. There is absolutely no way that each of the thousands of notes that goes into playing a Beethoven Sonata could be the end result of a decision of free will. Allow me a gigantic leap and we can dispense with the overwhelming majority of human actions, from walking to kissing, as the neurological response to an external stimulus. Complicated? You bet. Understood? Not in my lifetime. But a response just the same.

Where free will might come into play is in actions that a human makes as a result of perceived situations, that is, in predicting the future. But even then, one can make an argument that, just as a squirrel stores nuts for the winter, this action in view of a future situation may be a simple response. Sophisticated? You bet. But a response just the same.

Now the above argument is just the bare bones of a more in depth analysis of human response. But it gets me to where I want for a consideration of the current political hysteria in Maryland and D.C.

Consider, for the moment, taxation and slot machines. Deep in their chambered hearts, Republicans believe in free will. They believe that the riches they enjoy are the result of their superior decision making in the tournament of life. Consequently, because they made these decisions of their own free will, what they have is theirs. Property. Goodies. Money. You name it. As their leader Boy George reiterates ad nauseum, they own it.

Furthermore, they believe that some people (a hell of a lot in my county) are poor because they made the wrong decisions. And they don't have property, goodies, money, you name it, because free will is the great administrator. They hardly own a thing.

Taxation in this scheme of things is taking something from those who won and giving it to those who lost. (Never mind that taxation is, as many have pointed out, integral to our civilization.) For the Red of Heart taxation is the negation of free will and it is a moral issue. We will return to this in the future vis a vis corporate taxation.

But slot machines are not taxes in this scheme. One supposedly approaches a slot machine with a free will. One inserts the quarter and pulls the handle, hoping beyond hope to outsmart the laws of chance and hit a jackpot. Slot machines are a desperate measure for the poor. [It would be informative to see how many rich Republicans actually play the slots. Why would they? There is no desperation.]

But, in my mind, this may not be the way it really is. As outlined above, pulling the arm on a slot machine is the equivalent of storing up Hickory nuts in your lair. It is a reflex generated by, in this case, desperation. It does not involve free will. Furthermore, as many have pointed out, it may be the same driving force to squander your few quarters on slots as to squander them on the lottery. The end result, in terms of revenue, would be a wash.

The distribution of wealth in Maryland is horribly unequal and becoming more unbalanced every day. Slot machines are a tiny band aid that take advantage of human nature's reflex desire for a free lunch. We need to make the tax code more equitable.


EG said...

Great analysis. I would like to add a few thoughts.

Slots machines are viewed by Republicans as a video game. They expect to lose money in slot machines.

Poor people use slot machines as a chance to make money, hopefully large amounts of money. Both Republicans and poor people may play slots but they have different expectations of the outcome.

That's why Republicans look at slot machines as free will. You choose to play slots machines, just like one chooses to play any other entertainment device. Poor people see slot machines as almost an investment tool, investing money with the hope of making more.

Dr. C said...

Couldn't have said it better.