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Post 0

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 3:47amSanction this postReply
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This question was posed by Amartya Sen, a winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics.

Three men have come to you looking for work. You have only one job to offer; the work cannot be divided among the three of them and they are all equally qualified. One of your goals is to make the world a better place by hiring the man who needs the job the most.

The first man is the poorest of the three. If improving human welfare is your primary aim, then presumably he should get the job. Or maybe not. The second man is not the poorest, but he is the unhappiest because he has only recently become poor and he is not accustomed to the deprivation. Offering him the job will cause the greatest gain in happiness.
The third man is neither the poorest nor the unhappiest. But he has a chronic health problem, borne stoically for his whole life, that can be cured with the wages from the job. Thus, giving him the job would have the most profound effect on an individual's quality of life.

Who should get the job?

Post 1

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 5:12amSanction this postReply
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The answer is random. Preferably, wait for an applicant whom you need not choose based on need, or ask more questions etc to be able to make your decision on something other than need. Need is an irrelevant factor.

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Post 2

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 8:52amSanction this postReply
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The answer is: let them bid for it. The applicant with the lowest bid (i.e., the one who is willing to work for the lowest wages) is the one who needs it the most. This is the beauty of the free market. Not only is the one who is willing to work for the lowest wage the most valuable to the employer, but also by hiring him, the employer gives the job to the one who values it the most.

This is so obvious, I'm surprised that Sen, a winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, didn't think of it. However, I'm sure the reason he didn't think of it is that paying low wages is commonly viewed as exploiting the worker -- as treating him unfairly -- which is one of the reasons we have minimum-wage laws.

However, far from allowing workers to be treated fairly, minimum-wage laws cause them to be treated unfairly. While economists recognize that minimum-wage laws create unemployment, what they don't recognize is that such laws are themselves unfair to the workers who are denied employment. Such laws not only prevent the employer from hiring the workers he values the most; they also prevent the workers who value the job the most from being hired.

- Bill

Post 3

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 9:57amSanction this postReply
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perfect answer, Bill!  Note that the answer is not one of the choices offered, either... kind of like an economic lifeboat situation, right?

Post 4

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 10:11amSanction this postReply
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This "economist" doesn't deserve a BA, let alone a Nobel.

Bill is right, the one who will take the job for the lowest wage is the one who wants it most. There is no way that the employer can judge by intuition how happy any of the applicants can be made. Only the applicant himself can show this by the wage he will accept to do the work.



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Post 5

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 9:52amSanction this postReply
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"If improving human welfare is your primary aim"

That right there renders the question unanswerable and of no interest to an Objectivist.

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Post 6

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 12:16pmSanction this postReply
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The entire question is silly. First, it is not possible that the three men are 'equally' qualified. Unless they grew up in the same home under the same conditions, slept with the same people, went to the same schools and took the same courses and wrote the same papers, and unless they...no, even all that would not cause them to be 'equally' qualified. It is impossible.
Second, it is rather presumptuous for this business owner, or 'you' in this case, to assume that he can or should make the world a better place. An individual can only make his life better. It is not his job or his right to make life better for others.
Third, I think Mr. Gores has made the most important point. To place need as a claim to a job is altruistic and can never cause a better world. I find it strange that the so-called economist who posed this question chose to make all the candidates equally qualified for the job. What would happen if one of the candidates or a fourth were to have most of the qualifications for the job yet he also had a large family where each member was ill? Would he then gain some qualification for the job by way of his need?
This question, by the Nobel Prize winning economist, shows how much the Nobel judges are worth. They may not be able to pick out a good economist or writer or peace dreamer, but they sure as hell can show you who is the worst.

Post 7

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 12:53pmSanction this postReply
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"But they sure as hell can show you who is the worst."

LOL, very valid point.

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Post 8

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 1:31pmSanction this postReply
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The example just shows how pointless altruistic reasoning is.  There is no way the employer can know which of the three candidates he should hire in order to maximize global happiness.  He can't get inside other people's heads.  The only rational approach is to try to maximize your own well-being.  If all the people in the example did that, we would come closest to maximizing the global outcome.

Post 9

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 1:36pmSanction this postReply
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Bill:

Yes, that's the perfect answer and the only answer. I wish I had seen this post before you answered it. Whether I could have come up with the solution or not, I enjoy this kind of puzzle, the solution to which is completely opaque to those who haven't developed the neural pathways to allow them to find it.

Sam


Post 10

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 2:07pmSanction this postReply
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I agree with Bill, there are some flaws in this riddle's assumptions.  Also, I agree with Steve:  Equality, real equality, is a fiction.

There is an implicit, but not often recognized and even less frequently discussed, notion in Objectivism laid bare by the motto: your life is your ultimate standard.

Ultimate.  As in, not necessarily the only.  And perhaps, properly, one of a handful.  Recall that O'ism is a practical philosophy for dealing with reality effectively given your nature.

Being finite beings with finite brains and finite time, at some points in your life you will likely come to an impasse where judgment according to one standard gives you Mr. Gores answer:  Pull a quarter (or even better, a die) from your pocket and let that dude called Fate have a turn.  I think this is all that O'ism explicitly covers, but...

I have seen nothing in Objectivism that rejects the following:  all things being about equal in your estimation, as best as you can manage given your hectic day, try standard B.  Rules of thumb like the Golden Rule seem to hold sway in these scenario.  Just act as if it were you in their shoes.  I can even imagine altruism being worth entertaining at this point.

I think the riddle, while poorly rendered given his prestige, was meant to pull secondary standards from its audience.

I imagine Rand had zero time on her hands to ever approach this discussion.  So much ground to conquer first...

So my answer is C, the person with a chronic disease.
 
edited for grammar.

(Edited by Doug Fischer on 6/19, 2:20pm)


Post 11

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 2:39pmSanction this postReply
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To clarify one statement of mine.

Altruism is where anyone but you is the standard of value.  If this standard were employed every time you had a choice to make, it would require sacrifice and eventually your death.

But when you seemingly have nothing to gain or to lose, between one choice and the other, it is appropriate and proper to factor the other's (or others') interest in your evaluation.  In this situation you know something about their situations.  Act on your knowledge, or notions, and we are not yet slipping into the arbitrary.

Huh.  While not meaning to, I think I've proved that in this case answering "random" is an evasion of reality and of value.  Objectivism, explicitly understood, is impotent in this hypothetical.  It offers no 2nd standard.

Just like emergencies, I don't expect these to happen very often.  Lucky for us.


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Post 12

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 5:21pmSanction this postReply
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Bill D.,

I commend you on your response to let the candidates bid for the job. However, this gave me pause:
This is so obvious, I'm surprised that Sen, a winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, didn't think of it. However, I'm sure the reason he didn't think of it is that paying low wages is commonly viewed as exploiting the worker -- as treating him unfairly -- which is one of the reasons we have minimum-wage laws.
Sen did not say anything about amount of pay in the question, but how do you know he didn't think of it? You may even be right -- one of his specialties per Wikipedia is welfare economics, and he's at Harvard, not Chicago -- but isn't it still speculation?

Addenda: In my experience Bill's answer is quite "out of the box." The primary decision when choosing among individuals is whom to hire, with pay level secondary. An employer might focus on a class of persons -- for example, graduates from a second tier university, rather than a first tier one -- when pay is a very important factor.

(Edited by Merlin Jetton on 6/19, 6:17pm)


Post 13

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 5:28pmSanction this postReply
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Merlin, are you asking Bill why he didn't know what Sen was thinking in the privacy of Sen's own mind, without Sen's saying it?

Ususally we expect people to say what they mean, not for those listening to them to be telepaths.

Post 14

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 5:57pmSanction this postReply
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Ted Keer wrote:
Merlin, are you asking Bill why he didn't know what Sen was thinking in the privacy of Sen's own mind, without Sen's saying it?
No, nearly the opposite. Bill wrote as if he knew Sen had not thought of it -- he said he was surprised Sen didn't think of it. He did not expressly say he knew, but he did not express it as a guess or speculation either.


Post 15

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 6:22pmSanction this postReply
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I guess we'd have to have the original trilemma, (a link, anyone?) not just WCA's report of it. But I assumed that someone with a Nobel and presumably a doctorate would have specified all the conditions he felt relevant. Since WCA's rendition implies that the only difference is the personal conditions of the applicants, I think Bill was quite justified in assuming that the wage offered and accepted would be the same as well. I.e., the ceteris paribus presumably covered everything except their "needs." And as I said in my second sentence, it is the academic's responsibility to say what he means - if he thought of it, he should have said it.


(Edited by Ted Keer on 6/19, 6:23pm)


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Post 16

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 6:49pmSanction this postReply
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Sen's original dissertion is in "Development as Freedom", on p. 54 - 55.
The above reference to Sen's parable is rephrased in "Naked Economics", by Charles Wheelan.

You can read what Sen originally wrote here, at the beginning of chapter 3: "Freedoms and the Foundations of Justice".
http://books.google.com/books?id=LFk3pHpFiG4C&pg=PA54&dq=amartya+sen+development+as+freedom&psp=1&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=0_0&sig=SqzeQGwGHOtu_iYbYCqOBuBYvoA#PPA55,M1


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Post 17

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 10:09pmSanction this postReply
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While I agree with the general sentiment on this thread that need is irrelevant to the question of hiring, and that the question is therefore stupid, I nevertheless must leap to Dr. Sen's defense. He is a titan of ingenuity and activism whose work on microcredit loans has lead whole classes of intellectuals and poor (or formerly poor!) third-world villagers worldwide to reevaluate capitalism as a social system. Few if any members of this board have done more to achieve recognition and appreciation for entrepreneurial activity than has Dr. Sen.

Besides which, he is the father of Nandana Sen, who, if you had seen her movies such as Black, you would know to be one of the loveliest and most graceful actresses you could ever hope to meet.

-Bill
(Edited by William A. Nevin III on 6/19, 10:11pm)


Post 18

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 10:35pmSanction this postReply
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William, you're right, I've heard about those micro-loans and was impressed. He deserves recognition for that accomplishment.

Post 19

Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 10:37pmSanction this postReply
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Wow. Nandana Sen is gorgeous.






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