Assets, Parasites and Pets

In my last post, I wrote:

An inhabitant of a polity is either an asset, or a parasite, or a pet.

The argument I was making was that if a sovereign has a long-term final goal, then his short-term instrumental goals will be to increase capabilities and acquire resources, and if he owns an subject who has a long-term final goal, that subject’s short-term instrumental goals will be to increase his own capabilities and acquire resources for himself, and if that subject is an asset to the sovereign, then those goals are fundamentally compatible. They’re not identical — the distribution of resources among subjects will have some optimum for the sovereign’s purpose which differs from that of any individual subject, but valuable subjects in general will have their goals met about as well by an efficient sovereign as by any other governance mechanism which could exist.

But what of subjects who are not assets? The sovereign does not have any interest in increasing the capabilities or resources to subjects who are not productive of any value.

The first thing to do when considering this is to be realistic: any system of government depends on the able, and has little incentive to cater to the unable. It doesn’t make sense to go into this question expecting too much. That’s a point I’ve made before: “Ultimately, no blueprint can protect the native population if it truly doesn’t have any value to contribute”

Nonetheless, many actually existing human societies do care for the unproductive, with varying degrees of effort and effectiveness. They do this because humans do not have purely long-term goals, but actually want that to happen.

When thinking about the welfare of the unproductive, it makes more sense to see this as a bonus to the productive, rather than as a matter of rights of the unproductive. I am not looking at the question from a moral standpoint, remember — this is all based on the concept of a sovereign with his own long-term goals. Since his interests include increasing the capabilities of his able subjects, and their interests include (to some variable degree) caring for the unproductive around them, the optimal policy is going to include some level of such care. Care for the unable is always going to depend on some able people wanting it. If nobody has any reason to keep you around, they won’t.