Additional Notes on Universal Tithing

This is an addendum to my longer article on Universal Tithing. If you haven’t read it, please read it first, here!

Future Articles To Write / Connections to Make

  • Leveraging Axelrod’s 4-part method to create and sustain cooperation to spread UT. (From Evolution of Cooperation.)
  • I think there’s a crucial article to write about “why is now a critical time for a paradigm shift?” (The article would likely be a curated synthesis of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and The Collapse of Complex Societies.)
  • We can imagine this as a version of “forced moral progress”. i.e. Globalism and interconnectedness implies a Robert Wright-inspired “business class morality”. Or, as Robin Hanson writes, “increasing wealth causes certain predictable value changes fits the value variation data a lot better than the theory that the world is slowly learning moral truth.”)
  • I wanted to more clearly fit Nathan Wilcox / Tony Sheng’s idea of global, emergent properties into this post.
  • Finite and Infinite Games also clearly fits here (UT as a way to ensure an infinite game).
  • How UT plays a role in the macro transition towards the abundance of trust/capital.

Ways of Conceptualizing UT

  • I’d claim that Universal Tithing is a necessary but not sufficient property of a future antifragile system. The other crucial property is having everyone at Stage 5 of Kegan’s adult development. You can think of this as trusting everyone who you tithe money to.
  • If you squint a bit, you can imagine Level 5-ness as shifting money from a rivalrous to anti-rivalrous good. Money (at least as we currently conceptualize of it) is intrinsically rivalrous (a dollar can’t be both mine and yours). But Level 5 money may have anti-rivalrous(ish) properties (you want others to have it rather than yourself).
  • You can think of this post as a claim that Universal Tithing should be treated as a “Stubborn Attachment” (in the Cowen sense). Cowen claims that, given a long-term view, we should care about growth above all else. I’m claiming that, given the a wide variety of contexts + decisions we can make about the world, self-taxing is something that (nearly) everyone should do.
  • You can think of UT as a different way to imagine the UBI re-distribution. (i.e. When any node on the graph gets “enough” money, the additional money is pooled back towards other nodes in the graph.)
  • Universal Tithing is isomorphic with an ongoing attention economy debate: whether nation-states should regulate platforms OR whether we should push for individuals’ media literacy and ability to govern those platforms. Platform Regulation ~= Taxes (state decided, law enforced), while Media Literacy ~= Universal Tithing (individual decided, norm enforced). In general, I fall on the side of individual responsibility, especially given Aggregation Theory: The regulatory corollary of Aggregation Theory is that the ultimate form of regulation is user generated.
  • Related to the above: we should think about how individuals or corporations “acceptability” to a proposed change. As Limberg and Barnes claim in Memetic Tribes, “Corporations can be woke; they cannot be anti-capitalist.” (Similarly, it is more difficult for corporations to tithe than it is for individuals.)

UT Implementation Details

  • Given that Universal Tithing’s enforcement mechanism is Norms, it’s likely that “hyper transparency” is needed. (How can you enforce this norm if you don’t know someone’s income, wealth, and giving history?)
  • One key blocker to this is power. From my gestating thoughts in a March 2018 tweet thread here: More money might not equal more happiness, but it does equal more power. #SharedOutcomes only work because they’re shared, but power is, AFAICT, still a zero-sum game that is often viewed as comparative. This might be the most difficult idea to break.
  • I used to call this the CryptoPledge while I was trying to start that, but am now focusing more generally. I also used to advocate for a tithe style that was 50% after 45k/year, but that was too confusing for myself and others.
  • Spreading something like this (self-taxing) can be awkward. How can you balance (“hey this is awesome and I think you should do it too!”) with (“I don’t think you’re an awful person if you don’t give”)? Check out my interview with Nadia Eghbal for more on this tension. (My take — in general I think we should advocate for giving the same way we advocate for vegetarianism, compassionate/politically correct language, etc.)
  • There’s a tension between Scarcity and Abundance. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but we don’t want “Abundance for All”. Scarcity can be a powerful catalyst for focus. The important distinctions are: 1) What is Scarce? (Is is a basic need like food? Or something higher on Maslow’s hierarchy?) 2) Is the Scarcity self-imposed? (e.g. I set timeboxes for myself to create a Scarcity mindset and get stuff done.) Like most things in a modernist → postmodernist → metamodernist age, we want to have a “metamodernist” relationship to Scarcity/Abudance. (i.e. Treat neither as a universal virtue, but instead explore the relationship between them.) See Scarcity if you’d like to learn more about this tension and especially the psychological effects of scarcity.
  • How should we signal/note this tithe in-person or on Twitter? In many of my SJA/Establishment Left circles, it is now “standard practice” for people to state their preferred pronouns (either in their Twitter profile or when introducing themselves to a group). Although I think this is important (creating safe, authentic spaces), I wonder about the other possible “postfixes” for introductions. e.g. Should I show my tithing amount / direction to folks? e.g. On Twitter, adding [20%, 50% EA] to my username.
  • Remember that, like any form of technology/action/process, tithing can be remixed/“weaponized” (our term for negative remixing). Just as #BlackLivesMatter was remixed/weaponized as #NativeLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter, so too can tithing be used for a variety of purposes. e.g. 350k people donating $20M to fund the U.S. border wall on GoFundMe. Or, as Axelrod writes in “The Evolution of Cooperation”: “There are times when one wants to retard, rather than foster, cooperation between players. Collusive business practices are good for the businesses involved but not so good for the rest of society. In fact, most forms of corruption are welcome instances of cooperation for the participants but are unwelcome to everyone else.”
  • “What is the opposite of a Global Tax?” is an important question. (Especially from a mindset/values/norms perspective.) I think the answer is something like “consumerist culture”, especially “rich consumerist culture” like buying really nice handbags, jewelry, or cars (conspicuous consumption). I think it’s especially negative because: 1) The happiness/$ is so low (a $2,000 handbag doesn’t provide much happiness). 2) It feels like it perpetuates a “external validation” / “hedonic treadmill” mindset. (i.e. How many people buy handbags from a non-socialized, internal happiness perspective vs. a socialized, external validation perspective?) I wish I knew a better way to “decrease” this (a luxury tax is all I know about thus far). You can imagine “less conspicuous consumption” as another “success metric”. (i.e. If there are a lot less high-end luxury stores, then we’ll know we’ve made progress.)
  • I’d love to understand why past giving initiatives have failed. (Like Independent Sector’s “Give Five” initiative to get all Americans to give 5% of their income to charity.)
  • There’s a lot of spicy debate around how much one should give / how high taxes rates should be. e.g. This study claims that a 29% tax rate is optimal for startup creation. In general, I see these economic studies as modeling a “rational human” who wants to keep making money, rather than taking into account money’s diminishing returns on happiness.
  • I like GiveDirectly from an “easy to explain” perspective. However, GiveDirectly is not the most effective way to have an impact on global health. In fact, GiveDirectly-based cash transfers are just the “baseline”. Other charities have 5–9x its impact.
  • Check out this awesome tool to support folks on Patreon who you follow on Twitter.

Other

  • I wish there was a better shorthand/meme to explain the concepts of “Money Has Diminishing Returns on Happiness” and “More People Like Me is Good For Me”. For the 1st, I use “We Have Enough”. I’m relatively clueless on the 2nd—any ideas?
  • When I think about changing the norms in society