Hypothetical Questions

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the following three things are true:

  1. You believe, to the depths of your soul, that the future freedom, safety and prosperity of your 300 million countrymen depends critically on a construction project that would cost roughly 5 billion dollars, but that nobody else seems willing to fund.
  2. The welfare of your countrymen is one of your highest priorities. Sometimes you express this priority by calling yourself a “nationalist”.
  3. Your personal net worth is in the vicinity of 10 billion dollars.

Now my questions:

  1. Continuing to assume that all of these three things are true, what action do you take?
  2. If I observe you failing to take that action, can I reasonably infer that not all of these three things are true after all?

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15 Responses to “Hypothetical Questions”


  1. 1 1 Roger

    A nation cannot be created by a billionaire spending money. It must have a population that believes in its national sovereignty, and that is willing to defend its independence and borders.

    To answer your question, you do everything you can to persuade the public of merits of the construction project, and of the hundreds of other things that must be done to build a great nation.

  2. 2 2 vito

    1. unpredictable,any action.
    “one of your highest priorities” is not the highest.
    unless you know my other priorities abowe “The welfare of your countrymen” this description doesnt help understand/predict my actions

  3. 3 3 Jonathan Kariv

    Well as vito says “one of your highest priorities” is different from “only priority”. Maybe our protagonist is willing to spend $500 million of his/her own funds but not $5 billion. If no one else is willing to fund it that’s not enough and no construction project.

    On the other hand if our protagonist thinks that SOME others might share the same view I’d expect to see them start a crowdfunding campaign and let anyone who agrees strongly enough to donate, do so.

  4. 4 4 Leonard

    Suppose that without the power of eminent domain, the project costs roughly a trillion dollars due to the well-known problems of holdouts, and the less-known but much bigger problem of the costs incurred due to political opposition from the country’s establishment. (The welfare of aliens is one of their highest priorities. Sometimes they express this priority by calling themselves “internationalists”.)

    Now what do you do? Answer: work within the system to become the most powerful man in the country, so that you can wield the awesome powers of the state on behalf of your nation. Of course you still face massive opposition from the establishment. But at least you have the bully pulpit.

  5. 5 5 Handle

    I’ll paraphrase more generally.

    “If we see a wealthy person advocate for the collective production of a costly public good which that wealthy person could potentially produce on his own, then, if his advocacy does not succeed, does his failure to unilaterally and privately arrange for the production of that public good give rise to an inference by which we can conclude his actions reveal his stated preference and values to be false?”

    No.

    For example, perhaps the wealthy person does not have special authorities enjoyed by the collective. For example, one might need eminent domain condemnation to force many quick sales at FMV without holdout problems, and one might need something like section 102(c) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act to waive the application of dozens of otherwise applicable laws, which, if operative, would make any building project infeasible. Perhaps collective action would not require the issuance of special building permits, which may be in violation of yet other rules and laws. That is, the project may be prohibitively burdensome far in excess of the collective cost if taken on as a purely private effort.

  6. 6 6 Manfred

    The three can be true, if you want other people pay for it, for example (hypothetically speaking) if you are the president of that country. If you are a private citizen, one of the three conditions probably fails.

  7. 7 7 Zazooba

    But, the wall alone will not secure the desired prosperity. Many more things are required,such as E-veriy, maintenance and policing of the wall, enforcement of immigration laws, etc.

    Plus, this is only one of your priorities. Plus, even if you did all the immigration stuff it might not work for various reasons.

    So a more accurate calculation is that there are 10 immigration things that need to be done, each costing $5 billion, and you have 5 other priorities, and there is only a 50% chance the immigration stuff will work. Then, you need to posit a trillionaire with net worth of $1 trillion to make the mind experiment work.

    If I were a trillionaire, then yes, I would spend the $50 billion on immigration stuff.

    Of course, it would be cheaper to just donate hugely to elected officials to accomplish the immigration stuff plus anything else you wanted. That might cost, say $100 billion. I would so do that. I would also tear down the Washington Monument and construct a 400 foot high statue of Garfield the comic strip cat.

  8. 8 8 Advo

    A truly hypothetical question:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=trump+actual+wealth&oq=trump+actual+wealth&aqs=chrome..69i57.4149j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

  9. 9 9 Harold

    If your fellow citizens’ welfare was your highest priority it is unlikely you would have $10 billion anyway.

    However, we can make some educated guesses about the truth of the statements.

    1)”You believe, to the depths of your soul….” If we are talking about Trump then it seems unlikely he is still in possession of his soul. More seriously it is vanishingly unlikely that he believes that.

    Also the “big, beautiful wall” will cost much much more than $5 billion.

    2) “The welfare of your countrymen is one of your highest priorities…”

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. We have plenty of evidence that this is not the case.

    3) Net worth much less than $10 billion.

    So we don’t need the rather tortured argument presented to conclude not only that not all these are true but none of them are true.

    However, the fact that he does not spend a large portion of his own money to execute what he proposes for Govt. policy does not mean on its own that he does not believe that the wall would be a good policy, nor that he does not care for fellow citizens, nor that he is not worth a lot of money.

    There is a recent working paper on the economics of the substantial increase if border barriers 2007-210.
    https://siepr.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/18-037.pdf

    From the abstract:
    “At a construction cost of approximately $7 per person in the United States, we estimate that the border wall expansion harmed Mexican workers and highskill U.S. workers, but benefited U.S. low-skill workers, who achieved gains equivalent to an increase in per capita income of $0.36. In contrast, a counterfactual policy which
    instead reduced trade costs between the United States and Mexico by 25% would have resulted in both greater declines in Mexico to United States migration and substantial welfare gains for all workers.”

  10. 10 10 Roger

    This is somewhat like the argument that if Al Gore really believed in global warming, he would never fly an airplane again, and maybe live as a hermit in a cave somewhere.

  11. 11 11 Steve Landsburg

    Roger: It is, I think, closer to the argument that if Al Gore really believed all the things he says he believes about global warming, he wouldn’t be buying beachfront property. And that, I think, is not a terrible argument.

  12. 12 12 Harold

    Is this Al Gore’s house in Montecito, which has an average altitude of 180 ft? Had he bought a beachfront property you might have had a point.

    It is reported to be on East Mountain Drive, which might give a clue that it is at a reasonable elevation.

    This is just more disinformation from climate deniers and it is beneath you to repeat it.

  13. 13 13 Enrique

    If only 45 could get Carlos Slim to pay for it!

  14. 14 14 Justin - NCSU

    What a highly rational forum of people!

    Of course building a non-porous border between the US and Mexico is a good idea – if you are an employee. If you are an employer, you would probably love to have a renewable source of cheap labor. And as a politician, you could desire either, depending on whom you are courting for votes. But those vote are not worth spending your personable fortune pursuing.

    Trump, or course, is simply courting votes by calling for the wall. He does not believe in it enough to spend his money on it. And thus, yes, he could be called a hypocrite. But, to others’ points, there are eminent-domain and right-of-way requirements to building the wall that Trump personally cannot acquire, and must, therefore, act through appropriate government channels to enact.

    Trump said that “Mexico would pay for it”, so I stand with the Dems on this one – no money in the budget for said wall. Let Mexico pay for it or let it go unfunded, and run an ad campaign as such so the public understands why the budget will not be approved.

  15. 15 15 iceman

    Harold 9 #2 — I’m sure you could make a convincing case; I just hope none of your ‘evidence’ slips into the “if you believe in smaller govt you don’t care about people” file

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