Friday, May 27, 2016

Robin Hanson vs Brain Gain/Drain

Dear Robin Hanson,

How's it going?   So... you wrote a new book... congratulations... kudos.  But, I'm probably not going to buy it.  In my previous entry I wrote that I definitely plan on purchasing John Quiggin's book about opportunity cost when it's published.  He's a liberal writing a book about opportunity cost.  You're not a liberal and your book is about...?  What's your book about?

Here's a clue that I found in my twitter feed today...




To be completely honest, pretty much everything about that article is horrible and terrible.  You had a wonderful opportunity to shed lots of light on an extremely important and fascinating topic but, instead, you did the opposite.  You delonged it.

Here's what I wrote to DeLong...


**************************************


So it will potentially be bad for the economy if robots become smarter? Would it also be bad for the economy if you become smarter? Would it also be bad for the economy if I became smarter?

What if the US imported a bunch of geniuses? Would this also be bad for the economy? If so, then brain drain would be good for the US economy. But I’m pretty sure that you’re not going to argue that brain drain is good for any economy. Yet, here you are, arguing that we should be worried about robots getting smarter. Increasing the total amount of intelligence in an economy is the opposite of brain drain.

What if a bunch of aliens landed in a spaceship? Would your preference be for them to be dumber or smarter than us?

Let’s say that you were stranded on an island with a bunch of people. Would your preference be for them to be dumber or smarter than you?


**************************************


Spoiler alert... DeLong didn't reply.

Check out this photo that I recently took...




On the left is Charlemange and on the right is Tiger.  Tiger is the very old neighborhood tom cat that my girlfriend decided to feed.  As a result... we now have possums, skunks and raccoons that regularly visit.  It's pretty impressive given that we really don't live in the country.

One of the raccoons, Crookedear, is surprisingly tame...





So what does all this nature have to do with smarter robots?  Well... it has to do with communication.  I know what the animals want... food... but they don't know what I want.  What do I want?  I'd love to have less weeds!  And it would be awesome if I was able to communicate the intensity of this preference to the raccoons.  They would pull my weeds... and I would give them food.

Can you handle some more nature?  Yeah?  Here you go... photos of plants.  The photos were taken by a fellow in India... Anurag Sharma.  I told my friend Michelle, who recently joined Flickr, to check out Anurag's photos and *favorite* the ones she really likes.  This was her response...

I did it all. Wow wow wow!!!  lots to see.  

Needless to say she *favorited* quite a few of his photos.  As a result, now Anurag in India knows that Michelle in America likes what he's doing.

The problem is that Anurag can't even take all the *favorites* that Michelle gave to him and use them to buy anything... not even a single grain of rice.  But I'm pretty sure that Michelle would be willing to give Anurag more than a few grains of rice in exchange for all the enjoyment that he provided her.

The website Medium is currently exploring ways to help certain writers to get paid via advertising... Revenue on Medium.

Here was my response...


**************************************


Right now it’s really easy to like a story. Why not make it just as easy to value a story?





If you value this story between 0 cents and 1 cent… then you would click the first heart button. If you value this story at 1 cent… then you would click the second button. Doing so would transfer a penny from your digital wallet to my digital wallet.

Once valuing a story is as easy as liking it… then I’m sure lots of people will be happy to contribute.


**************************************


How diverse is demand?   The doorbell just rang.  Went outside and found a box with an orchid inside...




More nature!  It's a hybrid... Dendrobium (Haleahi Twist x canaliculatum) x canaliculatum

I recently purchased it on eBay from ella-vate.  The thing is... I already have this hybrid!  I purchased it a couple years ago from The Orchid Trail.   Do I really need another one?   Here's a picture of the two hybrids...




They are different!  The one I recently purchased has a keiki on it.  Maybe I can try and trade it with shavedmonkey for his variety.

So how diverse is demand?

One would think that man could find enough variation in the orchid family, as it occurs in nature, to more than satiate his taste for variety. Yet man's appetite for variety is never appeased. He has produced over two times as many hybrids, in the past 100 years that he has been engaged in orchid breeding, as nature has created species in her eons of evolutionary effort. - Calaway H. Dodson, Robert J. Gillespie, The Botany of Orchids

There are around 30,000 species of orchids.  That's a huge amount of variety!  Yet, clearly it's not nearly enough variety!

Are you going to *favorite* any of Anurag's photos on Flickr?  Are you going to buy any orchid hybrids from ella-vate?  Well... she doesn't have any more for sale but The Orchid Trail still does!  I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that these activities don't match your preferences.

When robots are as smart as we are... are they all going to be the same?  Probably not.  Which means that they probably aren't all going to do the same things with society's limited resources.  Some robots are going to do more valuable things with society's limited resources than other robots.  As a result, some robots are going to have more money/influence than other robots.

The heart of the issue is the clear communication of demand.  People don't understand how important demand clarity is.  If they did, then we would be able to choose where our taxes go.  So the problem isn't smarter robots... just like the problem isn't more or less immigration.  The problem is that people don't understand the importance of facilitating trade.

We're assuming that robots are going to become more intelligent.  But do you have an explanation for why humans are more intelligent than other animals?  I do!  Here's my comment on  Evolution Q&A: Why did only humans become intelligent? by Greg Stevens


**************************************


You really did the theory of evolution justice!   I, on the other hand, really suck at doing theories justice.  Watch...

So... humans are exceptionally intelligent.   What is exceptional intelligence good for?  It's good for solving exceptionally hard problems.   But why did early humans, out of all the animals, need to solve exceptionally hard problems?    It's because out of all the animals, early humans had the greatest ability to (simultaneously) allocate the widest variety of resources.   This exceptional ability was the result of having hands, arms and... walking upright.

With quadrupeds... all four limbs are primarily dedicated to allocating a single resource... the animal itself.   But this specialization is a continuum that ranges from horses to raccoons to chimps.    Horses obviously have four legs.   All their limbs are quite specialized to allocating only the horse itself.  None of the horse's limbs are remotely capable of allocating other resources.    What about raccoons?  Do they have four legs?   Well, their front limbs are reasonably capable of allocating other resources.   Chimps definitely do not have four legs.   They have two legs and feet and two arms and hands.  They are quite capable of allocating other resources with their arms and hands.

As front limbs become less dedicated to only allocating the animal itself and more generalized to  allocating other resources... there's an increase in the total variety of resources that can be (simultaneously) allocated.  This creates a more difficult/complex allocation problem.... which requires more brain power/storage to optimally solve.   Well... a distinct advantage is given to exceptionally intelligent individuals.

Since you're fond of using lions as an example... let's compare them to zebras.  It would seem that the front limbs of the lion aren't as specialized to self-allocation as the front limbs of the zebra are.  Lions certainly use their front limbs to allocate themselves... but they also use their front limbs to allocate their prey.   But perhaps the biggest difference is that the mouths of lions are quite capable of carrying/allocating resources (food, cubs, other?).  Do zebras use their mouths to carry anything?   Not so much?  Therefore, lions are faced with more complex (allocation) problems than zebras.... and we should suspect that lions are more intelligent as a result.

So.... for lack of a better word... more "resourceful" body types put greater selection pressure on intelligence.   Humans are the most intelligent animals because our body types are the most "resourceful".


**************************************


Can we deliberately create truly intelligent beings without truly understanding the origins of our own intelligence?  If you have a better explanation for human intelligence then I'm all ears.

If we do manage to somehow create truly intelligent robots... and we do somehow end up with a bunch of unemployed humans.... then the superficial problem will be smarter robots.   But the substantial problem will be that we failed to effectively clarify the diversity of demand.  Except, this problem is hardly a new problem!

Based on the available evidence, it really doesn't seem like your book strikes anywhere near the root of the problem.  Which is why I don't plan on buying it.  And maybe you couldn't care less why I don't plan on buying your book.  No worries, don't mind me, this is just another prayer to Seldon.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Disparity Between Individual Influence And Collective Opportunity Cost

My second favorite liberal, John Quiggin, is still working on his book about opportunity cost...  Intellectual property: Extract from Economics in Two Lessons (expanded and amended).

Eventually he's going to finish his book.  Then what?  Then I'll buy it.  Unless the opportunity cost is too high.  Right?  I'm assuming that he's not going to charge an arm and a leg for his book.

Am I going to be the only person in the entire world to purchase Quiggin's book?  Probably not.  We can imagine a bunch of people buying Quiggin's book.  We can imagine them considering the available information, weighing the alternative uses of their money and deciding that the opportunity cost isn't too high.

When a bunch of people take money out of their own pocket... and put it into Quiggin's pocket... then the distribution of influence will shift accordingly.  A bunch of people voluntarily and willingly give up a little influence... and Quiggin gains the influence that they were willing to give up.  Consumers exchange their influence for Quiggin's book.  Quiggin exchanges his book (his time and energy) for consumers' influence.  

Does this make sense?  Quiggin spends a lot of time/energy producing something that lots of people positively value and, as a result, lots of people reward him accordingly.  His reward is more influence over society's limited resources.

Can you see the parity?  Quiggin's influence roughly reflects consumers' valuations of his productivity.  When their valuation of his productivity increases... so will his influence.  This parity isn't perfect because in reality one price does not fit all.  And we should certainly endeavor to figure out how to eliminate any disparity that exists.  Why?  Because it should be intuitive that the smaller the disparity... the larger the benefit.  Conversely, the larger the disparity... the smaller the benefit.

Given that I plan on buying Quiggin's book... clearly I approve of a liberal writing a book about opportunity cost.  But, it's kinda something that his book isn't going to be relevant to something as economically basic, and fundamentally important, as a bunch of people buying his book.

The fact is that it's impossible for liberals to really dig into the basic relationship between influence and opportunity cost.  What is Quiggin going to argue?  He's going to argue that there's nothing problematic about massive disparities?  Which would mean what?  He would either be arguing that his book, and all books, should be entirely free... or he would be arguing that everybody should have to spend far more money than they truly want to on all books.  Authors should either have far less, or far more, influence than they truly deserve.

If Quiggin acknowledges that it is problematic when disparities exist... then he would essentially be attacking the fundamental premise of democratically elected leaders.  Right now there's a massive disparity between Obama's influence and the collective's valuation of his productivity.  And the same will be true for the next president just like it was true of the previous president.

Here I am writing my gazillionth blog entry.  And I haven't been paid a penny!  Because... absolutely nobody in the world values my productivity at all?  Or... because of the free-rider problem?  Clearly because of the free-rider problem!   The free-rider problem is a problem, and only a problem, because it results in disparities between influence and (valuations of) productivity.  Right now, because of the free-rider problem, I have less influence than I truly deserve.  Mandatory contributions are only beneficial when they decrease, rather than increase, disparities.  But the only way that mandatory contributions can decrease disparities is when they incorporate everybody's valuations.

Everybody in the world has some influence.  The goal should be to structure society in such a way that everybody's influence perfectly reflects how much their productivity is worth to other people.  Nobody should have more, or less, influence than they truly deserve.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Exceptions To Socialism's Shortcomings

Reply to reply: Is Economic Influence Mutually Exclusive?

********************************************

Do you want the government to supply donuts? Nope? Why not? Because you believe that impersonal shoppers (government planners (congresspeople)) would get the supply of donuts wrong. Why do you believe that impersonal shoppers would get the supply of donuts wrong? Because you believe that impersonal shoppers couldn't possibly know whether you want more or less donuts at any given time.

Do you want the government to supply defense?  Yup.  Why?  Because you believe that impersonal shoppers will get the supply of defense right.  Why do you believe that  impersonal shoppers will get the supply of defense right?  Because you believe that impersonal shoppers can know whether you want more or less defense at any given time.

Therefore... you believe that impersonal shoppers are partially omniscient.  They can't read your mind when it comes to donuts... but they can read your mind when it comes to defense.

Of course... donuts and defense are different types of goods.  Donuts are a private good while defense is a public good.  Therefore... you believe that impersonal shoppers can't read your mind when it comes to private goods... but they can read your mind when it comes to public goods.

Except... let me guess... as a libertarian you don't want the government to supply ALL public goods... do you?  The standard libertarian response for the proper scope of government is.... defense, courts and police.

Therefore... you believe that impersonal shoppers...

A. can't read your mind when it comes to private goods
B. can't read your mind when it comes to most public goods
C. can read your mind when it comes to defense, courts and police






Coincidentally, this tweet showed up in my feed today...

Humanity did not fall short of the ideals of socialism, socialism fell short of the demands of humanity. - @PeterBoettke

Humanity is never going to fully comprehend or grasp this rule as long as there are people such as yourself who believe that defense, police and courts are exceptions to this rule.

I wonder how much progress could be made in political economy if the best and the brightest among economists, such as Raj Chetty, would take seriously the admonition of Hayek, Buchanan, and Elinor Ostrom that the assumptions of omniscience and benevolence must be rejected if we are going to make progress and develop a robust theory of political economy. - Peter Boettke, AEA Richard T. Ely Lecture --- Raj Chetty, "Behavioral Economics and Public Policy"

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Under Pressure

Reply to reply: An Economic Explanation For the Evolution Of Intelligence

******************************************

TomFoolery, do cats look both ways before they cross a street?  Cars certainly put a selection pressure on cats.  This pressure shifts the population of cats to some degree in some specific direction.  To what degree?  And in what direction?   (see... Evolution via Roadkill).

Each year a flock of introduced parrots eats the figs on my neighbor's tree here in Southern California.  These parrots then fly around and poop the fig seeds out.  Some of these seeds germinate... and a few of the seedlings mature and bear fruit.  Parrots put a selection pressure on fig trees in California.  This pressure shifts the population of fig trees to some degree in some specific direction.  To what degree?  And in what direction?

Hummingbirds are only native to the Americas.  What would happen if they were introduced to Africa?  The hummingbirds would pollinate some flowers and not others.  Hummingbirds would put a selection pressure on plants in Africa.  This pressure would shift the population of plants in Africa to some degree in some specific direction.  To what degree?  And in what direction?

Honey bees are not native to the Americas.  They have pollinated some flowers and not others.  The honey bees put a selection pressure on plants in America.  This pressure has shifted the population of plants in America to some degree in some specific direction.  To what degree?  And in what direction?

Consumers are allowed to shop in the private sector.  They give their money to some producers and not others.  Consumers put a selection pressure on producers in the private sector.  This pressure has shifted producers in the private sector to some degree in some specific direction.  To what degree?  And in what direction?

Consumers are not allowed to shop in the public sector.  What would happen if they were allowed to shop in the public sector (aka pragmatarianism)?  Consumers would give their money to some producers and not others.  Consumers would put a selection pressure on producers in the public sector.  This pressure would shift producers in the public sector to some degree in some specific direction.  To what degree?  And in what direction?

For humans... I argued that complex carrying put a significant degree of pressure on our ancestors in the direction of greater intelligence.  I can see this same pressure possibly eventually resulting in raccoons and monkeys being as intelligent as we are.  But this same pressure isn't relevant to the other animals that you mentioned.  I've shared a few thoughts on octopuses here.

Every species has individuals that are exceptional in different ways.  Some individuals are exceptionally fast/slow, tall/short, weak/strong, colorful/drab, intelligent/dumb and so on.  In order for these exceptions to become the rule... there has to be some pressure that makes them the rule.

If you, or anybody else, is interested... here's a playlist of different animals carrying things.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

An Economic Explanation For the Evolution Of Intelligence

Comment on: Evolution Q&A: Why did only humans become intelligent? by Greg Stevens

****************************************

You really did the theory of evolution justice!   I, on the other hand, really suck at doing theories justice.  Watch...

So... humans are exceptionally intelligent.   What is exceptional intelligence good for?  It's good for solving exceptionally hard problems.   But why did early humans, out of all the animals, need to solve exceptionally hard problems?    It's because out of all the animals, early humans had the greatest ability to (simultaneously) allocate the widest variety of resources.   This exceptional ability was the result of having hands, arms and... walking upright.

With quadrupeds... all four limbs are primarily dedicated to allocating a single resource... the animal itself.   But this specialization is a continuum that ranges from horses to raccoons to chimps.    Horses obviously have four legs.   All their limbs are quite specialized to allocating only the horse itself.  None of the horse's limbs are remotely capable of allocating other resources.    What about raccoons?  Do they have four legs?   Well, their front limbs are reasonably capable of allocating other resources.   Chimps definitely do not have four legs.   They have two legs and feet and two arms and hands.  They are quite capable of allocating other resources with their arms and hands.

As front limbs become less dedicated to only allocating the animal itself and more generalized to  allocating other resources... there's an increase in the total variety of resources that can be (simultaneously) allocated.  This creates a more difficult/complex allocation problem.... which requires more brain power/storage to optimally solve.   Well... a distinct advantage is given to exceptionally intelligent individuals.

Since you're fond of using lions as an example... let's compare them to zebras.  It would seem that the front limbs of the lion aren't as specialized to self-allocation as the front limbs of the zebra are.  Lions certainly use their front limbs to allocate themselves... but they also use their front limbs to allocate their prey.   But perhaps the biggest difference is that the mouths of lions are quite capable of carrying/allocating resources (food, cubs, other?).  Do zebras use their mouths to carry anything?   Not so much?  Therefore, lions are faced with more complex (allocation) problems than zebras.... and we should suspect that lions are more intelligent as a result.

So.... for lack of a better word... more "resourceful" body types put greater selection pressure on intelligence.   Humans are the most intelligent animals because our body types are the most "resourceful".


****************************************

See also: video clips of animals carrying things

****************************************

Follow up comment...

****************************************

I'm hardly an octopod expert. When I googled "octopus carrying" I found this picture of a mom with 8 arms. According to the allocation theory she must be a lot more intelligent than us! Also found this cartoon of an octopus carrying different things. There seems to be a bit of disparity between fiction and reality though. I only managed to find this video of an octopus carrying a coconut. I added it to my playlist of different animals carrying things.

According to Wikipedia... octopuses are "highly" intelligent. But why aren't they even more intelligent? One explanation might be that they die after reproduction. No matter how exceptionally intelligent an individual is... it's not going to exert significantly more influence on the gene pool than any other individuals.

With early humans... exceptionally intelligent individuals were more likely to optimally solve complex carrying problems... which meant that they were more likely to live to produce many more offspring than other individuals. This shifted the gene pool in a more intelligent direction. With modern humans though it's a different story. Survival/reproduction is far less dependent on successfully solving complex carrying problems. Therefore, exceptionally intelligent individuals are not going to shift the gene pool in a more intelligent direction.

We've reached peak intelligence! Of course this might change if we start seriously colonizing space.

With octopuses there's also the issue that they don't seem to have 100% control over their limbs! We have far less "carrying parts"... but we do have 100% control over them.

Perhaps another issue is that carrying things in water is easier than carrying things on land. This means that there's less of an energy cost when the wrong things are carried in water. Of course in both land and water the opportunity cost is equally high when the wrong things are carried.

Also, octopuses don't have a very distinct division of labor between carrying limbs and locomotion limbs. As the saying goes, a jack of all trades is a master of none. As humans we have legs for walking and arms/hands for carrying. So we maximize two factors... distance and difference. We can carry the widest variety of different resources over the greatest distances. I'd bet that any aliens that visited our planet would have, or used to have, a similarly distinct division of limb labor.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Does Greg Stevens Have An Issue With Trading?

Comment on: Democracy 2.0: technology can improve how we elect leaders by Greg Stevens

********************************************

The thing is, "importance" can only be accurately measured by personal sacrifice.   In other words... preference intensity is a function of willingness to pay (WTP).   So from my perspective... the only way to "fix" voting is to replace it with spending.

Ideally it would be a "blind" and one shot deal.  Let's take prohibition for example and keep it simple with only two participants... you and I.  You're for prohibition and I'm against.  After we both finish spending our money on our preferred options... the results would be revealed...

Your WTP: $120
My WTP: $20

You won!   Prohibition would be enforced.  Since I lost I would get my $20 dollars back.  Plus, I would get your $120 dollars as well!  And it's not a shabby consolation prize.... given that I would have been willing to accept a minimum of $21 dollars.

Let's throw Jeffery into the mix on my side...

Your WTP: $120
My WTP: $20
His WTP: $10

You would still win but now the consolation prize would be proportionally distributed between Jeffrey and myself.   I would get 2/3rds ($80) and Jeffrey would get 1/3rd ($40).

You would essentially be paying Jeffrey and myself to not drink alcohol for an entire year.   You would get our abstinence and we would get your money.    The outcome would be mutually beneficial.  If it wasn't, then next year we'd adjust our WTPs accordingly.

So replacing voting with spending would facilitate trading.   It would really be no different than you paying Jeffrey and I to pull your weeds or paint your house.  Which means that if you have an issue with this proposal... you have an issue with trading.   Personally, I'm pretty sure we're better off with more, rather than less, trading.  This is because trading is a form of communication.   So is voting.... but trading is an infinitely more accurate form of communication.   More accurate communication allows society members to more quickly adjust/adapt to rapidly changing circumstances/conditions.


********************************************

Follow up comment...


********************************************


Let's keep it simple stupid again and imagine a two good economy.  The private sector produces food and the public sector produces defense.   In the private sector you decide that you want more food... so you spend your money accordingly.   But then you vote for more defense.   Except, more defense means less food.    

In this scenario.... does it matter how much, or how little, money you have?  Nope.   What matters is that voting makes it extremely likely that you're going to inadvertently shoot yourself in the foot.   If we reasonably assume that you truly wanted more food... then by voting for more defense you inadvertently subverted your own will.  

Of course, in a two good scenario you really wouldn't spend more money on food and then turn around and vote for more defense.  This is because it would be a no-brainer that more defense would mean less food.   Everybody would clearly see the trade-off between defense and food.  Everybody would clearly see that allocating more land to defense would mean allocating less land to farming.  Everybody would clearly understand that more "Einsteins" solving defense related problems would mean less "Einsteins" solving food related problems.    Everybody would clearly see defense and food competing for limited resources.  This clarity would guarantee that nobody would inadvertently subvert their own will.

Our economy produces a lot more than two goods.   But adding more goods to both sides (sectors) of the equation really doesn't eliminate the fact that there are always trade-offs.   It just guarantees that voters will not be able to clearly see these trade-offs... which guarantees that voters will regularly and inadvertently subvert their own will.

No country is ever going to truly thrive when all of its citizens regularly shoot their own feet.

So if you're rich and I'm poor... it's not about you having more political sway than I would have.  It's about ensuring that neither of us inadvertently overrides our own spending decisions.


********************************************

Follow up comment...


********************************************


PropA = replace voting with spending (yes/no issues)
PropB = give people the option to directly allocate their taxes (more/less issues)

Deciding whether prohibition should be enforced is a yes/no issue. So we would use PropA to decide it. If proponents spend more than opponents... then PropB would be used to decide how much money should be spent on prohibition.

With both proposals, the more money you have.... the more potential influence you'll have. The influence is only "potential" because, even if you have a billion dollars, it doesn't guarantee that you'll care one way or another about prohibition.

In your simple scenario... the two billionaires agreed on (and equally valued) every issue and the eight poor people agreed on every issue. Was this the case with prohibition? Or with marijuana? Or with gay marriage? Or even with the tax rate?

Here's kinda how I see your concern...

Gates: Hey Epi, I'll pay you $100,000 to quit drinking alcohol for a year!
Me: Wow! Why? Wait, never mind... it's a deal!
You: Woah woah woah. I forbid this trade!
Gates and me: Why?
You: Because Gates is so rich and you're so poor!
Me: So... he shouldn't be allowed to give me some of his money?

Let's compare it to the current system...

Majority: Hey Epi, we aren't going to even pay you one penny to quit drinking alcohol for a year!
Me: So you're going to screw me without even buying me a cheap dinner first?
Majority: Yup
Me: That sucks
You: Not really. It's only fair that the majority gets what it wants without having to pay for it. It's only fair that they screw you without compensating you at all. Our country thrives because of, rather than despite, tyranny of the majority.

Let's say that Gates offered to buy my old sneakers for $100,000 dollars. Would you forbid this trade from taking place because Gates is so much richer than I am? Let's say that Gates offers me $10 million dollars to sleep with him. Would you also forbid this trade for the same reason? Because... you don't want me to be exploited?

So the next time you're about to buy a computer, or buy a coffee from Starbucks, or buy anything on Amazon.... you would want me to forbid you from doing so? Because you, and the country, would be better off if you could only trade with people who have the same amount of money as you?

The challenge is to come up with a coherent story. My attempt at a coherent story is that trade facilitates accurate communication.... and accurate communication allows societies to rapidly adapt to constantly changing conditions/circumstances.

We both agree that progress depends on difference. Well... we both agree that this is true as far as evolution is concerned. But I perceive that this is also true as far as societies are concerned. Difference is expressed through trade. Blocking trade blocks difference.... which blocks progress.

If you and I had the option to choose where our taxes go... would we put the same exact public goods in our "shopping carts"? No, of course not. This is simply because we are different people. And I'm pretty sure that this difference is the source of all progress.


********************************************

Follow up comment...


********************************************


Right now alcohol is legal.  It's legal for people to make, sell and buy alcohol.   But let's say that mothers against drunk driving somehow managed to convince lots of people that alcohol should be illegal.

With the current system... it would be put to a vote.  People would go to voting booths and cast a vote either for, or against, prohibition.   The votes would be counted and whichever side received the most votes would win.   If the mothers against drunk driving won... then alcohol would be illegal.  Everybody who wanted to drink alcohol would be screwed.  They would be forced to do something that they didn't want to do... and they would receive absolutely NO compensation for their inconvenience.

With PropA.... people wouldn't go to voting booths.... they would go to spending booths.  They would spend their WTP on alcohol being legal or legal for one year.    Do you drink alcohol?  I do.  But I don't drink it very often... maybe once a month.  How much benefit do I derive from alcohol in one year?   It's hard to say.  Maybe $100 dollars?   So this would be my WTP.  This is how much I would spend for alcohol to remain legal.  How much would you honestly spend?

Let's say that the people who supported prohibition spent more money than the people who opposed prohibition.   What would happen?   I'd definitely get my $100 dollars back.  Plus, I would also receive my compensation.  My compensation would be proportioned according to the amount that I spent.   If my $100 dollars was 0.00001% of the total spent against prohibition... then my compensation would be 0.00001% of the total spent for prohibition.     If the other side spent $500 million... then my compensation would be $500 dollars.

So alcohol would be illegal... and I would still be thrown in jail and/or fined if I got caught selling, or buying or making it.  BUT, at least with this system I would be COMPENSATED for the inconvenience of having to sacrifice alcohol for one year.  I would receive $500 dollars for something that is only worth $100 dollars to me.   With the current system... there's absolutely no compensation.

Right now I would be fined/jailed if I got caught with marijuana and/or prostitutes.  Why?  Because the majority feels it's their duty to impose their morals on me.   But it doesn't even cost them a dime to do so.   With PropA... it would be an entirely different story.   Maybe, when confronted with the opportunity costs of their morals, they would decide that they had more valuable things to spend their own money on.   If not, then at least they would put their money where their morals are.   All this money would end up in the pockets of people who had different morals.

As I've tried to explain... the underlying goal here is clarity.   Prostitution is currently illegal... so I guess that the majority opposes it.   But I don't know HOW MUCH they oppose it.   Just like I don't know HOW MUCH my side supports the legality of prostitution.   PropA would facilitate a nationwide trade.  This trade would clarify the issue.  Each side would know just how important the issue was to the other side.   Our differences would be made crystal clear.    This essential information would allow everybody to make infinitely more informed decisions.

When everybody's valuations are far more accessible... then everybody's decisions will be far more valuable.

Right now my valuation of your blog entries is NOT accessible.  I sure did enjoy your blog entry on evolution.   It was great!   Just telling you this though isn't the same thing as giving you my money to communicate my valuation of your blog entry.   I haven't given you any money for that blog entry.    Does this make me a free-rider?   Not in this case!  In this case I haven't given you any money for that blog entry because your blog doesn't facilitate micropayments.   So this is an example of the forced-free-rider problem.

If your blog facilitated micropayments... then valuing your entries was as easy as "liking" them.  As a result, all your readers' valuations would be far more accessible.  This means that you, and everybody else, would be able to make far more valuable decisions.

Same concept if you and others could valuate the comments on your blog entries.

This concept is the idea of not underestimating the fact that nobody is a mind-reader.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Freedom To Easily Exit From Absurd Traditions

Comment on: Tradition, Authority, and Reason by Adam Gurri

***********************************************************

To be honest, this was the last thing I read before I fell asleep last night and I'm not exactly sure whether or not I unearthed your point.

From my perspective, there's nothing inherently wrong with traditions.  The only issue is how easy it is to exit from nonsensical traditions.  Easy exit facilitates evolution.  Hard exit fosters stagnation.

Adam Smith provides the best example that I can think of...

But if politics had never called in the aid of religion, had the conquering party never adopted the tenets of one sect more than those of another, when it had gained the victory, it would probably have dealt equally and impartially with all the different sects, and have allowed every man to chuse his own priest and his own religion as he thought proper. There would in this case, no doubt, have been a great multitude of religious sects. Almost every different congregation might probably have made a little sect by itself, or have entertained some peculiar tenets of its own. Each teacher would no doubt have felt himself under the necessity of making the utmost exertion, and of using every art both to preserve and to increase the number of his disciples. But as every other teacher would have felt himself under the same necessity, the success of no one teacher, or sect of teachers, could have been very great. The interested and active zeal of religious teachers can be dangerous and troublesome only where there is, either but one sect tolerated in the society, or where the whole of a large society is divided into two or three great sects; the teachers of each acting by concert, and under a regular discipline and subordination. But that zeal must be altogether innocent where the society is divided into two or three hundred, or perhaps into as many thousand small sects, of which no one could be considerable enough to disturb the public tranquillity. The teachers of each sect, seeing themselves surrounded on all sides with more adversaries than friends, would be obliged to learn that candour and moderation which is so seldom to be found among the teachers of those great sects, whose tenets, being supported by the civil magistrate, are held in veneration by almost all the inhabitants of extensive kingdoms and empires, and who therefore see nothing round them but followers, disciples, and humble admirers. The teachers of each little sect, finding themselves almost alone, would be obliged to respect those of almost every other sect, and the concessions which they would mutually find it both convenient and agreeable to make to one another, might in time probably reduce the doctrine of the greater part of them to that pure and rational religion, free from every mixture of absurdity, imposture, and fanaticism, such as wise men have in all ages of the world wished to see established; but such as positive law has perhaps never yet established, and probably never will establish in any country: because, with regard to religion, positive law always has been, and probably always will be, more or less influenced by popular superstition and enthusiasm.

Right now it's "our" tradition to allow representatives to spend our taxes for us.  But I think this tradition is entirely absurd and extremely harmful.  Unfortunately, it's not easy for me, or anyone else, to exit from this absurd tradition.

And maybe I'm not correctly understanding or seeing the true importance of this tradition.  Yes, for sure, this is entirely possible.  But who's going to argue that fallibilism is a one way street?   If we gave people the option to exit from this tradition then we'd see how many other people are in the same boat as me.  If there are only a few other people in the same boat then this theoretically important tradition isn't going to be harmed.  If there are lots of other people in the same boat then the nation would have a vigorous debate about whether this tradition's importance is real or imagined.  Immense amounts of information would be exchanged and, as a result, our citizens would be that much more informed about the importance, or lack thereof, of this prominent tradition.

The fact of the matter is that we don't have impersonal shoppers in the private sector.  Nobody in their right mind is going to voluntarily give their hard-earned money to somebody in exchange for goods or services that really don't match their preferences.  So I'm pretty sure that the only reason that this absurd and detrimental tradition continues to exist in the public sector is because exiting from it isn't easy.