Friday, April 29, 2016

David Friedman's Answers to the Non-Libertarian FAQ

This is David Friedman's response to the Scott Alexander's non-libertarian FAQ. Both individuals are extremely smart, although Friedman has more experience in the relevant field. Scott Alexander is more of a very intelligent very informed layman.

A few answers I especially liked:
“As far as I know there is no loophole-free way to protect a community against externalities besides government and things that are functionally identical to it.”
Unfortunately, the statement is still true if you drop the last ten words.
The definition of market failure as "individual rationality not leading to group rationality" does not go away when the group in charge is government rather than markets. This is a human problem - that we don't link up like the borg in Star Trek and decide what's best for the collective. Maybe we don't want to be like that, but you have to admit that there are benefits. And there seems to be no way of collecting those benefits among any human institutions
“None of this wealth has trickled down to the poor and none of it ever will, as the past thirty years of economic history have repeatedly and decisively demolished the “trickle-down” concept.”
I believe that, as the term “trickle down” suggests, the theory and the name were invented by people attributing it to their opponents. On the other hand, fairly straightforward economic analysis suggests that increasing the stock of capital will tend to decrease the marginal productivity of capital and increase that of labor, hence will tend to raise wages and lower interest rates.
 I get annoyed at people who use the dismissive term, "trickle down" to describe any particular situation where doing something beneficial for a rich person might have second order positive effects on poor people. It just seems like the ultimate example of zero-sum thinking that economists are always trying to undermine.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Koch supporting Hillary Clinton

Why Charles Koch says "it's possible" he could support Hillary Clinton. -Vox

"The underlying problem for Koch was that his very free-market libertarian agenda had never been very popular with the Republican voters. Even in the early days of the Tea Party, nobody wanted to cut government spending. As Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson noted in their excellent book The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, "not a single grassroots Tea Party supporter we encountered argued for privatization of Social Security or Medicare along the lines being pushed by ultra-free-market politicians like Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and advocacy groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity."

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Financial Samurai on income

This is a good article about how much the top earners make. Factually, it lines up with what I've gathered from other sources. I just wish the author had stayed factual, and didn't deviate into good-bad talk. Normative proclamations about what fair is don't interest me.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Need is not a Market Failure

The economic textbook lists market failures, but the public has their own much less well thought out list of what they think are market failures.

One public version of market failure is called "Needs". For some reason, they think that if something is important that means government should do it. Of course, if government is better at doing important things, then why wouldn't it be better at doing unimportant things too? Why shouldn't government do everything? It seems like the assumption is that governments are just more reliable, which is generally untrue. If it were true, then why wouldn't we just always depend on the more reliable mechanism?

Demand curves slope downward, and it's not like demand reaches a threshold beyond which something becomes a need and now economics works differently. If something really is a need then markets will produce enough of it that it will be cheap and accessible. If markets can't do that because something is scarce or hard to produce, then there's nothing magic about government that can fix that problem. Lots of people need a cure for cancer, but we don't have to resort to vague conspiracy theories to explain why we don't have one. Cancer is just really hard to cure. Can you really believe that someone couldn't make a lot of money selling a cure for cancer? Can you really believe that sick people are willing to pay more for treatments for cancer than a cure?

If we look around we will notice markets producing lots of needs; toilet paper, gasoline, and groceries for example. I would probably spend a significant portion of my income on toilet paper if I had to, but I don' t have to because normal market mechanisms keep the price low. It's untrue that producers can sell at whatever price they want because we need what they produce.

Some needs aren't produced very well, but that's not because they're needs and therefore markets can't be trusted, but because of some other market failure. Lots of economists think health care should be produced by governments, none of them think that it's because health care is important.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sugar High

Someone told me that sugar highs in children are a scientific myth.

I wonder if that's true

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Why Big Pharma isn't Ripping you Off

A liberal friend of mine posted this video, instead of rebutting him I attempted to get through to the core of its liberal audience. I tried to be attentive to liberal values and language, considering Jonathan Haidt and Scott Alexander's advice concerning moral foundations and tribal signals (see #7)

Why doesn't someone just produce a competitor? 
Water is a good example of where markets don't produce competitors because of market failure. The same with a lot of infrastructure. You just can't compete when there's only one set of pipes, and several competing sets of pipes, most of which won't be producing anything just isn't realistic. So the outcomes of this market failure ends up being severely unjust. 
But on the other hand... Toilet paper is a terrible example. Why don't I have to pay 20% of my income for toilet paper? Why isn't gasoline twice as high as it is? Nobody has to fix the price of my groceries either. Even though these things are "needs" they stay accessible because someone else would sell it for cheaper if they became too expensive. 
So what about drugs? Drug patents exist with the explicit motive of making drugs more expensive. It's not a secret, it's in the economics textbook, it is stated by economic policy makers. 
But it's not just because governments are in the pockets of drug companies. The reasoning is that if a drug is expensive to invent, but easy to replicate, a lot of drugs wouldn't be profitable to invent because their profits would immediately be competed away. Government patents are sometimes a fair solution to a difficult problem. But then price fixing undermines exactly what's trying to be accomplished with the patent.

I might not like how expensive some drugs are, but I'm glad they exist for some people, and I'm glad that after a while they'll become more widely available when the patent expires. I care about people getting what they need to stay alive, regardless of whether it's through profits or greed. I'm not trying to help or hurt the rich. I'm trying to help the sick. None of that can happen if the drug never exists in the first place 
Daraprim is an interesting example of an unpatented drug where profits aren't being competed away. Why? The answer IS complicated, and I encourage anyone to look into it (maybe here:
Remember, "Because greed", is not a very complicated or intelligent story. It is not a good answer when prices go down because of greed too. Consider: every wage paid above minimum wage is because of greed as well. In a country where 2-4% of the population makes minimum wage, and median wage is $50,000, that's a lot of money being paid to ordinary people with no legal obligation to do so. Why? Because of greed. 
So I advocate a smarter form of liberalism; one that understands why markets work sometimes and under what conditions they fail. The economics textbook is written mostly by leftists. Full honestly here: popular liberal anti-market biases are as bad as anything coming out of the conservative anti-science crowd. But maybe with all the open-mind talk of the leftist people, there's some chance of a more intelligent discussion. 
I work for a Starbucks store, not big pharma.

Why is big pharma ripping you off? The important question is why doesn't every other industry rip you off even though they have the freedom to set their own prices too.

Do You Know God Cartoon


I think another character standing next to the atheist could say that God has been revealed through what has been made, not through scripture or an inner voice, so as to leave man without an excuse. This general revelation of God would be as clear as or clearer than 2+2=4 if it began with the affirmation that something must be eternal (0+0=0), and moving from there to knowing more particular things about God.

Various religion's lack of attention to general revelation makes discourse about this matter rare. But it's possible for God to be clear to anyone who has reason in them, but for everyone to be in a state of resistance against what is clear.

One of the issues brought up in the cartoon that isn't about knowing God but about what one has to do to be saved or whether one needs to be saved at all. The major theistic religions seem to divide over issues of salvation rather than who God is. And I get that the atheist is just taking them at their word, that they're essentially serving different Gods (except I presume the muslim who likely believes that he serves the same God as Christian and Jewish people), but I also think the atheist should evaluate their claims critically rather than taking as granted that these people are dividing themselves up in relevant ways.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Milton Friedman on Greed

This old video of Milton Friedman reminds me of his son David Friedman. Both father and son persistently compare their systems to their relevant alternatives, rather than to some perfect fiction. That always seems to be the first line of defense for the Friedmans, and it's absolutely fair.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Obama on Engaging Uncomfortable Ideas

This reminds me a lot of what Jonathan Haidt has been talking about lately.

I also wonder if this is the effect of it being the end of Obama's last term, and therefore opening up -- not playing his hand so close to the vest.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Is Education about Domination?

A new post and a new theory of education by Robin Hanson:

While human foragers are especially averse to even a hint of domination, they are also especially eager to take “orders” via copying the practices of prestigious folks. Humans have a uniquely powerful capacity for cultural evolution exactly because we are especially eager and able to copy what prestigious people do. So if humans hate industrial workplace practices when they see them as bosses dominating, but love to copy the practices of prestigious folks, an obvious solution is to habituate kids into modern workplace practices in contexts that look more like the latter than the former.
Are human being's resistance to domination so strong that culture needed to create this long expensive detout called education? Given my experience with how resistant uneducated people are to even a sense of domination, and how negatively this effects their lives, I want to say yes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Scott Alexander on The Ideology is not the Movement

Here is a long, quality post by Scott Alexander on the many facets of tribalism throughout ordinary life.

A few takeaways:

Deaf people sometimes don't want to hear. Why? Because deaf people have their own social tribe they relate to. They'd lose it if their handicap were destroyed show would their membership.

I wonder how many deaf people would think this way if they fully knew what they were missing by being deaf. If we asked people which of the five senses are most and least important sense was, would "hearing" be more or less important than if we asked deaf people?

Autistic people sometimes think the same way as the deaf example. "Cultural genocide" might be a fair way of describing a cure of autism.

The Rationalist Community far are more likely to be INTPs or INTJs in the Myers-Briggs personality test. Hey, I'm INTJ. I've always felt like these people thought like me.

"I worry that attempts to undermine nationalism/patriotism in order to fight racism risk backfiring. The weaker the “American” tribe becomes, the more people emphasize their other tribes – which can be either overtly racial or else heavily divided along racial lines (eg political parties)."
I wonder how much fighting racism becomes a distinguishing mark for one tribe (progressives), discourages other tribes from embracing the same value.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Television Vs. Books

I hear parents who worry that their children watch too much television.

But I never hear them worry that their children read too many books.

There is as much evidence for negative effects of one as the other. Despite popular superstition, Dr. Seuss the tv show does not rot minds, and Dr Seuss the book do not enlighten minds. So why not let the child enjoy his preference?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Where I'm at on Abortion

1) A Greyer shade of Grey

My view on abortion is that there is no obvious way of determining when the un-born derives rights, or dignity, or whatever it is that makes it worthy. The people around me seem to think they know the timing exactly; at conception, at brain function, at birth, or something else. Or else they don't draw any line, which may be worse.

I think they should admit that they just don't know. Like most things, it is unclear when a person is a person at the tail ends of personhood, birth and death. When is a person alive enough to treat their life as valuable? When are they dead enough stop and unplug them? It's a lot like asking how many molecules I have to take out of a chair before it becomes a non-chair. Or how many chicken lives equals a human life. It is unclear. It is very convenient that I don't have to make any serious decisions based on how chairy my chair has to be to be a chair. Know what I mean? We kinda do have to make serious decisions based on how baby a baby has to be to be a baby.

2) What to do in the Greys? Don't Condemn and don't Kill

So what do we do when things are unclear? I think there are two tenets most people ought to agree on, one legal and one moral.

Within the spectrum of unclarity, the woman should have the legal choice. We shouldn't prosecute a woman for maybe, probably, or pretty surely, killing her child. You need clarity, very high confidence, especially if the prosecution is going to have any teethe. Otherwise you're risking the conviction of an innocent person for a serious crime. She should have the benefit of the doubt.

On the other hand, within the spectrum of unclarity, the woman shouldn't have a moral choice. If it is unclear whether the thing inside you is a worthy life, you need to take care of that thing until someone else can. Otherwise you're risking the moral equivalent of second-degree murder. She should have the burden of proof.

So if things are unclear, proceed with caution, because you're at risk of doing some very bad things.

3) My Spectrums of Unclarity

The Spectrum of unclarity will be different for different people. But it should be broad enough that pro-lifers and pro-choicers have common ground upon which they can apply the legal and moral tenets.

I think if I'm being honest, it is clear to me that worthy life doesn't start at conception, but once the embryo starts turning into a fetus, my confidence starts wavering. That's when it seems to me a woman becomes morally culpable if she has an abortion.

On the other end, at around 30 weeks that fetus is starting to look a lot like it will when it's born. I don't know how much earlier I can go than that before my confidence starts to waver, but at 30 weeks I'm starting to really feel like this thing is definitely just a baby who just hasn't seen sunshine yet. That's when it seems to me a woman becomes legally responsible if she has an abortion.

I don't know very much about pregnancy despite having 1 child and a pregnant wife. As a result, those lines I'm drawing are flexible. I might learn a little bit more about how little is going inside of the head of a 4 month old fetus and say, "you know what? I'm a lot more confident than I used to be that this thing isn't even close to a baby." But if an abortion were on the table, I would start researching and my spectrum would adjust as a result.

4) Conservative Confidence

Sure about that?

Sure conservatives will say they're absolutely confident that life begins at conception and not a day later. But there's a difference between the reasonable confidence that I'm talking about, and dogmatic confidence.

I think that maybe the difference between reasonable and dogmatic confidence is this: Reasonable confidence comes from exposure to relevant information about the un-born. I'm not looking for some kind of logical argument. But use questions like; How much of its brain is working? What does it look like? Could it live outside the womb right now? and draw an impression from these kinds of questions. It might not be the right call, but exposure to those kinds of questions is how a reasonable judgement is made.

On the other hand, dogmatic confidence comes from exposure to cultural influence. You were taught that life begins at conception, by your parents or your church or something, and you just can't make yourself seriously consider otherwise. I think this is the kind of confidence most pro-lifers have.

Let me also mention that pro-lifers like to talk about when life begins, which is irrelevant. What matters is when life becomes worthy of the same treatment as any other human life, some very primitive forms of human life may not have this worthiness.

5) What about Women's Rights? Yeah, what about it?

Both sides agree that life is valuable and should be protected, and both sides agree that women should have rights over her body. And both sides agree that when life conflicts with choice, life wins. So I don't get what women's rights has to do with abortion. It just seems to miss the point.

I guess choice makes a lot of sense as a description of what they believe, just not an argument for what they believe. You can say, "it isn't life, therefore, the woman should have the choice". That's fine. But you can't say, "The woman should have the right to choose, therefore, she has the right to choose abortion." The latter is how the pro-choicers come off to me. It seems like they're arguing from the choice of the woman, which in populist morality is axiomatically true. To disagree is to trigger a taboo violation involving women's rights, even though nobody believes in women's rights under the conditions that the pro-lifers are arguing for.

Let me also mention that I often hear pro-choicers say that abortions are going to happen anyway. Maybe to some extent. But the purpose of making something illegal isn't to reduce it to 0, but to discourage it. The abortion rate skyrocketed after Roe v Wade, suggesting that people are very responsive to whether abortion is legal.

6) Long story Short

It's not obvious when a lump of cells becomes a life worthy of the same treatment as any other human life. When it's not obvious, we shouldn't legally condemn aborters, but they're morally responsible for unnecessarily risking their child's life.

I'm not stating where the spectrum of unclarity begins and ends, but so long as we admit it exists there will be overlap and therefore common ground upon which we can apply these moral and legal tenets.

Pro-lifers are unreasonably confident that life begins at conception. In order to take their confidence seriously, it needs to be based on exposure to the fetus not exposure to a tradition.

Pro-choicers talk too much about women's rights and not enough about the fetus' lack of rights. Women's rights miss the point because women's rights is common ground between them and their opponents.

That's kind of where I'm at on the whole issue, but I'm extremely willing to be talked out of it.

The Public Vs. Economists or Sociologists?

If Bryan Caplan ever does another Ask Me Anything, I think I'll ask him this:

In Myth of the Rational Voter, one of the important ways you prove voter irrationality is by comparing voters to experts. But there isn't much reflection in the book over who the relevant experts are. After all, you conclude here that sociology and economics study the same thing.

So if sociologist were polled and compared to the public, do you really think we'd find biases along the same lines you describe? Why shouldn't this be how we test voter irrationality?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Scott Alexander's non-libertarian FAQ (Why I hate your Freedom)

Here is Scott Alexander's non-libertarian FAQ, Why I Hate your Freedom

It is very good at outlining the basic economic textbook critique of laissez faire free-market ideology. I think it is basically right, however, a little to long and complicated to persuade his audience. Who is his audience? He states elsewhere,
It was never aimed at smart libertarians anyway, just as a way to knock down trolls who have read too much Lew Rockwell and too little anything else. Its points still mostly stand. And I'm not sure I would specifically self-identify as a libertarian either. I seem to have several political philosophies at several different levels
I don't think most of the Lew Rockwell, types don't have the kind of attention span needed to be sufficiently knocked down.

I included the last sentence because I sympathize with it a lot -- the sentence about different ideologies at different levels. I wrote a post about this but never posted because believe it or not, I proofread my posts and never got time to read through this one thoroughly. It's called Government: Broad and Narrow Views. It states that the more meta-level I think the more libertarian I get, and the more narrow view I take the more liberal I get. I will probably post it later.

In the same post, Scott mentions a comment that he says may have shifted him away from non-libertarianism irreversibly. Intriguing...

So the non-libertarian FAQ got a response by another smart and articulate person ( The non-non libertarian FAQ). This is what brought my attention to the first FAQ in the first place. Personally, I would like to see David Friedman's response, which is probably sitting the read file of Scott Alexander's e-mail.

Steven Pinker on the connections between intelligence, liberalism, and thinking like an economist

Here are the words of Steven Pinker, a non libertarian cited by the libertarian David Henderson and the libertarian think tank FEE:
smarter people are more liberal... But the key qualification is that the escalator of reason predicts only that intelligence should be correlated with classical liberalism, which values the autonomy and well-being of individuals over the constraints of tribe, authority, and tradition... 
And now for a correlation that will annoy the left as much as the correlation with liberalism annoyed the right. The economist Bryan Caplan also looked at data from the General Social Survey and found that smarter people tend to think more like economists... They are more sympathetic to immigration, free markets, and free trade, and less sympathetic to protectionism, make-work policies, and government intervention in business... 
...To think like an economist is to accept the theory of gentle commerce from classical liberalism, which touts the positive-sum payoffs of exchange and its knock-on benefit of expansive networks of cooperation. That sets it in opposition to populist, nationalist, and communist mindsets that see the world's wealth as zero-sum and infer that the enrichment of one group must come at the expense of another.

David Friedman on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Here is David Friedman on The Corbett Report talking about The Moon is a Harsh Mistress -- a book about an anarchist human society on the moon. The whole interview is great, as is anything involving David Friedman doing what he does best... saying stuff.

This summary of the libertarian objective stuck with me,
What we can hope to do is make more people abandon the assumption that government is a benevolent sort of God, reaching out to do things. To realize that government has no resources to use of it's own, that whatever it uses it takes from someone else. And also that government is just a bunch of people like everything else, that those people act in their own interest not in the general interest. And that the claim that having the government do this results in having the right thing being done, is a claim that you have to give some justification for not something you can assume.
Democracy is the most common justification for why to expect the right thing to be done. If they don't do what's best for us, we'll kick them out, right? More serious analysis of Democracy and the incentives of voters usually doesn't come out that way.

I think that focusing on David Friedman's set of goals is how I'll deal with future political disputes.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Trump Vs. Economists

Greg Mankiw, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush and economic adviser to Mitt Romney, blogs some pretty damning words about Trump,
I don't know any mainstream economist--right, left, or center--who has good things to say about the economic policy views of Donald Trump. But, somehow, I don't think this fact will deter his supporters.