Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bryan Caplan's discrimination Syllabus

Bryan Caplan's labor economics and discrimination syllabus is a very clear summary of why the subject is more complicated than many feminists and lefties make it. Maybe academic feminists are familiar with thinking statistically about gender differences, but feminists on the ground too quickly infer discrimination from inequality.

"Women only make X cents for every dollar a man makes for the same job!" Yeah, okay, end of story then. Because in a world without discrimination women and men would make exactly the same amount in every occupation?

95% of every ideology is intellectually stupid, including feminism. Sometimes it seems like the 5% all talk to each other and have very sophisticated debates, but intellectual growth in both groups stays flat because everyone else isn't exposed to truly smart ideas, they're stuck at dumb emotional moral outrage.

And that's what I like about Bryan Caplan's syllabus. It's a tour of how to think statistically about labor markets and discrimination, because despite what popular culture says, statistical laws do not stop at people.

Key points I take away from the syllabus:
Statistical discrimination does not reduce mean group income. It just narrows the distribution. People who exceed their group stereotype's performance level are under-paid; people who fall short of their group stereotype's performance level are over-paid.
Very important.

I also take away the terminology of statistical vs preference based discrimination. This is a distinction everyone should make.

I also like his question: "If you really wanted to stop discrimination, which would make more sense to ban: IQ tests or face-to-face interviews?" Hmm, I wonder.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Solar Power Wasting Labor

I usually turn to Econlog for Bryan Caplan posts, but once in a while I like a post from the others.

So try this one: Solar Power: Lots of Jobs per KWH is bad, not good.
To start, despite a huge workforce of almost 400,000 solar workers (about 20 percent of electric power payrolls in 2016), that sector produced an insignificant share, less than 1 percent, of the electric power generated in the United States last year
Of course, the definition of economic progress is to create more with less. Employing a lot of people is easy, pay some to dig holes and others to fill them in. Ultimately it's a good thing to create just as much with fewer people. Those people are then able to go do other things, and now 2 things are getting done instead of 1!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

Policy Debates Should Never Appear Once Sided

We live in an unfair universe. Like all primates, humans have strong negative reactions to perceived unfairness; thus we find this fact stressful. There are two popular methods of dealing with the resulting cognitive dissonance. First, one may change one's view of the facts—deny that the unfair events took place, or edit the history to make it appear fair. Second, one may change one's morality—deny that the events are unfair.

Policy debates should never appear one-aided

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Economists on Trump's Tax Plan

The tax reform plan proposed by President Trump this week would likely pay for itself through higher economic growth.
The amount of agreement is massive:

But what about the small percent of economists who said they agreed? I thought this was funny: under the section where the economists make comment it states, "panelist meant to strongly disagree"

There's a lot that economists agree on, including free trade and terminating agricultural subsidies. Economists agree, just probably not with you.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Once Phones are out of the Picture

A photographer removed cell phones from pictures and it is supposed to show how addicted and anti-social phones are making us.

Why does it show that? I have no idea. If you take the object away from pictures of people using the object it looks weird. We could also try taking food away from people eating or books away from people reading.

So there is the world made up of atoms and the world made up of bits, and for some reason there is this myth that the world made up of bits isn't the "real world". Maybe that myth is what this photographical social commentary is about - the phone isn't real and so when you take them out of the picture you're looking at how things really are. The problem is the world of bits is contained in the world of atoms, so it's no less real than you or I.

Or maybe we're supposed to think that these people are just permanently consumed with their phones and ignoring the other, more direct social activities. That too is a myth. The pictures were chosen for their being in the midst of direct social activities. Most of the time that people are lying in bed together or with a bunch of friends, they're not on their phones. People are not permanently on their phones. Their daily lives are filled with persistent checks of their phone. If you go out to dinner with someone who spends the whole time on their phone, the normal thing to expect is that something really serious is going on at the other end of the phone.

What people do on their phones is usually social in nature, but we might compare that to books. Do we scold someone who is reading all the time? After all, reading is a genuinely anti-social activity. Nobody cares because books our culture has made out books to be holy and phones to be evil.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

what the Abortion Question is About

Usually the red tribe likes to frame the abortion question around when life begins. In a way that's one step better than their opponents. In a different way, it still misses the mark.

It's better than their blue tribe opponents because the blue team has been framing it as a women's rights issue for a while now, and that actually misses the crux of the issue. The red team does not reject women's rights any more than the blue team advocate baby murderer. Both teams believe that women have rights, both teams believe babies should not be murdered, and both teams believe that when life conflicts with choice, life wins. Nobody, including women, have the right to kill.

So the blue team aims at the woman, and the red team aims at the offspring, and it's the offspring that the abortion question is really about.

But is it about whether the offspring is alive? That's where the red tribe makes their jobs easier than it is. There is lots of life that isn't worthy of moral/legal protection. They need to show that it's the kind of life that is morally equivalent to the life of you or me. They need to show that it's a life with rights, or dignity, or whatever it is we have that makes it wrong to kill each other.

I'm not sure we even agree on a moral theory of why we shouldn't kill each other. So I'm skeptical that the red team has ever shown why that moral theory applies to protect this:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Liberals Tolerated Conservatives Banned

The overall impression is of a widespread norm, well-understood by both liberals and conservatives, that we have a category of space we call “neutral” and “depoliticized”. These sorts of spaces include institutions as diverse as colleges, newspapers, workplaces, and conferences. And within these spaces, overt liberalism is tolerated but overt conservativism is banned.

From Scott Alexander of SlateStarCodex.

It reminds me of when a liberal won the election where I live. When it was announced my whole workplace was having a store meeting. Almost everyone in the store cheered, and I remember feeling sorry for the few conservatives in the room.

It also seemed ironic to me that the team that teaches tolerance would have been completely intolerant if the scenario were flipped. Suppose the conservatives had cheered, how tolerant would the liberals have been?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Do good things come to those who wait

Good things come to those who wait but also sometimes bad things even horrible things it's impossible to know, really just wait right here
-Don Hertzfeld's Twitter

The things people say.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Talk to Strangers

He cites child abduction stats at the end of the video. They seem much less scary when you consider how many people there are (denominator neglect!). They're also much much less scary when you stop looking at total child abductions, which is mostly just parents who violated custody laws, and look at actual stranger child abductions, which is spectacularly small.

To get an idea how small, consider this report from the Justice Department, which shows 797,500 total children reported missing in a one-year period, 203,900 were abducted by family members, and 58,200 were abducted by non-relatives. What about stranger danger? The report itself calls it an, "an extremely small portion of all missing children." The total number? 115 cases.

Does that mean the point of the video is wrong? Not really. It really is easy to abduct children. Parents have a hard time getting their children to do anything, much less avoid manipulation by people much older and smarter than them. The real lesson is that child training is not what keeps children safe. What keeps them safe is how rare the totally bizarre behavior of wanting someone else's child is. That, and the risk of paying the cost of getting caught.

Fortunately, those to mechanisms are pretty ingrained. So long as the officials do a reasonably well catching child abductors, and punishing them harshly, and so long children don't suddenly start pooping gold, the kind of child abductions that parent's fear will stay very rare.

So maybe we should stop teaching our children to be anti-social, and instead teach them to strike up a conversation with a stranger.

Label this under:

Everything is amazing and nobody is happy

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Best Interviews of Tyler Cowen

There are the best interviews of Tyler Cowen that stand out to me. He's the person who's mind I would most like to download:

Patrick Collison interviews Tyler on Conversations with Tyler

Ezra Klein interviews Tyler on The Ezra Klein Show

Tyler Cowen on or Stubborn Philosophical Attachments

You can pick any of Tyler Cowen's interviews on Econtalk. But they tend to be pretty specific. I prefer the interviews that come at him from a lot of different angles and ask him about pretty much everything.

Of course, Tyler also gives very good interviews.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Rich People's non-insight into Economics

Rich people do not know how the economy works any more than the lion knows how the animal kingdom works.

You can be very successful within a system without knowing anything about how the system as a whole works.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Consistent Vegetarianism and the Suffering of Wild Animals

Is life in the wild worse than life on the farm?

If so, and if life on the farm is worse than no life at all, then life in the wild must be worse than no life at all. And it would seem that reducing the number of wild animals should be top priority. From the paper in the Journal of Practical Ethics:
Some consequentialists may be vegetarian because of environmental concerns, and others for non-consequentialist reasons, but these are not my main focus here.
 Instead he focuses on ethical consequentialist vegetarians. But I wonder how many of them will retreat to environmental concerns or non-consequentialist reasons when their view is criticized?
Vegetarians reduce the demand for meat, so that farmers will breed fewer animals... I will argue that if vegetarians were to apply this principle consistently, the suffering of wild animals would dominate their concerns, and would plausibly lead them to support reducing the number of wild animals, for instance through habitat destruction or sterilisation.
 This puts vegetarians in a trap. If life on the farm is worse than not getting a life at all, then surely life in the wild is worse than no life at all, because the nature is horrible (evidence that nature is horrible is the next part, but I think it's obvious). On the other hand, if no life at all is worse than life on the farm, then reducing the demand for farmed animals just keeps them out of existence.
Nature is often romanticised as a well-balanced idyll, so this may seem counter-intuitive. But extreme forms of suffering like starvation, dehydration, or being eaten alive by a predator are much more common in wild animals than farm animals. Crocodiles and hyenas disembowel their prey before killing them (Tomasik 2009). In birds, diseases like avian salmonellosis produce excruciating symptoms in the final days of life, such as depression, shivering, loss of appetite, and just before death, blindness, incoordination, staggering, tremor and convulsions
Again, this shouldn't really need evidence. Nature is nothing like Bambi, it's like animal planet.

He quotes Richard Dawkins along the same lines:
During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease.
That was a very smart quote, especially since many vegetarians are Dawkins lovers.
Some may choose to treat this outlandish conclusion as a reductio against consequentialist ethical vegetarianism (either against the idea that farm animals matter morally or against the belief that we should prevent them from coming into existence).
I always note the difference between reductio-ad-absurdum and reductio-ad-a-conclusion-I-don't-like. If you really had enough evidence to say that farm animals are better off never born, and then new evidence comes along and points out that wild animals are even worse off than that, then you follow reason where it leads: start preventing wild animals from existing!

Or on the other hand you could admit that you never had enough evidence in the first place, and then introspect on why it seemed to appealing at first. Is it social desirability bias? Maybe because you thought that cause looked good on you?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Prison taken Seriously

Why Prison? An Economic Critique

Not for people with heavy status quo bias

It seems to me like chopping off limbs is a better system of justice.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Does the bible say to love yourself?

"And hence it is, that to feel much for others and little for ourselves, that to restrain our selfish, and indulge our benevolent, affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature; and can alone produce among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which consists their whole grace and propriety.
As to love our neighbor as we love ourselves is the great law of Christianity, so it is the great precept of nature to love ourselves only as we love our neighbor, or what comes to the same thing, as our neighbor is capable of loving us."
-Adam Smith

Churches I used to go to used to make this point. "Love each other as you love yourselves implies that you should love yourself too!"

But for as long as I can remember I've thought that the interpretation of the verse as, "as you SHOULD love yourselves" rather than, "as you CURRENTLY love yourselves" was reading personal views into the verse. Jesus is saying, "you are lovers of yourselves, now go love each other that much," which is to say nothing about how much you should love yourself.

When you read any new Testament author, it's hard to find anything that says you should love yourself. On the contrary, when being a lover of yourself is mentioned it's always treated like a BAD thing.

Of course, rationalizers will argue that these same words mean different things for no other reason than because they say so. 

So does the bible say to love yourself? Most certainly not. That doesn't make it wrong unless you're a bible fundamentalist, but I think citing verses like this to help forward your already established moral views is discourteous to original authors.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Friday, March 3, 2017

"I gave them War so they would Smelt Iron"

" 'Hermes,' asked Prometheus, 'has it ever occurred to you that I was out, in the world, for countless aeons before you imprisoned me here? ...Zeus thought he was so clever, giving [the humans] a box full of evils, but I selected every one of those evils eons beforehand. You know what was in that box, Hermes? Things to made humanity stronger. I gave them famine so they would invent agriculture. I gave them disease so they would invent medicine. I gave them war so they would smelt iron. And I left them hope, so that even in their darkest moments they would pull through and keep dreaming. Dream of putting all of those evils back in the box they came from and closing it forever. And they will. Do you know how many sentient species in the multiverse developed an industrial base, liberal democracy, and human rights without killing themselves or collapsing into barbarism, Hermes? The number is one. One sentient species. Mine.' "

-Prometheus, in the very delightful short story here

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Tyler Cowen on a16z Podcast

Here is a great interview with Tyler Cowen on Technology, Mobility, and The American Dream.

I've bookmarked the podcast for it's quality. I was impressed by the interviewer's input of informed examples, and I thought their willingness to argue the other side rare.

Tyler mentioned the point of how much easier it is to measure income than wealth. Because income is in the form of paper (mostly), and wealth is not and wealth can be so important.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Will the Real Immigrant Deporter Please Stand Up?

Bryan Caplan on Presidents by their deportation numbers. Tyler Cowen calls it a revelation of sorts.
...the real Deporter in Chief was none other than fellow Democrat Bill Clinton. Adjusting for population, no one else even comes close.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Eggs in the Refrigerator

Why do we have to refrigerate our eggs in North America, but they don't in Europe? It has to do with whether those eggs are washed. In north America government requires eggs to be washed. In Europe government prohibits eggs from being washed. Here is the rationale from the FDA:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a regulation expected to prevent each year approximately 79,000 cases of foodborne illness and 30 deaths caused by consumption of eggs contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella Enteritidis.
The regulation requires preventive measures during the production of eggs in poultry houses and requires subsequent refrigeration during storage and transportation.
Egg-associated illness caused by Salmonella is a serious public health problem. Infected individuals may suffer mild to severe gastrointestinal illness, short term or chronic arthritis, or even death. Implementing the preventive measures would reduce the number of Salmonella Enteritidis infections from eggs by nearly 60 percent.
Here we have the rationale from some European legislators:
In general, eggs should not be washed or cleaned because such practices can cause damage to the egg shell, which is an effective barrier to bacterial ingress with an array of antimicrobial properties. However, some practices, such as the treatment of eggs with ultra-violet rays, should not be interpreted as constituting a cleaning process. Moreover, Class A eggs should not be washed because of the potential damage to the physical barriers, such as the cuticle, which can occur during or after washing. Such damage may favour trans-shell contamination with bacteria and moisture loss and thereby increase the risk to consumers, particularly if subsequent drying and storage conditions are not optimal.
This is from an intriguing article written by Jeffrey Tucker.

My first thought is that 30 deaths a year is not a large number. 79,000 cases of foodborne illness is a large number, but since only .04% of those people are dying I'm suspicious that the technical definition of foodborne illness matches the severity of what comes to mind when us layfolk hear it. When I hear foodborne illness I think of something fairly serious, but more often than not it may amount to nothing more than a tummyache.

As I read more about foodborne illness my suspicions become more and more validated. Consider this from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention:
48 million foodborne illness cases occur in the United States every year. At least 128,000 Americans are hospitalized, and 3,000 die after eating contaminated food.
 Soooooo, out of 48 million foodborne illnesses, 47,872,000 never even bother to go to the hospital, and 47,997,000 go on to live another day.

That doesn't sound so bad.

My second thought after reading the article is that my fast thinking system (system 1) wants to say that the washing eggs prevent some problems, not washing eggs prevent some other problems, and it's all a big tradeoff.

But if you think about it, the North American way of doing things is far superior for public health. By washing the eggs they prevent Salmonella. But what about the European rationale that damaging the eggshell which is a barrier to bacteria? That's why they're refrigerated! I think Jeffrey Tucker overlooks this by calling the situation, "tradeoffs either way, like most things in life." Sure there are always tradeoffs, but the FDA found a way to have it both ways at least in the public health sense by mandating the washing of eggs, and then prescribing that eggs ought to be refrigerated afterward.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Social Security: A tax on the dead?

Lets start with this. Cut the world into people who live to 65 years and those who don't. Of these two groups, which is more deserving of our sympathy? Who deserves our care? The people who lived that long or the people who die young?

It seems to me that regardless of your quality of life, you're pretty much in the fortunate group if you lived to 65 or longer.

But here's the thing: we give people who live to 65 a subsidy. It's called Social Security. And who pays for it? The people who never live long enough to collect the check.

People think Social Security is a tax on the young to benefit the old. But it's really not, since at the end of the day they're the same people. But who really loses in this system? Not the young who live long lives, they get their money back eventually. But the young who live short lives get nothing. That sounds like a cruel system to me.

And it's the biggest system in the United States Budget.

Lets say it again: old people are fortunate. Whatever problems they may have, in the broad scope of things it's probably better than being dead. Helping them is like subsidizing the rich because it's hard managing all that money. So too with being old. All that extra time you get to live comes with health problems. Okay, but at the end of the day all that time is a wonderful thing!

Monday, February 20, 2017

History is written by the victors

One of the most unfortunate and widely-accepted ideas about historical thinking is that “history is written by the victors.” This talking point asserts that the truth of the past is not shaped by reasoned interpretive historical scholarship or a factual understanding of the past, but by the might of political and cultural leaders on the “winning” side of history who have the power to shape historical narratives through school textbooks, public iconography, movies, and a range of other mediums...
“History is written by the victors” is a lazy argument that is usually deployed in the absence of historical evidence to defend claims about the past.

The quote, "history is written by the victors" appears to be misattributed to Winston Churchill

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Was the Civil War about Slavery?

We're not fighting for slaves. Most of us never owned slaves and never expect to, it takes money to buy a slave and we're most of us poor but we won't lie down and let the North walk over us, about slaves or anything else.
-Confederate soldiers in John Brown' Body, a book length poem by Stephen Vincent Benét.

It should be noted that Stephen Vincent Benet wasn't speaking from personal experience. Even if he were, one person never really speaks for an entire group.

Still, the there are arguments here. Does it make sense for the South to care so much about slavery when so few owned slaves? I recall a dispute with someone who insisted that most of them fought because they hoped to one day own slaves. I don't find that believable. So many gave so much for such a little chance - seems dumb.

When I read the articles of secession it seems to me that the civil war was really about States Rights of which slavery was one important subset.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

One Kidney down, One to go.

Here's Dylan Matthews on the Science and Ethics of Kidney Donation.

Related: Economists generally range from accepting to uncertain of the proposition:

"A market that allows payment for human kidneys should be established on a trial basis to help extend the lives of patients with kidney disease."

I've looked into donating a kidney to a stranger. Fear or safety isn't the main obstacle, complication is.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Minimal Group Paradigm

Here is The minimal group paradigm study everyone should know. Since people will discriminate according to even the most arbitrarily invented groups, to make discrimination stop happening along certain categories is to stop making those categories a thing. Or at least less of a thing.

Maybe the "race isn't real" people have a tactical advantage over the "race pride" people?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump and his Male Friends Attack Women's Right to Abortion

Donald Trump Signs Anti-Abortion Executive Order Surrounded By Men.

Who happened to be around when Trump signed the order should be taken, at best, as symbolic rather than as evidence I fear many are taking it for.

What does actual evidence say? It doesn't support abortion being a men vs. women issue. Consider: "Men and women hold very similar views on abortion and under which circumstances it should be available."

A fairer summary is that women are only slightly more pro-choice these days (not so true in the past), it still doesn't really qualify as an issue dividing genders. The Blue Team has a habit of sacralizing the fight of oppression, especially of certain groups like women (never whites, males, or Asians). And when you sacralize something, it's very hard to think straight about it.

So Trump's being surrounded by men probably has more to do with the demographics of his administration in general, not a male attack on women's rights.

What are gender attitudes toward abortion when you adjust for other variables like politics and religiosity? It's still being debated.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

We don't burn witches anymore
but the group psychology endures
Moral distance, cognitive discipline seem to be the cure
The first two Spider Man movies weren't good either

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Both are true:

"About twice as many economists believe a voucher system would improve education as believe that it wouldn’t"

"only a third of economists support vouchers"

Monday, February 13, 2017

Scott Alexander on Cost Disease

Here is Scott Alexander on Cost Disease.

"In 1983, the first mobile phone cost $4,000 – about $10,000 in today’s dollars. It was also a gigantic piece of crap. Today you can get a much better phone for $100. This is the right and proper way of the universe. It’s why we fund scientists, and pay businesspeople the big bucks.
But things like college and health care have still had their prices dectuple. Patients can now schedule their appointments online; doctors can send prescriptions through the fax, pharmacies can keep track of medication histories on centralized computer systems that interface with the cloud, nurses get automatic reminders when they’re giving two drugs with a potential interaction, insurance companies accept payment through credit cards – and all of this costs ten times as much as it did in the days of punch cards and secretaries who did calculations by hand."

He talks about average wages, but he doesn't talk about growth in employment in these sectors. Since 1970 employment in these sectors went from 6% of the workforce to 15%. That's very expensive. I'm surprised Slatestar didn't mention this.

Hanson says that healthcare is primarily about signalling care, not health. Caplan says that school is primarily about signalling good work, not education. If either or both of them are right, then the amount we spend and the number of people we employ in these industries seems like one of the worst things in the developed world.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Life is

"My life seemed like a glass tunnel,through which I was moving faster every year,and at the end of which there was darkness..."-Derek Parfit

Friday, January 6, 2017

Why anything?

Why anything?

Here is another analogy. Suppose first that, of a thousand people facing death, only one can be rescued. If there is a lottery to pick this one survivor, and I win, I would be very lucky. But there might be nothing here that needed to be explained. Someone had to win, and why not me? Consider next another lottery. Unless my gaoler picks the longest of a thousand straws, I shall be shot. If my gaoler picks that straw, there would be something to be explained. It would not be enough to say, ‘This result was as likely as any other.’ In the first lottery, nothing special happened: whatever the result, someone’s life would be saved. In this second lottery, the result was special, since, of the thousand possible results, only one would save a life. Why was this special result also what happened? Though this might be a coincidence, the chance of that is only one in a thousand. I could be almost certain that, like Dostoevsky’s mock execution, this lottery was rigged.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Intellectuals for Trump

Intellectuals for Trump
"But when the host asked whether Trump might be “more sensitive and self-restrained” than Obama in the use of executive power, the room erupted in laughter."