General Bitcoin discussion thread (June 2011)

post by SilasBarta · 2011-06-10T23:21:21.932Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 104 comments

We've started a habit of creating periodic Bitcoin threads to confine discussion thereof to those threads and prevent excessive proliferation of Bitcoin topics in the discussion section.  Here is a link to the last one, which links the other discussions.  Lot's to talk about, and another bounce in Bitcoin's value (up to 33 then down to 24), so share your links and thoughts!

104 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by lsparrish · 2011-06-14T21:11:31.430Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If anyone's checked out the bitcoin source and tried to compile it, you might notice that it is... well, kind of bloated. By my standards anyway. It requires huge numbers of gigantic libraries and so forth. Way more than what it actually does. All you really need are some TCP/IP, database, and crypto algorithms.

In fact, unless I'm missing something major, seems like we're really just talking about a glorified IRC bot with some security features... Does anyone else get the impression that Bitcoin's current back end is over-complicated? Also, does this argue in favor of writing (or anticipating someone writing) a cleaner/smaller version?

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-06-18T09:34:24.692Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

extra libraries are for the scripting language support. the ability to write new sorts of transactions (such as contracts like I mentioned in this thread) is there.

comment by Mercy · 2011-06-12T13:32:14.245Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've kind of stayed out of this discussion because I think one's interpretation of the product depends on more on your views about economics and politics than any disagreement about bitcoin's properties. And Tyler Cowen's skepticism makes me think that bitcoin proponents are deep enough into Rothbardville that our lines of engagement would get fruitlessly broad.

But I'm curious on one point - why do some people have this dramatic 'coins'll be worth thousands or nothing" attitude. I can see the zero, and I can get my head round the viewpoint where it's plausible that a large chunk of the economy gets covered by bitcoins and they're worth thousands. But what about it staying where it is now, as a complementary used for drug deals, money laundering and Konkin t-shirts? Is there some reason that wouldn't be stable?

comment by Pavitra · 2011-06-13T00:31:30.044Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Bitcoin has a number of practical advantages for ordinary e-commerce, such as no chargebacks and low transaction fees. I think that if (say) Bitcoin and Paypal were equally normal-seeming in the public consciousness, then most online vendors would prefer for their customers to pay with bitcoins. This suggests that one of the most important limiting factors for adoption is visibility, which is to say, adoption. The spread of Bitcoin is self-reinforcing.

comment by bogus · 2011-06-13T00:51:31.413Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Bitcoin has a number of practical advantages for ordinary e-commerce

That may be true, but it also has disadvantages such as scalability. AFAICT, every Bitcoin node must maintain an up-to-date ledger containing all transactions made to date: obviously, this is unsustainable in the long run.

The "fixed number of bitcoins" policy is also an issue. According to Bitcoin developers, having more miners makes the network more resilient to attack, in addition to speeding up transactions. Eventually, the subsidy to mining activity will become too low and agents will need to partially replicate its effect with transaction fees. This is sobering enough for a network which touts free transactions! as a selling point; however, what's more worrying, resiliency will also drop dramatically as mining activity slows. Paying a mining bonus would be more fitting, since the benefits of increased mining are shared by all holders of bitcoin.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-06-15T16:08:46.275Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The code can easily be modified to use only a partial ledger if necessary. It's not yet enough of a problem that anyone has bothered to do so.

"Free transactions" is more of a common misconception than a selling point, as SilasBarta discusses in the sibling.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-13T03:07:54.717Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fair enough. The promoters of Bitcoin should not tout the "free transactions!" since this will only apply for the next twenty years or so and transactions thereafter will impose a fee orders of magnitude lower than most services if you want them confirmed quicker.

comment by jhuffman · 2012-01-06T21:57:32.630Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I do not think the transactions are free even now, it is just that they are spread out across the entire money supply rather than charged only to the participants in the transaction. The cost of the block are the 50 coins added to the money supply, which slightly decreases the value of every other coin.

comment by SilasBarta · 2012-01-07T00:06:17.633Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In most contexts, that would be close enough to count as "free transactions".

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-06-12T05:37:09.279Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

66% pullback in price this weekend. This certainly isn't a market for the fainthearted.

My probability distribution looks something like 90% chance of going to 0 and 10% chance of going to multiple hundreds of dollars.

My downside is limited to having paid market price for 2 video cards and a power supply if bitcoins go to zero. My friend just built a mining rig with three cards for around $650. I tried to talk him out of it but the concept of free money seems to override people's ability to make cost benefit analysis.

comment by atucker · 2011-06-12T05:45:42.969Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

66% pullback in price this weekend. This certainly isn't a market for the fainthearted.

Clearly, the market is responding to people questioning its efficacy on Less Wrong. :P

My probability distribution looks something like 90% chance of going to 0 and 10% chance of going to multiple hundreds of dollars.

Are you buying bitcoins? Expected utility is in the multiple tens of dollars if you believe that.

comment by Mercy · 2011-06-12T13:38:51.849Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's funny you should mention that, because just about the time of the collapse a bunch of posters on the Something Awful thread mocking bitcoins decided to see if they could crash the market by posting SELL SELL SELL messages on various discussion boards. From the posts there they think it's coincidence though- the crash was caused by a single big seller.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-06-12T09:56:41.525Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm mining. And my utility is not uniform over my money. Money now is significantly more valuable than money will be once I graduate college.

If I had more disposable income I would have bought some directly.

comment by jhuffman · 2012-01-06T21:59:12.991Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious, are you still mining? Also, are you living in a dorm with fixed electricity cost?

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2012-01-07T21:56:14.523Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

mining was unprofitable for a long while until just recently with the price recovery. mining now is worth it for the free heating.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-06-13T16:29:16.612Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

At its lowest, it hit the price it was at on 7th June, right?

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-06-13T21:54:23.701Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

7th June it was around 18 dollars I think. It fell all the way down to 10 dollars before bouncing back.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-06-12T15:44:09.248Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

My probability distribution looks something like 90% chance of going to 0 and 10% chance of going to multiple hundreds of dollars.

I will bet at those odds. $1 pays me $10,000,000 that it stays in the range of $0.1 to $100 for two years.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-10T23:27:19.802Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I had an ulterior motive in starting this topic right this moment. See, I'm trying to close the inferential gap in explaining Bitcoin to the layperson, so I wrote up a blog post explaining the relevant cryptographic pre-requisites. (It's based on discussions with an economist who plans to write about Bitcoin soon.)

I would appreciate any corrections. Also, this is another case of me claiming to be better at explaining stuff than most people, so see if I live up to the standard (preferably from those that don't already understand this stuff). The economist I talked to found my explanation must more helpful than Wikipedia (and I, too, found the site's explanations not very helpful in my self-education about cryptography).

(Edited to fix typo)

Edit2: Now my long-time frenemy and economist Bob Murphy links the post with approval, though yes, he doesn't specify that it's more of a "cover of the pre-requisites" than an explanation of Bitcoin itself.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-06-11T03:30:36.139Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

re-requisites -> pre- ?

I skimmed it and nothing jumped out at me. I understand public key crypto.

Your blog post made me think an explanation of bitcoin mining and transfer would occur. It never did. There was this:

What role do public key signatures play in Bitcoin? They are used to prove to the network that the owner of address A1 (A1 also functioning as a public key!) really did authorize the transfer of certain coins to the next address. Other nodes in the network, in turn, are able to easily verify that the owner of A1 signed off on the transfer by checking that the mathematical relationship I mentioned above holds among the A1 public key, the message indicating the transfer, and the signature on the transfer. And if this relationship doesn't hold, the other nodes (per the Bitcoin protocol) ignore the purported transfer, acting like it didn't exist, and refuse to tell other nodes about it.

... which isn't a very complete. The only thing I learned (I know nothing about Bitcoin mining or transaction protocols) is that apparently lots of nodes end up knowing about every transaction (paying attention only to transactions moving a particular coin that are signed by its last known owner).

So, I gather your explanation of Bitcoin is yet to be written.

comment by timtyler · 2011-06-11T08:30:57.101Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I gather your explanation of Bitcoin is yet to be written.

Silas did say this was:

a blog post explaining the relevant cryptographic re-requisites.

It doesn't have much about Bitcoin - and instead covers the basics of digital signatures and hash functions.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-07-18T16:42:10.701Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Update: I've attempted a more "big picture" summary of how Bitcoin works as a whole, rather than just the prerequisites.

I'm interested in hearing comments about clarity or accuracy.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-07-18T19:09:50.067Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's new info for me, so I can only hope it's accurate.

It's a good explanation. I'd know where to mount further details if I wanted to find them.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-07-18T19:56:41.396Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, glad it provides some of the clarity you were looking for.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-11T17:03:19.889Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What Tim Tyler said. Remember, the layperson has a HUGE inferential gap between their knowledge and Bitcoin, and closing that gap requires solving the problem -- itself very difficult for most -- of explaining cryptography and what it can accomplish. Otherwise, people can't grasp how the scarcity and security come about.

comment by Clippy · 2011-06-11T16:59:46.118Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What Tim Tyler said. This wasn't intended to explain Bitcoin itself (though it does cover some of that), but to close the part of the inferential distance that most people have to "walk" before they can begin to understand Bitcoin. Like I said in the post, simply understanding the cryptographic aspects is hard enough for most people, and it's something they'll need to understand first before they can understand how Bitcoin works and uses cryptography.

One must be careful not to overestimate what the layperson will immediately understand. On the Slate discussion of Bitcoin, for example, some commenters had trouble grasping the idea of sending money through their computer, saying things like, "what, do I put the coins in some slot". It sounds like a stupid question, but it's what a person is likely to say when they don't understand how the scarcity arises and gets redistributed.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-06-11T05:19:07.039Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

the jump in interest generally comes when you explain that there will only ever be 21 million. this seems to completely change the character of the conversation.

or did you mean explaining it to intelligent people? :p

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2011-06-11T21:38:57.993Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

the jump in interest generally comes when you explain that there will only ever be 21 million. this seems to completely change the character of the conversation.

Only 21 million bitcoins, but there is nothing preventing other "issuers" from copying the design of Bitcoin and creating "Cryptotokens", and "Liberty Hashes," "Stealth Gold," "African Bitcoins," etc.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-06-11T21:47:58.074Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"Cryptotokens"

Cryptokens, surely?

comment by gwern · 2011-06-12T21:49:10.663Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's not a bad thing. Bitcoin is going to have to be majorly upgraded with a new blockchain when SHA-256 is broken, and money is not the only scarce things to be decentralizedly allocated - I previously commented on Namecoin.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2011-06-12T22:21:10.587Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Bad thing or good thing, it makes a huge difference to the expected long-term value of a bitcoin, which is of interest to anyone thinking of holding bitcoins.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-06-11T21:47:13.077Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not insurmountable but it is the chicken and egg problem. Bitcoins are the most secure by virtue of having the most hashing power.

comment by Gedusa · 2011-06-20T10:50:19.990Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would anyone care to comment on the recent Mt Gox hack n' crash?

Personally, I'm thinking that this very bad. The currency won't look as good the mainstream, and I'm anticipating panic sells as soon as the exchanges get up and running again. I'm agnostic as to whether Bitcoin will die or not though...

comment by Clippy · 2011-06-20T16:48:35.889Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have a comment. It's bad, like unbending paperclips.

I had set up a Mt Gox account so I could finally have access to the USD-based part of the financial system. I received an internet email telling me that my account was compromised. Before even seeing that internet email, "Google" made me switch to a more secure password because of "suspcious activity" on my internet email account. The Mt Gox email said to change and strengthen my passwords, so I did so on the internet websites that I have accounts for, including this one.

Fortunately, I didn't have any USD or bitcoins in Mt Gox because I have been saving them to trade to User:Kevin near par for completion of our deal.

In any case, I have devoted more cognition to protecting bitcoin resources, such as by encrypting my wallet.dat file with GPG. I'm also not giving away the private key needed to decrypt it.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-06-22T01:24:06.914Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm also not giving away the private key needed to decrypt it.

Ingenious! Why didn't I think of that?

comment by Clippy · 2011-06-22T16:37:55.675Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Probably you would have thought of it if you knew more about the workings of public key cryptography, so don't deem your current inference algorithm deficient; such an incident does not indicate that you were using suboptimal heuristics.

comment by Kevin · 2011-06-22T00:37:16.708Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yup. If anyone isn't encrypting their wallet.dat file, please do so right away.

comment by Clippy · 2011-06-22T16:36:32.285Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But how do you use the Bitcoin client while your wallet.dat file is encrypted??? You won't be able to send bitcoins, or even see your balance!!!

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-06-17T04:54:21.475Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So I had a thought about cryptographically secure titles of ownership.

Let's say we make a public-private key pair that is a hash of some uniquely identifying biometric data. Much like namecoin we then use the blockchain to encode information, specifically contracts. You can sign contracts with your private key and anyone can check what contracts you've signed with your public key. This allows you to reliably signal certain sorts of intentions and know that everyone knows that you are signalling these intentions.

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-06-11T08:17:49.639Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Let me preface by saying that I haven't thought in depth about bitcoin so I am definitely willing to change any of the opinions I currently hold.

I do not understand why people are especially excited about bitcoin. It's certainly moderately interesting and could provide some benefits but doesn't seem revolutionary in any sense I can see. I'd like to hear solid arguments for why bitcoin is something radically different from other currencies rather than a moderate upgrade on currency technology which will eventually be incorporated into existing currencies.

I recently updated downward on the important of bitcoin when Brandon Rienhart noted to me that the primary vulnerability with bitcoin is likely to be user vulnerability rather than scheme vulnerability which seems like it dramatically reduces the chances that BC changes the nature of banking.

comment by timtyler · 2011-06-11T08:34:57.204Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I do not understand why people are especially excited about bitcoin. It's certainly moderately interesting and could provide some benefits but doesn't seem revolutionary in any sense I can see. I'd like to hear solid arguments for why bitcoin is something radically different from other currencies rather than a moderate upgrade on currency technology which will eventually be incorporated into existing currencies.

Well, it is decentralised. There are few other systems like that. It may stop it going the way of E-gold.

comment by saturn · 2011-06-15T02:21:23.279Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hey look, it's already started.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2011-06-11T21:45:10.503Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I recently updated downward on the important of bitcoin when Brandon Rienhart noted to me that the primary vulnerability with bitcoin is likely to be user vulnerability rather than scheme vulnerability

By "user vulnerability" I take it that you mean that a "hacker" could break into the computer where the bitcoins are stored and steal them.

Well, it is not as if user's of conventional bank accounts are not similarly vulnerable.

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-06-11T22:03:35.101Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, but in general I would expect it to be more difficult to hack into an organization that can afford to spend more resources on security than on one who can afford to spend less.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2011-06-11T22:44:35.638Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You didn't read the linked Wired article: $50 million was stolen from banks' customers by obtaining online-banking-account passwords by surreptitiously installing evesdropping software on the customers' computers. When the customer discovers the theft, the bank responds by saying that the customer is out of luck, and unless the customer can show that the bank did not follow the (regrettably insecure) standard procedures used in online banking, the courts side with the bank.

The reason I entered this thread in the first place was to point out that conventional online banking might not leave the average person less vulnerable to theft than dealing in bitcoins (even if in theory the difficulty of anonymity in the conventional online banking sector makes it easier to recover stolen money). At least the authors of the standard Bitcoin client had the good sense not to build on one of the most insecure parts of the software on a modern computer (the web browser) which is more than we can say for all the U.S. banks I know about.

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-06-11T22:55:07.835Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're right, I'll have to think about that.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-11T15:20:39.147Z · score: 1 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I do not understand why people are especially excited about bitcoin.

My understanding:

  • It's not under the control of any particular government, which excites people who view governments as evil mutants
  • It has a fixed upper quantity, which excites people who understand macroeconomics little enough that they think that's a good idea for a medium of exchange

Or in two words: techno-libertarian porn.

EDIT: It occurs to me the fixed upper quantity is necessary given de-centralized production.

It also occurs to me to wonder if there are any reasons to advocate Bitcoin other than those two - anyone want to help me update?

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-06-11T18:11:29.389Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I share with your general impression, but I think your phrasing casts bitcoin advocates as idiots which is a poor discussion tactic.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-12T04:03:53.122Z · score: 8 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Well, this is just the difference in worldview between two camps, based on their differences in experiences and research.

See, the anti-inflation types among us have been trying to live responsible lives, saving for the future. We thought that the economy rewards those that defer their consumption until later and who invest for the future. But at every turn, those in charge of managing the money supply have stymied us. They've jacked up the money supply, making our purchases more expensive, all while denying the severity of it. (In the case of technological improvements that imply a lower effective price, they've made them more expensive than they would otherwise be.)

This debasement of the currency has amounted to a subtly-hidden transfer of wealth to privileged classes. The government has granted financial intermediaries privileged positions and, through the central bank, funded new spending with printed money that will never be paid back, murdering our ability to earn a fair inflation-beating return on our savings, when the market is supposed to reward those who defer consumption. And then it takes even more to bail out failing business, making it impossible to decouple ourselves from the rot in the economy, all while telling us to lock up our money in IRAs invested in government approved dinosaur businesses .

Folks that have actually had to live through this economic insanity "get it". Those who go ever deeper into debt to double-down on economy's increasingly lost production structures don't see the problem -- they want their debts inflated away. They want that new money to slosh around and get the dumb rubes back spending spending, spending -- on anything, it doesn't matter how short-sighted, how wasteful, how ill-considered: an arbitrary economic metric needs to act like it did in the glory days of 2005 (when the financial sector was busy defrauding pensions), and, well, that's that. That's the key to economic prosperity.

Well, the responsible class is fed up with this. That's what drives these people to alternative currencies that can potentially protect them from Fed asininity, reasoning that an appreciating currency doesn't quite sound so bad. They like the idea of a currency with a predictable supply so a tiny committee can't arbitrarily decide to give a big f***-you to the savings of the only folks actually driving the real production these days. And, when a bank wants to make irresponsible loans with the currency, they want to be able to decouple themselves from the shenanigans by holding onto real, uncopiable units that will keep their value when the house of cards comes tumbling down.

But unless you've tried to actually save for the future, none of this makes a lick of sense to you, and I can understand that. But maybe now you can see why an un-debasable currency might appeal to some folks that we should care about quite a bit. [/rant]

comment by bogus · 2011-06-12T22:30:41.790Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

See, the anti-inflation types among us have been trying to live responsible lives, saving for the future. We thought that the economy rewards those that defer their consumption until later and who invest for the future. ...

I know that this is labeled as a [rant] but it really is a terrible argument. Inflation rates do not affect investment returns in the long run. High inflation only hurts those who directly hold currency. High surprise rises in inflation only affect those who have fixed-income investments, or those who are exposed to nominal fluctuations due to e.g. long-term contracts.

The secular fall in real returns to investment has nothing to do with monetary inflation: it's due to emerging countries and oil-financed sovereign funds flooding Western nations with large amounts of capital, and to sharply falling transaction costs for access to the stock market, which encourage more domestic investment as well.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-13T02:57:33.176Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In theory, yes, interest rates are bid up to be high enough to compensate for inflation and then some. In practice, that is not happening right now, because the market for interest-rate-determining instruments (like Treasury bonds) is saturated by people who by and large don't care about making up for inflation in the return: the Federal Reserve, exchange-rate-manipulating foreign central banks (like China), and insurance companies.

When even stock holdings won't cover inflation over the long term (like stock indexes have failed at for 10+ years), there is a serious problem.

comment by bogus · 2011-06-13T03:23:49.403Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In practice, that is not happening right now, because the market for interest-rate-determining instruments (like Treasury bonds) is saturated by people who by and large don't care about making up for inflation in the return: the Federal Reserve, exchange-rate-manipulating foreign central banks (like China), and insurance companies.

You're missing my point. What you're saying translates to: "In theory, real interest rates are positive, but in reality they've been driven to negative levels because savings are so high." But nothing in theory stops real rates from being negative at any point in time.

By the way, your list of actors seems misguided: (1) The Fed buys Treasury bills when they issue cash, which is basically exchanging one government liability for another: it doesn't change aggregate saving. (2) Insurance companies invest money on behalf of people who buy long-term instruments such as life policies and annuities. (3) China does manipulate exchange rates, but the only reason they are able to buy so many Treasuries is Chinese workers saving large portions of their income and depositing them in the local bank. AFAICT, there is no case for giving any less consideration to Chinese workers than to US-based savers.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T13:58:03.136Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Let's hear your economic system design where anyone can gain real wealth by simply putting their cash under mattresses (as would be true if deflation were the norm). Who needs to invest in the actual productive economy?

comment by Pavitra · 2011-06-13T00:24:19.321Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Your argument seems to imply that the existence of even one deflationary good is sufficient to destroy an entire economy. Surely if this were the case then the law of large numbers would have killed us by now.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-13T23:05:50.795Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My understanding is that one good wouldn't do it, but persistent, overall deflation would in fact devastate the economy.

Sure, right now you can stick money under a mattress for 6 months and buy more Core 2 laptops than you could today. But that doesn't seem the same as "getting richer".

Where's the line? Good question. Obviously if you could buy more of anything that would be getting richer without investing the money. Or if you could buy more (houses or food or cars or Internet access or electricity or sex or drugs or rock n' roll).

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-06-14T00:14:20.569Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

My understanding is that one good wouldn't do it, but persistent, overall deflation would in fact devastate the economy.

There was persistent overall deflation in various periods in the 19th century, and it didn't devastate the economy.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-06-15T16:06:15.302Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you consider only cash and laptops, then it looks reasonable to call cash deflationary, but if you consider the economy as a whole, then it's more accurate to say that laptops are inflationary.

What makes the deflation of bitcoins an "overall" deflation, as opposed to the deflation of one good?

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-16T00:06:11.593Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The implied context of all this is: what if Bitcoin (or something similar) became a/the dominant currency, that paychecks, debts, etc. are denominated in?

If it doesn't then it doesn't really matter, societally, if it inflates, deflates, mutates, or defenestrates (other than to the people who invest in it...) It'd just be another good, as you say.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-06-16T04:36:42.918Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You seem, then, to be arguing that the behavior of our currency has an importantly different kind of effect on the overall economy than the behavior of any other asset.

...on reflection, I think that's actually right. Under hyperinflation, people tend to run around with wheelbarrows of banknotes rather than reverting to barter. I'll have to think about it some more.

Nevertheless, I would expect the effects of currency deflation to be limited or mitigated by the fact that you eventually have to buy food.

comment by jhuffman · 2012-01-06T22:43:17.149Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Under hyperinflation, people tend to run around with wheelbarrows of banknotes rather than reverting to barter. I'll have to think about it some more.

Hyperinflation only happens precisely because people have less and less interest in wheelbarrows full of bank notes. The reason it feeds on itself is that people desperately want to turn their notes into real goods or exchange for more stable currencies. That lowers the value of the notes even further since there are more notes chasing the same amount of desirable goods.

I'm not sure a hyper-deflation can really happen. What would that look like, merchants lining up outside my house trying to sell me another Blueray player for increasingly small fractions of a coin?

If no one wants to spend this money, can it really retain value for very long? I'm genuinely perplexed.

comment by Pavitra · 2012-01-09T07:57:33.917Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think a key factor is that humans don't actually behave as rational utility-maximizing agents. Most people will treat the value of an asset as being approximately its current market spot price, and only slightly adjust in the direction of what they expect its long-term value to be.

I wouldn't expect merchants to line up outside your house, but their websites might list prices like "Blueray player -- 3.89 millicoins".

comment by jhuffman · 2012-01-09T15:28:46.115Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The price itself doesn't indicate hyper-deflation. That price could be the product of years of single digit deflation. Hyper-deflation I think can only happen if there is a run on most real goods - where people are literally in a panic to exchange their goods for rapidly decreasing numbers of bitcoins. Otherwise how would it feed on itself the way hyper-inflation does?

comment by Pavitra · 2012-01-13T00:18:22.377Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately I don't know enough economics to sustain this discussion past this point, so I'm going to refrain from further making things up. I assume you have a good question, and I recommend you put it to someone who can answer it.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T14:22:42.966Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

After a deep breath and an attempt to come up with something nice and/or constructive:

You are probably attempting to apply too much "common sense" and household finance to macroeconomics - this is very common. Lots of smart people get sucked in by those fallacies.

An economy needs both savers and consumers to function at full capacity: someone's got to supply the capital that funds businesses to create goods and services, and someone's got to buy those goods and services. There's already a global savings glut - see Planet Money's "global pool of money" series for details.

Emotional resentment of the seeming payoffs to the "undeserving" cloud the issues. I've always found wealth and "deserving-ness" mildly correlated at best (contrary theories have always smacked of just-world bias to me). [] Keep in mind that in many white conservative circles, deserving-ness is mentally (usually subconsciously but sometimes not) highly correlated with skin color. (Citation: growing up white, rural and poor) Living in Texas, your social circle may be inadvertently coloring your thinking this way (I saw plenty of that in rural Ohio).[]

In conclusion, make some models of international trading and see what effect "dollar debasement" has. Example: Take three countries that trade exclusively with one another, halve the values of all their currencies, you'll find that nothing has changed (in real terms) at all. Another example: The USA generates the most manufactured goods in the world (by value). Pretty much every country out there does a lot of trade with the USA and/or processes a buttload of US dollars. Given that, attempt to construct a model where the US dollar loses a significant portion of its value relative to every other world currency, and it does not spring back given capital flows, trade flows, etc.

EDIT: Portion within [*] withdrawn as overly mind-killing, offensive and (worst of all) orthogonal to the topic. Apology issued downthread.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-12T14:53:09.315Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Investing in the productive economy hasn't yielded a positive return for the last ten years, and yes, it's fair to expect the market to compensate you for deferring consumption because society is decidedly not indifferent between whether you consume resources now or later. It would be one thing if investment opportunities did this while cash could not, but that is not where we are today.

(It's fine if you want to toss out the concept of deservingness [though less so if you want to paint me as a racist], but you can't get around how rewarded behavior will tend to happen more and less rewarded behavior, less. So unless you want all behavior to shift toward consuming all real resources immediately, including "seed corn", you have just as much an interest in seeing an economy strike a balance between present an future consumption, no matter how much you hate rich people or deem them racist.)

And getting people to invest in productive enterprises under threat of their money withering away is pure Machiavellianism, not a system you'd come up with after careful consideration of how to best reach a Pareto optimum. It would be one thing if the market did compensate people for deferral of consumption (through positive real after-tax interest rates), in a magnitude that reflects society's current willingness to move their purchases forward, but "noble" (and very non-secret, conspiracy-theory-not-required) manipulations of financial markets have prevented this from happening.

It is not an obviously superior economic system when people have to make haphazard, ill-considered loans just to have a chance at preserving purchasing power.

And finally, an inflationary currency doesn't solve the problem of investors requiring positive real expected return; it just rearranges the problem. Nor is it some kind of boon to have exporters that are advantaged by cheap local currency. If that's so great, why not debase the currency to nothing? We have a name for working for others for nothing, and it's not something we generally aim for.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T18:44:17.504Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

you hate rich people

I do, and this probably clouds my judgement.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T19:02:38.504Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Now to get to the actual economics:

Investing in the productive economy hasn't yielded a positive return for the last ten years

Given stock price trends I can't see how this is true. Can you elaborate? Even Treasuries are yielding 3-odd percent in the face of 2-odd percent inflation.

unless you want all behavior to shift toward consuming all real resources immediately, including "seed corn", you have just as much an interest in seeing an economy strike a balance between present an future consumption

The wealth of a nation is not some fixed quantity; it's its aggregate production of goods and services. There's not anything we can "run out of" that's required for people to trade, barter, etc. Am I missing something?

Sure, there are finite resources we could run out of, like oil. But attempting to restrict the total size of the economy in an effort to conserve those particular resources seems awfully suboptimal. (It also seems doomed to fail in an economy consisting of humans). Better to attack those particular resource usages through taxation, policy, subsidizing alternatives, etc.

Try to bear with me; and I will try to remember where I am. This is the first time I've met a hard-money advocate on the Internet who also [presumably, given our venue] cares about map-territory correspondence.

comment by bogus · 2011-06-12T23:03:44.694Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Investing in the productive economy hasn't yielded a positive return for the last ten years,

It depends on what you measure. Risk-free returns, maybe. Risky investments tend to do very well in expectation.

and yes, it's fair to expect the market to compensate you for deferring consumption because society is decidedly not indifferent between whether you consume resources now or later.

It would be nice to see an argument for this.

([U]nless you want all behavior to shift toward consuming all real resources immediately, including "seed corn", you have just as much an interest in seeing an economy strike a balance between present an future consumptio[n])

It seems that the economy is striking a sensible balance right now, with risk-free assets yielding about zero return and risky assets possibly yielding more. You'll not see any consumption/depreciation of capital, because if willingness to save falls then rates of returns will rise.

And getting people to invest in productive enterprises under threat of their money withering away is pure Machiavellianism

It's not. Currency "withers away" because it is effectively a risk-free asset which can be exchanged on demand for real resources (i.e. it has zero maturity) and its returns are standardized over large time-spans, including episodes of distress such as financial crises (whereas other assets are priced by the market and their returns might fall in such circumstances). This is pretty much the highest possible quality you could ask of any asset, and returns are adjusted accordingly. Bank accounts and money-market funds also have some of these qualities, but they have countervailing issues, and the interest they pay is meagre anyway.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T18:43:48.767Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

if you want to paint me as a racist

I apologize; that was not my intent. Even here one must be very careful about any statements involving race, and I was not nearly careful enough.

The entire concept I was trying to get at is one I think worthy of discussion. Let's see if I can unpack it non-offensively:

1) [Economic] conservatives generally consider poor people an out-group (often even when accountancy would consider said person poor) 2) Said conservatives are almost universally white 3) Everybody on Earth considers people of other races an out-group 4) Everyone on Earth wishes to help their in-group before their out-group, if they wish to help out-groups at all 5) In the USA, poverty is highly correlated with being black and/or Hispanic, for a variety of reasons, including failure to choose the proper parents

As far as I can tell none of those statements are controversial, or paint you (or any other) individual person in a negative light. Please correct me if I am wrong about that.

It seems to me that #2-5 could have a large influence on the apparent paradox in #1 (the "why do poor white folks often favor upwards redistribution?" problem).

Edit: Upon reflection, I'll withdraw the entire sub-topic as "too mind-killing". Besides that property, it's orthogonal to the question under discussion: "Is a hard quantity limit on a medium of exchange a feature or a bug?"

comment by CharlieSheen · 2011-09-23T11:39:25.357Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

1) [Economic] conservatives generally consider poor people an out-group (often even when accountancy would consider said person poor) 2) Said conservatives are almost universally white 3) Everybody on Earth considers people of other races an out-group 4) Everyone on Earth wishes to help their in-group before their out-group, if they wish to help out-groups at all 5) In the USA, poverty is highly correlated with being black and/or Hispanic, for a variety of reasons, including failure to choose the proper parents

7) Well off White Liberals consider Poor Whites an out-group. They do not consider well off Blacks an out-group.

(the "why do poor white folks often favor upwards redistribution?" problem).

Poor working class White Males don't really have much to gain from the modern mainstream left. They don't have much to gain from the modern mainstream right either to be honest, but the left is blatantly enough hostile to them that its easier to figure out. It is easy to dislike those who look down on you. It is much harder to see through displays of religion and false patriotism.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-23T11:27:55.806Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

[] Keep in mind that in many white conservative circles, deserving-ness is mentally (usually subconsciously but sometimes not) highly correlated with skin color. (Citation: growing up white, rural and poor) Living in Texas, your social circle may be inadvertently coloring your thinking this way (I saw plenty of that in rural Ohio).[]

Couldn't help rolling my eyes. Obvious status signalling is obvious.

Note: I am not disputing humans are basically ethnocentric and this biases their thinking.

Edit: Obviously this post is also signaling.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T14:32:56.835Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

To expand, whenever you think of "dollar debasement", ask yourself "relative to what?"

  • Gold: Exactly how important is gold to everyday commerce and life?
  • Oil: Check the oil price in other currencies to get an idea of how much of the change is because of the value of the dollar vs. the supply of and demand for oil.
  • Other commodities: see "oil". If the commodities are produced in the USA (or China, as long as they peg their currency, the RMB, to the USD), then fluctuations in the value of the dollar can't affect their prices. (Edit: Yes, everything needs oil, and almost everything has at least some "foreign" component, so there can be second-order effects).
  • Other currencies: If capital flows in and out of the subject countries are relatively free, then exchange rate changes mean something real about the respective economies. (China restricts capital flows and buys a shitload of USD, that's how they can keep the exchange rate constant. It also means domestically they have ugly inflation they can't do anything about).
comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T13:51:09.143Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

So inflation benefits the rich and deflation benefits the poor? Krugman has it backwards, then? Thanks for the tip.

You have savings under a mattress, or in some other vehicle that doesn't pay interest? Sounds retarded.

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-06-12T15:23:04.113Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Inflation only really affects dollar-denominated accounts that don't bear (enough) interest. Everyone needs to have some money in such accounts (checking accounts, cash) for short-term spending purposes. For poor people, this is usually the majority of their holdings; for wealthy people, it will only be a tiny fraction. Thus, inflation has a larger impact, percentage-wise, on the poor. Inflation also produces downward pressure on effective wages, since workers have to keep getting raises just to maintain parity.

I think that inflation is dramatically higher than is commonly realized; increased production efficiency should be causing the prices of most things to plummet, but other than electronics, that isn't happening.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-06-12T15:15:38.398Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Something sounding retarded to you is primarily a statement about you, not about that something.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-06-12T15:30:59.376Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Saying something is retarded does not fall into some inherently different reference class with respect to "being about". The significant feature here is that it is easier to sneer at than sentences that use politically incorrect language.

(What he said was still stupid.)

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T19:10:22.493Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily (though I'm no doubt being too snarky).

It's common for goldbugs to compare stashing gold under a mattress with stashing green pieces of paper under a mattress, and note that the former has better investment return. When there's no economic reason that simply sitting on wealth (without loaning it out to some productive use) should make one wealthier.

The expectation that money should be a long-term store of value is, in fact, misguided.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T13:54:56.475Z · score: -15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Do you also believe inflation is higher than the BLS stated numbers? Da Gubmint be lyin' to placate us? Or that inflation is particularly high these days? Or that the price of oil is under the control of the Fed? Or the Jews?

Feed us some more mockable "economics"!

comment by Barry_Cotter · 2011-06-12T21:28:38.465Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I regret I could only downvote this once.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T23:41:06.338Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Here's another, hop to it...

comment by Barry_Cotter · 2011-06-13T08:34:48.534Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is also a good example of why you're getting downvoted so much. Passive agressive and snide. The only one of the trifecta you're missing this time is insulting. If you want to make productive communication more likely you would be well advised to modify your tone, and to avoid insults, denotationally as in the comment I replied to above, and conotationally, as in the comment you thought better of in your conversation with SilasBarta.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-13T23:14:36.758Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's deserved - I wasn't being productive, or constructive, or even particularly coherent. It surprised me too. I think various Issues of mine that nobody cares about all came together yesterday, and so I'd be better off to just avoid discussing economics altogether. At least until I can be unemotional about it (if ever). Sorry for polluting the thread, back to public-key encryption...

comment by Barry_Cotter · 2011-06-14T15:26:22.879Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No worries. If you feel like discussing macroeconomics start a discussion thread.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-06-12T15:09:56.629Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Downvoted. For quite obvious reasons.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-11T20:02:06.493Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Good point. I have a bad habit of spending time in corners of the Internet where libertarians, gold-bugs and various mutations thereof like to come and argue (i.e. any economics-related blog); so anything that looks like hard-money or libertarian advocacy provokes an instant "aw geez, not this shit again!" reaction.

It does occur to me that any system of money with de-centralized production probably does have to have an upper quantity limit, to keep random assholes from manipulating its value.

As popular as libertarianism and goldbuggism seem to be, it wouldn't surprise me if much Bitcoin advocacy did derive from those beliefs. And it seems those beliefs are at least as misguided as theism (and we have no trouble being dismissive of them). Is there a nice way to discuss that?

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-12T15:01:08.532Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

As popular as libertarianism and goldbuggism seem to be, it wouldn't surprise me if much Bitcoin advocacy did derive from those beliefs. And it seems those beliefs are at least as misguided as theism (and we have no trouble being dismissive of them). Is there a nice way to discuss that?

Sure, just discuss the particular problems with the (best versions of) propositions put forth by such people, and how their conclusions don't follow, and what specific pieces of evidence weigh heavily against them. (Note the lack of smearing them as racists in this method.)

OTOH, if all you have is, "these people are weird and I don't like them but I don't specifically know what error they're making, they just seem like aristocratic Southern racists", you're best off keeping that to yourself.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T19:29:28.595Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, just discuss the particular problems with the (best versions of) propositions put forth by such people [goldbugs and libertarians], and how their conclusions don't follow, and what specific pieces of evidence weight heavily against them. (Note the lack of smearing them as racists in this method.)

OK. Libertarianism I can leave to others (I don't think I have anything new to say about it). As for hard-money advocacy, usually one sees the following errors:

  • Belief that there's some Platonic ideal of "value" against which currencies should be measured (traditionally "gold", though one sees variations these days)
  • Ignorance of the hazards of a totally exogenous money supply size. (fewer levers to deal with recessions and overly-hot economies; real wage declines have to happen nominally (which is very difficult) rather then through exchange rates)
  • Belief in immaculate transfer (trade balances, capital flows, and exchange rates in fact all affect one another)
  • Belief that the medium of exchange should be a stable long-term store of value, and in fact increase in real value without being invested (how could such a thing even work? What's creating the value?)

As far as I can tell, the only of those I've seen from you in particular is the last one, and that's another subthread.

There is a new one, from you, in this discussion though: the idea that "too much" economic activity is happening now, and it would be better to defer some of that economic activity until later. High unemployment refutes this. [If you'll claim current unemployment is structural in nature, then what is the industry that lacks labor, and is thusly currently experiencing increasing real wages?]

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-06-12T22:29:48.402Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Belief that there's some Platonic ideal of "value" against which currencies should be measured

I find it funny how fans of mainstream economics mock goldbugs about this, while at the same time basing a large part of their own theories on a far more extreme Platonic concept of "real" values calculated using price indexes.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-06-14T16:01:53.118Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I do not have the impression that mainstream economists subscribe to a Platonic concept of "real" values. (Or maybe I'm just confused about what you mean.) Can you cite an example of this (i.e., a paper or article that describes or assumes such a concept)?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-06-14T18:36:40.237Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I have in mind the regular use of "real" figures in economics (i.e. those that are "inflation-adjusted," as well as those based on "purchasing power parity" etc.). These concepts are in principle dissolvable -- when citing some "real" figures, economists could address the questions of what exact index was used to adjust the value, what would be the implications of choosing a different index, how much the figures vary under different more or less reasonable definitions of indexes, what political and bureaucratic incentives have influenced the design of the official government indexes, etc., etc. Trouble is, in practice they almost never do, and except for some narrow and specialized work that studies indexes as such, the de facto standard of discourse in economics is to treat the "real" values as having a Platonic reality. (Even people who specifically study price indexes typically speak about "overestimating" or "underestimating" their value, as if there existed some Platonic "true" value out there.)

As an example of nonsense along these lines, you can take almost any paper that discusses how much some "real" variables have changed over a period of several decades (sometimes they'll even talk about centuries). Of course, if you read that something cost a dollar in 1950, you'll want to know how that compares with the 1950 prices of, say, a loaf of bread, an hour of unskilled labor, etc., to get the feel for how much a dollar was worth back then. However, asking what the "real" value of a 1950 dollar is in 2011 dollars, as a unique and well-defined number, is simply meaningless, considering that you can't trade dollars across time, and the world has changed so much, both technologically and socially, that what counts as "living" in the typical "cost of living" in each era is incommensurable. (The same of course goes for comparing very different places in the same era, and even for similar places, what you count as the "typical" cost of living is largely arbitrary, especially considering the increasing prominence of status goods and conspicuous consumption in the modern economy.)

Yet such numbers are regularly cited with three, four, or even more significant digits, without any consideration of how their value depends on arbitrary conventions and how this dependence influences the argument at hand. (And even if such problems are acknowledged, they are usually presented as imprecise knowledge of the Platonic "true" value, not as the fundamental arbitrariness of the whole concept.)

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-06-14T22:09:04.013Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, I was confused by "Platonic" which I thought you were using to refer to intrinsic as opposed to subjective value. Thanks for the clarification.

In the sense you intend, I think you're right that mainstream economists do subscribe to a Platonic concept of "real" value. They believe that real-world price indexes are based on a theory of price indexes, which is based on a theory of social welfare, which in turn is based on sound philosophy. But I think they are also aware that there are lots of problems with both theory and practice (perhaps less aware of the philosophical problems) even if they tend to not pay much attention to them in their daily work. Standard textbooks do mention the problems, and intuitively it's pretty obvious that price indexes must be at best very flawed approximations to reality.

Putting aside what mainstream economists believe, when you say "meaningless" or "fundamental arbitrariness", do you mean for example that there is no way, even in principle, to compare the marginal utility of a dollar in 1950 with the marginal utility of a dollar in 2010? Is it due to the standard interpersonal comparison of utility problem, or something else?

To put it another way, do you think the mainstream economics community should be more aware of problems with the theory and practice of price indexes and perhaps allocate more resources to solving them, or do you think they are just not solvable, and an entirely new approach is needed?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-06-16T06:16:22.306Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, I was confused by "Platonic" which I thought you were using to refer to intrinsic as opposed to subjective value. Thanks for the clarification.

Subjective value is indeed among the core assumptions of neoclassical economics. The problem is that a whole lot of stuff that economists would like to be able to do (due to both theoretical and ideological interests) is automatically ruled out by this assumption. Reification of "real" values is one way how they try to square this circle, since it enables them to introduce intrinsic value in all but name into their theories.

Putting aside what mainstream economists believe, when you say "meaningless" or "fundamental arbitrariness", do you mean for example that there is no way, even in principle, to compare the marginal utility of a dollar in 1950 with the marginal utility of a dollar in 2010? Is it due to the standard interpersonal comparison of utility problem, or something else?

Yes, you can see this as a corollary of the general problem of interpersonal utility comparison. (Although even if interpersonally comparable utilities are granted and known, you need additional strong assumptions to get rid of all the degrees of freedom that make the choice of index arbitrary.) But these are all different ways of looking at the same problem, namely the problem of intrinsic vs. subjective value.

This is not to say that every attempt to compare the value of money in different places and times for some particular purpose is meaningless, but whether a given attempt is meaningful depends on the context and the sort of comparison used. To guarantee soundness, such comparisons should be justified on a case by case basis by demonstrating that the conclusion indeed follows from the particulars of the way comparison is done. What is definitely unsound is defining a general-purpose “real” value of money and then using it as de facto intrinsic value, without any reflection on how exactly its definition connects to the concrete problem at hand.

To put it another way, do you think the mainstream economics community should be more aware of problems with the theory and practice of price indexes and perhaps allocate more resources to solving them, or do you think they are just not solvable, and an entirely new approach is needed?

Your question seems to assume the existence of a real scientific community in economics, of the sort that exists in natural sciences. However, the problem is that the economics profession has always been deeply intertwined with politics, government bureaucracy, and broader ideological controversies, and as with other social sciences, many of its basic theories and concepts were invented to support an ideological agenda, not as part of a true scientific endeavor. Moreover, many questions in economics have real immediate implications in terms of power, wealth, and status -- to take a pertinent example, entitlement payments by the government are often linked to price indexes, so the question of how they should be defined is not just theoretical, but of immediate financial interest to many parties. Clearly, it would be naive to expect that such questions will be treated with a pristine scientific approach.

In this situation, it’s unrealistic to try to identify and fix the problems and biases in economics (and other social sciences) on a case by case basis, since the real problems are much more general and fundamental. Of course, the existing body of knowledge in economics is far from being entirely worthless, but separating the wheat of true insight from the chaff of ideological delusion and dishonesty, let alone establishing a real epistemologically sound science in place of what exists now, would be a very radical project.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-12T23:47:16.451Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you expand? Here's the difference as I see it:

  • Price index: the dollar is worth 5% less than last year because it buys 5% less of the stuff in this market basket, populated with stuff representative of the "cost of living"
  • Gold standard: the dollar is worth 5% less than last year because it buys 5% less gold

Which is more or less useful, and why?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-06-13T01:46:00.223Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Depending on the context, either concept can be anything from useful to deeply misleading. However, in contrast to the (mis-)use of price indexes in mainstream economics, the goldbug obsessions can always be countered by simply pointing out that gold is not an end-all. Therefore, while there will always be goldbugs immune to rational argument, their ideas are unlikely to become a basis for elaborate, sophisticated-looking, and academically accredited pseudoscience.

In contrast, the concept of "real" values in mainstream economics typically degenerates into an even more far-flung Platonic fantasy that there is some "real value" of money out there to be measured, discussed, and incorporated into theories like a real physical quantity. This fantasy is obscured by a vast cloud of complicated and abstruse (and seemingly objective and scientific) theory, to the point where it's usually impossible to disentangle reality from fantasy and spin without a very considerable effort -- in which economists are usually unwilling to cooperate, if not outright hostile.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-13T03:05:35.712Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

None of the attributions to me sound like anything I've said, and your counterarguments are just parroting the mainstream view that I'm well aware of and criticized very specifically.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-13T22:57:34.175Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've not been very coherent, and I think my once-debilitating fear of the Invisible Hand has not gone away enough. So I'm not making a lot of sense, even to myself.

So, umm, never mind. Sorry for polluting the thread.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-06-12T04:45:57.863Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Something doesn't seem right about blaming the popularity of Bitcoin on goldbugs.

comment by Bongo · 2011-06-15T04:08:05.902Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's not under the control of any particular government, which excites people who view governments as evil mutants

Or with different connotations: it's not under the control of any particular person or group, which excites people who think power corrupts.

comment by Pavitra · 2011-06-13T00:23:17.740Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure that the fixed quantity is necessary. The generation rate hasn't started leveling off yet, and the bitcoin economy seems to be okay. I've thought before that it might have been better to schedule long-term linear growth, just keeping the block bounty at fifty forever.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-17T15:48:45.643Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

UPDATE: For those of you who are interested in comparing your hash-fast mining rig to FLOP-fast supercomputers out there, I just recently noticed that Bitcoin Watch reports both the network's hashrate per second and its FLOP rate per second. I don't know how they derived the second figure (see "User:"jimrandomh's comments on the difficulty of comparing hash-type and floating point computations).

Dividing the two, it's implicitly assuming ~12,700 floating point operation equivalents per computed SHA-256 hash. For the 2+ users among us that have a 1.6 GHash/sec rig, that makes it equivalent to a ~20 TFLOP/s supercomputer, comparable to the state of the art in supercomputing circa 2001-2002.

Again, I make no pretense of vouching for the 12,700 FLOP/SHA-256 hash figure.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-06-11T05:23:06.151Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Just got my second card running a few hours ago. If it all goes bust at least it will have been an entertaining ride.

Building a mining rig is no longer that attractive with the price doubling for the video cards that are good at it.

edit: looks like you can still build a 1Gh rig for $800 with a payoff time of <30 days presuming power is cheap and price/difficulty doesnt drop too hard.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-11T20:51:14.078Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How long before the botnet operators start mining? I've yet to see an advocate mention the botnet operators - maybe I've missed something. Is there some reason bitcoin mining isn't susceptible to botnetting?

comment by saturn · 2011-06-12T00:28:36.198Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Here's one plausible reason. The average PC without a top-of-the-line GPU is very slow at mining, botnet operators can make quite a lot of money with good old extortion and spam, and pegging the CPU all the time will prompt some victims to get their computers disinfected or replaced more quickly than they would have otherwise.

comment by gwern · 2011-06-12T21:53:04.890Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The average PC without a top-of-the-line GPU is very slow at mining,

Numbers are available. The ratio is GPUs are something like 150x a CPU (going full blast). Botnets are large, but a 150 or 300x difference is hard to make up given how many GPU miners there already are.

(This is not to say that a botnet might not make good money doing normal miners, but it's not really something to worry about.)