Update on LW 2.0: user interviews scheduled for this week, work on the design underway, as well as some extra features. The broad plan is something like the following: user interviews / alpha testing to find the breaking UX bugs and get the design squared away, a closed beta to find more bugs and make sure the experience with multiple people doing stuff on the site is good / how we expect it to be, and then an open beta to give the broader community a chance to see it and find things for us to fix before it goes live at lesswrong.com. A core part of this process is making sure that there's consensus that it's actually worth switching.
Yep! We have a working import system tested on a partial DB dump Trike gave us. The main wrinkles are around editing old posts--we're moving to a different format from the raw html with an editor (so that comments and posts will have the same editor), and so the first time you edit an old post you might have to do a bunch of conversion work / it might not be possible to get the exact same look.
(For example, I don't think we're going to have font options anymore, and so that'll prevent accidental weird fonts from copy/pasting from another source, but will mean any post that wanted to rely on different fonts will be out of luck.)
Some random barely-edited thoughts on my experience with weight loss:
In the midst of a diet where I will lose 15 lbs (15.9lb, from 185.8 lb to 169.9, to be exact) in 40 days.
I have 95% certainty I will reach this goal in the appointed time. Even if I don't reach exactly 169.9lb, I'll be close, so whether or not I hit the exact number is arbitrary for my purposes. (I'm losing some weight to see if it helps a lingering back injury.)
I'm just eating a disciplined diet and working out according to a consistent schedule.
My diet is simple and not starvation-y at all. Most people wouldn't do it because it's repetitive (I literally eat the same thing nearly everyday so I can know my calorie intake without any counting.)
My workout isn't hard but most people wouldn't do it because...I don't know why, it's just my experience that people won't. It's 4-5 days per week of 30-60 minutes cardio and 30-60 minutes of weight training. I have a back injury that's limiting me, so it's nothing terribly rigorous.
In my years at health clubs, talking to health-club-going people, I've seen all the evidence I'll ever need to believe, basically, the Calories In / Calories Out model of weight loss is correct.
My opinion of the rationality community's view of weight loss is that it's bad. In fact, it is what I would consider anti-advice—the sort of thing you would introduce someone to if you wanted them to fail at weight loss. (Like in Mean Girls when Lindsey Lohan gives Rachel McAdams Swedish weight-gaining bars and tells her they are for weight loss.)
Some of my rough and random thoughts on managing weight:
Lean muscle mass is responsible for ~65% of individual differences in BMR.
People have significant differences in metabolism that are probably genetic predispositions. These differences can mean people who behave identically (same diet and exercise routine) will end up with very different weights.
No one should be shamed for their weight anymore than someone should be shamed for their height. (This is obvious, but needs to be said 'cuz "fat shaming" is an applause light used by the crowd who thinks anything resembling a simple CICO model for weight loss is bad and cruel.)
You shouldn't necessarily care about weight loss and our culture is fucked up for making people feel bad about their weight.
Losing weight can be really hard.
Diet is a central component to our lives, and changes in diet make people emotional, tired, etc.
Weight is a very personal issue and body image's importance in our culture, for better or worse, can not be overstated.
Exercising is a hard habit to adopt.
People lie. Self-reporting of diet and exercise is full of inaccuracies.
Changing your diet and exercise routine is akin to changing other habits and is subject to the same sorts of difficulties and failure modes.
The first 2-5 weeks of big diet changes are fucking hard, but it gets easier like any habit change.
Atkins, and other low carb diets, work because 'Murican diets are high calorie AND carb-centric. Cutting all carbs for a while means also cutting your total calories significantly. The published woo reasons why they work are mostly bullshit. It's just calorie cutting while giving you a shot at forming different long-term diet habits.
There may be some foods that speed metabolism, some foods that are good to eat at certain times during the day, some food that satiate more than others for any given person, etc...
But the Eat Less/Exercise More model is tried and true.
the Calories In / Calories Out model of weight loss is correct
My opinion is that it is a "motte-and-bailey" type of a model. Technically correct, but skips some of the important parts.
Things you can control directly:
amount and type of food you put in your mouth
type and amount of exercise you choose to do
whether you really start doing the exercise each day, and keep doing it as long as possible
Things you cannot control directly:
what your metabolism actually does with the food you put in your mouth
Things this model doesn't even mention:
there are other important things about the food, not just calories
As a consequense, these things happen in real life that the model does not predict:
If you are lucky, you can actually put a lot of calories in your mouth without getting fat as a result, even if you are not exercising hard. Not sure what exactly happens, my uneducated guess is that the metabolism only takes as much calories as needed, as the rest goes to shit. (So yes, technically it is "calories out", but it is not what people proposing this model typically mean, and you have no direct control over this, i.e. you can't simply decide to lose weight by going to the bathroom more often.)
If you are unlucky, the "calories in" get converted into something that is somehow not easily accessible as an energy source. (Either because your metabolism is fucked up generally, or because your body is low on some important component, such as iron.) You know you should burn some calories, but at the same time you are weak as a fly, so you really can't. (Not because "math doesn't work", but because the linear model ignores some parts of the reality.) But you mentioned this in the "random thoughts" part.
...however, assuming that the metabolism is working more or less correctly, the model is useful.
My recommendation would be: Step 1 -- get checked by a doctor, whether you are low on something; start taking supplements; Step 2 -- start exercising regularly, without worrying about the "calories in" yet, just to build the momentum; Step 3 -- get more strategic about the food you eat.
The reason I put "step 2" before "step 3" is because studing calories can take unlimited amounts of time, and can be used as a convenient excuse to procrastinate on exercising. I would also say that "add a lot of unprocessed vegetables in your food" is a good first approximation for healthy diet.
Other random thoughts:
don't focus too much on "weight" -- it correlates with the right thing, but is not exactly the right thing; converting 5 kg of fat into 5 kg of muscles increases your health and attractivity even if the resulting weight is the same, on the other hand dehydrating yourself decreases your weight but hurts your health;
shaming people for their metabolism (or just not having time to exercise because they e.g. have to work 2 jobs to survive) is bad; but enforcing a norm of tabooing information about healthy lifestyle is in my eyes even worse... essentially, because people doing the former are at least usually recognized as assholes, while people doing the latter can pretend noble intentions while in fact they contribute to avoidable premature deaths;
I believe that "eating a lot of unprocessed vegetables" is the essence of healthy diet, and the rest is mostly role-playing (i.e. you can eat "Mediterranean diet" and imagine being an exotic Italian, or eat a "paleo diet" and imagine being a prehistorical warrior, but the outcome is the same for the same reasons, regardless of your aesthetical preferences)
I mentioned the nutrition because that used to be my problem in the past.
I had low level of iron, so the answer "just exercise and burn some calories" was quite useless to me -- I was barely able to wake up in the morning. Repeatedly I tried to exercise regularly for a few weeks, but the outcome was always pathetic: after a few moves I was exhausted, and there was no visible long-term progress. Of course, after doing a difficult thing with zero benefits, after a few weeks my motivation was gone.
Meta problem was that "checking my levels of iron" wasn't even on the list of things I was thinking about, when I was thinking about how to get rid of some fat. (People around me assumed the opposite causal model: I have a problem with energy, because I am not doing any sport or exercise, duh!) It happened quite randomly; a friend of mine was reading somewhere on internet a list of symptoms of iron deficiency and mentioned it to me, and I was like "huh, sometimes I have similar symptoms, too". Yet it took a few years until once I asked a doctor to measure my iron level. Turned out, it was at the lowest end of the "healthy" interval... so, according to the doctor, not worth mentioning unless I ask explicitly, because I am still technically healthy. I guess being technically healthy is important from the official medicine point of view, but I would rather get closer towards the optimal health, so... I bought some iron supplements, and...
With the level of iron fixed, it was a completely different game. I suddenly felt full of energy, which was something I only remembered happening decades ago. Suddenly, exercising hard became possible. (At the risk of making a pseudoscientific explanation, I suppose that iron plays an important role in the process of converting "calories in" into energy available for exercising.)
Then, after a few months of exercising hard I lost some fat, gained some muscles; people who haven't seen me for a longer time say I have visibly changed. (I don't even check my calories, but I started eating more fresh vegetables, so maybe it happened as a side effect.)
So my experience is that exercising more, and eating less calories (not by eating less in general, but by eating different food) worked for me, but I had to "unlock" this option by doing something else first. In other words, when "calories in, calories out" finally started working for me, the problem was already halfway solved.
You can steelman no-CICO by saying that CICO is a good physics model, but a bad control model. CICO has a simple direct link, while in the body there exists all kind of feedback loops: from fat cell to food intake, from food intake to NEAT, from exercise to NEAT, etc., all mediated by poorly-to-moderatedly understood hormones and neurological triggers.
It's possible to have that argument and we had it multiple times in the past in discussion in which Brillyant participated. He is here saying that the position that "CICO is a bad control model" is anti-advice. He seems to consider that it's a good enough control model to allow him to lose the weight he wants to lose.
I'm not sure on what it specifically means the word "anti-advice", but if it's along the line of excluding possibly useless models, then sure, it's anti-advice but it's still useful.
He seems to consider that it's a good enough control model to allow him to lose the weight he wants to lose.
Yeah, but if it only works for him and a few others, and not for everyone else, can you still say that it's a good control model? The argument from Brillyant to me seems like: any sufficiently analyzed control model is indistinguishable from a physics model. Which is true, but useless. What I want to know, and the added value of a control vs physics point of view, is which and where are the hidden knobs and levers that controls intake and consumptions. Brillyant named some, I named others. I think we can simply dissolve the question by saying:
CI = willpower + feedback from exercise + feedback from previous meals + feedback from fat cells + genetic predispositions + environmental factor + unknown unknows
CO = willpower + feedback from previous exercise + feedback from NEAT + feedback from food + genetic factors
absorption defects + unknown unknows
A while ago a good friend asked me what he could do to increase his typing skill. I didn't give him the straightforward advice of using a type training program but I talked to him about the promises of Dvorak. He didn't take any action, didn't increase his typing skills or switched to Dvorak.
Adding information reduced his impulse to take action. On the same token, it's not simply about comparing CICO against other wrong models but simply about having a person who wants to lose weight being committed to a model and doing what the model prescribes.
CICO is a good physics model, but a bad control model
CICO is a fine control model in the sense that using it will achieve the goal: controlling the CI part will get your weight down (e.g. consider fasting, that is, CI = 0). On the other hand, it's not the most efficient control model and starving yourself thin is... difficult for people X-D
it's not the most efficient control model and starving yourself thin is... difficult for people
I wonder if a control model which does what you want only, say,1% of the time can be defined "bad" or not. Surely it's not totally false, since we have at least some people who claim to use it to reach the purpose. But if will is something that is employable by some to lose weight and not by others, then I think that there must be a better model which take these things into account and explains at least the effectiveness of will power for some people and not for others.
I wonder if a control model which does what you want only, say,1% of the time can be defined "bad" or not.
I see its greatest benefit as showing what is possible.
In the weight-loss arena beliefs along the lines "It is impossible for me to lose weight -- I just can't! I've tried a dozen of different diets and none worked!" are very common. CICO as a control model is guaranteed to work (by physics) and realizing this shifts the focus from "I can't do anything, the universe won't let me" to "How can I change myself to make this work".
there must be a better model
Sure. The issue is that, I think, which model is "better" depends on the person. There is no universal answer (sorry, diet book writers), what works for one won't work for another.
I suspect many people are doing things that are unsustainable or difficult to sustain in long run, such as:
dehydrating themselves (the easiest, but also completely stupid way to lose your first kilogram);
eating tasteless food (unsustainable unless you are willing to give up eating tasty food forever);
spending too much time on e.g. slow exercise or complicated calorie counting (when real life comes back, you will not afford doing 3 hours of yoga each day).
Which is why for myself I tried to (1) minimize the time spent exercising, which ultimately led to exercising with my own body weight at home, and (2) optimize also for the taste of the healthy food, even if it means letting an extra calorie in, as long as the outcome remains better than my previous food habits.
As a consequence, I was able to keep doing this for almost a year, even if real life keeps happening, because I like the taste of the new food (so I am not tempted to replace it with the old one), and if sometimes I only have 30 minutes of free time during the day, I can still do some meaningful exercise (as opposed to shrugging "well, no time for gym today").
Eating tasteless food might be useful in weight loss and health. Vegetables usually have phytonutrients, which evolved to be for example insect repellents. However many of these phytonutrients have, for example, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory mechanisms in our body, Sapiens. Like Curcumin and Sulforaphane. Since IQ goes down by age, though crystallized not so much, it might be worthwhile to try and include these foods. Curcumin can pass the blood brain barrier in certain instances.
Not Relevant, Not written by Yvain (srs):
"He pointed to Absolute Infinity and told Him, including himself. why Blind-Every-thing-No-thing God, don't you allow us to enjoy, Qualia:tetively, useful food, rather than processed food? Unless we can't eat enough calories to satisfy our leptin-VNM-feedback system with unprocessed food, it should not be done"
Maybe AGI and CRISPR can edit the genes to enjoy "useful" food, it's after all only food for our real purposes.
Why does patternism [the position that you are only a pattern in physics and any continuations of it are you/you'd sign up for cryonics/you'd step into Parfit's teleporter/you've read the QM sequence]
subjective immortality? [you will see people dying, other people will see you die, but you will never experience it yourself]
(contingent on the universe being big enough for lots of continuations of you to exist physically)
I asked this on the official IRC, but only feep was kind enough to oblige (and had a unique argument that I don't think everyone is using)
If you have a completely thought out explanation for why it does imply that, you ought never to be worried about what you're doing leading to your death (maybe painful existence, but never death), because there would be a version of you that would miraculously escape it.
If you bite that bullet as well, then I would like you to formulate your argument cleanly, then answer this (rot13):
ETA: This is slightly different from a Quantum Immortality question (although resolutions might be similar) - there is no need to involve QM or its interpretations here, even in a classical universe (as long as it's large enough), if you're a patternist, you can expect to "teleport" to another exact clone somewhere that manages to live.
I think it does imply subjective immortality. I'll bite that bullet. Therefore, you should sign up for cryonics.
Consciousness isn't continuous. There can be interruptions, like falling asleep or undergoing anesthesia. A successor mind/pattern is a conscious pattern that remembers being you. In the multiverse, any given mind has many many successors. It doesn't have to follow immediately, or even have to follow at all, temporally. At the separations implied even for a Tegmark Level I multiverse, past and future are meaningless distinctions, since there can be no interactions.
You are your mind/pattern, not your body. A mind/pattern is independent of substrate. Your unconscious, sleeping self is not your successor mind/pattern. It's an unconscious object that has a high probability of creating your successor (i.e. it can wake up). Same with your cryonicically-preserved corpsicle, though the probability is lower.
Any near-death event will cause grievous suffering to any barely-surviving successors, and grief and loss to friends and relatives in branches where you (objectively) don't survive. I don't want to suffer grievous injury, because that would hurt. I also don't want my friends and relatives to suffer my loss. Thus, I'm reluctant to risk anything that may cause objective death.
But, the universe being a dangerous place, I can't make that risk zero. By signing up for cryonics, I can increase the measure of successors that have a good life, even after barely surviving.
In the Multiverse, death isn't all-or-none, black or white. A successor is a mind that remembers being you. It does not have to remember everything. If you take a drug that causes you to not form long-term memory of any event today, have you died by the next day? Objectively, no. Your friends and relatives can still talk to "you" the next day. Subjectively, partially. Your successors lack certain memories. But people forget things all the time.
Being mortal in the multiverse, you can expect that your measure of successors will continue to diminish as your branches die, but the measure never reaches absolute zero. Eventually all that remains are Bolzman Brains and the like. The most probable Boltzman brain successors only live long enough to have a "single" conscious qualia of remembering being you. The briefest of conscious thoughts. Their successors remember that thought and may have another random thought. You can eventually expect an eternity of totally random qualia and no control at all over your experience.
This isn't Hell, but Limbo. Suffering is probably only a small corner of possible qualia-space, but so is eudaimonia. After an eternity you might stumble onto a small Botzlman World where you have some measure of control over your utility for some brief time, but that world will die, and your successors will again be only Boltzman brains.
I can't help that some of my successors from any given moment are Boltzman brains. But I don't want my only successors to be Boltzman Brains, because they don't increase my utility. Therefore, cryonics.
See the Measure Problem of cosmology. I'm not certain of my answer, and I'd prefer not to bet my life on it, but it seems more likely than not. I do not believe that Boltzman Brains can be eliminated from cosmology, only that they have lesser measure than evolved beings like us. This is because of the Trivial Theorem of Arithmetic: almost all natural numbers are really damn huge. The universe doesn't have to be infinite to get a Tegmark Level I multiverse. It just has to be sufficiently large.
I'm not sure what you're implying. Most people close to me are not even aware that I advocate cryonics. I expect this will change once I get my finances sorted out enough to actually sign up for cryonics myself, but for most people, cryonics alone already flunks the Absurdity heuristic. Likewise with many of the perfectly rational ideas here on LW, including the logical implications of quantum mechanics and cosmology, like Subjective Immortality. Linking more "absurditiess" seems unlikely to help my case in most instances. One step at a time.
Actually, I'm just interested. I've been wondering if big world immortality is a subject that would make people a) think that the speaker is nuts, b) freak out and possibly go nuts or c) go nuts because they think the speaker is crazy; and whether or not it's a bad idea to bring it up.
I'm not willing to decipher your second question because this theme bothers me enough as it is, but I'll just say that I'm amazed figuring this stuff out is not considered a higher priority by rationalists. If at some point someone can definitely tell me what to think about this, I'd be glad about it.
You should strive to maximize utility of your pattern, averaged over both subjective probability (uncertainty) and squared amplitude of wave-function.
If you include the latter, then it all adds up to normalcy.
If you select a state of the MWI-world according to born rule (i.e. using squared amplitude of the wave-function), then this world-state will, with overwhelming probability, be compatible with causality, entropy increase over time, and a mostly classic history, involving natural selection yielding patterns that are good at maximizing their squared-amplitude-weighted spread, i.e. DNA and brains that care about squared-amplitude (even if they don't know it).
Of course this is a non-answer to your question. Also, we have not yet finished the necessary math to prove that this non-answer is internally consistent (we=mankind), but I think this is (a) plausible, (b) the gist of what EY wrote on the topic, and (c) definitely not an original insight by EY / the sequences.
I agree that patternism contingently implies subjective immortality, but I agree with Oscar Cunningham that subjective immortality does not imply not-caring about death. I think patternism is stronger than beliefs that cause people to sign up for cryonics or step into the teleporter or read (even agree with) the QM sequence.
(I'm not convinced that the universe is large enough for patternism to actually imply subjective immortality.)
What cosmological assumptions? Assumptions related to identity, perhaps, as discussed here. But it seems to me that MWI essentially guarantees that for every observer-moment, there will always exist a "subsequent" one, and the same seems to apply to all levels of a Tegmark multiverse.
I don't think MWI is sufficiently well defined or understood for it to be known whether or not that is implied. For example it would not be the case in Robin Hanson's mangled worlds proposal, and no one knows whether that proposal is correct or not.
"subjective immortality does not imply not-caring about death."
Sure. You can care about whatever you want to care about, no matter what is the case. But even my version mostly prevents me from caring about death except in fairly short term ways; e.g. I don't bother to do things that would extend my lifespan, even when I know about them. And I definitely would not bother with cryonics.
If some one offered me a bet giving $0 or $100 based on a quantum coin flip I'd be willing to pay $50 for it. So it's clear that I'm acting for the sake of my average future self, not just the best or worst outcome. Therefore I also act to avoid outcomes where I die, even if there are still some possibilities where I live. The fact that I won't experience the "dead" outcomes is irrelevant - I can still act for the sake of things which I won't experience.
What about the question of whether I anticipate immortality? Well if I was planning what to do after an event where I might die, I would think to myself "I only need to think about the possibility where I live, since I won't be able to carry out any actions in the other case" which is perhaps not the same as "anticipating immortality" but it has the same effect.
I don't think that follows exactly. Specifically, that "you're acting for the sake of things which you won't experience".
You are correct in your pricing of quantum flips according to payoffs adjusted by the Born rule.
But the payoffs from your dead versions don't count, assuming you can only find yourself in non-dead continuations. I don't know if this is a position (Bostrom or Carroll have almost surely written about it) or just outright stupidity, but it seems to me that this assumption (of only finding yourself alive) shrinks your ensemble of future states, leaving your decision theoretic judgements to only deal with the alive ones
If I'm offered a bet of being given $0 or $100 over two flips of a fair quantum coin, with payoffs:
|00> -> $0
|11> -> $100
|01> -> certain immediate death
|10> -> certain immediate death
I'd still price it at $50, rather than $25.
You could say, a little vaguely, that the others are physical possibilities, but they're not anthropic possibilities.
As for "I can still act for the sake of things which I won't experience" in general, where you care about dead versions, apart from you being able to experience such, you might find Living in Many Worlds helpful, specifically this bit:
Are there horrible worlds out there, which are utterly beyond your ability to affect? Sure. And horrible things happened during the 12th century, which are also beyond your ability to affect. But the 12th century is not your responsibility, because it has, as the quaint phrase goes, "already happened". I would suggest that you consider every world which is not in your future, to be part of the "generalized past".
If you care about other people finding you dead and mourning you though, then the case would be different, and you'd have to adjust your payoffs accordingly.
Note again though, this should have nothing necessarily to do with QM (all of this would hold in a large enough classical universe).
As for me, personally, I don't think I buy immortality, but then I'd have to modus tollens out a lot of stuff (like stepping into a teleporter, or even perhaps the notion of continuity).
As I've pointed out before, we don't need to say whether patternism is true, or whether the universe is big or not, to notice that we are subjectively non-mortal -- no matter what is the case, we will never experience dying (in the sense of going out of existence.)
I guess we've had this discussion before, but: the difference between patternism and your version of subjective mortality is that in your version we nevertheless should not expect to exist indefinitely.
Sure. Nonetheless, you should not expect anything noticeably different from that to happen either. The same kinds of things will happen: you will find yourself wondering why you were the lucky one who survived the car crash, not wondering why you were the unlucky one who did not.
This is a good question and I'd be interested to hear answers to it as well.
Briefly, I'll say that there seem to be plenty of reductio-ad-absurdum arguments for a "self" existing at all, such as the implication of philosophical zombies and the like. Rob Bensinger's post here goes into this matter a bit.
If these arguments have validity, then it seems to me that neither "annihilation" nor "immortality" can actually be true. In short, it might be that "patternism" probably implies that there is no "you" at all, besides the conceptual construct your brain has created for itself. But these questions are really important to me to get right, because it calls into question whether it is rational, or moral, to try and preserve myself through the use of technologies such as cryonics, if that effort and money can be used somewhere else for a different moral good.
True, but there are also the questions of, should I try to ensure that exactly one of myself exists at any given moment? Instead of just trying to preserve my body, should I be content with just creating a million copies of my mind in some simulation, apathetic to whether or not my "original" still exists anywhere? Or should I be content with creating agents that aren't like me and don't have my exact history of experiences, but have the same goals as I do? It seems that these issues depend on sort of dualist questions of mind and whether or not there is moral value assigned to preserving this "self".
There's a free market idea that the market rewards those who provide value to society. I think I've found a simple counterexample.
Imagine a loaf of bread is worth 1 dollar to consumers. If you make 100 loaves and sell them for 99 cents each, you've provided 1 dollar of value to society, but made 99 dollars for yourself. If you make 100 loaves and give them away to those who can't afford it, you've provided 100 dollars of value to society, but made zero for yourself. Since the relationship is inverted, we see that the market doesn't reward those who provide value. Instead it rewards those who provide value to those who provide value! It's recursive, like PageRank!
That's the main reason why we have so much inequality. Recursive systems will have attractors that concentrate stuff. That's also why you can't blame people for having no jobs. They are willing to provide value, but they can't survive by providing to non-providers, and only the best can provide to providers.
It seems like you have just reinvented the criticism "if you can extract almost all the value from each transaction (aka 'exploitation'), you will shortly be rich". Well, yes, but the point is that a market with competition generally prevents you from doing that. As someone pointed out, if you make 100 loaves then you have created 100 dollars of value; the question is how those 100 dollars are distributed. You construct an example where the baker is able to capture 99% of the value he created; good for him, but it relies on your construction of the price. Seeing the baker get rich, won't a bunch of other people decide that bread-making can't be that hard, make some loaves, and sell them for 98 cents? And so on until the price of bread is equal to the cost of production plus the smallest profit anyone is willing to live with, which in your example seems to be a penny.
This kind of "stuff gets cheaper, everyone benefits" advocacy is why I wrote that comment to begin with. The free market can't be always pushing down the price of all goods (measured in other goods), that's a logical impossibility. There's no magic force acting on one conveniently chosen side of each transaction. Why isn't the same force pushing down the price of labor then, making labor cheap in terms of bread, instead of making bread cheap in terms of labor? Oh wait, maybe it is. Maybe all these forces are acting at once and going into weird feedback loops and there's no reason why the end result would be moral in any way. That's my point.
The free market can't be always pushing down the price of all goods
You are looking at the wrong thing. Specifically, you're looking at exchange ratios ("prices") when you should be looking at how much value gets produced and how much human input/labour does that value need (aka "the productivity of labour").
Maybe all these forces are acting at once and going into weird feedback loops
Let me try again, in all caps. REALITY CHECK.
there's no reason why the end result would be moral in any way
That might work sometimes, but sadly market advantage isn't always connected to moral worth. For example, land supply is even more fixed than labor. If market advantage goes to the side with fixed supply, then most salary increases will be eaten by landlords raising rents. (Which pretty much happens in some places.) Also I'm not sure making labor is harder than e.g. starting a tech company. If market advantage goes to the side that's harder to make, then tech companies will use non-tech labor for cheap. (Which also happens, see Uber.) Like I said, immoral forces acting all at once.
Land supply is fixed but land supply isn't the problem with rising rent. The problem is the number of flats. Toyko's rents didn't rise in the last decades but rents in a place like San Fransico rise because the government enforcing zoning regulations that prevent the building of new housing.
That could be because Japan's population and economy aren't growing much. In any case, even if rent isn't a good example, there might be other bottlenecks in the economy besides labor, so labor won't always win.
...Which amounts to fixed supply. Not sure how you're contradicting anything I'm saying. The point isn't about land, the point is that there's no law of economics saying the price of labor must go up relative to other goods.
"there's no reason why the end result would be moral in any way. "
This is wrong. The reason is that everyone is doing what they want, which is, on average, more likely to benefit people than having to do what they do not want, since people typically want to do things that benefit them and avoid things that do not.
The above is, in fact, the basic but extremely simplified reason why no one yet has been able to come up with a better system.
The free market can't be always pushing down the price of all goods (measured in other goods), that's a logical impossibility.
And yet that seems to be precisely what has happened.
However, supposing we hold tech progress and capital investment constant, then yes, we'll reach a steady state in which prices as a whole cannot fall further. But that still does not demonstrate that it is possible to maintain the sort of high-value-extraction transactions you outline for any great length of time. If the profit of bread is high then it will fall as people enter the market; this will, yes, slightly raise the profit of all other occupations, holding technology and capital steady. But the eventual equilibrium has all the profit rates being the same. Otherwise investment flows from the low-profit ones to the high-profit ones.
Instead it rewards those who provide value to those who provide value! It's recursive, like PageRank!
Contra Lumifer, this looks right to me. Notice the second-order effects, where a value-provider not only gets tokens to spend, but also them having more tokens means that everyone else is more sensitive to their desires.
That's the main reason why we have so much inequality. Recursive systems will have attractors that concentrate stuff.
This isn't as clear to me. If transactions happen entirely at random, but debts aren't allowed, then you'll end up with a Boltzmann-Gibbs distribution for income, which will be highly unequal. If you allow debts, then probably the resulting distribution is normal or something, which is still highly unequal. That is, this likely explains the particular shape of inequality, but not the existence of inequality at all. (Note, for example, a world where everyone has the same utility function but has variable capacity to produce goods and services will have significant inequality, driven by the variable capacity rather than the spiralling effects.)
That's also why you can't blame people for having no jobs. They are willing to provide value, but they can't survive by providing to non-providers, and only the best can provide to providers.
Trying to reach a conclusion about blame seems like trying to cross the is-ought chasm, and note that not being able to satisfy producers doesn't imply being able to satisfy non-producers.
a value-provider not only gets tokens to spend, but also them having more tokens means that everyone else is more sensitive to their desires
This is a good thing, since you do want to incentivize people to provide value.
I also don't know about "everyone". If you are a baker selling loaves of bread for $1, there is no reason to care more about billionaire Alice than about working-stiff Bob if both happen to be your customers. Alice still can eat only one loaf a day so her billions are irrelevant to you.
distribution for income
Wealth distributions in societies tend to be power-law distributions and income is basically the first derivative of wealth.
This is a component of the information conveyed by prices, which everyone is sensitive to.
Wealth distributions in societies tend to be power-law distributions and income is basically the first derivative of wealth.
Only for the rentier class. A fit of real-world income distributions to a combination of the Boltzmann-Gibbs for the bulk and then a power law for the top seems to perform better, because it separates the two classes.
This is a component of the information conveyed by prices, which everyone is sensitive to.
A price is a scalar, there isn't much information it can convey -- in simplified economics like what we are discussing, it just tells you where the intersection of the demand and the supply curves is. Even if you are a producer and can manipulate the prices to observe the shifts in demand, all you can find out is the approximate shape of the demand curve. There is no information about the total wealth of your customers in the price for common goods.
A fit of real-world income distributions to a combination of the Boltzmann-Gibbs for the bulk and then a power law for the top
An interesting paper, though it seems to suffer from a serious confusion between the map and the territory. I also wish it would show the fit of the distributions to the data and the errors. As it is, we have to peer at not-too-detailed graphs and I don't know if they are as convincing as the paper makes them out to be. In particular, to my eye the switching point between the two distributions in Fig. 2 isn't necessarily where the paper says it is.
I think "everyone" is pretty much true. Your counterexample seems like it only works as long as Alice and Bob's preferences aren't in conflict. And I guess they often won't be. But I don't think that being in that situation means people care about their preferences equally; it just means they don't have to choose right now.
To be more explicit about when your counterexample fails: suppose Alice wants a particularly fancy load of bread. It takes you all day to bake so you can't make bread for Bob (or any of your other customers) any more, but she's willing to pay $1000 for it.
She doesn't actually care very much about having this $1000 loaf over a $1 loaf, which is why she's only willing to pay $1000, which isn't very much to her. Bob's $1 has more value to him than $1000 does to Alice. The cost to Bob of not getting the $1 loaf is more than the value to Alice of getting the $1000 loaf instead of the $1 loaf.
But you make the $1000 loaf anyway. This is great for you. But it's pretty bad for Bob, and only slightly good for Alice.
I don't expect that anyone at my supermarket, or at a corner gas station, or in the local Starbucks is "more sensitive" to the desires of the rich.
There are a couple of things going on here. First, someone rich has the resources to, let's say, exert an economic force. She can use that force to make things happen. Phrasing such events as "more sensitive to" is bad framing: we don't say that a weight is "more sensitive" to a greater force.
Second, as has been pointed out, in free markets a producer cares only about the demand supported by purchasing power. Some producers make expensive things and they are certainly more sensitive to the desires of the rich because the rich are their only customers. However a lot of other producers make common, inexpensive things -- bread, gasoline, jeans, etc. -- and they don't care much about the rich because the rich are a very small fraction of their customers and so a source of only a small fraction of their profit.
First, someone rich has the resources to, let's say, exert an economic force. She can use that force to make things happen. Phrasing such events as "more sensitive to" is bad framing: we don't say that a weight is "more sensitive" to a greater force.
The desires aren't the force, the money is. Being rich means the same amount of desire gets translated into a larger amount of money. Framing this as people being more sensitive to the desires seems natural to me. A physical analogy might be levers: a weight is more sensitive to force being applied at one end of a lever than the other end.
But I don't think we disagree about anything real.
People with money (or in other systems, people with birth rank or status or strength) definitely have more power than people without. So, what's the alternative to the individual freedom to choose to serve the powerful over the powerless?
I guess we can make all humans into serfs for the great AI. Not terribly appealing to me.
I get that. From my standpoint, this isn't a not-great feature of capitalism, it's a not-great feature of human choices, or maybe of a universe that contains limited resources and independent-goal actors. Capitalism is neither great nor problematic, in fact it's not a thing at all. It's a side-effect of individual agency and individual decisions about resources.
(edited to add) you can argue that it's also a side-effect of our particular consensual popular conception of "property". Ok, stipulated. But there's not much hope in having ANY system of persistent ownership that doesn't include lots of elements of capitalism. And without the idea of property ownership, everything goes to hell (well, to the strongest/cruelest/luckiest risk-taker).
Alice would probably not want to pay $1,000 for a loaf that she prefers only slightly to the $1 loaf. She'd likely be willing to pay $1.05 or $1.10 for it. And Bob would be willing to pay $2 or $3 or maybe even $4 since he wants it so badly.
Alice would probably not want to pay $1,000 for a loaf that she prefers only slightly to the $1 loaf. She'd likely be willing to pay $1.05 or $1.10 for it.
I did not intend that to be taken literally. I picked an extreme example to make the effect intuitively obvious, not because it was realistic.
If you think the effect doesn't exist, or is too small to be worth mentioning, at realistic levels, then that seems worth saying. But it doesn't seem very interesting to say that my example was unrealistic.
Bob would be willing to pay $2 or $3 or maybe even $4 since he wants it so badly.
There exists an amount that Bob can value a loaf of bread, where he's willing to pay $1 but not $2. Nothing I said is inconsistent with Bob valuing the bread at that level.
All [long-term] wealthy people care about price differences. They'd go broke if they didn't (see lottery winners). Even billionaires don't just throw their money around, because their money is still scarce and they want to spend it so as to maximize their expected utility.
Replacing bread with wine doesn't change anything; if a billionaire slightly prefers one type of wine to another, he doesn't arbitrarily pay a ton more for it. He pays the market price.
There's a reason the saying "If you have to ask for the price, it's too expensive for you" exists.
That saying has more to do with poor people not having the purchasing power of rich people and less to do with rich people and their lack of stinginess.
A huge reason why lottery winners go broke is that they don't earn more money
False. Most jackpot winners (and almost all of the ones that go broke), come from the lower and less educated classes. If they were to invest their entire prize in passive investments and live off the annual returns, they'd be earning far more money than any salary they could've ever hoped to achieve with their labor. These people don't go broke because they don't earn more money--they go broke because they squander multiple lifetimes worth of upper class earnings astonishingly quickly.
there are other rich people who do earn money and who spent it lavishly.
Not in the way that was described in the original example. Note that in philh's comment, Alice "doesn't actually care very much about having this $1000 loaf over a $1 loaf," but decides to go ahead and drop $1,000 on it anyways. The overwhelming majority of ultra rich people don't spend this way. And when they sort of do, they don't stay ultra rich over the long run.
Yeah. My previous version of this idea was "the free market maximizes money-weighted utility instead of utility", but the one with recursion is nicer because it evokes a dynamic picture.
The word "blame" is a bit is-ought to begin with :-) Still, it seems like less disposable income leads to fewer jobs which leads to less disposable income etc, so at least part of unemployment should be blamed on the recursive effect and not on individuals.
Incidentally, Gary Drescher makes the same (citation free) statement in a footnote in Chapter 7 - Deriving Ought from Is:
Utilitarian bases for capitalism—arguments that market forces promote the greatest
good—are another matter, best suited for other books. For here, suffice it to note
that even in theory, an unconstrained market does not promote the greatest good
overall, but rather the greatest good weighted by the participants’ relative wealth.
I remember asking for a reference about a year ago on LWIRC, but that didn't help much.
Brad DeLong wrote in 2003 that "the market system's social welfare function gives each individual a weight inversely proportional to his or her marginal utility of wealth", which he found "a completely trivial result"! Here is his algebra. Last year he pointed to Takashi Negishi as someone who published the result in 1960.
Edit: though to get the result that the weights are proportional to relative wealth you have to add the assumption that utility goes as log wealth.
Perhaps you want to point out that the only demand the market cares about is the demand supported by purchasing power (aka money)? That is true. If you want bread but have no money, the market will not help you.
less disposable income leads to fewer jobs
That's straight-up Keynesianism which isn't quite the generally accepted consensus.
Imagine a loaf of bread is worth 1 dollar to consumers. If you make 100 loaves
...then you have created value, $100 worth of it.
And don't forget that "you" is also part of the society. In both cases society got richer by $100, it's just the distribution is different: in the first case you : others is 99 : 1 and in the second case you : others is 0 : 100.
You're right that rich people can create value for themselves, I'm not arguing against that. But I often see claims that rich people must've given a lot to others, and poor people must've not given enough. That's what I'm arguing against. It's possible that many rich people are rich because they're giving mostly to themselves, and many poor people are poor because they give more than they receive. That strikes against the idea that the market is fair.
Step one is value production. There are entities (people and organizations) which produce tradeable value. That ability is not limited to "rich people" -- anyone can do it.
Step two is you offer the value you created to the market. The transactions are voluntary, so each purchaser of your goods gains from that exchange (that's called a "consumer surplus" in economics). This way the value of the good = price + consumer surplus.
Price, in turn, is production cost + profit, so
value = production cost + producer's profit + consumer surplus
Rich people are rich (in this stylized context) because they collected a lot of profit. That could be because the profit was high or because the volume of sales was high -- or both, of course. But note that the consumer surplus is always positive. Each and every transaction results in gains for the consumer.
Now, the easiest way to be poor is not to produce anything of value. No profit, no consumer surplus, no nothing. In this case, sure, the non-producing poor are poor because they do not produce. Tyler Cowen has a term, "ZMP workers", that is, Zero Marginal Productivity workers. They exist.
But, of course, that's not the only way to be poor. You can be highly productive and someone might take all the surplus away from you. Such people also exist (and their plight has been well explored by e.g. Karl Marx).
I'm mostly interested in the unemployed and why they aren't producing value at the moment. You seem to blame it on poor skills or morals, while I blame the job market and the recursive process that makes it worse.
For example, if you're a single mother minding a child, you're providing value, but your child is unlikely to pay you for that! (You reminded me of the feminists' observation that women disproportionately do work, like childcare, which is often left uncounted or under-counted in conventional economic accounts.)
"If you make 100 loaves and sell them for 99 cents each, you've provided 1 dollar of value to society, but made 100 dollars for yourself. "
The argument here is that since the loaves are worth $1 to each consumer, and they pay $0.99, they gain only one cent by buying them. (That's improbable, since they would likely not buy them at all if it was only as useful as picking up a penny.) The problem is that something is going to happen to that $100 that the seller takes. If the seller does not spend it, then the average value of money in society will go up, meaning that society will have profited by $100, not by $1. If the seller does spend it, others will receive that $100 in return for other things that they valued less. And so once again, society will profit by more than $1.
If you play some motte-and-bailey around it, you could redefine "value" to mean "that, which is maximized by the free market", and then prove that free market indeed maximizes value. I expect that most pro-market answers you will get at most places will be a variant of this.
The question is, how closely related is such definition to our intuitions about value, i.e. what we actually mean by "value". That is tricky, because human intuitions are in general unreliable (e.g. likely to change if you describe the same situation using different words), inconsistent, implemented on a broken hardware, etc. But of course that doesn't give us a license to redefine words arbitrarily, so... as the saying goes, it's complicated.
You are correct about the similarity between free market and PageRank. Free market is recursive -- you can only gain money by selling to people who have money, who in turn gained that money by selling to people who had money, etc. If you are a starving person with no money and nothing to sell, well, sucks to be you; there may be tons of food on the market, but no way to sell it to you, unless someone gives you some money first.
Money is not the same as value, though, and that is one of the places where the whole process is grounded in something other than recursion. Value can be created by work, or by selling or renting resources you have.
Also, economical value can be brought from outside of the free-market system. For example, an African warlord can extract resources locally using murder or slave work, but then can exchange those resources at the international free market for something else. What I am hinting at here is that even if you would in abstractly prove that "free market benefits all participants", that doesn't necessarily mean it benefits all humans, because some "participants" at the market are e.g. slave owners, and the "benefits" for them include the ability to exploit their slaves more safely and easily. That doesn't necessarily imply that it benefits the slaves, too; it may sometimes be the other way round. (Lenin would say: "Those naive libertarians in Silicon Valley keep inventing and selling on free market a cheaper and stronger rope with which we can now hang more people, mwa-ha-ha-ha!")
Seems to me that the recursive nature could be a red herring. Markets are recursive. Instrumental values are recursive. Maybe these things actually match each other well. Perhaps we should focus on (1) whether the non-recursive parts also match each other; and if there is a difference, (2) whether the recursive parts amplify the difference.
(I do have some opinions on that, but this comment is already too long, and contains important parts I wouldn't want to get ignored just because I write something controversial afterwards.)
Free market is recursive -- you can only gain money by selling to people who have money, who in turn gained that money by selling to people who had money, etc. If you are a starving person with no money and nothing to sell, well, sucks to be you
I guess my point was that "sucks to be you" situations don't just happen when you have nothing of value to sell, as libertarian-minded folks (like Lumifer in this thread) seem to believe. It also happens when you have stuff to sell, but the folks who would normally buy it from you can't pay you enough to survive today, because they don't have anything to sell, and the problem can start randomly and build on itself. Or at least I don't know any argument why it wouldn't. It feels like this horrible recursive process that doesn't approach anything good except by accident.
If every website was a sentient creature that felt pain in case of low PageRank, our world would be pretty much hell for those creatures. So the analogy between market and PageRank isn't flattering to the market.
The analogy between the market and PageRank is this:
PageRank cannot directly give a high rank to useful pages, because there is no known algorithm for that. So it uses a recursive structure to approximate this.
The market cannot directly give value to providers of value, because there is no known algorithm for that. So it uses a recursive structure to approximate this.
And it does approximate it; if you think it does not, you can certainly propose a better algorithm.
Of course, people would be happy to have value even if they don't provide any value, and disappointed not to have it. And likewise, the unlucky people who do provide value but which the algorithm misses, are especially unhappy, like the low ranked but useful websites.
If your position is, "Let's not provide value just to providers of value, but to everyone!" then you can certainly propose a means to bring that about.
The reason the market approximates rewarding the providing of value is not because there is something morally special about that situation, but because without doing that, it is very difficult to get any value or utility at all, for anyone.
A system that rewards the creation of value results in a substantial amount of average utility, even if not high utility for everyone. But if you have a system that does not reward the creation of value or utility, there will be many people who will not bother to create any value, and consequently you will get low average value or utility. That was why St. Paul had to tell his communities that "if someone will not work, neither shall he eat."
If you think you have an idea for a system that will create higher average value or utility than markets do, as I said, you can propose one. I do not think anyone has yet made any reasonable proposal of that kind.
I know the usual arguments why rewarding value creation is a good idea, and I'm not trying to argue against that. Instead, my first comment points out how markets don't always reward value creation. They do a more complicated and recursive thing. You can think of it as "if your product is awesome but your customers are poor, you're screwed". Only even worse because there's feedback effects, where value creators can become poor just because other value creators are poor etc.
To put it yet another way, in a PageRank-like system the utility will tend to clump together, leading to inequality and monopolies. That's more or less what the system does. The original PageRank had some nasty attractors after people started gaming it, which is why Google is tweaking it all the time. Someone on HN once made a cheeky comment saying "the end game of capitalism is one corporation selling everyone oxygen", and I can see how blindly trusting a recursive system to be fair can get you there.
Also, your St. Paul quote is a famous Soviet slogan, instantly familiar to anyone who was born in the USSR, so I chuckled a bit when you used it to defend free markets :-)
I disagree with your first comment about the $100 and the loaves, as I said, because you are overly simplifying. For example, even aside from the things I already mentioned, you also ignore the fact that the person needs to spend money or goods in order to produce the loaves.
That said, you might be able to refine that example or come up with another; I certainly do not think that markets infallibly have the result of rewarding value creation. I agree that free markets leads to that kind of inequality and that this is a not particularly great aspect of it. However, it is not reasonable to say "this is a horrible process" if you cannot propose a better alternative. And I am not even saying there is not a better alternative. I am just saying that no one has found one yet.
The fact that the Soviets used the St. Paul quote is revealing in regard to what usually happens if you attempt to replace free markets with something else. The problem e.g. with a guaranteed basic income is this: either people have to work, or they don't. If they don't have to work, then there is the implicit assumption that wealth does not depend on work, which in our world is false. So if enough people decide not to work, the system will necessarily collapse. This does not of course prove that a basic income is impossible, since you could simply keep reducing the amount of the income until enough people are working to keep it going. But it does show a serious issue. And on the other hand, if they do have to work, then they are slaves. And so the way the Soviets were using the slogan, they were making people slaves.
The only alternative (to the the impossible option of wealth not depending on work or to slavery) is to admit that if people choose to do so, they do not have to work, but they will suffer the consequences. Europe has a better unemployment system than the USA, for example, but even in Europe (at least in general and if I understand it correctly, and obviously the details differ in various places), there needs to be at least a bit of ambiguity about why you are unemployed. If you openly say, "I am perfectly competent and well qualified for many jobs, and I know from experience that I could get one next week if I wanted. In fact I just received an offer, which I rejected. I do not WANT to work, and I won't," even Europe will not continue offering you support.
The only alternative (to the the impossible option of wealth not depending on work or to slavery) is to admit that if people choose to do so, they do not have to work, but they will suffer the consequences.
Isn't this exactly what basic income does? If you don't work, you just get the basic income. If you work, you get the basic income plus some income from your work. (Yes there is a tax wedge so you're not going to get your full market value, and this necessarily hurts overall output/economic growth - but precisely because people vary so much in how productive they are, it's still a big win in utility terms compared to not having the BI. Not to mention that the actual real-world alternative isn't really "no BI", but redistributionist "welfare" as we know it.)
Even if you're willing to work, some job offers are objectively pretty bad (let's say it's a five hour commute, the work is hazardous, and the salary isn't enough for your food and medicine). Do you think people should die if they refuse such offers and better ones aren't available? I'd prefer to legally define what constitutes a "reasonable" job for a given person, and allow anyone to walk into a government office and receive either a reasonable job offer or a welfare check. If the market is good at providing reasonable jobs, as some libertarians seem to think, then the policy is cheap because the government clerk can just call up Mr Market.
A refinement of your policy is to just deregulate the labor market so it can actually be good at providing "reasonable jobs"; then have the government office keep a regularly-updated survey of "reasonable job" wage rates, and if the wage rate is too low to be "reasonable", give everyone who asks a check to make up the difference. If it turns out that there are no "reasonable jobs" at all then that wage rate is zero, so everyone who qualifies just gets the full welfare check. This system (a simple version of BI) avoids subsidizing these sorts of jobs, by just giving people that money instead.
I'd prefer to legally define what constitutes a "reasonable" job for a given person, and allow anyone to walk into a government office and receive either a reasonable job offer or a welfare check.
This proposal sounds to me like you are not aware of how our present system actually works.
The idea of a market economy isn't that it's the job of the government to hand out jobs. It's not the role of the government to produce jobs. It's rather employees who need labor to get things done, that they want to have done.
As a result, a person who seeks welfare is generally expected to apply to jobs a write job applications. Do you find the practice of telling a welfare recipient to write job applications to be wrong or do you just don't know?
If the current system had no other benefits, except unemployment benefits which were available for a limited time and on condition of writing job applications, then yeah I'd consider it cruel and prefer mine. Mostly I was responding to entirelyuseless's comment. They pointed out that UBI might hurt society by removing the incentive to work, so I tried to devise a similarly simple system that would support unemployed people without removing the incentive.
Yeah, I think it's wrong that benefits run out after a certain time and you have to be writing job applications that whole time. I think "work or die" might be viewed as fair, because society needs work as entirelyuseless pointed out, but "find work or die" crosses the line into unfair.
Do you think people should die if they refuse such offers and better ones aren't available?
No, but this is a strawman in any case. To a very good approximation, no one dies of hunger in the USA except some anorexics and victims of child abuse. That includes people who refuse such job offers; they do not die.
I would not necessarily be opposed to your proposal if it were fleshed out in a reasonable manner. I am not saying that we cannot do some specific things to make things better. That is different from attempting to replace the whole market system with a different system.
One thing you cannot do, however, is to make sure that only effort is rewarded and that luck is either evenly distributed or distributed only to poor people. Many people currently make efforts to put themselves in a position where they have a better chance of good luck, and if luck will not be rewarded, they will no longer make those efforts, so average utility will be lower.
I think a free market combined with benefits for poor people could go a long way in mitigating the "money-weighted utility" problem. It wouldn't be neat, but we're trying to optimize a complex thing. How much happiness should be given for free, and how much should be used as a carrot to make people create more happiness? That's a question about human nature and there might not be any mathematically clean way to answer it.
Since we've had periods of almost full employment, it seems like almost everyone agrees to work if the job offers are good enough.
You are confused. Full employment is not defined as "everyone works". Full employment is defined as "everyone who's looking for work can find it". People who are not looking for work are not counted as unemployed.
For example, at the moment the US unemployment rate is 4.7%. But the employment-population ratio is only a bit above 60%. So 40% of the US population between 15 and 64 does not work. But the unemployment rate is below 5%.
legally define what constitutes a "reasonable" job for a given person
That's called "minimum wage", isn't it?
If the market is good at providing reasonable jobs
The market is good at creating value and allocating resources in such a way as to maximize value produced. A job is a cost. You should prefer a lot of value and few jobs. That's what high productivity of labour means.
Historically there were periods of almost full employment, so the inherently lazy people postulated by the first theory don't seem to exist. So we're left with the second theory. But then it's immoral to require that people find work or starve. It would be more moral to pay them welfare when the government can't find any reasonable job for them, for some reasonable legal definition of "reasonable".
Europe has a better unemployment system than the USA, for example, but even in Europe (at least in general and if I understand it correctly, and obviously the details differ in various places), there needs to be at least a bit of ambiguity about why you are unemployed. If you openly say, "I am perfectly competent and well qualified for many jobs, and I know from experience that I could get one next week if I wanted. In fact I just received an offer, which I rejected. I do not WANT to work, and I won't," even Europe will not continue offering you support.
Counterexample: pensioners. (And yes, I can be quite sure that some of them are both able & qualified to work, because a non-negligible number of them do work.)
I agree with the normative statement that pensioners who pay in are "entitled to get something out", but it's a new claim. My comment, like the bit of entirelyuseless's comment to which it responded, was about an empirical claim.
Pensioners have paid into the system, though.
The fact remains that there is a big group of people in Europe who can, in fact, claim government cash even if they declare that they have worked, and could work, but just don't want to work. Insofar as entirelyuseless's general point was that someone has to work to keep an economy going, that point is well taken, but the empirical claim about Europe is materially false.
(And, regarding the more general argument, if there were a basic income, the vast majority of people claiming it would likewise have paid into the system, through general taxation. So the fact of paying in doesn't do a very good job of distinguishing a BI from a pension scheme.)
Yes, it's a Ponzi scheme
How so? To my mind, a defining property of a Ponzi scheme is that it's fraudulent, deceptive (or at least opaque) about where it finds the money that it disburses. But — in my European country, anyway — the government publishes annual accounts for its pension fund, which are, as far as I know, uncooked books. Check 'em out.
Most people are worried about cost of UBI. It seems like you're more worried about reduced incentive to work. How about this system then. No UBI, but anyone can ask the government for a "reasonable job" (livable wage, not too far from home, compatible with health situation) and receive welfare until a "reasonable job" is offered to them. How to find the job, and whether it's public or private, is up to the government. Any disputes like "I took the job and then quit because it wasn't reasonable" get resolved in court.
I think not all cases of redistribution deserve to be called slavery. In particular basic income isn't necessarily slavery because it can be financed by things like unimproved land rent, which should never have been private to begin with (see this picture). That ties in with the Soviet use of the slogan, which was partly aimed at royalty and landed nobility who only 50 years before could literally own people.
More generally wealth depends on work and luck which are usually hard to disentangle, but some examples of luck are very pure and it seems like a no-brainer to spread them around. Diminishing marginal utility of money shows that if a piece of luck falls from the sky, it's better to share it with poor people than give it to one rich person. For example the government should auction off the right to search for oil and pump it, and use the proceeds for UBI, instead of giving dibs to the children of whoever owned the land before internal combustion was invented. That kind of approach can yield a surprisingly huge amount of money.
Going back to the original topic, I think a big part of the market's recursive dynamics is also pretty much luck. My preferred solution is to carefully find ways to redistribute luck, while still rewarding effort. It's not easy, but neither is being poor under the current system.
It also happens when you have stuff to sell, but the folks who would normally buy it from you can't pay you enough to survive today, because they don't have anything to sell,
It seems unlikely that you would have a skillset which allows you to produce valuable stuff only for poor people, but you wouldn't be able to produce valuable stuff for anyone else.
Okay, thinking hard, I can make up some situations like that, for example that you are a skiled translator into some kind of indigenous language, where all speakers of the language are too poor to actually pay you for the translations (even if they would like reading them a lot). Or that your services are limited to your local area, e.g. you can provide accommodation for people, but there are only poor people living in that area, and zero tourists.
and the problem can start randomly and build on itself
Something like... million people living on an island, where most of them can provide some valuable service to their neighbors (but not to anyone outside the island), but some critical skill is missing on the whole island... like, all of them are genius teachers or movie producers, but none of them can grow food... so they are all going to starve, despite being so skilled that an average inhabitant of the island would be a rich person if they would be teleported into our society?
In short term, this certainly can happen, especially if the situation can change overnight. Like, yesterday, there were hundred specialized food producers, but by miracle, all of them were killed by a lightning during the night. To make it sound more likely, all of them were at the same place (the annual food-producer conference), and something exploded there and killed them all.
But... I don't see how any other economical system would deal with the fact that, no matter how you distribute the money, there is not going to be any food in the island anyway. With free market, at least now all professors and movie producers see the opportunity to become millionaires overnight if they succeed to reinvent e.g. the lost art of picking fruit. Even if they would be great movie producers, but quite lousy fruit pickers.
(Actually, such situation would be made worse by an unfree market, for example if the government of the island would insist that the wannabe professor-becoming-fruit-picker is legally not allowed to pick fruit because he doesn't have a diploma from Fruit Picking University; and any attempt to illegally do the job he is not qualified for would get him arrested.)
Now, let's assume that the island actually is okay, able to grow its own food, etc. It's just that the money flow happens to be hopelessly unidirectional. No one outside the island wants to buy anything from the island. (Let's suppose they are not interested in your stuff, and you can't gain customers even for trying to sell really cheaply, because the costs of ship fuel will still make everything more expensive than anyone is willing to pay for.) On the other hand, people on the island sometimes buy something from the outside, e.g. because they cannot produce their own iPhones. Thus, money only ever goes out of the island, but never in. The island is constantly losing its global PageRank, ahem, money reserve. What happens now?
If I understand it correctly, the standard market outcome will be that -- assuming the island uses its own currency -- the exchange rate will gradually approach "1 out-of-island currency = infinity island currency". The people on the island will stop being able to buy stuff from outside, because it will become astronomically expensive for them.
Yet, within the island, people will be able to sell to each other, because both sides will pay using island currency. And there will be things to sell, for example the locally grown food. No one will be able to buy iPhones anymore, and that sucks, but the island will still be not worse than if the rest of the world would simply stop existing.
And if someone comes from the outside, and uses their infinitely valuable out-of-island money to buy the local food, then the assumption of unidirectional flow of money is no longer true; we now have money flow in both directions.
Etc, economics 101.
However, one possible solution for "people who have nothing to sell" is generally known as Basic Income. Not universally accepted, of course, but it is a way to make sure everyone can buy stuff, at the cost of doing relatively small damage to the economy. By relatively small I mean, of course entrepreneurs will complain about higher tax rate, but as far as I know, they usually complain much more about regulation, bureaucracy, or unpredictability; and Basic Income doesn't create a lot of these compared with the usual government interventions.
Essentially, Basic Income + market profit seems like a plausible approximation of our model of terminal + instrumental value, when we assign approximately the same terminal value to each human (expressed as Basic Income), and more instrumental value to people doing useful stuff to others (express as the market profit).
But the situation is not as bad as you make it out. Most people do have something they can sell (even if they have little or no wealth) - their labor - i.e. they can get a job. In fact, the majority of people (in the US, anyway) get by mostly by their salary or wages - they sell their labor to their employer. So, a person with no wealth today need not be a person with no wealth tomorrow.
When it becomes harder to get jobs, people will just try harder, because the alternative is bad. So employment isn't a good indicator, it might be stable until a point and then break down completely. A better indicator is how much people have to pay for jobs, and that's rising fast, as you can see from requirements on college degrees etc.
I think you have to back up a step in your idea of "value". What makes the loaf worth $1 if you sell it for $0.99? Why isn't it worth $1M (to a theoretical starving rich person) and you're giving away HUGE amounts? Why isn't it worth $0.10 and the buyers gave you $890 in charity?
A thing's value is relative - different to every participant. And the relative values are only known (actually, not - they're bounded above by the seller and below by the buyer) by the transaction.
You should be very surprised if you think you have found a new counterexample to a centuries-old discipline that comes from a millennia-old example. Odds are there is an existing literature addressing exactly that question.
An easy way to think of it is to just look at the physical stuff. What do you mean by 'provide value'. Like, not terminology games or whatever, but what do you think of when you say that? Do those people get paid? That's an easier question than whether 'the market rewards' them.
I often feel like upvotes on LW correspond more to the "insightfulness" of a post, rather than its perceived instrumental value. Unsure how I feel about this because if I'm relying on upvotes as a social incentive to write things, this shapes what I write in directions that might not be directly useful (IMO) to the most people.
Short answer is that I think insight porn can put people on hedonic treadmills that optimize for things which don't easily cash out in the real world and neglect to consider basic, object-level advice even if they're not currently doing it.
Oftentimes, what you really need is some way of getting yourself to just do the obvious things, by means of metacontrarian arguments or otherwise.
The problem with basic, object-level advice is that has to be specific to a particular person and a particular situation. There are not that many generic universal solutions applicable to all and sundry -- in most cases, "it depends".
It is useful to give people tools, but it also is useful to give people insights which will allow them to make and modify tools of their own.
However, I do think that most insight based posts are also fairly specific (i.e. not super generalizable).
Also, maybe I'm on the denser end here, but it took me a long time to make the connection between taking insights and finding ways to adapt them to things that would help me. I'm thinking that articles which explicitly harp on this might be useful.
If you are trying to help the most people then the odds that the right thing to do is 'post on a website that nobody reads' is pretty slim. Like, once you are in the 'posting on LW' space, then you are pretty clearly not trying to maximize how much other people get out of your time. Just do what you like.
Is there some nice game-theoretic solution that deals with the 'free rider problem', in the sense of making everyone pay in proportion to their honest valuation? Like how Vickery Auctions reveal honest prices, or Sperner's lemma can help with envy-free rent division?
Can you give an operational definition (or concrete example) of the free rider 'problem'? There are a couple of different things that you might not like about the phenomenon, and I'm not sure exactly which is the problem you're concerned about.
Exclusion is the most common "solution" (auctions and "fair" divisions being specific allocation mechanisms within that). Don't let "free riders" actually ride, and there's no problem.
Exclusion isn't always socially appropriate. If I take a cab home everyday (which I pay for), and a friend can literally take a free ride because her place is on the way, should I "exclude" her if she doesn't want to share the cost? She claims it doesn't cost me extra, I'd be paying for the cab anyway if she lived somewhere else.
But of course I can come up with un-excludable externalities:
I share a house that's in pretty bad shape, and I decide to get some fresh painting done. This is a net benefit to all the housemates, but we would value them differently. I want this slightly more than all the others. So I have to pay the entire amount.
Sure, that's why I asked you to describe what the "problem" you want to address is. Free stuff isn't a problem for recipients. Some providers consider it a problem, but IMO it's usually a different problem than they think.
The cab driver may be sad that they didn't get revenue from the second rider, and consider that to be a big problem. Your housemates may not consider old paint a problem, and almost certainly don't consider free paint to be a problem. You or your housemates may or may not consider jealousy or bad feelings about "fairness" to be problems.
See also: kickstarter - everyone pledges what they want, nobody pays unless the funding minimum is met.
For your side of the painting problem (you want new paint, and suspect your housemates do too, but you're not willing to pay for the whole thing), auction design can likely work. If you demand equality, it's easy - everyone agrees to pay their share or the painting doesn't happen. If you don't, then everyone secretly writes down the amount they're willing to pay, and if the pot covers the painting, do it. Any extra gets refunded proportionally (or spent on better paint).
I guess it's worth mentioning one common "solution": extortion/taxation. Threaten to punish people who don't pay what you think they owe. Usually combined with opacity and not telling anyone exactly how their payments are spent.
This is not really a solution though, because it's not incentive compatible. There's nothing to ensure that the extortionist will spend the money on providing the desired goods, and attempts at creating such incentives must ultimately fail for the same underlying reasons as the original problem. (This is of course assuming no excludability - if a club owner can ban some members from her club and invite others to join for a fee, she is incented to manage the club to the members' benefit, for standard Coasian reasons!)
It's a solution for the extortionist, and that's who is experiencing free riding as a problem.
Threatening your housemates that you'll replace them if they don't pony up for painting or threatening jail if a resident doesn't pay taxes could be done by bad actors (and IMO often is), but that's only a difference in purpose, not in activity. Extortion is, by it's very nature, incentive-compatible with collecting revenue: its only aim is to provide incentive for the freeloaders to pay.
I suspect the answer is "not in general, unless you're willing to pump extra money into the payment-extracting mechanism". Depending on how generally you define "free rider problem", at least some examples of the problem are likely to be captured by Holmström's theorem: a system which pays each member of a team to to provide inputs to produce output can't balance its budget (exactly split the output's value among the team members), be self-enforcing, and Pareto efficient.
I think your fresh paint example is susceptible to Holmströmean logic. Suppose you've found a painter who's willing to do an amount of painting proportional to the money they're given; you're willing to pay for $40 worth of painting but your two housemates would only pay for $20 worth of painting. If you propose to either housemate that you pay $20 to the painter while the housemates pay $10 each, the housemate will (assuming they act as homo economicus spherical cows) notice that if they don't pay anything, $30 of painting will still get done, more than the $20 they wanted in the first place. So they won't pay anything, as you expected.
I've watched Stuart Russel's TED talk on AI risk, and my gut reaction to it was "do you want to be paperclips? this is how you become paperclips!". It goes completely against the grain of the view that has been expressed on this blog as of few years ago. But, then again, AI is hard, and there might be some recent developments that I have missed. What is the current state of the research? What does EY and his camarilla think about the state of the problem as of now?
I'm searching for a quote. It goes something like this:
"In nearly every contest there comes a point where one competitor has decided that they are going to lose. Sometimes it's near the end; sometimes it's right at the start. After that point, everything they do will be aimed at bringing that result to pass."
And then continues in that vein for a bit. I don't have the wording close enough to correct for Google to get me what I'm looking for, though. And I could swear I've seen it quoted here before. Does someone else remember the source?
Except in a very few matches, usually with world-class performers, there is a point in every match (and in some cases it's right at the beginning) when the loser decides he's going to lose. And after that, everything he does will be aimed at providing an explanation of why he will have lost. He may throw himself at the ball (so he will be able to say he's done his best against a superior opponent). He may dispute calls (so he will be able to say he's been robbed). He may swear at himself and throw his racket (so he can say it was apparent all along he wasn't in top form). His energies go not into winning but into producing an explanation, an excuse, a justification for losing.
The last bigger Windows update left my computer without a driver for the GPU. Hardware acceleration on websites like https://human.biodigital.com/index.html didn't work. Unfortunately, it took a few months notice the specific problem. I installed the open source tool Snappy Driver Installer and it fixed the issue. It also installed proper drivers for other hardware.
Think about all the regrets and bad things that have happened to you, that you don't know about – the time you dropped money or missed out on a life changing opportunity or mistakes you have made that never got your attention. You probably don't or won't because you don't feel much for things that you don't know that happened to you. So it is possible to feel no emotion about negative things. You have the power to hold no opinion about things, you just need to cultivate it. Regret is much like fear, you have come to your fate by dreading your fate.
I would suggest reinterpretation of those memories into what they did for you or how you learnt to act differently in similar circumstances. Gain value from your experiences. If you would do nothing different then you own your mistakes and accept the consequences without regret.