[Link] Noam Chomsky Killed Aaron Schwartz 2013-01-16T16:31:43.221Z · score: -6 (70 votes)
[Link] "An OKCupid Profile of a Rationalist" 2012-11-14T01:48:17.569Z · score: -19 (53 votes)


Comment by athrelon on Cognitive Biases due to a Narcissistic Parent, Illustrated by HPMOR Quotations · 2014-05-26T04:29:47.258Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Good! I'm pleased to see an example of LW going meta on itself in this vein.

As an extension, note that there's a well-established pattern by which people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder tend to attract (and be attracted to) people with Borderline Personality Disorder. An evocative line from The Last Psychiatrist:

The narcissist creates an identity, then tries to force everyone else to buy into it. The borderline waits to meet someone, and then constructs a personality suitable to that person....

The narcissist thrives with the borderline because she provides for him the validation that he is, in fact, the lead; the borderline thrives with the narcissist because he defines her. And, as she will tell you every single time, without fail: "you don't know him like I do." Everyone else judges his behavior; but the borderline is judging his version of himself that she has accepted."

I'd invite folks to consider what it would look like if a few "intellectual narcissists" attracted a following of "intellectual borderlines," in particular what the individuals' personalities would look like in Near, and what the memetics of that community would look like.

Comment by athrelon on Find a study partner - March 2014 thread · 2014-03-03T13:59:58.259Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am learning HTML/JS and frontend development more generally, initially using Bootstrap as my tutor. I'm starting with a generic familiarity with Natlab/Python but no prior web dev experience.

Comment by athrelon on Open Thread, November 23-30, 2013 · 2013-11-27T16:48:29.165Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In fact, Einstein was pretty politically active and influential, largely as a socialist, pacifist, and mild Zionist.

Comment by athrelon on Help the Brain Preservation Foundation · 2013-11-13T14:07:50.672Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your work, Aureliem.

Comment by athrelon on Open Thread, September 30 - October 6, 2013 · 2013-10-06T15:41:52.424Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is true; however keeping a website running is still very, very cheap compared to almost anything else the government does, including functions that are continuing as usual during the shutdown.

If web apps are too high maintenance, that does not explain the shutdown of government Twitters (example:, which went to the extra effort of posting that "we won't be tweeting 'cause shutdown.") I note with amusement however that the Health and Human Services Twitter is alive and well and tweeting about the ACA.

Comment by athrelon on Think Like a Supervillain · 2013-03-03T13:48:27.165Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect the TV show may end up reducing, if not the scope, at least the emotional empact of the harmful fallout of her anti-slavery actions. Pop culture tends not to play well with values dissonance. It is known.

Comment by athrelon on Call for discussion: Signalling and/vs. accomplishment · 2013-02-24T14:33:58.509Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW, the person who is low status because of not doing the useless status-enhancing thing, are going to try to expropriate status from the high-status useless people? Let me know how that goes!

Comment by athrelon on Call for discussion: Signalling and/vs. accomplishment · 2013-02-23T19:08:08.989Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

The question is how correlated signalling is with actually valuable activities. Healthy societies have institutions that try to correlate social rewards with pro-social behavior; capitalism and academia are both examples of institutions that try to tie value-creation with changes in social status. However, no linkage is perfect and all signalling behaviors can be hacked to some degree. So you end up with an academia where grant-finagling and publication, in at least some fields, are largely divorced from producing meritorious work. Likewise PUA is an attempt to hack both social-skills modules and cultural rules that award status based on behavioral traits. Much of the inefficiencies around healthcare can be seen as an attempt to hack the current regulations and payment systems rather than address the preventing and curing of disease that the systems were intended to incentivize.

Yet despite this, some institutions succeed fairly well at making the linkage stick. Capitalism seems to have done it pretty well, although it certainly does fray at the edges. Informal reputation-tracking works pretty well in maintaining small-group prosociality, at least compared to anonymity. In fact examine pretty much anywhere where useful work gets done, and you'll see mechanisms to tie status-seeking to virtue and productivity (however defined).

Where possible, when people notice the divergence between signalling and the "true purpose" of institutions, they tend to optimize for signalling. The health of a culture or institution, and the value of a signalling norm, is how well they can tie selfish signalling interests with the goals (prosocial or otherwise) of the institution.

Note: it's helpful to actually have a shared notion of what-should-be-valued and an intuition that some institutions and customs are preferable than others; else it's not even possible to have that conversation.

Comment by athrelon on Tutoring Small Groups of Children (for money) · 2013-02-21T16:24:57.786Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for trying to impart useful, compounding knowledge, even when selling opium is almost certainly more lucrative in a middle-class neighborhood.

Comment by athrelon on LW Women: LW Online · 2013-02-15T16:15:03.852Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Then why is it that this difference, out of the many dimensions of differences that form up humankind, and the multitude of interest-group formation patterns that could have been generated, is the one that gets so much attention? It would be bizarre if an unbiased deliberation process systematically decides that one unremarkable axis (gender) is the one difference that should be discussed at great length and with very vigorous champions, while ignoring all of the other axes of diversity of human minds.

Now it is possible for one unremarkable axis to become overwhelmingly dominant in coalition formation, but that would involve some fairly unpleasant implications about the truth-seekiness and utilitarian consequences of this sort of thinking.

Comment by athrelon on Politics Discussion Thread February 2013 · 2013-02-11T18:09:22.140Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed that status is part of the explanation, and the recent devaluing of parenting effort vs. job effort is certainly contributory.

I'm not sure how to weigh your statement that jobs are now "easy and pleasant" (certainly they're physically less demanding and safer than in the past) with the prevalence of chronic stress and so on. Certainly your millionaire example is weak evidence that jobs are some combination of fun and statusful, though it has the same status-quo caveats as people thinking of the upside of death. Also note the great stress and unhappiness coming from being laid off or otherwise unemployed, even among well-off people with adequate savings.

But notice also that past aristocrats were able to amuse themselves perfectly well without what we now recognize as a job, with some combination of socializing and deep immersion in hobbies. We have many people now with similar levels of wealth, yet they don't tend to evolve in that direction. Status, rather than fun, seems to be the more important factor here.

Another thought is that perhaps work has become more gameified than in the past through the same evolutionary pattern that produces superstimulus foods. This is much more possible in office work than in for example agriculture where the pattern of tasks is set by uncaring nature at a very deep level.

Comment by athrelon on [Link] False memories of fabricated political events · 2013-02-10T22:59:20.705Z · score: 44 (48 votes) · LW · GW

I seem to remember a study demonstrating that my political opponents are particularly vulnerable to this bias.

Comment by athrelon on [SEQ RERUN] Investing for the Long Slump · 2013-02-10T19:50:04.229Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Important question considering the popularity of the Great Stagnation hypothesis. Current answers include pay down debt and investing in human capital, which is pretty vague unfortunately. Anyone have better ideas?

Comment by athrelon on Politics Discussion Thread February 2013 · 2013-02-09T23:34:35.094Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What's going on with fertility?

My comments on a Marginal Revolution post that linked to this Der Spiegel article about the ROI of different forms of fertility subsidies. (As of 2010, German fertility rates were 1.39 despite sizeable subsidies for family formation.)

Reshuffled my comments to make for easier contiguous reading:

What I take away from the German article is that people REALLY don’t want to get married – or rather, [people really don't want to] avoid single parenthood. Thus bribing them to have two-parent households is really expensive. If you want to increase your birthrate, the argument goes, subsidizing single motherhood + work instead has a better ROI because that’s what people want to do anyway.

Let that sink in for a moment. Somehow, in the last few generations, the traditional family model that people have been eagerly perpetuating for centuries has suddenly become incredibly unappealing. People don’t want to get get married, and women in an incredibly wealthy country would rather add a little additional income rather than spend time raising their children. (Whatever happened to diminishing marginal utility of money?)

There’s good evidence that kids were never a good economic bet, only less-negative than they were today. (As a thought experiment, why not hire labor when you need it?) And the ancients had reasonably good birth control, and were willing to use it if they really wanted to: see here. So if the ancients did want to avoid having kids…maybe they couldn’t avoid having them altogether, but they could have leaned very strongly towards having fewer and later kids, and we’d see historical evidence of that preference. That is not the case.

Us vs. them may explain a little but it doesn’t seem to be the most useful theory here. I’d think more along the lines of superstimuli. Children of pretty physically fit ancestors become obese when they get a nutritional superstimulus – like a candy bar – that tastes more sweet than real food could possibly be.

Some form of cultural-status superstimulus is suddenly making career jockeying more appealing than family for both sexes. (Imagine a peasant saying “yeah, I could have kids, but I’d want to work hard until I’m 35 and get a few more oxen like the neighbors before I want to take that step, you know?”) Similarly, for women, somehow “doing mostly boring office work” has become more appealing than “doing sometimes boring childcare work” despite the fact that, again, we know that a little extra income in rich countries doesn’t actually produce much happiness.

Conservatives need to realize that the cultural ground has mysteriously shifted under their feet and they’re up against a huge, evolutionary novel change in social attitudes and that a handful of measly tax breaks is a ridiculously underpowered tool to prevent it. Liberals need to realize that something really powerful and strange is going on and that in the long run, there's no reason to believe that these forces are necessarily friendly to the liberal – or the human – project.

Comment by athrelon on [Link] Noam Chomsky Killed Aaron Schwartz · 2013-01-16T18:00:21.160Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

To claim that the activists were strong is pretty absurd. The activists failed for approximately a century, in a regime that did a very good job of returning to the status quo ante bellum, died repeatedly while I don't recall hearing of very many KKKers ever dying, and a partial victory at some point in some small town shows that they're 'strong'?...And then there's the selection biases here; how many activists do you ever hear of? How many movements? As all analyses of power acknowledge, there's a lot of chance & variation involved...

Certainly flukes happen. But they are flukes. If activists were weak, their victories would be isolated and of short duration, quickly reverted.

If I go into a casino and take a gander at the roulette wheel, I may win a few rounds by chance, but the trend towards the house winning will continue. But if I lose some rounds, win one spin, and keep on winning thereafter, then something funny is going on. Or maybe I own the casino.

Comment by athrelon on [Link] Noam Chomsky Killed Aaron Schwartz · 2013-01-16T17:51:05.620Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

In theory, little. In practice, compared to mainstream realpolitik, it's applied to domestic not international politics, and shows a greater appreciation for social and cultural power rather than quantifiable economic and military power.

Comment by athrelon on [Link] Noam Chomsky Killed Aaron Schwartz · 2013-01-16T17:01:56.435Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

That Communism would have fizzled in 1500 is a fact about the strength of non-Communist structures in the Middle Ages. That Communism succeeded in 1917 is a fact about the strength of pro- vs. anti-Communist structures at that time. Strength changes over time; that does not negate the fact that strength (probabilistically) determines victory.

Comment by athrelon on Politics Discussion Thread December 2012 · 2012-12-13T18:40:44.862Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What do those experiments mean specifically?

Seconded. Does this mean PUA or does it have a more long-term element?

Comment by athrelon on [Link] Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection: An Experimental Study · 2012-12-03T02:49:20.960Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Anyone doing well in life is a rationalist in the sense we use it on LW?

Comment by athrelon on [Link] Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection: An Experimental Study · 2012-12-02T15:54:26.350Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In other words, smart, reflective people are better at using those smarts and reflections to play monkey political games, maybe one meta-level up.

Of course, playing politics well is important to effectiveness in real life. Learning about rationality might make you a worse rationalist, but it probably helps you win at life, including if your goal is to, say, promote a movement that is positively correlated with rationality.

Comment by athrelon on LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance · 2012-11-28T17:58:07.915Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Apply Bayes to making decisions in real life, in ways that the cool people don't? That idea will never fly on LessWrong!

Comment by athrelon on LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance · 2012-11-26T16:37:35.881Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, but this was less the case at the time the poll was made (the community has been growing in the meantime) and it was also not clear that this would be a Main as opposed to Discussion post. So that has to be factored into the probabilities.

Comment by athrelon on LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance · 2012-11-26T14:07:18.404Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a male LWer with an infant daughter. I'd like to request some specific advice on avoiding the common failure modes.

Don't take your parenting approach from ideology, because it's not optimized for being a reflection of reality. (Extreme example here)

Comment by athrelon on LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance · 2012-11-26T13:44:13.320Z · score: 6 (16 votes) · LW · GW


The “Anonymous Narratives by LW Women” thread will receive >100 comments,

The “Anonymous Narratives by LW Women” thread will receive >500 comments

Consider this easy-to-predict eventuality as an indictment of how incredibly ineffective and mindkilled LessWrong is about sex, for obviously ideological reasons (though we may disagree about which side it is that is mindkilled).

Comment by athrelon on Giving What We Can, 80,000 Hours, and Meta-Charity · 2012-11-21T14:58:02.160Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

glances at thread

Econ is the mind-killer.

Comment by athrelon on Why is Mencius Moldbug so popular on Less Wrong? [Answer: He's not.] · 2012-11-17T19:26:13.516Z · score: 24 (19 votes) · LW · GW

I don't even think they're particularly vocal. I can recall like two loud Moldbuggians: Konk and Vlad_M, who is inactive and doesn't even mention Moldbug by name, to my knowledge.

I think it looks like these Moldbuggians are active because a lot of Moldbuggianism is deconstructing assumptions about how politics works. So there's a lot of mainstream ideological assumptions that aren't seen as ideological at all by most people (democracy is good, the media is an observer not a participant in government, etc) yet are seen as incorrect and/or political claims by Moldbuggians. So then Moldbuggians say things like "wait now, democracy isn't all that great" and it looks like they suddenly injected Moldbuggery in a non-politics thread, when they see it as just adding another comment on an existing politics thread.

Comment by athrelon on Prediction: Autism Rate will Stop Increasing · 2012-11-17T14:28:19.834Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would certainly expect that the category "bad effects of lifestyle changes favored by highly educated researchers" would be understudied, relative to studying the nasty effects of poor-folks culture.

Comment by athrelon on [Link] "An OKCupid Profile of a Rationalist" · 2012-11-14T15:06:37.269Z · score: -15 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Finally, I noticed when I first read this that the article gave me the squicks. In trying to compare the feeling to a known quantity, I realized it was analogous to when my religious parents would scandalously tell me of a couple who are "shacking up".

Very good, then raise your right hand and repeat after me: "I hold the right to conduct sexual activities in any way without being judged to be a sacred value. I will gladly condemn [not merely oppose; "squick" is a stronger emotional reaction than that] anyone who criticizes, explicitly or implicitly, any expression of voluntary sexuality. This sacred value overrides any consequentialist concern for actually producing more effective rationalists."

Comment by athrelon on [Link] "An OKCupid Profile of a Rationalist" · 2012-11-14T03:44:01.164Z · score: -3 (15 votes) · LW · GW

There appear to be two major strains of response to this post:

  1. There is no PR disadvantage to having an OKCupid profile like this
  2. To the extent that there is such a tradeoff, the freedom to broadcast sexual weirdness is a deontological good ("can't we just let him date in peace?") and weighing it against institutional effectiveness is a taboo tradeoff.

The first response seems a case of wishful thinking - as though by believing really hardthat others share our local values, and outgroupping those who disagree with us, we could make it a PR positive.

The second is exactly analogous to an anti-abortion activist who opposes teaching birth control. It's not incoherent, really, but it does demonstrate that we place a higher value on loud sexual weirdness than our nominal goals, at this margin.

Comment by athrelon on [Link] "An OKCupid Profile of a Rationalist" · 2012-11-14T02:58:59.455Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

And let's certainly give credit where it's due, he handled the responses in the thread as well as could be expected under the circumstances - with deflecting humor rather than hurt anger.

Comment by athrelon on Open Thread, November 1-15, 2012 · 2012-11-08T21:12:11.171Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, the billionaire class may be interesting but naturally I don't know much about it and at any rate it's mostly unattainable. The Ferris-style folks may be more interesting.

Another place to look is ethnic diasporas, but I don't really see a strong trend of ethnic ties superseding national ones. The incentives for success usually favor cultural assimilation over maintaining ethnic ties. (The aside one exception is Jews, who have some fairly unique history favoring cohesion).

Comment by athrelon on Open Thread, November 1-15, 2012 · 2012-11-08T15:33:21.734Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

yet I'm also a young no income white male and seeing some deeply disturbing kinds of language among the cool set with regards referring to my demographic. Seems pretty stage three-ish by Stanton's scale.

Would you mind sharing some of this evidence so we can assess its significance, Bayes style?

Minorities that do well economically end up targets of irrational hate. The memetic core for scapegoating for various problems that will only grow worse is clearly there and unlikely to be opposed strongly by any institution I'm aware of.

From an American point of view, money seems to be really helpful in terms of insulating yourself from bad consequences. Are there the Slovenian equivalents of gated communities where you're safely away from inner city war zones and so on, for a small price? It seems that market dominance is a net positive not a negative, especially if class lines are hardening.

I'm thinking to teach my children & grandchildren to not be too attached to any particular country and be ready to move at the drop of a hat. Maybe even try to set up a viable subculture around that.

That is my plan as well. This Atlantic article may give some ideas of how to pull it off. But do note the tradeoffs - cultural integration is hard and pretty much requires lifelong residence to learn the culture well enough to get the benefits of being considered an ingroup member. Gaining mobility means being considered an outsider and yes this means significant penalties even in "tolerant" liberal democracies. (This may be mitigated if a clade of transient elites actually takes off, with its own ingroup dynamics and everything - but I sense some internal contradictions within that idea.)

Comment by athrelon on Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity · 2012-11-06T12:04:28.765Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Of course you're technically correct. There are, and have been, terrible arguments for monarchy advanced in the past. But today, democracy is the high-status mode of governance, and so the terrible arguments generated by motivated cognition, such as this OP, are in favor of democracy, not monarchy.

Worrying about bad arguments for monarchy now is like someone worrying about bad arguments for evolution in a creationist school board meeting. Yes it could potentially be a problem, but this over-concern is hardly our biggest problem right now and is very likely itself generated by motivated cognition.

Comment by athrelon on Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity · 2012-11-06T01:55:33.565Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

"You know, given human nature, if you lived in a country in which there was democracy, pretty soon someone would try to sound deep by inventing reasons that voting was a good thing. But if you lived in a universe in which democracy wasn't the high-status mode of governance, and asked them if they wanted it, with all its attendant consequences, they would say no. It would never occur to them to invent all the clever rationalizations that someone resigned to democracy would devise."

Comment by athrelon on Economy gossip open thread · 2012-10-28T16:29:17.217Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I am not convinced that this is morally superior to selling opium. This depends critically on how much use the marginal student actually gets out of English.

Now SAT tutoring, that is certainly morally inferior to selling opium. (Inferior, not equal, for obvious utility reasons.)

Comment by athrelon on [Link] Epigenetics · 2012-10-28T15:59:53.036Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, there's a pattern where people latch onto a poorly-understood term as a curiosity-stopper around controversial disciplines. This is not to say that there aren't sophisticated critiques of mainstream perspectives, but most people who use the 201 arguments don't even understand 101 yet; they're just "warding off evil facts," as Cochran puts it.

Example: Economics - "Non-efficient markets!"

Comment by athrelon on Equality and natalism · 2012-10-24T17:01:13.527Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That's actually a really fascinating observation. Why is it okay to tell groups of people "You should delay childbearing by several years" but not okay to tell them "You should have fewer children"?

I wonder if this is because in near-mode, people model themselves as immortal, so sacrificing a few years is just consmuption-shifting and not an actual opportunity cost.

Comment by athrelon on Equality and natalism · 2012-10-24T16:30:16.612Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Eugenics wasn't considered crazy during its first wave of popularity.

And given that it was associated with the single biggest evil that modern society acknowledges - indeed, the only thing you can straight-facedly call "evil" without seeming really old-fashioned and unsophisticated, wouldn't it make sense that modern culture, having extirpated the offending government root and branch, would then proceed to salt the surrounding memetic ground within a 200 mile radius?

Heck, we now even have "creepy" associations with large well-coordinated military style ceremonies, something that every other country in the world did at the time.

Comment by athrelon on Equality and natalism · 2012-10-24T16:26:14.633Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that's a good data point as well: people grumble but don't resist - kind of like how we treat the TSA.

Maybe our strong instincts are against regulation of sex, rather than childbearing. The two were tightly coupled in ancient times so we wouldn't need redundant intuitions.

I also rather like the alternative hypothesis of "Rich Western cultures are freaking insane."

Comment by athrelon on Equality and natalism · 2012-10-24T16:08:36.234Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

You know, I was going to reply that obviously the answer is that people don't like intervention in evolutionarily ancient processes like who to marry and how many kids to have. Then I remembered that eugenics was hugely popular in the early 1900s, with only the "backwards, ignorant" Church railing against the "progressive, scientific" idea. This suggests that humans are willing to accept such intervention, at least to a similar extent to which they accept wealth redistribution ("I'll do it if I get to tell other people how to do it, too.")

I wonder if the backlash against eugenics means we've permanently poisoned the well with regards to mating and childbirth intervention, from a baseline where we were actually fairly okay with it.

Comment by athrelon on Skill: The Map is Not the Territory · 2012-10-08T11:49:24.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Having more free time" and "being more stubborn" shouldn't win arguments, but they do in real life where arguments are mostly about status, so we translate the status dynamics online.

Comment by athrelon on Skill: The Map is Not the Territory · 2012-10-08T11:36:19.615Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I prefer to feel in ways that reflect the world around me. As long as I also think this sort of thing is an attack, feeling that way is in accord with that preference whether it makes me happier or not. As long as I don't care to occupy a pushover role where I make myself okay with whatever happens to be going on

In any normal social context it would be reasonable to assume that this an overconfident statement deliberately made without caveats in order to enhance bargaining power. Which is fine - humans are selfish.

This being LW where there's a good chance that this was intended literally - this sort of rigidity was exactly why "learning how to lose" is a skill.

Comment by athrelon on Skill: The Map is Not the Territory · 2012-10-08T00:14:11.169Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I do in fact feel attacked by the suggestion that huge swaths of things valuable to me are worthless and ought to be done away with!

Unless you enjoy being outraged at a low threshold by something outside your control, this is a trait that you should be dissatisfied with and attempt to modify, not something to be stated as immovable fact. I, note however, that acting like that trait is an immovable fact makes for more favorable status dynamics and a better emotion-bargaining position...

Comment by athrelon on Open Thread, October 1-15, 2012 · 2012-10-05T22:25:12.492Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Most arguments against incest are arguments where the bottom line is already written since they are made by people who just don't want to admit they are plain grossed out by it.

The most common intelligent argument I've seen against incest is "power imbalance!" which in the case of your news story looks like a case of the noncentral fallacy.

Comment by athrelon on Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012 · 2012-10-05T22:16:06.122Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, it looks like you're right that there were significant investment opportunities even with BC technology, unlike what I assumed. We can quibble over whether these investment opportunities were "deep" or one-offs, but it seems reasonable that irrigating farms is something you can invest a lot in before hitting diminishing returns.

This is still a strange phenomenon: on one hand you have potential investments with high rates of return, even with risk adjustments - yet market interest rates were very high, showing few people were willing to make those investments. Clark's argument is that this demonstrates low ability to delay gratification among the ancients.

This being the case, although there evidently were opportunities for loans to be put to good investment purposes, it looks like there was a strong psychological impulse to blow it on consumption - maybe comparable to the behavior of the Western poor today. It is still plausible that restricting moneylending was good policy if the good borrowing:bad borrowing ratio was unfavorable enough.

Comment by athrelon on Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012 · 2012-10-05T16:33:25.559Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Per Gregory Clark in A Farewell to Alms, the ancients had noticeably less future time-orientation than modern people. Furthermore, there were relatively few ways to make profitable investments - it's not as though a farmer could take loans out to buy a tractor.

In that context, lending is more akin to drug dealing than responsible investing. It hooks in people with poor self-control who will spend it on consumption not investment. So the logical thing to do is to crack down on the practice. Yes there are some responsible users who lose out, but that's far outweighed by the benefit to those who'd end up in debtor's prison after blowing the cash on one glorious drunken weekend.

I mean, we as a civilization still have a problem with payday loans.

Comment by athrelon on [Link] The real end of science · 2012-10-03T20:22:24.611Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, the decline of science-as-an-institution isn't just marked by overt cheating. A safer and arguably more prevalent method is to game the publication system (ie by aligning your beliefs and professional contacts with powerful factions of reviewers), crank out many unrevealing publications, and make small contributions to hot fields rather than large ones in fields that are less likely to get you tenure.

Overall we'd see a lower signal-to-noise ratio in science, but this is hard to quantify. It's tough to call a discipline diseased until decades afterwards.

Comment by athrelon on [Link] The real end of science · 2012-10-03T20:17:59.421Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is there a reason to believe we've got 3-10x better at detecting fraud in the past decade?

Comment by athrelon on [Link] The real end of science · 2012-10-03T20:16:22.933Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Robbing things in general has consequences - but it's harder to detect the robbery of social trust than the robbery of a sofa.

Comment by athrelon on [Link] The real end of science · 2012-10-03T18:46:36.523Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Robbing the social commons has consequences.