Comment by benquo on Privacy · 2019-03-17T06:59:16.532Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me like you changed the subject halfway through your comment, from systemic to marginal effects. I’m on the record as having very different opinions about the two.

Your description of the crux seems too extreme to me, but I do think it’s pretty likely - and certainly not obviously false as Zvi seems to think - that in a world without privacy, nasty power structures would pay a heavy price.

Comment by benquo on Privacy · 2019-03-17T06:56:29.425Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW


Comment by benquo on Blackmailers are privateers in the war on hypocrisy · 2019-03-16T00:27:13.742Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you, fixed

Comment by benquo on Privacy · 2019-03-16T00:22:53.320Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, if you literally just mean it increases variance & risk, that’s true in the very short term. In context it sounded to me like a policy argument against doing so, but on reflection it’s easy to read you as meaning the more reasonable thing. Thank you for explaining.

Comment by benquo on Privacy · 2019-03-16T00:20:27.517Z · score: 20 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don’t think the 100% tax rate argument works, for several reasons:

  • 100% is not the short-run maximum extraction rate (Cf “Laffer Curve,” which is explicitly short-term).
  • USGOVT is not really an agent here, some extractors taking all they can are subjectvto the top marginal tax rate & reallocating to themselves using subtler mechanisms like monetary policy and financial regulation (and deregulation, cyclically), boondoggles, other regulatory capture...
  • If you count other extraction points such as credentialism + high college tuition + need-based financial aid (mostly involving loans), hospital bills, lifetime extraction rate may be a lot higher.
Comment by benquo on Privacy · 2019-03-16T00:09:45.763Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Your notion of trust seems like it’s conflation of two opposite things meant by the word.

The first relates to coordination towards clarity, a norm of using info to improve the commons. The second is about covering for each other in an environment where information is mainly used to extract things from others.


Comment by benquo on Privacy · 2019-03-16T00:08:18.264Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like a general argument that providing evidence without trying to control the conclusions others draw is bad because it leads to errors. It doesn’t seem to take into account the cost of reduced info glow or the possibility that the gatekeeper might also introduce errors. That’s before we even consider self-serving bias!


TLDR: I literally do not understand how to interpret your comment as NOT a general endorsement of fraud and implicit declaration of intent to engage in it.

Comment by benquo on Blackmailers are privateers in the war on hypocrisy · 2019-03-15T05:23:48.915Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Right now people covertly getting away with unobjectionable stuff are making it easy to punish honest people who do the thing openly. Plausible that the former should in fact pay costs for their complicity. The addendum to this Overcoming Bias post seems relevant:

OK, maybe there are three main types: 1) abstainers – those who don’t want promiscuity, 2) stoners – those who do want promiscuity, are willing to admit it, and use drugs to help get it, and 3) cheaters – those who want promiscuity, but aren’t willing to admit it, don’t use drugs to get it, and compete with stoners for partners. Groups 1&3 together support anti-drug laws, while groups 2&3 together keep punishments of promiscuity weak.

Comment by benquo on Blackmailers are privateers in the war on hypocrisy · 2019-03-15T05:17:40.611Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Seems like the implication is "would damage [in a just world]" vs "will damage [in our actual world]."

Blackmailers are privateers in the war on hypocrisy

2019-03-14T08:13:12.824Z · score: 22 (16 votes)
Comment by benquo on You Have About Five Words · 2019-03-14T07:33:09.385Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

14 is still half an order of magnitude above 5, and I don't think neo-Nazis are particularly close to the most complex coordination thousands of people can achieve with a standardized set of words.

Comment by benquo on Blegg Mode · 2019-03-13T16:52:06.333Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
But it seems to me -- though perhaps I'm just being dim -- that the only possibly way to appreciate that P was Zack's epistemological point is to be aware not only of the political (not-very-sub) subtext of the article (which, you'll recall, is the thing I originally said it was wrong not to mention) but also of the context where people were addressing that specific political issue in what Zack considers a too-subjective way.

That's not actually an important part of the content of Zack's article. It is only relevant in the context of your claim that Zack was responding to a very different specific thing not directly referenced in his article. I am not saying that the fact that you were wrong means that the true cause should have been obvious. I am saying that the fact that you were wrong should make you doubt that you were obviously right.

If people's models have a specific glitch, laying out what the undamaged version ought to look like is legitimate, and shouldn't have to exist solely in reference to the specific instance of the glitch. Truth doesn't have to make reference to error to be true - it just has to match reality.

Comment by benquo on Blegg Mode · 2019-03-13T16:48:37.407Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
I still think it's clear that Zack's main purpose in writing the article was to promote a particular object-level position on the political question.

Why would you think that? Why would this post be a remotely effective way to do that? Why is that even a plausible thing Zack's trying to do here? Can you point to an example of someone who was actually persuaded?

I feel like I've done way too much work explaining my position here and you haven't really explained the reasoning behind yours.

Comment by benquo on You Have About Five Words · 2019-03-13T16:46:58.394Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A productive thing to do here would be to try to reconcile the claim that a large number of people can't reasonably be expected to read more than a few words, and the claim that something like EA or Rationalism is possible at anything like the current scale. These are in obvious tension.

Another claim to reconcile with yours would be a claim that there's anything like law going on, or really anything other than gang warfare.

Comment by benquo on "AlphaStar: Mastering the Real-Time Strategy Game StarCraft II", DeepMind [won 10 of 11 games against human pros] · 2019-03-13T15:47:50.984Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This was definitely not initially obvious to everyone, and I expect many people still have the impression that the victories were not due to unfair AI advantages. I think you should double crux with Raemon on how many words people can be expected to read.

Comment by benquo on You Have About Five Words · 2019-03-13T15:31:46.560Z · score: 36 (8 votes) · LW · GW

You're massively underestimating the upper bound.

I've interacted a bunch recently with members of a group of about 2 million people who recite a 245-word creed twice daily, and assemble weekly to read from an 80,000 word text such that the whole text gets read annually. This is nowhere near a complete accounting of engagement with verbal canon within the group. Each of these practices is preceded and followed by an additional standardized text of substantial length, and many people study full-time a much larger canonical text claiming to interpret the core text.

They also engage in behavior patterns that, while they don't necessarily reflect detailed engagement by each person with the content of the core text, do reflect a lot of fine-grained responsiveness to the larger interpretive canon.

You might be closer for what can be done very quickly (within a single generation) under current conditions. But a political movement plenty of people are newly worried about which likely has thousands of members has a 14-word creed.

Comment by benquo on Blegg Mode · 2019-03-13T15:16:46.709Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Gonna try a point-by-point version in case that's clearer.

It isn’t clear to me what this error is meant to be. If it’s something like “thinking that there must be a definite objectively-correct division of all things into bleggs and rubes” then I agree that it’s an error but it’s an error already thoroughly covered by EY’s and SA’s posts linked to in the article itself, and in any case it doesn’t seem to me that the article is mostly concerned with making that point; rather, it presupposes it.

I know from conversations elsewhere that Zack is responding to the opposite error - the claim that because the usual rule for separating Bleggs from Rubes is pragmatically motivated, it has no implications for edge cases. If you're making wrong guesses about what political position Zack is taking, you should really reconsider your claim that it's obvious what his political position is. This needs to be generalized, because it's obnoxious to have to bring in completely extraneous info about motives in order to figure out whether a post like this is political. Bothering to explain this at all feels a bit like giving in to extortion, and the fact that I expect this explanation to be necessary is a further update against continued substantive engagement on Lesswrong.

In any case, it seems to me that the main point of the linked article is not to correct some epistemic error, but to propose a particular position on the political issue it’s alluding to, and that most of the details of its allegory are chosen specifically to support that aim. [...] Constructing a hypothetical situation designed to match your view of a politically contentious question and drawing readers’ attention to that matchup is not “depoliticized” in any useful sense.

This seems like a proposal to cede an untenable amount of conversation territory. If a controversial political position becomes associated with a particular epistemic error, then discussing that specific error becomes off-limits here, or at least needs to be deprecated as political. I don't know what that results in, but it's not a Rationalist community.

I do in fact think that Zack’s purpose in posting the article here is probably at least in part to promote the political position for which the article is arguing, and that if that isn’t so—if Zack’s intention was simply to draw our attention to a well-executed bit of epistemology—then it is likely that Zack finds it well-executed partly because of finding it politically congenial. In that sense, I do think it’s probably a “political act”.

A clear implication of Something to Protect is that people can't be Rationalists unless getting the right answer has some practical importance to them.

The rest of your comment seems to be making a substantially wrong guess about Zack's position on gender in a way that - to me, since I know something about Zack's position - is pretty strong evidence that Zack succeeded in stripping out the accidental specifics and focusing on the core epistemic question. The standard you're actually holding Zack to is one where if you - perhaps knowing already that he has some thoughts on gender - can project a vaguely related politically motivated argument onto his post, then it's disingenuous to say it's nonpolitical.

Comment by benquo on Blegg Mode · 2019-03-13T15:01:38.362Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for trying. I have limited time and got a sense for where we seem to have split from each other about halfway through your comment so I'll mainly respond to that. You brought up a bunch of stuff very specific to gender issues that I don't think is relevant in the second half.

There's an underlying situation in which Zack made some arguments elsewhere about gender stuff, and prominent people in the Rationalist community responded with an argument along the lines of "since categories are in the map, not in the territory, there's no point in saying one categorization is more natural than another, we might as well just pick ones that don't hurt people's feelings."

These people are claiming a position on epistemology that Zack thinks is substantially mistaken. Zack is faced with a choice. Either they're giving a politically motivated anti-epistemology in order to shut down the conversation and not because they believe it - or they're making a mistake.

If we take the argument literally, it's worth correcting regardless of one's specific opinions on gender identity.

If we all know that such arguments aren't meant to be taken literally, but are instead meant to push one side of a particular political debate in that context, then arguing against it is actually just the political act of pushing back.

But part of how bad faith arguments work is that they fool some people into thinking they're good-faith arguments. Even if YOU know that people don't mean what they say in this case, they wouldn't say it unless SOMEONE was likely to be honestly mistaken.

"You're doing too much politics here" is not a helpful critique. It doesn't give Zack enough information to get clued in if he's not already, and leaves the key controversial premise unstated. If your actual position is, "come on, Zack, everyone on this site knows that people aren't making this mistake honestly, posts like this one by Scott are mindkilled politics and engaging with them lowers the quality of discourse here," then you need to actually say that.

Personally, I DON'T see people behaving as though it were common knowledge that people claiming to be making this mistake are actually just lying. And if we write off people like Scott we might as well just close down the whole project of having a big Rationalist community on the internet.

It's offensive to me that there's even a question about this.

Comment by benquo on Blegg Mode · 2019-03-12T20:05:30.297Z · score: 24 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I downvoted bc the description is disingenuous only if it’s common knowledge that the Rationalist project is so doomed that an attempt to correct a politically motivated epistemic error via an otherwise entirely depoliticized fictional example in a specifically Rationalist space is construed as a political act.

Fine to argue that this is the case (thus contributing to actual common knowledge), but insinuating it seems like a sketchy way of making it so.

Comment by benquo on "AlphaStar: Mastering the Real-Time Strategy Game StarCraft II", DeepMind [won 10 of 11 games against human pros] · 2019-03-05T02:04:35.764Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like you’re talking about fairness in a way that isn’t responsive to Rekrul’s substantive point, which was about whether the test was unevenly favoring the AI on abilities like extremely high APM, unrelated to what we’d intuitively consider thinking, not about whether the test was generally uninformative.

Comment by benquo on Personalized Medicine For Real · 2019-03-05T01:53:59.214Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Simply use marketing to get them to be more standard practice at hospitals and doctors offices.

A lot of money is spent on pharmaceutical and medical device marketing, and it’s a crowded field. Occasionally someone who’s already very high profile like Atul Gawande can successfully promote things like the idea of having checklists at all, but in a substantial share of cases these quickly become distorted by hospital internal politics.

Comment by benquo on Knowing I’m Being Tricked is Barely Enough · 2019-02-27T02:34:36.731Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Related: Out to Get You

Comment by benquo on Knowing I’m Being Tricked is Barely Enough · 2019-02-27T02:25:04.049Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I can be intentionally obtuse about lots of things without it really getting me anywhere.

Comment by benquo on Knowing I’m Being Tricked is Barely Enough · 2019-02-27T02:24:43.467Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Overall, this comment seems to be insinuating that because it's hard to tell when you're being tricked, it's bad to call this a trick. But people trying to trick others have a strong incentive to make the trick look like something else that is not a trick. So, unless we just want to give up on noticing when we're being tricked, we're going to have to look at the hard cases.

Comment by benquo on Knowing I’m Being Tricked is Barely Enough · 2019-02-27T02:16:01.515Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Oh, also you paid $100 for NOTHING. The real "trick" here is convincing you to pay anything at all for limited permission to use a mathematical construct (sequence of bits).

What's the relevance of this point? How is this more of a trick than selling land, or the combination numbers to open a safe containing some valuable object? Information is the foundation of all property arrangements - and pretty much all other coordination too.

Comment by benquo on Decelerating: laser vs gun vs rocket · 2019-02-19T14:02:07.633Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The qualitative explanation of the rocket equation here is very clear!

Comment by benquo on Masculine Virtues · 2019-01-31T13:19:12.759Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Woke capitalism is silly but it gives Gillette customers what they want, which all you can expect of a corporation.

Comment by benquo on "AlphaStar: Mastering the Real-Time Strategy Game StarCraft II", DeepMind [won 10 of 11 games against human pros] · 2019-01-31T13:01:03.229Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can’t think of any good reason for them to decide to be intentionally deceptive in this way.

They’ve received a bunch of favorable publicity as a result.

Comment by benquo on "AlphaStar: Mastering the Real-Time Strategy Game StarCraft II", DeepMind [won 10 of 11 games against human pros] · 2019-01-31T12:58:59.534Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That excuse is incompatible with the excuse that they thought the APM limit was fair. Either they thought it was a fair test at the time of publicizing, or they got so excited about even passing an unfair test that they wanted to share it, but not both.

Comment by benquo on Masculine Virtues · 2019-01-30T23:29:11.320Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It gives consumers what they'll pay for, not what they want.

Comment by benquo on The Relationship Between Hierarchy and Wealth · 2019-01-23T03:58:05.284Z · score: 8 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This post is really great and I hope it leads to further inquiry on this topic.

One thing that didn’t quite make sense to me:

If you’re a rich family, a son is a “safe” outcome — he’ll inherit your wealth, and your grandchildren through him will be provided for, no matter whom he marries. A daughter, on the other hand, is a risk. You’ll have to pay a dowry when she marries, and if she marries “down” her children will be poorer than you are — and at the very top of the social pyramid, there’s nowhere to marry but down. This means that you have an incentive to avoid having daughters, and if you do have daughters, you’ll be very anxious to avoid them making a bad match, which means lots of chastity-enforcement practices. You’ll also invest more in your sons than daughters in general, because your grandchildren through your sons will have a better chance in life than your grandchildren through your daughters.

The situation reverses if you’re a poor family. Your sons are pretty much screwed; they can’t marry into money (since women don’t inherit.) Your daughters, on the other hand, have a chance to marry up. So your grandchildren through your daughters have better chances than your grandchildren through your sons, and you should invest more resources in your sons than your daughters. Moreover, you might not be able to afford restrictive practices that cripple your daughters’ ability to work for a living. To some extent, sexism is a luxury good.

At first I thought, couldn’t you hack this with sufficiently large dowries? If one of your daughters seems like a better bet to produce quality grandchildren than any of your sons, you could just give her a dowry corresponding to most of your household wealth.

Then I realized that I was assuming a modern financialized paradigm which often didn’t hold. Possibly dowries have to be in cash and you don’t have liquidity. Possibly you could in principle make the family business the dowry, but women effectively can’t run the family business so you’d be transferring it to her husband. Possibly if gendered power imbalances are big enough, you don’t want to lose leverage over your son-in-law by making him richer than you, since he might then mistreat your daughter or simply redistribute some of his new wealth to illegitimate offspring.

On the other hand, medieval and early modern elite European Jewish culture seems like an interesting exception to the rule that patrilineal societies favor men more at higher levels. There’s a pattern where the best scholars often marry wealthy men’s daughters for the dowry and inheritance.

I think this is the result of a hybridization where the wealth hierarchy was largely independent of the scholarly prestige hierarchy, which depended more on pure individual merit than most prestige-allocation mechanisms. Definitely poor young men could become respected scholars and marry up in that circumstance. Monogamy probably also made the prospects of poor young women a bit worse, at least in relative terms.

It might also have to do with the fact that there was a matrilineal component to Jewish succession, but I’m not sure.

Comment by benquo on Stale air / high CO2 may decrease your cognitive function · 2019-01-22T21:14:22.178Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Comment by benquo on Do the best ideas float to the top? · 2019-01-22T17:51:56.818Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Optimizing for Stories seems like an exploration of a strongly related topic, and it would be nice to get the OP’s perspective on it.

Comment by benquo on In Defense of Finance · 2019-01-21T11:58:28.995Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Is there any kind of reasoning process like "this institution has many other creditors so it is unlikely that I will get nothing in case of default?"

Yes, and this sort of behavior creates Too Big To Fail dynamics, which break the connection between long-run financial success and producing things people want more than the cost of production.

Comment by benquo on Some Thoughts on My Psychiatry Practice · 2019-01-20T15:21:33.121Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think there's a "different worlds" thing going on here that might be impeding communication. My experience of people suggesting that maybe I'm depressed is that they think I'm misguided in focusing on changing the underlying conditions of my life or trying to figure out what's wrong. Maybe this is a deep depression vs moderate/mild depression thing.

It makes sense to me that someone in the condition you're describing would benefit a lot from taking a pill to free up mental space. But, people I know very well have been prescribed pills to alter their mood without anyone checking whether their mental condition was anything like what you described.

Comment by benquo on Some Thoughts on My Psychiatry Practice · 2019-01-18T11:48:31.226Z · score: 7 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like my life would get a lot better if I had a list of these things, so I could reflect on them and see whether I actually like them.

Comment by benquo on Some Thoughts on My Psychiatry Practice · 2019-01-17T16:59:09.578Z · score: 19 (9 votes) · LW · GW

This is pretty much what The Last Psychiatrist is about. Nearly all his late blogging is a combination of:
(1) Poor people are assigned disability status and drugged to stop them from rioting because their lives are shitty and society doesn't want to (or perhaps can't) spend the resources necessary to fix the problem.
(2) The rest of us have been raised to be narcissists in a way that would have been genuinely exceptional a couple of generations ago, and are desperate to have our narratives affirmed by someone else with the right to pass judgment.

Comment by benquo on Book Recommendations: An Everyone Culture and Moral Mazes · 2019-01-13T16:01:47.196Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This seems to elide an important reason for withholding information: power imbalances. I think this is part of what Said is getting at. Except for somewhat equal partnerships or other genuinely nonhierarchical arrangements, I’d expect disclosing this sort of info to be used to extract more from me, and not to help me.

Comment by benquo on Optimizing for Stories (vs Optimizing Reality) · 2019-01-08T16:57:55.601Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What is a story?

It seems like it's a sort of compression optimized for human brains. Some elements of a story:

  • Components tend to be agents with intelligible social motives, or stereotyped roles; we have a bunch of specialized capacity for social modeling, which means that we can store information more efficiently if it fits that paradigm.
  • Components are "causally" linked. Because of causal linkage, stories tend to unfold unidirectionally over time. Stories are not lists of things that exist simultaneously, though they do require object permanence to understand; elements in a story tend to get reused. Once you understand a story, you can infer fuzzy or forgotten parts from the parts you know. Chekhov's Gun inference works in both directions.
Comment by benquo on Optimizing for Stories (vs Optimizing Reality) · 2019-01-07T20:10:12.953Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don’t understand how this post makes that mistake - what’s an example of something Ruby said that’s inconsistent with this?

Comment by benquo on Optimizing for Stories (vs Optimizing Reality) · 2019-01-07T20:08:45.762Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like a good explanation of the dynamic underlying “skin in the game” considerations. If you care about literally achieving the stated goal, you should strongly prefer stories from contexts where a story’s prominence has more to do with its entanglement with reality than with marketability.

Comment by benquo on Sunscreen. When? Why? Why not? · 2018-12-30T09:29:59.471Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That seems like a reason not to make a recommendation until someone trusted has done a proper lit review, not a reason to make an affirmative recommendation based on an old consensus with momentum behind it despite the glaringly obvious cultural and incentive problems that make the consensus likely to ignore new evidence.

Comment by benquo on Sunscreen. When? Why? Why not? · 2018-12-28T17:53:19.213Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

So, social proof?

Comment by benquo on In what ways are holidays good? · 2018-12-28T13:41:37.064Z · score: 18 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm going to use the word "vacation," because it isn't overloaded with the meaning of "holy day," and you seem not to be asking about the latter.

Civilized working people spend a lot of time doing routine tasks, and don't do a lot of learning or encountering new things or places, relative to the ancestral environment. We also tend to stay indoors or otherwise in environments unlike the ones we evolved to enjoy.

People often feel better when they leave their usual place, and go somewhere they can experience either a lot of novelty (being in a new place and seeing lots of new things and people) or a place that would have been especially advantageous (and therefore pleasant) in the ancestral environment (e.g. mountains, hills overlooking rivers, seashores). Since most people cannot afford to run a household while doing this, they do it at short stretches. This is called a vacation (or "going on holiday").

Visiting family is another thing people tend to do in short intense bursts like that, as we tend to live much farther from family than we would have been in premodern societies.

Going somewhere to see or do a specific thing that's of affirmative interest (e.g. pilgrimage) can be very different, though it's often a pretext for a vacation (e.g. Canterbury Tales).

Comment by benquo on Sunscreen. When? Why? Why not? · 2018-12-28T01:17:13.273Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why shouldn't I believe Slate Star Codex's argument?

Comment by benquo on Sunscreen. When? Why? Why not? · 2018-12-28T01:16:48.473Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But what about this?

Comment by benquo on Act of Charity · 2018-12-24T00:53:43.583Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Singer also recommends charities like the GW top charities, specifically mentions GiveWell approvingly, does cost-benefit analyses that ignore social & physical infrastructure, etc. These are also things Singer is saying.

Comment by benquo on Boundaries enable positive material-informational feedback loops · 2018-12-23T17:26:42.352Z · score: 37 (8 votes) · LW · GW

This points at a thing that's been bothering me for a while in the discourse around economics.

Often there are specific concepts or models worth learning from a discipline. For instance, comparative advantage and asymmetric information are important, but not all that complicated and hard to understand, and once you understand them you can apply them in new circumstances without holding onto the formalism that professionals fit them into.

In much rarer cases, an entire disciplinary framework is worth preserving. Physics in the Newtonian paradigm (by which I mean to include most of 20th Century physics as well) is an example - you can't really understand "momentum" or "energy" except in relation to a much larger mathematized framework, which has a huge amount of descriptive, explanatory, and predictive power.

My sense of economics is that many concepts are important, but the frameworks are systematically obscuring a lot of what's important to see. A lot of what I tried to do with Talents and There is a war was explain a bunch of stuff I'd learned from reading widely about economics, in nonideological terms that would help the reader apply patterns economists know about to concrete situations without providing anything pretending to be a comprehensive framework, and without claiming the mantle of what I consider spurious intellectual authority.

Most comments I see of the type "you should engage more with economics" don't really seem to be thinking about costs clearly, which does not exactly reflect well on the discipline. In particular, it doesn't seem like "economists have thought about this stuff a lot and made some progress" tells us much about whether the framework of economics is worth the time learning. The Roman Catholic Church has thought about moral and political philosophy a bunch, but while I might recommend someone read Augustine or some other Catholic writer to learn some particular insights or models that I think are relevant to their interests, I wouldn't think of suggesting they engage with the Catholic framework rather than starting over. The same with academic research psychology. Why should I think better of academic economics?

The burden of evidence is a lot lower for recommendations like "this specific book or paper by an economist contains models that I expect would make this substantially clearer or more complete" or "this subfield of economics has standard arguments against your position that I'd need a clear response to in order to accept your model."

There's another reason to engage with a field, which is to contribute to the field - i.e. they might want to learn what someone has to say, but be unable to engage with it if it doesn't speak their language. But almost no one seems to be saying this.

Comment by benquo on Act of Charity · 2018-12-23T17:08:31.898Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

EAs say they don't care about overhead per se and just care about outcomes, but public-facing recommenders like GiveWell and CEA keep recommending charities with low overhead relative to programmatic spending, such as AMF and GiveDirectly, rather than charities that do the sort of hard-to-account-for institution-building which low-overhead charities depend on.

EAs are good at explaining why you shouldn't do what they're (we're?) doing. That's different than actually doing the right thing.

Comment by benquo on In Defense of Finance · 2018-12-20T20:19:15.534Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is the main problem. And for domains like finance that concentrate wealth a lot (enabling capture of the political decisionmaking system), the system has to be designed extremely well to avoid runaway alignment problems.

Comment by benquo on In Defense of Finance · 2018-12-20T17:00:21.013Z · score: 18 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see why I should expect real costs to be lower here.

In cases where there are real savings, it's usually pretty easy to point to the kinds of resources being saved. Efficiency gains in real goods, such as just-in-time supply chains, allow for less warehousing of goods, which means we don't need to make as much stuff, in order to have stuff when we need it. I think the burden of proof here is on the claim that the financial savings in financial engineering correspond to real savings on net.

This kind of financial engineering allows banks to do something closer to just-in-time lending, reserving less against losses - the effect should be similar to lowering reserve requirements for banks. But with a managed fiat currency, it doesn't cost any real resources to warehouse money, so there are accounting savings due to MBS but no less actual stuff being moved around and consumed or people employed per house financed.

In a world that's exogenously liquidity-constrained, financial engineering on MBS creates liquidity, which can be very good. IIRC the original MBS were a US government backed program to achieve specific policy goals (government-guaranteed assets for banks to hold, more liquidity in the housing market) without massive overt subsidies. In a highly regulated banking industry with a fiat currency like the current US (and to a lesser extent global) system, it's not obvious that arbitraging slight inefficiencies there via financial engineering solved any real problem, while it very clearly created systemic risk.

Insofar as there are real rather than just nominal savings here, they're lower transaction costs for consumers and risk-pooling for investors, at the expense of reducing skin in the game, offloading to the US government the tasks of oversight and maintaining the underlying trust that lets the system work. These costs aren't accounted for financially, and offloading them to an entity that has little in the way of short-run competition and gets little short-run feedback on whether it's doing a good job seems likely to erode the relevant institutions in the long run.

I'm not saying we should never take advantage of economies of scale. I'm saying that if participation in large-scale activities is massively subsidized e.g. by the state, it's not clear that the financial savings from increasing dependence on that system are meaningful.

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2018-09-26T20:39:25.017Z · score: 21 (8 votes)

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2018-09-20T15:19:08.185Z · score: 20 (19 votes)

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2018-08-27T00:12:14.076Z · score: 73 (42 votes)

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2018-05-24T06:44:36.197Z · score: 52 (24 votes)


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2017-10-25T03:30:01.029Z · score: 26 (9 votes)

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2017-10-18T09:10:00.882Z · score: 28 (9 votes)

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2017-10-17T09:10:01.023Z · score: 67 (20 votes)

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2017-09-27T07:49:40.482Z · score: 77 (46 votes)

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2017-09-26T07:00:28.116Z · score: 61 (31 votes)

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2017-05-01T01:28:58.345Z · score: 13 (14 votes)

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2017-04-26T05:12:29.199Z · score: 6 (8 votes)

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2017-04-21T18:37:49.111Z · score: 70 (51 votes)

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2017-04-19T09:05:04.032Z · score: 5 (6 votes)

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2017-04-03T19:07:51.773Z · score: 18 (20 votes)

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2017-03-31T21:12:12.718Z · score: 13 (12 votes)

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2017-03-29T17:53:20.967Z · score: 3 (4 votes)

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2017-03-15T23:32:30.000Z · score: 1 (2 votes)

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2017-03-15T13:19:05.357Z · score: 19 (19 votes)

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2017-03-13T17:06:53.672Z · score: 1 (2 votes)

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2017-02-27T19:04:37.578Z · score: 2 (3 votes)

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2017-02-24T21:41:52.144Z · score: 1 (2 votes)

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2017-02-05T17:26:41.469Z · score: 4 (5 votes)

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2017-01-17T08:08:54.873Z · score: 4 (5 votes)

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2017-01-11T22:31:01.597Z · score: 13 (13 votes)

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2017-01-04T20:55:54.675Z · score: 4 (5 votes)

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2016-12-27T20:49:26.371Z · score: 14 (15 votes)

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2016-12-20T17:04:32.309Z · score: 13 (14 votes)

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2016-12-13T21:34:04.708Z · score: 9 (10 votes)

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2016-12-10T07:06:30.264Z · score: 34 (34 votes)

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2016-11-20T21:04:54.972Z · score: 21 (22 votes)

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