Posts

Can crimes be discussed literally? 2020-03-22T20:17:05.545Z · score: 72 (31 votes)
When to Reverse Quarantine and Other COVID-19 Considerations 2020-03-10T16:37:41.717Z · score: 47 (15 votes)
Simulacra and Subjectivity 2020-03-05T16:25:10.430Z · score: 76 (24 votes)
REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find 2020-01-31T18:07:05.348Z · score: 21 (10 votes)
Approval Extraction Advertised as Production 2019-12-15T14:51:44.878Z · score: 85 (39 votes)
Judgment, Punishment, and the Information-Suppression Field 2019-11-06T17:44:38.908Z · score: 20 (13 votes)
Blatant lies are the best kind! 2019-07-03T20:45:56.948Z · score: 24 (14 votes)
Reason isn't magic 2019-06-18T04:04:58.390Z · score: 117 (41 votes)
Drowning children are rare 2019-05-28T19:27:12.548Z · score: 16 (46 votes)
A War of Ants and Grasshoppers 2019-05-22T05:57:37.236Z · score: 17 (5 votes)
Towards optimal play as Villager in a mixed game 2019-05-07T05:29:50.826Z · score: 46 (13 votes)
Hierarchy and wings 2019-05-06T18:39:43.607Z · score: 26 (11 votes)
Blame games 2019-05-06T02:38:12.868Z · score: 44 (10 votes)
Should Effective Altruism be at war with North Korea? 2019-05-05T01:50:15.218Z · score: 15 (13 votes)
Totalitarian ethical systems 2019-05-03T19:35:28.800Z · score: 36 (12 votes)
Authoritarian Empiricism 2019-05-03T19:34:18.549Z · score: 40 (13 votes)
Excerpts from a larger discussion about simulacra 2019-04-10T21:27:40.700Z · score: 52 (18 votes)
Blackmailers are privateers in the war on hypocrisy 2019-03-14T08:13:12.824Z · score: 24 (17 votes)
Moral differences in mediocristan 2018-09-26T20:39:25.017Z · score: 21 (8 votes)
Against the barbell strategy 2018-09-20T15:19:08.185Z · score: 21 (20 votes)
Interpretive Labor 2018-09-05T18:36:49.566Z · score: 28 (16 votes)
Zetetic explanation 2018-08-27T00:12:14.076Z · score: 79 (43 votes)
Model-building and scapegoating 2018-07-27T16:02:46.333Z · score: 23 (7 votes)
Culture, interpretive labor, and tidying one's room 2018-07-26T20:59:52.227Z · score: 29 (13 votes)
There is a war. 2018-05-24T06:44:36.197Z · score: 69 (28 votes)
Talents 2018-05-18T20:30:01.179Z · score: 48 (13 votes)
Oops Prize update 2018-04-20T09:10:00.873Z · score: 42 (9 votes)
Humans need places 2018-04-19T19:50:01.931Z · score: 113 (28 votes)
Kidneys, trade, sacredness, and space travel 2018-03-01T05:20:01.457Z · score: 51 (13 votes)
What strange and ancient things might we find beneath the ice? 2018-01-15T10:10:01.010Z · score: 32 (12 votes)
Explicit content 2017-12-02T00:00:00.946Z · score: 14 (8 votes)
Cash transfers are not necessarily wealth transfers 2017-12-01T10:10:01.038Z · score: 111 (43 votes)
Nightmare of the Perfectly Principled 2017-11-02T09:10:00.979Z · score: 32 (8 votes)
Poets are intelligence assets 2017-10-25T03:30:01.029Z · score: 26 (9 votes)
Seeding a productive culture: a working hypothesis 2017-10-18T09:10:00.882Z · score: 28 (9 votes)
Defense against discourse 2017-10-17T09:10:01.023Z · score: 64 (21 votes)
On the construction of beacons 2017-10-16T09:10:00.866Z · score: 58 (18 votes)
Sabbath hard and go home 2017-09-27T07:49:40.482Z · score: 91 (51 votes)
Why I am not a Quaker (even though it often seems as though I should be) 2017-09-26T07:00:28.116Z · score: 62 (32 votes)
Bad intent is a disposition, not a feeling 2017-05-01T01:28:58.345Z · score: 12 (15 votes)
Actors and scribes, words and deeds 2017-04-26T05:12:29.199Z · score: 26 (11 votes)
Effective altruism is self-recommending 2017-04-21T18:37:49.111Z · score: 72 (53 votes)
An OpenAI board seat is surprisingly expensive 2017-04-19T09:05:04.032Z · score: 5 (6 votes)
OpenAI makes humanity less safe 2017-04-03T19:07:51.773Z · score: 22 (22 votes)
Against responsibility 2017-03-31T21:12:12.718Z · score: 13 (12 votes)
Dominance, care, and social touch 2017-03-29T17:53:20.967Z · score: 3 (4 votes)
The D-Squared Digest One Minute MBA – Avoiding Projects Pursued By Morons 101 2017-03-19T18:48:55.856Z · score: 1 (2 votes)
Threat erosion 2017-03-15T23:32:30.000Z · score: 1 (2 votes)
Sufficiently sincere confirmation bias is indistinguishable from science 2017-03-15T13:19:05.357Z · score: 19 (19 votes)
Bindings and assurances 2017-03-13T17:06:53.672Z · score: 1 (2 votes)

Comments

Comment by benquo on How About a Remote Variolation Study? · 2020-04-03T15:46:52.871Z · score: 24 (14 votes) · LW · GW

A crisis with massive blatant institutional failure seems like exactly the time for courage and the willingness to do things that might get one in trouble, if they're the right thing to do.

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-03-22T19:03:45.846Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You've given a lot of details specifically about Madagascar, but not actually responded to the substantive argument in the post. What global picture does this correspond to, under which the $5k per life saved figure is still true and meaningful? I don't see how the existence of somewhere for which no lives can be saved for $5k makes that claim any more plausible.

Comment by benquo on When to Reverse Quarantine and Other COVID-19 Considerations · 2020-03-11T21:40:59.398Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How did you estimate "Likelihood of secondary long-term effects when getting it" and "Average badness of secondary long-term effects"?

Comment by benquo on What should be my triggers for initiating self quarantine re: Corona virus · 2020-03-11T15:38:51.712Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When to Reverse Quarantine

Comment by benquo on Simulacra and Subjectivity · 2020-03-11T15:03:45.568Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Someone at level 1 is going to take longer to learn how to get along in a level 3 or 4 environment than a level 3 or 4 player, but is capable of knowing about them, while people who are level 3/4 players at core can't really know about anything. They can acquire know-how by doing, but not know-about, insofar as their language is nonepistemic.

Comment by benquo on Simulacra and Subjectivity · 2020-03-11T15:00:17.503Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Does this mean I’m simultaneously at different levels for different purposes?

There's an important difference between:

(1) Participating in fictions or pseudorepresentative communication (i.e. bullshit) while being explicitly aware of it (at least potentially, like if someone asked you whether it meant anything you'd give an unconfused answer). This is a sort of reflective, rational-postmodernist level 1.

(2) Adjusting your story for nonepistemic reasons but feeling compelled to rationalize them in a consistent way, which makes your nonepistemic narratives sticky, and contaminates your models of what's going on. This is what Rao calls clueless in The Gervais Principle.

(3) Acting from a fundamentally social metaphysics like a level 3/4 player, willing to generate sophisticated "logical" rationales where convenient, but not constraining your actions based on your story. This is what cluster thinking cashes out as, as far as I can tell.

Comment by benquo on Simulacra and Subjectivity · 2020-03-11T14:50:06.972Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Level 1 (referential, or epistemic): Generating a business plan and financial projections as an integral part of the process by which you decide whether your startup is worth trying.

Level 2 (lying): Publicizing a business plan you don't expect to carry out, to obscure your secret plan to pivot to something that would undercut existing power, so they don't crush you immediately.

Level 3 (relating): Coming up with a business plan so you feel like a Real Business, and feel less impostor anxiety, and then feeling a need to rationalize whatever future decisions you make as somehow Part of the Plan.

Level 4 (magical): Coming up with a business plan and financial projections because that's something venture capitalists want, and no one thinks that anyone else cares whether the plan is literally true or even possible, it's just one of the theatrical hoops you gotta jump through for the vibe to feel right.

Comment by benquo on When to Reverse Quarantine and Other COVID-19 Considerations · 2020-03-11T12:55:17.999Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How dangerous is that assumption? What multiple of the impact from death is the impact from disability? How different a decision would that imply?

Comment by benquo on When to Reverse Quarantine and Other COVID-19 Considerations · 2020-03-11T12:53:58.115Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Heard it from someone I can't remember on Twitter, and then gave myself a (minor) copper cut.

Comment by benquo on When to Reverse Quarantine and Other COVID-19 Considerations · 2020-03-10T19:56:29.055Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Also, reverse-quarantining doesn't just benefit you, it also benefits the people who you might infect if you get the disease, and the person whose hospital bed you might be taking if you get the disease. I don't know what these numbers are but they should probably figure into your calculation.

I wanted to start with something very simple to avoid decision paralysis, but you're right that there are flow-through / flatten-the-curve benefits. I've added a note clarifying that while this consideration matters, I haven't counted it.

Comment by benquo on When to Reverse Quarantine and Other COVID-19 Considerations · 2020-03-10T19:42:20.963Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Have you looked into whether cinchona is really an acceptable substitute for chloroquine?

Nope! The epistemic status there is something like "rumor from a pretty sensible and curious friend." Definitely not a substitute for any other measure, and highly speculative. Edited to clarify (and link to your comment).

Comment by benquo on Simulacra and Subjectivity · 2020-03-05T22:44:03.374Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Level 1, objectivity, is trying to describe the territory accurately.

Comment by Benquo on [deleted post] 2020-02-17T23:39:08.033Z

That Kipling poem has always felt really creepy to me, and this post feels creepy in a related way; if doing normal stuff seems bad, maybe the normal stuff is in fact bad? For instance, wars. At least one side and likely more have to be actively making things worse, even if many of them are able to spend normal-to-them days doing normal-to-them activities, often doing lots of direct physical work, staying motivated, and having difficulty understanding the point of view of conscientious objectors who may seem unusually upset, and may in fact end up with worse life outcomes.

Related: http://benjaminrosshoffman.com/there-is-a-war/

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-17T16:18:27.290Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is too nonspecific to be meaningful; it brings up potential complicating factors without trying to put together any specific quantitative scenario in which they might have the suggested effect. Please no more like this.

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-17T16:05:37.592Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That isn't an answer at all.

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-17T16:04:37.219Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As you point out, you're making entirely nonspecific claims. This is a waste of everyone's time; please stop doing so here.

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-13T15:08:49.707Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn’t at all follow from “there is an enormous amount of good to be done at a rate of $5k per life-equivalent” that there are nice conclusive experiments like reducing malaria deaths to zero in one country for one year and measuring the cost. Many malaria deaths in a given year may be from infections in earlier years; even if a large fraction of malaria can be prevented at $5k per life-equivalent, the marginal cost will surely increase a lot as you get to the hardest cases; eliminating all malaria deaths somehere will probably require multiple different kinds of intervention, and any given organization has expertise only in a subset of them, and coordination is hard.

It would be helpful if you actually described the specific quantitative scenario you have in mind here, instead of simply asserting that one exists. What proportion of malaria deaths do you think are from infection in prior years? (Bednets disproportionately save the lives of young children.) How many years does that mean we should expect such an experiment would need to be funded? What percentage of malaria deaths do you think can be prevented at ~$5000 per life saved? What's the implied maximum effect size at that cost (and at $10k per life saved) in a well-defined area like Madagascar, and what would be the total cost of running such an experiment?

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-13T15:02:46.882Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also, they never, btw, talk about a fair share of lives saved but of funding provided, and while of course those things are closely connected they are not intensionally equivalent and there is an enormous difference between “we favour an approach that can be summarized as ‘donors consider the landscape of donors and try to estimate their share of the funding gap, and give that much’” and “it would be bad if anyone saved more than their fair share of lives”.

In the context of a discussion about how much money to give to a specified set of nonprofits, where no other decisions are being discussed other than how to decide how much money to give, what is the difference?

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-13T14:58:43.126Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Could you give an example or two? I don’t mean of one person assuming shallow diminishing returns and another assuming steep diminishing returns—obviously different people may have different opinions—but of a single person doing the sort of combination you describe.

I think Scott's doing that here, switching back and forth between a steep diminishing returns story (where Good Ventures is engaged in at the very least intertemporal funging as a matter of policy, so giving to one of their preferred charities doesn't have straightforward effects) and a claim that "you or I, if we wanted to, could currently donate $5000 (with usual caveats) and save a life."

The more general pattern is people making nonspecific claims that some number is "true." I'm claiming that if you try to make it true in some specific sense, you have to posit some weird stuff that should be strongly decision-relevant.

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-09T16:31:47.682Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

OK but (1) what about the fact that to a large extent they're not actually talking about saving lives if you look into the details of the cost-effectiveness estimate? (2) GiveWell's analysis does not account for the kind of publication bias end users of GiveWell's recommendations should expect, so yes this does analytically imply that we should adjust the $5k substantially downwards based on some kind of model of what kinds of effectiveness claims get promoted to our attention.

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-09T16:26:51.982Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How many lives do you think can be saved for between $5k and $10k? The smaller the number, the more "~$5k per life saved" looks like an impact certificate you're buying from Good Ventures at a price assessed by GiveWell, rather than a serious claim that for an extra $5k you can cause a life to be saved through the intervention you funded.

The larger the number, the more the marginal cost looks like the average costs for large numbers of lives saved (and therefore the "why don't they do an experiment at scale?" argument holds).

Claims that you can make the world different in well-specified ways through giving (e.g. more lives saved by the intervention you funded) imply the latter scenario, and substantively conflict with the former one.

Do you disagree with this model? If so, how?

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-09T16:23:51.447Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me like people keep switching between the "shallow diminishing returns" and "steep diminishing returns" stories, combining claims that only make sense in one scenario with claims that only make sense in the other, instead of taking the disjunction seriously and trying to do some actual accounting. So I keep trying to explain the disjunction.

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-02T16:28:49.833Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But the estimate that you can save a life for $5000 remains probably true (with normal caveats about uncertainty) and is a really important message to get people thinking about ethics and how they want to contribute.

GiveWell seems not to think this is true:

GiveWell's general position is that you can't take cost-effectiveness estimates literally. It might be confusing that GiveWell nevertheless attempts to estimate cost-effectiveness with a great degree of precision, but Holden's on the record as saying that donors need to adjust for publication bias.

If you look at those detailed cost-effectiveness estimates, you'll find that GiveWell is usually compressing a variety of outcomes into a single metric. The amount of money it takes to literally prevent a death from malaria is higher than the amount of money it takes to do the "equivalent" of saving a life if you count indirect effects. (Nevertheless, the last time I checked, CEA reported the number as though it were literally the price for averting a death from malaria, so I can see why you'd be confused.)

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-02T16:02:44.181Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is close, but I'm trying to say some thing slightly more complicated. GiveWell and CEA have, considered as a system, communicated somewhat ambiguously, and I keep seeing people construing the communications from that cluster in ways that don't add up. This is a predictable effect of GiveWell's and CEA's behavior, but my point isn't whether we should be mad at those orgs - my point is that the claims don't add up the way people keep assuming they do.

Comment by benquo on REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find · 2020-02-02T15:52:54.601Z · score: 14 (5 votes) · LW · GW

On the object level, I agree that such interventions can't scale at stated levels of marginal cost effectiveness. That's actually one of the main points I wanted to communicate ("such experiments ... are impossible"), so while I'm glad you get it, I'm a bit frustrated that you're thinking of it as a counterargument. It seems really, REALLY difficult to communicate a disjunctive argument - rather than an object-level claim - as primary content.

Where I think we disagree is that I think that in practice it's extremely common for EAs to elide the distinction between average and marginal cost, and to imply that if Good Ventures were to fully fund everything near this level of cost-effectiveness, there's a realistic prospect of Good Ventures running out of money in the next couple decades. This is not true, at least because - as you point out - there are limits to how much anyone can scale up programmatic interventions.

Comment by benquo on Less Wrong Poetry Corner: Walter Raleigh's "The Lie" · 2020-01-05T05:26:04.612Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand how the second paragraph follows from the first at all.

Comment by benquo on Firming Up Not-Lying Around Its Edge-Cases Is Less Broadly Useful Than One Might Initially Think · 2019-12-27T14:18:50.778Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/xdwbX9pFEr7Pomaxv/meta-honesty-firming-up-honesty-around-its-edge-cases

Comment by benquo on Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist · 2019-12-25T13:56:44.297Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The tone and implications of comments along the lines of “this wording is going to cause a lot of people to believe specific proposition X, when it seems to me like what you would actually be willing to defend narrower proposition Y” is very different from that of “this wording is inappropriate because it is likely to upset people.”

An important feature of the first comment is that it actually does some work trying to clarify, and is an implicit ITT.

Comment by benquo on Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist · 2019-12-25T13:50:58.198Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Someone deceiving with conscious intent can apply more compute / intelligence and other resources for optimizing and maintaining the lie, which means the deception can be much bigger and more consequential, thereby causing greater damage to others.

Unconscious deception is hard to distinguish from innocent mistakes.

Surely someone consciously intending to deceive can apply some of that extra compute to making it harder to distinguish their behavior from an innocent mistake.

Comment by benquo on Approval Extraction Advertised as Production · 2019-12-21T23:36:41.013Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Altman's belief is explicitly that he does not know what the next company should look like, what area it should be in, and what problem it should solve, and so I think he mostly thinks that good people need to be very reactive to their environment

I expect this to be good at many things - he's probably not wrong that Napoleon would make a good YC founder by his standards - but I expect it's not the mindset that can develop substantive new tech. And sure enough, it seems like substantive new tech is mostly not being developed.

Comment by benquo on Approval Extraction Advertised as Production · 2019-12-18T16:08:20.365Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No.

Comment by benquo on Approval Extraction Advertised as Production · 2019-12-17T15:13:19.338Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't use the word scam in the post. Cousin_it's comment was defending YC by saying, substantively, don't worry, it's just a pretend gatekeeper, so I tried to make that more explicit. How, precisely, does that not constitute being a scam?

Are we supposed to be at war with lions now? What's wrong with apex predators?

Comment by benquo on Approval Extraction Advertised as Production · 2019-12-16T12:44:15.701Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Either it matters a lot for a good startup’s success, or it doesn’t.

If it does, then the gatekeeper narrative is true. If it doesn’t, then how exactly isn’t it a scam?

This is such an obvious point that I’m worried that I’m confused about what’s really going on in this conversation.

Comment by benquo on Approval Extraction Advertised as Production · 2019-12-16T04:11:32.862Z · score: 1 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, it would be pretty cool for PG to more overtly admit that YC is a scam. As it is, it's not actually harmless, since it does attract a lot of attention from people who think they're paying attention to a nonscam.

Comment by benquo on Approval Extraction Advertised as Production · 2019-12-16T03:53:11.017Z · score: 17 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Y Combinator could very easily (if not for the apparent emotional difficulties mentioned in Black Swan farming) have instead been organized to screen for founders making a credible effort to create a great product, instead of screening for generalized responsiveness to tests.

Comment by benquo on The Lesson To Unlearn · 2019-12-15T14:57:23.207Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/ypXHnS3vWeDRmDsK9/approval-extraction-advertised-as-production

Comment by benquo on ialdabaoth is banned · 2019-12-15T14:15:05.774Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

OK but what's actually being done is a one-off ban of someone with multiple credible public rape allegations against them. The specific policy goal of developing better immune responses to epistemic corruption is just not relevant to that and I don't see how anyone on the mod team is doing anything best explained by an attempt to solve that problem.

Comment by benquo on The Lesson To Unlearn · 2019-12-09T19:05:56.157Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Graham's implying that at least for the vast majority of person-test combinations, the spirit of passing tests is hacking them:

Even though I was a diligent student, almost all the work I did in school was aimed at getting a good grade on something.
To many people, it would seem strange that the preceding sentence has a "though" in it. Aren't I merely stating a tautology? Isn't that what a diligent student is, a straight-A student? That's how deeply the conflation of learning with grades has infused our culture.
[...]
If getting into college were merely a matter of having the quality of one's mind measured by admissions officers the way scientists measure the mass of an object, we could tell teenage kids "learn a lot" and leave it at that.

I don't see how, specifically, to distinguish this sort of thing from what Hotel Concierge is saying, unless you think Hotel Concierge is against trying at anything. As far as I can tell Hotel Concierge isn't saying you shouldn't try to be happy, or achieve outcomes you care about via delayed gratification, or be smart, or learn a lot, just that it's a problem when people are pushed to optimize for performing simulacra of those things.

Comment by benquo on The Lesson To Unlearn · 2019-12-09T18:34:57.544Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Currently writing this up at more length, I invite anyone to remind me if I forget to post a link here within a week. The short version is that Graham is implying that his behavior is aligned with the values of his essay - people are likely to trust Y-Combinator to help them learn to do real things, since it's a Paul Graham creation and he wrote this essay - while in fact he is doing the opposite and set up the world's best, most prestigious school for Succeeding by Passing Tests.

Comment by benquo on The Lesson To Unlearn · 2019-12-09T16:29:57.772Z · score: 12 (10 votes) · LW · GW

It's not that this essay is wrong. It's just that it's a rehash of what Hotel Concierge covered better and in more depth in The Stanford Marshmallow Prison Experiment, and it's dangerously misleading advertising for the VC fund / cult Graham started, Y-Combinator, which is the current apex predator of the real-life Stanford Marshmallow Prison Experiment.

Comment by benquo on Drowning children are rare · 2019-12-08T05:48:58.791Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It was originally marketed as a health tonic, but its apparent curative properties were due to the powerful stimulant and analgesic cocaine, not any health-enhancing ingredients. Later the cocaine was taken out (but the “Coca” in the name retained), so now it fools the subconscious into thinking it’s healthful with - on different timescales - mass media advertising, caffeine, and refined sugar.

It’s less overtly a scam now, in large part because it has the endowment necessary to manipulate impressions more subtly at scale.

Comment by benquo on Drowning children are rare · 2019-12-06T14:15:44.921Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe more specifically an ingroup that takes over a potentially real, profitable social niche, squeezes out everyone else, and uses the niche’s leverage to maximize rent extraction, is a gang.

Comment by benquo on Drowning children are rare · 2019-12-06T13:56:07.705Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Coca-Cola produces something about as worthless as Theranos machines, substituting the experience of a thing for the thing itself, & is pretty blatant about it. The scams that “win” gerrymander our concept-boundaries to make it hard to see. Likewise Pepsi. JPMorgan Chase & Bank of America, in different ways, are scams structurally similar to Bernie Madoff but with a legitimate state subsidy to bail them out when they blow up. This is not an exhaustive list, just the first 4 that jumped out at me. Pharma is also mostly a scam these days, nearly all of the extant drugs that matter are already off-patent.

Also Facebook, but “scam” is less obviously the right category.

Comment by benquo on Drowning children are rare · 2019-12-03T16:35:10.500Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW
I have a background expectation that the most blatant kinds of fraudulence will be caught.

Consider how long Theranos operated, its prestigious board of directors, and the fact that it managed to make a major sale to Walgreens before blowing up. Consider how prominent Three Cups of Tea was (promoted by a New York Times columnist), for how long, before it was exposed. Consider that official US government nutrition advice still reflects obviously distorted, politically motivated research from the early 20th Century. Consider that the MLM company Amway managed to bribe Harvard to get the right introductions to Chinese regulators. Scams can and do capture the official narrative and prosecute whistleblowers.

Consider that pretty much by definition we're not aware of the most successful scams.

Related: The Scams Are Winning

Comment by benquo on Drowning children are rare · 2019-12-03T16:20:47.646Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Presumably you believe that point 2 holds, not just because of the GDP example, but because you've seen many, many examples (like health care, which you mention above). Or maybe because you have an analytical argument that the sort of thing that happens with GDP has to generalize to other credit allocation systems?

Both - it would be worrying to have an analytic argument but not notice lots of examples, and it would require much more investigation (and skepticism) if it were happening all the time for no apparent reason.

I tried to gesture at the gestalt of the argument in The Humility Argument for Honesty. Basically, all conflict between intelligent agents contains a large information component, so if we're fractally at war with each other, we should expect most info channels that aren't immediately life-support-critical to turn into disinformation, and we should expect this process to accelerate over time.

For examples, important search terms are "preference falsification" and "Gell-Mann amnesia".

I don't think I disagree with you on GiveDirectly, except that I suspect you aren't tracking some important ways your trust chain is likely to make correlated errors along the lines of assuming official statistics are correct. Quick check: what's your 90% confidence interval for global population, after Googling the official number, which is around 7.7 billion?

Comment by benquo on Drowning children are rare · 2019-12-03T04:40:46.480Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Overall your wording seems pretty close.

Most white collar workers are executing a similar maneuver, except that instead of using force, they are corrupting the victim's ability to make sense of the situation.

I think it's actually a combination of this, and actual coordination to freeze out marginal gangs or things that aren't gangs, from access to the system. Venture capitalists, for example, will tend to fund people who feel like members of the right gang, use the right signifiers in the right ways, went to the right schools, etc. Everyone I've talked with about their experience pitching startups has reported that making judgments on the merits is at best highly noncentral behavior.

If enough of the economy is cartelized, and the cartels are taxing noncartels indirectly via the state, then it doesn't much matter whether the cartels apply force directly, though sometimes they still do.

So called "career capital" amounts to having more prestige, or otherwise be better at convincing people, and therefore being able to extort larger amounts.

It basically involves sending or learning how to send a costly signal of membership in a prestigious gang, including some mixture of job history, acculturation, and integrating socially into a network.

Comment by benquo on Drowning children are rare · 2019-12-03T04:31:18.250Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is something like a 9 - gets the overall structure of the argument right with some important caveats:

I'd make a slightly weaker a claim for 2 - that credit-allocation methods have to be presumed broken until established otherwise, and no adequate audit has entered common knowledge.

An important part of the reason for 3 is that, the larger the share of "knowledge work" that we think is mostly about creating disinformation, the more one should distrust any official representations one hasn't personally checked, when there's any profit or social incentive to make up such stories. Based on my sense of the character of the people I met while working at GiveWell, and the kind of scrutiny they said they applied to charities, I'd personally be surprised if GiveDirectly didn't actually exist, or simply pocketed the money. But it's not at all obvious to me that people without my privileged knowledge should be sure of that.

Comment by benquo on Talents · 2019-12-02T18:14:55.043Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that there are more and less capital-intensive types of work, but it might make sense for the excellent programmer to use some of their surplus to outsource nonprogramming tasks (e.g. order delivery, hire a cleaning service, pay for high-quality day care for their kids), to free up more time for the thing they have the greatest comparative advantage at.

Comment by benquo on Drowning children are rare · 2019-12-02T18:11:39.585Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
I basically already thought that lots of jobs are bullshit, but I might skim or listen to David Graeber's book to get more data.

It's not really about how many jobs are bullshit, so much as what it means to do a bullshit job. On Graeber's model, bullshit jobs are mostly about propping up the story that bullshit jobs are necessary for production. Moral Mazes might help clarify the mechanism, and what I mean about gangs - a lot of white-collar work involves a kind of participatory business theater, to prop up the ego claims of one's patron.

The more we think the white-collar world works this way, the more skeptical we should be of the literal truth of claims to be "working on" some problem or other using conventional structures.

Comment by benquo on Drowning children are rare · 2019-12-02T18:06:44.238Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW
I read the all of "There Is a War", but I still don't get the claim, "GDP is a measurement of the level of coercion in a society." I'm going to keep working at it.

I think it's analytically pretty simple. GDP involves adding up all the "output" into a single metric. Output is measured based on others' willingness to pay. The more payments are motivated by violence rather than the production of something everyone is glad to have more of, the more GDP measures expropriation rather than production. There Is A War is mostly about working out the details & how this relates to macroeconomic ideas of "stimulus," "aggregate demand," etc, but if that analytic argument doesn't make sense to you, then that's the point we should be working out.