The Unilateralist’s “Curse” Is Mostly Good 2020-04-13T22:48:22.589Z · score: 79 (30 votes)


Comment by david-hornbein on Ways that China is surpassing the US · 2020-04-23T00:58:38.379Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
One thing I've often heard/read is that authoritarian governments tend to be limited in competence because it's hard for important and accurate information to reach the top.

I've also heard this, but IMO Western talking points about the superiority of our system should be treated with the same skepticism as Chinese talking points about the superiority of theirs. The null hypothesis here is that "authoritarian" and "democratic" governments aren't intrinsically different in competence, and variation in government competence is due to other sources.

It's hard for information to reach the top when messengers are punished for bringing bad news. You can have an authoritarian government that punishes messengers, like the Soviet Union under Stalin, and you can have an authoritarian government that doesn't punish messengers much, like Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew. You can have a democratic government that punishes messengers, like the US military under George W. Bush, and you can have a democratic government that doesn't punish messengers much, like the US military under Harry Truman. Western propaganda likes to compare democracies-like-Truman's to authoritarians-like-Stalin's.

It's plausible that democratic governments are better on average about not punishing messengers, but once you know about a government's propensity to punish messengers, whether it's "democratic" or "authoritarian" is screened off for this purpose.

How reliable are American messengers? Your link doesn't paint a very flattering picture.

How reliable are the Chinese messengers? I'm no expert. My rough sense is that they're not great, but not quite as embarrassing as their American counterparts.

Comment by david-hornbein on When is the right time to hole up? · 2020-03-15T01:15:30.068Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"It's hard to time your reaction to an exponential process, so the only two choices are to act too early or act too late."

Byrne Hobart

Comment by david-hornbein on Over $1,000,000 in prizes for COVID-19 work from Emergent Ventures · 2020-03-13T18:39:04.222Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm very glad to see this. Tyler's past grants have shown good judgment, and a level of risk tolerance unusual for a philanthropist. For people who need seed funding rather than retrospective prizes, also note that "you still can propose a coronavirus-related project through normal [Emergent Ventures] channels, with discretionary amounts to be awarded as grants per usual procedures."

Comment by david-hornbein on Jan Bloch's Impossible War · 2020-02-21T07:10:41.362Z · score: 16 (11 votes) · LW · GW

This post’s summary of The Great Illusion gets the book's predictions backwards. Norman Angell does indeed argue that even victory in war is economically unprofitable and that offensive war is stupid, but he does not argue that this means war can’t happen. Just the opposite, in fact:

"It is evident that so long as the misconception we are dealing with is all but universal in Europe, so long as the nations believe that in some way the military and political subjugation of others will bring with it a tangible material advantage to the conqueror, we all do, in fact, stand in danger from such aggression. Not his interest, but what he deems to be his interest, will furnish the real motive of our prospective enemy’s action. And as the illusion with which we are dealing does, indeed, dominate all those minds most active in European politics, we (in England) must, while this remains the case, regard an aggression … as within the bounds of practical politics."

I’m aware that this isn’t central to the post’s point, but it’s one of the few claims in the post that I’m already familiar with, so seeing this makes me wonder if some of the other claims (especially the characterization of Renaissance warfare as “something of a gentleman’s sport”) might also be misleadingly glib.

Comment by david-hornbein on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T11:24:17.138Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW
I recall a conversation I had where someone (call them A) commented that some other person (call them B) had developed some ideas, then afterwards found academic sources agreeing with these ideas (or at least, seeming compatible), and cited these as sources in the blog post write-ups of these ideas.

FWIW I've heard enough people admit to this practice, and enough secondhand accounts which I consider reliable, that I think it's *extremely* common, and not just in blog posts. I've also had many different people comment on my work asking me to add academic citations (not asking for support of a specific point they thought needed justification; just asking for academic citations in general), so I can see where the temptation to do this would come from.

Comment by david-hornbein on Dominic Cummings: "we’re hiring data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos" · 2020-01-03T21:05:30.713Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this is nearly enough to move it. The inertia behind these hubs is astounding. SF has been the "Global Weird HQ" since, what, the 60s or 70s? And I really, really don't think a culture of optimistic, power-seeking weirdness would thrive in the contemporary UK.