Understanding and controlling auto-induced distributional shift 2021-12-13T14:59:40.704Z
Review: Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels 2021-09-02T17:59:28.143Z


Comment by LRudL on Competence/Confidence · 2021-11-22T00:33:08.314Z · LW · GW

Since some others are commenting about not liking the graph-heavy format: I really liked the format, in particular because having it as graphs rather than text made it much faster and easier to go through and understand, and left me with more memorable mental images. Adding limited text probably would not hurt, but adding lots would detract from the terseness that this presentation effectively achieves. Adding clear definitions of the terms at the start would have been valuable though.

Rather than thinking of a single example that I carried throughout as you suggest, I found it most useful to generate one or more examples as I looked at each graph (e.g. for the danger-zone graphs, in order: judging / software testing, politics, forecasting / medical diagnosis).

Comment by LRudL on Review: Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels · 2021-09-03T23:29:21.729Z · LW · GW

Regarding the end of slavery: I think you make good points and they've made me update towards thinking that the importance of materialistic Morris-style models is slightly less and cultural models slightly more.

I'd be very interested to hear what were the anti-slavery arguments used by the first English abolitionists and the medieval Catholic Church (religion? equality? natural rights? utilitarian?).

Which, evidently, doesn't prevent the usual narrative from being valid in other places, that is, countries in which slavery was still well accepted finding themselves forced, first militarily, then technologically, and finally economically, to adapt or perish.

I think there's also another way for the materialistic and idealistic accounts to both be true in different places: Morris' argument is specifically about slavery existing when wage incentives are weak, and perhaps this holds in places like ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, but had stopped holding in proto-industrial places like 16th-18th century western Europe. However I'm not aware of what specific factor would drive this.

One piece of evidence on whether economics or culture is more important would be comparing how many cases there are where slavery existed/ended in places without cultural contact but with similar economic conditions and institutions, to how many cases there are of slavery existing/ending in places with cultural contact but different economic conditions/institutions.

Comment by LRudL on Review: Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels · 2021-09-03T22:59:02.657Z · LW · GW

Thank you for this very in-depth comment. I will reply to your points in separate comments, starting with:

According him, the end of the feudal system in England, and its turning into a modern nation-state, involved among other things the closing off and appropriation, by nobles as a reward from the kingdom, of the former common farmlands they farmed on, as well as the confiscation of the lands owned by the Catholic Church, which for all practical purposes also served as common farmlands. This resulted in a huge mass of landless farmers with no access to land, or only very diminished access, who in turn decades later became the proletarians for the newly developing industries. If that's accurate, then it may be the case that the Industrial Revolution wouldn't have happened had all those poor not have existed, since the very first industries wouldn't have been attractive compared to condition non-forcibly-starved farmers had.

This is very interesting and something I haven't seen before. Based on some quick searching, this seems to be referring to the Inclosure Acts (which were significant, affecting 1/6th of English land) and perhaps specifically this one, while the Catholic Church land confiscation was the 1500s one. My priors on this having a major effect are somewhat skeptical because:

  1. The general shape of English historical GDP/capita is a slight post-plague rise, followed by nothing much until a gradual rise in the 1700s and then takeoff in the 1800s. Likewise, skimming through this, there seem to be no drastic changes in wealth inequality around the time of the Inclosure Acts, though share of wealth held by the top 10% slightly rise in the late 1700s and personal estates (note: specifically excludes real estate) of farmers and yeomen slightly drop around 1700 before rebounding. Any pattern of more poor farmers must evade these statistics, either by being small enough, or by not being captured in these crude overall stats (which is very possible, especially if the losses for one set of farmers were balanced by gains for another).
  2. Other sources I've read support the idea that farmers in general prefer industrial jobs. It's not just Steven Pinker either; Vaclav Smil's Energy and Civilization (my review) has this passage:

Moreover, the drudgery of field labor in the open is seldom preferable even to unskilled industrial work in a factory. In general, typical factory tasks require lower energy expenditures than does common farm work, and in a surprisingly short time after the beginning of mass urban industrial employment the duration of factory work became reasonably regulated 

It's probably the case that it's easier to recruit landless farmers into industrial jobs, and I can imagine plausible models where farmers resist moving to cities, especially for uncertainty-avoidance / risk-aversion reasons. However, the effect of this, especially in the long term, seems limited by things like population growth in (already populous) cities, people having to move off their family farms anyways due to primogeniture, and people generally being pretty good at exploiting available opportunities. An exception might be if early industrialization was tenable only under a strict labor availability threshold that was met only because of the mass of landless farmers created by the English acts.

Comment by LRudL on Review: Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels · 2021-09-03T21:59:23.435Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the link to Sarah Constantin's post! I remember reading it a long time ago but couldn't have found it again now if I had tried. It was another thing (along with Morris's book) that made me update towards thinking that historical gender norms are heavily influenced by technology level and type. Evidence that technology type variation even within farming societies had major impacts on gender norms also seems like fairly strong support for Morris' idea that the even larger variation between farming societies and foragers/industrialists can explain their different gender norms.

John Danaher's work looks relevant to this topic, but I'm not convinced that his idea of collective/individual/artificial intelligence as the ideal types of future axiology space is cutting it in the right way. In particular, I have a hard time thinking of how you'd summarize historical value changes as movement in the area spanned by these types.