What do you do with a surprise journal? 2015-06-10T20:17:31.976Z


Comment by MaximumLiberty on Improving long-run civilisational robustness · 2016-05-11T20:38:31.236Z · LW · GW

abolishing all labor law would vastly increase the size of the economy

[citation needed], as the saying goes.

I kind of doubt it. There are virtually no serious non-Marxist economists who believe that artificially raising the cost of labor, capital, or any other economic input diminishes output. The real debate is over whether it is appropriate to do so for other reasons, like fairness, justice, equality, and so on. So, if you really need a citation, I'd say that any first-year economics textbook would do it.

it would probably be a mistake for the list to pick specific economic policies on the basis that they produce the fastest economic growth, since then the discussion would be in danger of being politicized

My main point was about the mental process that generated the list. It a constraint on the process that generates the list is that it must be 100% de-politicized, then I wouldn't put much faith in the list. And it reads to me like it has been.

fastest economic growth should not be the only criterion, unless that really is the only thing that influences robustness

Sure, but that main point again was about the process that led to the list. There's a cost to everything on the list. Just because taxes pay for some item on it doesn't make it free, even in terms of robustness.

As I understand it, RyanCarey is interested in threats to human civilization as a whole rather than to individual human civilizations. Human civilization as a whole doesn't have laws, regulations, taxation, etc. If one nation collapses under the weight of its own regulatory burden then others will presumably take note.

One would hope, but they seem to be moving together for the past 20 years or so toward greater regulation, and hence greater fragility. If you can point me to a country whose published laws and regulations are shorter now than they were 10 years ago, I will happily retract the point (and consider buying a second home there).

And I would say that there are some legal jurisdictions that, if they failed quickly enough, could bring down the entirety of civilization. The US and EU are the two that come to mind. Two EMP devices, or two large enough asteroids, might do it.

How widely held, and how well supported, is the theory that the Roman empire failed because of overregulation and overtaxation?

It was the orthodox explanation in my economic history class that I took in 1988. I sometimes return to the subject to see if anyone has overturned that theory, and have never seen anything along those lines. The regulation was mainly driven by taxation,. The state raised revenues to the point that avoidance was really problematic, then instituted heavy controls on individuals to ensure payment. For example, in the late empire, most taxes were levied in kind; the regulatory response was that the law positively required the eldest son to succeed to his father's profession, property, and station -- so that the authorities could ensure that they were getting the right in-kind taxation. Some Roman citizens abandoned their property in order to avoid taxation, like runaway slaves. There is a theory that this is where serfdom originated, though I suspect the reality was more culturally mixed. The regulation had vast cost beyond the taxes being paid, because it prevented the movement of resources to more productive uses, either by changing jobs or by moving locations.

In any case, the point is that the regulatory structure created civilizational fragility. It didn't take much after that for Rome to fall. I mean seriously -- barbarian invaders? Rome had dealt with that for a thousand years and had always recovered from any reverses. It's like the signature of the Roman Republic that they lost battles, won wars, and came back stronger than before. But the empire became a different thing.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Improving long-run civilisational robustness · 2016-05-11T16:28:50.795Z · LW · GW

This is an intended as a provocation to think outside your box. I hope you take it in the spirit intended.

If you are really brainstorming around the risk of a collapse of civilization due to some catastrophe, it is really hard to think outside your own political preferences. I say this from experience because I shy away from certain solutions (and even from acknowledging the problem). So allow me to suggest that your own limitations are making you avoid what I'd call ugly choices.

You suggest international cooperation as a way to prevent widespread destruction. Well, maybe. But there are two to four countries that have developed or are developing nuclear weapons and missile systems and that the rest of the world seems to treat as unstable. So one solution to that problem is invade them, destroy their facilities for nuclear and missile research, remove their leadership, and remove their relevant scientists and technical personnel. Why neither that problem nor that solution on your list? There is at least one recent example of a country invading another country after taking a public position that the second country had weapons of mass destruction. Was your omission because of that experience?

Many of your proposals seem oriented towards saving as many people as possible, rather than saving civilization. If civilization falls, the resulting economy will probably not produce enough food quickly enough to feed everyone. (Me? I'll starve in year 1 , if I survive that long.) Why propose to spend resources on things that do not actually improve civilization's robustness (like widely distributed gas masks when their recipients starve in the following winter)?

Economic growth creates more resources that can be used for resilience. Our current laws reduce both the maximum potential growth rate and the growth rate we actually have. For example, abolishing all labor law would vastly increase the size of the economy. Why does your list not embrace whatever political policies induce the fastest economic growth?

Relatedly, one major civilization that fell due to its own laws was probably the Roman empire. It choked off its own economic growth through regulations intended to support its taxation structure, until it could not sustain its own weight. Why does your list not include that kind of threat to civilization?

I think there is commonality in these items, but that might be in the eye of the beholder.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Improving long-run civilisational robustness · 2016-05-11T16:08:16.731Z · LW · GW

I concur. The only point to a putting permanent space stations into orbit is if it helps us along the path to putting humans some place that they can live for years after something really bad happens to Earth. That means a full, independent ecosystem that produces sufficient resources and new people to colonize Earth.

... "Colonize Earth" -- what a strange pair of sentences to write.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Improving long-run civilisational robustness · 2016-05-11T16:00:29.352Z · LW · GW

Here is a thread on the "Recovery Manual for Civilization," which I thought is a useful addition to your list:

And here was (most of) my comment in that thread:

My first conclusion was that there are all kinds of events that could lead to a collapse of civilization without exterminating humanity directly. But it may be impossible for humanity to rise back from the ashes if it stays there too long. Humanity can't take the same path it took to get to where it is now. For example, humanity developed different forms of energy as prices of previous forms rose. For example, we started digging up shallow coal when population grew too high to use charcoal produced from wood. But many of those resources are no longer near the surface. All coal, oil, and gas near the surface has been extracted. So humanity, if it rose again, would have to find a different path.

My conclusion was that I would not want to invest enough time into preparing for the end of the world to get personally involved in preparing for the end of civilization. But some people already do: all the survivalists and similar people. So, if I want to help civilization recover after a collapse, my best alternative is not to try to store the information myself. Instead, it is to reduce the information to a useful form and give it to these people. This is far more robust that trying to think of the best way of having the information survive. Give it to a few thousand people in scattered places with different survival strategies, and it is much more likely that the information survives.

These two facts together led me to conclude that a collaboration to prepare some kind of big, easily read manual of technology would be a valuable contribution to the survival of humanity. It would need to build on itself, somewhat like tech trees in strategy games.

Plus, it would be really amusing for the LW community to decide that one of its bets for saving humanity is to help outfit survivalists with technical know-how.

I'd add that a case that fits within the general idea of a disaster that destroys civilization, but does not extinguish humanity would be a few (possibly as few as one or two) electro-magnetic pulse detonations over the eastern or western seaboard of the United States. I can see the follow-on-effects bringing civilization down. I would think that would get worse in the next 50 years or so, as India and China catch up to the level of computerization prevalent in the US.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Request for advice: high school transferring · 2016-03-07T00:40:57.955Z · LW · GW

Here's a link to the base rate fallacy article on Wikipedia:

A thing to avoid in your situation is focusing excessively on the specifics that lead you to conclude that the local public school will be as good as the private school you are attending. Generally speaking, public schools are lower quality than private schools. But getting a little more narrow might be worthwhile: How are the public schools in your general area compared to public schools in the country, using objective statistics on things like SAT rates? Now, can you compare that to your private school or your brand of private school (Catholic, secular, whatever)? Think about other metrics that matter for you: percent getting into Ivy League colleges, or number of assaults on campus per 100 students, or whatever.

Compare those rates before mentally inserting yourself into the situation. Once you mentally place yourself there, a lot of what you know about the statistics of the places can slip away. That is what the base rate fallacy teaches. It helps you focus on the idea that the median experience at each school is likely to be your experience, which helps defeat the "grass is greener on the other side of the fence.".

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Request for advice: high school transferring · 2016-03-02T20:51:39.472Z · LW · GW

When thinking that the local public school is otherwise equivalent to your boarding school, you should consider two things in addition to the things that others have noted:

  1. What's the base rate? Generally, private schools are better than public schools. Otherwise, people would not pay for private schools. Anecdotally, I am always appalled by the things I hear about public schools (since my kids went to private school). I'm also appalled by my own memories of public schools. The qualitative difference is usually pretty big.

  2. Public schools' reputations are usually overblown compared to private schools. Generally, you get into a public school by where you live. The reputation of the local public school thus affects property values, giving all the locals a strong incentive to claim that their school is good. Additionally, they feel more comfortable assuring themselves that the school that they are sending their kids to for free is a good school. That is, their conclusions that their schools are good is motivated reasoning. The result is that 75% of people believe that their kids' public school is above average, which is just impossible.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Cheerful one-liners and disjointed anecdotes · 2016-02-23T03:31:07.508Z · LW · GW

Here's my answer for being a lawyer.

Lawyers actually talk about this. We have the phrase "thinking like a lawyer." We debated what it meant all the way back in jurisprudence class. We reached no conclusions. (Hey, we're lawyers: a conclusion arrives only with hourly fees!)

The modes of thinking for a lawyer alternate between two things: issue-spotting and issue-analysis. The key to thinking like a lawyer is being able to move back and forth between the two modes of thought. As you are issue-spotting, you have to edit down by quick analysis. As you are doing analysis, you have to be aware of issues that you might otherwise pass by. So, issue-spot and issue-analyze.

The other critical thing about thinking like a lawyer is being able to hold multiple contradictory descriptions of reality in your head. The states have to include both the facts (in a pretty probabilistic way) and the law (in terms of the arguments that might be made and again some probabilistic sense of their strength). So, two limited quantum multiverses in your head.

Then trivially, I could say things about being able to communicate well in person, and write well, and work well with other people. But really, that should be an "or," not "and." If you can do one thing really well, that's good enough. So, one good social skill.

Am I on track for what you were asking?

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Should we admit it when a person/group is "better" than another person/group? · 2016-02-16T15:40:28.791Z · LW · GW

TL;DR: Group stereotyping, when based on actual group data, is most valuable where it is most unfair and vice versa.

Group stereotyping seems like it would be most useful, and also most unfair, where one uses a proxy for a information that is difficult to obtain. It is hard to come up with an example that is not a political or identity-based mind-killer. So here's a metaphor, with the wariness that a metaphor can mislead as much as it elucidates.

Let's say that we are in the business of basket-weaving. It turns out that the median left-handed person makes baskets worth 5% more than than comparable baskets made by the median right-handed person. As an industry, we have no idea why, but it is demonstrably true, and significant to our business. People invent all kinds of reasons, but no research proves out any of the reasons.

A basket business can test for the value of any individual's baskets by hiring them, having them produce baskets for a couple months, and track the sales price of their baskets. But that is a substantial investment just to get the information. The problem here is the cost of information. Group-stereotyping is the most useful when the cost of information is high. So an approach might be to prefer to hire lefties. But (unless there are asymmetries in the cost of information), it also where it is most unfair to the group member, because it is most costly to provide the information to rebut the stereotype. We end up ignoring the earnest righties who tell us for sure that they can make better baskets than the lefties we are hiring -- and they might very well be correct.

It also seems to me that using group stereotypes is most justified and least unfair where there is high asymmetry in the cost of obtaining (and verifying, if needed) the information, such that the group member can provide at trivial cost the information that is highly costly for the decision-maker to get, and the situation prompts the group member to do so. For example, if our righty basket-maker had a letter from a prior employer that explained how unusually profitable the basket-maker's baskets were, that would defeat the stereotype, because we would know to update our stereotype with individualized data that is actually probative. (An aside: in this situation, we have to avoid being distracted by things that are not probative, such as emotional appeals, irrelevant but positive information, the good looks of the applicant, and all the other things that can lead to an unreliable decision.) In our scenario, the availability of a letter of recommendation doesn't help all the novice basket-makers who are applying for their first basket-making job, so it is not a 100% solution.

One potential solution to this problem is prices, but they have their own problems. If, on average, lefties are worth 5% more than righties in making baskets, the basket industry could adopt pay practices that are directly related to the value of the baskets produced. The problem with that is complexity. That's a broad category, but I can't come up with anything else that holds all the instances. Prices are not determined just by one party; they are determined largely by the market, which means that they are path-dependent, but also evolved. In our particular situation, changing compensation models can run into issues that economists study under the heading of agency or the theory of the firm -- basically, the idea here is that we could have all kinds of unanticipated effects by changing how we put prices on the work of our basket-makers. Still, one could see adopting a test period where lefties got paid 5% more than righties, until the results were in. That doesn't really change things all that much, except that it puts a limit on the period of unfairness, and puts a deadline on updating our information.

Technology is another solution to this problem. For example, one could invent the basket-value test. It's a cheap test that is based on an academic observation of a strong correlation between your ability to identify certain visual patterns with the value of baskets produced. Presumably, if businesses are really missing the boat by failing to hire talented righties, then there is an incentive for someone to invent this technology, because it will lead businesses to use a deeper poo of labor (which presumably lowers their wage costs). What we'd really be doing is substituting one group stereotype (performance on the test) for another (handedness). That would be worth doing if the test were more specific or more precise than handedness in predicting the value of basket production.

But until that technology comes along, it does seem unfair to the specific righties to judge their productivity based strictly on membership in a group (even if for a limited period until real data arrives). If you don't agree, steel yourself against mind-killing, then take the metaphor and map it to race and conviction rates.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Open Thread, Feb 8 - Feb 15, 2016 · 2016-02-10T02:49:12.049Z · LW · GW

Absolutely. Best thing I've read in years. Reading Twig now.

(For everyone else, It's free.)

Comment by MaximumLiberty on The Fable of the Burning Branch · 2016-02-10T02:47:09.464Z · LW · GW

Fair enough. I don't follow the personalities here, so the situations where someone engages in sock-puppetry would totally escape my notice. My priors incline me to preferring good speech as the remedy for bad speech.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Open Thread, Feb 8 - Feb 15, 2016 · 2016-02-10T02:43:59.831Z · LW · GW

It seems that part of the problem might be that she is afraid of being judged crazy or the equivalent. Having someone talk to her about her being crazy (which is how she will probably perceive it) seems like it runs a risk of being counter-productive. I think so far I've only told you what you are implying or saying.

If I have that right, you might think about finding a story -- fictional or biographical -- written from the perspective of someone suffering from similar symptoms and who resolved it through treatment. If she identifies with the protagonist, it might create some willingness to listen to alternatives.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on The Fable of the Burning Branch · 2016-02-10T02:36:13.212Z · LW · GW

OK, trying to be fair to the original poster, since it appears that he doesn't plan on responding directly in public. Please take this in the nature of "even the devil deserves an advocate" and an exercise in resisting the fundamental attribution error. It's also informed by the thought that the implication that someone is actually advocating rape is an exception claim, so must be supported by exception evidence. And it's informed by a cussed refusal to be mind-killed.

Take a look at the quantity of words. About half of the piece happens before the foreign girls show up. That seems to be a metaphor for people who can't get sex through the types of relationships that the median person has. The second half is almost entirely given over to the foreign girls arriving, trafficking in branch-lifting, and getting prohibited from the community, with the result that the protagonist is vilified. That seems to be a metaphor for prostitution, its illegalization, and the effects on someone found to be buying the services of a prostitute.

Then we get one awful sentence. I'm not justifying it if it means what others have read it to mean, and I'll come back to it at the end.

If by leaving out female preferences, you are referring to just that one sentence, I tend to agree with you that the one sentence is reprehensible if intended. But I don't think that criticism is fair for any of the rest. The first half of the piece is showing the effect of preferences (female in context, but not gendered by necessity). When you make a point, it doesn't have to be perfectly balanced, especially if your goal is to draw attention to some aspect that you believe has had has had insufficient attention. The second half of the piece actually respects some female preferences. Specifically, it respects the preferences of those who prefer to be sex workers. It points out one of the negative effects of oppressing those preferences (by ejecting the foreign girls). Again, it isn't balanced, but I don't really think it has to be. Finally, it points out the oppressive rationale for the oppressive act (of ejecting the foreign girls).

Then it goes off the rails with a single sentence. The piece would have been far more effective if the native girl speaking near the end had imprisoned him for paying a foreign girl to lift the burning branch. The sentence is far from clear to me. I'm not certain that its author really recognized that the metaphor would be to rape. To some degree, it is fair to say, "too bad, that's the risk you take in writing in metaphor!" But it's also fair for us to ask whether one sentence should be taken as such significant evidence of vile character, and whether some other meaning was intended. Specifically, putting a girl under the branch hasn't been how the boys get out from under the branch throughout the rest of the story, so it's not the established metaphor for sex. It could be that the point here was not forcing the girl to lift the branch (which would be metaphorical rape). It could be that the point was to subject girls to being under the branch (which would be metaphorical undesired celibacy). It's not a great metaphor that way, either, because the boys got under the branches in the first place by some strange freak of nature. ("Oh, I didn't see that burning branch falling on me, so now I'm stuck"?) But it might have been intended as "see how you like it." That itself is an unattractive kind of position, but it is quite different from rape.

One final point is that I didn't interpret the criticism here as being directed to feminism. I took it to be directed toward government messing around in things where it ought not and towards the ideal of sex as an expression of romantic love. I read it that one solution that was rejected in the first half was essentially "friends with benefits" -- something that I doubt would find universal condemnation among feminists, and certainly not among most feminists before the 1980's. But the danger with metaphors is that the reader brings more to them than the reader brings to a straightforward statement.

And that's pretty much exhausted my store of charitable interpretation, with apologies to those who would prefer that this mind-killing comment thread simply die a quiet death.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on The Fable of the Burning Branch · 2016-02-10T01:32:04.163Z · LW · GW

Your list of reasons seem to me to be the very reason we have karma. Why does this post deserve moderation in a system where karma sends the message about the community's desire for more of the same?

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Request for help with economic analysis related to AI forecasting · 2016-02-07T19:13:19.340Z · LW · GW

You have run into the "productivity paradox." This is the problem that, while it seems from first-hand observation that using computers would raise productivity, that rising productivity does not seem to show up in economy-wide statistics. It is something of a mystery. The Wikipedia page on the subject has an OK introduction to the problem.

I'd suggest that the key task is not measuring the productivity of the computers. The task is measuring the change in productivity of the researcher. For that, you must have a measure of research output. You'd probably need multiple proxies, since you can't evaluate it directly. For example, one proxy might be "words of published AI articles in peer-reviewed journals." A problem with this particular proxy is substitution, over long time periods, of self-publication (on the web) for journal publication.

A bigger problem is the quality problem. The quality of a good today is far better than the similar good of 30 years ago. But how much? There's no way to quantify it. Economists usually use some sense that "this year must be really close to last year, so we'll ignore it across small time frames." But that does not help for long time frames (unless you are looking only at the rate of change in productivity rates, such that the productivity rate itself gets swept aside by taking the first derivative, which works fine as long as quality is nor changing disproportionately to productivity). The problem seems much greater if you have to assess the quality of AI research. Perhaps you could construct some kind of complementary metric for each proxy you use, such as "citations in peer-reviewed journals" for each peer-reviewed article you used in the proxy noted above. And you would again have to address the effect of self-publication, this time on quality.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on [Stub] The problem with Chesterton's Fence · 2016-01-12T20:38:52.332Z · LW · GW

And similarly, here's a quotation from economist George Stigler: “every durable social institution or practice is efficient.” ("Efficient" has a specific meaning in context. Don't over-extend it to "good" or similar ideas.)

Comment by MaximumLiberty on [Stub] The problem with Chesterton's Fence · 2016-01-12T19:03:04.924Z · LW · GW

The work of Elinor Ostrom (2009 Nobel prize co-winner in economics) seems relevant. The Wikipedia page on her does a decent introduction. The relevant part of her work was in how societies use customs (other than market transactions) to regulate use of common resources. The relevant observation here is that the customs often seem strange and non-sensical, but they work. She summarized her findings, "A resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory."

Similarly, the work of Peter Leeson on ordeals seems relevant. Ordeals were medieval methods of determining the outcome of what would today be a lawsuit. An example of an ordeal is (literally) trial by fire or trial by battle. Leeson shows how this facially strange and non-sensical custom actually served its purpose of dispensing justice. His research along these lines is surprising, unorthodox, and amusing.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Why CFAR? The view from 2015 · 2015-12-30T16:43:07.985Z · LW · GW

I doubt I know enough to ask good questions. The article has a very bare-bones reference to it, so here are some basic questions:

  1. What is the high level objective?
  2. Describe the training from the outside: when, where, who, how much?
  3. Describe the training from the inside: what gets taught, what gets learned?
  4. What role do you expect mentors to play?
  5. How do you support the mentors in playing that role?
Comment by MaximumLiberty on LessWrong 2.0 · 2015-12-30T16:40:21.929Z · LW · GW

That is true with an assumption. The assumption is that I will regularly return to LessWrong and read EA articles if I see them. My own assessment of myself is that I won't, so the assumption would be false. (I could be wrong.) I generally avoid EA articles because I'm not all that interested in them. No knock on the field, it's just not why I'm here. But the fact that I have to wade through articles on EA and all the other topics I don't care about deters me from returning to LessWrong, which I do less frequently than I wish I would, because I miss the optimal time to comment on articles.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Why CFAR? The view from 2015 · 2015-12-23T23:42:22.302Z · LW · GW

Can you explain more about your Mentorship Training Program?

Comment by MaximumLiberty on LessWrong 2.0 · 2015-12-23T22:58:29.575Z · LW · GW

I think the key part of that sentence was "I'd like ..."

I can think of several reasons why someone might want to do such a thing.

  • They want to begin or enhance a reputation for being an authority in the field.
  • They want the organization that they represent to begin or enhance its reputation in the field and to popularize the particular spin that their organization places on such information.
  • They are studying the field anyway, so the investment is essentially prettying up their own precis of materials they are reading anyway.
  • They want to help the LW community and this is the way they choose to contribute. (For example, if there was interest in the field of law in which I specialize, I'd do the same, but I can;t see that fitting in here.)

Then, empirically, I note that people (who know these fields better than I) do actually post this kind of content here. But I don't see the karma system recognizing them for that contribution as much as being the "editor" of the whatever section would recognize them.

(Subsequently edited for terrible formatting)

Comment by MaximumLiberty on LessWrong 2.0 · 2015-12-23T00:32:00.928Z · LW · GW

This is a proposal to replace (or supplement) the tagging system with a classification system for content that would be based on three elements: subject, type, and organization.

For me, one of the problems with current LessWrong is that it has too many interesting distractions in it. Ideally, I would want to follow just a few things, with highly groomed content. For example, I'd like to see a section devoted to summaries of recent behavioral psychology articles by someone who understands them better than I do. I suspect that other people would like to see other things that I'd prefer to filter out. Examples: artificial intelligence research, effective altruism, personal productivity. I'm not knocking these subjects; but when I allocate time, I'd like to be able to allocate 100% to what I want to see and 0% to what I don't.

That suggests that one area where Less Wrong could be improved is at the top level of organization. I'd suggest that content be organized in subjects, like Behavioral Psychology, Effective Altruism, Personal Productivity, and Artificial Intelligence. Now you might say that the tagging system does this. It kind of does, but it is insufficiently prescriptive. An article on effective altruism could have no tags, or many, or not the ones I think of.

Currently, the content is also classified by type, in Main and Discussion. Frankly, the difference between the two makes little sense to me. But I think there is another classification that would be helpful when combined with prescriptive subjects. I'd classify content type more like this:

  • Research, used for summarizing a publication elsewhere, with the summary provided by someone who know something about it
  • Link, used for identifying some information that might be of use to the community
  • Commentary, used for the normal kind of stuff that shows up in discussion
  • Sequence, assigned by moderators to the original stuff that made this site what it is, or at least was
  • Reading, used for reading groups for specific books
  • Meetups, used only to announce Meetups
  • Organization, used to announce and promote organized action

Then a third classification of content is by organization. The community needs to remain connected to the organizations it spawned. So the third content classification would be by organization, which could be empty. Possible initial values would be MIRI, CFAR, FLI, etc. I'd hope that those organizations would ensure that at least their own research got into the relevant subject under a Research classification, and that their own blog posts got thrown over into the relevant subject under a Link classification.

This would make it easier for me to justify coming back to read Less Wrong daily, because I wouldn't expose my self to wonderful distrations in order to find the things I'd like to keep up on.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Starting University Advice Repository · 2015-12-04T22:40:04.849Z · LW · GW

My advice is probably better suited for a liberal arts major (compared to a STEM major, say).

Learn more than you know now about the jobs that your field of study might support -- especially salary and life style. This seems like a big blind spot to a lot of students.

Go to professors' office hours. They are fascinating people and know way more than you do. (P.S. I'm not a professor.)

Audit classes that you wish you had time to take.

Actually do the homework before the class in which it is due. (This is less of a problem for STEM majors than in humanities and many liberal arts; in the latter, homework is often just reading.)

Do the optional reading, even if it really is optional.

Take extensive notes on the reading. In class, focus on listening. Good lecturers are synthesizing the facts you should already have consumed. Your notes from class should be much briefer. You should be able to study for tests strictly from your notes, without needing the book, except as an occasional reference.

Sit near the front of class.

If you have to choose between one semester of microeconomics and one semester of macroeconomics, take micro.

Take at least two statistics classes.

Leave your video games at your parents' house.

Learn an exercise routine that you can stick to for the rest of your life.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on [Link] Study: no big filter, we're just too early · 2015-10-21T22:45:07.545Z · LW · GW

Surely "unvisited" is insignificant. There's no current science suggesting any means of faster-than-light travel. So, if you assume that extraterrestrial life would have lifespans grossly similar to terrestrial lifespans, we ought to remain unvisited.

"Saturated in the Great Silence" seems like a far more significant point.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Why capitalism? · 2015-05-08T15:34:51.134Z · LW · GW

I've not read the Rifkin book, so it may have a response to the criticism I'm about to make of your rendition of the key idea.

"The margin" is a concept that is set in a temporal context. That is, the margin is about a decision being made. Historically, economists think primarily of the short term margin: changed to production that can occur without changes in capital (and so, prototypically only using variations in inputs such as labor, energy, and raw materials). This is where marginal cost can fall to zero.

But economists also recognize two further changes, which can be classified as medium and long term margins, but which is which often depends on the structure of the industry. One type of change is the application of additional capital. Typically, this is the medium term margin. The second is competitors entering or exiting the market. This is usually the long-term margin. At this margin, marginal costs never ever fall to zero.

Under a condition of zero short-term marginal costs driving prices below the long-term average cost, competitors will exit the market or differentiate themselves. In the former situation, you eventually arrive at a duopoly or monopoly. In the latter situation, you end up with monopolistic competition (which I think is a fairer description of most consumer goods, for example).

Thus, I think the idea of prices generally falling to zero because short-term marginal costs fall to zero is misplaced. To put it simply, marginal costs are not total costs.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Publishing my initial model for hypercapitalism · 2015-04-27T03:28:00.745Z · LW · GW

A couple of points that I think are relevant:

First, dividing users of bitcoins into people who spend it quickly and those who hold it obscures the more fundamental truth that all bitcoin users hold them for some period of time.

Second, all businesses have cash holdings. Larger ones have entire treasury departments devoted to doing nothing more than getting a few more basis points on that cash by active management in interest bearing accounts.

The combine to make me very skeptical that people will accept a currency that depreciates in value and is not already accepted. Imagine the interest rate that they would have to obtain just to offset the decay fee. If prospective users know that they can't get such an interest rate, why would they ever sign up for a system that guarantees them a loss?

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Publishing my initial model for hypercapitalism · 2015-04-26T20:58:31.087Z · LW · GW

This seems to me that it significantly raises transaction costs without significantly creating benefits. The value paid in cash in our real economy today will be equal to the sum of the cash payment plus the net present value of risk-discounted future payments in your model. That means that there is zero benefit to the parties involved, but introduces a transfer of risk, and increases the complexity of the transaction.

The place the rubber hits the road on this problem is that companies who would receive payment under this approach will not sign up to a system that causes their holdings of cash in the system to decay, if there are other alternatives. You can compare this to inflation in, say, US dollar holdings. The difference is that the US dollar is already widely accepted. It does not have a problem convincing people to accept it. Your system will.

Historically, one of the features that made any commodity more likely to become a currency was that it would not decay. For example, precious metals typically won out over comparably divisible commodities like grain because metals don't rot after a year or so. A currency that rots doesn't seem like a winner.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Request: Sequences book reading group · 2015-02-22T21:12:41.100Z · LW · GW

I was originally for a pace of two per week, just knowing my own work schedule. But if there are truly going to be 800 articles represented in the book, then one a day is the only workable solution. Do we know that the book will be broken out into something like 800 articles?

Comment by MaximumLiberty on The Importance of Sidekicks · 2015-01-11T05:16:07.160Z · LW · GW

I think there's something in business that is similar to the hero-sidekick dichotomy you suggest. In business, I see people who are great individual contributors, but their career path "upwards" takes them into management, at which they suck. The notion that being good at managing doers is "higher" than doing has a parallel in supposed superiority of heroes to sidekicks. It's not a promotion to go from sidekick to hero: it might very well be an awkward misalignment.

Is there something underlying both of these? It might be something about leader-follower and the prestige that comes with being a leader.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Meetup : Dallas, TX · 2015-01-07T04:50:23.665Z · LW · GW

I am a maybe. How will I know who you are?

Comment by MaximumLiberty on How to deal with Santa Claus? · 2014-12-31T22:46:06.460Z · LW · GW

On the poor little macaronis, I think she visualized them having their legs pulled off while still alive. She had already discovered the joy that is bacon, and I think she knew more than Homer Simpson about its tasty source.

(Bacon is my one-word rebuttal to all claims of vegetarian superiority. Also my one-word attempt to convert all orthodox jews and muslims. I'm always surprised it doesn't work 100% of the time.)

Comment by MaximumLiberty on How to deal with Santa Claus? · 2014-12-23T18:04:58.703Z · LW · GW

It seems like fathers everywhere do this thing about where they tell lies to their children to see what they will believe. Is it that universal? If so, does that say something about it being hardwired?

My own favorite one was from when I took my kids and my parents to eat at a restaurant. My daughter, who was about two, loved macaroni and cheese. She was hungry and discontent at how long the food was taking. My father calmly explained to her that it took a while for the cooks to "pull all the little legs off the macaronis." Her eyes got big and started to tear up as she presumably visualized macaronis having their legs pulled off. A quick retraction was in order. I doubt she was indelibly scarred.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on How to deal with Santa Claus? · 2014-12-23T18:00:39.687Z · LW · GW

I request evidence for the following assertion:

Children have deepseated evolved instincts to trust what adults tell them.

I think that, at the very least, that statement is far too broad, because it ignores stranger anxiety. Did you mean "what parents (or the equivalent figures) tell them"?

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Musings on the LSAT: "Reasoning Training" and Neuroplasticity · 2014-11-26T23:45:20.149Z · LW · GW

I'm a lawyer, over 20 years out from law school. I took the LSAT cold, so I'm not a good candidate for your questions. I've always liked taking tests and always did well on standardized ones. I did well on the LSAT.

The reason I am responding is to add a bit of information. Lawyers talk, among ourselves and to law students, about what it means to "think like a lawyer." It is a topic of fairly serious debate in jurisprudence for a number of reasons. One is that lawyers have a lot of power in American society. There are issues of justification and effects there. Another is the underlying sense that we really do think differently from most people. We see it in our everyday lives and it sparks our curiosity. There are many other reasons.

So, it makes me wonder what the MRI images would show when comparing lawyers' brains to comparable non-lawyers brains.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Stuart Russell: AI value alignment problem must be an "intrinsic part" of the field's mainstream agenda · 2014-11-26T23:14:41.089Z · LW · GW

I'm a super-dummy when it comes to thinking about AI. I rightly leave it to people better equipped and more motivated than me.

But, can someone explain to me why a solution would not involve some form of "don't do things to people or their property without their permission"? Certainly, that would lead to a sub-optimal use of AI in some people's opinions. But it would completely respect the opinions of those who disagree.

Recognizing that I am probably the least AI-knowledgeable person to have posted a comment here, I ask, what am I missing?

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Open thread, Nov. 10 - Nov. 16, 2014 · 2014-11-13T23:54:23.951Z · LW · GW

Or, the following based on (I've bolded the answers I think are supported, but you should check my work!)

  • "What do economists think about taxes on imported goods?"Most favor; divided; most disfavor.
  • "What do economists think about laws restricting employers from outsourcing jobs to other countries?" Most favor; divided; most disfavor.
  • "What do economists think about anti-dumping laws, which prohibit foreign manufacturers from selling goods below cost in the US?" Most favor; divided; most disfavor.
  • "What do economists think about subsidizing farming?" Most favor; divided; most disfavor.
  • "What do economists think about proposals to replace public-school financing with vouchers?" Most favor; divided; most disfavor.
  • "What do most economists think about the proposal of raising payroll taxes to close the funding gap for Social Security?" Most favor; divided; most disfavor.
  • "What do economists believe the effect of global warming will be on the US economy by the end of the 21st century?" Most believe it will help significantly; divided; most believe it will hurt significantly.
  • "What do economists think about marijuana legalization?" Most favor; divided; most disfavor.
  • "What do economists believe about legislation for universal health insurance?" Most favor; divided; most disfavor.
  • "Do more economists believe that the minimum wage should be raised by more than $1 or should be abolished?"
Comment by MaximumLiberty on Open thread, Nov. 10 - Nov. 16, 2014 · 2014-11-13T23:14:36.638Z · LW · GW

Did you also attend public school? If so, which did you dislike more? If you didn't, which do you think you would have disliked more?

I'm also curious if you don't mind me asking: what did you hate about it?

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Open thread, Nov. 10 - Nov. 16, 2014 · 2014-11-13T00:29:05.420Z · LW · GW

On your question 1, I would rephrase it to say that human activities tend to cause global temperatures to rise. Or that human activities have caused global temperatures to rise. Otherwise, you get stuck in the whole issue about the "pause," which might show that temperatures are not currently rising for reasons that are not fully understood and are subject to much debate. The paper you cite was from early 2010, and was based on research before that, so the pause had not become much-discussed by then.

One thing that I think will be interesting if you run the quiz is to identify a group who resist polarization and are between the extremes. For example, I think there are plenty of people that agree that carbon dioxide causes temperatures to rise (all else being equal) but believe that the feedback loop is not significantly positive. People from each extreme tend to lump them middle-grounders in with the people at the other extreme: "You're an alarmist!" "You're a denier!" etc.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Open thread, Nov. 10 - Nov. 16, 2014 · 2014-11-13T00:12:41.636Z · LW · GW

Or homeschooling. Possibilities:

"Studies show that home-schooled children score worse on tests related to socialization than conventionally educated children." This is false according to the first paragraph under "Socialization" on in that always true resource, Wikipedia.

"The most cited reason for parents to choose homeschooling over public schools is the public schools' (a) the lack of religious or moral instruction, (b) social environment, or (c) quality of instruction." The actual answer is (b), with (a) taking second place and (c) taking third. See

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Certificates of Impact [Paul Christiano; Link] · 2014-11-12T23:38:47.687Z · LW · GW

I don't quite understand this. Are you objecting to the quoted argument?

Yes, but I should have been more specific, and I think I probably focused overly much on the sentence about deviation and arbitrage. (I'm blaming jet lag.)

I agree that, if someone can produce certificates at less than what they perceive as a stable-ish price, they will produce more than the price will eventually fall. What I disagree with is the idea (familiar from product markets) that deviation will induce arbitrage (i.e. that an increase in price will induce greater supply of new activities that result in certificates). This is generally untrue in the short term for markets where there are large stocks being held. Money is a classic example; during some periods, precious metals and diamonds were as well. The stocks act as a shock absorber.

The mechanism is that a price increase will induce holders of stocks to sell them. It won't induce new production until the holders of stock willing to sell at a slightly higher price are exhausted. Of course, this is conditioned on certificates being like these things where people hold them as stocks for later resale, rather than "consuming" them. If the certificates time out, then that would be the equivalent of them being consumed. Likewise if your prediction is right that there are a group of end-purchasers who never resell them.

(In financial markets, market-making intermediaries hold large stocks of financial instruments. I would imagine that a certificates market would need a similar group of market-makers to be liquid. Ideally, this can be a good thing, because the intermediaries can smooth out short term price fluctuations and send a more stable signal to organizations. But, on top of the intermediaries, you have the organizations that hold certificates for the long term.)

Additionally, I was focusing on risk to the system. One systemic risk is that if a holder of certificates runs into financial trouble (which happens to non-profits), they may be forced to dump a large number of certificates on the market.

The validity issue is similar. I'm not concerned if a specific certificate turned out to be false. What would be a systemic risk is the perception that many certificates are false. That would lead holders of certificates to dump them on the market, so that they can reinvest their philanthropic capital into something worthy. (Remember that trustees have a fiduciary duty to protect the finances of the charity, so they can't just shrug and live with it like you or I might.)

I think there is a material distinction between the situations you describe. GiveWell stands behind a very few efforts at one time. If I want to give, I can easily do a bit of research myself about the organizations that they endorse. If I understand the certificates proposal proposal, the core point is to encompass just about anyone who wants to claim that they did something good. Presumably, that would give rise to organizations that validate those claims. But that seems a quite different undertaking from what GiveWell does today: it would require an organizational structure for mass production. If money is involved, then you get commercial pressures on standards; if money is not involved, you still get political and social pressures. And, if it turns out that the certificate of impact "ratings agencies" were sloppy or used lax standards, then the market suddenly comes to believe that it is holding certificates that don't represent the activities that the holders were organized to promote. If I was on the board of trustees, I'd dump the certificates and redeploy what philanthropic capital I can salvage. When I do that, and others see the price falling, they might follow suit. And then there is the impact on the organizations that had planned activities on the assumption that they could sell the resulting certificates on the market to cover their costs.

One way to eliminate all of these risks is to make it so that people who buy to hold can't resell. Then it is much, much more like a grant.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Certificates of Impact [Paul Christiano; Link] · 2014-11-11T19:07:22.033Z · LW · GW

I don't really want to create an account on yet another website, so I'll comment here. Anyone with a login there should feel free to copy and cross post.

It is a thought-provoking idea, but there seem to be serious problems with the model underling the proposal. The model fails to distinguish between flows and stocks.

Then at equilibrium, the price of certificates of impact on X is equal to the marginal cost of achieving an impact on X. Any deviation is an arbitrage opportunity: if you can do X more cheaply, then you can sell the resulting certificates for a profit; if you are doing X more expensively, then you could save money by buying certificates instead.

This is a faulty analogy to product markets, and is true only if certificates are consumed. They are not.

The better analogy would be to the market for money, where the demand for money is greatly affected by the public's desire to hold cash. We see hyperinflation (i.e. a rapid decline in the price of money) where the public believes that money is becoming worthless. When that happens, what used to be extra-marginal stock becomes infra-marginal flow. A similar crisis of confidence could occur for certificates of impact. In fact, that is exactly what has happened to carbon credit schemes.

One way to make the model look more like a product model is to expire the certificates. They are only good for a year, or they all expire on December 31, or something like that.

A related point is how to validate that the activity claimed to have an impact actually occurred. This is a systemic risk similar to the problem of assigning credit ratings to collateralized debt obligations. Someone has to say whether or not the activity occurred. If the person saying so is revealed to have exercised insufficient diligence, then the market has a crisis of confidence.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on My third-of-life crisis · 2014-11-11T15:17:59.601Z · LW · GW

I have become everyone's joke at the office because I am so unmotivated that I'm unable to arrive on time every morning, but I've become so good at the job that my boss doesn't mind, and literally everyone asks me about basic stuff all the time. I was head editor for one year, but I almost went into nervous breakdown and requested to be downgraded to regular editor, where life is much more manageable.

This sparked two thoughts.

First, if you are already arriving late to work, you might consider intentionally rearranging your day to get up and write first thing. It seems that the path you want most is in writing, so you might look for ways to use the part of your day when your mind is most fresh for that.

Second, not everyone should join management. Being able to do something well is not the same as being able to manage someone else doing it. You seem to fill more the role of a team lead -- the expert that everyone goes to asking how to do it. Eventually a good team lead becomes irreplaceable, especially if they actually embrace the role of mentor and teacher. That means that you will have the pull to ask for the projects that interest you most and to ask for more compensation. But using that pull can be a difficult balance. You have to be careful to ask in way that causes your boss to agree you deserve it, even if your boss can't give it to you. Eventually, the boss will give you something. You just have to avoid being a pest in the meantime.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on What are the most common and important trade-offs that decision makers face? · 2014-11-06T19:51:31.227Z · LW · GW

I was thinking build vs buy or I source vs outsource being much like some of the first point.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Why is the A-Theory of Time Attractive? · 2014-11-01T14:49:20.836Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure why, but I use A-series for epistemology and B-series for metaphysics. That's probably deeply wrong somehow, but it fits with a strong belief in the fallibility of both memory and prediction.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Recovery Manual for Civilization · 2014-11-01T05:22:48.104Z · LW · GW

I was thinking about this two days ago, which is an odd synchronicity.

My first conclusion was that there are all kinds of events that could lead to a collapse of civilization without exterminating humanity directly. But it may be impossible for humanity to rise back from the ashes if it stays there too long. Humanity can't take the same path it took to get to where it is now. For example, humanity developed different forms of energy as prices of previous forms rose. For example, we started digging up shallow coal when population grew too high to use charcoal produced from wood. But many of those resources are no longer near the surface. All coal, oil, and gas near the surface has been extracted. So humanity, if it rose again, would have to find a different path.

My conclusion was that I would not want to invest enough time into preparing for the end of the world to get personally involved in preparing for the end of civilization. But some people already do: all the survivalists and similar people. So, if I want to help civilization recover after a collapse, my best alternative is not to try to store the information myself. Instead, it is to reduce the information to a useful form and give it to these people. This is far more robust that trying to think of the best way of having the information survive. Give it to a few thousand people in scattered places with different survival strategies, and it is much more likely that the information survives.

These two facts together led me to conclude that a collaboration to prepare some kind of big, easily read manual of technology would be a valuable contribution to the survival of humanity. It would need to build on itself, somewhat like tech trees in strategy games.

Plus, it would be really amusing for the LW community to decide that one of its bets for saving humanity is to help outfit survivalists with technical know-how.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Boring Advice Repository · 2014-10-29T21:59:17.967Z · LW · GW

After you get a haircut you like, get a friend to take a picture of you from all four sides (and top, I suppose) with your phone. In future haircuts, show it to the stylist.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on 2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2014-10-29T19:45:07.358Z · LW · GW

I took the survey. I won't give it back, either.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Stupid Questions (10/27/2014) · 2014-10-28T03:33:59.049Z · LW · GW

There are two typical ways to invest in an index fund, plus one way that isn't.

  1. Buy a mutual fund that mimics the index you want to buy. You technically own shares in the mutual fund, which is an undivided right to a tiny percent of the whole pool. To get your money out, you have to redeem your shares, which happens at the fair market value. (It used to be that redemptions happened at fair market value at market closing price; I don't know if that is still true.) To fund redemptions, the fund has to keep some cash on hand, so some small percent of your money isn't actually invested. If you invest in mutual funds in a taxable account, the churn in fund holders' redemptions create trades that cause capital gains, which creates taxable income for the fund as a whole. It will be a small percent, but it will still be there (on top of taxation of any dividends). This is because the legal model applied to your investment is like you are a partner in a partnership, where you get an allocation of profits and losses that are separate from your receipt of cash.

  2. Buy an exchange traded fund that mimics the index you want to buy. These are still mutual funds in operation. The main difference here is that the shares in the fund are themselves tradable. Theoretically, I think this means that the fund does not have to redeem as much, so it can hold much less cash. It would do redemptions if people were bailing out of the market generally, so that sellers outnumber buyers. But the issuer can essentially make money by arbitraging any difference, which means effectively redemptions pay for themselves. Being exchange traded means that the mutual funds have to make some additional SEC filings, but these have become routine once EFT's became popular, and the costs are spread over a truly vast number of people. The other main difference is that you only pay taxes on capital gains when you sell your ETF shares. That is because the legal model treats an ETF like an investment in a corporation, where the corporation's profits and losses are not attributed to you, and you only get something when you get cash.

  3. You can also buy all the shares yourself, which is something called a "synthetic" fund sometimes in rarefied circles. It eliminates all of the potential capital gains taxes until you sell the underlying assets, but it means that you have to buy a set of shares that would be really expensive and only comes in oddly sized chunks. For example, if you want to buy the stocks in the Dow Jones, that is 30 different stocks, any you would have to buy one of each. That might cost you $1,531.72. Who wants to buy investments at a price of $1,531.72 per unit? What do you do if you have $1,500 or $1,600?That is why ETF's are so attractive. They get all of the convenience of the mutual fund, the capital gains tax treatment of owning shares directly. Index funds, whether regular mutual funds or exchange traded funds, also have the benefit of spreading fixed costs over huge numbers of people, so the expenses are usually very low.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Stupid Questions (10/27/2014) · 2014-10-28T02:46:28.416Z · LW · GW

I think it depends on your goals.

  • Have you already decided you want the job? "Based on this interview and the information I have given you, what do you see as my strengths compared to other candidates?" Same question for weaknesses but think about not highlighting them unless you are pretty sure you can defeat them by addressing them. One way to ask about them would be to ask something more leading, like "what are you unsure about, where you would like to hear more from me about the topic?"

  • Are you really just thinking about the job, where you already have adequate employment? Then ask about what matters to you in a job.

  • Listening to a talk for fun or learning? I think contextualized questions about application of ideas are good to bring the abstract down to the concrete and sometime reveal more. So, you might start a question with, "I am a ___ and in that work I see a lot of ___ . How do you think your idea of ___ applies to a ___ where ___ is usually the case?" I think the key there is not to focus on the introduction. Most people like to talk about themselves, so it is easy to fall into that trap and forget about asking a question.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on Noticing · 2014-10-25T20:42:51.836Z · LW · GW

I hadn't realized, until I moved back to Texas, that I missed how big the sky is here. 180 degrees of sky, with no trees, hills, mountains, and buildings in the way.

Comment by MaximumLiberty on question: the 40 hour work week vs Silicon Valley? · 2014-10-25T20:19:38.142Z · LW · GW

For these kinds of startups, everyone working is also an investor or owner or is otherwise hitched to the startup's survival. Working extra long hours can be a signal to investors in two ways. First, the workers believe in the idea enough to work double time. Second, the path to knowing whether the investment is worth another investment round will come sooner.