Open Thread

This is our monthly place to discuss relevant topics that have not appeared in recent posts.

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  • Sean

    You have recommended that people read more textbooks (

    I would be interested to know which you recommend (including which topics), and why.

    Is there an optimal life-cycle pattern to textbook reading (e.g. when young, read about subjects that are less likely to change)?

    • Yes avoid learning the latest computer language, as that is likely to change. Read stuff you find interesting, cause that will keep you reading.

  • Nagendran Krishnamoorthi

    Recent studies show that there has been a significant decline (about 5%) of labour share of world GDP (in past 2-3 decades). How does this affect your analysis of em econ?

  • Robert Koslover

    Hmm. Here’s an interesting energy-policy/economics experiment taking place in the UK that we in the USA might want to monitor. See:

  • Romeo Stevens

    I found this particular proposal for a negative income tax (basic income guarantee) to be pretty interesting, and couldn’t spot any obvious flaws. Can anyone see bad incentive structures here?

  • I just heard Professor Coase has died … Was he overrated (“transaction costs” are so fuzzy) or was he a genius (all harms are reciprocal)?

  • blogospheroid

    I would it like it if a future article appeared on em econ and war / rebellion/ other unseemly scenarios.

    The pessimistic view is as follows. –
    When there is no perceptibly large gain in cooperating with other tribes/clans/nations, i.e. when all you need are resources and robots, then attacking others for their resources pays off in a game theoretic sense. This has not been the case for any time since the beginning of the 20th century. The gains that classic liberalism has had in bringing peace to the world enticing the holdouts with the latest shiny gadgets, could end, and drastically so.

    This scenario is the unspoken hidden fear behind every basic income / socialist schemes that are often suggested to follow the rise of the robots. If the masses are not pacified, they will rebel with 3d printed weapons in their hands. Their targets will be the control codes of the cornucopia producing robots.

    • IMASBA

      If the people do not cooperate then they cannot possibly be victorious in a rebellion, assuming there is still an organized security force. Lack of cooperation and a credible threat of rebellion cannot coexist.

      What’s the problem with “pacification” anyway? If robots do all the work then all humans are being roughly equally lazy and should therefore have roughly equal income, don’t you think, and if the robots are non-sentient that means everyone should get roughly the GDP/capita as income.

      • blogospheroid

        I’m not denying that cooperation is needed in rebellion. Using the concepts from Jane Jacobs’s systems of survival, cooperation can exist in both Guardian and Commerce ethical syndromes.

        Robin imagines that the most productive and hardworking, the supreme exhibitors of the commerce ethical syndromes are the ones who will be repeatedly copied in the em world. Why won’t the supreme exhibitors of the guardian ethical syndromes be repeatedly copied – the most martial, the most willing to die, the ones most willing to deceive and fight for the cause.

        He imagines supremely concentrated cities in the future, in an era after humanity possesses nuclear weapons. One missile and the entire enemy city is eliminated. These views are not mine – I’m deliberately thinking from a martial perspective here, not a commercial perspective.

        I think, that not considering hostile scenarios leaves a big gap in the futurology of ems.

      • IMASBA

        Well, if you’re talking about an EM world then yes, it will be one trillions of casualties genocide/war/starvation after another. Robin’s philosophy is that no matter how miserable and short a life is it’s still a good thing to create that life, and yeah, that does gloss over how horrible such a world would be for those who have to exist in it, but Robin (from his comfortable armchair in a safe pre-EM world) says it’s for the greater good (creating a greater number of individual lives) and therefore worth it.

      • IMASBA

        Do note that Robin violates his own principals when he allows richer EMs to spend resources on pleasure and life extension instead of the creation of more lives. I guess “never ever ever ever ever raise taxes on the rich” trumps every other principle…

      • Robin (from his comfortable armchair in a safe pre-EM world) says it’s for the greater good

        On its face, the “safe armchair” accusation seems a bit silly. It’s not like Robin is helping bring about an em society. To the contrary, if his predictions have any merit, they better serve as a warning of something to avoid.

        It may be that the “safe armchair” accusation has more merit if you look at ems as metaphor. It strikes me, along with the primitive utilitarianism undergirding its ethics, as somewhat analogous to the advocacy of unlimited immigration, which I understand Robin supports. On that issue, Robin indeed sits in a safe armchair relative to the population it harms.

        But we’ve seen little here, from anyone, on immigration. Perhaps because most commenters, from their “safe armchairs,” are open borderists.

      • Alexander Gabriel

        I would agree it does leave a big gap.

        More broadly though, the question is whether considering changes this large ever leads to anything productive.

        I think the best criticism of the singularity idea is not that it’s unlikely but that nothing useful can be said about it.

      • Alexander Gabriel

        I have reversed on the “unlikely vs. says nothing useful” bit.

        Vinge seems right that we can’t predict what exactly a singularity would be like, but I agree with Will Sawin that it presents a danger to humankind.

    • Today we get large gains from cooperation because we can produce so much more in coordinated firms, cities, and economies. The same would be true for ems.

  • Matthew Hammer

    In your recent attempts to describe the future given ems, you include an story about how bosses will run much faster than subordinates, linking that into various statements about what will be considered high status. While I don’t disagree that status concerns are an important element to how society is organized, it seems out of place here.

    The rest of your projection is, as you’ve said, based on standard econ. But this seems pure speculation. I could just as easily see bosses run much slower than subordinates so that their employees can quickly explore possibilities and the bosses can provide far-mode guidance of that effort in what seems to be real time rather than intermittently over weeks of work. Likewise, it could just as easily be high-status to live slow, like biological humans, where “the action is” because change is fast. On the flip side spending lots of time working on on the near mode details in an unchanging world could be low status.

    I’m not suggesting that this is a more likely outcome, I just don’t see a whole lot in bog-standard econ that can be used to definitively choose between the options.

    So, I guess I’m asking if there are in fact strong econ reasons for your description of speed and status versus some alternative, and if there are, then I’d suggest making those more clear in your discussions since predictions of status organization are going to be much less easily accepted than comparatively obvious predictions like large numbers of em workers = subsistence wages.

    • IMASBA

      Aren’t they the bosses BECAUSE they previously had enough currency to buy a higher clockspeed? These faster EMs would naturally be rare and they would be unbeatable at performance tests which means they’ll either take or get offered high positions where they’ll make more currency to buy themselves an even higher clockspeed after which they’ll climb even higher on the ladder meaning they’ll make even more currency which they’ll spend on buying an even higher clockspeed, and so on.

      Basically for those EMs who are the first to buy a higher clockspeed the EM-world will become a playground for them to do with as they please. There’s no design, no authority to turn things around when efficiency falls, no one who cares about macroeconomics and has the power to change things, it’s just the plutocracy doing whatever they damn well please, it’s that simple.

    • The reasons to expect bosses to run faster than subordinates are strong: that makes it easier to coordinate large organizations, and such coordination is very important. We have additional reasons to expect bosses to be higher status. We have weaker, but still plausible, reasons to expect faster to be higher status in general.

  • Adam

    Maybe this is a goofy question but it’s on my mind, and I would appreciate hearing your thoughts. One of many things I like about this blog is that I think you identify and focus on trends (e.g. ems, predication markets) and forces in society (e.g. hypocrisy, status) that others pay little attention to. So I guess my question is practical and personal: based on these trends, and these forces, what advice would you give someone about how to lead a successful, happy life in the next few decades. I think you addressed this to a certain extent in your reaction to Tyler Cowen’s upcoming book, but I would be curious to hear more. Maybe a different (better?) question is, who are going to be, for lack of better terms, the “winners” and “losers” in the coming decades.