Open Thread

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

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  • Robert Koslover

    Are we are seriously overdue for a major world war?
    (E.g., see http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/2014-good-year-great-war-9652 .)

    • IMASBA

      I hope world leaders do remember how the last war finally ended (in Japan)… If they do we can continue our no-world-war era.

      • Mike Johnson

        I appreciated your previous reply to my comment (A Missing Status Move, 8 days ago) and I wanted to re-quote you here: “Yes, that is a hugely important point. We do many things because they feel “right”, not because we have a rational reason. …The point is that very often the human mind, even the subconscious mind, does not have a strategy behind behavior.”

        I fear war fervor is like any other strong emotion– which is to say, the feeling can be terribly illogical yet viscerally overpowering. That said, even if every actor is close to rational, things can still spiral out of control.

        Here’s a brief post regarding east asia that I can strongly recommend, particularly with respect to
        China making some unforced errors with their recent escalations. http://isteve.blogspot.com/2013/12/handles-haus-on-edward-luttwak-on-china.html

    • Jake Taubner

      There doesn’t appear to be anything in that article that implies we are “seriously overdue.” In fact, it gave me the opposite impression.

  • Anonymous

    Where did philanthropy come from? Is it mainly about signaling? Do you get a status boost by giving to out-groups vs in-groups, which could be seen as self serving? http://philanthropy.com/article/2013-s-Biggest-Gifts-Signal/143743/

    • Romeo Stevens

      peacocking and signalling far values.

      • IMASBA

        Wanting to be seen as generous can be a motivation for public philanthropy but obviously not for anonymous philanthropy. Anonymous philanthropy may just be a simple case of it making the philanthropist “feel good”. You can call that “selfish” because the philanthropist is making himself feel good, or you can call it “kind” because what else would a kind person be than someone who feels good when he’s helping others? Would you expect someone to be kind if they don’t enjoy helping others, can a person even do something that he does not enjoy on any level, isn’t that like expecting a computer program to do something that its code prevents it from doing? There’s really no right answer, it’s a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full kind of thing.

        Naturally evolution favors some paths towards philanthropy over others but that doesn’t play in (even the unconscious) mind of the philanthropist so it’s a bit cynical to only look at a selfish evolutionary answer. Also, if one doesn’t find “it makes me feel good to help others” a satisfactory mark of altruism then one has set an impossible standard for altruism and one may end up killing oneself over it like George R. Price.

  • Robert Koslover

    The fact that fines for infractions and misdemeanors provides a source of income for government offices and/or officials provides those same officials with a perverse incentive to abuse innocent citizenry in order to obtain those funds. (For example, red light cameras have long been criticized for being revenue generators for local governments, rather than devices that actually enhance safety.) If instead of fines going to fund government agencies, all fines for all infractions/crimes had to paid in the form of paper cash (not checks, but actual paper cash), and that cash, upon payment, was then promptly publicly shredded/burned, this would result in punishing the guilty by exactly the same amount as before, but would not give an incentive to police and/or courts to issue unfair tickets or make unfair rulings. Note also that this is NOT wanton destruction of wealth, since paper currency is not actually wealth at all. Rather, burning paper currency simply reduces the amount of currency relative to the goods and services (which are actual wealth) produced in/by society, thus making every other unit of the subject currency slightly more valuable, e.g., a traffic violator’s burned cash in US dollars is thus transferred/redistributed invisibly and proportionally to and among all other US dollars existing worldwide, rather than to any specific and potentially corruptible authority.

    • IMASBA

      You forget that fines don’t go to those who hand out the fines or make rulings about them (at least not in civilized countries), not even to their bosses. Income from fines may be earmarked for social security or the military or whatever. The people who decide about fines and the people who benefit from that source of income are separated.

      • Robert Koslover
      • IMASBA

        There’s always a risk that say a governor changes the rules to generate more income through fines, but the actual police offers and judges are a different matter so any changes would hurt everyone equally. Shredding money prevents it from being earmarked (for example using the income of traffic fines to boost medical spending roughly equal to the cost of treatment of traffic accident victims.)

    • Todd Walton

      Coincidentally, I had this same thought about two days ago after reading something in a magazine about how police departments use asset forfeiture to line their coffers.

      I like the idea of just burning the fine money, but one thing to account for would be covering the cost of your wrongdoing. Part of the fines you pay are not *just* punitive, but also account for police time, any damage you did, renting your jail cell (if applicable), the courts, and stuff like that. It makes sense to me that the wrongdoer pays those costs. And in fact, getting an itemized list with associated costs may have the effect of making it clear to the wrongdoer that the consequences of their actions affected others as well.

  • Zingram

    This is a great interview. I think even Robin might find it somewhat curious: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/01/03/gabe-newell-on-what-makes-valve-tick/

    • Zingram

      (I do not work for Valve . I merely find their operating procedure and philosophy fascinating)

  • Marc Geddes

    Does Bitcoin signal a hacker take-over in progress?

    Readers may recall last year, in the thread ‘Imaging Futures Past’, I suggested a transition from an ‘Industrialist’ economy to a radically new and then unknown ‘hacker’ economy – i.e., I suggested a hacker/munchkin take-over was imminent.

    Here was the link to that thread last year;
    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2013/05/imagining-futures-past.html

    Folks could not conceive of such a thing, saying that there was ‘no evidence’ of a new ‘hacker’ economy emerging. One year has passed, and of course, crypto-currencies (most notably Bitcoin) have exploded in popularity and appear to be a potential game-changer.

    I’m not saying Bitcoin is *likely* to radically restructure the whole of the economic system, I’m saying we can now at least conceive of how it *might* be possible for the standard capitalist/industrialist economy to give way to a radically new ‘hacker economy’.

    Recall that my postulated economic progression was:

    Foragers >>> Farmers >>>> Industrialists >>> Hackers

    The question is this: is Bitcoin indeed the instrument of a true ‘hacker revolution’ , or, simply another speculative mania that is no threat to the prevailing order?

    • Robert Koslover

      1. I don’t understand your “economic progression.” Foragers, farmers, and industrialists all generated real and necessary goods and services, which provided humans with such things as food, clothing, shelter, and more. What do hackers provide? Might you really mean “programmers” or “computer scientists,” or “computer engineers,” or “software developers” or something similar? …like the people who write code or build systems that, at least in some cases, actually contributes to the well-being of humanity in some manner?

      2. Why would the existence of ANY new currency, regardless of type, radically change the economy, especially to the extent that it would be not be “capitalist”? Did the creation of credit cards, debit cards, or (to go back a ways) Green stamps or Disney dollars, do anything like that? Did Paypal change the “capitalist’ nature of our economy? There have existed currencies (like gold or silver coins) that are backed by things considered of intrinsic value for thousands of years, but far more currencies are now backed by promises (some more vague than others) of being traded for potential things of actual value at some later time. Bitcoin would seem to be one of the latter types, and is currently in fashion. With time, it may become more in fashion or less in fashion. And it is arguably very interesting from a mathematical and/or computer-science perspective, but what the heck does Bitcoin, or its particular nature, have to do with either the future or nature of the economy in general?

      • Marc Geddes

        (1) I mean ‘hackers’ in the white-hat sense of creating software that adds value, yes developers etc.
        (2) The key innovation with the new crypto-currencies (of which Bitcoin is only one particular example) is the decentralized public ledger. All previous currencies had a centralized source. With decentralization, it won’t be at all easy for authorities to shut it down, and what these new crypto-currencies allow is for users to bypass central banks/govt. The decentralized public ledger is a new general-purpose protocol which could have many as yet unanticipated uses and change the nature of the economy in ways no one expects.

  • stevenearlsalmony

    In response to Dame Jane Goodall…

    Yes, hope is vital. But so is being intellectually honest and morally courageous enough to speak out loudly, clearly and often about what is real, according to the lights and science we possess. We cannot make a difference that makes a difference if we continue not to question the ubiquitously broadcasted delusions by the world leaders of my generation who are leading our youth down a ‘primrose path’ to surely precipitate the utter extirpation of global biodiversity, the irreversible degradation of Earth’s environs, the reckless dissipation of its limited resources and the destruction of life as we know it. The very thing our leaders claim to be protecting and preserving for children everywhere and coming generations.

    β€œThe greatest danger to our planet is that we lose hope – especially if our youth loses hope. Because, if we have no hope, we give up and stop trying to do our bit to make a difference.” – Dr. Jane Goodall