Open Thread

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

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  • When you talk about signalling, do you typically use it in the generic economist’s sense, or do you have in mind trait signalling a la Geoffrey Miller?

    If its the latter, is it really possible to ‘overcome’ the biases created by this ubiquitous form of signalling? In Miller’s view, trait signalling in positional status games is endemic, and explains virtually all the art, beauty and creative expression in our lives. In fact Happiness itself is viewed not as a state of intrinsic consumption of utility, but as an outward signal of mental health. Eliminative materialism writ large (happiness really isn’t about being happy) leaves no room for motivation, which Hume pointed out requires the passions.

    Let me put it this way: much of your writing seems to be trying to point out parochial biases in favor of a more utilitarian focus on certain terminal values. But our parochial biases seem impossible and even undesirable to escape, entwined as they are with said values. Maximizing human happiness (say) is itself privileging a quite limited signalling behavior.

    • I’m not aware that Miller uses the word signaling in a different sense than economists. I don’t understand most of the rest of your comment.


        This lecture of his is a good example of how he uses the term.

        Economists use signalling to describe consumption or behaviors that reveal information. Period. It’s a malleable definition, very generic. Signalling is usually a conscious choice, tho people may deny or self-deceive that they are signalling to (ironically) strengthen the signal.

        Evolutionary Psychologists like Miller use signalling to describe instinctual behavior that specifically reveals information about genetic traits, like fecundity, or fitness. This may include secondary factors like affiliations or positions in status hierarchies, insofar as they are cues for fitness or parental investment.

        The EvoPsych view of signalling may be entirely unconscious. Darwinian explanations are ultimate, as opposed to proximate. Thus there is no deliberate choice or self-deception necessary. Someone who takes up dancing is conspicuously signalling their fitness, but evolution only gave them a gene to dance, not a gene to know why they like dancing.

        The distinction seems huge and important to me. Economic signalling emerges from information, matching and transaction costs. EvoPsych signalling is innate and inevitable, and arguably the source of all human meaning.

        You don’t need to accept my dichotomy. I was simply hoping you could give a more explicit definition and background for the way *you* use it.

      • You incorrectly assume that economists are taking positions when they prefer to remain agnostic. Economists do not usually make assumptions about whether choices are conscious, or about whether info signaled is genetically encoded. I also avoid making such assumptions unless I need to make them.

  • brendan_r

    Good news, CATO wants NGDP targeting. Bad news, CATO wants to forecast NGDP using the Gold Price. From their policy handbook:

    The Fed should

    ● keep the growth of nominal GDP (or domestic final sales) on a stable, noninflationary path so that expected inflation is close to zero by controlling the monetary base;

    ● use forward-looking prices (such as the price of gold, financial assets, and the exchange rate) to help guide monetary policy;

    CATO wants to target NGDP.

    CATO says the Fed cannot “make accurate macroeconomic forecasts.” (Good so far.)

    Instead, CATO wants NGDP forecasts based on…the price of GOLD! And the exchange rate!

    It’s almost as if the macro profession realizes that if it creates NGDP futures it destroys itself.

  • TheBrett

    I can’t wait until we figure out a drug* or something that eliminates the feeling of being bored. There’s probably some good reasons for boredom as a behavior, but if you’re stuck doing something boring anyways, it sure would help.

    * Please don’t say, “But drugs already alleviate boredom!” I already got that.

  • Marc Geddes

    The mystery on who is the creator of Bitcoin (the mysterious ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’) may finally have been put to rest.

    Prior detailed investigations had narrowed down the suspects to 3 main candidates: Wei Dai, Hal Finney and Nick Szabo. Only these 3 were closely associated to Bitcoin from the beginning, and had the motivation and smarts to create Bitcoin.

    Further detailed investigation seemed to rule out Finney, leaving Wei Dai and Nick Szabo.

    Now a comprehensive analysis of the writing of the top suspects by forensic linguistics experts showed that Nick Szabo is Satoshi:

  • Lon Spector

    Bias can ruin lives, because bias is blinders.
    My folks had divergent viewpoints on EVERYTHING.
    I didn’t know what to believe. Confusion reigned.
    So I took to my bedroom at the age of 12 and rarely
    emerged. Naturally, my bickering parents didn’t
    know how to react. So I lost the ability to relate to
    people and became a social vegatable.

  • Homo hypocritus

    The idea (but not, as far as I know, the term) found its way into a book published by a university press. (See “How Evolution Explains the Conflicted Death-Penalty Debate” on the book “The “Punisher’s Brain: The Evolution of Judge and Jury”):

    We are predisposed to cooperate with each other, because living in groups gave us substantial long-term survival advantage. But we are also born cheaters, because cheating in the right circumstances gave us a short-term survival advantage.

    As these two conflicting tendencies tugged for our souls, we simultaneously evolved punishment behaviors—a way to dampen cheating by increasing the short-term costs to the cheater.

    But our punishment instincts are infected with the same conflict—our brains have been built to punish cheaters, but that punishment urge is intrinsically restrained, in no small part because we all know that we, too, are cheaters.