Values are about us and what we want... But for the vast majority of our decisions, we have a good rough idea of what we value, and most of our decision problem (on the margin) is to figure out relevant facts... To learn what we value, we mostly just need to try different things out and see how we feel about them.

The collective pronoun conceals a fatal equivocation. In political and social discussions, "our" wants refers to what's good for other people, not just for "us," personally, and those wants are insusceptible to gross experimentation.

The voicing of "values" (dreary as it may be) is part of the process of social coordination, an inevitable part of democratic process.

And I’m especially glad to be an economist, since our using a standard value metric lets us focus most of our disagreement on differing views about facts.

Incorporating a "standard value metric" is surely inappropriate in a field that purports to be scientific. Only the most pseudo-scientific fields of psychology, for example, contain tacit value metrics. Science is value free—honestly.

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Yes one strategy to achieving top goals is to generate subgoals recursively, and this generation needs to consider facts as well as values. But even then we can ask whether folks talk more about facts or values in that case.

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Values and goals are related but not identical.

In my mind:

1. A value describes what you want to optimize2. The goal is the result of the measurement you are seeking3. The unit of measure (units, magnitude, sign) describe how you want to measure your value ... (it links your values with your goals)

For example, body weight is a value, its is measured in pounds, but a goal would be to have a body weight of less than 200 pounds ... value, body weight, goal < 200, unit pounds

fuel economy would be a value, measured in miles per gallon units, while greater than 20 miles per gallon would be a goal, being wealthy is a value measured in dollars, having more than 100,000 could be a goal ... so there is a value, a measure, and a point on the measure, a goal/state if you will ...

Your goal: remembering to go to the store would be measured by binary units with Y/N values ...

Your goal: convert the reachable universe ... is missing the value and the units that's why its such a meaningless statement ...

We often confuse these terms and or leave one out ...

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The question you raised is: when making decisions why do people focus on values more than they do facts?

The answer is that values are easier to identify and more relevant to decision making. "facts" per se are harder to identify and less relevant.

So the net result is that it is easier and more helpful to talk about values than facts ... which is why people tend to do it.

Those that study decisions tell us that a decision is the selection of an alternative intended to deliver a preferred outcome, using information available at the time of the decision. One seeks to select the alternative most likely to deliver the outcome the decision maker "values" the most based on ones state of information at the time of making the decision.

Notice that the role of TIME is important.

Notice further that the "decision basis" has three components: alternatives, information, values ...in a nutshell pick the alternative you expect to maximize your values based on what you believe.

Facts ... are only a sub component of information ... they aren't highly relevant in terms of predicting the future outcome ... facts are about the past and decision makers are interested in the future. and this link between facts (now) and outcomes (future) is highly tenuous because of uncertainty ...so facts (as people generally understand them) are not very useful in predicting outcomes. You know this from your research. Give people the identical facts and their predictions vary wildly.

When one digs really deep into the definition of a fact, the picture gets even murkier... the notion of a fact is more of a concept than one expects.

Had you asked a better question: when making decisions why do people focus on values more than they do INFORMATION?

The answer to that would have been that very very very few people actually understand what information is in the context of decision making ... based on your post, you seem to confuse these terms and I consider you to be extremely well educated.

That in a nutshell is the problem with decision making generally, people don't know what decisions are, what they are comprised of, how they work, how to improve them, or how to measure them?

So the question you should have asked: why do people focus on the wrong elements when making decisions? And I have already answered that for you.

I should start charging you tuition Professor Hanson!! :)

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Do you distinguish values from goals? Most of the people I know who believe they care much at all about making better decisions spend an awful lot more time talking about how to accomplish their goals, whatever those happen to be, than about why their top-level goals are what they are (which is what I usually mean when I say "value"). But a "goal" can be anything from "remember to go to the store on the way home from work" to "convert the reachable universe into quality adjusted life years".

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Now THAT'S what I'm Talking About !!!

(my favorite line from the Social Network). But yeah, exactly right, and well put.

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The way the human brain is set up, facts are dull and boring, values are sparkly and sexy, basically. No one is particularly interested in listening to nerds droning on about the facts, what the crowd wants to see is dashing heroes, devious villains and spectacular contests. The crowd wants sound and fury, not intellectual discourse.

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In this post, I see a lot about valuing facts over values... I don't see too many facts.

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I didn't say economic methods are value neutral. I said using standard values lets economists focus on talking about facts, because values are known and held constant.

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Good points. The entire post could in fact be summarized as "Look at how much I value truth-seeking."

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Only somewhat related to your question, here's Tyler saying (contrary to Hanson) that economic methods are not themselves value neutral.


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Having values is not as simple as it sounds. Values are abstract, to translate them into guidelines for real life situations is difficult and that is an important reason to discuss values often, it's not just about signalling. Think about it: most people share similar values deep down but they translate them into very diverse guidelines. Socialists and libertarians both want people to be free of coercion/aggression, yet when push comes to shove they choose different definitions of what coercion/aggression exactly is, if you see values as simple and unrelated to facts than you are acting like differences like socialists and libertarians do not exist, in addition to a whole lot of other "big things" in the real world.

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Perhaps solid facts are hard to come by on some of the grand topics you mention. I find that in real life I rarely discuss those grand topics and I typically discuss facts. I can't remember attending a business meeting that was mostly about values rather than facts. Blogs and internet discussions seem to be a better medium for discussing values since they are more about showing off/intellectual masturbation than actual decision making.

Given that you have a blog and mostly devote yourself to thinking about grand topics like "the future" I think your preference for facts over values is implausible. Even this post is all about what you value (facts) and what you don't value (values) and doesn't present any actual facts that I can see. This post seems like a Cowenesque joke to me but honestly I can't tell.

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I think Robin meant "especially the way (everything else) changes (how (what we get) depends on (what we do))"

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Hooray for this post!

Tangentially-related tidbit: some people associated with the effective altruism movement (like Peter Singer) make a big deal about philosophical arguments designed to get people to care more about distant people in need. But I've found such arguments have much less of an impact on my behavior than factual information about what someone like me can do to help others.

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Hypothesis: People most often devote themselves to promoting better decisions when they disagree very strongly with society's decisions. Variance is higher, or at least the tails are fatter, with value than info because people are more persuadable in matters of info. Thus, most decision-devotees are focused mainly on value.

My impression is that those who claim to care mainly about better decisions tend to be (or view themselves as) value contrarians. They believe that society has accepted the wrong values and is making a whole slew of wrong decisions as a result. Are there people who spend their time ostensibly promoting better decisions by repeatedly affirming accepted values?

Now, as for why we form the values we do in the first place, I suspect signalling plays a leading role. But once these disparate, hard-to-move values are in place, the amount of value talk we see isn't surprising.

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