"Yet few actually devote much of their income to long term investments. This raises doubts about the sincerity of expressed long term concerns."

I doubt the sincerity of this leap of logic.

"Second, in our simplest models of the world good local choices also produce good long term choices. So if we presume good local choices, bad long term outcomes require non-simple elements, such as coordination, commitment, or myopia problems."

Funny how the implicit but clearly false universal quantifier is ignored for the sake of the conclusion. Eating one delicious morsel is good but eating a pantryful is not. And similar issues of quantity are relevant to Robin's examples, not the "short term" vs. "long term" of his disingenuous logical shell game.

"For example, in software small changes are often trivial, while larger changes are nearly impossible, at least without starting again from scratch."

No, larger changes are *more dangerous*, so larger changes *without negative consequences* are increasingly unlikely.

"Third, our ability to foresee the future rapidly declines with time. The more other things that may happen between today and some future date, the harder it is to foresee what may happen at that future date. We should be increasingly careful about the inferences we draw about longer terms."

This is the intellectually dishonest argument that climate science deniers use ... but the correct analysis is that more uncertainty calls for more caution, not less.

"For example, in software small changes are often trivial, while larger changes are nearly impossible, at least without starting again from scratch."

No, larger changes *without error* are increasingly difficult. Larger changes *per se* are not at all impossible.

"Recent changes in market structure may reduce the number of firms in each industry, but that doesn’t make it remotely plausible that one firm will eventually take over the entire economy."

Another nutty leap of logic, and of course a strawman. One firm taking over an industry is bad enough. And if it's a critical industry, it can certainly have major consequences for the entire economy.

"Projections of small changes into large changes need to consider the possibility of many such factors limiting large changes."

I wonder whether, when Robin wrote this, he remembered the previous time, oh so long ago, that he used that word ...

"It shouldn’t be sufficient to just point to the possibility of such problems."

Willard Quine on such arguments:


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I guess you're just bowing to political reality when you propose limiting the discussion to times that people actually care about. It is frustratingly hard to argue against this, even wrt potentially apocalyptic scenarios.

In the interest of nudging peoples' planning horizon a bit, I *will* point out that even people who care only about their grandchildrens' generation should be looking very far out, for two reasons: 1) their grandchildren could live a very long time, 2) caring presumably means caring about their grandkids' well-being (not just their survival), so they should consider that those grandchildren will have their own (likely much longer) planning horizons.

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G.K. Chesterton put it better:

"There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, 'I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away.' To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: 'If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.'"

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this is actually THE standard debate about change: some see small changes and either like them or aren’t bothered enough to advocate what it would take to reverse them, while others imagine such trends continuing long enough to result in very large and disturbing changes, and then suggest stronger responses.

This piece draws the same distinction, which Friedersdorf calls equilibrium versus limits:https://www.theatlantic.com...

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