Brennan and Magness’ book Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education reviews many ways that colleges overpromise, and fail to deliver. It confirms (with Caplan’s Case Against Education
Social systems are inherently not very understandable because making them understandable takes power away from those who are good at understanding them.
That is possible, but would be sad. I'll keep looking to see if we can do better.
"They are like the weather; they exist, and may be good or bad, but we are too ignorant to do much about them. If a situation is bad, we can’t work to make it better. Some elites might have agency re such institutions, but not the rest of us. So a key question is: can we reform or create social institutions that are more understandable, to allow ordinary people to have more agency regarding the institutions in their lives?"
And if the answer to this key question is simply "no"? What if only "some elites" having agency re institutions, while the rest of us are powerless to make bad situations better, simply is the way things are and will remain?
Sure, going with stuff recommended by a majority party in a two party system is a pretty weak method, relative going with particular views that have majority support.
One obvious shortcoming of trusting majorities comes with our current two party system. Each party represents a disparate collection of different policy positions, and there will always be one party currently in the ascendancy. This may mean that the most contentious policy question of the day has received a lot of attention, but most of their other positions are just "along for the ride". And we don't seem to get legislation based on a wider consensus, just the policies that the leaders of the majority party can cobble together a coalition of 50.5% for.
So I could see an argument for choosing your beliefs based on what a supermajority believed with some confidence, but making political choices based on majority voting isn't working very well. And the current partisan divide across most policy discussions is making it hard to distinguish which facts about reality or policy proposals actually have support from a majority of those interested, from those that are merely part of a platform espoused as a bundle from the faction currently on top.
To what extent is it really true people are availing themselves of these institutions based on the objective (direct) benefits they offer rather than being primarily motivated by the desire to signal what kind of person they are.
If it's really mostly the later you'd expect to see general pushback on any meta-institution that revealed the true (non-signalling based) value of these institutions (people don't appreciate having it revealed something is primarily signaling as it undermines signal value). And this is exactly what we see. Attempts to rank universities by prestige (US News) are tolerated but attempts to quantify either skills learnt or economic value draw serious pushback and insistence school offers some deeply valuable but unquantifiable benefit.
I'd love to see some reform here (tho I appreciate the POS externality of the funding for research tying schools to research institutions creates) but I fear the problem isn't difficulty evaluating benefits but a collective action problem where everyone who has enough prestige to change things risks personal harm if they challenge the orthodoxy about value of high prestige education.
Gambling gold in a world where there are no courts, I imagine, is simple enough for most people to understand, so long as they understand the ideas of exhaustive and exclusive bets. Financial institutions, like stock markets, and money itself, not to mention the court and regulatory systems, seem like poor candidates for widespread understanding. People definitely don't understand even basic things about the stock market. They mostly use it to gamble.
Agency level understandability of institutional emergent intelligence
Sure; thanks. Fwiw I'd count that as saying it's intrinsically valuable (in addition to likely instrumental benefits).
Btw, it's interesting that understandability/transparency pops up as an important issue both re social systems and AI systems.
Instead of asking why we would want ordinary people to be able to understand their social systems, put yourself in the position of one of those people. I think it will then be more obvious why you want to understand your social world.
With combinatorial prediction markets, one can easily support as many prices as a computer can store. They have their limits of course, but then so do all the other general mechanisms.
Apologies if I have a misconception or am misinterpreting aspects of this post but-Aren't prediction markets inherently low bandwidth? If so they don't seem a great match for helping one develop more than a very crude mental model of a complex system on their own. I can more easily see how they can be used in combination with other kinds of meta-institutions for this purpose (e.g. experts; one can use the low bandwidth high trust market to help select high bandwidth, otherwise-low-trust experts).
Interesting. I guess there could be two reasons why one would want institutions that are understandable to ordinary people. First, one might think it's intrinsically desirable; maybe because it brings us closer to the ideal of a real democracy, where voters well-informed decisions. Second, one might it's instrumentally useful, e.g. because it leads to greater trust in institutions which may lead to greater political stability over the long run, or because it's easier to check them which in turn leads to greater efficiency over the long run.
A utilitarian, for instance, might accept the second reason for understandability, but presumably not the first one.
Do you support both reasons for understandability, or only of them? Or do you maybe frame the issue differently?