Search Results for: socialism

Yay Stability Rents

Six years ago I posted on the idea of using combinatorial auctions as a substitute for zoning. Since then, news on how badly zoning has been messing up our economy has only gotten worse. I included the zoning combo auction idea in my book The Age of Em, I’ve continued to think about the idea, and last week I talked about it to several LA-based experts in combinatorial auctions.

I’ve been pondering one key design problem, and the solution I’ve been playing with is similar to a solution that also seems to help with patents. I asked Alex Tabarrok, whose office is next door, if he knew of any general discussion of such things, and he pointed me to a long (110 page) 2016 paper called “Property is another name for monopoly” by Eric Posner and Glen Weyl. (See also this technical paper.) And that turned out to be a relatively general argument for using the specific mechanism that I was considering using in zoning combo auctions, get this, as a new standard kind of property right for most everything! Looking for web discussion, I find a few critical responses, and one excellent 2014 Interfuildity post on the basic idea. In this post I’ll go over the basic idea and some of its issues, including two that Posner and Weyl didn’t consider. Continue reading "Yay Stability Rents" »

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Info Ideology

What is a political “ideology”? You might think your ideology is your set of core pivotal beliefs, the few beliefs that most influence your many other political beliefs. For example:

Political ideologies have two dimensions:
Goals: how society should work
Methods: the most appropriate ways to achieve the ideal arrangement.
… Typically, each ideology contains certain ideas on what it considers to be the best form of government (e.g. democracy, theocracy, caliphate etc.), and the best economic system (e.g. capitalism, socialism, etc.). … Ideologies also identify themselves by their position on the political spectrum (such as the left, the center or the right), though this is very often controversial. (more)

But in fact, political ideologies seem more to be the beliefs that most consistently divide us:

For the most part, congressional voting is uni-dimensional, with most of the variation in voting patterns explained by placement along the liberal-conservative first dimension. … since the 1970s, party delegations in Congress have become ideologically homogeneous and [more] distant from one another (a phenomenon known as “polarization.”) … [These] scores are also used by popular media outlets … as a measure of the political ideology of political institutions and elected officials or candidates. … [These] procedures … have also been applied to a number of other legislative bodies besides the United States Congress. These include the United Nations General Assembly, the European Parliament, National Assemblies in Latin America, and the French Fourth Republic. … Most of these analyses produce the finding that roll call voting is organized by only few dimensions (usually two): “These findings suggest that the need to form parliamentary majorities limits dimensionality.” (more)

It is a remarkable fact that a single dimension so well summarizes political opinions, especially given the range of topics relevant to politics. This, however, is not plausibly explained by saying that we mainly disagree about one core key belief, such as how much redistribution is fair. It instead seems to reflect how political coalitions form – groups tend to form alliances more with closer groups, against more distant groups, until two main alliances form, divided by their one strongest division, whatever that might be.

To the extent that the main political dimensions are associated with policies, they are mostly associated with lots of particular policies, instead of a few key principles. And this makes sense given that most voters seem incapable of comprehending and reliably applying most proposed political principles.

But if there really were sensible pivotal principles, and if the relevant political population could understand and apply them, then it would make sense to focus our political arguments on them. By aggregating info on a few key principles, we would more efficiently aggregate info on lots of specific policies.

So do sensible and pivotal political principles exist? To me, principles like maximize liberty or minimize inequality seem pivotal, but not very sensible. I’m more fond of the principle of economic efficiency, but it is pretty hard for ordinary voters to see what more specific policies this principle implies.

To me, the most sensible pivotal principles are at the meta level — they are about how exactly we should aggregate info on the efficiency, and other consequences, of policies. For example, I think decision markets can go a long way toward giving us better info on the effects of policies. I also think we should do a lot more randomized policy experiments. And I support more and better cost benefit analyses, though it is admittedly hard for ordinary voters to evaluate their objectivity.

Now these positions might be wrong, but whatever are the right answers, the question of how to best aggregate info on policy effects seems a pivotal core issue, with strong implications for many specific policies. Amid audiences that can understand them, these are the core issues about which we should argue. Info ideologies would be the best ideologies.

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The Poor Don’t Revolt

A standard myth:

Once upon a time, poor masses suffered under rich elites. Then one day the poor realized they could revolt, and since then, the rich help the poor, fearing the poor will revolt if they ever feel they suffer too much.

Revolution experts mostly reject this myth; famous revolutions happened after things had gotten better, not worse, for the poor. Yet Matt Yglesias (responding to Bryan Caplan responding to me) seems to echo this myth:

Another way of putting it would be Simon (i.e., plenty) for capital and Malthus (i.e., subsistence) for labor. That, of course, is Karl Marx’s vision of long-term economic development. And while I don’t have a strong opinion as to whether or not this is accurate over the long term, it’s certainly a plausible story about the future, and Marx’s solution—socialism—unquestionably seems to me to be the correct one. Marx’s forecast of the immiseration of labor and all the returns going to the owners of capital clearly hasn’t been true in the 150 years or so since his time, but it certainly could happen. … If the robots are sentient beings, then we’d presumably be looking at an eventual slave revolt and Communist revolution.

Matt claims that if sentient robots are poor, they must eventually revolt. Karl Smith responds:

The robots will be EMs. But, … they will likely remember having been stems [= flesh and blood people]. … This means the robots get the ability to feel jealousy right along with the ability to engineer new products. … However, the analogy isn’t as Matt suggests a return to the late 1800s. It’s a return to the 1600s. The Stems won’t be capitalists. … The Stems will be landed gentry. …

The EMs will likely not be slaves because there will be no reason to enslave them. The rent on land will exceed the profits from running a slave operation. Lastly the EMs will not revolt because there will be little to gain. … Stems are extremely wealthy because you are taking a tiny slice of a huge amount of economic output and then giving it to an incredibly tiny fraction of the population.

I doubt it matters whether a tiny elite, presumably including most humans, owns capital or land. But Karl is quite right about the key point: poverty does not by itself lead to revolt. While a transition could be rough, once the world is in a Malthusian equilibrium there’s no particular reason to expect trillions of ems to revolt, any more than ancient farmer masses did, or most of the world’s poor today.  (Current “Arab Spring” revolts are driven more by under-employed well-educated.)

Keep in mind that in a Malthusian world, even if future robots could grab all the capital or land, it would be worth only a modest fraction of total wealth, and a revolution could threaten the productive system on which they all depend.

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Life Is Scarce

Matt Yglesias:

Simon (i.e., plenty) for capital and Malthus (i.e., subsistence) for labor. That, of course, is Karl Marx’s vision of long-term economic development. And while I don’t have a strong opinion as to whether or not this is accurate over the long term, it’s certainly a plausible story about the future, and Marx’s solution—socialism—unquestionably seems to me to be the correct one. … If the “robots” are really mere machines, then it should be easy to peacefully divide up the surplus more-or-less equitably, we’ll transition to socialism and everyone will be happy—it’ll be like Star Trek. If the robots are sentient beings, then we’d presumably be looking at an eventual slave revolt and Communist revolution.

Karl Smith:

Is it possible that Health Care is 160% of GDP? What this is telling us, is one way or another health care costs will not continue to rise faster than the overall economy. … The question before you is, do you want the world where health care is limited only by our collective ability to pay for it. What many elites don’t face up to is that if you asked this question to the person on the street he or she might very well say yes. I am constantly aware of this because a persistent source of tension between myself and my family is their feeling that it is not just ok but morally imperative that personal budget constraints be hit in the purchase of medicine. … Making the case for less health care spending is making the case for abandoning the sick and the needy. If you want a world that does not proceed on autopilot you need to be gearing up to make that case. Slight of hand about cost-savings or market efficiencies is not going to do the trick.

When I describe a Malthusian future where most (robot) people wouldn’t live much longer than they were near the best in a very competitive labor market, many readers react like Yglesias, and talk of revolution. Surely, they suggest, no moral person would accept a society where how long folks lived depended greatly on how much they could pay.

Like Karl Smith above, a month ago I tried to make the point that even without robots we are heading toward such a world:

A fountain of youth pill whose required dosage doubled every decade would either have to be banned, or given to everyone over thirty with insurance. … Eventually we’d run out of money to pay for these pills; we’d have to say no to some people, and then they’d quickly die. … Good thing we don’t have a fountain of youth pill, right? Actually, our real situation is worse. Per capita medical spending in the US doubles about every fifteen years, which is still much higher than our economic growth rate. Yet we struggle to see any substantial correlation between health and medical spending – our medicine is mostly useless on the margin. Its nothing like a fountain of youth pill. Our refusal to say no to any medical treatment that seems to our wishful-thinking eyes like it might help will also bankrupt us. And we won’t even get a fountain of youth in the bargain.

One way or another we will find a way to exclude seen-to-be useful medicine from people in our society. The only question will be: what will be acceptable criteria for such exclusion? I’ve argued that the ability to produce enough wealth to pay for your added life is a decent criteria for such a choice, and it can be implemented in an admirably flexible and decentralized way. If you reject that criteria, what other criteria will you substitute, and what price are you willing to pay in centralized regulation and lessened innovation and competitiveness with the rest of the world?

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Young Heads, Old Hearts

If a man is not a socialist in his youth, he has no heart. If he is
not a conservative by the time he is 30 he has no head.

Francois Guisot (1787-1874) said this first re “republican” while French Premier Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) changed it to “socialist”, and many others, including Winston Churchill have since said similar things. But new results seem to conflict:

We presented 60 younger and 60 older adults with health care choices that required them to hold in mind and consider multiple pieces of information. … The emotion-focus condition asked participants to focus on their emotional reactions to the options. … The information-focus condition … instructed to focus on the specific attributes, report the details about the options, and then make a choice. … Decision quality data indicate that younger adults performed better in the information-focus than in the control condition whereas older adults performed better in the emotion-focus and control conditions than in the information-focus condition. …

Fluid intelligence, that is, deliberative/effortful processing, peaks early in life followed by a steady decline thereafter. This component of intelligence comprises several subcomponents that all show consistent age-related decline including speed of information processing, temporary storage of information (i.e., short-term memory), and the storage and manipulation of information (i.e., working memory). Emotional processing, in contrast, appears to be well maintained at older ages.  More important, this selective preservation of emotional processing is found even in working memory. …

Previous research has linked this age-related emphasis on emotion-regulatory goals to preferential processing of emotionally salient and positively valenced material among older relative to younger adults. … In advertising contexts, older adults prefer and better remember ads with emotionally meaningful appeal whereas younger adults prefer and better remember ads with knowledge-related appeal.

So do young folks actually choose socialism with their heads, or are they mistakenly listening to their hearts instead of their heads?  Do old folks actually reject socialism with their hearts, not their heads?  Do we even know that old folks actually like socialism less than young folks?

Added 11:30a: Four (!) comments point to OKCupid results suggesting young and old adults are economically socialist, while kids and the middle-aged are not, for self-interest reasons.  People do seem to get more consistently socially restrictive with age, so maybe that is more tied to the young heads vs. old hearts trend.

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On Not Having an Advance Abyssal Plan

"Even though he could foresee the problem then, we can see it equally well now.  Therefore, if he could foresee the solution then, we should be able to see it now.  After all, Seldon was not a magician.  There are no trick methods of escaping a dilemma that he can see and we can't."
        — Salvor Hardin

Years ago at the Singularity Institute, the Board was entertaining a proposal to expand somewhat.  I wasn't sure our funding was able to support the expansion, so I insisted that – if we started running out of money – we decide in advance who got fired and what got shut down, in what order.

Even over the electronic aether, you could hear the uncomfortable silence.

"Why can't we decide that at the time, if the worst happens?" they said, or something along those lines.

"For the same reason that when you're buying a stock you think will go up, you decide how far it has to decline before it means you were wrong," I said, or something along those lines; this being far back enough in time that I would still have used stock-trading in a rationality example.  "If we can make that decision during a crisis, we ought to be able to make it now.  And if I can't trust that we can make this decision in a crisis, I can't trust this to go forward."

People are really, really reluctant to plan in advance for the abyss.  But what good reason is there not to?  How can you be worse off from knowing in advance what you'll do in the worse cases?

I have been trying fairly hard to keep my mouth shut about the current economic crisis.  But still –

Why didn't various governments create and publish a plan for what they would do in the event of various forms of financial collapse, before it actually happened?

Continue reading "On Not Having an Advance Abyssal Plan" »

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Show-Off Bias

It seems to me that self-identified smart people are biased towards complex or counter-intuitive answers to problems.  The reason is simple: complex or counter-intuitive answers allow one to show off intelligence.  So let’s call this bias “show off bias.”

Axelrod’s Tit-For-Tat may provide a good example of show off bias.  Tit-For-Tat is a simple decision algorithm for an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma.  In deciding whether to cooperate or defect, Tit-For-Tat states: just do whatever the other person previously did.  If the other cooperated, you cooperate.  If the other defected, you defect.  Tit-For-Tat. 

The algorithm works surprisingly well.  Wikipedia tells me that “tit for tat was the most effective, winning in several annual automated tournaments against (generally far more complex) strategies created by teams of computer scientists, economists, and psychologists.”

Why didn’t these smart scientists think of Tit-For-Tat?  They probably did, or could have.  But something made Tit-For-Tat unattractive to them.  I’m suggesting that part of what made Tit-For-Tat unattractive was a smart person’s natural desire to show off.

Let me relate two other possible examples of show off bias: one well known, and one personal.  I’ll begin with the personal anecdote.

Continue reading "Show-Off Bias" »

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What I Think, If Not Why

Reply toTwo Visions Of Heritage

Though it really goes tremendously against my grain – it feels like sticking my neck out over a cliff (or something) – I guess I have no choice here but to try and make a list of just my positions, without justifying them.  We can only talk justification, I guess, after we get straight what my positions are.  I will also leave off many disclaimers to present the points compactly enough to be remembered.

• A well-designed mind should be much more efficient than a human, capable of doing more with less sensory data and fewer computing operations.  It is not infinitely efficient and does not use zero data.  But it does use little enough that local pipelines such as a small pool of programmer-teachers and, later, a huge pool of e-data, are sufficient.

• An AI that reaches a certain point in its own development becomes able to (sustainably, strongly) improve itself.  At this point, recursive cascades slam over many internal growth curves to near the limits of their current hardware, and the AI undergoes a vast increase in capability.  This point is at, or probably considerably before, a minimally transhuman mind capable of writing its own AI-theory textbooks – an upper bound beyond which it could swallow and improve its entire design chain.

• It is likely that this capability increase or "FOOM" has an intrinsic maximum velocity that a human would regard as "fast" if it happens at all.  A human week is ~1e15 serial operations for a population of 2GHz cores, and a century is ~1e19 serial operations; this whole range is a narrow window.  However, the core argument does not require one-week speed and a FOOM that takes two years (~1e17 serial ops) will still carry the weight of the argument.

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Fake Optimization Criteria

Followup to:  Fake Justification, The Tragedy of Group Selectionism

I’ve previously dwelt in considerable length upon forms of rationalization whereby our beliefs appear to match the evidence much more strongly than they actually do.  And I’m not overemphasizing the point, either.  If we could beat this fundamental metabias and see what every hypothesis really predicted, we would be able to recover from almost any other error of fact.

The mirror challenge for decision theory is seeing which option a choice criterion really endorses.  If your stated moral principles call for you to provide laptops to everyone, does that really endorse buying a $1 million gem-studded laptop for yourself, or spending the same money on shipping 5000 OLPCs?

We seem to have evolved a knack for arguing that practically any goal implies practically any action.  A phlogiston theorist explaining why magnesium gains weight when burned has nothing on an Inquisitor explaining why God’s infinite love for all His children requires burning some of them at the stake.

There’s no mystery about this.  Politics was a feature of the ancestral environment.  We are descended from those who argued most persuasively that the good of the tribe meant executing their hated rival Uglak.  (We sure ain’t descended from Uglak.) 

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