Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Agency 1 - Stupidity alone is not the problem

My thesis is that the only reason stupidity can destroy the world is it being coupled with the agnecy problem.

Agency problem: when others have an interest different from us, and they decide for us.

We hear all the time about stupidity. And stupidity is rampant. But stupidity cannot explain all dumbness of the world.

Do stupid people not go to certified heart Doctors? they do.

Do stupid people buy smart phones that do not work? (or Windows phones that have no apps on offer?) of course not.

Society and markets have ways of filtering information.

The various phone sellers in order to keep their reputation, are not going to cheat too deeply on customers. The cellular companies know they will not get away with selling snake oil phones (they can come close).

Sometimes, the self interests of the agents is aligned with ours.
A captain on a ship will drown with the ship. A politician starting an atomic war might get obliterated in it.

But a money manager can reap his fee while the customer loses.
A politician elected in the primary method can appeal to extremists to become the party chief. Even if this will mean to destroy the party (It happens on the right and on the left).

Agency *is* the illness. Not stupidity alone.

IF the agency problem is solved, stupidity alone cannot kill us.


---- IMPLICATIONS ------

Too many. Those will be a subject of later blog posts. Many of them. You were warned

Monday, August 22, 2016

Is caring causing people to avoid efficient solutions?

People are packages of attitudes and opinions. And some are related. even if logically they are not.

Take caring about human pain and suffering vs. rational logical solutions (e.g. utility maximization, caring about side effects of solutions, unintended consequences, costs for others etc. )

Many people opposing parts of welfare things have as good a heart as those supporting them. Many times there are legitimate issues with the "just help the poor" attitude. 

Sadly, this all gets bundled up.


Is this an accident? or there is something inherent in caring that conflicts with rational utilitarian solutions?

I think there is an inherent bundling here. Not intentional. Many even deny it on both sides of the argument. But in fact, this bundling is central.

Bundling is when people hold bundles of opinions and attitudes, rather than discrete and seperate many opinions.


It will mean that a caring person will care rather than summarize things.
Then when someone offers - for example - to cut benefits for the slightly disabled to allow a decent living for paraplegics, the caring folks will always object. They are caring people, not utility calculating machines.

Moreover, when economists and policy people will point out the obvious calculation (the severely disabled are the main sufferers, etc.) they will be dismissed as cynics.

While irrational, they caring folks have a truth in their dismissal. An irrelevant truth, but true nevertheless.

You must be detached slightly to notice the calculation. The same way that an emotionally involved surgeon should not be allowed to operate. Being involved emotionally means it is hard to do the math. or stay cool while cutting someone brain.


This bundling of opinions, helps explain other wonders. Why are so many environmentalists opposed to nuclear power - arguably the most realistic way to stop CO2 emissions? Simple. If you care about the environment you hate  pollution and nuclear power is a pollutant. Calculations are irrelevant. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Should science funding be random?

Some studies looking at the current system of science funding find it quite useless.

Instead of having endless people writing grants, reviewing grants and the whole torture, we will fare better by simply allocating the grants randomly based on super simplified and effortless criteria.

This kind of insight - while intuitively offensive to many - is a recurring robust finding in many fields.

Money management: Index funds outperform managed funds. Very robust long term data. Most mutual funds just cheat you by taking the fees for useless "active managing"

Interviews and student assessments: Simple numerical models outperform most personal thinking on how a student will succeed henceforth. Those time wasting procedures not only are wasteful, they actually lead to worse results than a simple formula.

The list goes on. ....


BUT.... one thought occurred to me.
At the tails, it is possible that the current system is superior.

When an idea is quite clear to have very good chances to succeed, the assessment system might almost guarantee it funding. Which a random system will not.

So, for some aspects a managed system might help

Of course, we can adjust for it. Allocating 75% of the funding randomly, and 25% to "must do" projects. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

rating online comments. And cross sites

Comments online is a hugely missed opportunity.

Many times adding a comment can elucidate a point, or add a different view.

but... lots of junk.


Two features can fix this. and on the way add lots of value for all.

1) rate commentators.
I want to know that commentator X is a PhD in physics, or is generally smart etc.

2) sort the comments by value

ReddIt does comment rating and sorting. But it is only by direct voting.

I want global rating. Very similar to the way Google rates sites. A recursive function will also take into account the rating of the raters etc.


The added value is enormous:

A, comments being useful to read. rather than a huge pile of chunk. The top rated comments will usually be more useful.

B. Dynamically this will lead to both more comments and more comment engagements.

C. Of course this will also reward high value commentators to comment more.


Lets hope someone picks this one up. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Is intellectual production too vertical?

Vertical production is where the same company produces multiple stages of the product.

Like Apple producing the iPad, the OS, and the Maps app etc.

The problem is that many times it is more efficient to produce each stage independently. Which is partially why IBM PCs / Windows overtook Apple in the old days.


Intellectually, having an idea is usually not leading to much.

Academics sometimes not only run studies, but need to write papers, get them published, and even write popular books to get their ideas across.

I am wondering whether there is a way to get intellectual production more independent of complete production.

this is, making a "market" or a system, where various stages of idea production can be independently produced and integrated. Preferably with credit distributed somehow as well....

maybe some way can be found......

Monday, June 20, 2016

Against retroactive justice

We sometimes see people fighting to correct wrongs done ages ago.

In itself this is ok. But many times it is wrong. And damaging.

1) Not fair. When judging people for something done ages ago, it is easy to forget that the norms of the time are crucial. While one might believe in absolute morality, our current judgement cannot honestly be transposed onto people decades ago.

2) Counter productive.
changing norms is mostly what we want looking forward. We want less corruption tomorrow. Not yesterday.

Absurdly, every time we persecute a fallen dictator, we teach all other dictators to never ever give up power. Lest them be persecuted once relinquishing power.

A dictator that might have otherwise considered to allow an ordered transfer of power and democratisation, will be hugely reluctant to do so, the more retroactive justice in the world. (Lee Kuan Yew noticed this in his memoir regarding South Korea generals who gave up power on their own, and later got persecuted)

In Ukraine, part of the dynamic that caused the Russia involving war, was that Europe and others wanted to persecute the special forces of the fallen president. Fearing this, most of them run away to the eastern border, and they turned later as a great part for Russia instigated war.

Currently, for example in Ukraine. There is a massive fight about corruption, with various oligarchs fighting nail and tooth to block any anti corruption change.

Even if they want to accept future changes, they cannot accept a change that will put all of them in prison for historical corruption.

Allow future change, and I think that the chances for reform are vastly higher.


Why are people adamant to go retroactively?

My analysis was rational. Humans, are moral characters, and are emotional.
Justice is a value. This is why people want justice even in counter productive ways. 

But policy, if we want it to be effective should be designed in rational ways. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Orlando shooting and polarisation. Exposed

In Orlando shooting, we got the perfect example of polarisation and blindness.

Most events are unbalanced. They are easier to use by one party.

So mass shooting makes Democrats yell at the republicans: You nuts! why do you object to gun control. And Republicans generally try somehow to answer.

Islamic terrorism makes Republicans yell: Why do you refuse saying "Islamic terrorism"? and Democrats try to answer.

So events make one party feeling right. and the other trying to escape somehow.

Orlando has both features. So it helped us see how stupid polarisation is.

Both camps are happily fingering the other camp:

Reps: you Dems can't even dare say "Islamic Terrorism"
Dems: It is all yours Reps gun freedom laws.

Would be funny if it was not so sad. But it is a perfect demonstration