Monday, December 4, 2017

Activists have a massive agency problem

Agency problem is not about crooked cheats stealing your money.

Agency = the interests of the agent differ from your interests.

Why and how they differ is not that important. What counts is having someone deciding for you, with a different set of incentives.

Activists have two forms of corrupting incentives

Material Interests

First are the known ones, which are not much talked about.
Being an activist is a career. Full of incentives. Some of which aren't compatible with being honest.

Say you fight against poverty. You want to say that there is a lot of poverty around. Truth be damned.

Every activists' incentive is to inflate the size of the problem.
Anti vaccine activists will want there to be huge numbers of vaccine side effects.
Climate fighting activists want there to be huge future damage awaiting us if we do not act. It might be true, of course. But note that like any paid operator - the activists will fare better if reality goes a certain way. They have an interest, in other words.

There are careers, salaries, prestige etc. depending on how things are marketed. Some people are honest, but the situation of activism isn't naturally pure. There is a lot to be gained, regardless of what is society's good.

Moral interests

The moral feelings can be as problematic as the material corruption.

Once you have moral feelings about a subject you lose objectivity. 
You lose rationality.
You might lose your honesty.

A couple of years ago, I walked around with a lady I met. 
While sitting near the road talking, we see a motorbike flying in the air with the student riding it bleeding.
It was hit by a car while exiting from a U-Turn.

In no way could we know who was to blame. Was the bike exiting irresponsibly into the highway? Was the car driving carelessly?

We absolutely did not know.

Yet, my lady friend told me that she want the car driver to be punished and would testify against her.

This was because of her moral outrage at the situation that got the biking student injured.

Moral outrage is a huge power. It throw our senses out the window.

Moral outrage can be as corrupting and distorting as material corruption.

The intent will not be as corrupt. But the result is the same

Saturday, September 30, 2017

failure can be a good selection process

Dating failure can be a blessing in disguise.
When things do not work with someone, it can feel that "had I done X, i might have worked"

But the failure helps you to avoid getting in love with this person which you are likely incompatible with. Sometimes, obviously it will be an accidental problem in the date. But many times, the failed date is a good selection system to avoid exactly those people that are not that compatible.

A study shows that many students become less interested in academic careers throughout their PhD years.

It sounds depressing "this arduous system is de-motivating students from becoming academics".

Reading the study above, however, it becomes clear that students' preferences get crystalized over the arduous process.

Maybe academia is better off when it only keeps the people really in love with reading papers and publishing them. Assuming those are somewhat good proxies for useful scholars.....

Why does this surprise us?

Our intuition isn't as above. Why?

1) We consider - justly - pain and failure as bad. 
But bad locally doesn't always mean overall bad. 

Of course rejection is painful. But getting rejected by  an incompatible person is generally good (ignoring the fateful night spent). 

2) The other issue is strategic / society wide vs. personal. 
Society benefits when incompatible students drop of the scholarship world. 
But those students might actually lose somewhat.

3)  We assume a rational just world. 
It feels as if students going to study have to succeed. 
It does not "make sense" such obscene irrationality is so pervasive. 

But.. lots of irrationality and stupidity do exist. We need to accept that many pain s are worthwhile if they fix stupidity. Because letting stupidity go on can be more painful than cutting it short with a jolt

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Morality vs agency

Agency is the engine behind most actions and systems.

Morality is weak. You cannot rely on morality alone to preserve and manage systems.

Every country uses punishment and various incentives to make humans and companies behave.

Thus, expecting countries to "behave" due to moral arguments is naive and doesn't work.

People thought that moral arguments will win the day for migration / international peace / democracy. It doesn't and won't work.

Incentives work. But you need nifty incentive structures to:
1) make it work
2) make people adopt it.


Regarding incentives to adopt (2 above):
You might design the system with stages, so that the initial stages will not have disincentives to current stakeholders, but the long term design will be optimal. Yeah, it feels imoral, dishonest and corrupt. But this is the way you can get it done best.

Lee Kuan Yew, the legendary Singapore leader argued that we should give immunity to dictators that step down peacefully. Of course it is "imoral", but we would have saved many lives this way, and many more countries would have gone democratic, had his idea been implemented

Monday, March 27, 2017

The friction theory of life management

On paper, we all can have a much better life. Just mange your money better. Sleep more, and so on. Endless ways to have a better life are at our fingertips.

In fact, we mostly ignore our huge ability to have a better life.


Friction is my answer.

Anything that differs from the automatic flow of being means employing an extra "process" to get it done. This process is not costless. It is actually disruptive of much of our being. Our thoughts. Our physiology even.

Friction in the economy usually means when things cost to move A to B even when A and B are theoretically the same.

Suppose you want to take a nap. Sounds simple. But in fact you need to stop everything you are doing, and force your self to relax and so no. All this is not going to happen automatically. I call this barrier "friction"

Or you are resting and you try to relax. You recall instructions from some book how to relax and sleep better. Those things work for you. you tried once and it did wonders. but you are not feeling like keeping to go with it.

why? Friction. You would need some kind of extra action to do it.

In the relaxation case there is even a more interesting aspect of friction.
Trying forcefully to relax might be counterproductive. You might get stressed by trying forcefully to make yourself do the relaxation. (if it happened to feel like doing it, it will work, but once you enter this forcing yourself to do relaxation state of mind, it might backfire).

In this case we found that friction not only makes it harder to do something. But in fact it actively precludes it from happening. Once forcing myslef to relax blocks relaxation, there is nothing I can do to do it.

My theory is that much of what we can theoretically do but do not, is because of those forms of friction.

PS. John Stuart Mill noted that trying to be happy cancels your happiness. It is commonly viewed as either some happiness paradox, or as "ironic process" (Daniel Wegner "do not think on a white bear" theory). In my view above "try to be happy" is in itself disruptive, thereby blocking possible happiness.

PS1. Ego depletion might be related to this.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

WOW books

Books that put me at awe. That made me feel "Wow"

will be updated. work in progress

Fooled By randomness, Nassim Taleb
The 20/80 principle, Richard Koch
Private Truths, Public lies, Timur Kuran

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tradeoffs in negotiations don't work. "Loss aversion" doubles the costs

In a perfect world, tradeoffs are straightforward.
I give up on X, you give up on return on some Y valued similarly. Simple. Rational. Easy.

Loss aversion destroys this logic.

Loss aversion - Kahneman and Tversky 197x - shows that people value losses vastly more than their natural value.

I'll do vastly more try preserve my existing girlfriend, than to chase her has she been single. I'll ask vastly more for what I have than how much I would've paid to buy it.

Back to negotiations.
Suppose the UK asks the EU to give up on X (day freedom of movement), in return for whatever. Let's assume that the deal makes rational sense. (We ignore the strategic issues, have theoretic math etc)

For the EU, giving up on something is a loss. Losses are valued? Double their nominal value.
Hence, EU will ask the UK double the value in return.

Let's assume the required thing is money - for simplicity.

Say the EU says. Ok. No freedom of movement, but give £10bn yearly to the EU budget.

Now, for the UK this extra £10bn is perceived as a loss. Valued at double at £20bn

This explains why negotiating tradeoffs is so tough and usually just doesn't happen.

I am told that this idea has already been developed in a chapter by Kahneman and Tversky about conflict resolution, but I can't find the reference right now

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Two routes to rationality

Rationality can be arrived into by rationality. This is right, and this is why I'm doing it.

Some people reach the jacket of rationality for completely different reasons:

1) bad intuition / irrational nature.
Most people don't practice strict rationality. But there end up pretty much rational in multiple ways. Social learning / imitation. Or listening to some teachers. Or using life experience and emotional reaction to teach pretty much rational directions.

If someone is failing in some of the above, he might have to use aggressive "rational" rationality to get his life in order.

2) a tendency to be rational. Sometimes an obsession, sometimes loving it, etc.

NOTE route / outcome confusion.

I've noted elsewhere that we intuitively mix-up the way how people get somewhere, with its desirability.

This is a huge mistake.

However one ended up with the rationality habit, it's outcome is what matters, not why and how he got there.

(Outcome, of course includes experienced effects age utilitarian results!!)