The Hazards of Watching Weird Shows

I’m copying this from a Facebook post, since I haven’t posted to the blog in a while:

I started watching Season 2 of The Tick, on Amazon Video, and the audio was weird. It was stopping and repeating in short bursts. At first I thought it was a streaming glitch, but then I wondered if it was an intentional part of the show, and some super-villain had messed with the space-time continuum or something. I thought the characters looked a bit perplexed, and even saw the video repeat a few times…

I watched that way for over 10 minutes before deciding to exit and start streaming again.

It was just a streaming glitch.

Living Wages

The recent news items about abolishing billionaires and condemning Amazon and other companies for paying poor wages has brought back discussions of living wages in my social media feed.

Here are a couple of old posts that I really liked from Jason Brennan on the Bleeding Heart Libertarians site:

Against the Living Wage/”Subsidy” Arguments

Some Questions For Living Wage Advocates

And, here’s a comment that I made on a thread that explains the fundamental reasons why I think that Living/Minimum Wage arguments and policies are bad:

I understand the desire for people to be able to work to support themselves and the inclination to just make it a mandate that people who work should make enough to support themselves.

But, it doesn’t actually make sense to use that particular method to help people.

People making economic transactions is one thing, and people being able to pay their expenses is a separate, related, thing.

If somebody is willing to work for less than a living wage, and somebody else wants to hire him under mutually agreeable terms (and the work isn’t harming others unreasonably, etc.), then they should be free to do that. It’s not helping poor people to forbid those transactions. It just makes people worse off by reducing work opportunities and putting potential beneficiaries of the project in a worse position to accomplish their goals (which will often include helping others who need it).

Not every job that is good for all parties has to provide a living wage. Some people are still learning to become more productive or are unable to become that productive, some have others to help share expenses, some are doing the work because they find it interesting or educational or fun (not, because they need the money to live on), etc.

People aren’t pawns on a chessboard. They are independent agents with their own plans and priorities and it’s wrong to interfere with their preferences in the name of helping them.

We don’t know enough to declare which voluntary arrangements should be forbidden. We should leave people free to pursue the best opportunities that they can find (and we can help them to find them), and expect that as they become more productive and the economy grows those opportunities will tend to improve.

If some people still need help, then people (not necessarily just their employers) can (and often should) help them. But, forbidding job opportunities that don’t fully provide for all of their expenses is a counterproductive, and I think immoral, way to try to help others.

Defending The Search For Truth

I haven’t blogged in a while.  Mostly it has been because I was afraid that there was little I could say about the Kavanaugh confirmation and its sexual assault allegations that would avoid offending a lot of people.  Fortunately, that episode seems to be behind us.

But, today I came across a great article by Jonathan Rauch, called The Constitution of Knowledge.  Please read it.

Rauch has a lot of interesting things to say about the modern crisis of epistemic health, Trump’s trolling, and institutions that can help support the success of truth-seeking.

He ends up being optimistic, as I have been, even though there’s plenty to worry about over the short term.  And, that has helped me retain my optimism as well.

Russ Roberts On Political Discourse

Yes, it’s another post about a podcast.

One of my favorites is EconTalk.  In it, Russ Roberts, usually, interviews smart people about modern topics that are related to economics (because that’s really everything that involves decision making), but are mostly just interesting topics.  I’m sure I like it largely because Roberts comes to the issues from a skeptical libertarian perspective (like mine), but I also appreciate Roberts’ fairness and intellectual modesty in his approach.  He’s not afraid to change his mind, or say “I don’t know.”

This post is really just to promote a recent episode that is a monologue by Roberts, rather than the normal interview format.  Roberts reflects on the modern state of political discourse, and has many interesting and thoughtful insights into why it seems to be more polarized than ever, and why it seems that The centre cannot hold.

I don’t want to rehearse Roberts’ arguments and suggestions here, but encourage you to listen to it for yourself.

Pull The Goalie

One of the podcasts that I regularly listen to is Malcom Gladwell‘s Revisionist History. In a recent episode (I’m a bit behind on my listening), Gladwell decided that since others (like Jordan Peterson) have been publishing their “Rules For Life”, Gladwell would give that a try as well.

But, Gladwell only really offered one rule that he’d recommend to others:

Pull The Goalie.

By that he was referring to the advice of Cliff Asness and Aaron Brown (both of AQR Capital Management) in their paper: Pulling the Goalie: Hockey and Investment Implications. In it, they suggest that the strategy of “pulling the goalie” (replacing the goalie with a sixth attacker to catch up near the end of a game; leaving one’s own goal unprotected) is a strategy that should be used more often, and earlier. The paper explains why pulling the goalie earlier will increase the chances of winning the game, even though it also adds volatility and increases the chances of losing by more points as well. It compares this situation with certain investment opportunities in which people should manage risks more intelligently than they do.

The paper acknowledges that that it could be rational for a hockey coach to avoid choosing the optimal strategy for winning the game, because he’s more interested in how much the fans will appreciate the strategy, and he could draw more criticism than praise from fans who notice the failures more than the successes and don’t appropriately appreciate the net difference. The game is about entertainment, after all, and the coach is paid to entertain the fans. Usually that means doing the most to win each game, but perhaps not always.

But, Gladwell draws a slightly different lesson. He sees it as a situation of being rational, “doing the math”, to figure out what to do in high-stakes situations without letting social pressure and conventions push you into suboptimal mistakes. He notes that both Asness and Brown are probably very low on the psychological trait of agreeableness; and indicates that while this might make them less popular at parties, it makes them better decision makers.

Gladwell uses another example in the podcast. He uses the plot of the movie No Good Deed to consider whether a parent faced with a psychotic home invader terrorizing her and her children would be wise to flee the house, leaving the psychotic alone with her children, to call for help rather than to stay with the children. Gladwell understands that most people’s intuition is to stay with the children at all costs (even though you would be unlikely to actually protect them, and that a psychopath who would harm them when alone with them knowing that the police are probably on the way would probably harm them eventually anyway). Gladwell says that if the chance of success is optimized by fleeing the house, that’s what you should do. The point is to maximize the chances of saving your children (and yourself), not to look better to others.

I’m 100% with Gladwell on this piece of advice.  One should try to make the best decision possible, especially when the stakes are high, regardless of what other people who don’t understand the calculation as well might think.

Do the math.

Pull the goalie.

Weight Loss

My family went on a very nice vacation recently, and I did a lot of pleasant eating.

But, all that eating helped me realize that I’ve put on a lot of weight over the last few years, and I should rein it in again.

So, I’m hoping to lose a lot of weight over the rest of the year, to get back to a healthy range.

I’m posting this to help make the plan real, and help myself stick to it.

I will post later on my progress, if I succeed, or failure if I don’t.  I don’t want to post about failure.

Update 7/1/2018: I’ve met my goal for the end of June…Now let’s see if I can meet it for the end of July.

Update 8/1/2018: I didn’t meet my (aggressive) goal for July. But, I’m still making progress, so I’m not admitting defeat quite yet.

All Minus One

AllMinusOne_HalfCover2

Heterodox Academy has released an edited version of John Stuart Mill‘s arguments for tolerating unpopular speech (from chapter 2 of On Liberty) in a recently released book called All Minus One. I think it’s great.

I read On Liberty in college, and it was one of the few books that I was required to read that really influenced me. But, I remember that much of it was a bit difficult to get through, so I really appreciate the editing that was done to make this more accessible to a modern audience. And, this edition seems as relevant today as it was when On Liberty was written.

I’m not one for making books mandatory, but if any books were to be made mandatory for incoming college students, this should be one of them. I don’t really know how many of the current students are in favor of obstructing unpopular or controversial speech (I’ve heard very different reports on this) but enough of them do favor such obstruction that it seems to happen far too often. And, the trend doesn’t seem good.

Mill’s main arguments for tolerating unpopular speech boil down to:

  • Unpopular theories might be true. We are all fallible and could be wrong, no matter how confident we are that we’re right. Criticism is how we improve our theories.
  • Even if the unpopular theories are false, it helps us to understand the better theories by having to defend them against their strongest criticisms. Without this, as time goes by, we won’t really know the truth very deeply, and our knowledge and progress will suffer for it.
  • Even if they’re mostly false, they might have true aspects that we can learn from.

These seem like very strong arguments to me, especially as fleshed out by Mill, and they deserve to be considered by those would obstruct unpopular speech.

But, they’re only persuasive to the extent that people value the truth.

People who care more about group cohesion, or shielding people from uncomfortable facts, won’t find them very convincing. Those of us who care more about learning better theories and getting closer to the truth seem to be losing ground lately (in the court of popular opinion). Hopefully I’m wrong about this, or the trend will reverse itself.

Of course, it’s not always wise or kind to gratuitously argue against cherished beliefs. People should exercise discretion and we should criticize them when they fail to do so. But, that’s not the kind of thing that should be enforced by coercion. Nobody is wise enough to make these decisions for everyone else (and, the ability to win elections certainly doesn’t demonstrate that someone has such wisdom). It’s much better to leave it to social pressure (which can change over time when better arguments are made) to peacefully persuade people to improve than to give anyone the power to do it coercively.

As long as there are people who wish to dissent from orthodoxy, and others who wish to hear them, we should allow that to happen, peacefully.

Sometimes this will be painful; but, the alternatives are worse.