Bullshitter In Chief

Donald Trump is a Bullshitter. He doesn’t just say things that he knows to be false; he says things without concern for whether or not they are false. He says things because he thinks it’s convenient at the moment to say them.

The most recent dust-up in this respect is his denial that he ever called Meghan Markle “nasty”, even though there is clear audio evidence that he responded to information in an interview about things she said about him with: “I never knew she was nasty.”

Now, I suppose it’s possible to parse that response as something other than “calling her” nasty (à la Bill Clinton quibbling about what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is). But, I don’t think that’s what the dispute is about.

I think Trump didn’t want it to be true that he called her “nasty”, so he forcefully denied having done it. This is different from lying, and I think it could be worse.

Like Winston Churchill, I think democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried from time to time. We often do not get people who are good at performing the duties of the office. We get people who are good at campaigning; and, that’s a completely different skill.

The main benefit of democracy is that it allows for error correction. If current office holders are objectively bad then a majority is likely to realize it and be motivated to correct the previous error and replace them with (hopefully) better candidates.

That is, of course, assuming that the electorate actually cares about what’s better, what’s worse, what’s true, and what’s false. If they stop caring about that, and only care about whether their team is “winning” (or, as is often the case, whether the other team is “losing”), then things can go horribly wrong without getting corrected.

That’s the danger with Trump and his supporters. If they deny facts, and lose all concern for whether or not they are true, then things can get very, very, bad.

It would be one thing if it were just some blowhard in a bar trying to impress his foolish friends. But, it’s a serious problem to have the words of the Commander In Chief be so unreliable that foreign governments learn to ignore them. Many people can die over lack of clarity of this sort.

Trump isn’t the only politician who bends the truth for his own convenience, but he seems to be unique in his success at cultivating a base of support that seems impervious to evidence and devoid of concern about what the actual truth of the matter is. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, for example, say things that are dangerously wrong all the time, but I think that their supporters believe they are true, care about them being true, and would be affected by evidence that they are wrong.

I’m not sure what the worst outcome for the country is (there’s a lot of competition for bad outcomes and a lot of uncertainty), but cultivating a lack of concern about the truth is a very bad one.

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.