Sunday, November 15, 2020

Clutch Your Pearls


 

Partial list of false extreme problems government should not be attempting to “solve”:
P.S. This clip (and the entire movie) is an allegory for my view on this subject.




Thursday, November 12, 2020

My Futile Desire For People To See The Truth


I strive for epistemic humility, and my practice is to consider the confidence with which I hold various beliefs. As such I truly don't hold strongly many views and am quite willing to change my mind. Once I have done the work, though, I am willing to hold a view strongly. And I love to hate conventional wisdom.

Hence, this partial list of things about which conventional wisdom is wrong and about which I very much want people to understand the actual truth. 

The formula for when conventional wisdom is held in error is a seductive, persuasive narrative coupled with readily accessible, salient anecdotes that are not indicative of the broader evidence because that broader evidence is largely obscured.

The following are all beliefs that I hold quite confidently after years of study, analysis, and thought (listed in no particular order). Note that I am still learning about these, questioning my priors, and remain willing to change my mind. It is just that the probability I assign to being wrong for these is now quite low.

  • The labeling asset prices as being "bubbles" (e.g., tulip mania, dotcom tech, housing markets--see above, et al.) is neither useful nor helpful. The term is loose, vague, and indeterminate. A classic case of seeming to say something, but being so obscure as to be unfalsifiable. It is the modern financial economics equivalent of blaming disease on the imbalance of humors.
  • The current and historical lack of parity in college football and other sports—my first great example of things not being what is so commonly believed in the conventional wisdom. Big firms like regulation and so do big sports programs. The NCAA benefits the blue bloods at the expense of the lesser schools.
  • The cause and nature of the Great Depression and the subsequent recovery (it wasn’t WWII).
  • The cause and nature of long-term economic progress as told by McCloskey, et al.; the true nature of economic inequality (consumption versus income); how good things actually are and how much they have actually improved.
  • The shallow and near emptiness of news journalism and that watching and reading the main-stream media is a form of entertainment done at the expense of one’s intellect.
  • The immorality of conducting and impossibility of 'winning' the drug war. One can extend this to all prohibitions on victimless crimes, activities and trades done by consenting adults that are labeled crimes not because of a violation of anyone's property or personal rights but because society has deemed it taboo, immoral, or otherwise contemptible (e.g., organ sales, prostitution, price gouging, etc.). 
  • The harm and unintended consequences of price controls in all there guises: minimum wages, rent controls, anti-price gouging laws, restrictions on compensating college athletes, et al.
  • The injustices that exist and persist in the world, how good it could be in terms of justice and wealth for all of us, and the multiplicative benefits of free markets and free minds.
  • The economics especially and general state of the science concerning environmental policy.
I should probably take a cue from Bryan Caplan and call “Impasse” more often. It would give my head a chance to recover from its battle with the wall. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Breaking Professions Down Into Three Essential Roles

I think one can categorize most professions into a small number of distinct roles--let's explore this idea and arbitrarily limit the number of roles to three in each case. It is my contention that few of the people practicing these professions are good at more than one role, and many are not very good at any of the roles. Consider:

  • Lawyers: navigator, firefighter, bodyguard
  • Financial advisors: tour guide, travel agent, psychologist
  • Medical doctosr: band-aids, antibiotics, placebo
  • College professors: inspirational speaker, revealer of truth (model explainer), advancer of truth (researcher)
  • Elementary school teachers: babysitter, basic skills tutor, etiquette shaper
  • Catholic priests: moral consigliere, charity executive director, art museum curator

No One I Know Committed Voter Fraud




This is not a post about recounts and pursuit of truth. It is not a post about probability. It is a post about imagination.

I don't know 1 million people, much less 70+ million. I cannot even imagine what 1m people looks like. I've been to football games with 100,000 people. One million is like (checks notes) ten times that. 

I can imagine 1 million pieces of paper--dollar bills, pages in books, ballots, etc. 

I know some people who voted for Biden, some for Trump, and some of us (bless our hearts) who still believe in freedom who voted for Jorgensen. But remember, I don't know and cannot even imagine 1m people in any form much less 1m people who all wanted to vote for Biden (or Trump, but that isn't important right now). 

Okay, so I actually can imagine it, but it is a bit hard if I want to concretely think about 1m people showing up and filling out a ballot for Biden. It is much harder still to imagine them all showing up together at one time and doing so. 

But that is what the ballot counting looks like especially after the fact. Boom, X-thousand for Biden, Y-thousand for Trump, etc. 

I've seen enough TV to be able to imagine what a fraud looks like. I can imagine easily a vague picture of what a million or so ballot fraud looks like. Truck pulls up to the back of the warehouse, doors open and a sinister fella peeks out, coast is clear, truck gate is lifted revealing fat stacks of freshly-minted fraudulent ballots, dollies unload the loot...

Add to this that perhaps I have motivated reasoning--I would love (hypothetically) to discover that Biden "won" because of fraud. Combine that with my natural and defensible lack of imagination that millions of people see the world differently than I do and in a way that I think is very significant (it was, after all, the most important election of our lifetime). 

Do you see how it seems more likely, perhaps much more likely, that fraud is at play in the 2020 election? What is more likely, that something I can barely imagine happened or something that I can easily conceive of happened? I'm just asking questions here.

Unfortunately, "seems more likely" is equivalent to "is more likely" for many, many people. The Monte Hall problem contains an amazing paradox. The probability is dependent on the perspective of the chooser; however, the perspective that matters is not the chooser's imagined framing of the problem. It is the fact that from the perspective of the chooser and the new information he now has, the probability assignment has changed in a way for him that it has not changed for an uninformed observer--for the chooser it is 2/3 vs 1/3 (i.e., 67%/33%); for the uninformed observer it is still 50%/50%. 

Probability is in the eye of the beholder. But the beholder doesn't get to invent out of whole cloth the critical elements governing the probability (subjective though they may be).

I lied, this is a post about probability.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Libertarian Party 2020 Presidential Run - A Postmortem

As the 2020 election comes to a close, it is hard not to be disappointed as a Libertarian. As a libertarian, there is much room for optimism as many libertarian/classical liberal issues carried the day. Namely, movement toward ending the war on drugs, criminal justice reform, data privacy, etc. advanced nicely across the U.S. 

Here are the recent historic totals of Libertarian candidate votes for president:

1996    485,759        Harry Browne/Jo Jorgensen
2000    384,431        Harry Browne/Art Olivier
2004    397,265        Michael Badnarik/Richard Campagna
2008    523,713        Bob Barr/Wayne Allyn Root
2012    1,275,923     Gary Johnson/Jim Gray
2016    4,489,233     Gary Johnson/William Weld
2020    1,705,638+   Jo Jorgensen/Spike Cohen

My first thought was frustration at the Jorgensen campaign performance. But a friend pointed out that the mainstream media largely shut her out (even by Libertarian standards) giving her virtually no interview time or press otherwise. The latest "most important election of our lifetime" along with its highly divisive nature (largely Trump's doing but not entirely) gave little reason for alternatives to the duopoly. This combined with the COVID world was a very unfortunate combination for an outsider looking to gain recognition. 

So this setback might just be a fluke. Still, we need ideas on how to generate brand awareness and garner votes. A partial list of ideas (definitely a work in process):
  • Get rid of purity tests - The infighting of no-true-Scotsman has to be limited to early primary candidate selection. Once we have a candidate, rally behind them. This doesn't mean we cannot criticize, but know what stage of the game you are in. This also helps broaden the tent. Be a directional libertarian rather than a destination libertarian.
  • Focus on uncompetitive states - perhaps never leave California or perhaps more appropriately Texas or just both of those two important states. Imagine building a strong base in demographically and electorally important areas. The Free State Movement envisioned flocking to a small state to dominate politics there, New Hampshire emerging as the destination. Rather than focusing on winning a small state's electoral votes, this would be a strategy of focusing on winning hearts and minds to reshape the policy debate.
  • Articulate stances in better sound bites - Help the voters know in the simplest terms why they are taking the leap to support, advocate, and vote Libertarian. A platform of less government is not enough. Specifics are crucial here, but more importantly we need to highlight solutions rather than what sounds to many like retreat into the darkness. A great example is Corey DeAngelis' straightforward and impactful message on school choice/education reform: "fund students (families) instead of institutions" and "let the money follow the child".
  • Stop sounding like extremists - This dovetails with the prior idea. “End the Fed”, “Taxation is Theft”, et al. are not salient. Find a way to be against war without sounding like a 60s hippie—pacifism is right but it doesn’t sell. You can’t win support by telling people they are awful. You have to sell the message of hope and progress.
  • Look the part - Quit going for shock value. You need to look like a candidate out of central casting. No nicknames on the ballot (e.g., Spike). No taxation is theft hats. The target new voter does not want to elect someone from Comic-Con. 
  • Focus on a few key, pivotal issues that resonate in the current election - Might I suggest The Big Five?
  • Get more exposure in mainstream channels - We have to bring the message to a much broader audience. We are certainly still in the brand awareness stage of marketing. Where is the Free To Choose of the modern era? Perot built a voter base from primetime segments he paid for and starred in. How about a libertarian town hall? How about starting this now and developing some multi-year momentum? 
These are just some ideas. We need lots more. 

Of course I'm not the only one thinking about this (this short video summarizes the current debate).

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Justifiable Points of View

One thing I find quite frustrating and disappointing is how often people hold and cling to views that they can hardly justify. Consider:



I find that most people hold views in the bottom half of the grid with a disturbing fraction in the lower left (unwilling/strong). While they typically don't dispute the characterization of a view being strongly held, they adamantly defy the accusation they are unwilling to think hard about it. 

There are several biases at work here I'm sure. First, I think people are averse to saying their beliefs are weakly held. To many this is tantamount to admitting that they shouldn't be taken seriously. Second, admitting that one is unwilling to think hard sounds like admitting dumbness--rarely, though occasionally, a winning attribute.

Although I characterize the upper right position (willing/weak) as "completely justified", this does not imply that this is the optimal position. Rather I think people should strive for the upper left (willing/strong) but this striving should always be working to push them back towards the right as new information and arguments are revealed. 

Further, we simply don't have the opportunity to actually think hard about most things. Many are out of reach for our limited comprehension as well as our limited resources--namely time. Interestingly, this is one of the first places a lower left person will look for a defense. To wit: "While it would be great to sit around and reconsider what I have come to understand as true, who has time for that?" The second refuge is to dispute that thinking hard is necessary. To wit: "Those theoretical points are interesting, but here is what everyone knows to be true...". Both of these are simply argument from dismissiveness. "Pay no attention to the great arguments and evidence behind the curtain!"

Thinking like this is one reason I cannot take you seriously.

Consider also how this plays into the religion of voting. The moral duty to vote is a weakly justified concept

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

List of Ambivalence

 Partial list of things I am ambivalent about:
  • Chick-fil-e’s Sunday Policy -- I am disappointed from the point of view as a customer; I am very much in support of their ability to choose to do this and I am impressed by the choice.
  • The Trump Presidency -- not Trump himself, who I find quite objectionable. There are just some things to like and some things to very much dislike. I had the same appraisal of Obama, Bush, Clinton, . . . 
  • Deplatforming by social media, other tech companies, and financial processing firms/networks -- It is certainly within their rights in almost all cases, but I am fairly sure it is not good ethically or pragmatically in all but the most isolated cases.
  • Hunting -- I am not sure it is always morally objectionable, but it is often enough. 
  • The National Anthem before sporting events -- Notice how we don’t see this practiced at high brow events like the philharmonic, etc.
  • Separating activities, clubs, etc. by boys and girls and by men and women (e.g., Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Men’s Grill, Lady’s Auxillary, etc.) -- Is this socially healthy? Is it logical? I think in some cases it certainly is, but there is a slippery slope. 
  • Roundabouts (aka, circle, traffic circle, road circle, rotary, rotunda, and island) -- These are unfairly criticized in many cases, but they are also irresponsibly used and often inappropriately built.