Monday, May 17, 2021

Two Methods of Improvement

Let's compare two general methods of improvement: 
  1. Truncating the left tail so as to eliminate the undesired portion of the distribution
  2. Increasing the distribution so as to grow (fatten) the right tail and therefore increase the desired portion of the distribution. 

Both methods have the effect of shifting the mean rightward. But the first is artificial.

Let's explore the first method. People paid primarily for their looks are an example of truncating the left tail. (One might be tempted to say “supermodels”, but that is a particular, specialized subclass of this universe. It is like saying basketball players when we are actually talking about athletes.) They exist within a distribution of attractiveness (subjectively considered as that is the only way) that simply has lopped off most or all of the left side. Some are gorgeous to you; others are gorgeous to me. Some are not so attractive to you while others, perhaps ones you really like, are not so attractive to me. Anyone in particular within this group might be just okay to any random observer. Taking everyone's opinions together as a whole, though, on average gives us an ordered distribution [similar to the theoretical and problematic Keynesian Beauty Contest]. 

When considered from the average observer’s viewpoint, the only thing missing in the distribution are all those who would be below some threshold. In other words the “lowest” (most left) person paid for looks is just an average looking person compared to all of humanity. Because we can’t manufacture attractive people yet, we are forced to use the truncate strategy. 

So the only way to bring about beauty improvement is by leaving out those who are less than some level of beauty (I used eliminated everyone below the average beauty score in the example). So we can get there, but it is artificial--we just left out the less than "beautiful", whatever that actually means in this hypothetical.

Now think about wealth. How do you increase average societal wealth? This is problem from a different realm because unlike beauty where we are currently limited to some degree of diet control, physical fitness training, and plastic surgery we can move wealth around. 

In the case of wealth what is the better path: Minimizing the impact of bad ideas (truncating the left tail via redistribution) or increasing the rewards for good ideas (fattening the right tail)? 

Bailing out bad ideas has moral hazard risks--we are subsidizing bad ideas. When you subsidize something, you get more of it. Taken to the extreme income redistribution is not sustainable. The system collapses in on itself through actual complete resignation (a dead-end Nash equilibrium) or deliberate exit (John Galt). Because of this, we are forced to use the grow the distribution strategy. 

Notice how this distribution is truncated and non normal (there is a minimum at 70 and the distribution has a right skew). No one is below some level of actual wealth (even debtors and prisoners get a meal and a place to sleep). So in some sense I am assuming some of the first strategy--a social safety net of some kind. I wanted to make it more realistically skewed, but time didn't permit. However, we should be careful how easily we succumb to the notion that there are people with true wealth at the far, far reaches of the distribution. Just how rich is Jeff Bezos compared to you or me really, seriously

Growing the distribution has a side benefit of minimizing the impact of bad ideas--a kind of resistance to bad ideas having meaningful, lasting impact. Subsequently the opportunities for good ideas are increased since this method is positive sum (it grows the pie) while the former strategy is zero sum and eventually negative sum if taken too far.

Am I assuming too much? I really don't think so. 

Unfortunately, advocacy for method two is unpopular because of social desirability bias. People don't want to admit that they want the rich to get richer. Or worse yet, they think letting the rich get richer somehow makes us all worse off. 

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