Showing posts with label philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label philosophy. Show all posts

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Advice to a Recent Graduate (and everyone else too)

As it is currently graduation season, I was recently asked on-the-spot to provide some advice to a recent graduate. Below is what I came up with. I think it is decent advice for all of us at all stages of life's graduations.
    1. Take in lots of diverse information.
    2. Be willing to change your mind.
    3. Gracefully stand up for what you believe in.

    Thursday, March 31, 2022

    The Meaning of Opposite

    Opposite is a loaded term. The meaning of it grows more ambiguous as the dimensions of the object to which it refers grow. 

    A no-dimensional object (a point) has no opposite aside from absence (not a point). A one-dimensional object (the line A—B) has its pure reversal (B—A) as its opposite. 

    Consider a higher order "object" such as driving in America. What is the opposite? It could be said that driving in England is the opposite of driving in America since Americans drive on the right while the English drive on the left. This would be true in the limited sense from the perspective of the perpendicular plane relative to the driver’s general direction, forward, through time—also forward. 

    But one could also say that driving sideways is the opposite of driving as we know it. How about rather than driving through scenery that the car passes through that the car stands still and the scenery moves passing by the car was the opposite? Still another could be driving whereby you leave from your destination and arrive at your departure point. There certainly are more.

    What is the point of this thought process? It is a hint at how difficult and convoluted and simply fraught any attempt to draw sharp distinctions can be. This is especially true in the realms of human action. Counterfactuals are not only challenging to find. They are nearly impossible to properly define.

    Wednesday, May 26, 2021

    Ethics Versus a Moral Code

    Ethics are rules and standards that we can reasonably hold others accountable to and that follow from first principles that are themselves self-evidently consistent--ethical intuitionism (a la, Huemer). 

    Moral codes are rules and standards some group agrees to abide by. 

    For a moral code to be ethically enforced the parties to the code must be adults of sound mind giving free, willful consent and where exit is always an option (a la, Nozick). Yet that does not make the moral code ethical per se. We have no right to expect others not party to the agreement to abide by our moral code unless it is itself ethical. 

    We can belong to G.R.O.S.S., but we cannot force anyone to join. However, members and non-members of G.R.O.S.S. are all subject to a higher moral code that is ethical. So G.R.O.S.S. itself and our behavior as a member may not be ethical. 

    I believe a common failing is mistakenly assuming a moral code is ethical with religion playing a leading role. One way to test for this is if a godless society would be able to derive the standard naturally. Therefore, for a rule, law, norm, mores, et al. to be ethical, it must be able to survive on its own in the wild so to speak. 

    "This is truth because Calvin (or Hobbes) said so," is not valid outside of the treehouse.

    Friday, May 14, 2021

    Being Nostalgic for the Future

    Nostalgia is not a fond memory of an accurate past. Rather it is either fond memories of being young, good moments taken out of perspective (over emphasized), or a mythologized history that is not based on fact. 

    As the philosopher Billy Joel told us, “…
    Cause the good ole days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems…”.

    Put another way and paraphrasing the historian Austin Powers: As much as we might want the future to resemble a fictional past that we are nostalgic for, that is just not in the cards, baby. 

    A much more productive and healthy mindset is to be excited about what the future will bring. Think past technological advancements, as great as they should be. The cultural developments will be splendid. 

    If we can just get out of its way, there awaits us a brilliant future eager to get here. 

    Sunday, March 28, 2021

    Winkler's Wager

    Let me state upfront I know that for the most part (if at all) I am not breaking new ground here. 

    Are we all basically agnostic? Or all basically believers? How much of the rejection of belief (disbelief) is just a rejection of the behavior and style and beliefs of individuals or institutions the nonbeliever (believer) finds amiss or reprehensible or simply unconvincing? 

    Years ago in thinking about this topic and in preparation for this blog post specifically I polled two friends. These are each very thoughtful, highly intelligent people. One is correctly described as a strong believer in God. One is correctly described as a strong disbeliever. Separately I asked them simply "What is the probability God exists?" leaving it fairly open ended for their own interpretation. Both of these people know how probability works and why 100% and 0% are bad answers. 

    The believer stated that he wanted to say 100%, knew that was technically impossible, knew that faith might be a reason to actually make it legitimate, but settled on 90% (all of this recollection conditional on if memory serves; it was 5 years ago). He gave a good explanation for his thinking to support the answer.

    The disbeliever answered via email, so I have his response. After sleeping on it, he answered 20% with a thorough account of his reasoning. 

    I don't want to make this about their specific answers. This was just an experiment regarding my prediction about what they would say and why they would say it. Why I completely understood what they said and why they said it (it basically matched my prediction as well), I do not feel fully compelled by either. 

    Similarly, I ran this twitter poll recently:
    Obviously, this was not a meaningful sample size. But that isn't the point as much as the split among the choices I presented gives some indication that I think resembles how people tend to think about this.

    Faith = ???... belief in the face of doubt? That definition would imply that 100% and 0% are not legitimate answers. Doubt seems essential for faith to have meaning. And the existence of doubt pushes one toward the unsatisfactory middle point of 50/50.

    I think this is more easily seen in the case of a believer. But it is true at the antithesis as well. Atheism (certainty there is no God) is a faith by the atheists' own definition--one cannot prove a negative (e.g., there is no God); therefore, atheism cannot be scientifically proven. 

    Ask a believer and a disbeliever this question: What it would take for them to reverse their view? This leads me to believe all in this debate are "believers" ultimately. And yes I know the problems with this over simplicity.

    To the point of many in the atheist community, a point Penn Jillette makes in this piece, no one is really agnostic. A person always will find a way to dismiss evidence or argument offered against the view they hold in their heart of hearts. 

    I think this gets to the crux of the question. The right answer is perhaps +/-50% with faith in God or faith in not God (something beyond the material realm) pushing one off of this center point of pure agnosticism toward one of the two faiths. The existence of God is a non-falsifiable conjecture; therefore, using science or reasoning to "prove" either the existence or the nonexistence of God is futile and fallacious thinking. 

    Can we at least point to arguments to guide our judgments on God's existence? It would seem this is quite hard beyond simply an exercise in persuasion for those already tempted to be on the same side of the argument--we can never change the minds of those on the other side. Yet, minds do change and in both directions. The links in the P.S. sections allude to this.

    So much of this ageless debate is people talking past one another. Adjacent to this is the determinism versus free will debate. Usually there is confusion on the part of those arguing for free will between determinism and fatalism, and usually there is confusion on the part of those arguing for determinism between free will and randomness. 

    Sam Harris makes a strong case for determinism but only on the back of a reductivism I don't think can be denied--yes, there are always causes . . . it is cause and effect all the way down. Yet this basically amounts to a tautology that avoids the important parts of the question. Can we hold ourselves and others responsible for actions taken? What does it mean to choose? To act? To fail to act? 

    I am a dualist on the issue. When I play pool, my choice of where to aim the cue ball and how to hit it are my free will, the resulting actions of the balls on the table are pure determinism. The determinist would entreat, "Is it not just a higher order of underlying causes that lead you to 'chose freely' how to strike the cue'?" My answer is "Yes, of course, and that isn't interesting for the matter at hand." Daniel Dennett says it better

    Similarly, believers in God and disbelievers in God tend to talk past one another. They mischaracterize the other side's position and misunderstand what the other side means. This is not helped by how poorly the believers tend to understand their own position or how dismissively the disbelievers tend to assume past the implications of their own position. Believers wish to put God in a box and disbelievers live out the story of the Apostle Thomas. Taken to logical ends most believers' understanding of God can be disproven and most disbelievers' reasoning forces them to reject all knowledge and facts about the world. Experiments to this end: 
    1. Ask a believer to convince you that their belief is genuine as opposed to something that makes them feel good.
    2. Ask a disbeliever to explain why their expectation that their car will get them to work tomorrow morning is not predicated on faith or many small faiths they themselves cannot prove. 
    Each will often struggle: In the first case because it is hard for a believer to identify a reason for faith beyond a desire for faith; In the second case because most people do not know how an automobile works and the existence of the future is continually theoretical--I'll prove tomorrow exists . . . tomorrow.

    We should not depend on the ill-equipped be the strawmen foils for our favored positions. 

    Consider my work as a practitioner within the investment management profession. My most sophisticated client would find the way I explain my job to my young children and the way my young children understand what I do to be quite unimpressive and perhaps even unattractive. That doesn't invalidate the philosophies I hold or the method I employ or the track record I've achieved professionally. Likewise part of what I do and any successes or failures associated with it might be simply due to luck. My efforts and explanations are at least to some degree counterproductive, irrelevant, and orthogonal to their associated outcomes. My shortcomings, imperfections, and activities themselves within financial money management neither prove nor deny the existence of financial money management.

    Perhaps the most challenging part for believers is to separate God from being simply a personification of truth, love, and perfection. 

    Perhaps the most challenging part for disbelievers is to build a foundation of truth (moral, mathematical, and physical) without the identification of God as this foundation. 

    Both sides accuse the other of shortcuts for the sake of certitude. Both sides make the mistake of looking to religious texts as scientific works. If you do this, you are gravely missing the point. Newtonian/Einsteinian physics can't speak to ethics or morality. Likewise, the Bible, et al. are not going to serve your quest for scientific truth. 

    Along the journey of building this post over the past few years these fellow travelers were helpful: 

    Here is another very good, related conversation.

    From this comes this insightful item: “Religion has nothing to fear from science, and science need not be afraid of religion. Religion claims to interpret the word of God, and science to reveal the laws of God. The interpreters may blunder, but truths are immutable, eternal and never in conflict.” If I could be so bold, I would like to add a corollary. Faith and religion are very poor at discovering and developing legislation to govern society and scientific facts to explain the universe and world around us. Faith and religion are very well-suited for the discovery of righteous first principles and guideposts for how to love and live among one another. Likewise science cannot teach us right from wrong but can teach us true from false.

    P.S. Is God math?


    P.P.S. How should a Christian Bayesian react to the Mayans, et al? Should they heavily discount the evidence and slightly shift their prior or slightly discount the evidence and heavily shift their prior? Is this question a risk of confirmation bias?

    P.P.P.S. I avoided the heresy of an adjacent issue: that perhaps believers of all types (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, ... Mathematicians?, Universists? ("let the Universe decide..."), et al.) are all yearning and seeking to follow the same ultimate God. 

    Thursday, December 31, 2020

    Being Relieved and Reassured When I am Wrong

    Considering the realm of points of view where thoughtful minds can disagree, we simply cannot have very much confidence that all of our views are correct and justifiable. In fact unfortunately it is likely that we are right only half of the time, an epistemic coin flip. Therefore, it should be reassuring when we discover areas within this realm where we are incorrect because then we can have more confidence in our other points of view being true. 

    Similarly I take comfort when I find error or at least disagreement with the intellectuals I follow and admire. This lets me know I am thinking critically, which holds even if they are right and I am wrong. 

    To make sure I am not just stubborn and cherry-picking my points of agreement, I always seek to change my mind (2020 edition coming soon). And by the same token, we must be careful not to use this as a cognitive bias giving confirmation and validation to views we should now doubt. 

    If there are correlations and other entanglements between points of view, doubt cast upon one of these casts doubt upon all of them. Being wrong about one part of a system probably means one must be less confident in one's views about the other parts of the same system and perhaps wrong about the system itself. The Bayesian updating is a sticky wicket. 

    P.S. One recent example for me was listening to an episode of The Libertarian Angle podcast.  The host Jacob Hornberger is someone for who I very much align in my view of the world. He ran in 2020 to be the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate. If he would have won, I would have gladly voted for him. In fact I would have ideologically preferred him as the actual candidate over Jo Jorgensen (Jorgensen was probably the better candidate for general electoral appeal). Yet he has strong beliefs with high confidence that the JFK assassination was a regime change conspiracy done through the CIA and the rest of the national security state. The case he makes causes me to adjust my views slightly but only slightly. I can believe there was unacted-upon desire to thwart Kennedy's foreign policy changes (Kennedy was making concrete movement away from war and hostility). I just don't believe this materially came together in a conspiracy of action. 

    Listening to Hornberger gave me a bit of a challenge to my priors about the Kennedy assassination as he is very much more informed about it than am I. At the same time I didn't change my mind and adopt his view. If we do finally someday get a release of the classified records from the assassination (Trump surprisingly agreed to extend the classified status in 2018 until 2021), I might discover I was completely wrong. Either way I'm relieved and reassured because it shows I am not simply outsourcing all of my views to my intellectual heros, and if I am wrong about this, I can have more confidence in the areas where Hornberger and I are in agreement. 

    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. 

    Thursday, August 1, 2019

    On Stowaways and Hostages

    Consider the following hypothetical situations and associated questions. Some time in the 1800s . . .
    • A captain of a ship discovers a young boy (perhaps 9 years old) has stowed away on the ship once it is far out to sea. He will consume resources and be a distraction. Should dangerous events unfold such as bad weather, he will be an added liability. What duty of care does the captain have to the child? Can he force him to work on the ship—to what degree? Must he make him comfortable—to what degree? Can he put him in a lifeboat with small rations and send him adrift where he will likely suffer and quite possibly die before rescue? Can he ethically toss him overboard where he will certainly perish? What duty does the captain owe the boy?
    • Same thought experiment but now assume the boy was accidentally trapped on the ship while in port through no fault of anyone in particular. It was simply and definitively an innocent mistake. Consider the same questions. 
    • Same thought experiment but now assume the boy was accidentally trapped on the ship at port through the direct and certain fault of the captain. The captain was negligent by any reasonable measure. Consider the same questions. 
    • Same thought experiment but now assume the boy was deliberately kidnapped by the captain and brought aboard for the purpose of working for the captain. Once the captain tires of the boy or has no further use of him, consider the same questions as before. 
    • Same thought experiment but now assume the boy is the captain’s child, was deliberately and willingly brought aboard, and the child’s mother is deceased. Consider the same questions as before.

    Monday, May 27, 2019

    Don't Let the Ideal Be the Enemy of Improvement

    This recent Scott Sumner post got me thinking about a truism I like to follow: 

    Don't let the ideal be the enemy of improvement--my take on don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. 

    Perfect is overrated. While I might be a libertarian idealist at heart, I have always striven to be a directionalist rather than a destinationist. And I certainly don't want to fall victim to the Unicorn Fallacy.

    Consider The Big Five and reasonable milestones of progress to be aiming for.
    • Drug prohibition - Marijuana tolerance is gaining. This is largely good (movement in the right direction). However, it probably will have unintended byproducts like legalization = authority endorsement leading to overuse as well as even stronger resistance to decriminalization, legalization, and tolerance for other illicit products (cocaine, heroin, LSD, etc.) and services (sex work, price "gouging", etc.). Reasonable near-term aspiration: Federal action decriminalizing if not descheduling marijuana despite the before-mentioned byproducts.
    • Education - School choice is on a gradual but tepid rise. Reasonable near-term aspiration: A popular civil-rights figure strongly advocating for a voucher or charter school experiment in a major inner city. 
    • Immigration - These seem to be dark times. Yet I see two aspects of optimism. First, Democrat rhetoric is improving as they attempt to draw a distinction from Trump--this isn't faith in Democrat dogma but rather faith they will paint themselves into a good corner. Second, Republicans will likely need to soften the stance Trump has defined lest they risk losing demographically--this isn't faith in Republican virtue but rather faith in their ability to see a self-serving means to an ends. Reasonable near-term aspiration: A compromise solution to allow much-greater levels of H1B visas and higher levels of "desirable" immigrants (where desirability comes from greater restrictions on immigrant access to benefits or sponsorship by entities such as employers or charities or sanctuary cities).
    • Taxation - The biggest recent improvement has been in this category with the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. By far the two benefits of this mixed bag of tax changes were the reduction in the corporate tax rate and the increase in the standard deduction. The latter should enable future tax simplifications such as removing deductions and allowances much easier to accomplish. Reasonable near-term aspiration: Increases in tax-deferred savings limits.
    • War - This is the most stagnant category. Across the globe we are still explicitly overtly at war (Afghanistan, Iraq, et al.), implicitly covertly at war (Yemen, Syria, et al.), and potentially at war (Iran, North Korea, et al.). Reasonable near-term aspiration: A critical mass within the electorate of direct opposition to each of these three types of bellicosity. Even if it is a selfishly-derived opposition (stop wasting our resources on lost causes, don't fight other people's battles, regroup in case we need to fight a big enemy), it would be helpful. 

    Sunday, February 4, 2018

    My 12 Rules for Life

    Jordan Peterson started this. Many have been following. I like Tyler Cowen's, Megan McArdle's, and Arnold Kling's among others.

    Here is my contribution to the cause:

    1. Try more things--reach out for more variety along all relevant dimensions.
    2. Quit more things.
    3. Read more (quantity, quality, and variety). 
    4. Practice ‘Hell Yeah!’ Or ‘No’.
    5. Listen with intention. 
    6. Smile more. 
    7. Choose honesty, demand the same, and respect when you get it. 
    8. Pursue what is being rewarded but always to the satisfaction of high ethical standards. 
    9. Trust your gut instincts. 
    10. Ask your spouse, children, immediate boss, and parents for permission. For everyone else, ask forgiveness. 
    11. Change your mind. Distance yourself from those who won’t. 
    12. Forgive and move on. 

    Tuesday, January 31, 2017

    Highly Linkable - Philosophy Edition

    Rounding out our series of link posts to get us caught up we have this. Enjoy!

    Begin with Bryan Caplan making a claim against animal rights. The brilliant Mike Huemer then replied. Caplan counters. Then Huemer. Then Caplan. Then . . . you get the picture. By the time I got to this one, I was surprisingly receptive to Huemer's position. But I think Caplan edges the stronger case. I learned something. Perhaps you will too.

    And now two from Scott Sumner (Who incidentally was the keynote speaker at CFA Society Oklahoma's annual dinner held last week. He did a fine job as is no surprise.)

    In the first you may be surprised at what "primitive culture" he is aiming his argument.

    In the second we see how the possibility of surprising information makes all knowledge subjective where a probability spectrum rather than two realms (certainty and uncertainty) delineates what we know.

    Tuesday, January 3, 2017

    Welcome Back

    So it is, I return. Been away awhile. Way longer than desired, but I found my way back. The names have changed since I hung around. My dreams might have been my ticket out, but they remained and turned me around. I have come home.

    No, dear reader, I don't mean this return to blogging; although it might equally apply. Rather the hiatus from blogging was largely driven by a return to where I live. Back around the time of the last post, we began searching in growing earnest for a destination home in Norman, OK. We found that home, just a couple blocks from campus and all the eclectic life that brings.

    We always knew we'd make the move, but always found reasons to postpone. Until one day, we didn't. We let one thing lead to another and all of a sudden we stopped dreaming and started pursuing.

    Financially we could have waited longer--way longer. We could have taken a stepping-stone path into a smaller place not quite so close and not quite so right. Remember that quote about playing it safe and letting life happen to you? I don't either.

    “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

    Wednesday, March 2, 2016

    Investment List Question Partially Answered

    A few days ago I posted two partial lists of investments and posed the question to identify the key distinction between them. Here is the answer.

    The key distinction is cash flows. I contend that the assets in list #1 meaningfully generate cash flows while the assets in list #2 do not.

    Consider what a cash flow is: a stream of payments going (flowing) to asset owners generated by the asset itself. This does not include money or other assets taken in exchange for ownership of the asset. That trade value is important, but using it to evaluate current (present) value must ultimately rely on guess work--namely guessing what someone in the future will pay for it. Using cash flows is a very useful method to value assets and get around this resale (aka, "greater fool") theory of value. 

    Once you have a guess as to what cash flows will be for a given investment, all you need to do is apply a discount rate, sum the results, and viola you have a net present value (current price). And more importantly you now have a method to compare various assets' valuations. Of course, it is not quite that easy. We have to guess/argue about the timing and amount of cash flows, and we have to appropriately guess what discount rate to apply for a proper time-value of money adjustment. But there is even more complication.

    There is a tension between my logic and my lists. The implied rent payment one saves by owning their home is fairly vague while the returns from turning copper into the product of electrical wiring is not so vague. Conceivably, if you define "cash flow" broadly enough, everything has a potential utility value that could be described as a cash flow (or in cash-equivalent terms). For this reason I said list #1 meaningfully generated cash flows. I am assuming a reasonableness standard we can generally agree to. 

    As such, I don't view gold as an investment in the same realm as I view, say, a share of stock. Gold's value is too reliant on the presumption that someone else will want to buy it at a later date. (Here is some of what the Oracle has said about gold. Read at least #4.)

    My two lists of investments are not intended to be uniformly separate. Each item to varying and changing degrees exists on a continuum. Think of it loosely as the Beanie Babies to U.S. Treasury Bonds scale. The "cash flow" from Beanie Babies is only the joy one may get from holding one and the opportunity to sell it down the road. The cash flow from UST bonds is semi-annual interest paid and the promise to mature at par value. Where do you put gold on this scale? As you answer that question for each asset, you start to see a large gap forming naturally separating the two emerging lists of investments. 

    P.S., When I first started to answer the question, I fell down a deep rabbit hole that took me quite a while to escape. Read on if you'd like to witness the journey. Bonus points for realizing the subtle point that creates the difference between the answer above and the answer below.

    Consider what a cash flow is: a stream of payments going (flowing) to asset owners generated by the asset itself. This does not include money or other assets taken in exchange for ownership of the asset. Ultimately, for an asset to have value, it has to be intrinsically valuable to someone. Take a bond for instance. A bond is intrinsically valuable because it generates income in the form of interest. And that interest (cash) has value because it can buy stuff like beanie babies and food, which are intrinsically valuable because . . . because my daughter likes beanie babies and she and I both need food. . . okay, we might have a problem here. If you didn’t catch the circular logic, go reread that.

    Any time you hear “intrinsic value”, your spidey sense should start tingling. That concept suffers from what I call the artificial logical stopping point. It is the fallacious attempt at halting what becomes “turtles all the way down”. In a chain of subjective value propositions we assert at some point that one of those values is so esteemed, so important, that it is an intrinsic value. If that sounds arbitrary, it’s because it is arbitrary. One can always challenge the leap to the intrinsic showing that leap to be invalid. Objectivism philosophically solves this conundrum by basically rejecting the need for an intrinsic value concept. I believe that is the correct way to conceptualize value—value is the relation between the object valued and the individual valuing it, but can I reconcile it with my belief that the two lists are distinguished by the presence of cash flows? I can because of what I am arguing cash flows are and what they are useful for... [this is where I caught my mistake and began anew].

    Saturday, May 9, 2015

    Highly Linkable

    We begin with some short videos:

    The NFL Draft was last week. Brian Burke re-examined Massey and Thaler's landmark paper "The Loser's Curse: Decision-Making & Market Efficiency in the NFL Draft" applying the new CBA. The findings are interesting in that there continues to be little to no surplus value at the top draft picks with a lot to be had in the second and third rounds. This is not what the typical football fan (or GM) wants to think. Just to illustrate, look at what the Buffalo Bills did.

    The supply of land (like all resources) is not fixed in the long run (and the long run does not mean a long time from now)--so explains Don Boudreaux.

    Warren Zola asks, "What IS the NCAA's mission?"

    Arnold Kling has a new meme: Teaching Emergent Economics. Don't miss the first one on trade as a technology.

    Sumner argues that investing is not like guessing the winner of a beauty pageant as suggested famously by Keynes.

    I love this technique, The Mellow Heuristic, Bryan Caplan argues using for adjudicating intellectual disputes when directly relevant information is scarce. I discovered it for myself and have used it since late childhood. 

    Never shy of asking the tough questions, Robin Hanson asks us to rank the sacred.

    Would you/should you/could you pay for a dinner reservation--so asks Tim-I-am Harford.

    Finally, some counter-conventional wisdom (AKA, stuff people are getting wrong):

    • Alex Tabarrok exposes what business journalists and some economists don't understand about efficiency wages--their idea that paying workers more works magic.
    • Terry Burnham empirically challenges the idea born of Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and echoed by Gladwell's David and Goliath that simply making problems harder to read improves test taker results.
    • Ken Popehat White breaks down what an emblematic McClatchy column on free speech gets wrong.
    • Alex Tabarrok appears again to show how Jon Stewart is wrong on many levels about education in Baltimore.
    • Scott Sumner says basically NOBODY understands the concept of "currency manipulation".

    Tuesday, January 20, 2015

    Highly Linkable

    Is that a Lite-Brite? No, it's NYC.

    Have you heard the country song? It seems there is only one.

    Five exam hacks to help you ace the final.

    I tend to be an optimist about the future including and because of technology. I welcome the coming singularity. But I have to admit this concerned me and kinda shook me a little. More here.

    How do you find something when a Google search isn't enough? Lifehacker suggests some options.

    Looks like I need to change my views on flossing--and revise some other oral hygiene practices while I'm at it. (HT: Tyler Cowen)

    The "coach who never punts", Kevin Kelley was interviewed recently on the AFA podcast. I predict in 10 years much of his heterodoxy will be orthodoxy.

    Kevin Erdmann has a very good grip on housing policy. He Zoro's Shiller in a single paragraph and then proceeds to tear down all of the housing lobby's sand castles.

    While we're calling out iconic economists, John Lee of Open Borders challenges Krugman greatly and Cowen to a lesser extent.

    John Cochrane continues the craze taking on Keynesianism.

    You might read this first before getting right to Pete Boettke answering Noah Smith's question on if economics swings left.

    The zero-interest-rate environment succinctly explained with myths debunked by Scott Sumner.

    Don Boudreaux offers some new year's advice on bad habits he wishes the government would break.

    (UPDATE: housing policy link restored.)

    Tuesday, August 12, 2014

    Do We Want To Live In A Third-Best World?

    I listened to this NPR story on my way home from work today. The basic facts quickly:
    • A disabled man uses marijuana for medicine. He says it works better than anything else for his symptoms. 
    • The man lives and works in Colorado where the state law allows medical marijuana and where state law prohibits discharging an employee for lawful activities conducted off work premises.
    • The man works for Dish Network, does not use pot while at work, and does not come to work high.
    • Dish Network conducts periodic random drug tests that screen for marijuana, and the test it uses can detect marijuana's THC compound days or even weeks after actual use (the story is slightly murky on this, but I believe it is the case).
    • Dish Network dismissed (fired) the man after his positive test result.
    This got me thinking about the world according to a libertarian. Here is the breakdown:
    • In a first-best world marijuana is fully legal. Employers can freely choose to employ or not employ people at their will including considering if they use marijuana on or off premises. Different firms have different policies and people (customers, employees, and everyone else) respond to those policies by respectfully agreeing or disagreeing, engaging or disengaging, and supporting or protesting. This way norms tend to work themselves out and adapt over time. The evolution is completely based on persuasion rather than force. Where disputes come up about rights (always a conflict of negative rights since positive rights do not exist in libertarian utopia), those are handled by a common law process. Again, it is evolutionary from the bottom up. Sadly, we do not live in this world. 
    • In a second-best world marijuana is mostly or fully legal. Employers must adhere to rules governing their conduct as set by a combination of common law and local legislated law, but these rules that emerge from this process are few in number and necessarily local in scope and encumbrance. The relationship between employer and employee is adaptive since it is governed some by rules imposed externally but mostly agreements made between the two parties internally. You'll never have that kind of relationship in a world where you're afraid to take the first step because all you see is every negative thing 10 miles down the road. Hence, we do not live in this world either. 
    • In a third-best world marijuana is mostly illegal. Employers are strictly governed by a multitude of rules set both locally and nationally with little of it coming out of a common law process. These rules are often in conflict with themselves as well as political tensions that dominate at different levels. The environment is ripe for lawsuits since so much is unclear and arguable. And those suits have little hope of bringing precedent-setting resolution or clarity for future disputes. Nothing is ever settled and almost nobody is ever happy with the results. The clarion call for a solution demands a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach that is as arrogant as it is unjustified. Sadly, we live in this world. 
    While we work towards a better world that I do believe we can achieve (to wit: No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world), we must settle for something less perfect. I hope Brandon Coats prevails in his case under state law. I hope the federal government takes a step back from the employer-employee relationship rather than offer its unhelpful solutions. 

    We don't have to live in a third-best world, but it will take people learning to think for themselves. Your move, chief.

    Monday, April 21, 2014

    Highly Linkable

    Let me axe you a question. Have you seen this yet? Welcome to the world of tomorrow!

    Remember, its self-proclaimed goal is to be the most transparent administration in history. Perhaps he meant transparently self serving.

    Bryan Caplan on Michael Huemer making the moral case for civil disobedience of unjust laws including lying about intending to and acting to thwart their existence.

    Perhaps civil disobedience is all the Bag Man is up to as he compensates college football players. Somebody needs to do more for them it seems as even the NCAA is making some desparate changes.

    The pace of change is moving rapidly now as I believe the tide of popular opinion is reaching a tipping point. Our side has the true moral high ground. Most people have chosen to ignore the arguments up until now, but that is quickly changing. I can hear so many beginning to say, "Well, I have always thought college athletes deserved more [clumsily define 'more']. It is just that until now [clumsily offer a justification for past injustices] . . ."

    Fortunately, there is plenty of money in college athletics (Alabama's football program has higher revenues than any NHL team and 26 of 30 NBA teams) just as there is plenty of profit in non-profit universities.

    And just for good measure in closing this sports-heavy link post, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald is in a battle with Kentucky's John Calipari to be the worst NCAA spokesman.

    Sunday, February 2, 2014

    Highly linkable

    We live in a world that changes faster than it used to by orders of magnitude. One near-term example of this is pointed out by Mark Perry where he references a recent article about how much more turnover (demonstrated in terms of shorter average longevity) there is in the S&P 500.

    I've been catching up on Bryan Caplan--now you can too:

    • He does a better job than I did a while back explaining the economic concept of the value of a statistical life. 
    • War, huh, good God, y'all . . . absolutely nothing.
    • And now I want him to address the counter to this, which would be: I'm too busy feeding my family to fight tyranny. I suspect that is something many hide behind including those of us in the first world myself included. Think of it in terms of this: I'm too busy enjoying my status as wealthiest humans in history to allow an open borders policy that would enable many, many others to enjoy this as well.

    Scott Sumner lays out a great survey on how income inequality is a normal phenomenon that confuses the issue and should be largely ignored.

    One mark of an organization about to meet its demise is it opposes changes that are good compromises between what it unrealistically wants (to continue the good times it had in the past) and what it ultimately might get (utter destruction). Perhaps that is at play right now with the NCAA.

    One thing Don Boudreaux will not find in the Sears Wish List of 1982 is a time machine that would lock anyone into staying in that state of the world--thank God. That would have been a very bad mistake.

    Perhaps Oklahoma will ironically lead the nation out of the government sanctioning of marriage problem.

    17 equations that changed humanity. One thing that stood out to me was how misapplications of these or of other equations that then led to some of these took humanity down side roads. Newton's physical equations needed refinement for relativity and quantum mechanics. The normal distribution probably doesn't apply to many areas of asset price behavior and economic change that it is today used for including from later in the list the Black Scholes pricing model. Wish I knew more math . . .

    I will be rooting for the local chaps in the upcoming sportsball contest. (HT: Tyler Cowen)

    School's out forever! I was just thinking about this (original story link here). I'd like to see it charted over time. I think it would show an increasing propensity to cancel school due to inclimate weather. But this is not a "we're getting soft" effect. Rather I believe it is a wealth effect. As we grow wealthier, we have both the means and the desire to avoid getting out in risky weather. Notice that this would be a cancelling effect against the opposing wealth effect that more wealth means more ability to cope with bad weather. The dominating effect in my hypothesis is akin to putting kids in bike helmets. Biking isn't inherently riskier for kids today; in fact, it is most likely less risky. But it is relatively more costly--that is, the benefit from a helmet to reduce expected cost from an accident on a bike is significantly higher than in the past and sufficiently high enough to justify the helmet expense (cost of buying and cost of wearing).

    Tuesday, December 3, 2013

    Highly linkable

    NFL overtime is broken. Fortunately, Brian Burke is here to fix it.

    Be happy because, well, Cause it's getting better; Growing stronger, warm and wilder; Getting better everyday! (be sure not to miss the second link, Fool!).

    But I had the best of intentions; I didn't mean for that to happen.

    The real reason Henry Ford raised his worker's wages--standard high school history is lies and garbage.

    Something to be thankful for.

    The Pope has a lot to learn about economics. Reviewing the extensive Library of Economics and Liberty would be a good start. Here is a recent piece by Bob Murphy to get him started.

    Tuesday, October 22, 2013

    A challenge to Landsburg

    Steven Landsburg is an economist I greatly admire. The depth and uniqueness of his mind and viewpoint are quite amazing. So it is with trepidation that I challenge an argument he has made several times before and has touched on in another guise yet again. I expect it is likely that I am not refuting Landsburg. More likely I am misunderstanding the argument and hence not addressing it or I'm making a weak argument--a weakness I cannot see.

    The main argument is about wasteful competition. The first appearance I can recall is here. Followed by another here. Then came this very interesting question about taxing novelists for the same reason we may want to tax carbon. He followed the post with another for clarification.

    There are multiple arguments being made in these posts, and I agree substantially with many. Where I disagree is in this concept of wasteful competition--that the additional athlete, football team, novelist, etc. is more socially costly than beneficial. If I have it correctly, the argument runs as follows:

    1. The resources devoted to a marginal addition in output for good X can be substantial.
    2. In many cases the output of good X before the marginal increase was already substantial.
    3. The gain from the marginal addition of good X is slight.
    4. Therefore, we have wasted resources on the margin since the gain does not justify the cost. There is a market failure.

    I think there is more going on here. On the surface he appears to lack an appreciation for quality. It is as if at the extreme (perhaps an unfair reductio ad absurdum) he believes mediocrity is the optimum. Yes, that is an unfair characterization, but it is getting toward my point. Looking deeply I do not think we can be so linear in how we think about marginal improvement. It is multidimensional and part of a larger purpose.

    The resources that flow into a given endeavor only look out of proportion to the marginal output when we narrowly define the output. The nth cereal on the aisle may not add much to the quality of my breakfast, but it may be a natural and unavoidable byproduct of the magnificent process that brings me cheap cereals (and so much more) on demand and basically without fail.

    Consider also that although cost curves decline as quantity produced increases while economies of scale persist, only usually does quantity produced mirror the progression of time. It doesn't have to be the case that quantity and time are interchangeable as the X-axis. So while it may seem wasteful in isolation to see yet another novel published, that may be part of the cost of the first novel.

    Finally, innovation often comes in unexpected surges emerging from dull periods of slight and arguably inefficient activity. The iPod was not just one more MP3 player. ESPN was not just one more way to see the already-watched sports.

    As for competition and the fear it may become wasteful, be scared. You can't help that. But don't be afraid. We have to strive on for better and higher possibilities.

    PS. Here is how I answered the novelist taxation question.