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.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Rational Fan: Managing Hopes and Constantly Adjusting Expectations

(I love the mirror image below the bars hinting at the symmetrical negative to any observable outcome.)
Consider the analogy of graphic equalizer meters on a old 70s-80s-era stereo--the ones that would show the recent high-point marks. I think this is a good symbol of the high-water-mark thinking that commonly clouds the judgment of sports fans. Specifically, an irrational (typical?) fan mistakes the best performance for the expected performance. The rational fan thinks in realistic terms where future expectations are influenced by past achievements but not set by them and mean reversion is always expected (eventually).

This would include updating for new information (e.g., a recent trend of wins or losses) when projecting the long-term expectation of winning. (i.e., Is recent performance simply an aberration and regression to the historic mean should be expected? Alternatively, has a new plateau been reached and future expectations must be appropriately adjusted?)

Consider also the emotional impact of a team's performance on a fan. The rational fan must contend with and accept the great irony that the more one's team wins, the more the wins tend to run together and the losses stand out, and vice versa. This is simply the law of diminishing marginal utility (not to be confused with the law of diminishing returns).

Irrational fan foresight is almost always myopic as they only see one side of what could be and probably do so in a vacuum. When an irrational fan imagines a play executed, he imagines an outcome determined by his conviction of the play’s potential success or failure. His judgment is probably additionally clouded by the play's potential excitement. If he would like to see a particular play call, he envisions a successful, if not the perfectly successful, outcome. If he disagrees with a play, he conceives of only its failure. A coach doesn’t get that luxury. Coaches should rationally weight the probability of success and the degree of success with the probability of failure and the degree of failure—what could be and how likely it is. Fans are allowed to dream, coaches are required to calculate. For coaches, magnitude matters.

So on any given play fans are liable to be deeply unsatisfied while coaches see the outcome as satisfactory toward a larger goal. But as should be expected, this is subject to error and unintended consequences. The error can be that coaches have bad incentives leading them to take less risk than they should (another example). The error can also be that fans expect too much. Back to the equalizer analogy, setting expectations on the abnormal high point causes fans to demand an unreasonable level of success. Fans can also be subject to what I would term conventional-wisdom bias--the primary source driving coaches to be overly conservative.

Also, when is a fan a true fan? Consider a convert. As opposed to religion, there is no long process filled with sacrifice and commitment culminating in a grand ceremony to becoming a team's fan. But perhaps there is such a process for becoming a "true" fan. Hence, the concept of bandwagon fans as illegitimate. It is only those who have been there through the tough times who can claim righteousness. For my teams I certainly feel this way.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that to be a true fan you have to feel physical pain when your team loses. Alternatively, you're not a team's true fan until the opponent's pain is your pleasure.

One more nostalgic image:

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Ethical Free Riding

Partial list of ethical ways to free ride (enjoy positive externalities). Free riding is generally economically destructive and potentially unethical. For example, if paying for national defense is voluntary, the risk is that we get too little of it as many people attempt to free ride off of the benefit of everyone else paying for it. (Note: don't too easily accept this theoretical argument when applied to so many so called "public goods" such as roads and lighthouses.) While free riding off of others is unethical when you are taking resources from others, there are many examples of free riding that are ethically fine:
  1. Mayberry - Because so many people (especially helpful if it is your neighbors) are so very active in their home security (setting burglar alarms, using Ring doorbells, etc.), you don’t have to be. You just need for your place to look like the kind of place that does.
  2. Speed Racer - Because everyone wants to drive so fast, you can go above the speed limit safely and stay behind the fastest drivers who can run interference with Smokey. Defensively keeping pace with traffic is the safer way to drive. 
  3. Quantum Leap - Be on time and keep your promises and you will exceed most people's general expectations. This is basically just capitalizing on other people’s inability to do the right thing. 
  4. Gotham - The benefits of big-city life are great for both individuals as well as society at large. Not only are you doing good by the environment living in a big city, you are doing well for yourself in many ways. For you this means access to amenities that are less expensive and of greater scope in type and richness.
  5. Quiz Show - When information is expensive, trust the wisdom of the crowd. Visiting a new town and looking for a good restaurant? Trust the one that is popular with locals--all the more so if it has other impediments to overcome like a poor location. 
  6. The Matrix - There is basically no excuse for doing something new or difficult by winging it from scratch. Research and learn using Google searches, YouTube, blogs, et al. Somebody somewhere has been there, failed, corrected, and left it all waiting for you to discover. 

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. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

What Are You Signaling By Your Sport of Choice?

This is meant to be primarily tongue-in-cheek, but if the shoe fits...
  • Football - I am in the tribe of macho
  • Basketball - I am a socialite sports fan
  • Soccer - I am worldly and sophisticated
  • Baseball - I am in love with Americana and yearn for the ways of the past
  • Golf - I am elitist (by desire/choice or caste)
  • Hockey - I am accepting of violence to solve problems
  • NASCAR - I am intolerant
  • Formula 1 - I am tolerant, no really, I swear I am
  • Horse racing - I am superstitious
  • Boxing and MMA - I am accepting of violence as an ends in itself
  • Wrestling - I am in the true tribe of macho
  • Tennis - I am a true socialite sports fan
  • Olympics - I am a fan of theater
I don't know enough to hazard a guess on these: Cricket, Rugby (probably the same as American football), Field Hockey, et al.

Partial List of Wax On Wax Off

Partial list of things I believe to be waxing and waning in the popular sense of moral, civilized taste. To be clear morality is not determined by vote. And also notice this is not a list of things peak/not peak. This is more a prediction of long-term trending.

  • Marijuana
  • Basketball (as a share of sports-fan attention)
  • Virtue signalling to strangers through condemnation (you shouldn't do this or believe that)
  • Factory farming/eating animals/hunting
  • Tobacco
  • Football
  • NCAA student-athlete amateurism
  • Fossil fuel energy (both superficial (electric cars are ~25% coal cars) and actual)

Partial List of Serious Problems We Won't Solve

Partial list of serious problems where too many of us are unreasonably unwilling to accept the clearly best solutions*: 
  • Climate change/energy efficiency - nuclear power
  • The need for kidney transplants - a free market in organ transfers
  • Higher levels of economic growth -  free movement of people across borders
  • Too little affordable housing - allowing more housing to be built
  • Inner-city education failure - getting government out of the provision and design of schooling via vouchers (case in point of why this is on the list)
  • Health care cost - removing regulation against competition in insurance provision and required components of insurance along with removing tax advantage for employer-provided insurance (updated to add: eliminating at least FDA's efficacy requirements if not the FDA altogether and allowing unencumbered competition in health care supply (i.e., eliminating certificate of need laws, et al.))
  • High unemployment and underemployment within the underclass - remove occupational licensing (also helps in health care and legal work markets among others)
  • Social Security insolvency - sun setting of future obligations by means (for near claimants) and age (ending the scheme for all those below a certain age)
  • Drug-related crime, violence, and social disruption - full legalization of all currently illicit narcotics
  • Geopolitical conflict (aka, war) - embrace and default to pacifism
  • Taxation distortions and inequalities - Replacing income-based and all other resource-creation-based taxation with consumption-based taxation such as a VAT
*These are not necessarily completely sufficient solutions, but they are at least the most complete way these problems could be greatly alleviated.