Monday, March 2, 2020

Choose Your Own Adventure - Voter Edition

Choose one of the following ideological menu items by candidate:

Welcome to big-government democracy. Democracy is better than the rest, but the strong-state version has big shortcomings that are widely underappreciated. This is not an argument against voting. Let's assume that your vote counts; in fact, let's assume it is the only vote that does. If we assume a strong, powerful government that will be called upon to play a role in most affairs, we are doomed to a world filled with disappointment. This is true even for you, the sole voter. Surely this, a small sampling of each candidate's views, has conflicts with your own preferences. If not, let me present you with a longer list to certainly reveal disagreement.

Beyond you there is the rest of us. If we can find someone for each of the four candidates whose interests align at least in the strongly opposes and strongly supports positions, we will therefore have the ingredients for at least three disappointed people. But the problem is deeper than that. Each issue above is but a category unto itself filled with a myriad of nuanced issues. I would imagine the three candidates who strongly support government involvement in education have important differences in how they would effectuate that desire.

It should be clear from this alone that the will of the people is a silly mythVoting doesn't count in two fundamental ways: (1) in any typical election you can be reasonably certain your vote will not determine the outcome, and (2) even if your vote did determine the outcome, you could be reasonably certain that outcome would be disappointing.

If all you do is vote, the best you can hope for is a political climate that is conducive to the changes you want and resistant to the changes you oppose. In that sense it is like standing in an open field as a storm approaches hoping that lightning does not strike you.

Rather than just vote, I recommend thoughtful advocacy, approachable engagement (pick your battles but be prepared and respectful enough to kindly offer your disagreements), a willingness and ability to change your mind, but also a fundamental resistance to the power and growth of the state. The more we ask the government to do, the more we demand to be disappointed. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Highly Linkable

It has been too long since I shared things worth reading...

Scott Sumner explains just how rigged it all is in America, and how despite this the American free market still keeps making it better.

The difference between science and Science! begins with some simple yet important facts--take chemistry for example.

How long until smart phone phobia is behind us? Someday it will be fodder for the Pessimists Archive.

Better post this take down of Elizabeth Warren by Tyler Cowen before her candidacy (thankfully) fully flames out.

Dialing It Down a Bit

Partial list of things we need less of: 
  • generational labeling and other generalizations masquerading as arguments
  • homework--kids get enough busywork at school; time at home should be devoted to learning
  • tribalism
  • protectionism--in occupations at home and in trade abroad
  • nostalgia for the way things are or were [especially the way things are imagined to have been]
  • access to other people's money
  • superhero movies
  • outrage at past sins
  • factory farming

Psst... I Have a Secret

Every day I burn a dollar bill. You see I’m really worried about inflation and I want to do my part. If everyone would act like me, we could stop inflation for good.

I admit this is a bit of snarky argument by analogy for the purpose of exposing what I see as the absolute ridiculousness of trying to address macro problems with extremely micro actions. I say "actions" so as to avoid dignifying them with the term "solutions".

Put into this category activities like:

  • The bulk of ESG investing. (I don't invest in company XYZ, who does the bad things, or company ABC, who doesn't notice that what they are doing can't last forever, because I want to deny them capital.)
  • The vast majority of consumer-level environmental activism. (Please use my reusable cloth bag when you sack my groceries full of paper drinking straws, boxed water, and non-GMO foods. And please pack it tight so it fits in my backpack--I biked here, obviously.)
  • Voting as a means of changing the course of public policy. (This is the most important election of our lifetimes--once our candidate wins, disaster will be avoided.)
  • Shaming others for not being part of the cause. (You should have rescued a dog from a shelter rather than buying one from a breeder.)
  • Ad hoc donating to random strangers. (Gives $5 to the man with a sign asking for money on the street corner.)

These activities may be virtuous. They may bring you personal joy or satisfaction. But if you think you will change the world through these activities, you are gravely mistaken. Each of these as a solution to their supposed underlying problem suffers from a kind of reverse Kantianism fallacy whereby an individual action is presumed to be sufficient to bring about a desired outcome because if everyone took this action, the outcome would be achieved. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

City Intelligence - Knowing What I Don't Know

There are many aspects to this (things to do, how to get around, what to look for, what to avoid, etc.). In this case I am trying to solve the problem I have when visiting a new city and I want a place to eat. 

There are obviously different dining experiences I am looking for at various times. Many times this problem is solved by the benefit of branding (e.g., McDonald's and Panera Bread are the same everywhere--don't give me no Royale with Cheese counter examples). Still other times a binding constraint "solves" the problem (e.g., I am hungry NOW and this place is good enough and very close). 

But what about those times when I am going for a nice weekend date with my wife out of town or travelling with friends to a football game and need a good meal the night before or on a business trip with a colleague and/or client? Perhaps a matching process I will call "Goldilocks" could be the solution. 

Basically what I am envisioning is a big-data solution that will take my prior experiences and my general preferences and combine them with similar cohorts to develop a suggestion algorithm. I know others have and are trying this, but I have yet to come across anything close to being as robust and easy to use as I desire. Perhaps simplifying the input dimensions and ranking options is the key to being accurate in prediction, reliably useful, and fast. 

The process would start with a few questions and then followup after with the same questions to build and refine calibration:
  • What type of dinning experience are you wanting: more formal than average or more casual than average?
    • Overall for what you desired was this restaurant too formal, too casual, or just right?
  • Are you looking for: a lively more festive place or a quiet more intimate place?
    • Was the restaurant too loud, too quiet, or just right?
Some additional questions would be asked after the experience to further enhance the database:
  • How did the food's taste and presentation meet your expectations: better, worse, or just right?
  • How did the service meet your expectations: better, worse, or just right?
  • How did the value for the price paid meet your expectations: better, worse, or just right?
  • How would you rate this restaurant overall: excellent, just right, or poor?
The goal would be to suggest restaurants that were just right. Why not always hope to exceed expectations? Because expectations should change such that just right is, well, just right.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

What Are You Afraid Of?

Partial list of public policy based significantly on fear. Read into it what you will about how well or poorly fear fits as a justification for the policies. I am simply contending that fear is a significant driver. 
  • Trade Protectionism (tariffs, et al.) – fear of losing economic competitiveness
  • Gun Control – fear of violence
  • Drug Prohibition – fear of self-destructive behavior
  • Immigration Restrictions – fear of others
  • Age-Based Welfare Programs such as Social Security and Medicare (that’s right, everyone collecting SS and using Medicare is on welfare) – fear of insufficient future preparedness
  • Need-Based Welfare Programs such as SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, et al. – fear of a poverty trap
  • Zoning – fear of change to the familiar
  • Criminal Justice Punishments – fear of bad actors repeating and fear of bad actors not suffering 
  • Campaign Finance Limitations – fear of wealtharchy
  • Military Growth and Expansion – fear of succumbing to the might of others

Friday, January 24, 2020

Take This Job And Make Me Love It

A few short thoughts on work.

Time On The Clock:

While it is commonly discussed that employees today in many occupations get lots of time to take care of personal business as well as engage in leisure activities while “on the clock”, it is much less discussed how much time “off the clock” they spend engaged in work. The Animal Spirits Podcast (Everybody's Busy (EP.119)) brought this up recently. For many of us after hours and even being on vacation isn’t anywhere close to as disconnected as it used to be—the mobile phone and email has changed all of that. Of course being at work isn’t as dedicated as it used to be either, and the mobile phone has helped change that too. But perhaps the more things change the more they don’t. I assume this was not the norm. What about work golf--in bygone eras was leisure time more consumed by work functions? Or is that an example of leisure time on the job?

What Would You Do For A 10% Pay Cut?

Would you do it for a Klondike Bar? Seriously, while we commonly dream of wonderful jobs with super pay, perhaps we should think about a more realistic trade off. What new job would you trade in your current job for even though it paid in total compensation 10% less? It has to be a real type of job, not Reading-Comic-Books-in-Your-Pajamas Engineer, but it doesn’t have to be actually on offer. The idea is still to fantasize about pay out of proportion to the work. Think about it both with and without a cost-of-loving adjustment. Something in NYC or SAN Francisco might be on my list with the COLA, but there is almost no way something would be without it. Remember that a COLA is not entirely a housing cost adjustment—so maybe those places are still out. Teaching comes to mind for me. Writing does too. Running if not owning a small business might fit the bill. I would just have to forfeit the ownership upside so maybe no. 

Should We All Have Agents?

Thinking about pay, almost nobody likes asking for a pay raise. Jeffrey Tucker has some great advice along these lines. Let’s think about another solution: agents to do it for us. An astute thinker will immediately consider how unions were suppressed to play this role and how inconsistent it is for me to advocate such. Rest assured I am not. This is not about collective action. I am thinking that for business professionals what if all pay negotiations on the employee side were done by agents? 

One big obstacle would be the convoluted employment law structure we have created. Set that aside for the moment. Also, just consider this for certain high-skilled professionals. 

The advantages include less stress for both employees and supervisors, better relations (potentially) between employee and employer as now the agent bears some responsibility for the pay/work arrangement, and more efficient pay arrangements as an agent might be able to better negotiate for pay to match actual value added and an agent might be able to more openly explore options without the risk of burning bridges.