Ideas vs. Interests

by on December 18, 2012 at 8:23 am in Economics, Science | Permalink

My inner sociologist says to me that when a good idea comes up against entrenched interests, the good idea typically fails. But this is going to be a hard thing to suppress. Level playing field forecasting tournaments are going to spread. They’re going to proliferate. They’re fun. They’re informative. They’re useful in both the private and public sector. There’s going to be a movement in that direction.

That is Philip Tetlock in a conversation with Daniel Kahneman on the importance of revolutionizing prediction methods. Is CBO listening? Hat tip: the amazing Giancarlo Ibarguen.

1 Saturos December 18, 2012 at 8:52 am

Is Mr. Lopez deliberately blogging Cowen Style?

2 Careless December 19, 2012 at 11:01 am

Ha, while I can immediately recognize an Alex post, I wouldn’t have realized this if you hadn’t pointed it out.

3 Patriot December 18, 2012 at 9:03 am

More importantly, why hasn’t anyone produced a ‘Cowen Style’ parody of Gangnam Style?

4 dan1111 December 18, 2012 at 12:17 pm

It was for occasions such as this that the phrase “more importantly” was invented.

5 Rich Berger December 18, 2012 at 9:51 am

I hate to steer this thread into a non-comic vein, but..I think the idea of forecasting a future is futile. The real value of projections is in getting an idea of a range of results – downsides most importantly. Useful results are less likely when the projections have a large number of variables and leave a circumscribed area like investments.

6 prior_approval December 18, 2012 at 10:05 am

I tend to believe that the future is what is not predictable – in other words, if one could have perfect knowledge of the events of the next five minutes, the future would start afterwards.

Obviously, the word future has multiple definitions and usages, but to me, it is intrinsic to the idea of ‘future’ that it is unknown.

7 dan1111 December 18, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Interesting definition, but I think for most of us “hasn’t happened yet” will suffice.

8 Careless December 19, 2012 at 11:03 am

Yep, crazypants.

9 prior_approval December 18, 2012 at 10:02 am

‘when a good idea comes up against entrenched interests, the good idea typically fails.’

Like these?

‘When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.’

10 NPW December 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Yes, like these.

11 JWatts December 18, 2012 at 2:54 pm

โ€˜when a good idea comes up against entrenched interests, the good idea typically fails.โ€™

1) Or using email vs postal mail.
2) Buying a car vs using a horse.
3) Downloading books from Amazon vs buying them from a bookstore.
4) Getting DVDs from Netflix/Redbox vs Blockbuster
5) Using aircraft carriers instead of battleships
6) Using satellites for communication vs broadcast towers
7) Using oil instead of coal for transportation

It’s pretty hard to take that statement seriously. I think he’s mistaking good ideas with marginal ideas. I’d say good ideas generally triumph, marginal ideas are only marginally successful. ๐Ÿ˜‰

12 So Much For Subtlety December 18, 2012 at 9:35 pm

What is the good idea and what is the entrenched interest?

After all, just before that Declaration was written, and slave owners like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington got all upset about British oppression, in 1772 an English law court made the famous Sommersett vs. Simpson decision that proclaimed there was no law making Sommersett a slave in England (and hence by extension any other Common Law jurisdiction) and so he was no longer a slave.

13 Ben December 18, 2012 at 10:57 am

Robert Pirsig claims the opposite – that while societies are naturally resistant to new ideas, a good idea can bring down a society, whereas society can never bring down a good idea. It all hinges on what “good” means, which is the main topic of Pirsig’s writing.

14 Andrew' December 18, 2012 at 11:29 am

” Is CBO listening?”

Don’t you mean “is the CFTC listening?”

15 AyeJay December 18, 2012 at 1:01 pm

A third link for Tetlock in a month. The man is connected.

16 Dredd December 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm

“when a good idea comes up against entrenched interests, the good idea typically fails”

That stands up to history over the last decade plus where the public indicated the nation was on the wrong track but the train kept on chugging down the line regardless.

17 Brian Donohue December 18, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Great link Ed! Thanks.

18 Ed Lopez December 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm

“Is Mr. Lopez deliberately blogging Cowen Style?”

Thanks for noticing! Deliberate copying, especially when adaptive, is beneficent:

19 Steve Sailer December 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm

How much do people really want to know the future? For example, it’s not terribly hard to predict the impact of immigration policy, and there isn’t much more important than that, but most of the demand in that area appears to be for wishful thinking and sentimentality, not rigorous forecasting.

20 msgkings December 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm

This is a parody post, right? If not it’s a pretty impressive way to bring immigration into this thread. I like the assumptive and incorrect ‘and there isn’t much more important than that’. Pure, uncut obsession.

21 Thomas Esmond Knox December 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm

If Tetlock thinks that no weapons of mass destruction were discovered in Iraq, then he is dead wrong.

He should consult the US legal definition of “a weapon of mass destruction”.

Definitions matter.

22 TGGP December 23, 2012 at 5:51 pm
23 Steve Roth December 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm

>Is CBO listening?

Even more important, is the Fed?

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