“Are Choosers Losers?”– the value of control and the propensity to underdelegate

by on February 24, 2016 at 2:53 am in Economics, Philosophy, Political Science, Science | Permalink

This is one of the more understudied behavioral biases, so I was pleased to see this new paper by Bobadilla-Suarez, Sunstein,and Sharot:

Human beings are often faced with a pervasive problem: whether to make their own decisions or to delegate decision tasks to someone else. Here, we test whether people are inclined to forgo monetary rewards in order to retain agency when faced with choices that could lead to losses and gains. In a simple choice task, we show that even though participants have all the information needed to maximize rewards and minimize losses, they choose to pay in order to control their own payoff. This tendency cannot be explained by participants’ overconfidence in their own ability, as their perceived ability was elicited and accounted for. Rather, the results reflect an intrinsic value for choice, which emerges in the domain of both gains and losses. Moreover, our data indicates that participants are aware that they are making suboptimal choices in the normative sense, but do so anyway, presumably for psychological gains.

I believe this is one reason why individuals can be so tribal, because otherwise they fear losing control to outsiders.

1 Protax.org February 24, 2016 at 3:35 am

This tendency cannot be explained by participants’ overconfidence in their own ability, as their perceived ability was elicited and accounted for. Rather, the results reflect an intrinsic value for choice, which emerges in the domain of both gains and losses. visite : game android mod, download game mod apk, clash royale apk, bbm mod

2 prior_test1 February 24, 2016 at 4:47 am

A better class of spam than the more recent iterations, it should be noted.

3 zby February 24, 2016 at 10:57 am

They’ll be better than the real commentators soon.

4 JWatts February 24, 2016 at 12:55 pm

A weird bot. It carefully parsed out a random snippet of text. But then misspelled visit.

5 Tyler February 24, 2016 at 4:05 am

But control and responsibility go hand in hand, and there is also a definite (though perhaps not scientifically proven) propensity to avoid responsibility. How does that square up?

6 Dan in philly February 24, 2016 at 5:22 am

People seem to erroneously think they are only responsible for their own choices. I have learned that taking responsibility often involves taking responsibility for things quite beyond your own control. “It’s not my fault, but it is my problem” is a mature attitude, one which can’t be seen by those whose first response to everything is “it’s not fair.”

If we honestly consider our lives, we would have to admit most of our lives are not in our own control. Who your parents are, where you were born and raised, what language you think in, your default world view, all of these things are not in your own control, yet are intrinsic to who we are. Are we not expected to take responsibility over who we are despite the fact so much of that person was built by others?

7 willy dolla$ign February 25, 2016 at 12:51 am

Great comment, Dan.

8 Kaushal Desai February 25, 2016 at 3:44 am

Got to agree, excellent comment.

9 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 5:26 am

Control my own choices and then avoid taking responsibility if anything goes wrong. For example, a high-pollution company that wants control over where to set up shop, in order to not have to take responsibility for any costs imposed on any nearby populations.

10 Different T February 24, 2016 at 8:42 am

But control and responsibility go hand in hand

That seems significantly overstated. Responsibility is either imposed or accepted, unsure how it “goes hand in hand” with anything other than certain character/moral qualities or legal codes.

11 mitch February 24, 2016 at 8:56 am

This boils down to the old Principal-Agent problem in basic economics.

If you (the Principal) cede your decision-making in some limited area to another person/group (the Agent) — you must ‘trust’ that agent to act in your interest and preferences. But on what basis can you ‘decide’ to trust that agent?

Uncertainty in the agent (regarding expertise & honesty) exists most of the time; uncertainty increases with the complexity of the issue being considered for delegation to an agent.

Therefore, it is quite rational in many/most situations to retain personal decision-making in face of uncertainty, even if agent delegation nominally appears to save you money.

The ‘risk’ of agent incompetence/malfeasance is a real economic cost and must be factored into the overall equation for delegation decisions and functions.

(regarding ‘responsibility: if you vote for Trump/Hillary/Other/none — are you somehow ‘responsible’ for the course of the U.S. ? Citizens are basically delegating decision decision-making via political process)

12 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 9:07 am

Re: the final sentences on voting and responsibility.

My understanding is that some terrorists legitimize their violence against American civilians, reasoning that since America is a democratic system, that it is equally ethical to hold any old citizen responsible for American transgressions (whatever those might be in the eyes of the terrorist, whether the view is legitimate or not). Not that they hate white people per se, but that these white people are responsible for choosing a leadership that committed the (perceived) transgression. I don’t think this applies to the theatrics and intimidation of ISIS though.

13 Different T February 24, 2016 at 9:10 am

This boils down to the old Principal-Agent problem in basic economics.

I disagree that it “boils down” to the P-A problem, unless we view the original as more similar to oil where the P-A problem is more like one of the “lower boiling point” distillates and certainly not like the “higher boiling point” distillates.

(regarding ‘responsibility: if you vote for Trump/Hillary/Other/none — are you somehow ‘responsible’ for the course of the U.S. ? Citizens are basically delegating decision decision-making via political process)

A different perspective would be: what you are describing is the mechanism by which Democracy attains “investment” from the public and propagates itself, regardless of actual governance/the P-A problem.

14 Willitts February 24, 2016 at 11:07 am

In the military, there is an ethic that a leader is responsible for everything his unit does or fails to do. Another ethic is that you can delegate authority, but not responsibility. However, you don’t hold someone accountable for something they don’t control.

This of course exists in an environment where disobedience to orders is a felony.

In the federal and state government services, this ethic is nearly extinct. Aside from a culture of admitting nothing, denying everything, and making counteraccusations and shit rolling downhill, courts have severely restricted respondeat superior.

However, in financial services our fiduciary responsibilities engender and command more trust.

15 cowboydroid February 24, 2016 at 12:50 pm

There is a propensity to avoid risk, not responsibility. People want all the responsibility when they perceive juicy benefits. Once they see costs, they want no responsibility.

16 JWatts February 24, 2016 at 12:58 pm

“Once they see costs, they want no responsibility.”

Weren’t the results of the study the exact opposite of your statement?

“we show that even though participants have all the information needed to maximize rewards and minimize losses, they choose to pay in order to control their own payoff.”

17 cowboydroid February 24, 2016 at 1:16 pm

The results, as I understood them, indicated that people generally weighed the benefits of choice as greater than the costs.

I should have said “once they see the costs outweigh the benefits, they want no responsibility” – as far as deciding whether or not to take responsibility in proceeding with a risk.

18 JWatts February 24, 2016 at 2:33 pm

“once they see the costs outweigh the benefits, they want no responsibility”

I would have gone with the more poetic: “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan”

19 Kaushal Desai February 24, 2016 at 4:24 am

Pretty closely echoes what I’ve pondered many times, without being able to think it through, elucidate or express it coherently. Dare I say “managerialism”?

Isn’t the tendency to avoid responsibility seen in almost every aspect of life? Doesn’t that manifest itself as moral hazard or am I conflating the two?

20 cowboydroid February 24, 2016 at 12:53 pm

You’re conflating responsibility and risk. People want responsibility when the benefits outweigh the costs. Otherwise, they don’t.

21 Kronrod February 24, 2016 at 4:25 am

The value of choice is easy to explain in a world of dynamic preferences. For example, I would prefer paying 20$ for a meal of choice that I get immediately than paying 19$ for a meal I have to choose seven days in advance. I simply do not know yet what kind of meal my appetite calls for next week. Under the usual assumption of static preferences, this is puzzling. But taking into account that one’s own preferences are subject to change, choice becomes valuable.

22 Different T February 24, 2016 at 8:49 am

Your example is more accessible than the study itself and both demonstrate an important point.

Choice has a cost. Humans generally appear to view choice as a cost-free good (in the qualitative sense).

23 cowboydroid February 24, 2016 at 12:54 pm

Lack of choice has a cost.

Do both choice and lack of choice have costs? Are there only costs and no benefits to choice?

24 Different T February 24, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Lack of choice has a cost.

Agree.

Do both choice and lack of choice have costs?

Yes. However, I tend to agree with your earlier characterization of the referent we are discussing as “risk” instead of “cost.”

25 prior_test1 February 24, 2016 at 4:45 am

‘whether to make their own decisions or to delegate decision tasks to someone else’

A few lyrics from 1983 –

‘So we decided that it would be in your interest if we put you somewhere

Where you could get the help that you need.

And I go:

Wait, what are you talking about, we decided!?

My best interest?! How can you know what’s my best interest is?’ –

Suicidal Tendencies – Institutionalized

To be honest, this is not exactly ‘one of the more understudied behavioral biases’ – the full lyrics tend to actually go into that point a bit more deeply – it is one of the more distinct lines between having and not having power in a society.

26 Dan in philly February 24, 2016 at 5:13 am

Speaking for myself, I learned when I was a kid if I let others make their choices and take what’s left over, I almost always end up with more and better things that I like more than when I make my own choices first. It lead to a lifetime of very passive going with the flow, which honestly I sometimes regret. However I have not been able to find a better life strategy than this. Occasionally I find myself saddled with something I truly don’t want, but I tend to make a virtue of necessity in those cases and usually have become far more enriched as a human than if I had my first choice.

I think what it has managed is to allow me to embrace whatever has happened along my path, and cultivated an ability to enjoy myself regardless of my circumstances. When I see others fighting, fighting, fighting for something which in my experience would be better let go, I cannot regret following this philosophy.

27 John February 24, 2016 at 5:42 am

How Buddhist of you.

28 Dan in philly February 24, 2016 at 5:45 am

More Stoic than Buddhist, but thank you, I’ll take it as a compliment, even if you did not mean it as such (see what I did there?) 🙂

29 Alan February 24, 2016 at 6:45 am

And since you claim agency in not expressing agency, libertarian too! Stoic Buddhists for Gary Johnson!

30 Roy Lc February 24, 2016 at 5:47 am

So you like having people who love you personally make choices for you. That is quite a bit different than anything else.

I can see trusting my mother, my wife, my closest friends, because their happiness involves my own

31 Dan in phillg February 24, 2016 at 6:02 am

I generally don’t mind when people who don’t love me make choices for me either. The key for me is to embrace what happens rather than waste time and energy pining for what I didn’t get. Often this leads to profound change in me, since I’m doing something which I would have never chosen for myself, and therefore have to adapt to this new thing which is totally unfamiliar to me.

It’s like as if you’re planning a vacation. If you make all the decisions yourself, you’re going to choose something which appeals to you. Because you’re doing something you like, it’s very unlikely it will change you much. However if you allowed someone else to plan your vacation, you’d end up doing something completely alien to you. If you embrace the opportunity you will learn far more and be changed far more by this than you could imagine. The less a person knows you, the more chance they’ll choose a really new and foreign experience, and the better chance you have to change. Someone who hates you would probably choose something they think you’d hate, but you embracing it might cause you to change so much you would end up thanking you enemy for allowing you to learn to love that which you once hated.

I take this attitude for most things in my life, and live the consequent change it makes in me. I believe I am becomming a more complete human as a result.

32 Different T February 24, 2016 at 9:21 am

If you embrace the opportunity you will learn far more and be changed far more by this than you could imagine. The less a person knows you, the more chance they’ll choose a really new and foreign experience, and the better chance you have to change.

LOL. “Learn and change” for what reason? To update the very preferences you happily ignore as you’re continually tossed in the sea of experience by those more powerful? LOL.

I believe I am becomming a more complete human as a result.

Continue to advertise yourself loudly. I would highly doubt you will ever be compensated, but those who wish to “form” humanity into something like yourself writ-large may at least “flatter you” with an inquiry into your genetic make-up.

33 Hazel Meade February 24, 2016 at 5:17 pm

I agree with you on the vacation philosophy. When I’m on vacation, I WANT someone else to make choices for me and take me on an adventure.
I can imagine that people in arranged marriages may have a similar experience. You have to get to know someone intimately who you might not otherwise ever choose to spend time with, which I’m sure can be very rewarding in its way.

Of course, in an arranged marriage it’s generally the people who love you best making that choice.
I wouldn’t want to leave such choices up to an anonymous bureaucracy.

34 Hazel Meade February 24, 2016 at 4:53 pm

It’s interesting to hear from someone with this mindset, since I am probably almost the polar opposite.

I’d have to agree there are pros and cons to both points of view. Making your own choices definitely means a life of greater struggle, more heartache, more letdowns, more stress, more disappointment, especially with oneself. At the same time, it’s also more rewarding in allowing one to explore who one truly is, and what one’s true strengths and weaknesses are. And it can also be more personally rewarding once you really understand what you want and are capable of getting.

35 John Thacker February 24, 2016 at 5:54 am

At some point the choice of when to use the phrase “behavioral biases” is itself a bias. If a study showed that “people were willing to spend extra money to afford good tasting food, despite cheaper food with larger energy content (calories)” how many people would proclaim it a “behavioral bias,” and, worse yet, argue for public policy “nudges” to get people to ignore the value of taste? How many more people already would argue the same thing if the comparison were not “cheaper food with larger energy content” but “cheaper food with superior nutritional content?”

There’s a lot of implicit bias in the proclaiming one’s particular desires and utilities the standard, and everything else “bias.”

36 anon February 24, 2016 at 6:38 am

Not a serious concern. The word is used when a choice is utility reducing, but still made. If you can show that it is utility enhancing, it is not a bias after all.

Worse, you seem to panic that you might be nudged. IMO that is a real life showcase of the bias described above. You so fear losing agency that you don’t even want a gentle nudge toward utility.

This is the kind of logic that gets obese smokers telling us we have no right to tell them what to do. It is reveling in failure for its own sake.

37 Slappy McFee February 24, 2016 at 8:40 am

Why do you assume obese smokers would derive any utility from making choices other than being obese and smoking?

38 anon February 24, 2016 at 9:24 am

That is of course the mindless endpoint. Why shouldn’t shorter, more disgusting lives be better?

39 Curt F. February 24, 2016 at 9:34 am

We should put anon in charge of everyone’s life…they seem to know what’s best for everyone!

40 anon February 24, 2016 at 9:42 am

I am stating human values. Universally we have beauty contests, not fatness contests. We have sports, not sitting contests. We have a weight loss industry, not a get obese industry. We have cosmetic surgery, not disfigurement surgery.

Getting in shape can be hard, and I endorse everyone of any weight who tries, but I reject the notion that there is not a viable and healthy human ideal.

The people we give Ocsars Grammies, Emmies, and certainly Olympic medals approximate that ideal.

41 Different T February 24, 2016 at 10:05 am

Uh oh.

You are straying from the cover of your mask, anon.

We also have theFat Acceptance Movement and a “plus sized model” (with a gorgeous face [hence, the differentiation between “a plus-sized model” and “a fatter woman”]) on the cover of the SI Swimsuit issue.

42 Slappy McFee February 24, 2016 at 10:46 am

If the Oscars are your measure of acceptable standards then perhaps we should be nudging black people to be less black.

43 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 11:28 am

Anon – Recall that fat used to equal beauty because it signalled wealth. This still applies among many Africans. I use to work with a guy from Ghana, and was surprised to meet his 250 lb girlfriend, thinking he was intelligent, funny, hard working, etc. and could have done a lot better. But for him, she was a queen.

There should be no shame in promoting healthy living. It’s not like you’re proposing a fat police which will drag people off to boot camps once they exceed a certain BMI, or to imprison people for smoking tobacco. Fat smokers may like their decisions, but sugar and nicotine are addictive – they should be encouraged to find an equilbirium where they might like their decisions any better. Ever meet a person who regretted losing weight? Who regretted quitting smoking?

44 anon February 24, 2016 at 12:51 pm

It isn’t that Greek and Roman statuary represents a modern ideal. It is that we seek an ancient ideal.

45 anon February 25, 2016 at 9:43 am

New evidence that exercise keeps cancer away. But maybe I shouldn’t tell you, because it is just “my values” that you don’t get cancer.

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21693419-active-life-protects-against-cancer-researchers-now-understand-why-run-day

46 Curt F. February 24, 2016 at 9:37 am

It might not be a serious concern for you, because you seem to know everyone’s own personal utility function. Or at least have assumed that you know it. If you assume that you are the best judge of another person’s utility, and you carefully craft your defintion to oppose theirs, then yes, you can argue that they are illogical and biased. But to me the whole enterprise is absurdly tautological. I’m with John Thacker. For people who value the agency and freedom of others, he raises a very serious concern.

47 anon February 24, 2016 at 9:48 am

This isn’t about freedom of choice, this is a claim that the failing-at-life should be free from advice. This is about “you’re not the boss of me” as the only principle.

That is not rational. As I said, you have to make an actual case for higher utility. Go ahead, make that case for being unattractive and being unable to climb stairs. Fat man mobility scooter as a preferred lifestyle.

48 Curt F. February 24, 2016 at 9:52 am

I’ll give you a dollar if you tell us your real name. You like dollars don’t you?

49 Curt F. February 24, 2016 at 9:59 am

Shorter anon: I’m not against the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness per se, I’m only against them if they lead to things I don’t like, such as fat men smoking.

50 anon February 24, 2016 at 10:03 am

So don’t why don’t we give Olympic gold for most back fat?

51 anon February 24, 2016 at 10:10 am

I would say more but I have to go to the gym. I will do my best to be friendly and supportive for everyone there who is trying to improve their shape.

52 anon February 24, 2016 at 12:55 pm

I thought I would go to the gym and encourage the less fit. I ended up being encouraged by the more fit. That’s fine, the way it should be.

53 dearieme February 24, 2016 at 6:05 am

“their perceived ability was elicited and accounted for”: perceived by whom? What are they talking about? Are they confused, or merely peddling a euphemism in bad faith?

54 anon February 24, 2016 at 6:45 am

This wouldn’t surprise me from an evolutionary standpoint. For millions of years the world was uncertain and every choice was therefore an uncertain risk. Better to delay as long as possible until things become clear.

Concrete odds are a recent innovation. It’s hard for us to believe in our gut.

It takes some schooling to get it.

http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0471295639.html

55 Rex February 24, 2016 at 6:53 am

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
catch me a catch
Matchmaker, Matchmaker
Look through your book,
And make me a perfect match

56 Heorogar February 24, 2016 at 7:34 am

One may delegate one’s authority. One may not pass off one’s responsibility.

57 Different T February 24, 2016 at 9:03 am

Another aspect of “control and responsibility” these comments have yet to cover is the positive aspect of responsibility (what happens when beneficial things happen).

Ayn Rand had a quote (if an Objectivist can post it, that would be appreciated) that basically stated: the enemies of reason are not primarily concerned with punishing people when things go badly, the enemies of reason are primarily concerned with removing the link of credit/reward from going to those who perform well.

Focusing on holding to account those who shirk responsibility in instances of failure (privatize gain and socialize losses) is only half the issue. The assault on reason extends to the accounting of those who, when things result in “profit,” fraudulently claim responsibility and the credit for those actions.

58 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 9:27 am

I personally think we offer the profit-makers too much credit. Most of the time, they are benefitting from systems and knowledge that have developed over many thousands of years, and yet we let them take 100% of the credit/responsibility (minus taxes) for the profit they are able to create from the accumulated knowledge and systems.

Since our ancestry basically all played some role in that cumulative development, including through historical exchange of goods and knowledge across societies, I see it as loosely legitimizing an ethical basis for taxation and moderate redistribution.

However, since incentives matter, I believe it is a convenient fiction to allow the profit-makers to believe that they basically deserve what they earn. I mean, in which sense does Bill Gates actually DESERVE $80 billion for inventing the mouse and starting a company that developed Windows? Basically, he was an early mover at precisely the right time. Smart, yes, but $80 billion smart? In the age of fluid capital flows, such fictions are employed to great aggregate benefit, because incentives matter.

59 Thomas February 24, 2016 at 9:41 am

Deserving is an interesting topic. In what sense do you deserve more of Bill Gates money then you’ve already been given?

60 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 10:17 am

Well, I have a supremely objective answer to that question, but I choose to keep it a secret while I develop my moral philosophical basis for my deservingness to rule the world.

Until the fantastic exposition to come at some future date, I share the crumb that, as a peon in the system that he profits from enormously, I am a cog in an interlinked system that made it all so possible for him to get fantastically rich, so at least he could (pretty please?) send me a Ferrari or two to help me get through the weekend.

61 cowboydroid February 24, 2016 at 1:01 pm

He already sold you the mouse and Windows, which you deemed more valuable than the money. Now you want the money back?

62 Thomas February 24, 2016 at 9:46 am

If we already tax to a degree which essentially accounts for the unequal starting points of all humans in the sense of Rawls, and the inequalities which emerge henceforth do so on the basis of non coerced trade and do so therefore while creating benefit for anyone who participates in said trade, in what sense is it unjust for Bill Gates to have 80 billion dollars?

63 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 10:31 am

In a generally accepted market system, it is not unjust. Gates is no profiteer and is not squeezing anyone for their blood, sweat and tears (slightly monopolistic tendencies of Microsoft aside). The fact that it is not unjust, per se, does not exactly imply that he quite “deserves” it either.

In the pre-civilization world, however, a pre-historic Gates would probably have found himself penniless except for personal effects (his personal stone axe, maybe a seashell necklace), and that he had “shared” all his assets with the tribe the moment he went to take a leak, to be met with many furtive smiles and communal gazing upon these wonderful treasures upon his return. Possibly some disagreements would break out until the point that everyone felt like they’d gotten some piece of the pie. Not a very good incentive for innovation, to say the least. Private property beyond personal effects is almost certainly almost entirely a social construct (we are primarily nomadic by nature, no?), but we have many ways to prove that such an institution serves us well.

64 cowboydroid February 24, 2016 at 1:08 pm

He deserves whatever he earns, as long as whatever he earns is the result of voluntary exchange. If others are voluntarily giving him their money in exchange for the goods he is selling, he deserves to keep what is given to him. Nobody else has a just claim on it.

In the pre-civilization world, there was almost no division of labor, thus almost no opportunity to increase the stock of capital and generate surpluses. Thus, it would have appeared the total wealth of the world was a fixed sum, and there would have manifested many disagreements over who deserved what portion of this fixed sum.

Thankfully, the desire for easier living generated technological improvements that lead to surpluses and a division of labor, and then Bill Gates was born and we enjoyed easier computing.

65 Different T February 24, 2016 at 9:50 am

I personally think we offer the profit-makers too much credit.

Of course you do. The difference is that you derive this “thought” from belief in egalitarian ideals.

Most of the time, they are benefitting from systems and knowledge that have developed over many thousands of years, and yet we let them take 100% of the credit/responsibility

“We?” You mean the mob of potential violence (formalized through the state) of those who hold similar egalitarian ideals.

And the best rationale for this unreal view is that humanity “stands on the shoulders of giants?” Except it is very obvious “humanity” does not stand on the “shoulders of giants.” Only those who scale up the aforementioned “giants'” legs and torso’s stand there.

To re-write your statement: “A lot of dead men contributed to humanity’s position in the real world. Those who learned from and extended on our “ancestral credit” must consider themselves as equally impotent as “Zir” who know the dead “Xem” existed; yet never bothered to learn anything, preferring to question and destroy said “ancestral credit.”

66 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 10:52 am

It’s derived from thinking about history, not a belief that we should be 100% communist. Not sure where you get the idea that I believe in strictly egalitarian ideals. I have repeatedly denied this, even explaining reasons that I oppose such thinking. I support redistribution to the extent that this gives people who, due to back luck, had poor prospects of putting their abilities and efforts to good use. Also, to meet basic needs for food, housing, and communications for those with few prospects in a given economic context.

“we” – the system. Not the mob. The system. Recall that this system evolved in opposition to the divine right of kings, who supposed that they did indeed have a right to any and all wealth of the realm (magna carta has limited this for a very long time), something that I think most people agree is a highly undesirable state of affairs.

Your parody of what I said is not even close to what I meant. But then, it seems that some folks here like to paint folks into the most extreme possible corner in moments of disagreement. I quite explicitly said “moderate distribution”, not “pure communism”, only suggesting that he doesn’t strictly “deserve” $80 billion, but this led you to paint me as an outright communist who believes in the right to do nothing and live off the fat of those who are best positioned to create profit in the current economic context. Deadbeats among employable people who do not try to find work is morally repugnant, and it is only by accident of the fact that the very same redistribution helps others to access some potential (say, buy new clothes for an interview, go to lunch with a friend who might help you get a job), that social supports for these employable people is morally tolerable. It doesn’t bother me if they receive more in benefits than they pay, but they must at least TRY.

Oh, and luck matters.

How else would you like to misinterpret my in ways that directly contradict what I said? If you want to defend Gates’ deservingness of his $80 billion, please do so, it could be an interesting discussion. But please do not disparage me for things I very explicitly did not say.

67 Different T February 24, 2016 at 11:30 am

but this led you to paint me as an outright communist who believes in the right to do nothing and live off the fat of those who are best positioned to create profit in the current economic context.

Absolutely correct. That is exactly how I “paint you.”

Notice the little word games you slip in: “those who are best positioned to create profit.” To those similar to you, it’s all about relative position as opposed to your doctrine of equality. You do not dare question the merits of those in said “relative positions,” preferring to “moderately redistribute” due to the “unfairness” of hierarchy.

68 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 12:43 pm

Did I deny the relevance of merit? “Best positioned” is not a word game. If Bill Gates had invented the mouse in 1870s not 1970s, how rich would he be? He was in a good position to get rich. People of extraordinary genius with dedication and perseverence often do not get rich. Because they were never found themselves in a position to do so, and for reasons like lack of access to a powerful familial social network were never very likely at all to be able to get themselves into such a situation.

Just consider how many millions of hard working geniuses there are on the planet who are presently planting rice and sorghum, etc., spending hours daily collecting firewood and water. Do they not “deserve” material success just as much as those who are positioned to leverage their dedication and genius towards great wealth?

Life isn’t fair. Everyone knows it. What I am defending is a moderately progressive tax rate, not communism. Moderately progressive taxation is not egalitarianism.

69 Different T February 24, 2016 at 12:55 pm

You aren’t playing games, huh?

This is from Wikipedia on “egalitarianism”:

Egalitarianism (from French égal, meaning “equal”)—or, rarely, equalitarianism[1][2] or equalism[3]—is a trend of thought that favors equality for all people.[4] Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.[5] According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term has two distinct definitions in modern English:[6] either as a political doctrine that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights;[7] or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people, economic egalitarianism, or the decentralization of power.

What differentiates yourself from an “egalitarian?”

70 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Essentially accused of being a communist, and presented with two definitions of egalitarianism, I tried to stake out my middle ground as follows. I think the words are worth posting here.

I quote from the definition of egalitarianism and then stake out my ground.

“a trend of thought that favors equality for all people”

I favour equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. Because incentives matter and some people plain and simply don’t deserve it.

History tells us that pure equality would lead to virtually immediate and catastrophic (assuming not everyone wants just rice and beans) economic collapse.

“Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status”

I merely believe that social status should not be determined on the basic of race, gender or sexual orientation. I do not hold that we all have equal worth, but that we are all worth something, that every life is valuable for the fact of being human (not as a property of the universe, but that it is possible to agree on this and such “arbitrary” agreement is conducive to a good society).

A passing observation of reality is that some people are incorrigible scum (the left will point to fatcat bankers, oil tycoons and CEOs – the right will point to drug addicts, common thieves and rapists). At the same time, we can recognize their humanity, try to understand how they came to be that way and still attribute them some basic worth as a human being, for example that we will not torture or otherwise abuse them, and look out for their most basic human needs such as food, shelter and companionship. The same passing observation of reality makes it plain as day that some people truly stand head and shoulders above the crowd. These two groups are not of the same social worth. But I would shake both their hands like I want to understand them as human beings, every story and experience of life being worth something.

“a political doctrine that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights”

Functional equality. For example, it really bothers me that some people spend months or years languishing in jail before trial because they cannot afford bail, whereas this would almost never happen to wealthy person. This does not satisfy equal political, economic, social OR civil rights.

A passing observation of reality shows that, despite the ideals and efforts in a fair few countries, this has never really been achieved. It is a noble ideal, but should not be exempt from a cost/benefit analysis. Stuff costs money, after all. But how is that to be valued? Only a political process can tell us that, because unfettered markets will never provide such goods. (Aristotle: the middle class lives the consequences of elite decisions, and should therefore have a say because they know their own situation best.)

However, I am willing to accept that we will overlook relatively minor transgressions by people of very high statures that “lesser” people would face legal sanction for, because … political and competitive reality and … witchhunting.

“a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people, economic egalitarianism, or the decentralization of power.”

I do not advocate for removing all social inequality. Just that people of similar ability should have the same chance, however, this implies directly removing at least SOME social inequality, when judged from the status quo. Sen’s views on “functionings and capacities” is instructive on this, in the notion of some basic basket of goods which go beyond satisfying basic needs, extending to the ability to meaningfully participate in one’s social and political context (you need to be able to afford OK clothes, a phone and an internet connection to do this). Not social equality, but that everyone can truly participate in a meaningful way if they want to (even if they are dumb or misinformed/brainwashed).

On decentralization of power, that powers should be distributed to the “correct” level of government, suitable to issues which are relevant at that level of aggregation. For example, municipal zoning laws in cities, health and education in states/provinces, national defense and some regulatory standards (for trade standardization) at the national level, and some sort of international body to work on issues which cannot be dealt with through otherwise chaotic negotiation, such as nuclear arms, climate change, free maritime movement and other issues. Pure decentralization and the eradication of the central state, however, would be an invitation to foreign invasion.

On the left, I am an elitist corporatist apologist.

71 Different T February 24, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Thank you for expounding on your perspective.

72 Different T February 24, 2016 at 11:33 am

“we” – the system. Not the mob. The system.

That such a system can disguise its source of power and influence from its adherents is a feature.

Too bad the Athenians weren’t graced with the presence of “sir, Nathan W” to point out the flaws in thinkers such as Aristotle and Plato.

73 Different T February 24, 2016 at 11:35 am

How to “stand on the shoulders of giants” when you lack the strength to scale to such heights:

Chop them off at the knees.

74 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 12:55 pm

“That such a system can disguise its source of power and influence from its adherents is a feature.”

The present anti-establishment sentiment in America is testament to the fact that the mob does not hold the power. People vote for something, but it is not what they get in the end. The excesses of elite interests are always bound by what the “mob” will tolerate. This has always constrained even the most draconian of kings. But to suggest that the mob is in charge? 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. How long did the mob stay in charge for before they were utterly co-opted under a new class of elites? Same of the French Revolution. The mob never has real power, just the threat of chaotic revolution in the case of most obscene abuse, mitigated by the promise of some crumbs to keep them pacified.

“Chop them off at the knees.”

I don’t think Bill Gates or Warren Buffet tried any less hard for the fact of progressive taxation. In fact, Gates probably benefitted enormously from a broadly distributed purchasing power which enables people to buy PCs which come with Windows and to buy Microsoft Office softwares. 90% taxation might do the trick in knee capping a fair few giants. But not anything that is remotely on the table in any Western democracy anywhere.

Not sure about your point about Aristotle and Plato … Perhaps you care to explain that one. The notion of insulting me by sarcastically suggesting by inferiority to some of the greatest philosophical giants of history is … not exactly an insult, no? I am no Plato. I am no Aristotle. Duh. And anyways, most people who read them have critiques of their thinking.

75 Different T February 24, 2016 at 1:02 pm

The present anti-establishment sentiment in America is testament to the fact that the mob does not hold the power.

LOL.

The excesses of elite interests are always bound by what the “mob” will tolerate.

And so the power of Democracy is in crafting and harnessing the interests of the “mob?” Again, That such a system can disguise its source of power and influence from its adherents is a feature.

Not sure about your point about Aristotle and Plato … Perhaps you care to explain that one.

No thanks.

The notion of insulting me by sarcastically suggesting by inferiority to some of the greatest philosophical giants of history is … not exactly an insult, no?

Apparently not. But that’s the point, isn’t it?

76 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 1:29 pm

“And so the power of Democracy is in crafting and harnessing the interests of the “mob?””

I’m really unsure of how exactly to think of this. And I absolutely DO believe that we in the West enjoy more say in things than has basically ever historically been the case. But so long as we’re being generally insulting to the broader population (the mob) … well, think of it like children: “Bobby, do you want mommy or daddy to get you started on your homework tonight? It’s your decision.”

There truly is choice, but in many respects it is illusive. For example, it seems it doesn’t matter who’s in government, it will be the same corporations practically ghost-writing the trade deals that will determine our economic future, assuredly more for their own interest than ours. While I think that free speech in the form of million dollar “donations” is offensive to the notion of democracy, I am completely open to the notion that monied elites and corporate interests, who have better understanding of the world and more ability to plain and simply make stuff happen, should have access to government in the form of legal lobbying. (I regularly have to argue against ACTUAL leftists that it would be pure stupidity to completely bar corporations from access to politicians, since politicians need to know what’s good for business.)

77 Different T February 24, 2016 at 1:35 pm

I regularly have to argue against ACTUAL leftists

You fail to see why your response regarding Plato and Aristotle is the exact reason you are an ACTUAL leftist.

78 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 2:25 pm

If you are that far off the deep end of the right/left that you see me as the manifestation of the left/right, then I guess you just haven’t got a clue where the middle lies, only that it is to the left/right of you.

No. Not a clue what you mean about those Greek philosophers. Not sure why you double down on a statement that you refuse to explain. Perhaps you don’t want to reveal your ignorance about these thinkers in trying to explain yourself? Assuredly, neither was an egalitarian. Plato’s myth of the metals proves the case, as does Aristotle’s tolerance of oligarchy (so long as there is some say for others).

Or … you’re just trolling me, given the number of times that you insist that I say precisely the opposite of what I say. That’s a pretty low status sort of thing to do.

79 Different T February 24, 2016 at 2:36 pm

If you are that far off the deep end of the right/left that you see me as the manifestation of the left/right

Agreed.

then I guess you just haven’t got a clue where the middle lies, only that it is to the left/right of you.

A different interpretation would be: I have little concern for where the present “middle” is as it only allows better configurations towards the left in the future.

No. Not a clue what you mean about those Greek philosophers.

Good grief. Your characterization of this being similar to dealing with children is correct. Hint: we were discussing Democracy when those two men were mentioned and there is this site called google that allows the search for information on the internet.

80 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 4:23 pm

” I have little concern for where the present “middle” is”

Median voter theory in a two-party system certainly legitimizes concern from each side about trying to influence just where “middle” is. However, too much concern about this can lead both sides towards polarization in staking out ever more extreme ground in an effort to influence where “middle” is, which makes it essentially impossible to do much of anything.

At first glance, it might seem like tacit acceptance of the status quo, but only in the structures of formal politics. Meanwhile, other powerful interests (not the drug addicts, thieves and rapists the right will be concerned about) will try to shape things according to their interest, suggesting a sort of nefarious interest to stall politics while they (whoever) go about their dirty business, while everyone is focused on highly partisan and ideological matters that are going essentially nowhere. I highly doubt that such a situation could possibly be in the interest of the median voter.

Consider how much debate has centered around the TPP (not even the barest hint of a word, I believe) , a fairly expansive trade deal practically written by corporate interests and excluding explicit representation of any consumer or labour lobby, while debate rages on around various proposals that are essentially impossible to implement in the current political context. It is hard to see how consumers or workers will broadly benefit from a 5,000 page document they weren’t allowed to see until it final form was agreed upon, unless deferring to often accepted logic on longer-term gains of free trade.

81 Mark February 24, 2016 at 9:05 am

Psychic income in general is under-studied.

82 ajg February 24, 2016 at 9:20 am

Isn’t this same deep-seated psychological desire for control also the primary obstacle to adoption of autonomous cars once they are empirically established to be “better” than human drivers?

83 anon February 24, 2016 at 9:28 am

In that theoretical future I am sure some will make that argument. FWIW though, if a driverless car is merely safer than the average driver, I’m in. In fact at that point they should be mandatory.

84 cowboydroid February 24, 2016 at 1:13 pm

“Mandatory” is another way of admitting your incompetence in convincing others of the value of a product.

I imagine insurance companies will offer much lower premiums for safer autonomous vehicles, which is all the incentive most people need to make the switch.

85 anon February 24, 2016 at 2:05 pm

Do you think headlights should be decided that way? That cars without them should just pay higher insurance?

86 cowboydroid February 24, 2016 at 3:45 pm

I think users should bear full responsibility for their decisions. If someone is stupid enough to buy a car without headlights, they should bear full responsibility for assuming the risk of driving without them. No auto insurers will even provide coverage, I imagine, for someone that stupid. Which means the driver is totally liable for any harm he might cause to himself or others.

87 Nathan W February 24, 2016 at 11:09 am

I would like to retain the right to drive somewhere without my every movement tracked and recorded in some computer system. I’m not sure that “autonomous” is quite the right word, since I thought that “networked cars” would be a more accurate description.

Given how easily the American public seems to roll over for short-term security demands, and the demands of the American government for its allies to standardize many such security procedures, it is hard to see how we will avoid a future of ubiquitous tracking.

Because it’s hard to feel in control when there is virtually no prospect of reining in the excesses of the ever-expanding spy state. I’m sure that the white supremacists on this site can sympathize with not wanting a future where, say, some PC liberal STASI could monitor your every move and word, to roll in for the slightest violation against those who hold “incorrect views”.

BOO! It happened before (many times), ergo it could happen again, ergo it will happen again sometime. Nothing short of this kind of thinking on the matter can stop it.

Let’s have truly autonomous cars, nothing on any network.

88 cowboydroid February 24, 2016 at 1:11 pm

That deep-seated psychological desire for control lies within the government’s regulatory apparatus, which is the primary obstacle to adoption.

89 BD February 24, 2016 at 9:48 am

I guess I’m glad to see this study, and this is probably an important area of work. But this one paper is so limited and really needs to be followed up with about 7,957 additional studies to deal with additional variations and issues. Two broad phenomena immediately occur to me that are wholly inconsistent with the finding of this narrow study that “people value choice”:

1. In voting, so many people seem just fine supporting politicians who will significantly restrict the choices available to them. I suspect the biggest issue here is that utility from signalling issues overwhelms the expected utility that might be lost due to restricted choices.

2. In making personal health care decisions, the vast majority of people are unthinking followers who will in all situations go along with what their physicians suggest. Most are simply unwilling to take control and ask questions about alternative approaches, and weigh the benefits and costs of those additional options. Not sure what’s driving this difference from the “people value choice” conclusion of the paper, but it could have to do with the massive magnitude of potential losses, the uncertainty of the expected value of alternative choices, or even the uncertainty in the value of the agents advice.

90 Tom Christoffel February 24, 2016 at 2:25 pm

Isn’t the tribe the ultimate case of other people, older people, the wise ones making all the decisions? The herd is an effective form of defense – safety in numbers. When some force is wrangling the herd, it is out of the experience of the herd to overcome this alien intelligence. Tribal members can learn, but they need to think “outside the tribe”. No easy – you can get killed either way, but over time – self-aware communication methods can enable adaptation. Bonding/bridging social capital for democratic self-herding.

91 NeqNeq February 24, 2016 at 2:37 pm

Moreover, our data indicates that participants are aware that they are making suboptimal choices in the normative sense, but do so anyway, presumably for psychological gains.

Can someone explain this sentence to me? It appears that the authors are suggesting that economically optimal decisions should not incorporate psychological gain. But they can’t actually mean that, since it would render the concept of preferences contentless. My preference for pizza over broccoli is, at least in part, predicated upon some higher level of satisfaction/pleasure I get when eating pizza. Those are explicitly psychological terms, so it *seems* impossible to remove psychological gain but retain preferences. Elimination of the concept of preferences, in turn, renders utility functions meaningless…which then undermines the very ability to say that agents acted suboptimally (normatively speaking).

I must be wrong….since such inchoate thinking surely would not pass peer-review!

92 NeqNeq February 24, 2016 at 2:43 pm

auto-fill function changed incoherent to inchoate…*sigh*

93 anon February 24, 2016 at 2:46 pm

I have not read the experimental design, but consider an example. You are offered two slices of pizza or one bowl of broccoli now for $1, or you can buy one slice of pizza later for $1.

If you choose to wait, you have given up your own utility in order to retain choice.

I assume the experiment cut it thinner than this, but that is the basic idea.

94 NeqNeq February 24, 2016 at 8:36 pm

Anon- Your example is very strange given that the decision which retains choice (buy later) has no choices….only pizza. It also seems that my question was not very clear since your response doesn’t interact with it. But I think I can work with you…and show why your comment about utility exemplifies my original concern.

Lets try this choice set:

1) iTunes will select 12 songs from a pool of new artist releases based upon its recommendation algo. It will then eliminate 2 songs on a predetermined probability function. The remaining 10 songs will be loaded into your library . Cost: $9

2) You can select 10 songs from a pool of new artist releases and load them to your library. However, you can’t preview the songs before purchase. Cost: $10

Here is the kicker…. if you choose 2) you will also get the “psychological gain” (to use the original paper terminology) from retaining Choice. Thus, taking decision 2) only results in sub-optimal utility when:
[$9 / (total enjoyment of songs picked by iTunes – enjoyment of Choice Retaining) ] < [$10 / total enjoyment of songs YOU picked]

Therefore, it is entirely possible for decision 2) to be the optimal choice. The paper appears to suggest that 2) is never optimal. So it must deny that "psych gain" can have a non-null value.

So, we are back to my original question. Hope that clears it up!

95 anon February 25, 2016 at 9:38 am

You can add broccoli back in, half a cup at the later date. The important thing for the experimental design is that you get MORE of what YOU want by deciding earlier and not delaying the decision.

Perhaps they did design something like your iTune example, but I don’t think that would be a good experiment for what they are trying to prove. They are trying to isolate “choice” for the same utility. They really are looking for “I know I like pizza but I don’t want to decide yet!”

Obviously if you give someone greater utility, and group it under the title “psych gain” you are still giving more utility.

96 Hazel Meade February 24, 2016 at 4:40 pm

Even if you know you are making suboptimal choices, you may expect to learn something from your failures, and hence may be anticipating reaping the rewards of more optimal choices in the future.

For instance, I know that I suck at investing right now. But I still want to retain the freedom to make my own investing choices (with a small amount of money), because I want to learn how to make better investments. I’m not going to learn anything if I turn everything over to a fund manager.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: