That is the title of the new and forthcoming Robin Hanson book, due out in May. I was asked to supply a blurb, and offered two possibilities. One was:
“Robin Hanson is one of our most original and important thinkers. This is his book.”
The ostensible premise of the book is that people have become computer uploads, and we have an entirely new society to think about: how it works, what problems it has, and how it evolves. One key point about this new world is individuals can be copied. But this is more than just a nerdy tech book, it is also:
- Straussian commentary on the world we actually live in. We are already something-or-other, uploaded into humans,and very often Robin is describing our world in cloaked fashion, albeit with some slight tweaks to parameters for the purpose of moral illumination.
- A reminder of how strange everything is, and how we use self-deception to come to terms with that strangeness. It’s a mock of all those who believe in individual free will.
- An attempt to construct a fully rational theology, proving by various deductions that God is not fully benevolent in the traditional sense.
- An extended essay on the impossibility of avoiding theology, given the imposition of competitive constraints on a world where production and copying are possible. And ultimately it is a theodicy, though it will not feel that way to Westerners, Jews, Christians, or Muslims. It hearkens back to medieval theology, Descartes, and the idea of living in God’s possibly terrifying simulation.
- A satire on the rest of social science, and how we try to explain and predict the future.
- A meta-level growth model in which energy alone matters and the “fixed factor” assumptions of other models are relativized. Copying is taken seriously, besides how special are you anyway? In the meantime, we learn just how much of the world we know depends upon the presence of various fixed factors. But surely that is temporary!
- A challenge to our notions of wherein the true value of a life resides.
I hope enough readers pick up on some of this. And yes, there is a chapter on sex, love, and affairs.
It is hard to excerpt from this book, but here is one short bit:
Compared with humans, ems fear much less the death of the particular copy that they now are. Ems instead fear “mind theft,” that is, the theft of a copy of their mental state. Such a theft is both a threat to the economic order, and a plausible route to personal destitution or torture. While a few ems offer themselves as open source and free to copy, most ems work hard to prevent mind theft. Most long-distance physical travel is “beam me up” electronic travel, but done carefully to prevent mind theft.
I am wildly enthusiastic about everything the Robin upload does, and some of his copies are better yet. Here is the book’s home page.
Addendum: Here is Robin Hanson’s response.
Robert Parrish could not much push him away from his preferred spots on the floor, but due to snow we are altering the venue:
Westin Arlington Gateway, F. Scott Fitzgerald Ballroom (2nd floor), 801 North Glebe Road Arlington, VA
Tuesday, January 26, 2016, 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
At the event, you can participate in the conversation by tweeting your questions and comments using the hashtag #CowenKareem.
You can watch the event online at mercatus.org/live
Democracies depend on the support of the general population, but little is known about the determinants of this support. This paper analyzes whether support for democracy increases with the length of time spent under the system, and whether preferences are thus affected by the political system. Relying on 380,000 individual-level observations from 104 countries over the years 1994 to 2013, and exploiting individual-level variation within a country and a given year in the length of time spent under democracy, we find evidence that political preferences are endogenous. For new democracies, our findings imply that popular support needs time to develop. To illustrate: the effect of around 8.5 more years of democratic experience corresponds to the difference in support for democracy between primary and secondary education.
That is from Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln and Matthias Schündeln (pdf), two underrated but very much on the rise economists. Here is the home page of Nicola, here is the home page of Matthias. Here is Nicola’s paper, with Paolo Macella, on the persistent effects of socialist education (pdf).
I know that Tyrone, my evil twin brother, has been fairly silent in 2015, but that’s only because he’s been so busy whispering things in my ear. He’s also been spending his profits from having shorted the Chinese stock market. And having shorted the Democrats.
Can you imagine his latest? Electoral politics once again, his weakest area (not nearly as good as Tyrone the neo-Fisherian). Well, I scribbled down some notes on a napkin, over lunch, so this is an imperfect rendition of what he really said. Tyrone in fact didn’t want me to write this post, fearing people would take it the wrong way. Here goes, here is Tyrone at his mischievous worst:
Tyrone: It is obvious that intellectual Democrats, especially those concerned with climate change, should vote for Donald Trump for President. Furthermore they should welcome his ascent, as should intellectual Republicans.
Let’s accept the commonly argued premise that climate change, if not quite an existential risk, can drastically lower the quality of life on earth for generations to come.
There is some chance that Trump will in fact support some kind of comprehensive climate change legislation. After all, he used to be a liberal, but perhaps more importantly he wants to think of himself as a savior. The chance of this is higher than that of any other Republican, and he is hardly beholden to the standard lobbies.
Most importantly, the chance of Trump “going Nixon” is higher than Hillary’s chance of selling meaningful climate change legislation to an oppositional Republican Congress. She’ll be unpopular from day one, and the salaries of Dutch kunstmatige land consultants will skyrocket; that would bring a new Dutch disease, not just the one you get in those pretty Amsterdam shop windows.
OK people, let’s say Trump sticks to the mainstream Republican position. What will happen then? Won’t greedy capitalists rape the earth, not to mention building that energy-consuming wall?
Well, in the short run, maybe. (Don’t forget Lennon on the omelette and those broken eggs!) But we all know how disastrous Trump’s economic ideas would be in practice. They would lower the growth rate of gdp and impoverish the masses. Even if you read Trump as a policy moderate, just imagine what his volatile temperament would do to the equity risk premium. (Then they would have to give Robert Barro a Nobel prize!) And so, four or maybe eight years later, — or is it two? — what we could expect to find? A fully Democratic Congress and White House. (And dear reader, is there any other way to get there?) And thus would arrive comprehensive climate change legislation, just as we got Obamacare post-2008. Voila! That’s way more important than maintaining America’s status as a nice, well-respected, and tolerant country, isn’t it?
So Democrats, if you really care about Bangladesh and Vietnam, and don’t just have this silly mood affiliation fancy that Tyler has fabricated, you should promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. The more Democratic you are, the better. The more worried about climate change you are, the better. Your man has arrived on the national scene. Finally.
Remember the take of Borges on Judas? He made the real sacrifice of his reputation, so that the rest of us could be saved by Christ. It is time for you too to be like Judas…[TC: At this point the absurdities piled up so high I just had to cut Tyrone off.]
Tyler again: Readers, I am so sorry for this. I receive numerous requests for more Tyrone, but usually I resist. The only reason I occasionally oblige is to show you all, once again, how crazy he is. How unreasonable he is. How subject he is to his own mood affiliations, foibles, and quirks. How little heritability can explain, once you look get past superficial sibling similarities and look more closely at the details of the intellect.
Tyler’s view — my view — is that good Democrats in fact should support…[at which points Tyrone cuts Tyler off, and the two tumble over the proverbial cliff]…
One super-butler is John Deery, in his mid-40s and a native of Northern Ireland. Along with planning travel arrangements for his principal, a businessman, and valeting, serving meals, and making sure visas are up to date, Deery manages three of his employer’s properties. One is in the Balkans with 34 staff, there is a London residence with another 12, and a third is being developed.
There is more here, of interest throughout, and you will note many of the employers are funded by oil, so perhaps this market is slowing down at the moment.
This surprised me a wee bit:
Particularly for wealthy employers from Middle Eastern, Asian or Russian backgrounds, one of the attractions of a British butler is their knowledge of the nuances of the traditional English way of dining or formal dressing.
The average age of a newly employed butler is 41, and 40% of the people placed by the British Butler Academy are women…
It is less surprising to me that many super-butlers are former actors.
For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.
Prof. Cowen – I’m a longtime MR reader, but just came across an old post on your prolific reading. In the post, you mention:
“But it is not like the old days when I would set aside two months to work through The Inferno, Aeneid, and the like, with multiple secondary sources and multiple translations at hand. I no longer have the time or the mood, and I miss this.”
I am intrigued by this process of deep reading the canonical classics – have you detailed your method/routine for this anytime on MR?
Here is my preferred method:
1. Read a classic work straight through, noting key problems and ambiguities, but not letting them hold you back. Plow through as needed, and make finishing a priority.
1b. Mark up the book with bars and questions marks, but don’t bother writing out your still-crummy thoughts. That will slow you down.
2. After finishing the classic, read a good deal of the secondary literature, keeping in mind that you now are looking for answers to some particular questions. That will structure and improve your investigation. But do not read the secondary literature first. You won’t know what questions will be guiding you, plus it may spoil or bias your impressions of the classic, which is likely richer and deeper than the commentaries on it.
3. Go back and reread said classic, taking as much time as you may need. If you don’t finish this part of the program, at least you have read the book once and grappled with some of its problems, and taken in some of its commentators. If you can get through the reread, you’ll then have achieved something.
4. I am an advocate of the “close in time” reread, not the “several years later” reread. The several years later reread works best when it has been preceded by a close in time reread, otherwise you tend to forget lots, or never to have learned it to begin with, and the later reread may be more akin to starting a new book altogether.
5. If you want to find new things in books you already know and love, opt for new editions, new translations, and new typesettings where you will encounter it as a very different visual and conceptual field.
From Ryan Avent:
Anthony Randazzo of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think-tank, and Jonathan Haidt of New York University recently asked a group of academic economists both moral questions (is it fairer to divide resources equally, or according to effort?) and questions about economics. They found a high correlation between the economists’ views on ethics and on economics. The correlation was not limited to matters of debate—how much governments should intervene to reduce inequality, say—but also encompassed more empirical questions, such as how fiscal austerity affects economies on the ropes. Another study found that, in supposedly empirical research, right-leaning economists discerned more economically damaging effects from increases in taxes than left-leaning ones.
This is probably one of the most useful things you will learn from MR all year. It is from Maria Konnikova’s new book The Confidence Game:
In 2010, Nicholas Epley and Tal Eyal of Ben-Gurion University published the results of a series of experiments aimed at improving our person and mind perception skills. The title of their paper: “How to Seem Telepathic.” Many of our errors, the researchers found, stem from a basic mismatch between how we analyze ourselves and how we analyze others. When it comes to ourselves, we employ a fine-grained, highly contextualized level of detail. When we think about others, however, we operate at a much higher, more generalized and abstract level. For instance, when answering the same question about ourselves or others — how attractive are you? — we use very different cues. For our own appearance, we think about how our hair is looking that morning, whether we got enough sleep, how well that shirt matches our complexion. For that of others, we form a surface judgment based on overall gist. So, there are two mismatches: we aren’t quite sure how others are seeing us, and we are incorrectly judging how they see themselves.
If, however, we can adjust our level of analysis, we suddenly appear much more intuitive and accurate. In one study, people became more accurate at discerning how others see them when they thought their photograph was going to be evaluated a few months later, as opposed to the same day, while in another, the same accuracy shift happened if they thought a recording they’d made describing themselves would be heard a few months later [TC: recall Robin Hanson’s near vs. far mode]. Suddenly, they were using the same abstract lens that others are likely to use naturally…
Upon reading this passage I realized I have been thinking in these terms for years, without quite realizing it so explicitly.
One implication: if you feel bad one morning, don’t let it get you down and lower your confidence. Other people probably won’t notice your problems.
Another implication: you’ll understand yourself better if, in a given moment, you can pretend to distance yourself from some of your immediate impressions of your day, and treat yourself like a piece of your writing which you set aside for a week so you could look at it fresh.
A third implication is this: you can read other people’s moods better by ignoring some of your overall impressions of them, and by focusing on what they might perceive to be small changes in their situation, appearance, or stress levels.
Here is one bit:
Do they take a data-driven approach to parenting, I wonder? Fryer confesses to owning a Dropbox folder called “the science of kids”, with data to cite in arguments over sleep training. They also plotted their daughter’s weight on a spreadsheet for a couple of weeks. “But then it was too tiring. There’s nothing like your own child to make you want to throw data out of the window,” he jokes.
He admits he has slowed down from his most workaholic phase but I suspect we’re talking fine margins.
Interesting throughout, I fear it is gated for you, very sad do subscribe. I link to it anyway as a show of expressive support for both Fryer and the FT and also John McDermott.
A new study, forthcoming in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, suggests that conservative and libertarian professors are more productive than are their colleagues. James Cleith Phillips, a Ph.D. student at the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, compared the publication and citation records of faculty members at the 16 highest-rated law schools in the country. He found that conservative and libertarian professors at the law schools were more productive than their peers. The paper says this finding is consistent with (but does not demonstrate) the thesis that conservative and libertarian applicants face some discrimination in the hiring process.
Adam Ozimek wrote the blog post everyone else is talking about; he gives good examples there.
Where to start? I could write a whole ongoing blog on this question (wait…). In any case, here are just a few examples of where I have changed my mind due to economic evidence:
1. Before 1982-1984, and the Swiss experience, I thought fixed money growth rules were a good idea. One problem (not the only problem) is that the implied interest rate volatility is too high, or exchange rate volatility in the Swiss case.
2. Before witnessing China vs. Eastern Europe, I thought more rapid privatizations were almost always better. The correct answer depends on circumstance, and we are due to learn yet more about this as China attempts to reform its SOEs over the next five to ten years. I don’t consider this settled in the other direction either.
3. The elasticity of investment with respect to real interest rates turns out to be fairly low in most situations and across most typical parameter values.
4. In the 1990s, I thought information technology would be a definitely liberating, democratizing, and pro-liberty force. It seemed that more competition for resources, across borders, would improve economic policy around the entire world. Now this is far from clear.
5. Given the greater ease of converting labor income into capital income, I no longer am so convinced that a zero rate of taxation on capital income is best.
6. The social marginal value of health care is often quite low, much lower than I used to realize. By the way, hardly anyone takes this on consistently to guide their policy views, no matter how evidence-driven they may claim to be.
7. Mormonism, and other relatively strict religions, can have big anti-poverty effects. I wouldn’t say I ever believed the contrary, but for a long time I simply didn’t give the question much attention. I now think that Mormonism has a better anti-poverty agenda than does the Progressive Left.
8. There are positive excess returns to some momentum investment strategies.
Overall I find that history and theory-laden observation tend to be the forms of evidence which have convinced me the most. #3 and #8 are examples of “sheer econometrics,” but that is not usually how minds are changed, mine included. But I don’t intend that as an anti-econometrics remark, rather econometrics is a very useful check on our theory-laden historical observations. If you can’t get your synthetic, empirically-driven intuitions to work out in the numbers more formally, and that is indeed sometimes the case, your views probably still need more tweaking. And for some questions, especially in number-heavy, numbers-mean-clear-things finance, it’s sheer econometrics from top to bottom.
Here is Paul Krugman on the topic; he seems to hold a broadly similar view of econometrics.
The author is Lars Mytting, and the subtitle is Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way. If only every book could be this good and to the point! Here is your Norway fact of the day:
Even in oil-rich Norway, as astonishing 25 percent of the energy used to heat private homes comes from wood, and half of that is wood chopped by private individuals.
In per capita terms, however, Bhutan is number one for wood chopping. Yet in the 1960s, the government of Norway had its own advisory body for the burning of wood chips.
I enjoyed this segue:
Although it may seem strange today, chain saws were regarded with suspicion at that time and there was much resistance to their use…
There were quite a few colorful players in the early days of the chain-saw industry in the 1950s. The competition was hard and the business attracted people with a fiery temperament. One legendary character was John Svensson (alias Chain Saw Svensson), who imported saws made by the Canadian firm Beaver. He had been arrested and tortured during the war and for the rest of his life suffered pains in his arms and joints; when demonstrating the Beaver saws he always made a point of stressing how the vibrations that passed up through the handle brought a welcome relief to his aching joints.
Svensson was not a man to take professional disappointments lying down. On one occasion he was so annoyed when a visiting government delegation refused to let him demonstrate his chain saw to them that he felled five trees across the road to stop them from leaving.
The interest of a Norwegian man in his firewood often rises sharply in his sixties. Perhaps this sentence from the book says it all:
It took a while, but that didn’t bother them, as long as it turned out the way they wanted.
You can order the book here, recommended.
Given all of the recent publicity, I thought I would re-up on my China video, The Rise and Fall of the Chinese Economy. This is a recent addition to our Everyday Economics series from MRUniversity, and it also will be part of our in-progress macroeconomics course.
The Learn More page features additional resources about this topic. As I say in the video, the key variable to track for whether things get really bad is capital flight. In other words, recent developments have indeed been unsettling.
What we’ve seen is the central government spending down reserves at a much higher pace than virtually anyone had expected…except perhaps the central government. The response to falling stock prices has been to make it legally harder and harder to sell — what do the prices even mean at this point? A barometer of which kind of PR hit the government feels like taking on a given day? And perhaps most importantly of all, more and more people, both in and outside of China, are questioning whether the government really has matters under control. It seems not.
By the way, here is your China fact of the day, Larry Summers informs us:
Over the past year, about 20 per cent of China’s growth as reported in its official statistics has come from its financial services sector, which is now about as large relative to gross domestic product as in Britain, and Chinese debt levels are extraordinarily high. This is hardly a case of healthy or sustainable growth.
On the (somewhat) cheerier side: “Film market analysts have pointed out that the biggest films have performed similarly in China and the US in recent years.” Star Wars: The Force Awakens had the biggest single-day opener in Chinese history (FT link), let’s see how well the future installments do.
Do you like or dislike this mix?:
The prime minister [of the UK] will call for a revolution in child rearing this weekend by suggesting that all parents should attend classes on how to discipline their children.
In a move likely to enrage those fearful of an encroaching “nanny state”, David Cameron will say that it should be the norm for parents to receive instruction on how to behave around their offspring.
As part of a speech on the family, Cameron will announce plans for a parenting classes voucher scheme, claiming that all parents need help and that there is too little state-sponsored guidance on offer.
I believe most Americans at least do not find this an intuitively appealing combination of policies. It seems to “insult” the poor at the same time that it brings the state into what for conservatives is the sacred realm of the family.
I wish I could say a policy which irritates so many people is likely to be a good thing, yet I can’t quite see this one working out for the better. And yes I do know the RCT evidence that personal trainers and coaches can improve the lives of the poor in the developing world.