Month: September 2016

Are lies better than hypocrisy?, with special reference to some current events

When should you place a higher penalty on transparently false outright repeated lies, and when should you be more upset by hypocrisy, namely a mix of altruism and self-interest and greed and defensiveness, bundled with self-deception and pawned off to everyone including yourself as sheer goodness?  In recent times the question has taken on further import.

From @EpicureanDeal:

“Here’s the part of the 2016 story that will be hardest to explain after it’s… over: Trump did not deceive anyone.”

From Deplorable Me:

reporters take Trump literally and not seriously. We take Trump seriously but not literally.

From Elberry’s Ghost:

in general, i prefer liars to hypocrites. A liar knows the truth and is cold-bloodedly trying to deceive you, probably for material profit or personal advantage, or malevolence – but in himself he knows the truth and so the situation is less unreal than with the hypocrite; for the hypocrite’s motive is often self-righteousness mingled with material profit and personal advantage. And the hypocrite believes his own lies, so the situation is wholly unreal, saturated with deception. With the liar one can at least guess there is a real human being somewhere behind the lies, watching, calculating; and sometimes in the midst of the deception one catches this real human being’s eye, and there is a moment of mutual recognition – that he is lying and he knows she is lying, and you know too, but of course neither will say so. With the hypocrite, all is false – through and through deception.

For purposes of illumination, say you treat this as a principal-agent problem.  You sometimes prefer if your children lie to you transparently than if they are more deviously hypocritical, even if the lies in the former case are greater.  The former case establishes a precedent that you can see through their claims, and they will not try so hard to disguise the fraud.  So transparent lies about taking out the garbage are excused if you know you can see through the later claims about drugs and drink and prepping for the SAT.

You are more worried about the hypocrite when you see bigger decisions and announcements down the road than what is being faced now.  You are more worried about the hypocrite when you fear disappointment, and have experienced disappointment repeatedly in the past.  You are more worried about the hypocrite when you fear it is all lies anyway.  Lies, in a way, give you a chance to try out “the liar relationship,” whereas hypocrisy does not.  You thus fear that hypocrisy may lead to a worse outcome down the road or at the very least more anxiety along the way.

But note: for a more institutional and distanced principal-agent relationship, it is often incorrect, and indeed dangerous, to rely on your intuitions from personalized principal-agent problems.

When it comes to how the agent speaks to allies and enemies, you almost always should prefer hypocrisy to bald-faced lies.  The history and practice of diplomacy show this.  Allies and enemies, especially from other cultures, don’t know how to process the lies the way you can process the blatant lies of your children, friends, and spouse.  They will think some of these lies are mere hypocrisy and that can greatly increase uncertainty and maybe lead to open conflict.  North Korea aside, the prevailing international equilibrium is “hypocrisy only,” and those are the signals everyone has decades of experience in reading.

Josh Barro tweeted:

People pretending to be better than they are is what holds society together.

International society too.

There is such a hullaballoo in my Twitter feed every day about the lies.  “It is now time to expose the lies!”  I feel sad when I read this, because many of the American people already are putting up with the lies or even welcoming them.  I do not see that as a correct course of action, as it is confusing personal morality with the abstract rules and principles that underlie social order (which is what voters almost always do, by the way).  We need continuing hypocrisy in the international order, and thus from our distanced political agents, even if we don’t want more of it in our personal lives.

I do not see enough people trying to understand lies vs. hypocrisy.  In fact it is tough for many people to make this leap, because doing so requires a Hayekian stress on the distinction between the personal and the abstract political and rules-based order.  That distinction does not always come easily to the non-Hayekians who comprise most of my Twitter feed.  They are very quick to invoke their own personal morality to attempt to settle political disputes.

Note also that if citizens care more about hypocrisy than lies, the media will in turn be harsher with hypocrisy than outright lies.  Some foundations will be covered (and criticized) more than others, even if the less-covered foundation has done more wrong and in a more blatant manner.  Covering hypocrisy also usually involves a longer story with more successive revelations and more twists and turns and narrative suspense and room for ambiguity and competing interpretations.

Furthermore, in this equilibrium the defenders of the morality of the hypocritical agent will in fact make things worse for that agent.  The hypocrisy will become not just a personal hypocrisy of the agent, but rather a broader, almost conspiratorial hypocrisy of greater society.  So the more you think one (hypocritical) agent is getting unfair press coverage, and the more you defend that agent, the worse you make it for that agent.

Talking about the lies of the lying agent may help that agent win popularity, by turning voter attention to the “lies vs. hypocrisy” framing rather than “experience vs. incompetence.”  The lying agent has at least some chance in the former battle, but not much in the latter.

I wonder if earnest Millennials have a special dislike of hypocrisy.

Think about it.  Or if not, at least pretend you will.

Saturday assorted links

1. Peruvian interview with me (in Spanish).

2. Details on Doug Irwin’s just-delivered history of trade book.

3. Wells on Joyce: “And while you were brought up under the delusion of political suppression I was brought up under the delusion of political responsibility.”

4. The Dictator game with varying female beauty.

5. Board games non-clearing markets in everything: Scrabble yn Gymraeg, or in other words Scrabble in Welsh.  So far the five copies sitting in Waterstone’s have not been sold after two years.  Perhaps that is because the “y” and the “w” are worth only one point each.  “Twmffat” for the bonus!

6. “The paper attributes one-third to one-fifth of the decline in work hours by less-educated young men to the rising use of technology for entertainment — mainly video games.”  It’s not Scrabble yn Gymraeg keeping them at home…Link here, Alan Krueger calls it “strong evidence.”  Summers (FT) seems to endorse the hypothesis in passing.

Bangladesh (Russia) fact of the day

The landmass of Bangladesh is one-118th the size of Russia, but its population exceeds Russia’s by more than 25 million.

Most of the article (NYT) is about the unbearably bad traffic in Dhaka.  Every year 400,000 new people arrive in Dhaka, the city has only 60 traffic lights, and only 7 percent of the surface is covered with roads (Paris say would be about 30 percent).

The piece, by Jody Rosen, is interesting throughout.

Anti-mind, anti-man, anti-life

Curing disease is good, right? No. Jemima Lewis, writing in the Telegraph, says curing disease is a sickeningly bad idea:

…the Zuckerberg-Chans have the most ambitious vision yet: developing new technologies and medicines to tackle every disease ever invented.

We’d better hope they don’t succeed. What would it do to the human race if we were granted eternal health, and therefore life? Without any deaths to offset all the births, we would have to make room on earth for an extra 208,400 people a day, or 76,066,000 a year – and that’s before those babies grow old enough to reproduce themselves.

Within a month of Mr Zuckerberg curing mortality, the first wars over water resources would break out. Within a year, the World Health Organisation would be embarking on an emergency sterilisation programme. Give it a decade and we’d all be dead from starvation, apart from a handful of straggle-bearded tech billionaires, living in well-stocked bunkers under San Francisco.

I’m shocked that anyone can write such depraved things in a major newspaper. In a decent culture this kind of thing would be relegated to some sick corner of the dark web. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, however. Ayn Rand villains exist. Look around.

Stephen J. Entin on raising estate taxes

The transfer [estate] taxes are highly distortive of economic activity. In fact, they probably do the most damage to output and income per dollar of revenue raised of all the taxes in the U.S. tax system. There are two reasons. First, they are an additional layer of tax on saving and investment, activities that are highly sensitive to taxation and very likely to shrink in response to the tax. Second, the transfer taxes are levied at very high, steeply graduated marginal tax rates on a very narrow tax base. The high rates discourage saving and investment at the margin, while the average tax rate and tax revenues are held down by the credit. A tax that has a large differential between its average and marginal tax rates does far more damage per dollar of revenue raised than a flatter rate tax on a broader base.

Here is the full study and pdf.  The pointer is from Alex T.

Quant trading economies of scale someone should give Doug his own blog

There are a few possible routes to establishing a monopoly in quant trading. Here’s one that seems to work really well. It’s kind of hard to explain, so bear with me. Many trading signals reliably predict prices, but not strongly enough to overcome transaction costs (i.e. exchange fees, clearing fees, liquidity costs, etc.). A stock can moves up or down $.01 in the next period, your trading signals predicts the right direction 60% of the time, and transaction costs average $.0025. Unfortunately after costs, you’ll end up losing $.0005 per trade, so it’s not a viable strategy.

But let’s say you’ve got three uncorrelated trading signals just like it. If you wait until all three point in the same direction, now there’s a 94% of the stock moving in your favor. You easily clear the transaction cost threshold and neatly make $.0063 per trade. When you gather together multiple uncorrelated signals, the whole becomes worth much more than the sum of the parts.

This is basically how a company like Renaissance Technologies operates. It has hundreds of people working in silo’d groups. Each group contributes to the overall fund’s strategy, but are largely unaware of what the others are doing. Alone any single group would probably not have a viable standalone strategy. That’s a big deterrent to people leaving, starting from scratch is really hard. And there’s only a few other major companies in Renaissance’s league, where they’re already strong enough to make money off of marginal signals. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. To become viable in the space you need to accumulate a whole bunch of signals, but to attract a critical mass of talent with signals you need to already have a viable strategy running.

That one was “from the comments.

The Decline of Car Culture

UMTRI: About 87 percent of 19-year-olds in 1983 had their licenses, but more than 30 years later, that percentage had dropped to 69 percent. Other teen driving groups have also declined: 18-year-olds fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 60 percent in 2014, 17-year-olds decreased from 69 percent to 45 percent, and 16-year-olds plummeted from 46 percent to 24 percent.

Cars used to represent freedom. Today WiFi does. The decline of young drivers is likely another reason the roads are getting safer.

Hat tip: @counternotions.

Addendum: Steven Kopits argues (youtube) that this has more to do with lack of employment of young people than with a change in culture.

David Brooks on why Hillary Clinton isn’t winning by more

Here is one bit from a very good column:

She’s always been the duller, unfashionable foil.

Her donor base and fund-raising style is out of another era. Obama and Sanders tapped into the energized populist base, but Clinton has Barbra Streisand, Cher and a cast of Wall Street plutocrats. Her campaign proposals sidestep the cutting issues that have driven Trump, Sanders, Brexit and the other key movements of modern politics. Her ideas for reducing poverty are fine, but they are circa Ed Muskie: more public works jobs, housing tax credits, more money for Head Start.

Interesting throughout.  Here were my earlier thoughts on the matter, cited by David too.  Here are thoughts from John Judis.

Friday assorted links

1. Father knows best infrastructure.

2. Why is milk in the back of the supermarket?

3. Rolling drone delivery is coming to D.C.

4. China and Japan, “In fact, when staying in Japanese hotels, I turn on all the faucets as a way to relieve my anger! But it is of no use! We must do better in all ways! Let’s go!”  Most polled Chinese disapprove, although eight percent expressed a desire to do the exact same thing.

5. Cow dung capitalism.

Is China’s anti-corruption drive sincere?

Or just a way to get rid of political opponents?  The news on this front is by no means entirely bad.  Xi Lu and Peter L. Lorentzen report:

In order to maintain popular support or at least acquiescence, autocrats must control the rapacious tendencies of other members of the governing elite. At the same time, the support of this elite is at least as important as the support of the broader population. This creates difficult tradeoffs and limits the autocrat’s ability to enforce discipline. We explore this issue in the context of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign. There have been two schools of thought about this campaign. One holds that it is nothing but a cover for intra-elite struggle and a purge of Xi’s opponents, while the other finds more credibility in the CCP’s claim that the movement is sincere. In this article, we demonstrate three facts, using a new dataset we have created. First, we use the political connections revealed by legal documents and media reports to visualize the corruption network. We demonstrate that although many of the corrupt officials are connected, Xi’s most prominent political opponent, Bo Xilai, is less central by any network measure than other officials who were not viewed as challenging Xi’s leadership. Second, we use a recursive selection model to analyze who the campaign has targeted, providing evidence that even personal ties to top leaders provided little protection. Finally, using another comprehensive dataset on the prefectural-city level, we show that the provinces later targeted by the corruption campaign differed from the rest in important ways. In particular, it appears that promotion patterns departed from the growth-oriented meritocratic selection procedures evidence in other provinces. Overall, our findings contradict the factional purge view and are more consistent with the view that the campaign is indeed primarily an attempt to root out systemic corruption problems.

The pointer is from the excellent Kevin Lewis.

From the comments, how to hit it big?

I am not endorsing these claims, but I do enjoy a good rant.  It is an object lesson in showing how (some) people think about jobs, status, rivalry, and money.

First venture capital is generally consider where washed-out Wall Streeters go, when they can’t cut it in real finance. Very few b-school students start out trying to get into VC. And no, generally Silicon Valley people are not nearly as smart as HFT/algo quants. The type of kids who go to Google or Facebook are generally the Ivy CS students from the upper half of their class who are good at white-boarding problems (e.g. reverse a linked list). The truly brilliant kids, Putnam winners, math olympiads, core kernel contributors, etc. disproportionately go the quant route. (In which at least half will wind up in Chicago).

SV is generally a worse deal than HFT or quant trading. Starting comp is at least 50% higher than the big five tech firms, and goes up at a much faster rate. And definitely way higher than startups, which nearly always under-pay. It’s true in tech you can become a multibillionaire, but that’s extremely unlikely even for the most talented. In general SV is a bad deal for everyone except the small set of people lucky or connected enough to be at the top. Outside founder level, virtually no one gets rich from startups anymore. The equity and options comp is pathetic at best, if not outright fraudulent. (“You’ll be getting 1% of outstanding shares… from this round…”). Even founders have to live on 70k salaries in the Bay Area, then are frequently screwed over or cliff’d by their VCs. For every Google, heck for every Apigee, there’s a thousand no-name flame-outs, where no one but the VCs walk away with a dime.

Compare to quant trading. Compensation is cold hard cash, usually paid out annually, if not quarterly. Not lottery ticket equity with four year cliffs, unlimited dilution and byzantine share classes. Most comp is directly tied to individual trading performance, with clear results from trading everyday. No politics, extremely meritocratic, no being at the random whims of whether your app takes off fast enough to overcome your burn rate. Firms actually compete for talent and pay accordingly, instead of colluding to keep wages suppressed. Unless your ambition is to top the Forbes list, HFT’s a much better deal for someone extremely intelligent like a Math Olympiad. The probability of making “f-you money” before 40 is at least an order of magnitude higher as a prop quant than in the Valley.

That is from Doug.

Londonderry Derry

The city’s name is a point of political dispute, with unionists advocating the longer name, and nationalists advocating the shorter. A common attempt at compromise is to refer to the county as “Londonderry” and the city as “Derry”, but this is by no means universally accepted. Because of this, a peculiar situation arises as there is no common consensus either in politics or elsewhere as to which name is preferred; the city council is officially known as “Derry”, but the city is officially recognised as “Londonderry” by the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK government. Whilst road signs in the Republic of Ireland use “Derry”, alongside the Irish language translation “Doire”, road signs in Northern Ireland will always read (unless vandalised) “Londonderry”.

Here is the link.  I hope someday to go.

Thursday assorted links

1. 16 economists on Brexit (videos).

2. My post on Romneycare, from ten years ago.

3. Does inequality lead to credit growth?  Testing the Rajan hypothesis.

4. Maybe Fitbit doesn’t work?  And the NYT version.

5. I don’t agree with everything in this Zero Hedge post, and some of it is flat out wrong, but it does cast serious doubt on the new, happy median income growth figures: “the Census Bureau’s own report shows that the median nominal earnings of full-time male workers in 2015 grew by 1.6% and for full-time female workers by 2.8%. That hardly squares with 5.7% average aggregate growth of incomes for all workers—unless main street households was suddenly showered with windfalls from stock dividends they don’t own, bank accounts that pay no interest or rental incomes from properties registered in someone else’s name.”

6. The culture that is youth sports.

Gelman on the Replication Crisis and Social Media

This Andrew Gelman post on the replication crisis and the role that blogs have played in generating that crisis starts off slow but just builds and builds until by the end it’s like holy rolling thunder. Here is just one bit:

Fiske is annoyed with social media, and I can understand that. She’s sitting at the top of traditional media. She can publish an article in the APS Observer and get all this discussion without having to go through peer review; she has the power to approve articles for the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; work by herself and har colleagues is featured in national newspapers, TV, radio, and even Ted talks, or so I’ve heard. Top-down media are Susan Fiske’s friend. Social media, though, she has no control over. That’s must be frustrating, and as a successful practioner of traditional media myself (yes, I too have published in scholarly journals), I too can get annoyed when newcomers circumvent the traditional channels of publication. People such as Fiske and myself spend our professional lives building up a small fortune of coin in the form of publications and citations, and it’s painful to see that devalued, or to think that there’s another sort of scrip in circulation that can buy things that our old-school money cannot.

But let’s forget about careers for a moment and instead talk science.

When it comes to pointing out errors in published work, social media have been necessary. There just has been no reasonable alternative. Yes, it’s sometimes possible to publish peer-reviewed letters in journals criticizing published work, but it can be a huge amount of effort. Journals and authors often apply massive resistance to bury criticisms.

If you are interested in the replication crisis or the practice of science read the whole thing.

Aside from the content, I also love Gelman’s post for brilliantly mirroring its metaphor in its structure. Very meta.