Words of wisdom from Vitalik Buterin

Both reasoning from behavioral-economic first principles, and my personal experience, people are at their most evil out of fear, not greed. Growth means there is less fear going around.

That is from Vitalik Buterin, reviewing Stubborn Attachments on TwitterAnd this:

I have a different take on “growth is good for harmony” (52-53). Arrow’s theorem doesn’t become more or less true if a conflict is between, say (+5, +1) vs (+1, +5) or (+2, -2) vs (-2, +2). Rather, the reason why the latter is more disharmonious is loss aversion.

And:

Redistributing money to the rich (p88) is risky because the rich are not necessarily aligned with general population. Caring for old people (p91) is valuable not just for the sake of present individuals, but also as a commitment to future old people who are present-day workers.

Here is my earlier Conversation with Vitalik Buterin.  And here is Garett Jones’s tweet storm on the book.

Comments

'people are at their most evil out of fear, not greed'

Maybe unintentionally evil. It is pretty hard to argue that an arms dealer selling weapons to anyone with the money to pay is acting out of fear. Though as in the case with many acts of evil, possibly the arms dealer comforts themselves with the fact that they are not the one pulling the trigger.

The Germans actually have a word for this - Schreibtischtäter (which is difficult to translate, but essentially acknowledges that it is not only those who do the actual acts of evil who are responsible for the evil act being committed).

come on, it's white-collar crime.

It wasn't that difficult to translate, you made a very good explanation of the term: a bureaucrat which job is focused on the logistics required for mass killing. The wiki link provides a shorter translation: "desk murderer".

I guess the reverence treatment for neologisms in Deutsch is a German culture quirk/affection. When people from other cultures introduce you to concepts, bad words or slang, you don't get this distinctive "it's difficult to translate".

Back into Vitalik, I think he was talking about average people and petty crime. Average people at the global scale means poor people, and yes the poor are driven more for the fear of hunger or violence than greed.

'I guess the reverence treatment'

It is in the English language, where it is a running joke that German has a word for everything. The problem with the etymology is actually that Hannah Arendt is German, but she was publishing her work in English. And it is German that picked up the term to the extent that everyone knows what it means, unlike the term 'desk murderer.'

To take a less grim example, there is the modern children's book author Eric Carle, who definitely can be considered a native German speaker. Probably his most famous book is called 'Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt,' something along the lines of 'The Little Never Full Catepillar,' or as it is actually known in English - 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'. Nimmersatt is a neat expression, much like Am St. Nimmerleinstag (never), but simply has the wrong 'direction' when translated - Nimmersatt does not precisely mean very hungry, but 'never full' also misses the mark so well covered by something like 'bottomless stomach.'

'When people from other cultures introduce you to concepts, bad words or slang, you don't get this distinctive "it's difficult to translate".'

I have never particularly noticed that trait among Germans, to be honest. And as an American living in Germany, my perspective is an American one (informed by living somewhere else for a quarter century, admittedly).

'I think he was talking about average people and petty crime'

Well, when talking about the rich and white collar crime, greed certainly seems more common than fear. At least if the U.S. real estate bubble is any guide.

Well, so much for that discussion, but here is the reply to your reply -

''I guess the reverence treatment'

It is in the English language, where it is a running joke that German has a word for everything. The problem with the etymology is actually that Hannah Arendt is German, but she was publishing her work in English. And it is German that picked up the term to the extent that everyone knows what it means, unlike the term 'desk murderer,' though that term is certainly understandable.

To take a less grim example, there is the modern children's book author Eric Carle, who definitely can be considered a native German speaker. Probably his most famous book is called 'Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt,' something along the lines of 'The Little Never Full Catepillar,' or as it is actually known in English - 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'. Nimmersatt is a neat expression, much like Am St. Nimmerleinstag (never), but simply has the wrong 'direction' when translated - Nimmersatt does not precisely mean very hungry, but 'never full' also misses the mark so well covered by something like 'bottomless stomach.'

'When people from other cultures introduce you to concepts, bad words or slang, you don't get this distinctive "it's difficult to translate".'

I have never particularly noticed that trait among Germans, to be honest. And as an American living in Germany, my perspective is an American one (informed by living somewhere else for a quarter century, admittedly).

'I think he was talking about average people and petty crime'

Well, when talking about the rich and white collar crime, greed certainly seems more common than fear. At least if the U.S. real estate bubble is any guide.'

That's the strategy of the right: use repeated claims of imminent threat to create fear. Trump's speeches and tweets are chock-full of supposed imminent threats. Fox News is little more than a litany of supposed imminent threats. Tucker Carlson has become the poster boy for imminent threats, his anxious facial expressions driving home the message to be afraid, very afraid. But fear can be a positive force. For example, Cowen's new book uses fear (although he doesn't explicitly describe it as fear) as motivation to pursue polices that will maximize economic growth so that we have the resources to deal with real threats, including the real threat of global warming. The difference is fabricated threats to exploit fear for political gain and actual threats to motivate individuals and government to pursue policies that will mitigate or eliminate the threats.

"Trump's speeches and tweets are chock-full of supposed imminent threats"

Yeah but, when he is afraid to count military absentee ballots, he is somewhat stepping on his own messaging.

"That's the strategy of the right: use repeated claims of imminent threat to create fear. "

Of course, it's also the strategy of the Left.

Yes, "fear the Nazis"

and "look, there they are, killing people."

I'm sure in your own mind, that statement makes sense.

You tell me, why do you choose "Panzer" as your name 17 days after the tragedy in Pittsburgh?

Why should I change a pseudonym that I've used for over 20 years over something that happened a few weeks ago? There's no direct connection between the attacks of an anti-semite and a German word that means tank.

Also, this whole conversation proves my point. that this is also the strategy of the Left.

You are attempting to conflate the random attack of a lunatic with some kind of right wing conspiracy that doesn't exist. There is no vast right wing Nazi organization that's going to come sweeping out of South America and consume the United States. There's no shadowy anti-Semitic right wing group that is killing off the Jews. One insane lunatic attacked a bunch of innocent people and has been widely condemned for it. He was acting alone. He wasn't part of some organization with malicious intent. He was an evil man that will burn in Hell for doing awful things.

You certainly made a point.

German tank guy thinks the left was the real villain for noticing.

https://www.csis.org/analysis/rise-far-right-extremism-united-states

Well once again you prove my point that the Left also engages in the strategy of supposed imminent threats.

Here's the definition of right wing extremism from your source:

"Instead, right-wing terrorism commonly refers to the
use or threat of violence by sub-national or non-state
entities whose goals may include racial, ethnic, or religious
supremacy; opposition to government authority; and the
end of practices like abortion"

Once you classify all racial, ethnic and religious arguments along with opposition to government authority as "right wing" then it's easy to make your point. Those are the historical reasons for the majority of non-state violence. And a good chunk of the state violence to boot.

I like how by this definition and attack on one racial group on another followed up by a counter attack would end up as both sides being classified as "right wing".

Here's a more thoughtful rebuttal from Volokh:

https://reason.com/volokh/2018/10/28/has-there-been-a-surge-of-anti-semitism

Who are you calling left wing?

"The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a think tank based in Washington, D.C., in the United States. CSIS was founded as the "Center for Strategic and International Studies" of Georgetown University in 1962. The center conducts policy studies and strategic analyses of political, economic and security issues throughout the world, with a specific focus on issues concerning international relations, trade, technology, finance, energy and geostrategy."

"Since its founding, CSIS "has been dedicated to finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world," according to its website. CSIS is officially a bipartisan think tank with scholars that represent varying points of view across the political spectrum. The think tank is known for inviting well-known foreign policy and public service officials from the U.S. Congress and the executive branch including those affiliated with either the Democratic or the Republican Party as well as foreign officials of varying political backgrounds. It has been labeled a "centrist" think tank by U.S. News & World Report."

Just take the headline in the NYT, "The president turns to an old ploy to justify a new ban on people seeking refuge."

It sums up their "separate but equal" mentality. Thomas Friedman's Pro versus Anti paradigm.

People seeking refuge sounds like Plessy versus Ferguson. This propaganda mentality is racist. Where were the Op-Eds about white people feeling racism when white cops shoot black people. It's the central tenet of reciprocal altruism that is lost on the NYT.

Do you think this was lost on JFK's Equal Pay amendment?

Sure the CSIS is a bipartisan group. That doesn't mean effect my argument at all.

If you take the common causes of ideological violence and classify the most common ones as "right wing", then yes by that standard most ideological violence is "right wing".

That's called a tautology.

A word like "Schreibtischtäter" gives me pause, because although I can accept a certain level of scope regarding the culpability of upstream participants leading to tragedy, I also recognize this sort of concept wielded to enforce conformity and discourage innovation.

The activity of a Schreibtischtäter would need to be viewed as clearly negative by the word's speaker. Maybe it's "Of course they're guilty, they sold the hard drugs that caused your child to OD and die." But maybe it's "Of course they're guilty, they grew the drugs in fields in their home country, because that's what they do."

The use of the word should come with the caveat that there needs to be an active, ongoing discussion about what is and is not culpable, and precisely why. Not doing so invites applying the word to all sorts of political opponents or minorities one wishes to subjugate.

'people are at their most evil out of fear, not greed'

I mean most of the great horrors of the 20th century completely contradict this, but otherwise, yeah, wisdom. Especially that nonsense about zero discount rates.

Yes, his statement needs another part to account for the corrupting influence of power but the pithiest statement possible is already taken. His comment is at least true if you read it as being about the powerless (e.g. Primo Levi's commentary).

My operating principal tends to be:
"Actions taken by those sufficiently stupid can be indistinguishable from evil"

"behavioral-economic first principles" refers to what?

It refers to someone desperately trying to seem deep and intellectual, which works on the kind of rubes who think that some bitcoin kid is a genius of all kinds (but doesn’t work on anyone who, say, actually knows a thing or two about behavioral economics)

A lot of older folk wouldn't be so dependent on others for redistribution, if they still had formal economic means by which to impart their own, often hard won wisdom. And a lot of older folk, if they are at least able to get beyond the noise of self justification, should be able to distinguish from the examples in their own lives when evil stems from greed, spite, or perhaps the anger which is basically underlined by one's abject fear of not being able to survive.

" people are at their most evil out of fear, not greed. Growth means there is less fear going around."

I disagree. I would say that people are at their most evil out of envy and spite. Growth means that people can see that they are doing better than they used to and tend to be satisfied rather than developing a sense of grievance and anger over the success of others. I believe this is what Benjamin Friedman argued in The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.

"I would say that people are at their most evil out of envy and spite."

Absolutely. Also related to spite, but highly under-rated, is "wounded vanity".

Nothing creates as much viciousness and evil on planet earth as someone who - feeling they deserve better - receives scorn. Those people make Ahab look sane.

Envy's mostly greed for what other people already have. It's hard to see the young man who envies an older rich man his position and is motivated by that envy to work through the system as any evil more evil than his greedy counterpart, who simply wants more stuff without reference to what another person has.

To talk about the envious vs the greedy has a connotation of sorts - "They who are jealous for what we have and want to achieve it are bad, not we who have much and still want more. Boo little folk, yay big folk". There are very few people in this world that can be described as simply greedy though - most see another person with what they want, are "jealous" and want to have it, and even the very richest are competitive and envious of each other in this manner.

"And here is Garett Jones’s tweet storm on the book."

+1, I also believe that Productivity increases lead to a better life for everyone. The evidence is overwhelming to support this position. And yet, there seem to be a never ending stream of people claiming that we need to constrain our growth because of X (insert any number of puritanical reasons).

This is in fact a growth rich environment.

https://twitter.com/mims/status/1062041576518471686

Vitalik is very masculine: https://twitter.com/MediumSqueeze/status/1062044453844803584

Vitalik is awesome, but that doesn't negate that there might be some cognitive and computational surplus visible in the cryptocurrency space.

Still, should we care? Maybe Vitalik would do some great data studies on cancer, but are those cancer studies actually cognitively or computationally bound? Perhaps they are fully subscribed.

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