Who read what in 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Jed McCaleb

Tyler Cowen’s “Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals” is a well-reasoned moral argument for how we should behave as a civilization. It makes two main points: First, we should take a longer view of things. Right now we place too high a discount rate on the future, when in fact most of humanity is there. This leads to the second conclusion: that almost everything else we attempt to do to help the world is far less effective than just increasing the economic growth rate. My only complaint about the book is that I was left wanting more. I wish Mr. Cowen had gone into more detail, for instance, about individual freedoms vs. economic growth. There are inevitably trade-offs between the two, and he doesn’t delve into how we should make these decisions.

Comments

The best story I’ve encountered to explain the logic behind this kind of long-termism is in Frank Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune.

tl;dr Business leaders generally read 100% verifiable tripe, although once in a very great while you'll come across someone (James Grant, bless his dear soul) who still reads things worth reading - which in this case is Boswell's Life of Johnson.

Wasn't (isn't) Ripple a particularly sketchy and/or bubbly cryptocurrency?

Yes, it's a pump and dump, similar to old school boiler room operations and penny stocks.

But it has "crypto" attached to it and it runs on computers, so people will shill for it.

"I wish Mr. Cowen had gone into more detail, for instance, about individual freedoms vs. economic growth. There are inevitably trade-offs between the two, and he doesn’t delve into how we should make these decisions."

Agree. Next book?

God help us.

"I wish Mr. Cowen had gone into more detail, for instance, about individual freedoms vs. economic growth." Irony sells. To an audience of true believers and idiots. Individual freedoms maximizes economic growth. It may not produce a pretty picture of humanity, but art is in the eyes of the beholder.

Cowen clearly disagrees, so it would be nice to see him explain in depth.

I think this discount rate question has been discussed in other posts, but surely it occurs to people that maximizing economic growth for the sake of future generations has the perverse effect of making the least advantaged generation worse off, namely, the current one. Do we need to adopt a full Rawlsian difference principle position to avoid this conclusion? What is a better way to think about this?

"that maximizing economic growth for the sake of future generations has the perverse effect of making the least advantaged generation worse off,"

Well that's not quite correct. Maximizing economic growth tends to make the current generation wealthier in retirement. That being said, I do agree with the basic logic that if you assume; Long term per capita real growth. Then it's axiomatic that the current generation is the poorest.

Therefore, while I'm open to a low discount rate for future social goods, but certainly not a Zero discount rate.

Furthermore, people in general save for their children and invest in their children's education. So there is already an very large amount of future investment factored into the current system.

I really need to finish reading the book though. I'm probably missing some points that Tyler has covered.

Discounting for the risk these people never exist is appropriate. In a sense, time discounting is really just risk discounting.

And perhaps what we should be discounting are incremental utils, not dollars. If the guy 100 years from now enjoys an extra $1,000 on top of his $500,000 income, the incremental utils are crap compared to that $1,000 to a poop person today on accounta diminishing marginal utility.

"poor person" not "poop person" FFS.

You got it right the first time. Just look at the streets of SF, which has motivated the city to create a Poop Patrol:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/heatherknight/article/It-s-no-laughing-matter-SF-forming-Poop-13153517.php

+1. Which is to say, not a +2.

Well, yeah, China has already given us that playbook. Sacrificing freedom for more economic growth was also the story of the other red communist country, the USSR. While the latter failed because well its Russia, they fail at everything feudalism, socialism, communism, and now democratic capitalism, the former still stands. Another example of freedom/growth trade off is surveillance capitalism of companies like Google, Facebook, Palantir and Equifax. These conversations need to happen sooner rather later.

"almost everything else we attempt to do to help the world is far less effective than just increasing the economic growth rate". Paradoxically as psychologists have pointed out wealth relative to others is more important than absolute wealth. As Pinker pointed out in "How the Mind Works": "people are happy when they feel better off than their neighbors, unhappy when they feel worse off...People today are safer, healthier, better fed, and longer-lived than at any time in history." Are they happier? Probably not.

You are factually wrong. Over-time humanity and all countries have become happier.

Here are the statistics:
https://ourworldindata.org/happiness-and-life-satisfaction
Particularly, https://ourworldindata.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Inc-vs-Happiness-over-time.png
There is a clear and evident trend. People over time are becoming happier and this directly correlates to GDP per capita.

That's BS in high heels and fishnet stockings. If it were true, that changes in happiness were linearly upward, it would necessarily mean that people of the recent past were unhappy and people of a more distant past were even more unhappy until our most remote ancestors spent literally all their time moaning, groaning and wishing they had direct satellite instead of cable. Humans have always had a capacity for enjoyment and satisfaction that's unrelated to their gdp.

"Right now we place too high a discount rate on the future, when in fact most of humanity is there."

We may find Aeais and GMOs don't really feel like that. Although this less relevant if you broaden to "sapient things" from humanity.

"This leads to the second conclusion: that almost everything else we attempt to do to help the world is far less effective than just increasing the economic growth rate. "

That seems like a weird conclusion when GDP is a sort of messy aggregate of those activities and not a sort of independent variable (any given thing to help the world is hardly going to be comparable to an aggregate).

"when in fact most of humanity is there"

This isn't at all obvious to me: those lives are purely hypothetical. A life which doesn't yet exist, especially one hundreds, let alone thousands, of years in the future, and indeed may never exist, can't properly be called "human". Dead people, of which there are billions, are more human than people who *might* come into being in the future: while decayed, at least they are organic matter and at one point did all the things and had all the traits we associate with humans. We don't usually say that a person stops being a human just because they are dead, so how should we balance their interests against present human lives and the potential humans of the future? I know Tyler is most likely a Keynesiophobe, but maybe he should heed Keynes' advice about what happens in the long run.

It's particularly weird that Tyler thinks the long-term is so important when he said (if I'm remembering correctly) that he believes it's quite possible that humanity will wipe itself out in 800 years or so (due to the decreasing cost of weapons of mass destruction).

+1

With nuclear arms and climate policy in the hands of nihilist idiots.....future humans?????

We don't really know that much about growth. We don't know how to increase growth rates and we know even less how to start growth in an stagnating economy. There are doubts if the current measures of GDP are good enough.
Given that we don't know that much about growth, I am not sure that we can say with confidence that it should be the ultimate aim. We don't know what is the trade off between growth and inequality. We don't know what the inter-temporal tarde-offs are. What if we find that we can have one percent higher growth rates if everyone works 16 hours per day instead of 8 hours? should we promote 16 hours work?
I agree with very low discount rates for analysing events such as global warming because of the risks but I am not sure if the current generation should sacrifice a lot for better living conditions far in the future given that we don't know how life in future is going to be

... the "Future" does not exist for any current human on Earth (beyond ~120 years from now... and much less than that for most 99.95% of us)

Economic productivity & its goods have absolutely zero value to you when you are dead. What are your personal values?

the well-being of far future human generations is a philosophical issue, not an economic issue

One issue I am still struggling with the argument of Stubborn attachment is that, even though it is true that future value of today's growth has an immense impact on the future and that is why we should emphasize on growth, but how about all the negative inter-generational externalities (environment degradation, exhaustion, etc.) we generate while running through all the growth-centered activities? And we cannot either ignore the compounding dire effect of negatives.

This post by TC is Self, recommending! "Cogito, ergo sum". Or is that EGO sum?! Dah, dah DUM (and over your flat top MR reader)

Reading all the comments on this page makes me very unhappy. There is so much decadence and egoism (although formulated as some sort of self-actualisation).

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