Results for “manipulation”
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My Conversation with Larissa MacFarquhar

This was a really good one, here is the text and audio.  The opening:

TYLER COWEN: I’m here today with the great Larissa MacFarquhar. She is a staff writer for the New Yorker, considered by many to write the very best and most interesting profiles of anyone in the business. She has a very well-known book called Strangers Drowning. The subtitle is Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help. It’s about extreme altruists. And she’s now working on a book on people’s decisions whether or not to leave their hometown.

Here is one excerpt proper:

COWEN: If you’re an extreme altruist, are you too subject to manipulation by others? If you care so much about so many other people, and those people actually can be harmed pretty easily at low cost, does this mean that you, the extreme altruist, you just go through life being manipulated?

MACFARQUHAR It’s funny you say that because one thing that I have noticed about the extreme altruist . . . You know what? I don’t want to call them extreme altruists. I think they’re people with a very strong sense of duty.

The people I met were very, very different from each other, but one thing they had in common is they really, really barely cared about what other people thought. They had to feel that way because almost everyone they met thought they were at best weirdos, and at worst dangerous megalomaniacs. So they were unconventional in their degree of duty but also in many other ways.

COWEN: They didn’t care at all what people thought about anything they did like how they dressed or . . . ?

MACFARQUHAR: Things like that. I don’t mean they didn’t care about anything about what people thought because obviously —

COWEN: In this context they didn’t care.

MACFARQUHAR: Obviously they cared about making other people’s lives better. But yes, in terms of opinions of themselves, they were much less sensitive to that than most of us.

And:

COWEN: Your view on how much you should be lied to if you have dementia — is that the same as what you would propose for a sibling or a child, someone you loved and knew?

MACFARQUHAR: With dementia?

COWEN: Right. Would you be consistent and apply the same standard to them that you would want for yourself?

MACFARQUHAR: Ohhh, I don’t know.

COWEN: I would say don’t lie to me, but, in fact, for others, I would be more willing to lie to them than I would wish to be lied to myself.

Try this part too:

COWEN: If during a profile, when you describe people’s looks, are you worried that you are reinforcing stereotypes?

MACFARQUHAR: No. But I have —

COWEN: But isn’t there a thing, looksism?

MACFARQUHAR: Well, of course.

COWEN: There’s sexism, there’s racism, and looksism — people who look a certain way, you should make certain inferences. Is there any way we can describe people’s looks that doesn’t run that danger?

MACFARQUHAR: Probably not. But I’ll say two things about this.

First is, I think there is far too much emphasis on describing people’s looks. Because the thing about humans is that their faces are unique, so you can describe somebody, but you’re never going to be able to call up an exact picture in a reader’s mind about what the person looks like. So what you’re doing is not really describing what they look like — what you’re doing is evoking something which, I guess, the malign form of that is looksism.

But I’ve started avoiding describing what people look like, not because it results in looksism — though I’m sure that’s true — but because, unconsciously or not, it puts the reader in a position of being outside the person, looking at them.

And also, from me:

COWEN: Could the same person be both, say, a Rwandan killer in the 1990s and an extreme altruist? Or is that a contradiction?

Definitely recommended.

Can Token Curated Registries Actually Work?

A Token Curated Registry (TCR) is a mechanism to incentivize the creation of high quality lists in a decentralized setting. TCRs are becoming popular in the token space. As part of advisory work on mechanism design for the startup Wireline, I wrote a research note on TCRs. I am not as enthused as many others. Here are some takeaways:

Token Curated Registries can work but there is no guarantee that voters will coordinate on the truth as a Schelling point so care needs to be taken in the design stage to imagine other Schelling points. The less focal or more costly it is to discover the truth, the more vulnerable the mechanism will be to biases and manipulation via coordination or collusion.

To understand whether a TCR will work in practice attention needs to be placed on the information environment. The key practical issues are the cost of acquiring high-quality information and the value to an applicant of getting on the registry. Put simply, TCRs are likely to work when high quality information is available at low cost. Vitalik Buterin’s examples of Schelling points were (wisely) all of this kind. Extensions of the Schelling point model to TCRs which are trying to surface information that is much more uncertain, variable and disputed need to recognize the limitations.

It will often be more important to put effort into lowering the cost of acquiring high quality information than it will be to modify the particulars of the mechanism. If high-quality, low-cost information is available many mechanisms will work tolerably well. If high-quality, low-cost information isn’t available, perhaps none will.

Read the whole thing at Medium.

And do check out Wireline. Wireline isn’t going to Mars but it is creating what could be a significant and very useful protocol to find and connect software services to quickly produce decentralized applications that can scale on demand.

Will the decline of galleries reshape art?

Heidi Mitchell reports (NYT):

“The gallery is a format that is struggling,” said the Argentine curator Ximena Caminos, formerly of the Malba museum in Buenos Aires and now chief creative officer of the Honey Lab cultural space in Miami’s Blue Heron hotel and residential project, which is now under development. “It’s transactional; the artist doesn’t have that much creative freedom, and there is a lot of pressure to make money in a short period of time.” Artists, she said, are seeking new places to showcase their work, especially if the pieces are large in scale.

If the number and relevance of galleries were to decline (continue to decline?), how might this affect artistic content?  Here are a few hypotheses:

1. More artists will commission pieces for corporate lobbies and condominiums, as the article reports.  That will tend to favor mainstream abstract art and disfavor political statements and obscenities.

Erica Samuels notes:

“There is a great responsibility on the real estate developers that maybe they don’t even realize, while at the same time, the stigma of an artist working with a rich developer is fading.”

2. Corporate-owned works are usually less liquid and may not be sold at all, short of bankruptcy or liquidity crunches, when they are sold under panic conditions.  Artists therefore will be less likely to have dominant dealers who prop up their prices and cultivate markets for them.  That will likely encourage greater artistic output, though also lower quality output, as might be defined by elites.  The resulting art will have to appeal to buyers at first glance, as the artist cannot count upon “sophisticated” galleries to persuade or educate potential buyers.

3. Some artists will take their craft directly to the street, as is done in Belfast or Newark, New Jersey.  They will paint for local community status, and for the joy of it, and for political self-expression, rather than for pay.  They will use cheaper materials, brighter colors, and indulge in themes and images with strong local meaning.  Political art and paid art will separate further.

4. Galleries pursue their own coherent reputations, which encourages carried artists to fit into slots which match gallery reputations.  So there are “conceptual art galleries,” “Pop Art galleries,” and so on, and artists in turn target those styles, so as to achieve entry to galleries.  When galleries are weaker, the slottable categories are created by some other set of intermediaries — might it someday be Instagram hashtags?  eBay search terms?  Something else?  In any case, those new slots or styles might have to be less “you know it when you see it” and more “you can type those words into a search function.”

5. The decline of browsing has hit published books as well, especially fiction, which saw a big decline in sales over 2013-2017: “The most commonly shared view is that it has become extremely difficult to generate exposure for novels. Fiction, more than nonfiction, depends on readers discovering new books by browsing. Now, with the number of physical stores down from five years ago (despite a rise in ABA membership), publishers cannot rely on bricks-and-mortar stores providing customers with access to new books.”  It is easier to type the topic of a non-fiction book into a search function.  In this world it is harder to develop new authors [artists], and the link directly above, while about books, is a good way to start thinking about the galleries issue.

6. Most galleries, either intentionally or not, create a distinction between what is shown on the floor and what is held in the back room.  Non-gallery art is less likely to be bifurcated in the same way, even if some pieces are more prominent on the home page than others.  That may make internet-displayed art less “bubbly,” less subject to elite manipulations and prejudices and enlightenments, and also both fuzzier and lower in price.

7. If there are fewer galleries, perhaps more will be bought and sold at auction.  The winning bidder will be less likely to be ripped off by say 3x on the price, so it will be easier to experiment with buying unfamiliar styles: “I liked the Persian carpet I saw at Sotheby’s, and figured the winning bid wouldn’t have too much winner’s curse in it.”  You can’t say the same when you go to a gallery relatively uninformed.

8. Galleries offer high implicit returns to regular buyers, who end up getting a crack at the best works in advance, even before the show opens.  That encourages buyer specialization, whereas internet and auction-based methods of selling do not.

9. What else?

Informational autocrats

That is a new and important paper by Sergei M. Guriev and Daniel Treisman, here is the abstract:

In recent decades, dictatorships based on mass repression have largely given way to a new model based on the manipulation of information. Instead of terrorizing citizens into submission, “informational autocrats” artificially boost their popularity by convincing the public they are competent. To do so, they use propaganda and silence informed members of the elite by co-optation or censorship. Using several sources–including a newly created dataset of authoritarian control techniques–we document a range of trends in recent autocracies that fit the theory: a decline in violence, efforts to conceal state repression, rejection of official ideologies, imitation of democracy, a perceptions gap between masses and elite, and the adoption by leaders of a rhetoric of performance rather than one aimed at inspiring fear.

Again, here is my related Bloomberg column from June 18.

What it would take to change my mind on net neutrality

Keep in mind, I’ve favored net neutrality for most of my history as a blogger.  You really could change my mind back to that stance.  Here is what you should do:

1. Cite event study analysis showing changes in net neutrality will have significant and possibly significantly negative effects.

2. Discuss models of natural monopoly, and how those market structures may or may not distort product choice under a variety of institutional settings.

3. Start with a framework or analysis such as that of Joshua Gans and Michael Katz, and improve upon it or otherwise modify it.  Here is their abstract:

We correct and extend the results of Gans (2015) regarding the effects of net neutrality regulation on equilibrium outcomes in settings where a content provider sells its services to consumers for a fee. We examine both pricing and investment effects. We extend the earlier paper’s result that weak forms of net neutrality are ineffective and also show that even a strong form of net neutrality may be ineffective. In addition, we demonstrate that, when strong net neutrality does affect the equilibrium outcome, it may harm efficiency by distorting both ISP and content provider investment and service-quality choices.

Tell me, using something like their framework, why you think the relative preponderance of costs and benefits lies in one direction rather than another.

Consider Litan and Singer from the Progressive Policy Institute, they favor case-by-case adjudication, tell me why they are wrong.

Or read this piece by Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith, regulatory experts Bob Crandall, Alfred Kahn, and Bob Hahn, numerous internet experts, etc.:

In the authors’ shared opinion, the economic evidence does not support the regulations proposed in the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regarding Preserving the Open Internet and Broadband Industry Practices (the “NPRM”). To the contrary, the economic evidence provides no support for the existence of market failure sufficient to warrant ex ante regulation of the type proposed by the Commission, and strongly suggests that the regulations, if adopted, would reduce consumer welfare in both the short and long run. To the extent the types of conduct addressed in the NPRM may, in isolated circumstances, have the potential to harm competition or consumers, the Commission and other regulatory bodies have the ability to deter or prohibit such conduct on a case-by-case basis, through the application of existing doctrines and procedures.

4. Consider and evaluate other forms of empirical evidence, preferably not just the anecdotal.

5. Don’t let emotionally laden words do the work of the argument for you.

6. Offer a rational, non-emotive discussion of why pre-2015 was such a bad starting point for the future, and why so few users seemed to mind or notice as the regulations switched several times.

7. Don’t let politics make you afraid to use your best argument, namely that anti-NN types typically develop more faith in an assortment of government regulators in this setting than they might express in a number of other contexts.  That said, don’t just use this point to attack them, live with and consistently apply whatever judgment of the regulators you decide is appropriate.

If you are wondering why I have changed my mind, it is a mix of new evidence coming in, experience over the 2014-present period, relative assessment of the arguments on each side moving against NN proponets, and the natural logic of the embedded trade-offs, whereby net neutrality typically works in a short enough short run but over enough time more pricing is needed.  Of course it is a judgment call as to when the extra pricing should kick in.

Here is what will make your arguments less persuasive to me:

1. Respond to discussions of other natural monopoly sectors and their properties by saying “the internet isn’t like that, you don’t understand the internet.”  If someone uses the water sector to make a general point about tying and natural monopoly, commit internet error #7 by responding: “the internet isn’t like water!  You don’t understand the internet!”

2. Lodge moral complaints against the cable companies or against commercial incentives more generally, or complain about the “ideology” of others.  Mention the word “Trump” or criticize the Trump administration for its failings.  Call the recent decision “anti-democratic.”

3. Cite nightmare or dystopian scenarios that are clearly illegal under other current laws and regulations.  Cite dystopian scenarios that would contradict profit-maximizing behavior on the part of the involved companies.  Assume that no future evolution of regulation could solve or address any of the problems that might arise from the recent switch.  Mention Portugal as a scare scenario, without explaining that full internet packages still are for sale there, albeit without the discounts for the partial packages.

Are you up to the challenge?

If I read say this Tim Wu Op-Ed, I think it is underwhelming, even given its newspaper setting, and the last two paragraphs are content-less, poorly done emotive manipulation.  Senpai 3:16 is himself too polemic and exaggerated, but he does make some good points against this piece, see his Twitter stream.

Net neutrality defenders, as of now you have lost this battle.  I’d like to hear more.

My review of Edward Balleisen’s book *Fraud*

It is in the new issue of the Times Literary Supplement (a wonderful periodical of course), right now this link is ungated, for how long I do not know.  I thought the book was very well-written and especially impressively researched.  But on the side of economics and conceptual framework, I found it too biased.  Here is one excerpt from my review:

In a book with almost 400 pages of text, it is striking that government fraud is not seriously discussed, with the exception of the critical take on the Comstock movement, under which the Post Office took up a moral crusade against mail fraud, directed by the evangelical Anthony Comstock. Yet if consumers are so impetuous and ill-informed as to be frequent victims of business fraud, might not voters and even activist citizens be prone to similar manipulations? Balleisen mentions that such a view was held by the nineteenth-century Spencerian Edward Youmans, but he doesn’t do much more than mock it and then move on. Yet arguably the biggest fraud of the early part of the twentieth century was the selling of the First World War to the American public on mostly false pretences. Progressives led this sales pitch, through spokesmen such as Herbert Croly, and of course the President Woodrow Wilson, telling the American people that war was a noble cause that would revitalize the nation and save the world.

In Balleisen’s narrative, however, the Progressives show up only as critics of fraud.

And is corporate fraud really going up these days?:

Take lives lost in the workplace. An employer more or less promises that a job is relatively safe, and if it turns out to be dangerous that may reflect a kind of fraud or at the very least a major disappointment. Yet jobs in America have never been as safe as today, and furthermore the rate at which job safety increases does not seem to have been affected by the creation of the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA). Or what about food poisoning, which you also might take as a sign of a fraudulent transaction? Again, overall, the opportunity to buy truly transparently safe food supplies seems greater than ever before, notwithstanding the fact that more consumers are voluntarily taking chances with sushi, non-pasteurized cheeses and home-made raw milk. The nice thing about mortality statistics is that a death pretty much always reflects a disappointment with the transaction, but for most metrics (opioid markets being one significant exception) mortality is down over the past few decades.

Do read the whole thing.

Why “nudge” is more often than not a socially conservative idea

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, on Thaler and Sunstein, here is one excerpt:

There is a common pattern here: Society is unwilling to resort to outright, direct coercion either to keep people married or to keep them from immigrating illegally. We don’t in fact have the resources to do that, nor would we be willing to stomach the required violence. Conservative social policy is thus reborn in the form of a nudge, because that’s what restrictions look like in a violence-averse society.

An especially controversial conservative nudge is all the policy steps and regulatory restrictions and funding cuts that make it harder for women to get abortions. Many Americans must now travel a considerable distance to reach a qualified abortion provider, in some cases hundreds of miles. The cost is discouraging. And the greater inconvenience widens the gap of time between decision and final outcome, perhaps inducing some women to change their minds or simply let the plan go unfulfilled. Yet it is still possible to get an abortion, albeit with greater effort.

And:

I find it striking that nudge theorists usually market the idea using relatively “liberal” examples, such as improving public services. How much we view nudge as freedom-enhancing or as a sinister manipulation may depend on the context in which the nudge is placed. Neither conservatives nor liberals should be so quick to condemn or approve of nudge per se.

Do read the whole thing.

The Relevance of BR Ambedkar in Modern India

Outside my apartment a cobbler has a sidewalk shop where he sits and fixes shoes. One of the things that interests me in this photo is the picture the cobbler hangs behind him, that’s BR Ambedkar. In the Cobblerindependence movement BR Ambedkar was the leader of the Dalit (untouchable) class and the guiding force in writing the Indian constitution, which in India makes him a combination of Martin Luther King and James Madison.

Ambedkar died in 1956 but he continues to be highly regarded, especially, but by no means solely, among the Dalits. Indeed, of the great triumvirate, Gandhi, Nehru, and Ambedkar, only Ambedkar seems to have grown in stature since his death. Gandhi is given lip service but his image no longer carries meaning. As Arundhati Roy put it, “Gandhi has become all things to all people…he is the Saint of the Status Quo.” The image of Ambedkar, however, still signals a demand for justice and an insistent claim that not all is yet right.

Today is Ambedkar’s birthday and at the stroke of midnight my neighborhood, which happens to be on Ambedkar Road, erupted in a party and parade that lasted until two in the morning.

Of the great triumvirate, I’ve always been partial to Ambedkar. He had a PhD in economics from Columbia where he worked under Edwin Seligman and later also graduated from the London School of Economics writing another dissertation under Edwin Cannan. Ambedkar was not a free market advocate and he didn’t write much in pure economics after the 1920s but he was an early supporter of monetary rules because he had a sophisticated understanding of the distributional consequences of monetary interventions and feared government manipulation.

A managed currency is to be altogether avoided when the management is in the hands of the government.

Ambedkar also wrote insightfully on the problem of India’s small farms, a problem that continues to plague India (although some of his solutions such as government ownership of land actually don’t fit the problem, lack of capital, that he emphasized).

So why does Ambedkar continue to resonate in modern India? Ambedkar never had Gandhi’s worship of the village and tradition. He understood that progress would come with cities, industrialization and education. Exactly the forces that are transforming India today. Ambedkar did not mince words:

The love of the intellectual Indian for the village community is pathetic. What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness, and communalism?

Most importantly, quoting Luce’s excellent In Spite of the Gods (still the best introduction to modern India):

Ambedkar gave India’s most marginalised human beings their first real hope of transcending their hereditary social condition. He saw the caste system as India’ greatest social evil, since it treated millions of people as sub-humans by the simple fact of their birth.

But even as the caste system declines in importance (in some ways), there remain those who are marginalized and downtrodden. Ambedkar, for example, resigned as law minister in post independence India when his bill to bring greater equality and property rights to women was rejected. Even today, Ambedkar’s vision is not complete. Ambedkar was a modernist, a rationalist, a believer in the principles of liberty, equality, and the rule of law for all, and for these reasons he remains relevant in modern India.

Who should own the robots?

There’s two versions of this.

1. One or a small group of entrepreneurs owns the robots.

2. The government owns the robots.

I see how we get from where we are now to 1. How would we get to 2, and is 2 better than 1?

That is a comment and request from Mark Thorson.  It’s embedded in a longer thread, but I suspect you can guess the context.

I would focus on a prior question: what is government in a world where everything is done by the robots?  Say that most government jobs are performed by robots, except for a few leaders (NB: Isaac Asimov had even the President as a robot).  It no longer makes sense to define government in terms of “the people who work for government” or even as a set of political norms (my preferred definition).  In this setting, government is almost entirely people-empty.  Yes, there is the Weberian definition of government as having a monopoly on force, but then it seems the robots are the government.  I’ll come back to that.

You might ask who are the residual claimants on output.  Say there are fifty people in the government, and they allocate the federal budget subject to electoral constraints.  Even a very small percentage of skim makes them fantastically wealthy, and gives them all sorts of screwy incentives to hold on to power.  If they can, they’ will manipulate robot software toward that end.  That said, I am torn between thinking this group has too much power — such small numbers can coordinate and tyrannize without checks and balances — and thinking they don’t have enough power, because if one man can’t make a pencil fifty together might not do better than a few crayons.

Alternatively, say that ten different private companies own varying shares of various robots, with each company having a small number of employees, and millions of shareholders just as there are millions of voters.  The government also regulates these companies, so in essence the companies produce the robots that then regulate them (what current law does that remind you of?).  That’s a funny and unaccustomed set of incentives too, but at least you have more distinct points of human interaction/control/manipulation with respect to the robots.

I feel better about the latter scenario, as it’s closer to a polycentric order and I suspect it reduces risk for that reason.  Nonetheless it still seems people don’t have much direct influence over robots.  Most of the decisions are in effect made “outside of government” by software, and the humans are just trying to run in place and in some manner pretend they are in charge.  Perhaps either way, the robots themselves have become the government and in effect they own themselves.

Or is this how it already is, albeit with much of the “software” being a set of social norms?

Replacing social norms by self-modifying software –how big of a difference will it make for how many things?

Should entrepreneurs prefer a rising or shrinking population?

Adam Ozimek raises that question.  You might think a growing population is obviously better for business, but it’s actually not so clear:

It’s true bigger places have advantages in terms of being able to offer a greater variety of consumer options and niches. But marginal population growth doesn’t do all that much to change the relative size of a place. A small city growing fast takes a long time to become a mid-sized city, and so forth.

Yes, a growing population means greater demand, but it also means greater supply. So if you are a lawyer, and you care about the relative scarcity of lawyers then it doesn’t really matter if the overall population is growing. It’s really about the population of lawyers relative to the rest of the population, eg customers.

If a growing population brings growing supply and demand in equal proportion, then a business person should be indifferent between growing and shrinking. Given that land prices will be falling in shrinking places, you might even think they have an advantage.

He suggests that competing for new customers may be easier than competing for already-attached customers, and thus entrepreneurs should prefer a growing population.

I say it is fixed costs and minimum scale.  If population is shrinking, the marginal costs of your company typically are rising (the higher cost of competing for already-attached customers can be one example of this).  With a rising population, marginal cost is falling and for sectors with reproducible outputs marginal cost will be zero or near-zero.

Of course these effects will vary across sector.  In New Zealand, a small country, the lamb meat is of high quality.  It is not only the proximity of the source, but this is not an increasing returns to scale sector;  if you wish to sell more lamb meat, you have to raise another sheep.  In contrast, a newspaper fares much better with a larger population, as does a bookstore or movie and television production.

As population shrinks in many countries, reproducible cultural enjoyments are more likely to come from abroad.  The shrinking countries however will offer relatively favorable conditions for innovating domestically with high-quality raw materials, or in other words you have to visit small/shrinking countries to really enjoy what they have to offer.  Like lamb meat in New Zealand.  Lower land prices in shrinking countries will further boost this tendency to focus on quality raw materials production and manipulation.  In other words, Italian food in Italy might stay good for a long time to come.

I’ve already argued that you should visit small countries and territories now, because their special cultures will be overwhelmed and expire more rapidly than is the case for larger units.  This mechanism, outlined above, is another reason for why you really need to be there.  In other words, your trip to Africa can wait, Naples beckons.

The demand for religious beliefs and the economics of faith

It seems Millennarian cults really mean it, at least in the experimental context:

We model religious faith as a “demand for beliefs,” following the logic of the Pascalian wager. We show how standard experimental interventions linking financial consequences to falsifiable religious statements can elicit and characterize beliefs. We implemented this approach with members of a group that expected the “End of the World” to occur on May 21, 2011 by varying monetary prizes payable before and after May 21st. To our knowledge, this is the first incentivized elicitation of religious beliefs ever conducted. The results suggest that the members held extreme, sincere beliefs that were unresponsive to experimental manipulations in price.

That is from Ned Augenblick, et.al., forthcoming in the Journal of Public Economics.  Here are ungated copies.

The original pointer was from Robin Hanson.

My Conversation with Cass Sunstein

There is audio, video, and transcript at the link.  I introduced Cass like this:

The Force is strong with this one. Cass is by far the most widely cited legal scholar of his generation. His older book, Nudge, and his new book on Star Wars are both best sellers, and he was head of OIRA [Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs] under President Obama from 2009 to 2013. Powerful, you have become.

So tonight I’d like to start with a survey of Cass’s thought. We’re going to look at legal theory and then go to Nudge and then consider Star Wars, how it all ties together, and then we’re going to talk about everything.

On every point Cass responded clearly and without evasion.  We talked about judicial minimalism, Bob Dylan’s best album, the metaphysics of nudging, Possession, the ideal size of the Supreme Court, the wisdom of Yoda, Hayek, why people should choose their own path, the merits of a banned products store, James Joyce, why the prequels are underrated, and which of the first six movies is the worst of the lot.  Here is one bit:

COWEN: Let’s take a concrete example from real life: Jedi mind tricks. Obi-Wan comes along and says, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” And what does the stormtroooper do? He goes away. Now, is that a nudge?

SUNSTEIN: No, it’s a form of manipulation. So — .

[laughter]

COWEN: OK, but how do you draw the metaphysical categories? It seems like a nudge that just happens to work all the time.

SUNSTEIN: OK. I’ll give you a quick and dirty way of getting at that…

Here is another:

COWEN: If you were to pick one character from Star Wars who would nudge you — you get to elect them; you’re the only vote. Even Samantha doesn’t get a vote, just Cass — not your children — which character would you pick? Whom would you trust with that nudge? It’s a universe full of Jedi here, right?

SUNSTEIN: Yoda.

COWEN: Yoda?

SUNSTEIN: I trust that guy.

COWEN: But I worry about Yoda.

SUNSTEIN: I trust him.

Finally:

SUNSTEIN: Thank God for libertarian paternalism, that Luke has a choice. The Sith, by the way, like the Jedi, respect freedom of choice. In the crucial scene in Episode III where the question is whether Anakin is going to save the person who would be emperor, he says, “You must choose.” And so there’s full respect for freedom of choice. Nudgers have that. Good for them.

COWEN: Bad guys always tell you the deal, and then they say, “Choose evil.” It seems the good guys always mislead you.

There’s this funny tension. Star Wars makes me more nervous about nudge. I’m not like this huge anti-nudge guy, but when I look at Obi-Wan and Yoda lying to Luke — “Ben, Ben, Ben, why didn’t you tell me?” How many times have I heard that in these movies?

SUNSTEIN: It’s fair to ask whether Obi-Wan and Yoda had it right.

There is much, more more…self-recommending!

View at Medium.com

Does signaling also help you to do better?

That is the conclusion from a new paper by Rebecca Diamond and Peta Persson (pdf), on Swedish data, here is part of the abstract:

Despite the fact that test score manipulation [by teachers] does not, per se, raise human capital, it has far-reaching consequences for the beneficiaries, raising their grades in future classes, high school graduation rates, and college initiation rates; lowering teen birth rates; and raising earnings at age 23. The mechanism at play suggests important dynamic complementarities: Getting a higher grade on the test serves as an immediate signaling mechanism within the educational system, motivating students and potentially teachers; this, in turn, raises human capital; and the combination of higher effort and higher human capital ultimately generates substantial labor market gains. This highlights that a higher grade may not primarily have a signaling value in the labor market, but within the educational system itself.

Again, the result is that “encouragement effects,” or alternatively “writing off effects,” are stronger than many of us might think.  Tell people enough times that they are a certain way, and eventually they will start to believe you.  I would say this is evidence for my “beasts into men” theory of education, though other interpretations are not ruled out.

For the pointer I thank Ben Southwood.

Anti-GMO Research Under Fire

Nature reports that some of the research most-cited by opponents of genetically modifying crops appears to have been manipulated. In particular, images appear to have been altered and images from one paper appear in another paper describing different experiments with different captions.

Papers that describe harmful effects to animals fed genetically modified (GM) crops are under scrutiny for alleged data manipulation. The leaked findings of an ongoing investigation at the University of Naples in Italy suggest that images in the papers may have been intentionally altered. The leader of the lab that carried out the work there says that there is no substance to this claim.

The papers’ findings run counter to those of numerous safety tests carried out by food and drug agencies around the world, which indicate that there are no dangers associated with eating GM food. But the work has been widely cited on anti-GM websites — and results of the experiments that the papers describe were referenced in an Italian Senate hearing last July on whether the country should allow cultivation of safety-approved GM crops.

Friday assorted links

1. William Nordhaus tells us “…the Singularity is not near.

2. Joel Mokyr wins the Balzan Prize.  And is the smart money on East African economic growth?

3. Which colleges and universities have produced the greatest advances in science?

4. Data manipulation is a bigger problem than data theft.

5. Felix Salmon on effective altruism, and also finance.

6. Syrians in Erfurt.  Not just anyone is allowed to teach them German.