solve for equilibrium

Friendship with telepathy

Imagine that people could read each other’s minds, at least once they knew each other and focused on each other’s presence in a common physical space.  They can’t do this perfectly or with full transparency, but still they have a much better idea what the other person is thinking and feeling than what they receive today from external signals.  They can even “feel” those thoughts from the other at some times, leading to potential embarrassment, positive and negative ways of course.  Still, some noise remains, so you are never sure just how intentional, explicit, or sincere a “sampled thought” might be.

Solve for the equilibrium:

1. Many people would develop thicker skins, as they would learn what others really thought of them.  They also would tolerate more evil thoughts from others, though at the margin most people still would try to look better rather than worse.

2. A large minority of people, for instance potential child molesters, could not go out in public very much.

3. Sometimes we would meet people and, before initiating a friendship, decide to “get everything out of the way.”  Think all the bad (and good?) thoughts up front, and acknowledge this mutually.  Make it clear that this is your standard practice with all your friends.  Then, if the person later on catches you having a particular thought, you can just say, or intuit, back to them: “Of course I am thinking of stealing a dollar from you.  I thought that on the very first day we met, right after wishing you didn’t get that big raise.  You’re simply sampling residual memories from all the intentional sins we committed together when initiating our friendship.  We did that so subsequent negative signals aren’t really new signals at all.”

And it’s not just thoughts: people preemptively might do everything they are afraid others might discover they are thinking.  Get it out of the way.  Restore that pooling equilibrium, as they say.  Make sure everyone has every thought, using action if need be.

4. A boss hiring a new worker may try to prevent the worker from going through this “mind clearing” process early on.  The worker may try to do it.  And trying to engage in “mind clearing” with your boss may not be such a negative signal if everyone has unacceptable thoughts of some kind or another.  We’re just trying to get back to an equilibrium where those thoughts don’t matter so much.  Is that so terrible?

What else?

5. You might keep special friends, with whom you don’t act out or think through all the possible suspicions in advance.  In essence they would be “surprise friends.”  We would call them surprise friends because you would sample their thoughts in real time and with some degree of surprise.  Those sampled thoughts actually would contain significant new information about what the person was thinking about you.  Having a surprise friend might be considered a sign of courage.

6. Alternatively, people might simply prefer dopey friends, namely those with weak telepathic abilities.

7. Other people will form vice groups, somewhat akin to current gangs.

8. Note that if you can interpret the bad thoughts of others in a truly Bayesian manner (“well, that may sound horrible, but most of the other people are thinking something much worse…”), it is harder for other people to engage in the signal-jamming equilibrium of transmitting all bad thoughts in advance.  You would take their signal-jamming as a very negative signal of what their true thoughts are like, and thus the better people would refrain from signal-jamming.  At the margin, thoughts would become relevant again, including bad thoughts.

Is there thus a positive or negative social value to an individual turning more Bayesian in this setting, and thus discouraging the signal-jamming in advance?

What else?

What if sleep was a commodity?

Dane emails me:

This is a speculative solve-for-the-equilibrium-type question that I’d love to get your thoughts on:

Imagine there was a technology that allowed essentially frictionless harvesting, selling, and buying of (non-perishable) human sleep. Essentially, anyone can strap in to a machine, be put to sleep, and their time/sleep would be harvested in a way that their time sleeping could be used by anyone else who would then get all the benefits of that sleep but instantaneously instead of sleeping themselves, maybe through a painless injection or a drink perhaps.

Imagine also that this technology was relatively non-capital-intensive, or at least, cheap enough that all humans were potential suppliers/buyers of sleep. Call them sleep-workers and sleep-consumers.

Additionally, there’s nothing “free” about the technology. Any sleep-worker’s or sleep-consumer’s lifespan would be unaffected in terms of calendar time. Instead, there would be a zero-sum transfer of waking hours between persons. Even an “around-the-clock” sleep-worker could only net 16 hours of saleable sleep per day. The other 8 hours would have to go to meeting their own sleep needs.

How would this market evolve? How would society evolve? What is the market price for an hour of sleep? How would norms around sleep-working and sleep-consuming evolve? How would the economic indicators evolve (GDP, productivity, inequality, etc)? Which jobs could or could not compete with non-consciousness? How would the welfare state then evolve? How much inter-temporal saving of sleep would there be? Should prisoners be allowed to sleep-harvest for their entire sentences? Would we allow them? Would it be ethical to farm never-conscious humans for the sole purpose of harvesting sleep? Etc…

Dental DNA Beatle rent-seeking markets in everything

A DENTIST who bought John Lennon’s tooth is looking for potential love children of the late-Beatle in a bid to stake a claim to his £400million estate.

Dr Michael Zuk, 45, from Alberta, Canada, purchased the legendary songwriter’s decayed molar at auction in 2011 for around £20,000…

Speaking with The Sun Online, the dentist has sensationally revealed that he plans to stake a claim to the music icon’s vast estate using DNA from the body part.

He said: “I am looking for people who believe they are John Lennon’s child and have a claim to his estate and hopefully I can legitimise their claim.

“John was a very popular guy who was having sex with lots of women and I doubt birth control was on his mind.

…“I would ask anyone who is participating to sign a commission agreement which would mean if they were related they would pay my company a percentage of their inheritance.

“Like a finder’s fee.”

Here is the story, via Michael J.

P.s. Solve for the equilibrium.

*The Trade*

This book is about what I call the Trade, the growing international business of political kidnappings, according to the US Treasury the most lucrative source of income, outside of state sponsorship, for illegal groups. But it’s more than about money. It is about my attempt, yes, to find the answer to two questions which have haunted me for nine years: Who kidnapped me, and why?

That is from Jere Van Dyk, The Trade: My Journey into the Labyrinth of Political Kidnapping.

Solve for the equilibrium, as they say.  The puzzle, of course, is why there are not more kidnappings for revenue.

Malthusian dog markets in everything

An effort that animal rescuers began more than a decade ago to buy dogs for $5 or $10 apiece from commercial breeders has become a nationwide shadow market that today sees some rescuers, fueled by Internet fundraising, paying breeders $5,000 or more for a single dog.

The result is a river of rescue donations flowing from avowed dog saviors to the breeders, two groups that have long disparaged each other. The rescuers call many breeders heartless operators of inhumane “puppy mills” and work to ban the sale of their dogs in brick-and-mortar pet stores. The breeders call “retail rescuers” hypocritical dilettantes who hide behind nonprofit status while doing business as unregulated, online pet stores.

But for years, they have come together at dog auctions where no cameras are allowed, with rescuers enriching breeders and some breeders saying more puppies are being bred for sale to the rescuers.

Here is more from Kim Kavin at WaPo, substantive throughout with photos and video.  In essence, somebody has solved for the equilibrium.

For the pointers I thank Tom Vansant and Alexander Lowery.

Sunday assorted links

You would have thought armed conflict with Russia would be a bigger story

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

The relative lack of attention being paid to the news that U.S.-backed forces killed 200 to 300 Russian mercenary soldiers this month in Syria seems like a non-barking dog to me.

In many years, this might have been the most disruptive story, holding the headlines for weeks or maybe months. Circa February 2018, it didn’t command a single major news cycle.

What outsiders know about the event is still fragmentary, but it sounds pretty ominous. One Bloomberg account notes: “More than 200 contract soldiers, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, died in a failed attack on a base held by U.S. and mainly Kurdish forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region.” It is described as the biggest clash between U.S. and Russian forces since the Cold War. It seems that the Russian mercenaries are pretty closely tied to the Russian government.


One Russian commentator called this event “a big scandal and a reason for an acute international crisis.” American foreign policy expert Ian Bremmer noted, “At some level, it’s startling that isn’t the biggest news of the year.” Yet I have found that I know plenty of well-educated people, with graduate degrees and living in and near Washington, who aren’t even aware this occurred. The story has fallen into a memory hole, in part because neither the Americans nor the Russians wish to escalate the conflict.

Is this unusual affair a one-off, or an indication of a more basic shift in the world? I am starting to believe the latter.

Finally, do solve for the equilibrium:

As the tolerance for particular instances of conflict rises, the temptation to allow or initiate such conflicts rises, if only because the penalties won’t be so large. Eventually more parties will experiment with violent sorties.

Here is further coverage from The Washington Post, from today, the most detailed article to date, but it is already way down on their front page.

Chicago’s land tax and how the city survives being such a fiscal mess

But wait, isn’t Chicago a fiscal mess? How about the state of Illinois?  It remains the case that living in Chicago is still remarkably affordable, and many of the neighborhoods have wonderful food, buildings, and offer a relatively safe (not always) and walkable environment.  You may even hope to find a parking spot.

I would put it this way: there are many ways to impose a Georgist land tax, fiscal insolvency being one of them.  Very wealthy people and institutions know that if they relocate to Chicago, they will be required to ante up for the final bill.  And so they stay away.  For a city of its size and import, Chicago just doesn’t have that many billionaires, nor do I think a rational billionaire should consider moving there.

In other words, there is a pending wealth tax.  Either directly or indirectly, this will place fiscal burdens on Chicago land, the immobile factor.  And this keeps down rents in Chicago now.

Overall, I do not recommend this fiscal course of action, and Chicago may well become a worse city due to eventual insolvency at the local and state levels.  Still, if you are wondering how it is that Chicago is so affordable — and wonderful — right now, this is part of the answer.

I also should note that not every neighborhood in Chicago benefits from this equilibrium, as in some parts gentrification is difficult to come by.

Monday assorted links

Does easy divorce lead to more assortative mating?

Maybe so, there is a new paper (pdf) on that question:

This paper investigates how the adoption of unilateral divorce affects the gains from marriage and who marries whom. Exploiting variation in the timing of adoption across the US states, I first show that unilateral divorce increases assortative matching among newlyweds. To explain the link between divorce laws and matching patterns, I specify an equilibrium model of household formation, labor supply, private and public consumption, and divorce over the life cycle. Matching decisions depend on the anticipated welfare from marriage and divorce. The model has two key features (consistent with the data). First, working spouses whose partners do not work accumulate relatively more human capital during their lifetime, a fact that improves their outside value of divorce. Second, divorcees cannot sustain cooperation in public goods expenditures (interpreted as children’s welfare), leading to inefficiencies that are mostly harmful to the top educated. Under unilateral divorce, the value of divorce becomes a credible threat that shifts the bargaining power in marriage, making both household production and marriage less attractive. This pushes the marriage market equilibrium towards more positive sorting in education and lower welfare, particularly for the highest educated. I estimate the model using data from households that form and live under the pre-reform mutual consent divorce regime. Using the estimates, I then introduce unilateral divorce and solve for the new equilibrium. I find sizable equilibrium effects. First, the correlation in spousal education increases and people, particularly educated females, become more likely to remain single. Second, the gains from marriage decrease for the least and the most educated. Lastly, the marital gains from acquiring a college or higher degree decreases for women and men under unilateral divorce. These results reflect previously overlooked consequences of reducing barriers to divorce.

That is from Ana Reynoso, a job candidate from Yale University.  These are my words, not hers, but I think of this as yet another way that elites selfishly have pushed for looser social and sexual and romantic norms, without much worrying about the resulting broader impact on inequality and lower earners and the less educated.

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.