Results for “mood affiliation”
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If UFOs are alien beings, are they just doing mood affiliation in visiting us?

Robin Hanson has a long and very interesting blog post on that question.  The point is not to argue that the UFOS are alien beings of some kind, but rather if they were which kinds of theories might help us understand them? Here is just part of Robin’s much longer take:

If the main block to believing in UFOs as aliens is a lack of a plausible enough social theory of aliens, then it seems a shame that almost no one who studies UFOs is a social science theorist. So as such a person, why don’t I step in and try to help? If we can find a more plausible social theory, we could become more willing to believe that UFOs are aliens…

Stylized fact #2: Aliens are rare and self-limited, and yet are here now.

Indirection –  We can think of a number of plausible motives for rare limited aliens to make an exception to visit us. First, they may fear us as rivals, and so want to track us and stand ready to defend against us. Second, if their limitation policies are intentional, then they’d anticipate our possibly violating them, and so want to stand ready nearby to enforce their limitation policies on us.

In either of these two cases, aliens might want to show us their power, and even make explicit threats, to deter us from causing problems. And there’s the question of why they don’t just destroy us, instead of waiting around. Third, independent alien origins could be a rare valuable datapoint about far-more-capable aliens who they may fear eventually meeting. In this case they’d probably want to stay hidden longer.

My best bet is this.  The vehicles would be “unmanned” drone probes, if only because the stresses of long trips through space would keep the actual alien beings close to home.  So the relevant social science question is what kind of highly generalized software instructions you would give such drones.  “Seek out major power sources, including nuclear, and seek out rapid flying objects, and then send information back home” would be one such set of instructions roughly compatible with the stylized facts on the ground (or in the air).  Of course the information sent back to alien worlds will not be arriving for a very, very long time, so long that the concrete motives of the aliens may not be the major consideration.  Collecting the information about other planets across some very long time frame might simply seem worthwhile, relative to the cheap cost of the drone probes.  It reminds me a bit of that “put the DNA of all the species on the moon” project we have started, or those seed banks up in the Arctic.  Why exactly did we do it?  Why not I say!?  And yet most humans do not even know those projects are going on.

A further generalized software instruction would be “if approached or confronted, run away fast.”  Indeed that is what those flying vehicles seem to do.

The drone probes do not destroy us, because of Star Trek-like reasons: highly destructive species already have blown themselves up, leaving the relatively peaceful ones to send drones around.  The drones probably are everywhere, in the galactic sense that is.  Yet given the constraints imposed by the speed of light, it is difficult to do much with them that is very useful to the decision-makers that send (sent?) them out.  So the relevant theory is one of how advanced civilizations allocate their surplus when there is a lot of discretion and not much in the way of within-lifetime costs and benefits to determine a very particular set of plans and goals.  Not even for the grandkids.

In this hypothesis, of course, you have to be short immortality.  And short usable wormholes.

By the way, don’t those photos of the drone probes make them look a bit like cheap crap?  No tail fins, no “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” music signature, no 3-D holograms, just a superfast vehicle.  Like something a second-rate alien non-profit picked up at the local Walmart and sent off into space en masse with solar-powered self-replication.  Which is consistent with the view of them being a discretionary resource allocation stemming from projects with fairly fuzzy goals.

A problematic question for any theory is whether competing drone navies have come to visit us, and if so are they fighting over the spoils?  Colluding?  Hiding from each other?  Or what?  If aliens are afoot, why should it be only one group of them?  That would seem strange, as in most things there are multitudes, at least speaking in Bayesian terms.  Aren’t there at least both Klingon probes and Romulan probes, maybe Federation probes too.

Robin’s hypothesis, that they are elatively local panspermiacs, who feel some stake in us, appeals to me.  Bayesian logic suggests in any case that the chance of us having resulted from panspermia is pretty high; there are lots of baby civilizations for each parent, so why deny you are probably a baby?

Perhaps our visitors are exercising some “mood affiliation” in wishing to visit and record us!  They could be the parents, or perhaps another baby civilization.

Of course since the photos are of such poor quality, and since there is no corroborating evidence of any kind, these UFO sightings probably are not of alien creations, so all of this is pure fantasy anyway.

Mood affiliation, the police, and rising crime rates

Had a thought on the discussion of rising crime over the last few months inspired by your MR posts on mood affiliation that I wanted to pass along:

There’s been a bit of discussion lately about increased shootings in major cities in the wake of the George Floyd protests, and the two main narratives trying to explain them have been “protests fueling higher tensions” and “cops backing off and not patrolling as much or doing their jobs”. Interestingly, the latter seems to be based on a model where fewer cops and patrols results in more crime, so you might naively expect people who hold that belief would be more likely to believe that simple defunding and reduction of police presence would lead to more crime generally.

But if you believe that mood affiliation predicts opinions better than factual consistency, then it matters more that the former position sounds like “cops to blame, cops bad”, while the second sounds more like “cops are important, cops good”. And most commentators care more about the correct affect towards the police, rather than consistent models of reality, so you largely have commentators that are pro-defund police, but blame their lack of presence for crime increases, or commentators that are pro-police, think defunding would lead to increases in crime, but are less willing to entertain the idea that recent increases in crime are caused by the choices of officers.

That is from an email by Benjamin Hawley.

Uber and Lyft drivers as employees: check your mood affiliation at the door

A reminder that if drivers become employees and so no longer can be on both Uber and Lyft, welfare will be lower with higher prices and higher wait times. See this paper. papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cf In Australia, driver multihoming is baked in.

That is a tweet from Joshua Gans.  Keep in mind Uber or Lyft could simply insist on “unihoming” as a condition of employment, as indeed George Mason will not let me take a part- or full-time job teaching at another university.

U.S.A. mood affiliation fact of the day

Democrats’ trust in government data has shrunk over time; Republicans’ trust has grown. Today, with their party in unified control of government, Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to believe official government economic stats; 58 percent of Republicans completely or somewhat trust these numbers, compared with 52 percent of Democrats.

That is from Catherine Rampell.

Mood affiliation isn’t always bad

That was my response to reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.  We all overinvest in non-diversified mood affiliation portfolios, so why not read someone else’s non-diversified mood affiliation portfolio from a less common point of view?

The writing I thought was superb and also original, so I agree with the take of Christopher Hayes on Twitter:

Read book because the writing itself is in many ways more important and essential than the *argument* it’s making.

Many of you will object to this book, and not entirely for incorrect reasons.  This is a fire hose but there is not much if any engagement with potentially contradictory facts.  And if you read only this book, and otherwise would know nothing of America, you would not come close to guessing national black per capita income.

Still, if you’re wondering whether or not you should pick it up, I will nudge you in the direction of “yes.”

Here is a good article on the author.

Guns, race, and the civil rights movement…what a crosshatch of mood affiliation…

This passage shook me up, bravo to the author:

…although nonviolence was crucial to the gains made by the freedom struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, those gains could not have been achieved without the complementary and still underappreciated practice of armed self-defense.  The claim that armed self-defense was a necessary aspect of the civil rights movement is still controversial.  However, wielding weapons, especially firearms, let both participants in nonviolent struggle and their sympathizers protect themselves and others under terrorist attack for their civil rights activities.  This willingness to use deadly force ensured the survival not only of countless brave men and women but also of the freedom struggle itself.

That is from the recent book This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, by Charles E. Cobb, Jr.  Also related is the 1962 book Negroes with Guns, by Robert F. Williams, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Truman Nelson, about the use of guns for protection against the Ku Klux Klan.  Martin Luther King of course did keep a gun in the house, and he relied on neighbors who, at times, protected his house by carrying guns.

Mood affiliation tweets to ponder

The Greek People Have Punctured the Smugness of the “Moneymen” – hope is replacing despair

That is from a Dr. Adnan Al-Daini.  He links to this piece of his on the same theme.  It is noted that the Dr. used to teach at a British university.  Behind the first link, there are several comments on the tweet.

Yet, in reality, the ECB and the EU seem to be holding all of the cards.  I do not expect that to change.  Here is “Emergency Liquidity Assistance for Greek Banks: An Explainer.”

Simon Blackburn suffers from mood affiliation

Via Ross Douthat, here is the close of Blackburn’s review of the new Thomas Nagel book:

There is charm to reading a philosopher who confesses to finding things bewildering. But I regret the appearance of this book. It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of “intelligent design”, who will not be too bothered about the difference between their divine architect and Nagel’s natural providence. It will give ammunition to those triumphalist scientists who pronounce that philosophy is best pensioned off. If there were a philosophical Vatican, the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.

The Nagel book continues to go up in my eyes.

The fallacy of mood affiliation

Recently I wrote:

It seems to me that people are first choosing a mood or attitude, and then finding the disparate views which match to that mood and, to themselves, justifying those views by the mood.  I call this the “fallacy of mood affiliation,” and it is one of the most underreported fallacies in human reasoning.  (In the context of economic growth debates, the underlying mood is often “optimism” or “pessimism” per se and then a bunch of ought-to-be-independent views fall out from the chosen mood.)

Here are some further examples:

1. People who strongly desire to refute those who predicted the world would run out of innovations in 1899 and thus who associate proponents of a growth slowdown with that far more extreme view.  There’s simply an urgent feeling that any “pessimistic” view needs to be countered.

2. People who see a lot of net environmental progress (air and water are cleaner, for instance) and thus dismiss or downgrade well-grounded accounts of particular environmental problems.  There’s simply an urgent feeling that any “pessimistic” view needs to be countered.

3. People who see a political war against the interests of the poor and thus who are reluctant to present or digest analyses which blame some of the problems of the poor on…the poor themselves. (Try bringing up “predatory borrowing” in any discussion of “predatory lending” and see what happens.)   There’s simply an urgent feeling that any negative or pessimistic or undeserving view of the poor needs to be countered.

4. People who see raising or lowering the relative status of Republicans (or some other group) as the main purpose of analysis, and thus who judge the dispassionate analysis of others, or for that matter the partisan analysis of others, by this standard.  There’s simply an urgent feeling that any positive or optimistic or deserving view of the Republicans needs to be countered.

In the blogosphere, the fallacy of mood affiliation is common.

The temporary popularity of Caplanian views on higher education

Bryan Caplan as you know argues that even the private return to higher education isn’t what it usually is cracked up to be, especially since large numbers of individuals do not finish with a four-year degree.  Susan Dynarski (tenured at Harvard education, but an economist), writing in the NYT, seems to have started flirting with this view:

…a majority of people holding student debt have moderate incomes and low balances. Many have no degree, having dropped out of a public college or for-profit vocational school after a few semesters. They carry little debt, but they also do not get the benefit of a college degree to help them pay off that debt.

Defaults and financial distress are concentrated among the millions of students who drop out without a degree. The financial prospects for college dropouts are poor; they earn little more than do workers with no college education. Dropouts account for much of the increase in financial distress among student borrowers since the Great Recession.

And dropout is not at all rare. A bit less than half of college students don’t earn a bachelor’s degree. Some people earn a shorter, two-year associate degree. But more than a quarter of those who start college hoping to earn a degree drop out with no credential. A full 30 percent of first-generation freshmen drop out of four-year colleges within three years. That’s three times the dropout rate of students whose parents graduated from college.

I’ve seen modest variants on those numbers, but the general picture is broadly accepted.  Now here is Dynarski’s Congressional testimony from last summer:

College is a Great Investment

A college education is a great investment. Over a lifetime, a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn, on average, a million dollars more than a less-educated worker. Even with record-high tuition prices, a BA pays for itself several times over.

She is quite clear in the former NYT piece that she has changed her mind, so there is no “gotcha” here.  But clearly her views are evolving in Bryan’s direction.

In terms of policy, Dynarski notes that more than a quarter drop out of college with no credential.  Shouldn’t we restrict loan forgiveness to them?  Doesn’t that at least deserve discussion?  Or should we just go ahead and grant forgiveness to those with the “great” returns as well?  Her change of mind concerns the higher-than-expected problems of the non-finishers, not that she has seen new and inferior income numbers for the successes.  (In fact since the numbers for the average return haven’t changed, being more pessimistic about the losers has to mean being a bit more optimistic about the successes.  That should make us all the more interested in targeting the forgiveness.)

Why are we not allowed to know what percentage of the forgiveness beneficiaries fall into the “didn’t finish” category?  What should we infer from the reality that no one is reporting that statistic?  Is that good news or bad news for the policy?

What does Dynarski think is the marginal return from trying to finish college?  Are they really so positive for the marginal student?  What is the chance of the marginal student finishing?  The cited figures are averages, presumably for the marginal student the chance of finishing is much worse.  Presumably she is pessimistic about the nature of the college deal for the marginal student?

Now I know how these discussions run.  Suddenly there is plenty of talk about how we should make it easier for people to finish, perhaps by offering more aid.  As someone who teaches at a non-elite state university, I do understand what is going on with students who need to drop out to take care of family, and so on.  Still, in the meantime should we be encouraging more marginal students to try their hand at college? 

Yes or no?

That question runs against the prevailing mood affiliation and good luck trying to get a straight answer.  In the meantime, the world is taking an ever-so-temporary foray into the views of Bryan Caplan.  Let’s see how long it stays there.

The tax provisions of the new climate and taxes bill

I can’t quite bring myself to call it the Inflation Reduction Act.  One thing I have learned from experience is how hard it is to judge such bills upfront.  For instance, I just learned that the electric vehicle tax credits do not currently apply to any electric vehicle whatsoever, nor will they obviously apply to any electric vehicle to be produced in the near future.  Now the United States might take a larger role in battery production, or perhaps the law/regulation will be modified — don’t assume these standards will collapse.  Still, the provisions are going to evolve.  Or maybe there is a modest chance that provision of the bill simply will never kick in.

I don’t know.

How about the corporate minimum tax provisions?  It sounds so simple to address unfairness in this way, and how much opposition will there be to a provision that might cover only 150 or so companies?  But a lot of the incentives for new investment will be taken away, including new investment by highly successful companies.  (You can get your tax bill down by making new investments, for instance, and that is why Amazon has paid relatively low taxes in many years.)  Most of the companies covered are expected to be manufacturing, and didn’t we hear from the Democratic Party (and indeed many others) some while ago that manufacturing jobs possess special economic virtues?  Furthermore, some of the tax incentives for green energy investments will be taken away.  Has anyone done and published a cost-benefit analysis here?  That is a serious question (comments are open!), not a rhetorical one.

Here are some other concerns (NYT):

“The evidence from the studies of outcomes around the Tax Reform Act of 1986 suggest that companies responded to such a policy by altering how they report financial accounting income — companies deferred more income into future years,” Michelle Hanlon, an accounting professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the Senate Finance Committee last year. “This behavioral response poses serious risks for financial accounting and the capital markets.”

Other opponents of the new tax have expressed concerns that it would give more control over the U.S. tax base to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, an independent organization that sets accounting rules.

“The potential politicization of the F.A.S.B. will likely lead to lower-quality financial accounting standards and lower-quality financial accounting earnings,” Ms. Hanlon and Jeffrey L. Hoopes, a University of North Carolina professor, wrote in a letter to members of Congress last year that was signed by more than 260 accounting academics.

How bad is that?  I do not know.  Do you?  My intuition is that the book profits concept cannot handle so much stress.  By the way, kudos to NYT and Alan Rappeport for doing that piece.  It is balanced but does not hold back on the skeptical side.

And here’s one matter I haven’t seen anyone mention: the climate part of the bill, and indeed most of the accompanying science and chips bill, assume in a big way that private sector investment is deficient in solving various social problems and needs some serious subsidy and direction.

Now the direction of that investment is a separate matter, but when it comes to the subsidy do you recall Kenneth Arrow’s classic argument that the private sector does not invest enough in risk-taking?  Private investors see their private risk as higher than the actual social risk of the investment.  This argument implies subsidies for investments, as much of the rest of the bill and its companion bill provide, not additional taxes on investment.  This same kind of argument lies behind Operation Warp Speed, which most people supported, right?

And yet I see everyone presenting the new taxes on investment in an entirely blithe manner, ignoring the fact that the rest of the bill(s) implies private investment needs to be subsidized or at least taxed less.

Overall the ratio of mood affiliation and also politics in this discussion, to actual content, makes me nervous.  The bills went through a good deal of uncertainty, and so a significant portion of the intelligentsia has been talking them up.  Biden after all needs some victories, right?  And at some point the green energy movement needs some major legislative trophies, right?  What I’d like to see instead is a more open and frank discussion of the actual analytics.

It is very good when a top economist such as Larry Summers has real policy influence, in this case on Joe Manchin.  But part of that equilibrium is that other economists start watching their words, knowing some other Democratic Senator might fall off the bandwagon.  There is Sinema, Bernie Sanders has been making noise and complaining, someone else might have tried to extract some additional rents, and so on.

The net result is that you are not getting a very honest and open discussion of what is likely to prove a major piece of legislation.

What I’ve been reading

1. Ann Mari May, Gender and the Dismal Science: Women in the Early Years of the Economics Profession.  A good history of the injustices suffered by women in the earlier years of American economics.  It also serves indirectly as a good history of early journals, early academic practices, and the ongoing professionalization of American academia.

2. Quinn Slobodian and Dieter Plehwe, editors, Market Civilizations: Neoliberals East and South.  Many of the individuals essays here are quite interesting, such as the coverage of Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala, how Montenegro became a neoliberal outpost of sorts, Rothbardianism in Brazil, or the career of Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson of Iceland.  But the book would be much better if it reversed its mood affiliation and turned these essays into tributes.  There is a fair amount of sneering, use of words like “tentacles” (in conjunction with neoliberalism), and one-sentence rebuttals of neoliberal views, without any real documentation of the evidence.  How many of the individuals semi-criticized in this book have done anything worse than favor price controls for U.S. pharmaceuticals?  Or oppose Covid vaccine boosters, as did so many members of the health care establishment so recently?  Not too many of them, I suspect.

3. Hugh Eakin, Picasso’s War: How Modern Art Came to America.  John Quinn is the hero of this story.  Who’s he?  He was a wealthy Irish-American lawyer on Wall Street in the early part of the twentieth century.  He supported James Joyce, the various Yeatses, the later-famous Irish playwrights, Irish painters, and Pound and Eliot, all before they became accepted and then famous.  What a talent spotter.  He simply sent them money.  He was also very early on the Picasso and Henri Rousseau bandwagons, most of all in America, where Quinn was a central figure in popularizing, collecting, and displaying modern art.  His is a career to study, and this book is the place to start.

4. Mustafa Akyol, Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance.  Progress Studies for Muslims?  Akyol, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, argues that the values of the Western Enlightenment had Islamic counterparts in the broader sweep of history, and that it is possible to win them back.

You should be rooting for Boris Johnson

On Northern Ireland, at least.  To be clear, a) I know he is proposing to break the agreement with the EU and thus break the law, and b) I know this may be unwise for matters of prudence because the EU is likely to retaliate.

Still, just about every “establishment writer” I am reading can only tsk-tsk to Boris Johnson.  He may not succeed, but you should be rooting for him to succeed and we should all be willing to say this.

If Johnson succeeds, the previous “Protocol” will go away and free trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will be restored.  That would be a good thing.  There would be more free trade in the short run, and furthermore a backdoor to free trade between the EU and the UK, the magnitude of that change in the longer run being unclear.

The EU doesn’t have to retaliate.  They shouldn’t retaliate.  At current margins of support, they don’t need further punishment of those seeking to leave the EU.  Furthermore such punishment would in this case be unjust, even though it is in accord with agreed-upon international law.

So go on, do all the “tsk tsk” you want, but also put the mood affiliation aside.  At the end of your column add the simple sentence “But of course I am rooting for Boris to succeed!”

For those who need it, here is some background information.

(Small) markets in everything

Ralph Nader spent a career bashing corporate executives. Now he’s written a book praising some. It’s not going down too well.

Tentatively called “Twelve CEOs I Have Known and Admired,” the book is more than a little off-brand for the man who upended the world of auto safety with the blockbuster “Unsafe at Any Speed” and then attacked corporate behavior in a number of other industries.

Based on a string of rejection letters from publishers, Mr. Nader said he fears he’s been typecast, making any accolades he might have for corporate tycoons a hard sell. His literary agent, Ronald Goldfarb, advised him to change course and go negative, he says.

“He wanted chapters on bad CEOs,” Mr. Nader said of Mr. Goldfarb.

“I didn’t tell him what to write,” Mr. Goldfarb retorts. “I told him what I could sell.” The two parted ways after working on the manuscript for three months.

Mood affiliation strikes again.  Nader fans don’t want to positively affiliate with CEOs, and “love letter” types do not always wish to affiliate with Nader.  (By the way, here is my 2014 chat with Nader.)  Here is the rest of the Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg WSJ article.