2014-03-27

Wealth creation, and the rich vs. the poor

I frequently witness what seems to be typical conversations between a socialist and a libertarian.

The socialist might say: "67 people own more than the world's poorest 3.5 billion!" The implication being that the wealthy people are stealing from the poor.

The libertarian might say: "And that's okay, as long as wealth is created, not stolen!" The implication being that for the most part, the poor need to create their own wealth.

The libertarian is partly right. Wealth is created.

The problem is that the process of wealth creation will be increasingly out of reach for the average person, and is already out of reach for most people on the bottom of the ability curve. The way we're headed, we're going to end up with a population that's not able to contribute significantly to the wealth creation process, and without a social safety net, they end up being destitute.

However, this same population will still have voting rights. And guns.

Something does not compute. ;)

Now, the harsh way to react to this would be to say "Tough luck! Sucks to be you who can't contribute, I still can!" and let people live in poverty while hoping they don't use their votes to confiscate your property, or their guns to rob your ass.

But an enlightened way to react to this is to realize that automation will only increase in scope, not shrink, and that our own ability to make useful contributions may dwindle or disappear if someone invents a sufficiently advanced AI. It would behoove us to recognize that we may all end up being economically irrelevant, and therefore not extend harsh treatment to those who are simply becoming economically irrelevant sooner.

2014-03-18

Teenage boys and "statutory rape"

The following issue miffs me incredibly: people's righteous insistence that an adult female having consensual sex with an underage boy is problematic to the same degree, and for the same reasons, as an adult male having sex with an underage girl.

In most countries, the law doesn't distinguish between the two cases, probably to avoid criticism of gender bias. But the risks from sex for men and women are radically different. In the worst case for an underage boy, he might possibly get herpes - something most people will get in their lifetimes, and something that has no symptoms for 2/3 of carriers. Anything else that isn't curable is highly unlikely. He might father a child, but there is no risk to him whether the woman decides to carry it, or have an abortion. The boy should not be held responsible for the life he helped create, because he is underage; the woman should not be able to make him see the child if he doesn't want to, or extract alimony.

But there's no reason at all for our society to imprison an adult woman who had consensual sex with a boy. If he wanted it in the moment; if she did not drug him, or coerce him - then there was no risk to him at all, beyond the risks that also come from kissing. He would be legally able to consent to kissing; there's no reason to deny him the ability to consent to intercourse.

Full disclosure: my first time having sex was when I was 15, with a fragile 19 year old girl, who for personal reasons needed to have this experience with someone from whom she didn't feel threatened. It was pretty much great for both of us. It was legal where it happened, but I still had to protect her identity from the rabid rage of my mother, who has never had a sense for what's appropriate, or where boundaries are. She believed I was being "exploited", and wanted to confront this girl and her parents and create an enormous amount of drama that would be completely destructive and harmful to everyone.

There are no real risks in consensual sex for a 15 year old boy, or even a 14 year old boy, if he wants it. Men and women differ in that women have a uterus. When it comes to statutory rape, there should be a double standard; there must be a double standard, because the risks for boys and girls are very different.

2014-03-08

Passing judgment

Someone asked the following question:
Should we judge the actions of people in other cultures (present and past) by their ethical standards or our own? If we judge by their standards, what must we think of people who follow our mores but break those of their own society?
What does it mean to "judge"? We cannot impose punishment on, or give reward to, people who are already dead, or who live in a country over which we have no influence. When it comes to the latter, we can only possibly go to war with them. Judgment tends to be used to facilitate such war.

Having private thoughts of approval or disapproval has no consequence unless it influences actions of the person having such thoughts. Publicly voicing approval or disapproval only has consequence if it influences currently living people's actions.

When viewed this way, judgment of people in past times, and contemporary cultures beyond our reach, is necessarily masturbatory. When we "judge" them, we do it in the same way we might judge fantasy characters. We do it to influence the thoughts and actions of the people we can reach - that is ourselves, and people sharing our space and time.

When it comes to judging people, experience shows that we will judge them hypocritically. Humanity tends to use ethics as a smokescreen behind which to hide our personal interest. The ethics standards to which we hold other people tend to be discarded when it comes to ourselves.

I think we should be very careful about whom we judge, and why. Judgment in general tends to be hypocritical and destructive. We should rather attempt to influence the world in a way we think is for the best, but we should be open to the possibility that we're wrong, even in that case.

I think the answer to this question is: why judge in the first place?

2014-03-01

The US, Ukraine, and Russia

Prediction:

If an armed conflict arises between Ukraine and Russia, the US isn't going to strike militarily against Russian forces. This is partly because it wouldn't benefit the US to risk World War III, but also because there's nothing in it for Israel.

2014-02-28

Indian communication culture

Nowadays, people tend to get offended if you say anything implying that a group of people who share a superficial trait - such as color, or nationality - tend to have a deeper trait in common. True or not, making observations like that is considered racist, sexist, insensitive, and generally bad.

Well, screw that. I'm not going to nod in agreement to the senseless claim that everyone is equal. There are differences, and they're significant.

I'm noticing some consistent features in my interactions with people from India over the years. I find that these various features reside on a spectrum from annoying to funny:
  • Use of revert instead of "reply". They will always ask to "revert as soon as possible".
  • Use of the needful instead of "what's necessary" (or not saying it at all). One very common phrase is "please do the needful".
  • When they're expecting something from you - such as a service - they tend to communicate in a tone that is entitled, talks down to you, and is disrespectful.
  • When communicating about anything by email, there seems to be a trend to include at least 10 people on an exchange that is completely trivial. None of these other people ever participate in the communication. Still, the person you are talking to CCs seemingly everyone on their team. Is it to show that work is being done? Or is the intent to pressure you with all these other people present in the conversation?
All in all, these features make communicating with Indian people particularly grating. If I worked for a big corporation, I'd be expected to grit my teeth and not talk about that. I do grit my teeth in the actual interaction, but fortunately... I have the freedom to talk about that. :-)

2014-02-23

Autism

I take back everything I ever said about people with autism, or how we should treat them.

I'll explain... when I understand better. For now, I just take it back. And I'm sorry.

(To those who might worry this post could be related to something new about Aaron - don't worry. I hope I don't jinx it somehow, but this isn't about him.)

2014-02-22

Why teachers should be paid more

Currently, in the US, but also many other countries, teachers are paid 30% - 50% less than people in engineering professions. I argue that, as a consequence of this, teachers are mostly mediocre people who are not very good at the job; and those who are good at it, tend to be self-sacrificial. Then there are people who argue that this is fine, that teaching is a reward in and of itself. They argue that teachers ought to be motivated by aspects of the job other than money.

For many people, including myself, money is not just about money, it's about status. Most people care about status. I don't necessarily care about being able to buy things I don't need, but I care about being perceived at approximately the rung of the totem pole where I see myself belonging. It makes me deeply uncomfortable to feel like I'm being valued less than I think I should be valued on a chronic basis. I believe that's true for most people.

Now, there are some people who are able to maintain a perception of being valued even if they aren't being paid much. I am not. I need society to show it values me through a real and meaningful gesture (e.g. granting me access to resources), not merely by paying lip service, and then denying me resources. That's why, in the current atmosphere, I can't be a teacher, even though I'd otherwise like to teach.

One might think that people who need to be paid well in order to perceive that they're being valued might be people we don't need teaching children. One would be wrong. I want people like me teaching my kids. I do not want only self-sacrificing people teaching my kids, because I don't want my children to be exposed to only those values.

Given what we're paying teachers, the only kind of decent teacher we can have is the self-sacrificing kind. I find this gives children a lopsided idea of the value spectrum actually available to them, and gives them no exposure to strong, capable and virtuous people who aren't self-sacrificial. I find that limiting and harmful. At the very least, it means a large proportion of children who aren't that way are growing up without teachers they can relate to.

2014-02-17

Aaron's family #4

My dad has been reminding me that there haven't been new photos since last year, so... here they are. :-)

Sorted newest first, mostly:
























2014-02-15

Internet trolls are psychopathic and sadistic

I've been convinced this is true for a while. It's nice to finally see research that adds credibility to it. The research is weak, because it uses self-reported information, but the results are still interesting:

Internet Trolls Really Are Horrible People

Narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopathic, and sadistic.

[...]

The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

It is hard to underplay the results: The study found correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. [...]

2014-02-12

The "economic activity" fallacy, and the effect of unspent money

I've been having an argument on Reddit - where else - with someone who thinks it's necessary to progressively tax people's income, rather than spending. I argued that money that never gets spent on consumption doesn't compete for consumer goods, so you're really not redistributing as much as you think by taxing income. I pointed out that to achieve real redirection of resources from profligate to worthwhile, you need a progressive tax on spending. (Possibly a much larger tax than you could afford to put on income, and possibly much easier to collect.)

Then, this person goes and writes the following gem:

Building yachts for the wealthy isn't the problem. That actually increases wealth and gives people jobs. The problem is more the vast wealth parked in non-productive derivatives and stocks

This is so dumb that it stopped me right in my tracks. I just can't not stop here, and expound about how dumb this is.

Money is a proxy for human time. When you have $100 million being spent - not stored in a vault somewhere, but spent, meaning, used to recruit human effort - on a boat that's meant for the enjoyment of a single person, that's the most mind-boggling waste I can imagine. All of that time spent on that boat is wasted time, from everyone else's perspective, except the person who enjoys the boat. (Then the person doesn't enjoy the boat, and just keeps it parked somewhere, racking up further expenses.)

Sure, the people who worked on that boat got paid, which helped them feed their families. But if they didn't work on the boat, their work time would be available for something else. Imagine, just imagine, how many people would benefit from the amount of human work that $100 million buys.

I argue that, if the economy ran on gold, this person would be complaining that the entire economic problem is that the gold is parked in warehouse X, instead of in warehouse Y. Or they would think that, because it's parked in a warehouse, instead of many people's pockets, it somehow affects how resources are distributed. Resources don't get distributed due to money parked, they get distributed due to money changing hands. Money that doesn't change hands simply doesn't affect anything; the economy adjusts to the portion that's actually being spent.

If some guy right now had $1 trillion dollars in cash, that wouldn't affect the economy or resource distribution at all, if he didn't try to spend them. Only if he did try to spend them, it would affect the economy because then this money would be competing with everyone else's. He could buy up all the food and gasoline and burn it, so there's nothing left for anyone else, and my Reddit friend would argue that this is valuable economic activity, because people got paid. Meanwhile, prices of food are up 10x and everyone's starving.

What matters is what people spend their time on. Polishing mirrors, dusting, and tending the gardens of someone's 11th villa, that no one will even step foot in, is a waste of time if there ever was any. And this person would want this waste to happen, because it's "economic activity". Ridiculous.

Yachts don't become magically worthwhile just because it takes a lot of people to make them. It's the difference between a thousand slaves being employed to make the pyramids for the glory of the pharaoh, or a thousand people working on providing services to each other. Both are economic activity, but one is not equal to the other. An economy which employs most people in yacht building is closer to the pyramid scenario.

2014-01-23

People's characters do cluster in groups

To me, the most interesting thing about this article is that people - or at least, the online dating profiles of the 25,000+ women that McKinlay datamined - do in fact cluster in a handful of groups, where individuals within each group have a surprising amount in common:


That doesn't mean the individuals are interchangeable, of course, but the existence of structure in the results is interesting. Who would have thought that women across the US do in fact tend to fit neatly into one of seven personality types?