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Silencing Popularity

October 10, 2017

There’s an article in the Atlantic about a poll done by Cato and YouGov. They list the popularity of censoring speakers at colleges on various topics. What surprises me is that among the category of “expressing unpopular opinions”, the least popular thing was:
“A speaker who says the Holocaust did not occur (57 percent)”

And the most were:
“A person who says all illegal immigrants should be deported (41 percent)” and
“A speaker who says men on average are better at math than women (40 percent)”

The least popular is, in my mind, both completely crazy and a great litmus test to see if the speaker is utterly evil. I would not silence such a person, but I would not go to their speaking event either unless it were to challenge them. The other end of the spectrum though is only 17 percentage points away. That means that statistically, only 17% of people statistically (I get that they are not the same people question to question), want to silence Holocaust deniers, but don’t want to silence speakers who say that men are better at math. The opinion that illegal immigrants should be deported, an idea our current president won by campaigning on, has a whopping 41% of respondents saying speakers should be silenced.

It’s just very surprising to me just how little the rate changes between expressing things that are true (men are better at math), things that are popular enough to win presidential elections on (deport illegals), and anti-Semitic nonsense. I wonder what the numbers would be for silencing speakers who say that puppies are fluffy and cute? Maybe 35% if this is anything to go on.


Galacticraft Best Simple Oxygen Setup

October 6, 2017

A lot of other guides have big complicated setups. But what if you don’t want to spend a ton of resources on a huge base? Well my friend, you’re in luck because the set up above is as simple as you can make it.

What you’ll need:
1 Advanced solar array
4 aluminum wires
2 oxygen pipes
1 energy storage module
1 oxygen compressor
1 oxygen collector
80 dirt
80 seeds
1 bucket of water

Other useful base building materials:
4 stacks(256) of cobblestone or stone
64 glowstone torches
2 stacks (128) of glass for your roof so the plants and solar panels can get light.

Build a 9×9 crop field with water in the center.
Put an oxygen collector on the edge.
Arrange the rest of the machines as shown in the picture above.

You’ll want to use heavy oxygen tanks and have a spare one for the moon since the nights are really long. If you can fill up the storage unit before nightfall, you should have enough oxygen to last the night.

In the picture above, I’m using a glass ceiling to get light while protecting my base from monsters. You can also use a coal generator instead of solar, but remember to bring a lot of coal if you do.

Ending Inflation?

July 7, 2017

A response to:

The Federal Reserve Board seeks to maintain an inflation rate around two percent per year. While this rate might sound low for older types who remember double-digit inflation rates in the late 70s and early 80s, and a rate of 5.4 percent as recently as 1990, why tolerate, let alone seek to sustain, any inflation at all? Why not seek to establish zero inflation and stable prices? After all, even an inflation rate of only two percent a year means nominal prices still double every 36 years.

36 years is a long time. Longer than I’ve been alive, and certainly long enough for people to adjust. Furthermore, since quality adjusting prices is more difficult the longer the time horizon, it could easily be the case that the true inflation over the decades has been substantially lower than what’s measured. Many goods have gotten better over time (electronics, cars, toys) so if you simply compare the price, you’re overestimating inflation. I doubt very many people would want 1980 prices if it meant they could only buy goods with 1980’s quality as well.

The problem of the zero lower bound is overblown. The main cause is the unwillingness on the part of the Fed to target levels rather than rates, do catch up inflation, and communicate their intentions in a language other than short term interest rates. The idea that the Fed could purchase every asset on planet Earth with newly printed dollars and not have inflation budge is frankly absurd, but also depressingly common among macroeconomic commentators.

“…there exists a sizeable contingent of macroeconomists skeptical of the efficacy of interest rate manipulation as a means of responding to recessions”

Yes, but no serious economist doesn’t believe that the Fed can’t influence inflation. Even if the main reason for the business cycle is “real” or supply side factors, there are demand based recessions, such as the one in 2008 and 1930 that even the most die hard RBC advocate must admit weren’t totally caused by technology shocks. When prices drop by 5% suddenly, you’re going to have some fallout. Prices (especially wages) and debt contracts are sticky and sudden changes have real microeconomic impacts.

“the trick with that is preventing people from holding cash when interest rates go below zero. So how to do that?”

All of the solutions in the article seem a bit extreme. If the Fed simply targeted the price level instead of the inflation rate, any drop in prices would be matched by an increase in prices later, so there would be no need to do anything crazy in the short run. Instead, we get a Fed that pursues rate targeting and treats the 2% target as a ceiling instead. It’s really no wonder that when we get 2% deflation for a year (2008), the economy takes a long time to recover from the shock. It’s not about the particular target! It’s about stability. People can adjust to 0% inflation – that’s fine. People can adjust to 2,3, 4, or 5% inflation – all those are fine as well. What matters is that when mistakes are made, they are fixed. The Fed’s mistakes in 2008 were never fixed, they were just left until the market sorted itself out and readjusted its expectations.

The economy is fine now. Yellen has pretty much targeted 1% inflation and unemployment is low and stable. I have no complaints anymore about the macroeconomy. There’s a reason (besides laziness) I haven’t written much about it – things are good and it looks like they’ll keep on being good. Ultimately, if you want to lower the measured inflation rate target to 0%, I think that would be ok, but do it slowly and give people time to adjust to it. Also, there is no need to do anything radical like abolish currency or do negative interest rates on savings accounts or anything like that. Plain old monetary policy is just fine.

Morality of Welfare

July 7, 2017

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

– Portia’s Plea for Mercy, The Merchant of Venice

Bryan Caplan wrote an article about reasons to oppose a welfare state. I have a very different way of thinking about welfare than Caplan, but I still identify as a libertarian. I think I am in the target demographic of his article. I had originally intended to do a point by point commentary, but found myself mostly in agreement with Caplan’s reasoning. However, I have one major disagreement:

“7. “No fault of their own.” Why you’re poor matters. Starving because you’re born blind is morally problematic. Starving because you drink yourself into a stupor every day is far less so. Indeed, you might call it just desserts.”

Mercy and forgiveness are virtues too, not just cold prudence. Someone starving because they made bad decisions is suffering just as much as someone who is starving because of bad luck. We have no control over the past, and predicting outcomes is difficult. I’m not saying people taking drugs or dropping out of high school somehow believe that things will work out fine. I’m saying that it’s immoral to condemn someone just because of foolish past decisions.

Is dropping out of high school enough to declare someone unfit for welfare for life? How about a teenage pregnancy? Haven’t we all made some bad choices in life? I suppose that’s the rub. If you want to say only welfare to people who deserve it, no one deserves it and you get to the conclusion that there should be no welfare at all.

I think a fault based welfare program would be more terrifying than no welfare at all, worse than our current welfare system, and far worse than a universal poverty welfare program (all poor people get $x, or a UBI). Imagine having a government bureaucrat combing everyone’s past scanning for moral failings that disqualify you from welfare. How easily would such a system be abused? Any political dissent or unpopular opinion expressed might disqualify you and that would certainly chill free speech as well as limit your personal freedom to live your life as you see fit. How would that remotely be a libertarian world?

The core decision to make is: Given that any charity is going to go to some undeserving people, is it better to accept that and keep doing it, or decide that it’s better not to do charity at all?

“When Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread to save his sister’s son, he has a credible excuse. By extension, so does a government program to tax strangers to feed Valjean’s nephew.”

The main reason why you would even consider putting a fault requirement is to discourage the sorts of behavior that leads to poverty to begin with. Yes, the poor are less responsible, lower IQ, less conscientious, and more likely to engage in all sorts of behaviors likely to result in poverty. Do such people respond to incentives that are distant in time and uncertain (future disqualification of welfare they might never get anyway)? No, they don’t. Only the most hyper-rational superhuman would respond by adjusting their conscientiousness and those sorts of people don’t become indigent anyway.

I see welfare as about relieving high levels of suffering of those who are very poor. I do not believe you should have to do anything in order not to suffer at such levels – merely being a member of the human race should qualify. I get the whole nation border/global poor argument, but we live in a world where the most effective reallocater of resources is the nation state and people’s moral sympathies end at the border. I personally donate my charitable giving to international causes, and I advocate that others do as well. I don’t view the nation state as being remotely good at international poverty reduction, so I would prefer they focus on national poverty relief.

Welfare creates a better polity. A population that feels safe and protected is less prone to populism, extremism, demanding punitive industrial policy, trade restrictionism, etc.

If you desire equality, there are three approaches:
1.) Hope the free market gets you there. Deregulate, no corporate welfare, etc. The government is a source of much inequality and removing those sorts of policies can improve equality. Libertarians understand this, progressives do not. Unfortunately, some people fall through the cracks. Some skill sets are made obsolete by changing patterns of technology and trade. Sometimes people make mistakes and are harshly punished for them by the free market.
2.) Regulate the market in the hopes that the outcomes it gives you are more equal. Firms tend to capture regulatory agencies and the regulations have unintended consequences. All you end up doing is calcifying rents and entrenching the elites. This is the mid-century progressive approach and it doesn’t work.
3.) Merge free market/light regulation with moderate to generous welfare systems. Let the free market work. Let labor markets adjust. Have low levels of taxation. However, if people are in trouble, give them money. The Scandinavian countries do this approach quite well. I think their welfare is too generous for my personal tastes, but it could be toned down and implemented in other countries.

Welfare should be a part of the preferred libertarian policies. Knowing you have a safety net to try something risky and fail increases your personal freedom. Having some money even when things don’t go well for you (even when those things are your fault) increases your capacity to live life as you see fit. The cost in terms of taxation to others required just doesn’t impose as much on their liberty as the loss in liberty that comes with being extremely poor.

Health Care Reform Idea

March 17, 2017

The status quo for healthcare in America is uniquely bad, being different than any other healthcare system in the world, and different from any other market in America. It is by far the most regulated and subsidized market in the economy, yet still manages to have unsatisfactory outcomes.

Healthcare and Free Markets
Healthcare is different from other markets in many ways, but the biggest difference is that some people need much more of it than others. The way normal capitalist markets work is that you work in exchange for money. You use that money to buy things you need, and most people can earn enough through working to satisfy their needs easily. On the margin, people work and earn more to get luxury. Even a minimum wage job in America is enough that you don’t need to worry about starving or not having a roof over your head. The average person below the poverty line has cable (or equivalent) TV, air conditioning, a washing machine, and a car.

If someone wants a luxury car or a fancy vacation, they can work more for it. One of the great things about capitalism is that the consumer experience is fairly similar for most levels of income. Everyone drinks the same Coca Cola. Everyone watches the same sports games and TV shows, even if some people have bigger TVs or better seats at the stadium. Bill Gates surfs the same internet as the homeless guy using a public library computer. People understand that if you have a good job, you can get fancier versions of things everyone has, but that’s ok.

Healthcare is not like most things. A severe health problem is like somehow out of the blue, if you can’t buy a Lamborghini, you’re going to die. It’s a risk that everyone faces, but one that virtually no one can afford to confront. Whether you work hard or not, whether you have a great job or not, there is nothing you can personally do to protect yourself from a large unexpected health problem.

Adverse Selection
In the face of large risks that an individual cannot absorb, the traditional answer is insurance. This has not shown itself to be a good model. Obamacare was a valiant attempt, but I don’t think the weight of the evidence has shown it to be a great solution. At best, it is a band-aid on a bullet wound. An insurance company wants to make money. They do this by charging more for insurance than their customer uses in healthcare. Customers know more about their own health than an insurance company and they can strategically enter and leave the insurance market.

Adverse selection makes insurance markets very difficult. Healthy people wait to buy insurance until they are sick, and sick people try to buy as much insurance as they can. The market for insurance plans fills up with sick/high risk people, and the insurance companies must price accordingly. Medium risk people no longer think such plans are a good option and leave the market entirely, or only buy cheap plans with high deductibles. No matter how much an insurance company charges, it cannot make a profit selling only to high risk individuals because the costs are simply too high.

Obamacare tried to fix this by having people pay penalties for not buying insurance and subsidizing poor people to buy some insurance. It worked to some degree, but it’s hard to determine how well since there is a lot of conflicting and ideologically biased information out there. I did not like the solution personally because it feels very unfair and legally unconstitutional. The burden is still placed on the individual, and if you can’t afford good insurance, you pay a penalty? On top of that, since when does the absence of economic activity constitute interstate economic activity? I don’t think the government should have the right to penalize you from refraining from economic activity, no matter what the policy advantages of such a law would be. If people don’t want to buy something, it should be their right not to do so. Even if you do force people to buy something, there is the issue of people self-sorting into risk groups and unwinding the whole market anyway. It’s a kludgy, ineffective, and ideologically unappealing way to solve the adverse selection problem.

Employer Provided Insurance
In the past, getting a large group together to spread risk was up to employers. Sure, this works ok if you work for a large corporation that is able to manage such a system, but what if you don’t? And what if you move to another company? What if your health is so bad you lose your job? You lose your insurance too and then what’s the point of having it to begin with!? Employer provided health insurance is a leaky bucket which creates a insider/outsider problem where some people have great coverage and some don’t get anything at all. To top it off, insurance bought by a company is tax deductible, but insurance bought by an individual is not. I just don’t think employer provided insurance is a good model going forward. It was a historical accident and an atavistic holdover from back when healthcare was a smaller and more efficient sector. Furthermore, any third party payment system incentivizes people to be wasteful with their healthcare money.

Costs have gone up

The average 1960 worker spent ten days’ worth of their yearly paycheck on health insurance; the average modern worker spends sixty days’ worth of it, a sixth of their entire earnings. Unless the prices stabilize, it doesn’t matter how you shuffle the money around, it’s going to be expensive. Making the government pay for something doesn’t make it free – it *increases* the overall cost of the good to society since you have to run everything through bureaucracy and get the money from deadweight loss inducing taxation. Running everything through an insurance company likewise dramatically increases the overall cost. The cheapest way to pay for anything is direct, two party payment (buyer and seller only).

The first priority is to implement a wide array of supply side reforms to make the healthcare sector bigger and more competitive. Make it easier to become a doctor. Allow PAs and nurse practitioners to do more. Reform (lower liability for) malpractice lawsuits. Deregulate whenever possible. Lower barriers to opening new hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Reduce doctor’s residency periods to let them get to work sooner. Open up off-patent drug imports and competition. Reduce the costs of drug approval at the FDA. Make hospitals publish and stick to fixed prices instead of charging an insanely high, undisclosed amount after the fact. There are hundreds of reforms that could be done. Supply side reforms can be done regardless of your system of insurance/payment.

The Plan
As much as I consider myself libertarian, I find the conclusion that healthcare payment must be managed by the government compelling. The government can create a payment system that covers everyone no matter what. The government is bad at provision (of anything really), but it is fairly good at cutting checks. I would be nervous about the government actually running hospitals or hiring doctors, etc, but I am far less so about the government covering some of the costs of healthcare.

If you spend less than 10% of your income in a year, the health care market looks completely free market. You pay cash out of pocket for all of your expenses, and get no government assistance whatsoever. The vast majority of people fall into this category. Most people don’t spend 10% of their income on healthcare, and if you don’t, you should be able to pay for it yourself. Individuals can be expected to pay for this amount out of pocket. Car insurance doesn’t and shouldn’t pay for you to fill up your gas tank. Health insurance/welfare shouldn’t pay for small routine healthcare expenditure. I’d be open to the government paying for half of preventative care costs for procedures which are proven to lower costs in the long run, although I think the evidence for preventative care being effective is fairly weak.

As your expenditure on healthcare increased, the government would match more and more on the margin, until it reached a maximum of paying for 95%. I think it might be good to have the individual pay for at least some of their healthcare. I wouldn’t be opposed for some 100% category for the destitute or extremely ill. As written, if you spend 40% of your income on healthcare, you’d personally be liable for 25% (10% + 7.5% + 5% + 2.5%). Above that, the government would cover most of your expenses. This would allow mostly free market to dominate and reduce costs, but for the very ill and very poor, they would be covered by a plan more generous than the status quo, and it would be universal. There would need to be some conversion ratio of wealth-income for people with a lot of wealth but no income, such as the elderly. Perhaps wealth/(years remaining until age 100) could be the effective “income” of such people. It’s a first draft, but this is the general direction I’d like to see. I realize it’s never going to happen, but an economist can dream.

Further Reading:
Universal Catastrophic Coverage
Alaskan Reinsurance plan
Healthcare compromise
Public Health Insurance Option

Hanlon’s Razor

March 1, 2017

“Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.”

Concerning Trump, that may be true, but treating it as if it is can be dangerous because it opens you up to deliberate attacks obfuscated as incompetence. One of the main things I have been worrying about lately is how Trump is sabotaging US counter-terrorism and preblaming rivals to power. In the event of a terrorist attack, Trump will benefit greatly. He is an authoritarian, and people turn to authoritarians when they feel unsafe. A self-aware authoritarian can exploit this tendency to great effect. The classic example of this is the Reichstag Fire which Hitler used to grab more power.

Trump has been implementing controversial policies quickly in order to stir up protests. He’s playing the law of large numbers. The more protests there are, the more riots there will be and the more there will be a potential for violence. He can also hire provacatreurs to stir up trouble if trouble doesn’t arise naturally. It’s fairly easy to throw a few thugs into the mix when large protests happen more or less continually.

Muslim Ban

The most harmful narrative for increasing terrorist attacks against the U.S. is that the U.S. is at war with all Muslims. When a group feels persecuted and oppressed because of their religion, they are far more likely to turn to violence than if they are met with tolerance and freedom. Trump has repeatedly stirred up religious hatred and scapegoated Muslims for problems, which dramatically increase the chance that Americans will be killed by terrorists. By banning 7 random Muslim countries, rather than trying to do a more effective and comprehensive security policy, Trump has ensured that any terrorist who does want to attack America will easily be able to do so.

Torture/killing families of “terrorists”

Torturing innocent civilians is about the most evil thing a government can do. Trump has promised to restart and amplify that policy, meaning Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups will have their ranks swelling with new recruits. Terrorists want to paint the U.S. as the Great Satan and evil. If you wanted to increase the number of terrorists who want to attack the U.S., you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to do it than to bring back torture, especially when that torture is not directed at people who are actually committing terrorist attacks.

Intelligence agencies

The CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies are at the frontline of the battle to protect America. So what does Trump do? Attacks and alienates them non-stop. Refuses to go to security briefings. Appoints untrustworthy advisers with foreign loyalties, so much that the CIA now assumes that the Kremlin has ears in the White House. Trump has also been undermining our relationships with other countries that have helped us fight the War on Terror, such as the U.K. and Australia. Without allies, we will be far more blind to potential threats.

So all this could just be an incompetent president who is undermining the safety of U.S. citizens because he’s a mendacious idiot, but the thing that makes me think it might be deliberate is how he’s preblaming his political enemies. “”Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril, if something happens blame him and court system.” He’s also preblamed the media, the generals, the Democrats, and a number of his other enemies. He’s already laying the groundwork for undermining democracy and assuming more control in the wake of the attack that is now far more likely.

I’m not sure what is to be done. Knowing human nature, even if we see it coming, that doesn’t mean we can stop it. Trump himself could set the bomb and his approval rating would probably go up.

Don’t Fear Wrongthink

March 1, 2017

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
– The Litany Against Fear

The most important behavioral skill for an aspiring intellectual is teaching yourself not to fear exposing yourself to wrongthink. Don’t be afraid to read the writings of people who disagree with you. Don’t be afraid to learn subjects that seem wrong or unappealing to you. If you find yourself thinking “I don’t want to learn X” or read a certain author, look inside yourself and ask yourself if it is because you fear what you might find out, or if you fear the discomfort from reading something that you don’t agree with. It is a difficult undertaking to expose yourself to things which go against what you believe, but it’s the only way to expand your horizons.

The wrongthink might be have a kernel of truth. There are very few totally false ideologies, and even those that are contain some insight into human behavior and beliefs. Understanding how it is that someone could believe wrongthink will let you recognize those mental failings in yourself and others more quickly. Understanding the kernels of truth will allow you to integrate those kernels into your own thinking.

You can’t refute something you don’t understand. Even if your goal is purely combative, if you demonstrate ignorance of your opponent’s position, they will dismiss you as an idiot. Try your best to pass Ideological Turing Tests.

You learn to use your own arguments better and more persuasively. Knowing what others say about your position will allow you to evaluate and correct your weaknesses, even if they are purely rhetorical.

If the wrongthink is wrong, you should have faith and confidence in your own morality to be able to reject it, even when you are exposed to it. Step back, take stock of your morals and beliefs, and have the courage of your convictions not to be afraid that they will be easily swayed by being exposed to other ideas.