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Tuesday assorted links

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1. People are averse to machines making moral decisions.

2. Declining Chinese productivity growth.

3. Paying the gender stereotype tax in poker.

4. New NBER paper, possible overturning of the Autor, et.al. results on the China shock?  I am not able here to read through it, however.

5. “We find that at least 31.2% of the citations to retracted articles happen a year after the article has been retracted. And that 91.4% of these post-retraction citations are approving.”  Link here.

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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ahofer
20 hours ago
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“We find that at least 31.2% of the citations to retracted articles happen a year after the article has been retracted. And that 91.4% of these post-retraction citations are approving.”
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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In the Matter of Sarah Jeong

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Two decades after hiring Paul Krugman, the New York Times has doubled down by hiring the venomous Sarah Jeong, whose old tweets include the following rhetorical question:

Are white people genetically disposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins?

According to Jeong’s supporters, the tweet needs to be read in context — it was, you see, intended as a parody of Andrew Sullivan’s audacious piece in New York magazine, advocating research — or at least opposing the suppression of research — into racial differences in IQ.

I’m all for parody. I’m all for taking other people’s logic (and my own!), pushing it to its limits, seeing where it leads, and thereby calling attention to its weaknesses. And I am outraged when authors engaged in this enterprise are taken out of context. If I say “X”, and if “Y” is both analogous to X and clearly outrageous, then Sarah Jeong or anyone else ought to be able to tweet “Y” by way of making fun of me, without having to face down a gang of yahoos accusing her of believing “Y”.

But that’s not what this is about. Because — and here is the crux of the matter — the analogue to

Are some races genetically disposed to be less intelligent than others?

is

Are white people genetically disposed to burn faster in the sun?

which is not at all the same thing as

Are white people genetically disposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins?

The problem here is not that Sarah Jeong believes white people are fit only to live underground like groveling goblins. (I feel pretty confident, in fact, that she believes no such thing.) The problem here is that she is attempting to refute Andrew Sullivan’s logic by writing down an analogy (so far so good) and then, having done so, tacking on the phrase “being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins”, which in no way reflects anything Andrew Sullivan said, and which Sarah Jeong pulled out of her ass.

If Sarah Jeong believes you can refute another person’s logic by analogizing that logic and then arbitrarily appending an offensive phrase, she is of course not fit to be a journalist for the New York Times or any other outlet.

Let’s try it. Another recent Jeong tweet says:

looking forward to the fight over 3D print files

A good Jeongian paraphrase might be:

looking forward to more fights, which I sincerely hope will lead to the end of modern civilization and a restoration of the cult of Baal

If I were to suggest that this was a fair paraphrase of Jeong (as Jeong seems to have suggested that her own tweet was a fair paraphrase of Sullivan), it would be wrong, unfair and cowardly to accuse me of welcoming the end of civilization. But it would be right, fair and true to accuse me of being an unprincipled moron apparently driven by vitriol to utterly distort the position I was claiming to paraphrase.

So I do not read Jeong’s original tweet as racist. But I do read it as a sign of mental incapacity, which, in a more perfect world, would be a disqualification for a position at the New York Times.

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ahofer
1 day ago
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"Jeongian paraphrase". Put that one down with highly selective and misleading quotation - "dowdification"
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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The politics of discovery

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Here’s a theory. There are two different ways of thinking about politics and policy which are insufficiently distinguished; we can call them politics as imposition versus politics as discovery.

Most people think of politics as the former: how can I impose my will upon others? We can, however, think of it differently – as a discovery process.

This, I think, is what Paul Evans is doing when he calls upon us to rethink democracy. He’s asking: what institutions and practices do we need to discover what people really want? Simple referendums, conducted against the background of an inadequate media, are not the answer.

But it’s not just the political process that is or should be a discovery process. So too are some particular policies.

We lefties are sometimes accused of wanting to impose a system upon the economy. For me at least, this is the exact opposite of the truth. For me, socialism consists in part of creating means of discovering what works best.

Democratising public services, for example, is a way of discovering from workers and users how best to improve them. And encouraging various forms of coops – via public procurement, a national investment bank or tax breaks – is a way of discovering what forms of post-capitalist firms work best – a form of what Erik Olin Wright calls interstitial transformation (pdf).  It’s not at all obvious to me that actually-existing capitalism does an unimprovable job of discovering better forms of ownership and control, given credit constraints, path-dependency and capture by a managerialist elite*.

I’d put a citizen’s basic income into this category: the question of the appropriate level, and any add-ons it needs, is one that could be discovered as we go along. It need not, and maybe cannot, be imposed in perfect form from the start.

This isn’t to say that the politics of discovery is purely a leftist exercise. It’s not. Michael Gove’s free schools policy was in this vein – a way of experimenting to see what sorts of school work best.

And one under-rated argument for devolution and stronger local authorities is that they would facilitate discovery: if they follow different policies, we can see what works best.

We think of markets as discovery and selection mechanisms (pdf) – albeit ones that often don’t work as well as they might. But a healthy political process would have such mechanisms too.

Which brings me to Brexit. Everybody is discussing the Brexit deal with the mindset of the politics of imposition – as if the deal will permanently settle in stone our relationship with the EU for ever more.

This of course is to misrepresent human life. Relationships change. The “transitional period” won’t end in 2020. It’ll carry on for as long as the UK and EU exist.

 This is no mere pedantry. One of the key aspects of good negotiations is to see that agreements can be provisional, not final. Theresa May should be saying to all sides in the Tory party: “This isn’t the final word. Let’s give this a go. And if it proves to be as bad as you claim, we can change it.” (Maybe she is saying this in private.) I’ll grant, however, that this is more feasible for hardline Leavers than Remainers, as the EU might not want to renegotiate closer ties with so fractious and febrile a counterparty**.

If there is anything in what I say, it poses the question: why do we hear so much about the politics of imposition and so little about the politics of discovery?

One answer is that political discourse is dominated by those who believe they know the answers, and so don’t need to discover them – which is of course a symptom of overconfidence. We do not sufficient self-police and self-criticize our views. And perhaps we lack the mechanisms and institutions to incentivize us to do so.  

* It’s odd how some rightists are so keen to point out that state functions are prone to bureaucratic capture and so silent on the possibility that private companies can be too.

** Yes, I know that we Brits tend to under-estimate the extent to which the EU is a rules-based organization (which I think is an argument for the Leave side). But rules can and do change.

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ahofer
1 day ago
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He won't get any argument from me that private organizations are prone to bureaucratic capture. It is one of the defining characteristics of all organizations, AFAICT. I'm all for process of discovery as long as there is exit.
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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Open Letter To Walmart: I Have a Business For You

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The last few days I have written of my frustration at trying to get local business bank accounts, the sole purpose of which is to accept deposits of cash from my local campgrounds and then transfer that money to my main account.  This is a major hassle as opening a bank account as a corporation is not a simple task and, as I have found out, some banks won't even accept this sort of business.

Here is what I need:  I need a national network of offices, many in rural locations, that will take my cash and ACH (a cheap form of wire transfer) the money to my bank account.  So naturally, I think of Walmart.  Walmart already is used to handling a lot of cash and Walmart is already starting to offer a number of consumer banking services.  One reader told me about the Bluebird service, a joint effort between Amex and Walmart to create a sort of virtual consumer bank.  I love the idea, but it has rules limiting it to consumer accounts.

So here is my business for you Walmart

  • I bring my cash to you at any store.  You zip it through a counter.  We agree on the amount.
  • You wire my main account with the money.  I will give you three days so you can use the cheapest transfer and have time to get the cash into your own account.
  • I will pay you 100 bp (1%) of the cash value for the service

Currently I pay merchant processors 270-300bp for those transactions and I have to wait 3-5 days for the money to hit my accounts.  So 100bp on cash would be fair for me, and I would guess fair for Walmart.

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ahofer
12 days ago
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..and then Walmart counter clerks have to get Anti-Money Laundering training and report your activity in a Suspicious Activity Report. Not likely.
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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Industrial policy

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A commenter pointed me to this Dan Wang essay.

I think that technology ultimately progresses because of people and the deepening of the process knowledge they possess. I view the creation of new tools and IP as certifications that we’ve accumulated process knowledge. Instead of seeing tools and IP as the ultimate ends of technological progress, I’d like to view them as milestones in the training of better scientists, engineers, and technicians.

. . .The decline of industrial work makes it harder to accumulate process knowledge. If a state has lost most of its jobs for electrical engineers, civil engineers, or nuclear engineers, then fewer young people will enter into these fields. Technological development slows down, and it turns into a self-reinforcing cycle of decline.

I think that if you polled economists, you would find many who agree with all of the following.

1. Our manufacturing sector is definitely not too big.
2. Our financial sector is definitely not too small.
3. Industrial policy is a bad idea.

Odd that. Although I would be one of them.

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ahofer
12 days ago
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I don't know. They can be reconciled if you add 4. the cure is worse than the condition.
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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How Coalitional Instincts Make Weird Groups and Stupid People

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I like to think of myself as an individual who makes up his own mind, but that's almost certainly wrong for me, and you, gentle reader, as well. A vast literature in psychology points out that, in effect, a number of separate personalities live in each of our brains. Which decision gets made at a certain time is determined in part by how issues of reward and risk are framed and communicated to us.  Moreover, we are members of groups. If my wife or one of my children is in a serious dispute, I will lose some degree of my sunny disposition and rational fair-mindedness. Probably I won't lose all of it. Maybe I'll lose less of it than a typical person in a similar situation. But I'll lose some of it. 

John Tooby, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Santa Barbara, has written about what he calls "Coalitional Instincts" in a short piece for Edge.com (November 22, 2017). Tooby argues that human brains have evolved so that we have "a nearly insuperable human appetite to be a good coalition member." But to demonstrate clearly that we are part of a coalition, we are all drawn to "unusual, exaggerated beliefs ... alarmism, conspiracies, or hyperbolic comparisons." Here's Tooby (I have inserted the boldface emphasis): 
"Every human—not excepting scientists—bears the whole stamp of the human condition. This includes evolved neural programs specialized for navigating the world of coalitions—teams, not groups.  ... These programs enable us and induce us to form, maintain, join, support, recognize, defend, defect from, factionalize, exploit, resist, subordinate, distrust, dislike, oppose, and attack coalitions. ...
"Why do we see the world this way? Most species do not and cannot. ... Among elephant seals, for example, an alpha can reproductively exclude other males, even though beta and gamma are physically capable of beating alpha—if only they could cognitively coordinate. The fitness payoff is enormous for solving the thorny array of cognitive and motivational computational problems inherent in acting in groups: Two can beat one, three can beat two, and so on, propelling an arms race of numbers, effective mobilization, coordination, and cohesion.

"Ancestrally, evolving the neural code to crack these problems supercharged the ability to successfully compete for access to reproductively limiting resources. Fatefully, we are descended solely from those better equipped with coalitional instincts. In this new world, power shifted from solitary alphas to the effectively coordinated down-alphabet, giving rise to a new, larger landscape of political threat and opportunity: rival groups or factions expanding at your expense or shrinking as a result of your dominance.

"And so a daunting new augmented reality was neurally kindled, overlying the older individual one. It is important to realize that this reality is constructed by and runs on our coalitional programs and has no independent existence. You are a member of a coalition only if someone (such as you) interprets you as being one, and you are not if no one does. We project coalitions onto everything, even where they have no place, such as in science. We are identity-crazed.

"The primary function that drove the evolution of coalitions is the amplification of the power of its members in conflicts with non-members. This function explains a number of otherwise puzzling phenomena. For example, ancestrally, if you had no coalition you were nakedly at the mercy of everyone else, so the instinct to belong to a coalition has urgency, preexisting and superseding any policy-driven basis for membership. This is why group beliefs are free to be so weird. Since coalitional programs evolved to promote the self-interest of the coalition’s membership (in dominance, status, legitimacy, resources, moral force, etc.), even coalitions whose organizing ideology originates (ostensibly) to promote human welfare often slide into the most extreme forms of oppression, in complete contradiction to the putative values of the group. ... 
"Moreover, to earn membership in a group you must send signals that clearly indicate that you differentially support it, compared to rival groups. Hence, optimal weighting of beliefs and communications in the individual mind will make it feel good to think and express content conforming to and flattering to one’s group’s shared beliefs and to attack and misrepresent rival groups. The more biased away from neutral truth, the better the communication functions to affirm coalitional identity, generating polarization in excess of actual policy disagreements. Communications of practical and functional truths are generally useless as differential signals, because any honest person might say them regardless of coalitional loyalty. In contrast, unusual, exaggerated beliefs—such as supernatural beliefs (e.g., god is three persons but also one person), alarmism, conspiracies, or hyperbolic comparisons—are unlikely to be said except as expressive of identity, because there is no external reality to motivate nonmembers to speak absurdities.

"This raises a problem for scientists: Coalition-mindedness makes everyone, including scientists, far stupider in coalitional collectivities than as individuals. Paradoxically, a political party united by supernatural beliefs can revise its beliefs about economics or climate without revisers being bad coalition members. But people whose coalitional membership is constituted by their shared adherence to “rational,” scientific propositions have a problem when—as is generally the case—new information arises which requires belief revision. To question or disagree with coalitional precepts, even for rational reasons, makes one a bad and immoral coalition member—at risk of losing job offers, one's friends, and one's cherished group identity. This freezes belief revision.

"Forming coalitions around scientific or factual questions is disastrous, because it pits our urge for scientific truth-seeking against the nearly insuperable human appetite to be a good coalition member. "
The lesson I draw here is although we all feel a strong need to join groups, we do have some degree of choice and agency over what groups we end up joining. Even within larger groups, like a certain religion or political party, there will be smaller groups with which one can have a primary affiliation. It may be wise to give an outlet to our coalitional nature by joining several different groups, or by pushing oneself to occasionally phase out one membership and join another.

In addition, we all feel a need to do something a little whacky and extreme to show our group affiliation, but again, we have some degree of choice and agency over what actions and messages define our group. Wearing the colors of a professional sports team, for example, is a different kind of whackiness than sending vitriolic social media  messages. Humans want to join coalitional groups, but we can at least consider whether the way a group expresses solidarity is a good fit with who we want to be.
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ahofer
14 days ago
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"Since coalitional programs evolved to promote the self-interest of the coalition’s membership (in dominance, status, legitimacy, resources, moral force, etc.), even coalitions whose organizing ideology originates (ostensibly) to promote human welfare often slide into the most extreme forms of oppression, in complete contradiction to the putative values of the group. ."

I've always felt this, and I think it is why I have individualist biases - anti-bureaucratic, anti-large organizations, anti-tribes, anti-religion.
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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