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Two rationality tests

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If you were trying to assess a person’s rationality on the basis of one not-directly-verbal indicator, given his or her behavior over the course of a meal, what would it be?

And if you could ask only one question of a person, to assess his or her rationality, which question would it be?

That’s from me!  As for the first benchmark, you cannot refer to verbal answers to questions you might ask.  You could however nominate “the person hesitated for a long time before answering each question,” or something similar along the behavioral dimension.  That is what I mean by “not-directly-verbal.”

Part of me wishes to suggest “are they carrying a book or not?”, but alas too many semi-rational people don’t do that.  I might consider the process by which they select a menu item and order their food, as a kind of proxy for decision-making more generally.  How well they treat the server would be another variable of interest.

As for the second question, I suggest asking the person who he or she thinks are the rational people.  If the answer is considered and uncertain and complex, upgrade the rationality of that person.  If the answer is dogmatic and refers to holding a particular doctrine…

I considered asking the person if he is himself rational, but that simply will induce lying and false modesty.

Can you think of better tests?

The post Two rationality tests appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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ahofer
3 days ago
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Ask them to explain two sides of a charged issue - the "ideological turing test." Or ask them about times they behaved irrationally.
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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Giving The Back Row Kids What They Want

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Former quant and current writer Chris Arnade likes to divide the country into two groups: the front row kids (the elites) and the back row kids (the working class). This is how he defines each group:

Front row kids:
Mobile, global, and well educated
Primary social network is via colleges and career
Intellect is primary. View world through framework of numbers and rational arguments
Meaning (and morality) comes from careers and intellectual puruits
Faith is irrational. They see themselves as beyond race and gender
View their lives as better than their parents and their children’s lives will be better than their own

Back row kids
Stay where they are born. Education beyond high school degree is via smaller state schools, community colleges, and trade schools
Primary social netowk is via institutions beyond work. Such as family, geographic community, and Church
Faith is central. They find meaning (and morality) through the “Decency of hard work”
They have “traditional” views of race and gender
They view their lives as worse than their parents and their children’s lives will be worse than their own

Chris goes on a lot of twitter rants about how the democrats have abandoned the back row kids, and that’s why they’ve embraced Trump. I have for a long time pressed Chris to tell me what exactly it is that the back row kids want from democrats and from the front row kids and really all I can get out of him is… respect. Well, respect isn’t a policy. So I’m not sure what a political party is supposed to do about that.

Is it rhetoric that the back row kids want? Because paeans to the working class and the rust belt are pretty popular on both sides of the aisle. More specifically, if you’re talking about promising the sky to former manufacturing towns and bringing back American manufacturing then the back row kids should have been all over John Edwards. John Edwards “two Americas” rhetoric was in many ways saying what Arnade does with his front row, back row dichotomy (complete with the same oversimplification and divisiveness). Here’s Edwards 2004 DNC convention speech on “Two Americas”:

John Kerry and I believe that we shouldn’t have two different economies in America: one for people who are set for life, they know their kids and their grand-kids are going to be just fine; and then one for most Americans, people who live paycheck to paycheck…

So let me give you some specifics. First, we can create good-paying jobs in this country again. We’re going to get rid of tax cuts for companies who are outsourcing your jobs… [applause] and, instead, we’re going to give tax breaks to American companies that are keeping jobs right here in America…

Throw in a few amazings and biglys and this could be a Trump speech. Elsewhere he promised to negotiate good trade deals, because trade is bad for workers:

The trade policies of President Bush have devastated towns and communities all across America. But let’s be clear about something – this isn’t just his doing. For far too long, presidents from both parties have entered into trade agreements, agreements like NAFTA, promising that they would create millions of new jobs and enrich communities. Instead, too many of these agreements have cost us jobs and devastated many of our towns….

First, I will be a tough negotiator on new trade deals. There are good trade deals and there are bad trade deals, and when I am president it will be crystal clear that we have a president who knows the difference

So is this the kind of policy and rhetoric Chris wants? It seemed like it recently when he tweeted this out about democrats:

Rather than end the outsourcing of jobs to whatever place is desperate enough to work for crap, they shrug, “Everyone likes cheap iPods.”

Well first off, you could not stop outsourcing absent massive protectionism that would have made us all much poorer and in the long-run ensures far more people are less rich than their parents. Second, I guess this makes me a front row doofus but I actually place value on economic growth in developing countries who have benefitted significantly from, for example, the outsourcing of iPod production. I’m sorry if the back row kids, perhaps enlightened by their “traditional views of race”, don’t care about the welfare of people in developing countries who are much poorer than they are. But I happen to.

If all that back row kids want is empty rhetoric that suggests they are more respected, then don’t complain about economic policies. If what they want is some specific economic policies, then name them and defend them. If instead they want some kind of vague respect, then let’s debate what kinds of values and beliefs are worth respecting. Because I’m pretty sure the “traditional view of race” is more like just racism, and I’m sorry if criticizing that makes people mad but that’s the price of progress.

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ahofer
6 days ago
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Like the Edwards/Trump speech.
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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Sacred Principles As Exhaustible Resources

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From Inside Higher Ed: a group of Harvard students is going to raise awareness of free speech by inviting controversial speakers like Charles Murray and Jordan Petersen to their school.

I strongly believe that if somebody wants to hear Charles Murray or Jordan Peterson speak, then they should have that right. But I’m not sure these students have thought things through very carefully.

Suppose that some very generally beloved person like the Dalai Lama endorsed some very unpopular person like Kim Jong-Un. On the one hand, insofar as we respect the Dalai Lama, we might be willing to be a little more tolerant of Kim Jong Un. On the other hand, insofar as we hate Kim Jong-Un, we might be a little less tolerant of the Dalai Lama.

In the same way, every time we invoke free speech to justify some unpopular idea, the unpopular idea becomes a little more tolerated, and free speech becomes a little less popular.

The more often people hear about free speech being used to defend NAMBLA, the less that anti-paedophiles are going to like free speech. The more often people hear about free speech being used to defend the KKK, the less anti-racists are going to like free speech. The more often people hear about free speech being used to defend radical Islamist mosques, the less anti-Muslims are going to like free speech, and so on.

The extremely predictable consequences of anti-political-correctness activists marching under the banner of free speech are that a large part of the social justice movement now thinks of free speech itself as the enemy, that Twitter personalities make mocking references to “freeze peach”, that increasing numbers of people say the First Amendment “goes too far”. Meanwhile, pundits have perfected the argument that since the First Amendment only applies to the government it’s great and praiseworthy for everyone else to restrict speech as much as they want, leaving a pro-free-speech side whose arguments too often come down to “well, it’s in the First Amendment, so you’ve got to respect us” kind of flat-footed.

I think of respect for free speech as a commons. Every time some group invokes free speech to say something controversial, they’re drawing from the commons – which is fine, that’s what the commons is there for. Presumably the commons self-replenishes at some slow rate as people learn philosophy or get into situations where free speech protects them and their allies.

But if you draw from the commons too quickly, then the commons disappears. When trolls say the most outrageous things possible, then retreat to “oh, but free speech”, they’re burning the commons for no reason, to the detriment of everybody else who needs it.

(this is how I feel about everything Milo Yiannopoulos has ever done or said.)

If Charles Murray sincerely believes what he says, thinks it’s important, and thinks that saying it makes the world a better place, then he is exactly the sort of person whom free speech exists to defend. And if someone in a college reads The Bell Curve, likes it, and wants to learn more, then free speech exists to defend them too. But if your thought process is “Who’s the most offensive person I can think of? Charles Murray? Okay, let’s invite him to give a big talk, put up flyers everywhere, and when people get angry we’ll just say FREE SPEECH”, I worry that you are drawing from the commons for no reason. And that sometime later, when people need to use the commons for things they actually believe, there won’t be any left. People will have gotten so reflexively hostile to the idea of “free speech” that they’ll reject even the barest amount of tolerance for even slightly divergent views.

This is even more pressing in the context of growing partisanship and tribalism. Because the debate centers on mostly-leftist areas like universities, conservatives are turning free speech into a conservative principle. This is a disaster, because something being a conservative principle pretty automatically means that liberals will be tempted to conspicuously desecrate it. If people actually care about free speech, the number one thing they can do right now is very loudly invoke it every time a liberal is silenced. We should be having giant free speech parades supporting everyone who’s punished for supporting Palestine, just to make sure liberals don’t get the impression that free speech is a weapon pointed at them.

The nightmare scenario is that “free speech” goes the way of “family values” – a seemingly uncontroversial concept gets so tarnished by its association with unpopular/conservative ideas that it becomes impossible to mention or invoke in polite company without outing yourself as some kind of far-right weirdo. Right now I think we’re on that path.

And this is a more general principle: associating X with Y won’t just make supporters of X like Y more, it will also make opponents of Y hate X. I even sort of worry about this in terms of things like the Scientists’ March Against Trump. The hope is that people who like Science will stop liking Trump. But the other possibility is that people who like Trump will stop liking Science.

If principles are stronger than partisanship, then invoking principles is a great idea to rally people to your cause. If partisanship has grown stronger than principles, then even an incontrovertible proof that a certain principle supports your own tribe is going to turn out to be a gigantic booby prize. It won’t make the other side reconsider what errors have led them to contradict such hallowed ideals. It’s just going make half the population start hating the sacred principles necessary for society to function.

[EDIT: Please read this post very carefully if you believe I am attacking Charles Murray, or if you believe I am saying we should refuse to use free speech to defend sufficiently unpopular views. I’m not intending to say either of those things and I would disagree with both.]

[EDIT 2: Further clarifications]

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ahofer
10 days ago
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"The nightmare scenario is that “free speech” goes the way of “family values” – a seemingly uncontroversial concept gets so tarnished by its association with unpopular/conservative ideas that it becomes impossible to mention or invoke in polite company without outing yourself as some kind of far-right weirdo. Right now I think we’re on that path."
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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The problem with school choice?

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It has recently occurred to me that many people who object to "school choice" policy programs hold these two opinions in their heads at the same time:

  1. Funding good school districts everywhere is important.  We can see how important it is to people because there is a huge premium in real estate where schools are better.  Families seek out better school districts and they are willing to pay to be in those districts.  This ends up being unfair because marginalized families are priced out of those districts and are not able to attend the schools they would prefer to attend.
  2. School choice doesn't work because it is very difficult for families - especially marginalized families - to "shop" for a school.  They don't have the time or the ability to know, really, which schools are better, so the idea that they have a choice is sort of a misnomer.  They will end up in schools that are underperforming, just because it is so difficult to accurately audit the schools to know which ones are performing well for your children.
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ahofer
11 days ago
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Those are inconsistent, but I haven't heard people make #2 to much. Mostly its about the effect on the existing public schools.
Princeton, NJ or NYC
freeAgent
11 days ago
There's a much stronger version of #2 that I've seen many times, which is the paternalistic notion that parents make poor decisions about where to send their kids for school (usually because they've chosen to homeschool or send their kids to a private, religious school). The claim in these cases is not that finding a good school is difficult, but simply that they know better than those childrens' parents.
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No Matter What They Actually Say, the Public Trusts Private Corporations More Than Government, And I Can Prove It

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As a libertarian, I find myself constantly saying to folks something like:  "private actors (corporations, businesses, individuals, etc. are inherently more trustworthy than government because they cannot legally interact with you through force or fraud -- the government is free to do both.  If you don't like what a private actor is doing, you can simply refuse to interact with them further, an ability one does not have with the government."  This seems like such an obvious point but few people, particularly on the Left, will ever agree with me.  But I have recent proof that in their hearts, most people understand this perfectly.

What is my proof?  The universal, bipartisan freakout over the man who was dragged off by force from a United flight.  People are focusing on this event for the very fact that this example of a private company deploying force against its customers is so incredibly rare.  The Internet is filled with similar or in fact much worse examples of the government abusing its authority -- false arrests, petty harassment, asset seizures without due process -- but people just yawn and these videos gets 236 views  vs. millions for the United video.  Because, presumably, people have come to expect such abuses from the government but not from private companies.

And to a large extent, this particular example of private violence is the exception that will prove the rule.  Because United is going to experience real accountability.  It is already getting a firestorm of bad press that will cost them current and future business.  They will face lawsuits and possible government action.  But the average police officer or government official (or VA or IRS administrator) who abuses their power retain their jobs for life with no negative consequences from their actions.  Also, we should note that it was a government agent in this case who was the one who actually used force and dragged the passenger off, not a private United employee.  Almost every time one looks deeply at an abuse by private companies, at the end of the day that company is enabled or protected in doing so by so some sort of crony relationship with the government.

So I suppose we should ask, if people really in their hearts understand that private "power" is much less menacing than government power, why do they still support increasing the power of government over private actors?  And the answer must be that they believe (or hope, or expect) that use of this government power will achieve some end they want that they cannot achieve without force.  The problem with this of course is that it is naive -- it assumes that once you give great power to the government, government employees will use this power in the way you would use it, for the same goals and ends.  But this is seldom the case, certainly over the long haul.  I argued for years that the Left under the Obama administration was supporting Presidential power on the assumption they would hold the White House forever and thus get to wield all this power.  Which is why, I suppose, there has been so much freakout over Donald Trump's victory.

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ahofer
12 days ago
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interesting point. Other explanations?
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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S-Corps and Faulty Income Inequality Data

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In a traditional C corporation, the corporation pays its own taxes, and then income that is passed on it its owners in the form of dividends is taxed again as personal income on an individual's 1040.  The S-corporation was an positive innovation that has corporate income passing through to the tax return of the owners, and getting taxed only once on these individual returns.  Over the last 50 years, there has been a steady shift of small businesses from C corps to S corps.

Over a decade ago, I suggested that this shift may be in part to blame for the rise in income inequality.  Entrepreneurial profits that would have stayed before in a C-corp are now showing up immediately on individual tax returns.  In January, 2007 I wrote

The introduction of the "S-corporation" means that an increasing amount of entrepeneurial income is showing up on 1040's.  With C corporations, the incentive was to delay taking any income from the company for as long as possible to avoid double taxation, preferably taking it at time of the company's sale.  With S-Corporations, there is no double taxation problem so corporate income flows through to the individual 1040.  Business owners are suddenly reporting more income not because they are making more, but because they are recognizing it in a different way in a different tax form.  Much of the rich getting richer is actually just the rich recognizing their corporate income in small businesses in a different way

I am happy to see empirical proof of this hypothesis start to arrive:

Since 2000, different measures of top income inequality have exhibited very different trends. Top income shares based on measures of total income show a continued rise, whereas top income shares based on wage and salary income show no increase in inequality post-2000. The most important difference between these two measures of income is the income that accrues to S-corporations....

But interpreting trends in the S-corporation component is extremely difficult. Feenberg and Poterba (1993), Gordon and Slemrod (2002), and Cooper et al. (2016) warn that much of the recent increase in S-corporation income is income that previously accrued to C-corporations. Such income is not “new” income earned by top earners but is simply income that was previously labeled as corporate income rather than household income.

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ahofer
12 days ago
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not to mention the ability to depreciate real estate before the 86 reform. Direct reduction to AGI, which most income inequality time series are based upon. Glad to see this getting more attention.
Princeton, NJ or NYC
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