Links (19)

Collection of papers and articles that I’ve spotted since my previous links post that seem interesting.

Pychology

  • Cynicism (i.e. thinking that people are ultimately selfish, being less trusting of others’ intentios, etc) is not correlated with cognitive ability (under diverse measurements), despire lay beliefs to the contrary.
    • I have to admit that I think the popularity of many anticommonse beliefs (I have in mind some of The Elephant in the Brain’s claims), or rather, the easiness with which they are accepted among certain people, is due to this lay association.
  • Psychedelics and moral enhancement
  • Atheists are as happy as religious people in south america
    • Once again, religion is not good for you.
    • Same, but with health
    • Sure, there are some papers that find opposite results, I briefly discussed the literature in my review of The Elephant in the Brain

Economics

Philosophy

  • A review of the arguments presented against Josh Greene’s proposal of utilitarianism as a meta-morality
    • Like the early Peter Singer, Greene does not believe in objective moral truth yet advocates for a controversial code of ethics. Like Michael Huemer a few years ago, the author of the paper points out why this is a problem.
    • I also have to add that the idea purely rational reasoning leads to utilitarianism, as Greene’s fMRI studies purport to show is wrong. If I accepted it as true, I would instantly convert to utilitarianism. Down with feelings!

Tech

Other

  • The japanese transport experience
  • Caplan contra trigger warnings
    • A recent study on trigger warnings
    • Stuart Ritchie comments on it. We should wait until replications to say this is indeed true. Effect sizes also seem small.
    • I personally am of the opinion of Caplan. My prior is that people are not so psychologically weak so as to have to preface things with warnings.
  • The latest Peter Thiel talk
  • Nick Land does a podcast
  • The importance of backgrund fundamentals when interpreting other people’s writings
  • Paul Krugman is skeptical of cryptocurrencies
    • But he, like many people still has in mind “Crypto 1.0”, (currency) rather than “Crypto 2.0” (distributed trust and smart contracts). (Of course, Crypto 1.0 is still improvable with the Raiden/Lightning networks).
    • Anyway, I think bitcoin in its current incarnation is a bad medium of exchange. It has potential to be a good store of value and unit of account like gold used to be, but by design its supply is contrained. During the gold standard – as PK notes- people did not trade with gold coins, they used banknotes. Banks  do not create money – contra what some economists have asserted – but they extend credit (deposits and banknotes). Credit can be easily scaled up and down to meet the needs of the economy, given a relatively fixed underlying amount of money.
    • So Bitcoin (or, for that matter, Ethereum if used as a currency) needs bitbanks to be successful (as currency). What a bitbank would need to do is take money and loan money at interest, and then issuing their own tokens, which would be the common medium of exchange. This does not seem doable at the moment. (Until one can fully automate things like checking creditworthiness).
    • Then there’s the whole issue of enforcement, because there is no way for a smart contract to take your money from a different wallet you haven’t told it it exists. External (good old) enforcement is needed. But that in turn needs a good way to identify who is the person behind the breach of (smart) contract.
    • Which leads us to the need for robust ID. People are working on that.
    • Bonus: Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum does have a “tether” to the real world, it can be used to pay for computations in the Ethereum Virtual Machine. But does money really require such a backstop?
    • All that said, I am more pessimistic about the prospects of blockchain technology in general. When listening to, say, Vitalik Buterin, or the a16z gang discussing the potential of these technologies, most of what they say is that blockchains enable the design of X new things. Sure, but is X useful? Or rather, given what people want and what the alternatives ares, are they competitive? Here lies my relative pessimism. So far blockchains have seen a limited adoption, and in some cases -like Ripple- this has not been because of its merits, but because regulations make the straightforward solution complex. Even with a fully operational and scaled up Ethereum, sure, one can build a decentralised Uber using on a blockchain, but would that be more convenient and cheper than regular Uber? It will be, surely, more decentralised and more anonymous even. But the rigidities imposed by smart contracts may make it slower to adapt than a corporate solution.
    • At the end of the day, blockchain is a crutch to enable trust where trust is difficult. But if a corporation and a legal system already does this, we have made trust easy already!
    • Change My View!
  • In related news, Larry White says The dollar hasn’t been better under the Federal Reserve than it was under the classical gold standard with private banknotes. The experience of other countries under fiat monies has been even worse than that of the United States. Central banks have brought higher inflation rates, higher price level uncertainty, and higher resource costs of the monetary system. They have diminished fiscal discipline. Floating rates have diminished the gains from international trade and cross-border investment. 

 

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