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Dr_Chimera
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Post #1 by Dr_Chimera » Mon Mar 25, 2013 7:06 pm

It’s For Your Own Good!
March 7, 2013
Cass R. Sunstein

Review of: Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism
by Sarah Conly
Cambridge University Press, 206 pp., $95.00

1.

In the United States, as in many other countries, obesity is a serious problem. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to do something about it. Influenced by many experts, he believes that soda is a contributing factor to increasing obesity rates and that large portion sizes are making the problem worse. In 2012, he proposed to ban the sale of sweetened drinks in containers larger than sixteen ounces at restaurants, delis, theaters, stadiums, and food courts. The New York City Board of Health approved the ban.

Many people were outraged by what they saw as an egregious illustration of the nanny state in action. Why shouldn’t people be allowed to choose a large bottle of Coca-Cola? The Center for Consumer Freedom responded with a vivid advertisement, depicting Mayor Bloomberg in a (scary) nanny outfit.

But self-interested industries were not the only source of ridicule. Jon Stewart is a comedian, but he was hardly amused. A representative remark from one of his commentaries: “No!…I love this idea you have of banning sodas larger than 16 ounces. It combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.”

Many Americans abhor paternalism. They think that people should be able to go their own way, even if they end up in a ditch. When they run risks, even foolish ones, it isn’t anybody’s business that they do. In this respect, a significant strand in American culture appears to endorse the central argument of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. In his great essay, Mill insisted that as a general rule, government cannot legitimately coerce people if its only goal is to protect people from themselves. Mill contended that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or mental, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.1

A lot of Americans agree. In recent decades, intense controversies have erupted over apparently sensible (and lifesaving) laws requiring people to buckle their seatbelts. When states require motorcyclists to wear helmets, numerous people object. The United States is facing a series of serious disputes about the boundaries of paternalism. The most obvious example is the “individual mandate” in the Affordable Care Act, upheld by the Supreme Court by a 5–4 vote, but still opposed by many critics, who seek to portray it as a form of unacceptable paternalism.2 There are related controversies over anti-smoking initiatives and the “food police,” allegedly responsible for recent efforts to reduce the risks associated with obesity and unhealthy eating, including nutrition guidelines for school lunches.

Mill offered a number of independent justifications for his famous harm principle, but one of his most important claims is that individuals are in the best position to know what is good for them. In Mill’s view, the problem with outsiders, including government officials, is that they lack the necessary information. Mill insists that the individual “is the person most interested in his own well-being,” and the “ordinary man or woman has means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that can be possessed by any one else.”

When society seeks to overrule the individual’s judgment, Mill wrote, it does so on the basis of “general presumptions,” and these “may be altogether wrong, and even if right, are as likely as not to be misapplied to individual cases.” If the goal is to ensure that people’s lives go well, Mill contends that the best solution is for public officials to allow people to find their own path. Here, then, is an enduring argument, instrumental in character, on behalf of free markets and free choice in countless situations, including those in which human beings choose to run risks that may not turn out so well.
2.

Mill’s claim has a great deal of intuitive appeal. But is it right? That is largely an empirical question, and it cannot be adequately answered by introspection and intuition. In recent decades, some of the most important research in social science, coming from psychologists and behavioral economists, has been trying to answer it. That research is having a significant influence on public officials throughout the world. Many believe that behavioral findings are cutting away at some of the foundations of Mill’s harm principle, because they show that people make a lot of mistakes, and that those mistakes can prove extremely damaging.

For example, many of us show “present bias”: we tend to focus on today and neglect tomorrow.3 For some people, the future is a foreign country, populated by strangers.4 Many of us procrastinate and fail to take steps that would impose small short-term costs but produce large long-term gains. People may, for example, delay enrolling in a retirement plan, starting to diet or exercise, ceasing to smoke, going to the doctor, or using some valuable, cost-saving technology. Present bias can ensure serious long-term harm, including not merely economic losses but illness and premature death as well.

People also have a lot of trouble dealing with probability. In some of the most influential work in the last half-century of social science, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky showed that in assessing probabilities, human beings tend to use mental shortcuts, or “heuristics,” that generally work well, but that can also get us into trouble.5 An example is the “availability heuristic.” When people use it, their judgments about probability—of a terrorist attack, an environmental disaster, a hurricane, a crime—are affected by whether a recent event comes readily to mind. If an event is cognitively “available”—for example, if people have recently suffered damage from a hurricane—they might well overestimate the risk. If they can recall few or no examples of harm, they might well underestimate the risk.

A great deal of research finds that most people are unrealistically optimistic, in the sense that their own predictions about their behavior and their prospects are skewed in the optimistic direction.6 In one study, over 80 percent of drivers were found to believe that they were safer and more skillful than the median driver. Many smokers have an accurate sense of the statistical risks, but some smokers have been found to believe that they personally are less likely to face lung cancer and heart disease than the average nonsmoker.7 Optimism is far from the worst of human characteristics, but if people are unrealistically optimistic, they may decline to take sensible precautions against real risks. Contrary to Mill, outsiders may be in a much better position to know the probabilities than people who are making choices for themselves.

Emphasizing these and related behavioral findings, many people have been arguing for a new form of paternalism, one that preserves freedom of choice, but that also steers citizens in directions that will make their lives go better by their own lights.8 (Full disclosure: the behavioral economist Richard Thaler and I have argued on behalf of what we call libertarian paternalism, known less formally as “nudges.”9) For example, cell phones, computers, privacy agreements, mortgages, and rental car contracts come with default rules that specify what happens if people do nothing at all to protect themselves. Default rules are a classic nudge, and they matter because doing nothing is exactly what people will often do. Many employees have not signed up for 401(k) plans, even when it seems clearly in their interest to do so. A promising response, successfully increasing participation and strongly promoted by President Obama, is to establish a default rule in favor of enrollment, so that employees will benefit from retirement plans unless they opt out.10 In many situations, default rates have large effects on outcomes, indeed larger than significant economic incentives.11

Default rules are merely one kind of “choice architecture,” a phrase that may refer to the design of grocery stores, for example, so that the fresh vegetables are prominent; the order in which items are listed on a restaurant menu; visible official warnings; public education campaigns; the layout of websites; and a range of other influences on people’s choices. Such examples suggest that mildly paternalistic approaches can use choice architecture in order to improve outcomes for large numbers of people without forcing anyone to do anything.

In the United States, behavioral findings have played an unmistakable part in recent regulations involving retirement savings, fuel economy, energy efficiency, environmental protection, health care, and obesity.12 In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron has created a Behavioural Insights Team, sometimes known as the Nudge Unit, with the specific goal of incorporating an understanding of human behavior into policy initiatives.13 In short, behavioral economics is having a large impact all over the world, and the emphasis on human error is raising legitimate questions about the uses and limits of paternalism.
3.

Until now, we have lacked a serious philosophical discussion of whether and how recent behavioral findings undermine Mill’s harm principle and thus open the way toward paternalism. Sarah Conly’s illuminating book Against Autonomy provides such a discussion. Her starting point is that in light of the recent findings, we should be able to agree that Mill was quite wrong about the competence of human beings as choosers. “We are too fat, we are too much in debt, and we save too little for the future.” With that claim in mind, Conly insists that coercion should not be ruled out of bounds. She wants to go far beyond nudges. In her view, the appropriate government response to human errors depends not on high-level abstractions about the value of choice, but on pragmatic judgments about the costs and benefits of paternalistic interventions. Even when there is only harm to self, she thinks that government may and indeed must act paternalistically so long as the benefits justify the costs.

Conly is quite aware that her view runs up against widespread intuitions and commitments. For many people, a benefit may consist precisely in their ability to choose freely even if the outcome is disappointing. She responds that autonomy is “not valuable enough to offset what we lose by leaving people to their own autonomous choices.” Conly is aware that people often prefer to choose freely and may be exceedingly frustrated if government overrides their choices. If a paternalistic intervention would cause frustration, it is imposing a cost, and that cost must count in the overall calculus. But Conly insists that people’s frustration is merely one consideration among many. If a paternalistic intervention can prevent long-term harm—for example, by eliminating risks of premature death—it might well be justified even if people are keenly frustrated by it.

To Mill’s claim that individuals are uniquely well situated to know what is best for them, Conly objects that Mill failed to make a critical distinction between means and ends. True, people may know what their ends are, but sometimes they go wrong when they choose how to get them. Most people want to be healthy and to live long lives. If people are gaining a lot of weight, and hence jeopardizing their health, Conly supports paternalism—for example, she favors reducing portion size for many popular foods, on the theory that large, fattening servings can undermine people’s own goals. In her words, paternalism is justified when the person left to choose freely may choose poorly, in the sense that his choice will not get him what he wants in the long run, and is chosen solely because of errors in instrumental reasoning.

Because of her focus on the means to the ends people want, Conly’s preferred form of paternalism is far more modest than imaginable alternatives.

At the same time, Conly insists that mandates and bans can be much more effective than mere nudges. If the benefits justify the costs, she is willing to eliminate freedom of choice, not to prevent people from obtaining their own goals but to ensure that they do so. Following a long line of liberal thinking, and in a way that responds directly to potential objections, Conly emphatically rejects “perfectionism,” understood as the view that people should be required to live lives that the government believes to be best or most worthwhile.

Because hers is a paternalism of means rather than ends, she would not authorize government to stamp out sin (as, for example, by forbidding certain forms of sexual behavior) or otherwise direct people to follow official views about what a good life entails. She wants government to act to overcome cognitive errors while respecting people’s judgments about their own needs, goals, and values.

For coercive paternalism to be justified, Conly contends that four criteria must be met. First, the activity that paternalists seek to prevent must genuinely be opposed to people’s long-term ends as judged by people themselves. If people really love collecting comic books, stamps, or license plates, there is no occasion to intervene.

Second, coercive measures must be effective rather than futile. Prohibition didn’t work, and officials shouldn’t adopt strategies that fail. Third, the benefits must exceed the costs. To know whether they do, would-be paternalists must assess both material and psychological benefits and costs (including not only the frustration experienced by those who lose the power to choose but also the losses experienced by those who are coerced into something bad for them). Fourth, the measure in question must be more effective than the reasonable alternatives. If an educational campaign would have the benefits of a prohibition without the costs, then Conly favors the educational campaign.

Applying these criteria, Conly thinks that New York’s ban on trans fats is an excellent example of justifiable coercion. On the basis of the evidence as she understands it, the ban has been effective in conferring significant public health benefits, and those benefits greatly exceed its costs. Focused on the problem of obesity, Conly invokes similar points in support of regulations designed to reduce portion sizes.

She is far more ambivalent about Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to convince the US Department of Agriculture to authorize a ban on the use of food stamps to buy soda. She is not convinced that the health benefits would be significant, and she emphasizes that people really do enjoy drinking soda.

Conly’s most controversial claim is that because the health risks of smoking are so serious, the government should ban it. She is aware that many people like to smoke, that a ban could create black markets, and that both of these points count against a ban. But she concludes that education, warnings, and other nudges are insufficiently effective, and that a flat prohibition is likely to be justified by careful consideration of both benefits and costs, including the costs to the public of treating lung cancer and other consequences of smoking.
4.

Conly’s argument is careful, provocative, and novel, and it is a fundamental challenge to Mill and the many people who follow him. But it is in less severe tension with current practices than it might seem. A degree of paternalism is built into the workings of the modern regulatory state. Under long-standing law, you have to obtain a prescription to get a wide range of medicines. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration forbids people from working in unsafe conditions even if they would willingly do so. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture regulate food safety, and you are not allowed to buy foods that they ban, even if you are convinced that they are perfectly safe. One of Conly’s points is that the government already makes many decisions for us, and she believes that is just fine.

A natural objection is that autonomy is an end in itself and not merely a means. On this view, people should be entitled to choose as they like, even if they end up choosing poorly. In a free society, people must be allowed to make their own mistakes, and to the extent possible learn from them, rather than facing correction and punishment from bureaucratic meddlers. Conly responds that when government makes (some) decisions for us, we gain not only in personal welfare but also in autonomy, if only because our time is freed up to deal with what most concerns us:

It is very important to my continued existence that my car be safe, but I do not want to have to come up with a reasonable set of auto safety standards…. If the government were to do the research and ascertain that trans-fats are bad for my health and then remove trans-fats from my diet options, I’d be grateful.

She adds that if we are genuinely promoting people’s ends, and allowing paternalism only with respect to means, the claims of autonomy are sufficiently respected. As we shall shortly see, however, this suggestion raises questions of its own.

Conly is right to insist that no democratic government can or should live entirely within Mill’s strictures. But in my view, she underestimates the possibility that once all benefits and all costs are considered, we will generally be drawn to approaches that preserve freedom of choice. One reason involves the bluntness of coercive paternalism and the sheer diversity of people’s tastes and situations. Some of us care a great deal about the future, while others focus intensely on today and tomorrow. This difference may make perfect sense in light not of some bias toward the present, but of people’s different economic situations, ages, and valuations. Some people eat a lot more than others, and the reason may not be an absence of willpower or a neglect of long-term goals, but sheer enjoyment of food. Our ends are hardly limited to longevity and health; our short-term goals are a large part of what makes life worth living.

Conly favors a paternalism of means, but the line between means and ends can be fuzzy, and there is a risk that well-motivated efforts to promote people’s ends will end up mischaracterizing them. Sure, some of our decisions fail to promote our ends; if we neglect to rebalance our retirement accounts, we may end up with less money than we want. But some people who often rebalance their accounts end up doing poorly. In some cases, moreover, means-focused paternalists may be badly mistaken about people’s goals. Those who delay dieting may not be failing to promote their ends; they might simply care more about good meals than about losing weight.

Freedom of choice is an important safeguard against the potential mistakes of even the most well-motivated officials. Conly heavily depends on cost-benefit analysis, which is mandated by President Obama’s important executive order on federal regulation.14 It is also a crucial means of disciplining the regulatory process.15 But the same executive order emphasizes that government agencies must identify and consider approaches that “maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for the public.” Officials may well be subject to the same kinds of errors that concern Conly in the first place. If we embrace cost-benefit analysis, we might be inclined to favor freedom of choice as a way of promoting private learning and reflection, avoiding unjustified costs, and (perhaps more important) providing a safety valve in the event of official errors.

Conly is quite aware of the many difficulties that would be associated with efforts to prohibit the manufacture and sale of alcohol and cigarettes, but here the problems seem to me more significant than she allows. True, smoking produces extremely serious public health problems—over 400,000 deaths annually—and it is important to take further steps to reduce those problems.16 But any ban would raise exceedingly serious difficulties, not least because it would be hard to enforce. A full analysis would have to consider such difficulties, as well as the claims of free choice. Black markets in cigarettes are not exactly what the United States most needs now.

Notwithstanding these objections, Conly convincingly argues that behavioral findings raise significant questions about Mill’s harm principle. When people are imposing serious risks on themselves, it is not enough to celebrate freedom of choice and ignore the consequences. What is needed is a better understanding of the causes and magnitude of those risks, and a careful assessment of what kind of response would do more good than harm.


Of course, I am much more sympathetic to Mill's line of thinking, but I also think that Mill's argument is ostensibly easy to attack from the current vantage point. We have had a great deal of economic thought formulate since his age, so we can pick away without much difficulty.

Most people who are not extremists understand that the issue is about degree. Some of us have more faith in the decisions of paternal governments than others.

My concern always pertains to any notion that efficacy can simply be shown to be evident. I quote one of the portions of the criteria: that "coercive measures must be effective rather than futile. Prohibition didn’t work, and officials shouldn’t adopt strategies that fail."

The problem is that we often a) do not know until we have tried and failed, as was the case with prohibition (we suffer and then learn our lesson), and b) underestimate or willfully ignore unintended consequences due to biases and agendas.

I think that like many liberals, Conly sees the government's potential as something that can some day become a kind of scientific hub, where ideas are manufactured and applied using only only the freshest, empirical ingredients. But that is not government in its nature, which is a battleground of frequently short-sided and ideologically driven decisions. Can this change? I think not to an extent where we can just dive in and accept this utopia.

So on a scale for governmental paternalism, I am far removed from enthusiastic approval.

But willing to listen.

P.S. This book is getting destroyed on Amazon, but I think it deserves a fair and thorough response. I support the need for the FDA and so do most people, so some of the arguments are not that far removed from the mainstream point of view.
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Post #2 by Dr_Chimera » Tue Apr 02, 2013 11:04 am

I agree with Sunstein 100% about marriage, although I wasn't aware of his position until after I formulated my view. The nudge thing is a real annoyance though.
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Post #3 by RTWAP » Wed Apr 03, 2013 1:39 am

Dr_Chimera wrote:I agree with Sunstein 100% about marriage, although I wasn't aware of his position until after I formulated my view. The nudge thing is a real annoyance though.


Yup. It's been a pretty obvious solution for a while now. But for many of the more combative people on each side they are much more interested in beating the other side than in protecting the core of what they say matters to them.
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Post #4 by mayoradamwest » Wed Apr 03, 2013 9:37 am

Marriage is viewed as being better than civil unions. If you tell people that everyone must have the inferior option and only the religious can have the good one, they won't be happy. It's too bound up in our culture to be a realistic option.
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Post #5 by mayoradamwest » Wed Apr 03, 2013 9:49 am

Big#D wrote:it's what they do in europe. not that it's an argument that would sway any american.


I could be wrong because I'm guessing at popular opinion, but I just can't see someone who's spent their entire life planning on getting "married" being told no even if it's just semantics.
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Post #6 by Dr_Chimera » Wed Apr 03, 2013 11:16 am

mayoradamwest wrote:I could be wrong because I'm guessing at popular opinion, but I just can't see someone who's spent their entire life planning on getting "married" being told no even if it's just semantics.


Yeah, they want big brother to bless their holy union. Do you?
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Post #7 by mayoradamwest » Wed Apr 03, 2013 11:57 am

Dr_Chimera wrote:Yeah, they want big brother to bless their holy union. Do you?


Not when you attach the term big brother to it. The horror of it all - drones watching civilians, warrantless wiretaps, them having access to my computer habits through my ISP, customs reading my e-mail and facebook messages on my smart phone when I cross the border, and having to get a marriage license. I'd certainly feel much better about it if I only had to get a civil union license instead.
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Post #8 by RTWAP » Wed Apr 03, 2013 1:15 pm

mayoradamwest wrote:Marriage is viewed as being better than civil unions. If you tell people that everyone must have the inferior option and only the religious can have the good one, they won't be happy. It's too bound up in our culture to be a realistic option.


But why should it be only the religious who can do it? You could have an officiant from wherever. A professor, or doctor, ship's captain, or local councilor. And heck, it's not too hard to find a church in lots of places that wouldn't have a problem with it.
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Post #9 by mayoradamwest » Wed Apr 03, 2013 4:08 pm

RTWAP wrote:But why should it be only the religious who can do it? You could have an officiant from wherever. A professor, or doctor, ship's captain, or local councilor. And heck, it's not too hard to find a church in lots of places that wouldn't have a problem with it.


I've never gotten along with captains of vessels.
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Post #10 by Dr_Chimera » Wed Apr 03, 2013 4:40 pm

mayoradamwest wrote:Not when you attach the term big brother to it. The horror of it all - drones watching civilians, warrantless wiretaps, them having access to my computer habits through my ISP, customs reading my e-mail and facebook messages on my smart phone when I cross the border, and having to get a marriage license. I'd certainly feel much better about it if I only had to get a civil union license instead.


You should feel the same. Some people feel that they need the blessing of a higher authority. For some it's God, for others it's government.

Once the change occurs, it'll be a little weird and then everyone will get used to it.
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Post #11 by Useful Idiot » Fri Apr 19, 2013 10:29 am

The Free to Choose network just uploaded this piece by Walter E. Williams in full. Even if you disagree with most of it, it still provides an interesting perspective.

[youtube]L5TS8QUJWXo[/youtube]
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Post #12 by Fruity Pebbles » Thu May 09, 2013 1:09 am

What the fuck did you just post.
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Post #13 by Fruity Pebbles » Thu May 09, 2013 2:37 pm

For some reason last night I thought this was posted in the znk lounge thread and was wondering why it was posted there.

I've never seen any of those commercials before... but yeah I agree with Big Dog - she's hung up on sex, sexuality (funny - apparently the evil patriarchy is something she inadvertently supports in some respects). Robots and the future shouldn't benefit men!!! They should benefit women.
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Post #14 by Sturminator » Thu May 09, 2013 3:08 pm

Dr_Chimera wrote:I agree with Sunstein 100% about marriage, although I wasn't aware of his position until after I formulated my view. The nudge thing is a real annoyance though.


Ehh...nudging works just fine, without the stupid label. It is good economics to tax things that cause negative externalities which cost the state money or lead to a lower quality of life - like greenhouse gas emissions, cigarettes, etc. When shit that people shouldn't really be doing costs more, they will do it less. What's amazing is that this pud rubber could make a whole book out of that old saw.
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Post #15 by Dr_Chimera » Thu May 09, 2013 5:14 pm

Sturminator wrote:Ehh...nudging works just fine, without the stupid label. It is good economics to tax things that cause negative externalities which cost the state money or lead to a lower quality of life - like greenhouse gas emissions, cigarettes, etc. When shit that people shouldn't really be doing costs more, they will do it less. What's amazing is that this pud rubber could make a whole book out of that old saw.


I agree but those who fall in love with the idea will want to take it to its extreme.
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Post #16 by Dr_Chimera » Thu May 09, 2013 6:33 pm

dempsey_k wrote:Evgeny Morozov is a horse's ass, but the grand concepts from people like Sunstein make him relevant and right and necessary.


Trolling with purpose.
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Post #17 by RTWAP » Thu May 09, 2013 6:33 pm

dempsey_k wrote:Good call. She also either precludes or doesn't consider the possibility of women enjoying sex bots or robo-slaves too. Perhaps the reason we don't get that type of ad targeting is because ad agencies are sexist and pigeonhole women into narcissistic beauty or hating on doofy husbands, denying their sexuality.


It's funny that she has such a problem with men using machine to fulfill needs they would have relied on women for in the old sexist days. And she doesn't see that as a benefit (Yay, nobody is pressuring US to do it anymore!) but rather as a thread. Sometimes I wonder if the unexpressed thought underneath that response is a recognition that some men only put up with some women because they fulfill those needs, and she secretly suspects she's one of those women. And if you take that away your just left with crappy people you would never have a reason to spend time with.
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Post #18 by Dr_Chimera » Thu May 09, 2013 7:17 pm

http://quixoticfinance.com

Speaking of grand theory, a fun takedown of Nassim Taleb.
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Post #19 by Sturminator » Sun Jun 02, 2013 6:20 am

If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.
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Post #20 by Pennywise » Sun Jun 02, 2013 9:14 am

[YOUTUBE]pNkiDVRIdZI[/YOUTUBE]

I watch this whenever I feel frustrated or angry.
They all float down here..
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Post #21 by Dr_Chimera » Wed Jul 24, 2013 10:58 pm

Hodgman is the Ayn Rand of comedy.
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Post #22 by Dr_Chimera » Tue Oct 15, 2013 4:34 pm



The problem is that Conservatives hear "Marx" and their minds close. Leftists hear "neo-liberal" or "Milton Friedman" and their minds close as well.
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Post #23 by Useful Idiot » Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:53 pm

If any of you want to give Hayek a shot, there is an excellent series of long interviews available for free online[0]. The Bork interview spends quite a bit of time on law, legislation, and intellectuals.

[0]: http://hayek.ufm.edu/index.php/Main_Page
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Post #24 by Dr_Chimera » Sun Dec 22, 2013 5:55 am

In recent days I have been thinking about Shanghai. Among large cities it has experienced probably the greatest amount of change in the last two decades as a result of a dramatic shift from collectivization and statism to free markets (beginning with the 1978 economic reforms and their effect on the urban industry).

One can probably imagine the nostalgia that older generations of the Chinese feel for their past due to this rapid change. By nostalgia, I am referring to the longing for a period of a relative timeliness within a space that virtually never changes (or changes very slowly) and thereby maintains a stable cultural identity. For a period of about 50 years, right up to mid-to-late 80, Shanghai was pretty much a city in stasis; a city that never grew. Its skyline was virtually identical in the 1970s as it was in the 1930s.

In free market societies, one's connection to the past is fleeting, in that one can sometimes sense a concrete difference in one's surroundings from year to year, let alone decade to decade. Furthermore, generations share little in common with one another due to rapid technological and resulting cultural changes.

What I find interesting is that Mao's China, while technically leftist, allowed for its citizens a more lasting connection with the past, a socially conservative standard if you think about it. Meanwhile, there is nothing evidently conservative about a Chinese society that embraces free markets and their rapid and unpredictable influx of change (think Hong Kong).

Looking at examples like this, it becomes somewhat befuddling why it is that social conservatives, as we know them, cling to economically right wing sentiments. They should be leftists! After all, leftist economics would be most supportive of a country that cultivates a stability and regularity of its own socio-cultural identity.

Canada is, in some ways, a good example of this "leftist conservatism." The CBC can be seen as an attempt to hold on to a wider set of values as a reaction against rapid and unpredictable change of unfettered markets. It propagates hockey and Don Cherry to the masses, fearful that they might start watching the Raptors instead.

Individualists, conversely, don't seem to fit the definition of "conservative" at all. Because to conserve a culture outside oneself one needs to invest in a collective effort. Not just a religion, but a form of governance. A rapidly changing, competitive society of individuals free from the moral instruction of the collective is about as far as one can get from conservatism and its necessarily nostalgic mentality.
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Post #25 by Mustafa2 » Sun Dec 29, 2013 12:32 pm

I'm reading Sein und Zeit, is there any readers of Heidegger in this place? I'd like to start a discussion to clarify some concepts.
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Post #26 by Germz » Wed Apr 30, 2014 9:42 am

Can't celebrate J.S. Mill too much when talking about race ...
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Post #27 by Dr_Chimera » Sat May 17, 2014 12:32 am

Look Who Nick Kristof’s Saving Now
http://coreyrobin.com/2014/02/16/look-who-nick-kristofs-saving-now

Solid critique of one of my least favorite public intellectuals and his disparaging view of academics.
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Post #28 by Useful Idiot » Wed Jun 04, 2014 1:31 pm

I dug up an essay[0] by Scott Sumner from Yuval Levin’s National Affairs. It is perhaps the clearest outline of his ideas regarding the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The crux:

" wrote:Indeed, monetary policy has always been the Achilles heel of conservative economics. Conservatives tend to favor low inflation, which is generally a laudable goal. But as we saw in America during the 1930s and in Argentina during the late 1990s, tight money can discredit free-market policies and open the door to left-wing governments if it is disconnected from an understanding of the proper aims of monetary and fiscal policy. There are times when higher inflation is necessary, and if it does not materialize, the public may choose an explosive growth of government instead. To discern such circumstances, we need to look not at inflation but at nominal spending. NGDP targeting is a way of making the world safe for laissez-faire capitalism. It becomes much easier to say we will not bail out General Motors if we have a monetary policy that assures that the failure of GM will not reduce aggregate spending, but will instead result in resources being re-allocated to other parts of the economy. It is easier to shed jobs in declining sectors if jobs are being created just as rapidly in booming sectors.

The knee-jerk opposition of many conservatives to monetary stimulus — and to inflation under any circumstances — arises from the confusion created by inflation targeting. It is a risky attitude, and one especially ill-suited to this moment. Explicitly targeting nominal GDP rather than inflation would greatly alleviate that confusion, and help make for a political environment friendlier to a more effective monetary policy.


More Sumner:

http://econlog.econlib.org/authorssumner.html
http://themoneyillusion.com/
http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2009/11/sumner_on_monet.html
http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2010/06/sumner_on_growt.html
http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2012/01/sumner_on_money.html
http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2013/03/sumner_on_money_1.html

For a bit more background, give this episode a try:

http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2006/08/milton_friedman.html

[0]: http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/re-targeting-the-fed
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Post #29 by Useful Idiot » Tue Aug 19, 2014 5:12 pm

This article[0] on Paul Krugman explains a whole lot about his current personality (the bits about 90s Krugman are salient).

His wife seems to add the bile to his articles.

Image

[0]: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/03/01/the-deflationist?currentPage=all
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Post #30 by RTWAP » Thu Dec 18, 2014 6:25 pm

That cowpox one was good.
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Post #31 by Ernie » Sun Dec 21, 2014 4:52 am

My personal philosophy: if you use words in your personal philosophy that the average person doesn't understand, it becomes a tree falling in the forest sitch.

PS: you aren't as smart as you think you are.
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Post #32 by Ernie » Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:34 am

Thomas Malthus wrote:I don't think that I'm very smart and so I must really be quite dumb indeed if your point holds true.

All I did was share a few links that I found interesting.


oh I wasn't responding to anything you wrote.

drunk rant.
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Post #33 by Dog » Mon Dec 22, 2014 7:15 pm

Thomas Malthus wrote:I don't think that I'm very smart and so I must really be quite dumb indeed.


I believed in you.

:why:
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Post #34 by AD » Mon Dec 22, 2014 7:18 pm

Dog wrote:I believed in you.

:why:


You believed in an economy major? Might as well say Liberal Arts degree with a minor in philosophy.
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Post #35 by Mufasa » Mon Dec 29, 2014 1:22 pm

I don't know why i still waste my time coming here to ask questions anymore, but i still can't get if the idea of eternal return is a metaphysic or an ethic. I know Nietzsche is working on surpassing metaphysic, but when he says the world is finished and then is doomed to reproduce itself many times, does he means it for real or is it only a question of perspective? From a perspective it would be an ethic from another perspective it would be ontologic?
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Post #36 by Mufasa » Tue Dec 30, 2014 9:09 pm

dempsey_k wrote:Are you approaching this from Kundera's take on it?


No, i just read the aphorisme 341 from the gay science. What's Kundera's take on it? Is it from an essai or fiction?
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Post #37 by Mufasa » Thu Jan 01, 2015 2:47 pm

dempsey_k wrote:His most prominent novel in fact. His take on eternal return is that it's statistically illogical to assign value to your one experienced existence, because how would you really know it was good or bad, you only do it once and never again (contra Nietzsche). Impossible to know if that sex or steak was truly good.


Well in the aphorism 341 of the gay science, Nietzsche doesn't say you have to choose the best option based on value (Was it really good?), he only states that if you have to make a choice do it so that you would love having to live it again many times. I always thought that L'insoutenable légèreté de l'être had something to do with Nietzsche, as i remember one aphorism from Nietzsche is intitled L'insoutenable légèreté de l'autre (The unsustainable lightness of the other).

I saw the film, i had the intuition that something deeper was behind it, will read the book then. Thanks.
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Post #38 by Dog » Thu Jan 01, 2015 8:17 pm

Holy moly did that book ever bore me out of my mind. Such fluff. Must have not gotten it.
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Post #39 by Sturminator » Fri Jan 02, 2015 5:31 am

Nietzsche's theory of eternal return is controversial. Many people take it to have been a simple thought experiment - an ethical challenge, if you will. Live your life as though you expected it to infinitely recur. Some see parallels to Zoroastrian theories (Zarathustra was a Zoroastrian, for example), and the whole thing as a sort of weird nod to pre-Christian ethics without much substance behind it. Nietzsche doesn't develop the idea with any real rigor in any of his books, and so leaves the question open.

Heidegger saw Eternal Return as a metaphorical description of the process of "self overcoming" intrinsic to N's theory of the will to power. That is: eternal return describes the state of existential insatiability with which every living creature must struggle between life and death. We always return to the state of needing more power regardless of how much we have already won.

N's notes on the subject, however, make it pretty clear that he viewed it as an ontological fact, a description about the true nature of the universe. Interestingly, this jives with much of modern astrophysics; it may well be that Nietzsche was correct, and the universe does in fact move in cycles which, if space is taken to be finite but time infinite, inevitably lead to recurrence.

In N's reasoning, from the ontology, we arrive at the ethical. If you really believe the ontological claims regarding RE, it must radically change how you view the world and your own life in it. This is, on the one hand, a terrible weight. Every suffering of your existence will be repeated into infinity: a perfect description of hell...if you live a shitty life. On the other hand, as N clearly believed in free will in a robust sense, the implication here would be that in every iteration, you always get a chance to make different decisions. Your existence in 4-dimensional space then becomes this enormous and expansive thing, and this life is only a single, thin experience, one strand of the whole. It's not reincarnation so much as reboot.

If we take this view of N's eternal recurrence (and I'm pretty sure that the above is, in fact, what he meant), it is a remarkably optimistic view of the universe, more or less the polar opposite of fatalist determinism, which N saw as a form of self-destructive and reductive nihilism.
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Post #40 by Sturminator » Fri Jan 02, 2015 5:57 am

dempsey_k wrote:And he assigns determinism to those with lesser wills. And his grasp of aristocracy had it that the plebs tended to have far less. An observation that isn't far from the truth, but of course we know a lot more about the malleability of humans now than he or anybody within 75 years of him did.


Nietzsche's apparent lamarkism is probably the biggest black mark against him, even more so than his rampant misogyny.
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Post #41 by Mufasa » Fri Jan 02, 2015 11:36 pm

Sturminator wrote:Nietzsche's apparent lamarkism is probably the biggest black mark against him, even more so than his rampant misogyny.


Why would you call Nietzsche a Lamarkist? Because of his direct views on evolution and Darwinism (wich weren't Lamarkist as i recall, he just thought that the will to power was the motor behind evolution, no?) or somekind of Lamarkist views on values?

If i was to use my own judgement on the text i read, i'd say that living your life as if the eternal recurrence was real, you'd overcome any form of platonism/christianism residues of morale you inherited, and be guided by your true nature, wich in the end would make your life sense-full through the creation of yourself : as N also wrote that the only way to actually wish to live your life many times is to make it a work of art (or music if i recall correctly). But again that's reading the text as itself and not puting it in the context of philosophy.
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Post #42 by Sturminator » Sat Jan 03, 2015 7:05 am

Mufasa wrote:Why would you call Nietzsche a Lamarkist? Because of his direct views on evolution and Darwinism (wich weren't Lamarkist as i recall, he just thought that the will to power was the motor behind evolution, no?) or somekind of Lamarkist views on values?


As N didn't specifically address biology, it is difficult to say with certainty. He speaks rather exhaustively about how culture and "fine tastes" must be cultivated over generations, which is fine and even plausible, but also goes beyond that, at one point (I believe this is from BG&E) claiming that blue-bloods are capable of greater suffering than plebs due to their refinement. There does appear to be a meaningful strand of Lamarkist sentiment in N's published work, though it is uncertain. N's ignorance of the finer points of evolutionary biology can perhaps be chocked up to "errors of era", but in certain passages one can hear dark undertones in his obvious elitism, and I say this as a great fan of Nietzsche.
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Post #43 by Mufasa » Sat Jan 03, 2015 2:14 pm

Sturminator wrote:As N didn't specifically address biology, it is difficult to say with certainty. He speaks rather exhaustively about how culture and "fine tastes" must be cultivated over generations, which is fine and even plausible, but also goes beyond that, at one point (I believe this is from BG&E) claiming that blue-bloods are capable of greater suffering than plebs due to their refinement. There does appear to be a meaningful strand of Lamarkist sentiment in N's published work, though it is uncertain. N's ignorance of the finer points of evolutionary biology can perhaps be chocked up to "errors of era", but in certain passages one can hear dark undertones in his obvious elitism, and I say this as a great fan of Nietzsche.


When he talks about the weaks and the loosers (translation from French here) he doesn't talk about the plèbe, no? He talks about those evil sicks who impose their ressentment as an universal moral, I have never read anything that points to the social origin of someone as his value, but rather the ladder of value that he inherited from his culture (national and familial) that he either overcome or bath in his own ressentment, that from the twilight of the idols, the aphorisme about the doctors and the sicks. Or that's what I've retained from my sparse readings over the year.

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