Idealism takes courage, cynicism is a form of cowardice

August 12th, 2014

Idealism is necessary for someone to behave with honor. I am wary of people who are very up front about their own cynicism – I think it’s expectation-setting behavior. It may be presented as a form of humility, as in “I’m very self-aware about the limitations of my own understanding”, but what I’ve seen it come out to mean is “Don’t expect me to hold to any of my commitments, as I will plead ignorance for any acts of self-interested malice I willingly commit.”

Necessary doesn’t mean sufficient, of course. There are plenty of idealistic assholes out there – it’s just that the self-labeling cynic is declaring their intent to be an asshole upfront, and one does well to take the free warnings as they come.

Inspired by the bit about expectations, employment and marriage in the most recent EconTalk: http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2014/08/reid_hoffman_an.html

The Joys of Rambling

November 26th, 2013

I take great joy in incoherent rambling. I find the sound of my own voice, even when just in my own head, to be pleasant. I think this is because there is a form of thinking that can only happen when you are writing for yourself, and if you have any kind of intellectual personality then what you write for yourself would be unintelligible to others just because you have a unique background of assumptions and private knowledge which other people don’t have.

Only writing for the consumption of others can be very stifling on actual thought. There is writing that, while it makes for good public consumption, if you wrote that way when writing for yourself then you are a sadly shallow individual. Never forget that marketing and self-promotion goes into public writing – don’t drink your own kool-aid.

Imprecision

November 26th, 2013

Weasel words are equivocating phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated.

Hearing people say “It depends” angers me. It angers me because those are weasel words.

Balance of Payment

November 17th, 2013

A cheaper currency makes it easier to sell one’s goods abroad. A government can make a currency cheaper by buying foreign-denominated assets. For example, China puts downward pressure on the CNY/USD by buying USD-denominated bonds. If we were to think of the (current account) surplus and deficit countries as two companies, what’s happening is akin to seller financing – the seller is lending the buyer money with which to buy goods.

How can selling something cheaply be considered bad for the buyer? Anti-competitive dumping comes to mind – this is where a company sells cheaply in order to drive out the competition and subsequently raise prices. It’s the path-dependence that makes this a difficult situation to evaluate.

There are many catch-22s in economics. Without producers, there can’t be consumers, and without consumers, there can’t be producers.

  • China wants to produce, but waiting for the virtuous cycle of increasing sophistication in productivity and consumer appetites to kick in is too slow.
  • China is a relatively centralized economy, so the state had the option of directly buying products from businesses to boost growth. However, that would result is a lot of waste, as the state doesn’t know what goods people actually want in the future, and would cause the wrong producers to develop.
  • Instead, China pays American consumers to buy goods from Chinese producers. This exerts competitive selectivity while avoiding the problem of having to develop a domestic consumer.

Conclusion: China pays for quality assurance services, forcing its people to compete to sell to foreigners for artificially low prices.

The pride behind words

November 15th, 2013

Mental state is a global thing. Work and play can’t be cleanly separated, and the mindset in one realm leaks into the other.

It is important to talk with yourself, and it can be difficult to switch between talking with yourself and talking with other people, not the least because motivations and capabilities can be quite idiosyncratic. Talking to people different in want and ability requires both sides to drop to the lowest common denominator of common topics and interests – hence small talk. I don’t enjoy small talk, but big talk is difficult when the room is diverse. Worst is when small talk masquerades as big talk, and all you get is buzzword slinging without much the way of insight being exchanged.

Ben Cashnocha said all this better

 

Introducing a paper

October 20th, 2013

The introduction section of an academic paper is where the author describes the historical sequence of inquiries which lead up to the work detailed in the paper proper. Referees, who decide if the paper will be published, do not take kindly to the omission of their own work. Given that the referees are anonymous, this forces the author to tie in their work with that of everyone else as much as they can.

I used to think of this process as a corruption, but having done more research-type work, I’ve come to appreciate this organization a lot more. Innovation without context is a huge waste of time for the reader.

Productivity and the value of Labor

January 1st, 2013

Thought of the day:

Prosperity that resulted from manufacturing jobs happened because even as the industrial revolution made human muscle worthless, it made human brains more valuable. Everyone who lost their muscle job got a new job for doing some menial but not capital-substituteable mental task.

This is hardly something that can be taken for granted for all productivity increases though. There is no guarantee that labor will always remain valuable.

But what about Baumol’s Disease? If you think Baumol’s disease will dominate, what jobs should you aim for?

 

Lecture to me

September 19th, 2012

It surprises me how much of my personal preferences were shaped by graduate school. I actually really enjoy the academic seminar / journal format for communicating ideas, where the speaker has a prepared story-with-a-moral complete with abstract, introduction, and a chronological or conceptual ordering, conclusion and future works section.

I don’t know how this format originally came about, but I find that I feel mildly annoyed whenever people talk about conceptual things and fail to impart sufficient structure by, e.g., forgetting to include motivations or forgetting to indicate which tradition or discipline the ideas are situated in.

It’s not that I have a high regard for the truth value of formal disciplines. I know that there are many areas where formal understanding has a lot of catch-up work to do. It’s more about communication than it is about truth. There is a memetic version of the anthropic principle in play here – the truth of un-expressable ideas is epistemologically inaccessible / non-existent, and must not be allowed to affect the choices we make in deciding what to say.

Yes it is true that an infinitesimal proportion of the sum total of humanity’s knowledge has been captured and reduced and cast into axioms. Yes it is true that as an individual your happiness and prosperity will likely be determined by your knowledge of the very much non-universal idiosyncratic circumstances into which you are born.

In a world thus impossibly dense with local knowledge, however, it is still possible for truths to matter only because truths are the only way to communicate. The world of possible ideas is distinct from the physical world, but their (unusual? anthropic?) intersection is the reason that accumulated knowledge has the power that it does.

Bridging identities for growth

September 9th, 2012

We all have different roles in different circles, and present different aspects of ourselves to different parts of the world. For simplicity, I think of behavior as belonging to two selves, one public and one private. The public self is the personality that you affect when you are dealing with strangers – you are polite, non-confrontational but will punish the occasional queue jumper, get excited about certain technical subjects, enjoy talking with people who disagree, etc. The personal self is the one that has ridiculously strong beliefs about sci fi morality, what constitutes a beautiful object, and the nature of happiness, etc.

Every time I move to a new place, I find that there are three stages that happen:

  1. Public self is established by adaptation to local culture – this happens pretty quickly
  2. Private self is established by meeting people who share a large proportion of interest – this just requires you to meet the right people
  3. Bridging of public and private roles by meeting a series of people who are of intermediate familiarity

I’ve found the third stage to be the most interesting. Both public and private selves get along too well with other people, and generate no discomfort through which personal growth can be pushed. The best setting for personal growth is that of encountering a person who is getting to know you better, and having to decide who you want to be.

Meaningful disagreement

May 26th, 2012

Being able to meaningfully disagree is something I treasure in friends. I’ve found this discussion about the correct way to disagree to be informative: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=13435