In this issue:
War Debts Game Theory
Thinking More Rigorously About Prices
Why An Old-Fashioned Concept Is Dying
On Anger Management
On Code Switching Frequency
The American Tradeoff
Laughter As A Spectrum
Speaking of Low Information/ Low Risk-Taking
Everything As Processing Time
On Voluntary Associations
What Merits Donation?
Ineffective Altruism Pt. 453189
War Debts Game Theory
The most costly U.S. foreign policy failure is rarely scrutinized because it seems righteous (see: Secrets by Peter Thiel). War debts! Our "hard-fought" victory! That was entirely unrealistic and collapsed the global economy.
Specifically, post WWI -- the (a) magnitude of and (b) pressure to repay war debts collapsed the "international monetary order" (aka global trade) by misaligning increasingly democratic countries' incentives with the world's (see: collective action problem). The massive cost (or foregone gains) from the collapse of global trade ($$$$$$$$$) eclipsed both the cost of WWI ($) and best case-scenario war debt repayment amount ($$). It also arguably caused WWII (protectionist policies backfiring --> labor unrest --> extreme nationalism), which imposed another one-time cost ($$). It was also a contributing factor to the Great Depression (less foreign investment --> more domestic speculation in the U.S. stock market --> aka "trusts" stocks not tied to real assets --> crash of 1929 --> $$$$ vanish).
Democracy's short-term horizons (another under-scrutinized idea) led to a SR "righteous feeling" but a LR disaster (compared to the alternative). Now it's impossible to know the precise costs of the counterfactual (E.g. maybe labor unrest would have still happened, but they likely would have been less intense). To briefly argue the opposite side, the external shock that destroyed the "international monetary order" wasn't just the war debts but also a much weaker "lender of last resort" (Britain). In the absence of war debts, Britain would have still been unable to uphold the gold standard and the U.S. would have still been protectionist given its SR election cycles and high-growth domestic economy.
But the war debts crippled Europe financially, and particularly gave increasingly-responsive European governments very few options to appease labor unrest!! The probability of protectionist policies went up as the number of options went down (especially in SR election cycle countries).
Scenario 1: No war debts. Because we recognize the massive upside to global trade.
+$$$$$$$$$ (from relatively prosperous global trade / less protectionist policies) (this is where you can adjust the shakiest assumption mentioned above...E.g. say 20% less protectionist policies instead of 70% less). +$$ (no WWII). +$$$$ (no Great Depression). Net deviation from what actually happened: +$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.
Scenario 2: Still have war debts, but make them reasonable.
+$$$$$ (slightly more protectionist policies than Scenario 1, but still more global trade than what happened). +$ (still WWII, but significantly shorter / less costly). +$$ (still some Great Depression, but the magnitude is cut in half because significantly more money is tied up in (real) foreign assets instead of U.S. stock market speculation not tied to real assets). Net deviation from what actually happened: +$$$$$$$$$$$.
Scenario 3: Paralyze Europe with unrealistically-high war debts.
No boost from more prosperous global trade. No boost from a less costly WWII. No boost from a less costly Great Depression. Prolonged poverty (aka death) but our national pride in tact? Net deviation from what actually happened: 0.
The bottom line is that we all massively underestimate / acknowledge gains from global trade because they are rarely tied to "newsworthy" current events (apparently a long time ago, we decided that "newsworthy" meant a political interest that we could cheer for -- either the U.S. global geopolitical position, or a win/loss for a certain interest group within the realm of U.S. politics). There is no graph of incremental global GDP growth on the front page of NYT). Most people don't know that increasingly-free global trade cut global poverty in half in 20 years (see: "trickle down" economics working, just not in the U.S.). Maybe this is because the gains are (mostly) felt elsewhere?? And it's (usually) workers in developing countries "replacing" workers in rich countries (by offering to work for less)?? Let me know. At first glance, these are not super popular messages if your readership consists of recently-fired U.S. manufacturing workers or a rich coastal elite increasingly concerned with domestic (not global) inequality (see: the difference between the top 10% globally and the top 1% global captivating most influential peoples' attention because of where we decided to draw the lines hundreds of years ago). If we apply the NYT/CNN filter to our information consumption, we have a massive blind spot (see: things that are not profitable to say). We predictably do not consider the counterfactual that doesn't seem "righteous." If we can't say "yes! that's a win for this team" we do not sell or buy the story. The consequence is bad policy (see: for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate, 40,000 people die) (meanwhile, the rich coastal elite is stressed about the news either way -- a trend increasingly covered in the NYT).
Thinking More Rigorously About Prices
Averages are extremely misleading a high % of the time (see: Taleb / general statistics about why we should look at distributions). Distributions shed significantly more light on the nature of an object, but they take up more paper / slide room. They also take 5-7 more seconds to analyze, so we're biased against using them (Let me know if anyone can think of a creative way to use video/moving picture to decrease this processing time).
This is a general truth about not just averages, but many static numbers. Take for example, the price of a laptop at a store. This is NOT how much the laptop is worth. This is how much it's worth to the marginal consumer!! (Remember the supply/demand graph). The distribution of the (different) marginal benefits to the set of purchasers varies widely! Sometimes, the marginal benefits are all closely bundled around the price. Sometimes, there are large standard deviation.
(I think) this means that most static numbers can be understood to only represent some information about the object they are describing (???). I.e. The iceberg effect! We see the visible part of the iceberg, but tend to forget that most of the iceberg is below the surface. This has to be too general, because it throws suspect on lots of numbers we trust / take for granted. I wonder which approximations are "good enough." At a certain point, there are diminishing returns to clarity and we have to just make a decision. But I wouldn't be surprised if many times, we approximate too much because we don't really understand the iceberg effect (???) (Help me out here APMA majors! I'm talking way out of my field).
Also, help! Apparently I still don't understand the full power/implications of compound interest -- and my professor says this makes many of my takes "statics observations that don't acknowledge compounding returns." Fuck. The context if anyone's interested: I was scrutinizing the fact that so many of my brilliant peers go into high-end finance to make "slightly better" capital allocation decisions. Surely we could get pretty good (if not perfect) capital allocation decisions with less people going into finance? My professor: investing fractions of a cent better TODAY actually makes a huge difference over the LIFETIME of the allocated capital / investment. Apparently, a "1% better" decision = 7/8ths of the value creation of an investment over a 40 year time period (because of compound interest!). If this is true, there's huge implications, right? Would love to learn more about this if anyone has thoughts on whether this means AgainstMalaria donations are inferior to putting the money in emerging markets portfolio (given the absurd multiplier effect). I'm still skeptical because much of the return is captured by the investors. But could the benefit be more than the benefit of a direct donation to SR/temporary solutions? Maybe.
Why An Old-Fashioned Concept Is Dying
In the movie Princess Mononoke the main character (SPOILER ALERT) had a crush on the (human) daughter of a wolf. The wolf mentioned at the end of the movie mentioned "that boy wanted to share his life with you." What a profound and beautiful concept. To share one's life with someone.
This concept is dying for two reasons. First, we increasingly look for what WE can get out of another person / romantic relationship. This is reinforced by the popular culture and, specifically, all the (profit-driven) messages we get about increasing one's optionality and not "settling" (for an awesome rebuttal, read: The Defining Decade) (for the profits, see Tinder's Q4 2020 results). If romantic relationships are increasingly about what we "get out of it," I am less likely to frame the situation as ME sharing my life/presence (a gift) with my significant other. Second, (generally) declining self-esteem (at least in some subsets of the population) is making it less likely that we would see ourselves as a gift in the first place. This is compounded especially in first-time relationshippers who have not experienced themselves having other options / adding value to MULTIPLE peoples' lives in an intimate way.
For more "commitment"-oriented concepts that optionality culture is killing, read the last three chapters of The Paradox of Choice). Would love to hear thoughts as I am somewhat convinced this profit-driven behavior is eroding traditional communities/commitment-oriented behavior (see: Bowling Alone). I'm not saying we should jump into regulation, but we should understand this strand of truth in the "capitalism is ruining life as we know it" trend and, on an individual level, make decisions to resist SR temptation and make LR investments / commitments (see: Digital Minimalism). Those who do not have sufficient SR-temptation-resisting mechanisms will see the value of their LR portfolio diminished when VR becomes mainstream.
On Anger Management
A taboo subject no one wants to talk about: how do you handle your negative emotions? How would you LIKE to handle them? What do you struggle with the most in this area of life?
As someone who simultaneously cares a lot about (a) good vibes and (b) vulnerability in friendships/relationships, this is an important problem set to reflect on!! Perhaps THEE most important thing to understand about myself and the the people closest to me.
Full send -- I am someone who generally can't hold a grudge (PR: 2hr37min). My baseline is pretty warm/friendly. My girlfriend says where others can be cold/passive aggressive, that's just not something I can be (??). However, I blow up more! (Not great). I rarely get upset with people, but when I do I get very upset and I do not hold back my frustration (extremely counterproductive in the heat of an argument).
I have a theory that explains why (maybe). It's all about the distance traveled from my baseline temperature to the cold temperature (one feels when someone close to them is not warm, for example) (I would describe it like you're hugging someone intimately and then poof! they vanish like a Disney movie).
That distance traveled (or jump) is pretty jarring for me. The drastic incline in altitude (from being generally warm/friendly to cold -- a relatively unfamiliar state) is anxiety-producing. So the fear/blow-up is probably coming from the anxiety (from the drastic shift in temperature). In other words, if I was medium temperature (not warm, nor cold, like Buddha?) more of the time, going down to very cold would be less jarring / scary. (Would love to visualize this if anyone knows any mental health-focused film majors).
This is definitely a result of growing up in a wealthy (NOT middle-class, please let's all stigmatize people who are not aware or upfront about the percentile of wealth they come from -- if you're in America, you're most likely in the top5% of wealth globally, AND THAT MATTERS in terms of your ability to help others -- see: The Drowning Child in Doing Good Better) household, right? Aka having loving parents who communicated directly (with minimal intense stress from situations outside of their control). The general theory here is that people from more frustrating economic situations are more used to negative emotions, so they are less jarring? Let me know.
This would also explain the whole "yin yang" thing. Arguably, we all need more pain. Or at least a less volatile graph. See: people exposed to mundane/every-day/regular frustrations being able to deal with negative emotions better? Or do they just sweep everything under the rug and become passive aggressive? (Definitely tradeoffs with everything -- aka better for some parts of the distribution of situations, but not others). Is there a sweet spot / happy medium? Let me know, because, while a sensitive/taboo subject, this answer matters for how we should live (which problem sets we should select, who we select as close friends, what our "stretch goals" for better emotional communication/capacity should be, etc).
On Code Switching Frequency
Recently, I found out of my close friend Bob acts completely differently outside the friend group I know him in (see: code switching). If Bob spends 15% of his time with my friend group, I only know 15% of Bob????? Definitely want feedback on that, because that seems too simple. The assumptions here are that (a) Bob is wildly different in other groups and (b) Bob = Bob's words and actions (take: metaphysics with Pautz for alternative theories!)
This is no knock on Bob -- switching modes/vibes is incredibly useful in many situations. The more I thought about it, I realized I, too, do this -- a lot. I can be a "chameleon," reflecting certain energies to different types of people (see: me in a band vs me in a book club vs me on the soccer team vs me destroying at beer pong last night). We all have a range and a distribution for time spent in every level along the range.
However, these ranges / distributions vary widely!! It's partially a function of having to fit into society's boxes (see: LGBTQ+ people or POC having to code-switch to avoid social punishment or violence in extreme cases). It's partially a function of diversity of experiences -- how many different kinds of groups have you had to stretch into? (The worldly traveler who has diverse friends in diverse cities vs the small-town Iowa kid that mostly goes to work and church).
This framework would also explain why people who don't "settle down" have a less "strong sense of self" (because they're still code switching so much of the time between different groups/settings) (???). Let me know.
The American Tradeoff
The U.S. individualist philosophy leads to crazy expectations, especially when merged with the recent shift in parenting ("you can do anything you set your mind to!" --> less humble young people on average). This is bound to lead to disappointment (see: rising anx/dep). Most people aren't exceptional.
In other countries (according to one source), people are more honest about their potential. "I'm not that great, so might as well contribute to a group, a community." Generally, this leads to more community-oriented behavior in other countries. (???)
In America, the lack of humility leads to less community-oriented behavior (???) (which also contributes to the rising anx/dep). "If I'm exceptional, I do not need my group as much as my group needs me."
Also, lower expectations make economies are stickier in other countries (???) E.g. people in developing countries do not move to cities when it would make them better off. One source familiar with small towns in developing countries: "I'm okay at this, so why would I try to go for something that's only for the best?"
So, one might predict quicker migration from American small towns to cities (and faster economic growth? More disappointment for most, and more wealth for some...which matches the data / extremely low rates of the American Dream. The opposite competing effect (that probably dominates) is less poverty/scarcity/violence in American small towns. The net outcome is probably lower rates of small-town to city migration (THEE driver of economic growth) than developing countries. Would love to learn more about this if anyone has any data or sources on how to subsidize moving/migration/etc.
Laughter As A Spectrum
The Elephant In The Brain says that laughter is just a "we know you're joking" signal to someone flirting with the edge of socially-acceptable behavior. The funniest jokes are the ones that demonstrate a complex understanding of social norms -- and hit the sweet spot at the edge.
Other jokes take things "too far." For example, a while ago, a friend of mine joked about butt plugs to another friend of mine. This was deviating too far from the social norm, and it didn't strike my audience friend as funny.
However, audiences vary widely in their range of acceptable deviation from the norm. Generally, jokes are funniest when they're at the edge of the acceptable range. So, there's a spectrum. From "dinner party" low-risk (highly palatable) jokes that elicit polite laughter, but not "roll on the floor" laughter. To butt plug jokes that most people don't find funny (but the people who do find it REALLY funny -- because it's at that subset's edge). The riskiest jokes have a huge expected return, for a small sliver of the population. This "power law" (???) applies to many forms of media (the highest amounts of enthusiasm are usually not widely-shared; e.g. most people don't like Jake and Amir, but those who do LOVE it). There may even been lessons for politics (note to self: revisit literature on cults).
When performing for an audience of strangers, you may want to attempt low-risk (=low-deviation) jokes. As you get to know a group more and more, you can take more and more risks. This is why you see the closest friends poking fun at each other to the extent that it seems "mean." One's ability to make strategic bets grows as they get more and more feedback on their jokes (see: oldest of 7 being funnier on average than only children).
There are two other factors on the supply side. First, higher self-esteem correlates with risk-taking ("if this doesn't land, it's not existential to the friendship") and generates more feedback (a virtuous cycle). Second, one's ability to accept or make high-deviation/risk jokes ABOUT ONESELF signals that they are not the type of person to get upset about such jokes (they have a high "tolerance"). This signal accelerates close bonds and is inversely correlated with self-esteem (a vicious cycle).
There's one more variable that ties low-risk jokes to low-self-esteem individuals: time between laughs! Some people need more frequent positive feedback, so they tell low-risk jokes frequently. Low preparation time correlates with lower-quality jokes (they are in a sense, "filling the time" to avoid awkward silences). Meanwhile, high-self-esteem individuals are more comfortable with silence and/or time in between laughs (because they can trust the situation/friendship/vibe more).
This all has huge implications for group formation -- raunchy people with no filter will tend to befriend other individuals with a high tolerance for deviation. While people who prefer small talk with polite (low-risk) jokes/laughter will tend to congregate. Also, low-esteem individuals will probably congregate with other low-self-esteem individuals (???). It would seem strange to have a super high-self-esteem person paired with a super-low-self-esteem person (???). Maybe informal rule systems (norms) encourage this separate to minimize instances of people getting offended. E.g. People selecting into different types of colleges keep the high-risk, high-self-esteem people from offending people with lower tolerances (???).
There's also probably an optimal size for groups of close friends (3 or 4?). A one-on-one conversation at the beginning of one's friendship is often too risky for high-risk jokes. With limited information about tolerances, it's better to diffuse the risk over several audience members (see: diversification). Where too large of group generates just enough polite laughter to keep things from getting closer (???). Or is it too little information about any individual member's tolerance (???). Let me know.
Speaking of Low Information / Low Risk-Taking
Anxiety! Is something that can be modeled. When people have limited information, there are more and more scenarios to think through. And as my close friend says "anxiety is literally just imagining 700 different scenarios." To understand anxiety, we need to ask "how many scenarios are imagined and why?"
Just as the irrational voter theorem says "people will gather information about the different options... until the marginal cost (of a little more researching) outweighs the marginal benefit, people will gather information OR build scenarios based on the expected costs and benefits. Particularly the expected costs. If the expected cost of making a wrong decision is perceived as incredibly high, one will think through 700 scenarios instead of 7.
Depending on the person, thinking through scenarios encourages or discourages additional information-gathering ("I've thought through it, I'm good" vs "oh there's all these other factors I need to research now"). This means they're complements OR substitutes (???). My hunch is they're probably substitutes more of the time because information-gathering often involves taking actions (which often incur risk). Recently, the internet has changed the game by drastically reducing the social risk of information-gathering.
Lower social risk of information-gathering --> more information-gathering --> less scenario-building = less anxiety (???)
Then how do we explain rising anxiety (in America, at least?) Two guesses: (1) The problems keep getting more and more complex?? See: problem set selection + rising expectations from a generation of watching movies. And/or (2) there's something about the act of taking social risks that generates self-esteem / lowers the perceived risk significantly over time??? If social risk-taking is actually critical to self-development, and the internet is decreasing the perceived need to take risks by selling an attractive alternative ("keep in touch with friends using social media! Stay connected without the stress that comes from actually interacting with people in the real world!") This message is convincing everyone! Look around. A vicious cycle (see: network effects and The Social Dilemma) has made social media both the most funded and the most profitable entertainment project in the history of the world. It's also displaced "real world" social interaction, decreasing the median number of close friends (and therefore raising the expected cost / perceived existential risk of a confrontation with one of those close friends). These effects are most salient for low-self-esteem individuals (social media can be thought of as a regressive tax). If you think the current situation is bad (record anx rates 3x higher than anything seen before), wait until we all upgrade to VR.
To sum up why the previous equation was incorrect:
Less social risk taking = less experience / information --> more scenario-building = more anxiety.
In other words, there must be something qualitatively different about the information one gathers in the real-world from real-world conversations with friends than the information one gathers online. While we think the online-information is a pretty good substitute (thanks to the most funded advertising campaign in the history of the world), it doesn't actually reduce scenario-building / anxiety. The bottom line is keeping up with someone's Instagram feed does NOT lead to more USEFUL information about that person and the nature of their friendship with you. There is no substitute for quality time / social risk taking.
Here's the fucked up part. Scenario-building/anxiety/stress is a physical phenomenon that deteriorates one's energy levels. So not only are we doing more calculations / scenario-building that ever before, we're doing it while running on fumes. We are mentally and physically EXHAUSTED, which probably sheds light on why people are increasingly too drained to get out of bed (see: rising dep).
Social risk taking also takes energy (significantly more energy than scenario-building???) so even if people know they should get off of their phones and build closer relationships IN PERSON, they'll struggle to do it.
Add in increasingly mind-numbing work (for most) (see: economies of scale --> decreasing variety of output/work experience) and declining community-oriented behavior (above), and we have a recipe for disaster.
The shrinking number of people WITHOUT mind-numbing work (see: The Winner-Take-All Society) will likely be the most anxious. I'm really shaky on this assumption (so correct me!), but it seems like, to compete in the "economy of tomorrow," one will increasingly need to navigate spaces with complex/transient social norms (that require more scenario-building) (E.g. the world traveler with diverse friend groups in diverse cities VS the Iowan farmer who mostly goes to work and church). More anxiety, but the upside is "winning" the prestigious job/work that (you guessed it!) also displaces close friends or, in the best scenario, makes close friendships seem more transient (see: higher rates or moving around to different cities #optionality).
To the extent that "winning" in the economy is correlated with intelligence (key assumption: sufficient incentive to enter the race = dissatisfaction with more accessible (less excludable) goods like church participation), "winners" will be anxious (???) because more intelligent people are more capable of building 700 scenarios. It's not a perfect correlation, however, because some subset of the extremely intelligent will realize the benefits of (a) real-world experience / social risk taking, (b) processing time to glean the most insights from life experiences, and/or (c) thinking in terms of probability / expected value analysis to allocate mindshare efficiently.
Everything As Processing Time
My latest take: processing old information is massively undervalued because so many players from us seeking out NEW experiences/content/information. Whereas no one profits from me sitting and meditating for an hour every day. See: How To Do Nothing for a more aggressive critique of content-consumption.
I'm willing to bet you could correlate most wellbeing statistics with % of day processing vs consuming. Four KPIs that should be maximized/prioritized above any other number (probably):
1) Deep sleep time per night -- arguably dreams are us processing the new information we gathered over the previous / trying to understand implications we didn't have time to mull over in the moment (Why We Sleep). SleepCycle will give a rough approximation of your deep sleep to total sleep ratio. When in doubt, 10hrs in bed = 8 hrs of deep sleep.
2) Meditation time per day -- great for processing things more fully. You know how sometimes you can't fall asleep because your mind is racing? Just imagine cutting and pasting that time to a more deliberate hour during the day. Most of us don't like being alone with our own thoughts, but the more you do it, the more you get comfortable with just sitting with your anxieties and letting them dissipate. A broader KPI could be "alone with your thoughts" time (could include walking, biking, showering, sitting, etc).
3) Writing time per day -- intentionally self-reflective / journaling is ideal. There's something qualitatively different about writing for an audience than jotting down bulletpoints (but either is great!).
4) Deep, vulnerable talks with friends/family per week -- a good north star /yardstick here is "1 hr of speaking with such candor that you feel danger.”
All four metrics are trackable and improvable (see: What Gets Measured Gets Managed). I'm pretty sure if any given person rigorously improved these metrics, they would see a measurable increase in quality of life.
Now not every person in the world requires the same processing time per day (there's a whole distribution of returns). Critically, one should START by assessing the processing time they can credibly commit to (see: Atomic Habits) and THEN select problem sets.
What classes / problem sets should one sign up for in life? That's where I can't really speak beyond my specific situation. I have a hunch, thought, that the complexity of the problem set should be related to the processing time available/committed to for an individual (more processing time = more complex problem sets). Personally, I like Cal Newport's writing on this. He argues that we reach a flow state when we commit to mastering a craft over a long period of time (E.g. a computer science professor advancing to harder and harder proofs). At least right now, I think the move is probably to dedicate oneself to a craft and to relatively low-maintenance/uncomplicated/drama-free friendships and relationships. While analyzing complex interpersonal situations can be intellectually-stimulating, the endowment effect makes it unsustainably draining (for me at least, the expected costs are too high). To quote some close friends, if a friendship/relationship requires too much fixing, it's probably not the move (the "improvement" time is better invested in oneself ???). The jury is still out on this, because it can be incredibly personally rewarding to help someone solve their problems (E.g. parenting! Stay tuned for a post about the friction between "rational"/economic analysis and family life.)
To briefly argue the rebuttal, this week's book (10% Happier) and another close friend just mentioned that thinking less about things can be the move sometimes. See: Buddhism realizing that everything (pleasure/pain) is temporary. The real goal should be thinking less and less ??? Because it's bound to lead toward SR highs and SR lows (??). When the real goal should be LR contentment with whatever's going on in life?? (Not sure I'd go this far, but maybe that's because I didn't grow up in a Buddhist temple, but rather watching awesome movies with ups and downs. Hit me up if you're trying to live in a Buddhist monastery for 6 weeks this coming summer).
While this doesn't seem to square with the "more processing time! thesis," I think there's a way to marry the two concepts. Imagine cutting all the petty people out of your life and replacing them with a few relatively-less petty close friends. That's a net gain that opens up mindshare to reinvest in a craft. Thinking more at the beginning / not being attached to things or people that are not immediately high-return --> thinking less about dumb things --> thinking more about things that really "matter" in life. A motivating assumption here is that it's impossible to minimize all thoughts/attachment down to 0. So if we have to think/be attached to something, we might as well choose a few things wisely (see: Doing Good Better). Not sure how to square this with my tendency to get super attached / emotionally invested in things/people. Let me know if you find any sources on making Buddhism actionable in the "real world." There are two layers to focus on: (1) the extent to which one's happiness relies on unstable or constantly changing external circumstances, and (2) how often external circumstances change/fluctuate. Given the whole Black Swan thing, I suspect we overestimate our ability to control (2) and underestimate (1). Fuck, also, while I want to want to be a dispassionate lawyer, I love romantic movies.
On Voluntary Associations
I love the simple beauty of voluntary association in theory. It should be scrutinized more in practice.
We interact with each other to satisfy our needs or another persons' needs. That's what we instinctively want to do because over hundreds of thousands of years, primates who signaled their commitment to groups survived and reproduced (The Elephant in The Brain).
Interaction = coordination/cooperation = organization.
Any organization has rules (formal and/or informal). Often, you have to make a contribution to be part of a group. There's almost always a short term sacrifice (E.g. taxes) for a long term gain (E.g. candy). If we don't comply, we don't get candy (we get sent to prison or banished). To get extra candy, we join more and more organizations (E.g. friend groups, fraternities, universities, etc). All education is is signaling that we can figure out how to follow the informal/formal rules of ANY organization well (and contribute to it effectively) (the least generous framing: "human domestication").
We are constrained by rules no matter what (unless we abstain from any voluntary association / go to a deserted island and accept that we will not get any benefits). So freedom in our conventional view doesn't really exist. There's relative freedom, but not absolute freedom (???)
In practice, many people form local governments and fraternities that harm people outside of the group (through zoning laws, or sexual assault culture, respectively). Arguably, the U.S. federal government is just a group/team that wins some zero-sum (decreasing) and some positive-sum (increasing) games for its constituents -- harming global GDP/prosperity to artificially prop up its dying manufacturing and agricultural sectors (for example).
Groups are also sticky and intergenerational. So it doesn't seem right to think of people "opting in" to every set of rules they find themselves having to abide by (E.g. when did evaluate the pros/cons and "sign up" to be a U.S. citizen?). Groups also can suppress reason/critical thinking (see: signaling loyalty to your cult by going along with ridiculous beliefs) (the more ridiculous the belief, the stronger the loyalty). Smaller groups may have less ridiculous loyalty requirements (because they're based more around things in the physical world ???), but larger groups get more done on average (???) at the cost of rationality (at least historically, see: Sapiens). The more self-interested / alignment of incentives, the more critical thinking can be encouraged (???). Probably a benefit to the increasing centrality of employers in one's life. For the opposing argument, consider the informational disincentives (impersonality / lack of real emotional help) of for-profit mega-churches. Real help with one's interpersonal situations doesn't seem to scale past a small n group of friends and/or family.
Not sure where to land here, but to briefly connect to the anxiety section, organizations are incredibly useful for limiting our options (see: West Point undergraduates having minimal decisions to make and being less stressed because less #scenario-building). Having to work a shitty assembly job because there are no better options sucks. But signing up to be a robot for the army during WWII is awesome. The nuts and bolts of the two scenarios are similar -- limiting our options (and anxiety) by outsourcing our decision-making to a wider entity. The main difference is in PR strategy -- the army has much better PR than the assembly line. Therefore it doesn't "feel like work" (???). Would love to hear more thoughts here.
A brief comment on (relatively) stable prices in a global economy -- stability is (decreasingly) a public good (by definition, undersupplied). Everyone has something to gain from stable prices, but no one individual is going to make it happen (see: Collective Action Problem). To solve CAPs, people form groups and build things (hoping to capture some % of the benefit -- there's almost always a split with other parties). This process motivates the creation of all groups / voluntary associations. Awesome.
If you have perfect equality, this organization doesn't happen (there has to be a small n group with a comparative advantage at capturing the gain from a project -- maybe they know about something earlier than others, or they have more experience, or in the case of countries, they are better positioned geopolitically).
In the case of globally stable prices, ideally this small n group is not democratic or super high-growth. Post-WWI America, for example, did not have long enough type horizons to capture the gains from stabilizing global prices (see: SR election cycles), nor the economic incentive (it's economy was booming, so the boost from global trade would have been relatively small -- as a % of preexisting/counterfactual wealth).
What Merits Donation?
This past summer, all I could talk about was how we should all be donating to end preventable diseases (see: Doing Good Better). Upon further refection, this goal seems pretty arbitrary. Where should we draw the line? Malaria's in the bucket, diarrhea's in the bucket, but once we solve both that we don't have a responsibility to donate? Aren't all diseases preventable at some cost? Should the standard be "if we can save a life for $500, we should" or "if we can save a life for $2,000 we should"? It's not clear where to draw the line and say "here's where we have an ethical obligation to donate, and here's where we don't."
While I want to yell "people should never die from diarrhea!", everyone -- even the wealthiest people/kings/queens -- did for most of human history. So it seems like an arbitrary line based more on "I can't believe this!" than any firm philosophical argument.
While I develop the philosophy, I'm going to shift my portfolio of donations away from malaria nets to GiveDirectly. Basically because I believe in the logic/efficiency of the EITC and I think we should have it at a global scale. Would love to discuss this more in person if anyone's down. The unanswered question here is the multiplier effect of a global EITC vs the multiplier effect of social VC. The breakdown of whoever captures the gains is important (pretty sure), but also the LR vs SR consideration??? Ahhh, more brilliant people need to write more books about this stuff.
Ineffective Altruism Pt. 453189
We donate (in part, at least) to demonstrate moral character / ability to be a good ally (Elephant in The Brain).
Apparently, the frequency/regularity of the altruistic act matters. Something about cold, calculated cost-benefit analysis does not inspire people to think that we are a hero. The Elephant in The Brain argues that giving SPONTANEOUSLY matters! When we donate after a devastating earthquake, for example, the SPONTANEOUS nature of the giving "demonstrates how little choice we have in the matter, how it's simply part of our character to help the people in front of us."
Fuck this seems hard to overcome at scale. Would love to brainstorm how to trick people into donating more cost-effectively if anyone is interested. See: FreeWill for inspiration, and Doing Good Better for frustration.
The more I think about this, the more I'm afraid "do good" will not beat "feel good" at scale. So maybe our best hope is persuading super high-net-worth individuals with powerpoint decks? Let me know.