Friday 23 June 2023

Kaldor-Hicks redistribution is not Lindy

The Kaldor-Hicks argument is that a change in government policy which makes some people better off and some people worse off, should be pursued if the now-better-off people could in theory compensate the now-worse-off people. That is, the change should be enacted if it creates value. The compensation does not actually have to be paid. Changes which create value will make society better off, such as automation or trade liberalisation. If there is no systematic bias, then the winners and losers from various changes will tend to be random. If many Kaldor-Hicks improvements are made, then over time everyone will tend to become better off.

However, the Kaldor-Hicks argument does not work for redistribution. Consider a person from a poor background, who is intelligent enough to become a doctor but cannot afford the training. They work for many years in a menial job, saving enough money to train as a doctor. They are finally able to pay for their training and earn a higher salary. This is inefficient. One argument is that the state should pay for their training, without requiring the money to be repaid. That way, the person can start their work as a doctor much earlier, increasing their lifetime earnings. "Society as a whole becomes better off." However, this is not sustainable. In the short run, the total resources in the society increase, as the person provides their services as a doctor, and earns more money. In the long run, the extra resources are likely to be consumed, rather than reinvested into further training.

Why were the person's parents unable to pay for the training? Because, despite being presumably of similar intelligence to their offspring, they were spendthrift. The quality of spendthriftiness was presumably also inherited by their offspring. "Society" can divert resources into such a family, but over the long run they will be destroyed.

There is a Lindy alternative, which is that the person borrows money to pay for their training, and repays it out of their increased productivity.

Exception to this argument: state funding for eugenics such as embryo selection. At least in this case, improvements to intelligence are permanent, even if no improvements to spendthriftiness are made.

Monday 3 April 2023

Genes don't "exist"

Chromosomes exist, you can see them with a microscope. "Genes" are an abstraction. A gene is simply a section of a chromosome, but there is no objective dividing line between one gene and another. A gene can be split up ("chromosomal crossover") when the chromosome divides. A "gene" can refer to a deletion, an absence, where one person has no base-pair where one is normally found.

Monday 24 October 2022

Cultural evolution versus rational thinking

Previously: Truth versus utility

The rarity of suicide and the rarity of anti-natalist belief are good examples of the unimportance of argument. People who commit suicide have fewer children; suicide (during reproductive age) is selected against more strongly than perhaps anything else in life. I find David Benatar's arguments in "Better Never To Have Been" compelling, but almost nobody else does. Perhaps the arguments are bad, but regardless, a predisposition to believe them is selected against. Some people are literally incapable of believing them. I don't just mean stupid people, who are incapable of comprehending them, and benefit from this inability. The inability to believe something can be beneficial to people regardless of intelligence.

Cultural evolution doesn't work by selection of inherited "particles" of culture (memes as "units" of culture don't exist). Nevertheless, cultural evolution clearly happens, for example languages have evolved (there is a family tree of languages).

In "The Fatal Conceit", Hayek makes an evolutionary argument for how people invent their traditions and practices. People don't invent them deliberately by careful argument; rather the practices evolve because they benefit the people who carry them out. Hayek uses the word "tradition" but "practice" might be better. Hayek points out how much of human action is unthinking, automatic, traditional: "rationalists" may try to optimize their actions through introspection and argument, but they miss 99% of what they do.

In evolution, reasons and designs exist but not necessarily in anyone's mind. Daniel Dennett calls them "free-floating rationales". It can be difficult or even impossible to work out what they are. There are numerous "paradoxes" in evolution, where no one knows why something evolved, but we presume there must be a good reason.

Hayek uses his evolutionary argument to argue against socialism and central economic planning. This argument is difficult to make, because it is inevitably unconvincing even if it is true. It is unconvincing to say "it must be good to do things this way, but we don't know why": people demand evidence a particular practice is good. People are not used to applying evolutionary arguments to politics.

Religion is an excellent example, because we know the outcome is good -- religious people have more children -- but we can't explain how it works. Religion may seem an irrational, boring waste of time, but it is not.

Richard Dawkins invented the idea of memes to explain religion. He portrays religion as a parasite, which hijacks humans like a virus, to spread its ideas. Many religious ideas are highly optimised to spread, and to resist careful examination for truth. However, Dawkins completely fails to engage with the fact that religion is good for human fitness. Religious people have more children. Therefore, religion is not a parasite but a symbiote.

In David Sloan Wilson's book "Darwin's Cathedral", Wilson argues that religion benefits the group because it promotes cooperation. Someone is less likely to defect in private if they think God is watching them.

We co-evolve with our beliefs and practices. In the example of religion, as religion evolves to benefit us, we evolve a capacity for religion. In the example of anti-natalism, we evolve to be unable to believe something.

Monday 3 January 2022

Inductive versus probabilistic reasoning

Deductive arguments have a poor track record. Even if the argument is sound, the premises may be wrong, or the argument may not map well to the real world.

But inductive reasoning does not much appeal to deductivists. It sounds wishy-washy and doesn't produce the certainty that deductive reasoning appears to give. This is because so-called inductive reasoning is not how most people reason in the real world.

The classic inductive argument goes: The sun has risen 100 times before, therefore it will rise again tomorrow. Expressed in deductive terms, the implicit inductive premise is "if something has happened a lot in the past, it will probably happen again tomorrow". That's reasonable, but the key word is "probably". So the argument would be better expressed as "The sun has risen 100 times before, therefore it will probably rise again tomorrow." If we make the argument stronger "The sun has always risen before, therefore it will definitely rise again tomorrow", that's false.

The problem with this sort of reasoning is, like Laplace's rule of thumb, it ignores our detailed knowledge about the world. Like Laplace's rule of thumb, it's just a rule of thumb.

If the sun has risen a thousand times before, we do not just estimate the probability of it rising tomorrow as one in a thousand. We can be much more confident, because we understand that "sunrise" is a term for the sun moving above the horizon, as the earth orbits the sun in a solar system. For the sun to fail to rise tomorrow, something extraordinarily improbable would have to happen. For example, the sun would have to explode, in a way we did not predict.

In practice, we can use our knowledge about the sun to predict that it will engulf Mercury & Venus, and render Earth uninhabitable, in about five billion years.

Inductive reasoning should be replaced by probabilistic reasoning.

Sunday 2 February 2020

Distributed thinking

You can have a new idea, but you may not see all the ramifications of it. Other people will take your idea and reprocess it, reformulate it, improve it.

You can find forgotten ideas in old books, or several recent ideas and combine them, synthesise them.

You discuss ideas with other people and process and reprocess them.

You cannot read all books, but you can discuss them with other people, and often learn enough to avoid reading the book.

Old books become out-of-date; you rewrite them so people today can understand them; you improve them.

A mass of people and libraries constitute a computing, information processing machine which is superior to a single person trying to work it all out on its own.

Indiscriminate violence against groups

"Strikes and protests have been held on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios over the government's handling of migrants arriving from Turkey.
Banners on the Lesbos municipal theatre proclaimed: "We want our islands back".
Another read: "No more prisons for human souls in the North Aegean."
North Aegean Regional Governor Kostas Moutzouris said on Wednesday he was "annoyed" that Greek islands had been "turned into places of concentration and detention" for thousands of people around the world.
In Samos town, the refugee camp is in the olive groves on a hill just a few minutes' walk from the town centre.
It is common to see migrants hanging around on benches at the seafront.
Migrants live in tents at the camp on the Greek island of Samos."
Why haven't locals taken matters into their own hands? Locals should form a secret society to shoot migrants landing on their shores as soon as they step off the boats, if not before.

Similarly, a reconquista of the streets requires a secret society to attack members of high-risk groups who enter civilised areas, even before they commit crimes. This is criticised as unjust, punishing the collective for the actions of individuals, but it is effective and has been used successfully historically. In the above case, it is not even a response to actions, but a means of holding territory.

Similarly, reprisals against a group are an effective means of deterring individual crimes.

Favela world

Devin Helton and BAP agree: the central problem of politics is the unceasing growth of third world slums.

Humans don't optimise for increasing living standards, they optimise for procreation. Humans who aren't willing to sacrifice living standards and civilisation for more children will be replaced by those who do.

This leads to the unceasing growth of favelas. Favelas are parasitic on civilisation: they appear on the edges of cities. They do not grow their own food or produce much (apart from a rich source of votes for a certain sort of political entrepreneur).

Favelas are populated by people who are willing to live at the highest possible density. They sacrifice everything for procreation, including producing beautiful buildings (their buildings are as cheap as possible: everything is sacrificed to make more of them). They occupy land that could otherwise be occupied by civilised people. They are a major source of crime, being proximate to civilisation.

What is the solution? The land must be confiscated and the people destroyed. Favelas will naturally appear and grow unless they are actively stamped out. We need a reconquista of the streets, violence against favela dwellers who enter the civilised areas and even those who don't.