randy-ayndy   107

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Unaligned optimization processes as a general problem for society
TL;DR: There are lots of systems in society which seem to fit the pattern of “the incentives for this system are a pretty good approximation of what we actually want, so the system produces good results until it gets powerful, at which point it gets terrible results.”

...

Here are some more places where this idea could come into play:

- Marketing—humans try to buy things that will make our lives better, but our process for determining this is imperfect. A more powerful optimization process produces extremely good advertising to sell us things that aren’t actually going to make our lives better.
- Politics—we get extremely effective demagogues who pit us against our essential good values.
- Lobbying—as industries get bigger, the optimization process to choose great lobbyists for industries gets larger, but the process to make regulators robust doesn’t get correspondingly stronger. So regulatory capture gets worse and worse. Rent-seeking gets more and more significant.
- Online content—in a weaker internet, sites can’t be addictive except via being good content. In the modern internet, people can feel addicted to things that they wish they weren’t addicted to. We didn’t use to have the social expertise to make clickbait nearly as well as we do it today.
- News—Hyperpartisan news sources are much more worth it if distribution is cheaper and the market is bigger. News sources get an advantage from being truthful, but as society gets bigger, this advantage gets proportionally smaller.

...

For these reasons, I think it’s quite plausible that humans are fundamentally unable to have a “good” society with a population greater than some threshold, particularly if all these people have access to modern technology. Humans don’t have the rigidity to maintain social institutions in the face of that kind of optimization process. I think it is unlikely but possible (10%?) that this threshold population is smaller than the current population of the US, and that the US will crumble due to the decay of these institutions in the next fifty years if nothing totally crazy happens.
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february 2018 by nhaliday
Sex, Drugs, and Bitcoin: How Much Illegal Activity Is Financed Through Cryptocurrencies? by Sean Foley, Jonathan R. Karlsen, Tālis J. Putniņš :: SSRN
Cryptocurrencies are among the largest unregulated markets in the world. We find that approximately one-quarter of bitcoin users and one-half of bitcoin transactions are associated with illegal activity. Around $72 billion of illegal activity per year involves bitcoin, which is close to the scale of the US and European markets for illegal drugs. The illegal share of bitcoin activity declines with mainstream interest in bitcoin and with the emergence of more opaque cryptocurrencies. The techniques developed in this paper have applications in cryptocurrency surveillance. Our findings suggest that cryptocurrencies are transforming the way black markets operate by enabling “black e-commerce.”
study  economics  law  leviathan  bitcoin  cryptocurrency  crypto  impetus  scale  markets  civil-liberty  randy-ayndy  crime  criminology  measurement  estimate  pro-rata  money  monetary-fiscal  crypto-anarchy  drugs  internet  tradecraft  opsec  security  intel 
february 2018 by nhaliday
Reid Hofmann and Peter Thiel and technology and politics - Marginal REVOLUTION
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february 2018 by nhaliday
Self-Serving Bias | Slate Star Codex
Since reading Tabarrok’s post, I’ve been trying to think of more examples of this sort of thing, especially in medicine. There are way too many discrepancies in approved medications between countries to discuss every one of them, but did you know melatonin is banned in most of Europe? (Europeans: did you know melatonin is sold like candy in the United States?) Did you know most European countries have no such thing as “medical school”, but just have college students major in medicine, and then become doctors once they graduate from college? (Europeans: did you know Americans have to major in some random subject in college, and then go to a separate place called “medical school” for four years to even start learning medicine?) Did you know that in Puerto Rico, you can just walk into a pharmacy and get any non-scheduled drug you want without a doctor’s prescription? (source: my father; I have never heard anyone else talk about this, and nobody else even seems to think it is interesting enough to be worth noting).

...

And then there’s the discussion from the recent discussion of Madness and Civilization about how 18th century doctors thought hot drinks will destroy masculinity and ruin society. Nothing that’s happened since has really disproved this – indeed, a graph of hot drink consumption, decline of masculinity, and ruinedness of society would probably show a pretty high correlation – it’s just somehow gotten tossed in the bin marked “ridiculous” instead of the bin marked “things we have to worry about”.
🤔🤔
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january 2018 by nhaliday
What explains the formation and decay of clusters of creativity? - Marginal REVOLUTION
Creativity is often highly concentrated in time and space, and across different domains. What explains the formation and decay of clusters of creativity? In this paper we match data on thousands of notable individuals born in Europe between the XIth and the XIXth century with historical data on city institutions and population. After documenting several stylized facts, we show that the formation of creative clusters is not preceded by increases in city size. Instead, the emergence of city institutions protecting economic and political freedoms facilitates the attraction and production of creative talent.

IOW, the opposite of what Dick Florida said.
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january 2018 by nhaliday
The Grumpy Economist: Bitcoin and Bubbles
Bitcoin is not a very good money. It is a pure fiat money (no backing), whose value comes from limited supply plus these demands. As such it has the huge price fluctuations we see. It's an electronic version of gold, and the price variation should be a warning to economists who long for a return to  gold. My bet is that stable-value cryptocurrencies, offering one dollar per currency unit and low transactions costs, will prosper in the role of money. At least until there is a big inflation or sovereign debt crisis and a stable-value cryptocurrency not linked to government debt emerges.

https://twitter.com/GarettJones/status/939242620869660672
https://archive.is/Rrbg6
The Kareken-Wallace Cryptocurrency Price Indeterminacy theorem will someday receive the attention it deserves

https://www.mercatus.org/system/files/cryptocurrency-article.pdf
Cryptocurrencies also raise in a new way questions of exchange rate indeterminacy. As Kareken and Wallace (1981) observed, fiat currencies are all alike: slips of paper not redeemable for anything. Under a regime of floating exchange rates and no capital controls, and assuming some version of interest rate parity holds, there are an infinity of exchange rates between any two fiat currencies that constitute an equilibrium in their model.

The question of exchange rate indeterminacy is both more and less striking between cryptocurrencies than between fiat currencies. It is less striking because there are considerably more differences between cryptocurrencies than there are between paper money. Paper money is all basically the same. Cryptocurrencies sometimes have different characteristics from each other. For example, the algorithm used as the basis for mining makes a difference – it determines how professionalised the mining pools become. Litecoin uses an algorithm that tends to make mining less concentrated. Another difference is the capability of the cryptocurrency’s language for programming transactions. Ethereum is a new currency that boasts a much more robust language than Bitcoin. Zerocash is another currency that offers much stronger anonymity than Bitcoin. To the extent that cryptocurrencies differ from each other more than fiat currencies do, those differences might be able to pin down exchange rates in a model like Kareken and Wallace’s.

On the other hand, exchange rate indeterminacy could be more severe among cryptocurrencies than between fiat currencies because it is easy to simply create an exact copy of an open source cryptocurrency. There are even websites on which you can create and download the software for your own cryptocurrency with a few clicks of a mouse. These currencies are exactly alike except for their names and other identifying information. Furthermore, unlike fiat currencies, they don’t benefit from government acceptance or optimal currency area considerations that can tie a currency to a given territory.

Even identical currencies, however, can differ in terms of the quality of governance. Bitcoin currently has high quality governance institutions. The core developers are competent and conservative, and the mining and user communities are serious about making the currency work. An exact Bitcoin clone is likely to have a difficult time competing with Bitcoin unless it can promise similarly high-quality governance. When a crisis hits, users of identical currencies are going to want to hold the one that is mostly likely to weather the storm. Consequently, between currencies with identical technical characteristics, we think governance creates something close to a winner-take-all market. Network externalities are very strong in payment systems, and the governance question with respect to cryptocurrencies in particular compounds them.

https://twitter.com/GarettJones/status/939259281039380480
https://archive.is/ldof8
Explaining a price rise via future increases in the asset's value isn't good economics. The invisible hand should be pushing today's price up to the point where it earns normal expected returns. +
I don't doubt the likelihood of a future cryptocurrency being widely used, but that doesn't pin down the price of any one cryptocurrency as the Kareken-Wallace result shows. There may be a big first mover advantage for Bitcoin but ease of replication makes it a fragile dominance.

https://twitter.com/netouyo_/status/939566116229218306
https://archive.is/CtE6Q
I actually can't believe governments are allowing bitcoin to exist (they must be fully on board with going digital at some point)

btc will eventually come in direct competition with national currencies, which will have to raise rates dramatically, or die

http://www.thebigquestions.com/2017/12/08/matters-of-money/
The technology of Bitcoin Cash is very similar to the technology of Bitcoin. It offers the same sorts of anonymity, security, and so forth. There are some reasons to believe that in the future, Bitcoin Cash will be a bit easier to trade than Bitcoin (though that is not true in the present), and there are some other technological differences between them, but I’d be surprised to learn that those differences are accounting for any substantial fraction of the price differential.

The total supplies of Bitcoins and of Bitcoin Cash are currently about equal (because of the way that Bitcoin Cash originated). In each case, the supply will gradually grow to 21 million and then stop.

Question 1: Given the near identical properties of these two currencies, how can one sell for ten times the price of the other? Perhaps the answer involves the word “bubble”, but I’d be more interested in answers that assume (at least for the sake of argument) that the price of Bitcoin fairly reflects its properties as a store of value. Given that assumption, is the price differential entirely driven by the fact that Bitcoin came first? Is there that much of a first-mover advantage in this kind of game?

Question 2: Given the existence of other precious metals (e.g. platinum) what accounts for the dominance of gold as a physical store of value? (I note, for example, that when people buy gold as a store of value, they don’t often hesitate out of fear that gold will be displaced by platinum in the foreseeable future.) Is this entirely driven by the fact that gold happened to come first?

Question 3: Are Questions 1 and 2 the same question? Are the dominance of Bitcoin in the digital store-of-value market and the dominance of gold in the physical store-of-value market two sides of the same coin, so to speak? Or do they require fundamentally different explanations?

https://twitter.com/GarettJones/status/944582032780382208
https://archive.is/kqTXg
Champ/Freeman in 2001 explain why the dollar-bitcoin exchange rate is inherently unstable, and why the price of cryptocurrencies is indeterminate:

https://twitter.com/GarettJones/status/945046058073071617
https://archive.is/Y0OQB
Lay down a marker:
And remember that the modern macro dogma is that monetary systems matter little for prosperity, once bare competence is achieved.
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december 2017 by nhaliday
Friedrich von Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society” (1945)
“The price system is just one of those formations which man has learned to use ... Through it not only a division of labor but also a coördinated utilization of resources based on an equally divided knowledge has become possible.”

“there is beyond question a body of very important but unorganized knowledge which cannot possibly be called scientific in the sense of knowledge of general rules: the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place. It is with respect to this that practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made”
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november 2017 by nhaliday
My Retort to the Adam Spliff Institute's Latest Effusion of Drivel - Mail Online - Peter Hitchens blog
It’s time to rename the ‘Adam Smith Institute’, now captured by drug legalisers. Something tells me the Scotch moralist wouldn’t have thought a stupefied and acquiescent population the best basis for civilisation, wealth or morality.

So I suggest calling this screeching nest of mentally pubescent drug zealots

The Adam Spliff Institute

I am moved to this suggestion by their latest attempt to debate the drug issue. I say ‘attempt’ because they really have very little idea of how to argue.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Vioxx | West Hunter
The Vigor study was submitted in February 2001. The New England Journal of Medicine, a few months later, found that the authors had failed to mention some strokes and heart attacks near the end of the trial. The authors used a cutoff for cardiovascular effects (bad news) that was earlier than the cutoff for gastrointestinal effects (good news). why? Because they were weasels, of course. There was a lot of money riding on this drug’s success.

Other people began to notice the increased heart risks – looking at data from HMOs and such. Merck fought back. There was an MD at Stanford that was concerned about Vioxx: Merck called up the dean of Stanford Medical School at home and warned him about possible loss of financial support: he told them to go fuck themselves.

...

Now it is true that there were studies that showed greater efficacy: 21 such were reported by Scott S. Reuben, former chief of acute pain at Baystate medical Center in Springfield Mass. But as it turns out, he made them all up. There’s is no evidence that Merck knew about this, but it does perhaps say something about the general climate in big pharma.

Merck knew the gist of this for four years before they pulled the plug on the drug. They had their their drug reps lie about cardio risks, threatened researchers and sued journals that talked about the emerging cardio risks. Few physicians were aware of these risks, even though a close reading of the journals would have suggested it – because hardly any physicians read the journals.

Epidemiologists think that Vioxx caused something like 40,000 deaths.

...

In the 70s corporations were the bad guys, whether they were or not. Today, billionaires are your friend.
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july 2017 by nhaliday

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