You are currently viewing the aggregator for the Distributed Republic reader blogs. You can surf to any author's blog by clicking on the link at the bottom of one of his/her posts. If you wish to participate, feel free to register (at the top of the right sidebar) and start blogging.

The main page of the blog can be found here.

Peace Through Superior Firepower

So, Sunday evening rolls around, and what better way to end perhaps the best weekend in recent memory than with a trip to the Drafthouse and a showing of Hot Fuzz.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, Hot Fuzz is the buddy cop spoof from the Shaun of the Dead guys. If you’ve not seen either one, then it’s pretty clear that you’re a sad, culturally illiterate soul. You’re also not the sort of person I’d like to go drink a beer with. And that, my friend, is far worse fate. Or something like that. Seriously, you should go see it if you haven’t done so yet. Preferably in a place where no one minds if you shout things back at the screen. And clap during the movie. At any rate, I’m not going to really try to explain the movie itself, other than to say that buddy cop clichés, played straight and with just a hint of slightly stiff and formal British mannerisms and set in small-town England: now that’s some seriously funny shit.

But there’s more to the film than mere humor. Not to pile too much pretension onto a film that features a scene with an exploding head, but I think that there’s a case to be made for Hot Fuzz as Animal Farm for the 21st century. Now I’m sure that this seems a strange claim, but just bear with me a moment. And if you’ve not seen the film yet, you may well want to stop reading here, ‘cause I can’t really write this thing without more-or-less giving away a big chunk of the ending. So consider yourself warned.

After gleefully unraveling Sgt. Nick Angel’s bit of detecting (and thereby nicely avoiding a standard cop-movie cliché plot), the film’s denouement finds that under the scary black cloaks at the spooky graveyard gathering lies a collection of small-town busybodies who murder their fellow-citizens for such grave offenses against the common good as misspelling words in the local paper and offering really horrendous performances of Hamlet at the community theater. About the only really spooky thing about this collection of aging British gentry is their collective chanting of “the common good” at weirdly inappropriate moments.

Mostly all this is set up for the shootout scenes, which are replete with pretty much every set piece from several cheesy cop movies. But for all the silliness of the plot itself, there is, I think, a fairly straightforward lesson here: central planning by groups of elites in the name of the greater good has a tendency to go a bit haywire. At the end of the day, it’s up to rugged individuals – preferably ones with lots of really big guns and maybe a couple of good friends – to protect individual liberty from the central planners. It’s an Orwellian warning against collectivism…only coupled with a rather charming faith in the power of heroic American individualism. Except with a British accent.

I’d say that it’s a nice libertarian theme except that, as it turns out, the bad guys are the members of a private protective association (the neighborhood watch). And the heroes are cops. Make of that what you will.

Inside view and outside view

At Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson writes:

Instead of watching fireworks on July 4, I did 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle of fireworks, my first jigsaw in at least ten years. Several times I had the strong impression that I had carefully eliminated every possible place a piece could go, or every possible piece that could go in a place. I was very tempted to conclude that many pieces were missing, or that the box had extra pieces from another puzzle. This wasn't impossible - the puzzle was an open box a relative had done before. And the alternative seemed humiliating.

But I allowed a very different part of my mind, using different considerations, to overrule this judgment; so many extra or missing pieces seemed unlikely. And in the end there was only one missing and no extra pieces. I recall a similar experience when I was learning to program. I would carefully check my program and find no errors, and then when my program wouldn't run I was tempted to suspect compiler or hardware errors. Of course the problem was almost always my fault.

According to Robin Hanson, these illustrate the distinction between the inside and the outside view. To explain this distinction, he quotes "Kahneman and Lovallo's classic '93 paper":

Two distinct modes of forecasting were applied to the same problem in this incident. The inside view of the problem is the one that all participants adopted. An inside view forecast is generated by focusing on the case at hand, by considering the plan and the obstacles to its completion, by constructing scenarios of future progress, and by extrapolating current trends. The outside view is the one that the curriculum expert was encouraged to adopt. It essentially ignores the details of the case at hand, and involves no attempt at detailed forecasting of the future history of he project. Instead, it focuses on the statistics of a class of cases chosen to be similar in relevant respects to the present one. The case at hand is also compared to other members of the class, in an attempt to assess its position in the distribution of outcomes for the class. ...

If we consider the programming example, at least part of what seems to be happening is one or both of two things:

1) We are slightly overconfident about the individual statements of the program. That is, we should be 99% sure about each step but we erroneously overestimate the probability of success as 100%. It is a slight overestimate but it adds up. If your program has 100 lines of code, then if you estimate the probability of the correctness of each statement as 100% then you will estimate the probability of the correctness of the whole as 100%; but if you had more realistically estimated each statement as only having a 99% probability of correctness, then you might then have concluded that the program had a significantly lower than 100% probability of being correct.

2) We fail to do the math. Even if we correctly estimate the probability that each statement is correct, we fail to combine the probabilities when estimating the probability that the whole is correct. For example, if the correctness of each of two statements is unrelated to the correctness of the other, and if each one has a 99% probability of being correct, then the two statements only have about a 98% probability of (both) being correct. All it takes is one bad statement to make a program incorrect, so if a program has 100 or 1000 statements then even if each statement is almost certainly correct considered by itself, then the whole could very well have a high probability of being incorrect.

Anyway, this seems to be part of the reason that the "inside view" is error-prone. We are slightly overconfident about each step, and/or we fail to do the math when estimating the probability that all our steps together are right.

Something like this may also apply to the jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces are easier to place than others, and the ones that are easier to place are the ones that are placed first, and the ones that are harder to place are the ones that are placed last. If we take this into consideration, then it should not be surprising that the last pieces left over are very hard to place. We may make at least two errors here. First, we may erroneously assume that all the pieces are equally easy to place. We may fail to consider that there is a range of difficulty. Second, we may underestimate the average difficulty by basing our estimate on the earlier pieces that we placed.

Compounding this problem is that we may not really know what the difficulty distribution is. Estimating the difficulty of placing a valid puzzle piece near the end may be hard to do not only because the math is hard, but because we don't have enough empirical data from which to draw an estimate.

One question which these considerations raise is, what exactly is the relevant distinction between an "outside view" and an "inside view"? Is the relevant distinction that the "outside view" considers the situation as a whole? Or is the relevant distinction that the "outside view" assigns probabilities and does the math? These are two distinctions, and they seem to be combined into one distinction. Consider the description of the outside view:

It essentially ignores the details of the case at hand, and involves no attempt at detailed forecasting of the future history of he project. Instead, it focuses on the statistics of a class of cases chosen to be similar in relevant respects to the present one.

There are two elements to this description. One element is that the details are ignored and the situation is considered as a whole. Another element is that the whole is considered as a member of a class and statistical reasoning is applied to the class. One could, however, as I pointed out, pay attention to the details but consider the details as members of classes and apply statistical reasoning to those - combining one aspect of the outside view with one aspect of the inside view - and still produce a correct estimate of uncertainty.

We might want to break the distinction apart into two distinctions (or even three). One distinction concerns what level of detail the matter is considered at. Another distinction concerns whether uncertainty is recognized and statistics are applied or swept under the rug. The second distinction breaks apart into recognizing uncertainty, and applying statistical reasoning.

Why, by the way, should we ever sweep statistics under the rug? I think the obvious answer is: it takes time and effort to estimate uncertainty and apply statistics to something, and in some cases it's just not worth the effort. What may be happening here is that when we consider matters in detail we err on the side of sweeping uncertainty and statistical reasoning under the rug.

Mafia loans

And by mafia I mean the Hollywood version mafia... I don't know the mafia, but I've seen movies where it was featured prominently. From what I gathered watching movies and TV I noticed a few things

- The mafia makes cash loans
- The rates are insanely high
- The default probability is high
- The recovery rate is close to 100%

This strikes me as odd... the default risk is essentially 0 to the mafia because even if the guy wants to default, they always manage to get the money back, by using kneecaps as collateral. In this case, why the high rates? There are a few possible explanations all of which are linked

- There are costs incurred in recovering the money, paying goons, bullets, renting huge empty warehouses with a single chair, fixing the chainsaw once in a while... True, but one would assume the mafia has so much dissuasive power no one dares to default *, keeping the costs fairly low. ( *which contradict the high default observation from movies).

- The mafia maintains a coercive monopoly on underground lending. The bank won't lend you money to bet on a fixed boxing match but the mafia will and there's only one boss in the area.

- There is a huge demand for mafia loans but the mafia only has so much money. This means the mafia cannot really borrow from the bank to meet the adequate supply.

-  Mafias have humongous returns on their ventures and therefore will only lend at very high rate. (This also means the mafia cannot borrow from the bank)


Any thoughts ? What about the actual mafia ? Could they fix the subprime loan crisis the medieval way ?

Is trust really all that important?

Point and counterpoint.

Point: Trust is economically important

Imagine going to the corner store to buy a carton of milk, only to find that the refrigerator is locked. When you've persuaded the shopkeeper to retrieve the milk, you then end up arguing over whether you're going to hand the money over first, or whether he is going to hand over the milk. Finally you manage to arrange an elaborate simultaneous exchange. A little taste of life in a world without trust--now imagine trying to arrange a mortgage.

Being able to trust people might seem like a pleasant luxury, but economists are starting to believe that it's rather more important than that. Trust is about more than whether you can leave your house unlocked; it is responsible for the difference between the richest countries and the poorest.

Counterpoint: Trust may not be all that economically important

How would busy people in bustling cities react when confronted with seemingly abandoned cell phones? Would their instinct be to help, to ignore -- or to play finders, keepers.

To get the answer, reporters in 32 countries where Reader's Digest is published "lost" 30 phones apiece in those countries' most populous cities.


The highest-ranking city happened to be the smallest: Ljubljana, Slovenia. Twenty-nine of 30 phones were returned in this picture-postcard city in the foothills of the Alps, home to just 267,000 people


On the low end of the spectrum, Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong tied for the worst performance.

Going by this result, which is admittedly highly specific but nevertheless suggestive of a low general level of trustworthiness, Hong Kong seems to be a pretty rotten performer in the trust department. If trust were all that important, I would have imagined that Hong Kong would not be the symbol of economic success that it is. Furthermore, re-examining the Forbes excerpt, the level of distrust described in the example seems to be extreme. It makes the point of course: if there is no trust at all then transaction costs can be insurmountable. But what if there is some trust? What is the difference between a typical "highly distrusting/untrustworthy" society and a typical "highly trusting/trustworthy" society? How are transaction costs impacted by typical variations in the level of trust between societies? Hong Kong seems to manage to avoid being an economic basket case despite so miserably failing the cell phone test.


Of Buffy, Barnett, and Bellicosity

Okay, so I’m not exactly sure how much I can add to Jonathan’s discussion of Barnett and libertarian just war doctrine. But give me a Buffy reference, and I’m all over it like Vitter and...yeah, okay, that’s too easy. Still, the point is that I’m gonna own those 10 points.

For those of you not paying attention (bastards!), the assignment was to find three links between Jonathan’s post and the Buffy episode from which the post takes its name (Once more, with feeling!). Part of me wants to insert a big honkin’ recap of the entire episode right here, but as this isn’t The ‘Verse (and since I don’t have permission to post there anyway), I’ll try to control said impulses. Instead, here in all their glory are three links between Buffy’s musical extravaganza and Jonathan’s post.

1. So tell me what you really think.

So this is really more of a meta-connection. But. Sweet’s make-everyone-sing-and-dance spell (an odd spell to have in one’s arsenal, btw. Seems more like the sort of power one would find among the Mystery Men. But I digress.) The point is that all the singing leads to some soul-searching, and the soul-searching leads to some…tensions…among the Scoobies. Basically, people who seem to all be on the same side turn out really to have these deep underlying differences. And while under normal conditions those differences are masked by more pressing battles against various assorted vampires and demons, Sweet manages to bring some of those underlying tensions up to the surface.

Similarly, Ron Paul’s libertarian take on Iraq has re-exposed differences within the libertarian camp, As Barnett explains, there are nonetheless deep libertarian divisions over legitimate uses of American military might. Those differences are typically papered over by libertarian struggles against vampires and demons…er, Democrats and Republicans. Or, more specifically, by general libertarian disgust with the state of the nation-building process in Iraq – and, of course, by more immediate libertarian concerns like the massive expansion of federal entitlements and the usual economic issues that tend to unite the many disparate schools of libertarianism.

2. Sunnydale sure ain’t heaven.

Barnett quite rightly points out that one of the main libertarian reservations about the war in Iraq was “the risk of harmful, unintended consequences.” You know, things like, say, getting all our troops bogged down in the desert, inadvertently creating more terrorists than we caught, precipitating civil war, giving Iran an even larger voice in the Middle East, that sort of thing. Aren’t we lucky that all those fears proved empty? Seriously, though, fear of unintended consequences forms a big part of the libertarian worldview. Even well-intentioned actors often fuck things up pretty royally, and all those public choice folks have pretty well taught us that very few governments are really all that well-intentioned in the first place.

So what does this have to do with Buffy? Well, it turns out that the Scoobies are not much better when it comes to unintended consequences. You see, Buffy’s friends believed her to be stuck in hell. Yes, the literal one. If you have to ask... So they decided to resurrect her. Unfortunately, Buffy wasn’t actually in hell. Okay, I guess that’s not actually unfortunate. What is unfortunate is that Buffy’s friends pulled her out of heaven. Now I’ve not actually been to heaven, but I’d be willing to bet a fairly large sum that it beats the crap out of Sunnydale. And Buffy certainly thought so, at least. So, despite their really good intentions, Buffy’s friends ended up making her worse off.

3. Ass-kicking vigilantes.

This one isn’t so much related to the specific episode. For that matter, it’s a point that applies pretty much equally well to any Joss Whedon project. Well, okay, maybe not Toy Story. But the rest of ‘em. When Barnett says of Ron Paul that “like all libertarians, even Mr. Paul believes in the fundamental, individual right of self-defense, which is why libertarians like him overwhelmingly support the right to keep and bear arms,” he could be speaking equally well of Buffy or Giles (or Mal or Jayne or Angel). Indeed, in Whedon’s world, it is up to the resourceful individual – and her trusted companions – to save the day. Hiding behind the might of the state is never an option. In fact, the state is just as often a hindrance (if not an outright enemy) as a help.

Eco-terrorism comes to the burbs

Watch out Hummer owners, there are eco-terrorists on the loose!

On a narrow, leafy street in Northwest Washington, where Prius hybrid cars and Volvos are the norm, one man bought a flashy gray Hummer that was too massive to fit in his garage.

So he parked the seven-foot-tall behemoth on the street in front of his house and smiled politely when his eco-friendly neighbors looked on in disapproval at his "dream car."

It lasted five days on the street before two masked men took a bat to every window, a knife to each 38-inch tire and scratched into the body: "FOR THE ENVIRON."

I don't know about you guys, but I know a couple of people who become absolutely enraged at the mere thought of Hummers.

Caption the pic

"Somedays, I just love being heir to the throne"

The working rich

Today even the rich make money by the sweat of their brow.

[T]he share of top incomes coming from capital is much lower now than it has been historically. According to Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, for the richest Americans — those in the top 0.01 percent of the distribution — the percentage of income derived from capital fell to 25 percent in 2004 from 70 percent in 1929.

If your image of the typical rich person is someone who collects interest and dividend checks and spends long afternoons relaxing on his yacht, you are decades out of date. The leisure class has been replaced by the working rich.

(via Instapundit)

Re: sinners and saints

Replying to: Sinners and Saints

The accusation that market proponents are 'religious' is a non-argument which is, sadly, apparently somewhat persuasive to the sufficiently gullible. But setting that aside, I find it unsettling that economists are often leading the charge against markets and freedom. Here are some possible explanations of it.

  1. The case for markets is not really all that strong.
  2. It is strong, but people are managing to get degreed in economics without actually getting it.
  3. There is such a strong anti-market bias in people that years of study is not enough to cure them of it.
  4. The economics profession has relatively little salable value except as avisors to the state, and therefore the profession itself can never completely cure itself of a self-interested statist bias. Selection at work: economists who tell the state to go to hell are replaced with economists with something more "interesting" to say.

Perverting isonomy

...or as I call it, the fallacy of isodomy (in poetic fashion)

Isonomy is a great thing, it says everyone should have the same rights. If everyone has the same rights, and since rights can't infringe on one another then isonomy roughly boils down to natural rights (there are degenerate solutions, for example it's possible to have isonomy where no one has any right at all). Well isonomy is more about law than rights, everyone should face the same rules, but if we apply isonomy to the law making process itself, we land back on our feet with isonomy as equal rights.

One may or may not agree with the possible equivalence between natural right and isonomy... that's not really what I want to discuss. There is a tendency among many people, including libertarian, to justify coercition based on a false view of isonomy.

It generally goes like this. A group of people X is being agressed with the exception of individual x. Isodomy claims that x should be facing the same laws as X and therefore should be agressed. There is a long list of example of the isodomy fallacy :

- Calling for the end of "subsidies" to a given industry / sector, even though these subsidies are really tax-cuts, immigration visas, etc. Only taxation should be opposed. Any "distorsion" created in the market is the fault of the State alone, it is not a legitimate motive to tax a company.

- Saying that "all immigrants should face the same waiting periods" (implying the end of "privileged" immigrants who face shorter waiting period) (Ron Paul)

- Claiming that a flat-tax is a "fair-tax" because everyone faces the same rate.

- Historically, allowing women in a government :o) (ok, extreme case here, but really no one should)

I coined the world isodomy from a parable I once wrote on the subject, explaining how being spared by a rapist was hardly a privilege. It's definitely not subtle but I think it conveys the message pretty well, please spread the word :)

Fatboy Slim

Mexican Carlos Slim is now the world's richest man.

Everyone knows Mexico is a corrupt country.  But does that mean Slim is a bad guy?  What if you rise to the top of a corrupt system playing by the same rules everyone else does?  Would you have done any different? 

Not stirring the pot at all

24 of 67 golfers in the 2007 US Women's Open Championship to qualify are from South Korea. Additionally, Americans Jennie Lee, In-Bee Park, and Jane Park are of Korean background, as is Michelle Wie, who didn't make the cut. There's also an "Angela Park" from Brazil, but I don't know her background.

The MVPs of the last 3 NBA seasons have been white.

Jessica Alba:

Alba is my last name and I'm proud of that. But that's it. My grandparents were born in California, the same as my parents, and though I may be proud of my last name, I'm American. Throughout my whole life, I've never felt connected to one particular race or heritage, nor did I feel accepted by any. If you break it down, I'm less Latina than Cameron Diaz, whose father is Cuban. But people don't call her Latina because she's blonde.


I've got cousins galore. Mexicans just spread all their seeds. And the women just pop them out." My grandfather was the only Mexican at his college, the only Hispanic person at work and the only one at the all-white country club. He tried to forget his Mexican roots, because he never wanted his kids to be made to feel different in America. He and my grandmother didn't speak Spanish to their children. Now, as a third-generation American, I feel as if I have finally cut loose.

My whole life, when I was growing up, not one race has ever accepted me, ... So I never felt connected or attached to any race specifically. I had a very American upbringing, I feel American, and I don't speak Spanish. So, to say that I'm a Latin actress, OK, but it's not fitting; it would be insincere.

My grandfather was the only one in our family to go to college. He made a choice not to speak Spanish in the house. He didn't want his kids to be different.

[Before] I always felt like such an outcast and now I feel like people are more diverse ethnically. I was always self conscience of my puffy lips and darker skin when I was a kid, because I felt like I didn't fit in. And now its mainstream, and color isn't as big of a deal and if anything its better.

Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks the best way to learn English is to immerse in it totally.

"You've got to turn off the Spanish television set" and stay away from Spanish-language television, books and newspapers, the Republican governor said Wednesday night at the annual convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. "You're just forced to speak English, and that just makes you learn the language faster."

Schwarzenegger, who immigrated to the U.S. from Austria, was responding to a question about how Hispanic students can improve academic performance. The audience included many journalists who work for Spanish-language media outlets.

"I know this sounds odd and this is the politically incorrect thing to say and I'm going to get myself in trouble," he said. "But I know that when I came to this country, I very rarely spoke German to anyone."

I want a new question.

We've secretly replaced honest journalism with new intellectually-questionable tripe. Let's see if anyone notices:

Tom Fahey of the New Hampshire Union Leader asks, "Sea levels around the world are rising. Average temperatures are increasing. Scientists from thirteen countries around the world have said that climate change is very likely man-made and may affect us for centuries to come. Is science wrong on global warming, and what (if any) steps would you take as President to address the issue?"

Did you see it? This question was asked in the GOP presidential primary debates in early June. Now I personally may not believe that global warming is quite the problem Mr. Fahey does, but I will at least concede that it is an issue of concern to voters. In that regard, his question is valid. Ten points for you if you can spot the egregiousness.

The less experience the better

With the NBA draft coming up it occurs to me that electing a president is like drafting a player. You hope to extrapolate from a candidates past history how they will perform in a similar job under much higher pressure. Recently the NBA barred entrants into the draft directly from high school. One of the reasons they did this was to give teams more meaningful ways of evaluating talent in hopes of avoiding busts such as Kwame Brown. The more meaningful data a team has about a player the safer the pick becomes. If it is possible to predict future performance, the more meaningful data the better the prediction. In baseball if a team has a choice between someone who averaged 35 home runs a year for five years, and someone who hit 40 home runs last year, the safer pick is the first player, because the one good year could be a statistical anomaly.

In presidential politics it should be even more important to avoid mistakes than in sports drafts. After all if a team makes a huge mistake in the draft, there is another one next year and there are alternate ways to acquire players. If the public makes a bad choice for president, we are pretty much stuck with that choice for four years and we only get one president at a time. However, unlike in sports drafts, experience in presidential politics seems to be a liability. Of the seven candidates who have a chance of being elected only one (McCain) has a long record of elected office to evaluate. What seems to me the most likely pairing in the general election will match two senators, both with one and a half terms experience (Hillary vs. Thompson). Both parties have many more potential candidates with much more experience but they have failed to gain any traction.

The reason for this is one of the main facts that shape our political races, it is much easier to lose votes than it is to gain them. The more decisions you have made the more likely it is for someone to find one of those decisions and vote against the the candidate because of it. People will vote against you for strange reasons, such as how you transport your dog or how you voted for something ten years ago. As a result we have candidates who have less experience, it is harder to make an informed decision about who to vote for, and we get candidates who are smooth talking lightweights(You Know Who).



The Old and the Childless

I was reading a post last week about a woman's decision to not have any children. It seems odd to me that people willingly deprive themselves of life's greatest joy. Thinking over reasons for doing so, one possible reason may be because of pop-Freudianism.

The theories of Freud have resonated in our culture to a surprisingly large extent considering that their principle application, the theory that insight into the causes of behavior will lead to changing of behavior, has proven false. His theories have elegance to them and the appeal of secret knowledge which is hard to resist. However, this does not explain how they have lasted so long in the public imagination without evidence to support them. One reason they have lasted so long is that undergoing psychoanalysis is enjoyable. Talking about your past and your dreams is something most people like to do. However, listening to other people talk about their dreams and their childhoods can be excruciating. Psychoanalysis gives people someone to talk to and the veneer of science which helps convince them they are not wasting their time and money.

 The other main reason Freudian theories have lasted so long is that they help reduce cognitive dissonance. People do bad things all the time, yet few people think of themselves as a bad person. So to minimize imbalance between their actions and their self image they find rationalizations for bad behavior. Freud's theories as trickled down to pop psychology are great for rationalizations. They allow people to blame the things they do not like about themselves on the way they were raised. Since no one can change the past people become helpless victims who can not help but act the way they do.  Thus people can act in destructive ways and instead of feeling bad about themselves they feel angry at their parents.

The implications of this idea are good for the self images of neurotics but dangerous for prospective parents. If every decision a parent makes is a minefield with potential implications for the rest of the child’s life, parenting becomes fraught with risk. If you don't potty train your toddler correctly, he'll be tidying up for the rest of his life, explain the birds and the bees in the wrong way and he'll be unable to enjoy and healthy sex life, etc.  These supposed dangers can make the task of parenting seem overwhelming, like running in an egg race your whole life.

It would be a shame if anyone missed out on the joys of parenting because of fears fed by pop-Freudian fiddle faddle.