Sunday Links #12

“Becoming Superman”: “Alexander had big plans for life after university. Upon completing his engineering degree, he was going to fly out to Africa and build dams. In the end, he took a mergers and acquisitions job in the City. Rather than a story of idealism lost, however, this is one of idealism redirected. Alexander now gives around 50 per cent of his salary to charity, one of the growing number of converts to moral philosophy’s latest revolution: effective altruism.”

Window shopping might be a good thing after all, because wanting something expensive might make us happier than actually buying that expensive thing.

I’ve been very surprised in my life to notice how even the most trivial inconveniences – like having to walk up a flight of stairs – can stop me from doing what I would otherwise want to do. Scott Alexander notices the same with mail-in rebates and proxies to get around the Great Firewall of China. Not spending 10 minutes to mail in a $200 rebate is insane – you’re passing up what is pretty much a job that pays $1200 an hour! But the real lesson here is not one of admiring irrationality, but one of being able to make systems better by removing these inconveniences.

There’s a subtle difference between looking like you’re helping and actually helping, and it’s actually pretty difficult to notice. Somewhat related is the curse of identity where you substitute that which actually accomplishes a goal of yours with something that you can convince yourself looks close enough to accomplishing the goal.

For similar reasons as the ones that motivated me to write about why I’m skeptical of speculative causes, Jeff Kaufman asks what metrics he can use to tell if such an organization is effective. This is an important point – if we can’t know if they’re doing a good job, how do we know if they’re doing a good job?

What do both Amazon and China have in common? Achieving success through currency manipulation.

Some very useful guides to healthy eating I’ve been trying to work from: “The Healthful Vegan Diet” and “The Only Healthy Eating Guide You’ll Ever Need”. (No, I’m not going vegan, and yes, it is ironic that I’m using a second guide when the other guide claims to be the only one I’ll ever need.)

Interesting facts about US political poliarization: It exists, both political parties are becoming more extreme, but Republicans are becoming far more extreme than Democrats.

An interview with Bill Gates on development aid.

Toy Story 3 as an allegory for politics. Surprisingly spot on.