Sunday Links #27

Meta-note: I’ve now decided that I like shifting toward doing these less frequently, with less links each, but in much more depth, potentially spinning more lengthy discussion to my Tumblr. Going forward, I will now also tag each of these posts with “Sunday Links” in addition to tagging them with the categories of the contained links, when appropriate.


Longer musing redirected to my Tumblr: “Not All Arguments are Nuanced”:

Sometimes I hear my non-Greek female friends talk about men in fraternities being rapists, or even more likely to rape than the typical person. This has always made me uncomfortable, even if it is technically true. I always feel tempted to say “But not all Greek men are like that”, a variation on the clichéd Not All Men Are Like That you hear in feminist circles.

Of course, this type of derailment is appropriately rejected for reasons Vox explains well, which is why I say it in my head and not in real life.

But I’m still uncomfortable. I know it’s not all about me, but it’s how I feel as a participant in the discussion. I feel uncomfortable and now I understand why.</blockquote>


Another musing redicted to Tumblr, this time about politics: “Why Are Politicians Crazy? Because it Works”:

There’s a fundamental paradox with some politicians: they’re smart enough to get law degrees from top universities, start a multi-million dollar political campaign, fund and sustain a multi-million dollar political campaign, and win a multi-million dollar political campaign, yet… some of these politicians are crazy. …Like off-the-wall crazy with their ideas.

It presumably takes a lot of talent to start and win a political campaign. So how can these crazy politicians be so crazy yet so smart?

The dominant theory is one of multiple intelligences – they’re talented at being likable and attracting money, but not good at generating useful policy. The runner-up theory is that winning a campaign is much easier than I’m giving it credit for. (Though why people who are also talented at policy don’t win an easy campaign is beyond me.)

But I like a third theory. I call it the “Secret Smarts” theory.


Scott Alexander writes that we should “Vote on Values, Outsource Beliefs”:

Today I learned about social impact bonds. […] The basic idea is: government could save a lot of money if some problem got fixed. For example, if people stopped committing crime, they could spend less money on prisons. So they make a deal with a corporation. The corporation agrees to spend a certain amount of money to prevent crime for five years. And if crime goes down and the government saves on prisons, the corporation gets half the savings (or a third, or whatever).

Zero taxpayer money gets risked. It is entirely up to the corporation to fund the problem-solving effort. If they fail, then it’s their own loss. If they succeed, then the government pays them money, but less than the government made, so the taxpayers still get a profit. […]

The particular article I read about this today was How Goldman Sachs Can Get Paid To Keep People Out Of Jail. It was the name “Goldman Sachs” that got me excited. They’re an investment bank. Their job is predicting risk. I don’t know if they’re any good at it or not. But they’re the sort of organization that potentially could be. So we have people who understand risk trying to figure out what social policies will produce which results, with money riding on the decision.

This is looking impressively close to prediction markets. Futarchy says “vote on values, bet on beliefs”. Asking a corporation to invest money in crime-solving is a form of betting on belief – they are betting on what anti-crime programs will decrease crime most and win them the most reward. You still have the elected government deciding what bonds to place – voting on values – but you’re outsourcing your beliefs to the corporation involved and giving them an incentive to get it right.

Think of all the possibilities.


There’s a game called Super Hot. It’s part puzzle and part shooter. You have to deal with limited ammo and a refreshingly realistic one shot kills you, but you’re not stressed as you get enough time to think about your strategy and your shots. In the end, you get to run around as some sort of (refreshingly unrealistic) super ninja. (Robin Hanson and Jesse Galef think the shooter is like what life would be like as a computer emulated brain.)

I’ve been having a bit too much fun with this. Right now it can be played in the browser, but there’s also A Kickstarter for a full version of the game (already fully funded, but they’re working toward some cooler additional things).


Some satire on the idea of pitching effective altruism, from Michael Bitton: The World’s Worst Meme. Maybe “self-sacrifice” is not a big seller.

In related news, Ben Kuhn writes some reflection about effective altruism outreach gathered from running “Harvard Effective Altruism” for two years.


Speaking of effective altruism, here’s a good real life example: should Detroit sell off masterpieces in the local art museum to help stabalize the finances of the city?

Robert Frank says the answer is yes:

Consider “The Wedding Dance,” a 16th-century work by the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Detroit museum visitors have enjoyed this painting since 1930. How much would it cost to preserve that privilege for future generations?

A tidy sum, as it turns out. According to Christie’s, this canvas alone could fetch up to $200 million. Once interest rates return to normal levels — say, 6 percent — the forgone interest on that amount would be approximately $12 million a year.

If we assume that the museum would be open 2,000 hours a year, and ignore the cost of gallery space and other indirect expenses, the cost of keeping the painting on display would be more than $6,000 an hour. Assuming that an average of five people would view it per hour, all year long, it would still cost more than $1,200 an hour to provide the experience for each visitor.

As Scott Alexander puts it:

So the question of “should Detroit keep this painting?” reduces to “does the average visitor to the art museum derive $1200 in value from seeing this particular painting?” which is very close to “would you pay $1200 for a ticket to an art museum that only had this painting in it?”

…Case settled to me.