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Eliezer Yudkowsky: Is That Your True Rejection? (cato-unbound.org)
164 points by rms on Sept 11, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments



Interestingly enough, my own small-l libertarianism has nothing to do with the innate properties of people. It's about how those properties come together into groups. I have found, again and again, that when people organize into large groups and form systems of getting along it never works. The larger the group, the more complex the system, the longer the system has been in place, the worst the results are. I don't think there is any intervention, nature or nurture, that would change this. To feel otherwise, to me, would be to say that there is a perfect person. That seems more than a little scary. I find our defects, when working together, give us adaptability. Counter-intuitively, I believe that the properties most of us would desire in a population are probably reverse-correlated to growth and evolution. [insert long explanation about the value of variance across multiple dimensions here]

Representative democracies are kind of a hack to this law. You try to pick somebody to represent you and make decisions, you split up powers among various competing branches of government, etc. What is happening in the west, though, is the idea of a "restart" is mostly gone. It's just the same guys wearing different hats that take turns ruling.

But to me these are properties of how systems of people operate. The word "government" has little to do with it. The reason to fight as hard as possible for individual freedom has nothing to do with selfishness: the more freedom the individual retains, the less the stakes are, and the slower the process of system corruption becomes. My ultimate rejection would be a demonstration of a stable, creative, dynamic, adaptive, and productively chaotic society of non-trivial size that had been in existence for more than a century or so. Hate to set the bar that high. Need to think about that some more to see if I could make my position more logically approachable.


I totally agree with your premise. I used to work at google, and every time I go back there / talk to my old friends it breaks my heart a little.

That said, you've made two claims in your post:

1. All groups will get worse over time

2. Therefore, we should keep government as small as possible

The refutation to the argument is that many other modern democracies have (proportionally) bigger governments than the US. These countries certainly get advantages from big governments (like social welfare, decent education systems, state sponsored medical attention, etc) but don't seem to pay much of a cost for it.

As an Australian citizen, I will get paid a dole if I can't find work, all my important medical expenses are covered or heavily subsidised, our schools are decent everywhere, and so on. My taxes are a bit higher than yours, but not unreasonably so.

I suspect the important difference might just be scale - Australia has just 20M people. Most European countries have similar sizes. Maybe if the US were lots of small countries instead it would work better? Its hard to tell...


It's funny. I almost mentioned Google -- both as a good example and a bad one. Just compare and contrast the organization over time.

From the systems standpoint, Google is great. People continue to think that if we just got the right people -- smart, college-educated, libertarians, whatever -- that systems wouldn't ossify. But until you've seen a group of brilliant people self-create themselves a living hell, and realize that each person was acting in a reasonable, intelligent fashion, it's tough to really grok that. We naturally want to assign blame. It prevents us from doing the meta thinking necessary. One of the reasons democracies work so well is that we can easily assign personal blame to a politician, then peacefully get rid of him and bring somebody else in. There's a tremendously useful social mechanism at work.

I think there's a separate discussion about what you want government to do for you. I've gotten to the point where after listening to so many idealists on both the left and right I just gave up: whatever your social goals, that's fine. I just want an acknowledgement that you are aware of he trade-offs you are creating. I prefer lots of little, agile, self-optimizing systems. I think over time people could probably reach many of the social goals they have. But to do so you need to have the right tools. You'll never get from point A to point B trying to use a screwdriver as a hammer.

As an example a lot of us can relate to, there are a lot of technology teams with a huge amount of personal freedom that have all sorts of benefits and create vast amounts of value. We got that way by millions of little failures from which we harvest some generic best practices that then we pick up, try, and adapt one bit at a time for that particular situation. But there are even more folks, hundreds of thousands of people, living a death march because they tried to create huge systems with lots of little rules and processes. These huge systems never spring forth fully-formed from the head of Zeus. When you really start looking at them, it's a story of incrementalism and tough trade-offs. Everybody has a little architecture astronaut inside of them. Maybe not a lot, but enough to cumulatively screw things up given enough scale and time. If anything, smart people are the worst at this. They can even understand my points and try as hard as they can not to do it -- and still do it. Hominids are funny creatures.


>Maybe if the US were lots of small countries instead it would work better? Its hard to tell...

I'd just like to point out that we don't have a proper social welfare system here in the US, so it doesn't make sense to say that it might work better if we were a smaller country. The US has to actually enact a European-style social welfare system before anyone can empirically claim that social welfare doesn't work in the US.


These countries certainly get advantages from big governments (like social welfare, decent education systems, state sponsored medical attention, etc) but don't seem to pay much of a cost for it.

Most countries with systems more extensive than those of the US tend to be poorer than the US.

http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/03/super-economy-in-o...

http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/03/income-distributio...

http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/01/dynamic-america-po...

Also, we have social welfare, stated sponsored medical attention, and decent education systems in the US. Where did you get the idea we lack these things?


> Also, we have social welfare, stated sponsored medical attention, and decent education systems in the US. Where did you get the idea we lack these things?

As an Australian who has spent a fair amount of time in the states I would argue with those points. Sure, you have those things, (not sure about 'decent' education system) but they certainly don't function as efficiently as ours do, as far as I can tell..


If the USA doesn't have a decent education system, then neither does Australia. At least according to demographically adjusted PISA scores.

http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/12/amazing-truth-abou...


> Where did you get the idea we lack these things?

The USA is used as a strawman in Australian politics. "We don't want to go down the American path" is an actual phrase in wide circulation.


> As an Australian citizen, I will get paid a dole if I can't find work

And if you can only find minimum wage work, you'll still be better off than most Americans or Britons.


> The larger the group, the more complex the system, the longer the system has been in place, the worst the results are.

It seems to me that these are not monotonically true. If I have a handful of competent allies in the wilderness or in hostile territory, I'm better off. Language is a complex system and an infrastructure; more complex language has costs vs. an exceedingly simple language, but increased complexity is very frequently a big net positive.

You might argue that size, age, and complexity of systems are correlated with poor results, but you can not use that to exclude the possibility that maximum results can be obtained by some large, complex (undiscovered) system.

It's reasonable to argue that the direction some country should move in today is towards libertarianism; maybe that is the direction to a useful local maximum. But you're arguing for a very strong and simple heuristic that would allow you to dismiss without evaluation any large, complex system; that seems to me to be a critical error.


> Language is a complex system and an infrastructure;

Notoriously lacking a central authority. Small l, or Big L?

Internet?


The Greeks had it right - "democracy" to greeks was competent people drawing lots for the jobs to perform in government. No politics involved. You did your job right because it was your responsibility, and you'd hate to see the job done improperly.

Randomness creates self enforcing systems, like the "I break it in half, then you pick" method of splitting a candy bar.


>> The Greeks had it right - "democracy" to greeks was competent people drawing lots for the jobs to perform in government. No politics involved. You did your job right because it was your responsibility, and you'd hate to see the job done improperly.

First, there is no "the Greeks" here. You seem to be talking about ancient Athens. (Sorry if that's overly pedantic, but ancient Greece was not at all monolithic.)

Second, parts of Athenian democracy involved lots, but by no means all of it. In particular, the ten annual generals were elected precisely because they were supposed to be experts.

Third, there wasn't really any competency criterion for the positions held by lot. (This is one reason Plato disliked democracy so much - that theoretically unqualified people could speak in the assembly and hold office.)

Fourth, the jobs of the people who were chosen by lot were mostly bureaucratic. As Wikipedia puts it "The powers of officials were precisely defined and their capacity for initiative limited. They administered rather than governed."[1]

Finally, politics and petty personal infighting was a huge problem in ancient Athens (ostracism?[2]). The whole "You did your job right because it was your responsibility, and you'd hate to see the job done improperly." is nostalgia for a world that never was.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athenian_democracy#Selection_by...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostracism


Well, isn't power always corrupting? Consider the sex that would occur in a marriage where the wife has no skills or earning potential (so she must submit to the husband's will or become effectively homeless if he divorces her).

Entrenched power in a group of >2 people works the same way. In the case of the US Government, most Americans don't seriously consider any other country of residence, so our leaders get away with all sorts of disgraceful acts.

Without competition there will always be corruption.

Due to a fluke of the geography and history of the US, it has been difficult for the central government to get all that strong. In the past it had to do things like build out cities over marsh land (New Orleans) or provide useful services (like the post office, railways). But now that it has a hold on power, our entitlement system is broken and most of the tax dollars flow to special interests (the military, oil industry, healthcare, finance).

So I think your observation is true, but due to a more general principle... which is the innate brutality of all humans when granted power over others.


I have zero evidence to support this hypothesis, but it seems like power corrupts most the people who seek it the most. Some people do better with power than others.

Also, I am not sure what you are trying to say about sex in marriage. It sounds like you are trying to say that men are held back from mistreating spouses only because they can't get away with it. Is that true? I have witnessed first hand that that can happen, but it was in a very poor society. Do you think that is common in marriages in prosperous countries?


I'm not sure if Eliezer (who participates here) has seen either of the links below before.

http://people.virginia.edu/~ent3c/papers2/Articles%20for%20O...

http://people.virginia.edu/~ent3c/papers2/Articles%20for%20O...

I post these links to HN from time to time, because they are from top-notch authors on heritability research and join issue directly with a very common misconception about what heritability figures show about human behavioral traits. Simply put, whatever the numerical figure is for heritability of this or that human behavioral trait says NOTHING about how malleable (changeable or controllable by environment) the trait is. Let me be clear: all human behavioral characteristics are heritable, with heritabilities above the theoretical minimum of 0 and always strictly less than the theoretical maximum of 1. But no matter what the calculated heritability is of a specific trait, we know NOTHING about how subject that trait is to change under the influence of carefully planned environmental interventions. That is a separate line of investigation, not logically or factually related at all to the heritability calculated by the usual methodologies in studies of correlations of traits among closely related and less closely related individuals. The references provide more details.

From the article: "When I ask myself this question, I think my actual political views would change primarily with my beliefs about how likely government interventions are in practice to do more harm than good. I think my libertarianism rests chiefly on the empirical proposition—a factual belief which is either false or true, depending on how the universe actually works—that 90% of the time you have a bright idea like 'offer government mortgage guarantees so that more people can own houses,' someone will somehow manage to screw it up, or there’ll be side effects you didn’t think about, and most of the time you’ll end up doing more harm than good, and the next time won’t be much different from the last time." Similarly, my views on politics and economics are heavily influenced by real-world experience, particularly the real-world experience of living in Taiwan, and visiting Hong Kong and China, in the early 1980s when those three culturally similar areas lived under very different government policies. Government policies make a difference. Actuality trumps theory in political science and economics.


Turkheimer by no means represents a consensus view in genetic research. Moreover, I find some of his positions to be quite at odds with my view of what scientific philosophy should be. For example, he believes that the study of race and IQ is not a "legitimate matter for scientific inquiry". You can spin all the pseudoscientific rationalizations you want to make that claim, but as soon as you say that some subject is off limits, and that subject just happens to be very related to a taboo social and political topic, your motivations become suspect in my opinion. But then that's why, apropos of the linked article's ending, I'm a libertarian.


Race and IQ are not scientifically precise tools. Both are fundamentally subjective. Why do we say that Barack Obama is a black man and not a white man? If we are to have a logically precise definition of race, both statements are true or neither is. In a genetic context, most African-Americans are just as much white as black. But in a study comparing disease rates among ethnic groups, African-Americans and Caucasians are treated as disjoint sets.

IQ is just plain subjective. You would likely get similar results by sitting the designers of the IQ test one on one in a room with someone, and then having them rate the people they talked to by how much they were interested in the conversation.

I don't think that Turkheimer is saying that you can't look at race and IQ in a scientific context. What he's saying is that the concepts of race and IQ are more grounded in opinion than fact, and when we see them in scientific studies we should be wary if they are not mentioned in the same breath as other subjective classifications like religion or political affiliation.


Race and IQ are not scientifically precise tools.

Genetic Structure, Self-Identified Race/Ethnicity, and Confounding in Case-Control Association Studies

We have analyzed genetic data for 326 microsatellite markers that were typed uniformly in a large multiethnic population-based sample of individuals as part of a study of the genetics of hypertension (Family Blood Pressure Program). Subjects identified themselves as belonging to one of four major racial/ethnic groups (white, African American, East Asian, and Hispanic) and were recruited from 15 different geographic locales within the United States and Taiwan. Genetic cluster analysis of the microsatellite markers produced four major clusters, which showed near-perfect correspondence with the four self-reported race/ethnicity categories.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1196372/


One of the co-authors of that paper has withdrawn some of the strong conclusions once based on it in his subsequent co-authored article in the latest edition of Vogel and Motulsky human genetics textbook (cited in my link to a Wikipedia user page in another comment in this thread). Anyway, what the article shows in relation to this thread is not the point the participant above was relying on. It is occasionally possible, with a sample of genetic information about genes not under strong selection pressure, to make a reasonably accurate rough guess of the "race" categorization of many individuals. (I have read the article, and I see that that is the claim, as in the excerpt you kindly quote, but the article also notes exceptions in the sample it examined who were miscategorized.) But those study authors, and all competent human geneticists, do NOT argue the converse: that if you know an individual's race categorization, you know to a reasonable degree of accuracy what specific genes that person has of interest to human behaviors. In fact, we generally do not know that at all about any individual. There are still few genes significant behavorial effect that have been even tentatively identified in a first sample, and the widely replicated result is that ANY "race" group defined by the varying social definitions around the world will still be highly diverse as to any genetic characteristic of interest.


>It is occasionally possible, with a sample of genetic information about genes not under strong selection pressure, to make a reasonably accurate rough guess of the "race" categorization of many individuals. (I have read the article, and I see that that is the claim, as in the excerpt you quote, but the article also notes exceptions in the sample it examined who were miscategorized.) But those study authors, and all competent human geneticists, do NOT argue the converse: that if you know an individual's race categorization, you know to a reasonable degree of accuracy what specific genes that person has of interest to human behaviors.

I don't think the comment you're replying to purported to argue that in the first place. He was just trying to refute the notion that race is merely a matter of social labels; the fact is those labels refer to something real in terms of a person's ancestry that can be detected by genetic tests.

Like you say, it has never been demonstrated that racial groups differ in their genetic propensity for intelligence, but it has also never been demonstrated that they don't. Given the observed IQ differences between racial groups and the fact that these groups differ genetically, a genetic basis for these differences seems like a reasonable thing to hypothesize about, and apply scientific methods of inquiry into. This is why I have a problem with a statement like "race and IQ is not a legitimate matter for scientific inquiry."


This is why I have a problem with a statement like "race and IQ is not a legitimate matter for scientific inquiry."

But both are social-political constructs. They are labels. What do you gain by correlating some feature of human behavior under examination with them? (I provide one answer in another comment: the effective distribution of useful information through existing social channels.)

Yes, racial labels refer to something real. But it's like correlating geological data with the state of California. California refers to something real. But as a scientist why would I want to correlate seismic activity with the state borders of California as opposed to, say, some fault-line that runs out into the Pacific or up into Oregon?


[T]he widely replicated result is that ANY "race" group defined by the varying social definitions around the world will still be highly diverse as to any genetic characteristic of interest.

True, but I can't recall seeing anyone arguing the opposite. And the fact that two distributions overlap doesn't mean that knowing which distribution an individual belongs to contains no information. Men really are on average taller than women.


So are you saying that if we did the same analysis across Africa, you'd find the same markers throughout the populations in "near-perfect correspondence" for people self-identifying racially as African?

Or is this specific to the populations you studied in the United States?


Dude, I didn't do the study.

Re: Sub Saharan Africans you can get a decent idea if someone has such ancestry from one allele.

As one example, the Duffy Null allele (FY0) has a frequency of almost 100% of Sub-Saharan Africans, but occurs very infrequently in populations outside of this region. A person having this gene is thus more likely to have Sub-Saharan African ancestors.*

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancestry-informative_marker

Obviously the more such alleles you test for the better you'll be able to distinguish the populations.

This page gives links to ~300 AIMs which allow you to distinguish ancestry pretty well within Europe.

http://www.snpedia.com/index.php/Ancestry_Informative_Marker

Given that that's possible distinguishing continental ancestry seems to be a problem of application not theory.


Any statement which manages to leave out a reasonable self-identification that about 1/6 of the world's population - Asian Indian - would use, is a little suspect.


Google Bamshad and Wooding. There are plenty of papers that analyze Indians and show that you can probabilistically identify not just subcontinental ancestry, but caste as well from the genome.


I'm sure they're working on it. :)


Do you think that a person with measured IQ of 70 is going to have just as foo (e.g. "easy a life", "much success", etc.) as a person with measured IQ of 130?

Your overall position sounds to me like you want crisp, 1-bit, binary, black-or-white definitions or measures for everything, which is a pretty absurd demand. The real-world is n-bit. If you're looking for mathematically rigorous tools, fuzzy logic and probability theory help a lot in this area.

The race problem isn't that hard qualitatively, either: part of the reason we say Obama is a black man is because he says he is himself, another reason is because his skin is more on the darker side of the human skin scale, without prior tanning, than others. You can come up with other reasons I'm sure. You can also go down to the genetic context if you wish, but I'm sure you know the public has been beaten over the head enough times for the past however many decades that race in a genetic context isn't quite as visible as in a visual or cultural context. (Depending on your samples, anyway.)


I don't want 1-bit binaries. In fact, I want acknowledgement of the n-dimensional n-bit nature of the phenomena we call human beings. IQ and race both are trying to fit classifications that properly involve kilobytes if not megabytes of data into convenient oversimplifications that comfortably sit in a single byte.


But in a study comparing disease rates among ethnic groups, African-Americans and Caucasians are treated as disjoint sets.

Are you saying this isn't the case? I'm very curious, as I've heard before that certain diseases have a higher chance of occurring among different races (e.g. blacks are considered more at risk for gout, I think). Is that incorrect?

If I took thousands of people who self-identified as white, and thousands who self-identified as black and I looked at the occurrence of gout in those populations: what would I see?

My understanding is I'd see more gout in the black population. If so, wouldn't that somehow counter your statement that "in a genetic context, most African-Americans are just as much white as black"? Or perhaps, while most African-Americans are like that, some are in fact genetically more "black" in some sense, and they are the ones at a higher risk of gout? I don't really understand.


The question is: what do you gain by categorizing them as self-identified black or white as opposed to not categorizing them at all or categorizing them, say, by the presence of some gene cluster or genetic marker associated with gout?

There is something to be gained, from a social or political angle. A public health advocate in government might say, "Hey, if we see this is a more common problem among a particular social community, maybe we can use the pre-existing channels of information distribution within that community to help them out."

But if your study were not approaching it from this public health angle, then what's the point of correlating gout with this other quasi-scientific socio-political factor? There may be other more suitable categorizations where this particular African-American/Caucasian distinction breaks down.


The question is: what do you gain by categorizing them as self-identified black or white as opposed to not categorizing them at all or categorizing them, say, by the presence of some gene cluster or genetic marker associated with gout?

You gain many things.

If the True outcome is more common in group A than group B, you get a prior (in the Bayesian sense) which can be measured at low cost.

If you are attempting to identify the aforementioned genetic marker, you get to rule out genetic markers which are equally prevalent in both groups A and B. This narrows the search space considerably.

Throwing information (even imperfect information) away is stupid.


Throwing information (even imperfect information) away is stupid.

A falsifier to this proposition using the original question:

If I took thousands of people who self-identified as wearing white sneakers, and thousands who self-identified as wearing black sneakers and I looked at the occurrence of gout in those populations: what would I see?

Obviously one expects a stronger correlation with race based on the fact that members of a racial group are assumed to breed among themselves more frequently and concentrate relevant genetic factors -- if that's what we're looking for. But I suppose that's the point I'm trying to make: let's be clear what we're looking for.

Similarly for cultural factors like diet. But then again, why not cut straight to the dietary data?

In this case, you only get to rule out the genetic markers that are prevalent in both groups once you've established that they are indeed prevalent in both groups. And even then you're running a risk of false correlations for specific individuals because you started with a categorization freighted with a lot of non-scientific baggage.


If I took thousands of people who self-identified as wearing white sneakers, and thousands who self-identified as wearing black sneakers and I looked at the occurrence of gout in those populations: what would I see?

It is unlikely that you would observe a difference between gout incidence between the two groups, and the prior will give no information.

Similarly for cultural factors like diet. But then again, why not cut straight to the dietary data?

Cost. It's very easy for a doctor to ask about race and diet. Genetic markers require moderately expensive lab tests and repeat doctor visits.

Similarly, if you can use simple mechanical prodding to diagnose an injury with a reasonable degree of certainty, it might be worthwhile to skip the expensive MRI.

Further, the dietary or genetic marker associated with a particular diagnosis may be unknown and racial information may be the best available predictor.


If you intern at 23andMe, it's a "hello world" level problem to correlate genetics and ancestry/race. Or just submit a blinded set of saliva samples and see whether their ancestry painting algorithm correctly identifies the pre-1492 ancestral locations of your four grandparents.

This is about real raw data.


Turkheimer by no means represents a consensus view in genetic research

Who else would you suggest? One of the links I put in my first reply here is co-authored by Bouchard, Gottesman, and Johnson (all of whom I know personally, as they are based at the university where I join their discussions of human behavioral genetics research), and if they are not part of the mainstream, who is?

What is the citation for the statement you attribute to Turkheimer and put in quotation marks in your comment? Where could an interested reader look up its context?

I invite readers to take a look at Turkheimer's list of publications

http://people.virginia.edu/~ent3c/vita1_turkheimer.htm

and see for themselves how his writings fit into current literature on human behavioral genetics.

After edit: I just remembered that another reason I especially like recommending Turkheimer's writings, besides the fact that he is an eminent authority on the facts he writes about, is that he is a researcher who changes his opinion on the basis of evidence. I thought that Turkheimer is an especially interesting example for Eliezer in that regard, as Eliezer writes a lot about human beings examining their unspoken biases and fitting their thinking to evidence.

Here is a link a bibliography to several scholarly, recent sources about genetic study of human populations, including how uninformative the socially determined category of "race" is in genetic investigations:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:WeijiBaikeBianji/Anthropol...

Most bloggers don't look up scholarly sources like this, but my respect for my fellow HN participants prompts me to make use of my alma mater's university library and other libraries in my town to look up the most reliable sources and share them here.


> For example, he believes that the study of race and IQ is not a "legitimate matter for scientific inquiry".

Define "race" in a way that is scientifically rigorous and whose members can be classified in an objective, non-arbitrary way.

To save you the trouble, after mucking around with measuring skull shapes etc. you'd eventually find the only objective classifications were based on the genes themselves and gene expression anyway, and none of the resulting classifications of people looked like your original notion of "race" anyway.

It's probably possible to study "race" scientifically, but you probably don't learn much by doing so.


Genetic cluster analysis of the microsatellite markers produced four major clusters, which showed near-perfect correspondence with the four self-reported race/ethnicity categories. Of 3,636 subjects of varying race/ethnicity, only 5 (0.14%) showed genetic cluster membership different from their self-identified race/ethnicity.


One major factor to consider when talking about race isn't how YOU self-identify, but how other's identify you. So perhaps "self-identification" will correspond more closely to the markers than if I was to identify the racial category.

As well, that study looked at the US population which is clumped by historical factors in ways that may not apply worldwide.


On self versus other identification I would expect differences to exist, and that those differences would depend on society, culture and environment but within a pretty small range.

Here's another study on distinguishing ancestry by continent

An ancestry informative marker set for determining continental origin: validation and extension using human genome diversity panels:

http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2156/10/39

It only uses 93 SNPs and is also reliable, except for distinguishing South Asians from West Eurasians.



And the rest of the discussion is playing out on their main site this month:

http://www.cato-unbound.org/


There is variance within the libertarian community and this confuses a lot of people. The many viewpoints are united by a respect for contract law and property rights. The main split is down to people who believe these two things are an ethical imperative and those who believe them to be pragmatically optimal. Many believe in a jumbled mix of the two. That is, they are a little shaky on the differences between normative and positive statements, and thus have difficulty clarifying their position.


In a community where everyone is genetically and epigenetically identical, variance attributable to additive genetic factors (heritability) is zero.

In a community where everyone is genetically diverse but their living and work situations are exactly identical (a very hard scenario to imagine), all variance is attributable to genetic factors. (The heritability is potentially 1, but since the definition of heritability is that it pertains to additive genetic factors, it may not be 1 in this case.)

A few things flow from this.

The first is that population-level estimates of heritability may change over time, even if only because environments change, sometimes wildly, over time.

The second is that estimates of heritability for one population may not tell you about another population, and the population-level estimate itself is a blend of the community-level constituent values. (Even when you derive your estimates from twin studies, you can imagine how this is true.)

The third is that even if you drive heritability to 1 because you have made everyone's environment uniformly awesome, this does not mean that you cannot make everyone's environment even more awesome and thereby increase productivity/output/whatever. Say that Trait X is one's "widget production ability." If Trait X's variability is now 100% genetic, it does not at all follow that Trait X's mean cannot be increased by changing the environment. (It merely follows that Trait X's variance, not its mean, is currently completely explained by genetic differences.)

The fourth is that with substantial state intervention, you can probably manipulate the heritability of any human behavioral trait to whatever value you want it to be, given enough dedication of resources and willingness to flout norms.


I found the concept of being 'logically rude' insightful. I have been on both sides of that.


Yep, i would be satisfied it if we all can take away only that lesson from that article. And i think we may all be better off as a society. I am willing to abandon that belief, if empirical evidence shows the delay in decision-making resulting from that change will minimize impact of the decision. Ofcourse, testing it is a lot harder. But still.


I always find it weird about libertarians how they're so skeptical of big institutions in the form of government but don't seem to worry about big institutions in the form of corporations when it is obvious to everyone how dysfunctional big corps can get. And how much damage big corporations can do. The magical belief in the "free market" fairy is incredibly naive. Anyone that has ever run genetic algorithms knows how easy it is for even a moderately complicated system to get stuck in obviously inefficient local maxima. A nation's economy is much more complicated.


Exactly. I really liked Yudkowski's framing of the rationale behind his political beliefs and agreed with his progression of ideas until he reached his conclusion. In particular, I liked his stating the issues in terms of pragmatism rather that principles because it allows for some consideration of "the public good" (which idealistic libertarians bristle at), even though that idea is admittedly hard to pin down.

I won't hesitate to acknowledge the (seemingly inherent) problems with government. However, laissez-faire capitalism has it's own inherent failings: every non-libertarian has their own list but they tend to include externalities (environment, public health, ...), ideas of "fairness" (large income inequality, valuing lives in terms of income, opportunity, ...), commons (turning things that are naturally shared---public spaces, roads, ideas, water---into private monopolies). There are well-worn libertarian responses to all of these concerns, but each issue is complex and I've not generally been satisfied with purely laissez-faire approaches (so far).

I like the idea of government serving as an (imperfect) check-and-balance on corporations, just as voters and separate branches are imperfect checks on government. As broken as government tools like regulation can be, I suspect the threat of their use is government's most effective tool.


I think he should have treated the set of all government actions with more granularity. Imagine that you partitioned that set into two subsets. The first subset would be actions on policy issues that libertarians find it necessary for governments to act on. The second subset would be actions on policy issues that they don't think it's necessary for governments to act on. It could simultaneously be true that 99% of actions in the second subset will tend to have bad results and only 1% of actions in the first subset will have bad results depending on the relative size of the sets. If you're not clear about which subset you're talking about, you'll get people saying things like "you must be wrong that most government policies have a bad results, this country (that mostly performs actions in the first subset) tends to have very good results."


For reference - Eliezer's Dec 2008 post on this - http://lesswrong.com/lw/wj/is_that_your_true_rejection/


A very thoughtful article, especially the notion of something being ones true reason, and variance as causal impact, but isn't what he describes as libertarianism with a small 'l', what has been known as the Social Democrat way in Europe for decades...; only have the state be involved in those things where the market and other societal provisions (charity, etc.) fail. Not much new here, except for the content of it being quite reasonable... :)


Quite the opposite. Social Democrats in Europe are a diverse bunch from one country to another and even within countries, but all most all of them believe in the governments ability to improve society. (Because of this many European countries have a ministry of Culture, a ministry of Sports, etc.)

Europe does have liberal parties that look like the discussed libertarians with a small "l", especially in Northern Europe, but they usually take third place behind the socialist and christian democrats.


Interesting perspective, but it does ignore http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balancing_selection. It's possible that a certain amount of variation in the population is kept around through evolutionary processes.

On the whole, though, I do agree that humans are basically the same.


The hospital example he ends with is strange. It's my understanding that under libertarian philosophy, children would not have access to any care in that society unless their parents happened to be able to afford it.


It's my understanding that under libertarian philosophy, children would not have access to any care in that society unless their parents happened to be able to afford it.

Libertarians are very happy to see philanthropists devoting their own money to helpful causes. They are also happy for voluntary private associations to work for their mutual benefit. They can point to many examples of people doing just that in history.

http://www.amazon.com/Market-Education-History-Studies-Philo...

Indeed, historically, most hospitals that treat poor children and most schools that educate poor children were founded without government support, all over the world.


OK, so a poor child in a libertarian society would only receive care if his parents could afford to pay for it at a private hospital, or if he happened to have access to a theoretical charity hospital that a theoretical philanthropist may or may not have chartered.

You can't get around the fact that the basic tenets of libertarianism rank the right for the rich to live in luxury above the right of poor people to obtain basic needs.


Ignoring your choice of phrasing for the moment, you've still missed half the story there: they also want to remove all the barriers that make it difficult for the poor to become rich, as well as eliminating the existing programs that remove all motivation to want to. (Consider, for instance, the common case where unemployment pays more than getting a job; people have learned how to satisfy the unemployment office without actually trying to get a job. Beware what you incentivize.)

Regarding your choice of phrase: "the rich" versus "poor people" makes the former impersonal and the latter "people". Similarly, "live in luxury" versus "basic needs" misses the entire point.


>remove all the barriers that make it difficult for the poor to become rich

So... they want to remove barriers to market entry and the overwhelming power of corporations?


Before the public education system in the United States, schools were localized and constrained to the wealthy class.

Edit: Why am I being downvoted? Am I wrong?


You are indeed wrong

> High and Ellig sum up the experience of the 18th and 19th centuries by noting that "the available evidence strongly indicates that Americans of the period took an active interest in education. ... The private supply was extensive, not only in the number of children served but in the spectrum of social classes involved."

http://www.sntp.net/education/school_state_3.htm


I'm not so sure that's true.

"Still, the opportunity to attend schools was limited. Formal schooling was largely restricted to those who could afford to pay. Even "free" schools often required payment of tuition, and primary schools required entering students to be literate, barring children who had not been taught to read by their parents."

Here's a link with period testimonials from actual early 19th century private school instructors.

http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cf...



I think the main problem I have with this is that it's not internally consistent. He talks about the evolution of a complex system by incremental improvements, but apparently maintains the libertarian instinct of "This is broken, throw it out." instead of "This is broken, how do we improve it?". There are an enormous number of governance models that have never been seriously tried on a large scale. There is no fundamental reason to believe that the libertarian value of "shut it all down" is going to produce better results than any of the other possible models.


I mostly agree, though I don't have a strong position on the correct answer. But as someone who does study complex systems sometimes in my day job, I find that argument for libertarianism extremely unconvincing. Most complex systems you find do not, left alone, function in any sort of reasonable way. They are full of crazy oscillating attractors, pathological feedback loops, more-stable and less-stable states that you (or an actor in the system) can deliberately manipulate it into, etc., etc. "Well-behaved" dynamical systems are comparatively hard to design even when you're deliberately designing, and ones you just find somewhere are usually not well behaved.

Which makes me particularly skeptical of "the market just works" type analysis, which claims that this particular complex dynamical system does not have all those pathologies, and in fact can be analyzed with fairly high-level, aggregate laws like the classical economics analysis of supply/demand adjustment. Heck, even fluid dynamics (another complex system) doesn't work that way--- all our general laws about how pressure/flow/velocity/etc. relate only apply to specific flow regimes, and can have different or even opposite-of-normal relationships in different flow regimes (especially anything turbulent).

One argument for why there should be some intervention would be: the classical-economics analysis of how economies should work is an appealing one, but is not in fact how they always work, so the government's job should be to dampen out the pathologies and turbulence that would take us out of the "normal" regime where the classical laws do apply. That's sort of the line taken by ordoliberalism. The question would be whether it can, on the whole, do more good than harm. But I wouldn't start from the assumption that what you get without government intervention operates "well" or "ideally".


I think your concerns are absolutely spot on, and they match mine almost exactly - I've spent practically my whole working life modeling complex systems, and pathologies are the rule, not the exception, so it strikes me as unbelievably naive to just assume that there's something magical about free markets when in reality they are made up of millions of different entities with different objectives, costs, and constraints. Even when you're simulating a system that's provably stable, when simulation errors and noise creep in, you're batting about 50/50 as to whether your particular simulation method will go off the rails or not (as anyone that's ever tried to simulate a damped harmonic oscillator starting from Newton's laws and the obvious method of approximating a derivative knows quite well). In simulation we take stability arguments and proofs very seriously, the presumption being that if you can't prove that a system is stable, you can't assume anything about it (the exception being physical processes, where stability of the underlying can usually be taken as a given because of anthropic principal arguments and we're merely tasked with finding the proof, as well as a simulation scheme that doesn't screw up - that's a lot more difficult than it sounds, especially for complex systems like fully relativistic gravity).

These concerns are of the utmost priority in most fields that involve complex systems, especially processes that we have a hand in influencing, except for economics and politics, where everyone's pet arguments are balls to the wall, and tend to either imply that we should be living with full blown communism or complete unregulated anarchy (okay, I suppose contract law and the military are typically carved out as the exceptions). It's one of the few areas I've ever seen where none of the popular arguments seem to have any sort of balance - and I'm not talking "balance" as in fairness, I'm talking about "balance" as in trivial idea that if both extremes suck (which they usually do, whatever particular idea or disagreement you're arguing over), and something in between is better, then there exists some optimum between the extremes. Step one involves admitting that either extreme has a problem, but instead everyone seems to keep arguing that the whole problem is just that we're not actually at that extreme, 100%.


Thank you both _delirium and bermanoid. You have managed to express my sentiments exactly, but much more eloquently than I could have.

I am always so frustrated by the notion of "the market is always right". As if a system with billions of complex actors could somehow be described like a first order linear system, that will always find a stable equilibrium.


I think you are putting words into his mouth with the "this is broken, throw it out". The reason why unconventional governance models are treated with general skepticism is one of the major points of the essay, which is that if the unconventional governance models are being designed and implemented by the same crew of people with the same basic beliefs that are dominant today, there's no particular reason to believe the outcome is going to be any different in the end. "What makes me a libertarian is that the prospect of having that reconfiguration done by the same system that managed to ban marijuana while allowing tobacco, subsidize ethanol made from corn, and turn the patent system into a form of legalized bludgeoning, makes me want to run screaming into the night until I fall over from lack of oxygen."

Also, characterizing the libertarian answer as "shut it all down" is a strawman in its own right. I daresay one of the major ideas that prevents people from understanding libertarianism is understanding that "let the market deal with it" is not anything remotely resembling "shut it all down". The market provides very sharp constraints on what actions one may profitably take, and one of the advantages of the market system is that said constraints are much more closely connected with reality than any other commonly proposed system is. As an also-little-l libertarian I don't deny that some further regulation may be necessary, but defying the market is less like defying people and more like defying physics. You will pay the price. (In fact, we are, right now.) In particular I strongly believe in the need for regulations that ensures that the market stays free, so I'm very in favor of regulations to prevent monopolies from forming, and very hostile to government-granted market monopolies.

If you understand the market as "it's all, like, greed man, and greedy people abusing other greedy people, and, like, evil, man", you really ought to spend some time understanding the theory of the market as an actual existing entity, rather than a politically-oriented strawman designed cognitively innoculate you against ideas that may actually change your mind if you were to truly learn about them. Perhaps it won't change your mind, but I'll say that most people online's efforts to pry me away from my libertarianism fails on the grounds that almost nobody actually understands it in the first place, which puts them at a bit of a disadvantage.

(Remember, almost nobody is raised libertarian. Few libertarians hold their beliefs unexamined, the way that those who were simply raised liberal or conservative can, though of course not all do.)


You appear to have a sentiment that is roughly equivalent to the "market is right". The problem with this is that I don't think it scales. One person who buys a house they can't really afford is not a big deal. Let such a person make that bad decision if this is their inclination is a libertarian attitude. But millions of people make a similarly bad decision affects us all.

The market isn't always right. Imbalances can and do occur. The effects can be devastating to nonparticipants. Cartels, monopoly rents, etc. are some other types of bad effects that markets can devolve into.


I find it interesting that you use the recent home mortgage crisis as an example of market failure. Libertarians often use it as an example of governmental failure. Markets and governments were involved in the creation and fallout of the crisis...and people on either side want to blame the other. It's actually pretty analogous to the problem Eliezer pointed out about the balance of heredity vs. environment.

While the mortgage crisis would not have happened without market forces (+ human greed) and government involvement. The question becomes which of those factors we can alter or remove to make such an occurrence impossible in the future, rather than which factor to blame. From a pragmatic perspective, since we can't remove human greed, the other option is to not implement government programs that make it easier for millions of people who can't afford a house to get a mortgage.

So, more government might have prevented the problem, perhaps in the form of education programs for home buyers who only qualified because of the government programs. But, less government could have prevented the problem, as well, since the vast majority of those loans would have never happened without government programs to encourage them.

My instincts tell me to go the less expensive route, and let the market decide who can afford a house or not. If a bank knows the government isn't going to bail them out (as would be the case if these loans weren't government-backed), they're going to be more careful about who gets those loans.


since the vast majority of those loans would have never happened without government programs to encourage them.

I'm going to copy-and-paste something I said before on this topic (which was actually a reply to jerf):

I slogged through much of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Report (http://fcic.law.stanford.edu/). One of the conclusions was that while mandating loans didn't help, they weren't numerous enough to be a major cause. Because of the mortgage-backed securities industry, there was incentive for banks to make sub-prime loans and offload the loans (and the risk) elsewhere. Once the MBS engine got churning, there was an enormous demand for more loans to feed it. In other words, the government's requirements did not lead to the glut of sub-prime loans.

Education for the home-buyers would probably not work. I can't remember which author it was who made this point, but on reading about the crisis, someone pointed out that people will take what you give them. That's not really fixable. The fixable problem was that banks were willing to make such loans. And they were willing to make such loans not because they knew the government would bail the loans out, but because the banks would not keep the loans. They'd turn around and sell the loans to investment banks that packaged the loans up into MBSs. The banks making the sub-prime loans weren't the same banks that were on-the-hook for them.


Actually the majority of the housing crisis would have been avoided had the government stepped in and simply required confirmation of income on mortgage applications. The lack of this simple and obvious requirement (which Obama put into place as soon as he came into office) allowed independent mortgage companies like Countrywide to put together ridiculous mortgages for people that could not afford it. Those same mortgage companies then sold the mortgages for packaging and had no risk. Thus, they were incentivized to get as many mortgages done as possible - regardless of the risk.

From my point of view, this is a classic example of where government regulation not only makes sense, but keeps market participates from creating abnormal risk.


I was only providing an example of how libertarian principles don't always scale. I said nothing about the housing market in the U.S. and I don't know why you bring up the U.S. housing market.

From what I've read about libertarianism (the economic principles of libertarianism) it is highly impractical. It seem like a set of principles that work at the local level provided there is plenty of competition. Libertarian principles don't scale at a macro level. Especially in the presence of cartels or monopolies. Or in an environment when risk is being transferred to parties who don't understand the risk that is being transfered to them and when this risk transfer is being done on a truly massive scale.


"One person who buys a house they can't really afford is not a big deal. Let such a person make that bad decision if this is their inclination is a libertarian attitude. But millions of people make a similarly bad decision affects us all."

I assumed you were describing a recent real-world scenario where exactly this occurred. What did you have in mind, if not the recent US mortgage crisis? It seems, to me, that real examples are more useful than imagined ones. If we are using imaginary problems, we can come up with all sorts of interesting solutions, but they don't necessarily carry over to real world problems.

Thought experiments can be useful tools, but when the results conflict with reality, you have to be willing to adjust and accommodate new data.

"Especially in the presence of cartels or monopolies."

Which cartels and monopolies do you have in mind? The biggest monopolies and cartels I can think of in the US are those that have government support to protect their monopoly. Phone, cable, power, water, are the most firmly held monopolies (occasionally duopolies) in the US, for instance, and all are protected by government. Toll roads in the northeast are another good example of government-endorsed monopolies (I'm not saying the toll roads are necessarily a bad thing, just that they are solidly a monopoly; you can't really drive from NYC to anywhere without travelling on those toll roads, and they are, by far, the most expensive toll roads I've ever driven on, and I travel full-time in a motorhome, so I've seen a lot of toll roads).

Microsoft was frequently called a monopoly for several years, but the market eventually removed those monopolistic powers. Anti-trust actions barely put a dent in their power, and targeted quite small, quite unimportant elements. The market is where the real change came from. Heck, many of the remaining strongholds for Microsoft are in governments, which are unable to move as fast as private organizations. And, a not insignificant amount of Microsoft's power came from having a stranglehold on government schools, offices, etc.

I can't think of many other good monopoly examples that aren't government-backed, though I'm sure there are some examples. I'm willing to believe that anti-trust legislation has a place; but I'm also very suspicious of the argument that all government is good government because monopolies and cartels are dangerous, which seems to be the root of your bias against libertarianism or reduced government.


Perhaps the reason you have trouble thinking of monopolies that aren't government sanctioned is because anti-trust law already prohibits monopolies from forming unless government sanctioned.

The exceptions that are sanctioned are examples in economic theory of "natural monopolies", typically utilities, where competition would be highly impractical. For example, it would be impractical to have many different competing networks of privately owned telephone poles, sewer lines, water lines, etc. serving the same municipality. So a natural monopoly is allowed to exist but is heavily regulated and may face price controls.

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_monopoly


Perhaps the reason you have trouble thinking of monopolies that aren't government sanctioned is because anti-trust law already prohibits monopolies from forming unless government sanctioned.

I remember anti-trust law being used against smaller companies because lawyers find it easier to persecute than fighting against bigger companies. Even anti-trust regulations can be used to decrease competition.

Sometime it's better to opt for the least worst option rather than opting for a solution that kill the patient.


Microsoft aside, Standard Oil, Kodak, AT&T, and, well, AT&T-2, off the top of my head. These are/were "smaller companies"?

Antitrust claims get tacked on to a lot of lawsuits by overzealous attorneys, but they're usually dismissed out of hand. Serious antitrust litigation is rare, and by definition targets companies that are large in their particular industries.


It doesn't matter whether the market is right or not. What matters is that the market is. Politicians routinely forget that. Communism's core failure was ignoring the irrepressible nature of market forces. The same applies to our system of capitalism.

One of the core factors that drove the credit crisis was ignoring market forces. "Too big to fail" led directly and obviously to recklessness. Bankers knew that they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. In a system where a government explicitly or implicitly guarantees banks, there is little incentive for anyone involved to guard against cataclysmic failures. As we so often do, we privatised gains and nationalised losses.

The desire to fix "market imbalances" is only that, a desire. The evidence is that most attempts to fix the market only make things worse. If we merely want to be seen to be doing "the right thing", then it's reasonable to legislate and hope for the best. If we actually want to improve the world, we must recognise that the market is tantamount to a force of nature.

Decades of trying to control wildfires led only to fiercer, more devastating fires. It was only when we realised that fires are a natural part of a forest ecosystem that we began to reduce the damage caused. Attempting to prevent any negative outcomes of a free market is similarly futile.

We can't control markets. Khruschev and Breshnev couldn't, nor Greenspan or Bernanke. All we can do is nudge it a little, build a firebreak here, drop a bucket there. Until we recognise that, we're doomed to the cycle of boom and bust that has dominated post-industrial economies.

People do stuff. You can attempt to change their incentives, but they'll still do whatever makes sense to them. That's the core of libertarian thought. Accept that lack of control, accept that the drug war can't be won, accept abortion and gambling and credit default swaps, then try and work out how best to mitigate the externalities of those things. Legislate based on what is not on what we think ought to be.


It doesn't matter whether the market is right or not. What matters is that the market is. Politicians routinely forget that. Communism's core failure was ignoring the irrepressible nature of market forces. The same applies to our system of capitalism.

And libertarians routinely forget that the unwashed masses actually want social programs and regulations, and they hate seeing people get rich off of "the market" by doing things that seem abusive. They want public services like police, fire, ambulances and schools. They want to have some assurance that when BigCo tries to get anti-competitive and monopolistic someone will step in, and they want to know that if the CEO shorts his own stock in anticipation of bad news that nobody else knows about he will be punished for it rather than profit. Libertarians may not want any of this because of their philosophical and economic leanings, but most other people do...

Why is it that the free market is such an immense force that we should uncritically accept that it is unchangeable, yet the desire of millions of people to control it, regulate it, or otherwise make it work for everyone instead of only the richest of the direct participants is somehow negotiable?

I understand that you're saying that nothing we can do will change the markets, all I'm saying is that it's just as possible that nothing we can do will make people happy about the way they function uninhibited, so maybe there's a good reason we've ended up somewhere in the middle.


In a truly free market system too big to fail can occur. Bank runs, financial panics and collapses occurred for centuries before governments made explicit or implicit guarantees to banks or other large enterprises.

That there wasn't a total collapse of the banking system in 2008 was precisely because of government intervention. Everyone would have withdrawn their funds from banks had it not been for FDIC. Imbalances can't be prevented. What can be prevented is a total collapse and the effects of imbalances can be mitigated. This is one of the main reasons for the modern interventionist view of governments with regard to market regulation.

The goal is to prevent millions of small bad decisions ending up adversely affecting the whole country. This is my problem with libertarianism. There is no mechanism for dealing with the scaling issue. Negative externalities are not dealt with.


The market did not create the housing crisis. The government fiddled with the market all to hell, with the Community Reinvestment Act, the regulations surrounding the ratings agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's unmarket-like backings of loans, and a hodge-podge of other lesser interventions.

When the market was allowed to make decisions about who should get loans, the standards were a lot higher. But it wasn't "right" for people to have to put 20% down and have a very solid credit rating, because it discriminated against poor people (and Democratic voters), so the government fiddled until it produced the result it (thought it) wanted, forcing banks to lower mortgage standards until we eventually worked our way down to no-money down ARMs.

(BTW, the claim the government had nothing to do with it is to claim that all the regulation like the CRA and Fannie Mae and anti-discrimination all had absolutely no effect at all, in which one must answer the question, if regulations like that are so ineffectual that you can't lay any responsibility for the current crisis at their feet, then why do you think government regulations are the answer to anything? Either they are effective or they are not, but you can't flip back and forth depending on whether you like the effect or not.)

The problem is that people think of "the market" as a fundamental property, but in fact it is a derived property. The reason why the market tended to correctly allocate mortgages prior to the government's heavy-handed decades-long intervention is the incentive structure. Always look at the incentive structure. If my bank is going to issue me a mortgage, and the government leaves them alone, they are going to take a lot of steps to protect themselves, such as setting the requirements for your credit strength very high, and requiring large downpayments, and generally ensuring they aren't going to be left holding the bag when the mortgage falls through. Alternatively, if they're going to sell that risk, the receiving party is going to want the same due diligence. The government interventions basically systematically tore than incentive structure apart, by allowing them to just dump the mortgage off on Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, by requiring them to make loans that they basically knew would fail but the government held guns to their head to do it, etc. If I had to pick one thing that really enabled the housing crisis, it was the ability to dump mortgages off on the FMs for what were in actuality above-market rates, then for the seller to be free-and-clear of the responsibilities. Other things may have accelerated it, but that structure guaranteed disaster on its own.

No, the market isn't "always right", but that's not really the question. Nothing is "always right". The question, which is more likely to be right, the market system or the government system? One of the big reasons I tend libertarian is that I empirically observe that the government almost inevitably creates incredibly broken incentive structures where the market tends to create ones that are much more connected to reality. In this particular case, the "reality" that the market is much more connected to is the question of "will X be able to pay their mortgage back?" I have to use the broad term "reality" when discussing it in general, but it actually comes back down to specifics like this.

One much also distinguish between "the market" being broken, and reality being "broken". Yes, mortgage requirements were quite high; that's because in reality it's a huge risk. It turns out the market wasn't broken here, and the efforts to "fix" it were the true brokenness.


"The market did not create the housing crisis. The government fiddled with the market all to hell, with the Community Reinvestment Act, the regulations surrounding the ratings agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's unmarket-like backings of loans, and a hodge-podge of other lesser interventions."

Right, which is why it only happened in America, not in other places like England, and Ireland, and Spain, which had neither CRA nor Fannie nor Freddie. Oh wait...

For a different, and for my money, substantially more accurate diagnosis of the crisis, go listen to William K. Black [1]. He was one of the regulators who prosecuted many of the corrupt bankers who perpetrated the savings and loan crisis.

[1].http://dailybail.com/home/dr-william-k-black-the-great-ameri...


Now explain to me how the Community Reinvestment Act created co-occurring housing crises in Spain, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, et al.


I was only providing an example of how libertarian principles don't always scale. I said nothing about the housing market in the U.S. and I don't know why you bring up the U.S. housing market.


"One person who buys a house they can't really afford is not a big deal. Let such a person make that bad decision if this is their inclination is a libertarian attitude. But millions of people make a similarly bad decision affects us all."

I don't think it's exactly a stretch to assume that such a (putatively) topical example was related to current events.

Besides, in the process of describing why the crisis wasn't caused by markets, I answered your objection anyhow. When the free market was making the decisions about mortgages, they did in fact make it in a sustainable way. Once the lenders were detached from the consequences of their decisions by the government, that broke. There's no better way to ensure that we don't have a housing crisis than to use those market mechanisms.

Note carefully I didn't say "if we use those mechanisms, we'll never have a housing crisis". I said there's no better way. It's basically impossible to completely prevent periodic crises.


I did write, "The problem with this is that I don't think it scales." before the quoted line. It was a stretch.

Lenders weren't detached from the consequences of their decisions by the government. They were detached from the consequences of their decisions by selling securities based on the loans they made to dupes. That it was done at a massive scale without the dupes properly pricing in the risk caused a meltdown.


The fundamental underlying reason they could sell those securities was that they were exploiting the arbitrage from being able to dump the mortgages off on the FMs, at which point everybody knew they were unrealistically guaranteed by the Federal Government. I would point out that here in 2011, that's no longer a theory or mere rhetoric; it is now historical fact that the mortgages are in fact being covered by the Feds, as manifested by all the bailouts. Check out the FM's current financial situation if you need more proof. Without that risk sink in the system, they would never have been able to fly as far off the handle as they did. The securities were just ways of slicing up the stuff that was broken by the government-created risk sink.


I think you're ignoring the big investment banks, which also had many (most?) of these loans. I don't see how Fannie and Freddie factor into for, say, Lehman Brothers, which collapsed because they backed so many MBSs that were becoming losses.


I think you're completely ignoring the mortgage-backed securities industry which not only bought up many of these loans, but created a market for them. I read that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were actually late to that party.

Also, saying that this regulation had minimal effect does not imply that all regulation will have minimal effect.


Ugh, not that tired old horse - the CRA existed for years prior to the crisis, yet the run up happened between 2001 and 2006. That, by itself, basically refutes the idea that the CRA caused the housing crisis.


In other news, the CRA only applies to retail banks offering FDIC-insured deposits, while most of the stupid loans were written by pure mortgage banks immune from the CRA. And it's not as if they needed to be pressured into it when they could take their cut and dump 100% of the fraudulently concealed risk.


Well, first, if you want to complain that I or anyone else don't understand libertarianism, I think you should first have a long chat with how your fellow professed libertarians portray it. Amongst other things, you're one of only two or three of the dozens of purported libertarians I've encountered who claim to be in favor of any commercial regulation beyond fraud and contract enforcement issues. The near-universal stance has been that monopolies are a natural byproduct of the free market, and not a "problem".

As for the rest... Well, I've never had a problem with the idea that a properly competitive market would be far superior to where we are now, but libertarianism, at least as portrayed by professed libertarians, doesn't restrict itself to that. It seeks to completely tear down social safety nets in favor of that market and ditch environmental and safety regulations. My own experiences and those of my family are all that is necessary to convince me of the disaster that would result by going that far.

I'm the last person who's going to defend the ridiculous things cited (marijuana/tobacco, corn ethanol, patents) and many others, but if you're being intellectually honest, you also have to look at the bad things that have resulted from unbounded market forces (serious pollution/poisoning, worker deaths, building collapses, ...) until government stepped in and imposed regulations on the "free market". There are tradeoffs here.

If you don't think these things are part of libertarianism, you need a new name for your beliefs, because the existing one is too corrupted by people who either don't actually share your beliefs, or don't understand that they've done a horribly negligent job of explaining them.


Naming issues get overlooked too often, I think, and it just asks for "no true Scotsman"-style discussions. The confusion you're having seems to be thinking that "Objectivist-style Libertarians", with no compromises, and self-proclaimed "small-l libertarians", of the type jerf and Eliezer belong, are the same when they're in fact pretty different.


The near-universal stance has been that monopolies are a natural byproduct of the free market, and not a "problem".

There's a large subset (possibly the majority?) of libertarians who expect that monopolies are a byproduct of state intervention, and not a natural product of the free market, which is precisely why one shouldn't interfere in ways that lead to monopolies (among other ways).

Are there examples of monopolies which didn't have state support?


Are there examples of monopolies which didn't have state support?

What about Microsoft and Facebook? Of course, it depends on your definition of monopoly - if you define it to be 100% market dominance, then almost by definition this is only possible using government intervention - but in the case of Microsoft, few people would seriously doubt that they have (or at least had) monopoly status. I don't see the state support that allowed them to get there.

More generally, a free market greatly favors monopolies whenever there are network effects involved.

Moreover, it is not only monopolies that are bad. Many markets "naturally" end up in the hands of only a few large corporations. This can sometimes (but not always) be as bad as a monopoly, e.g. electricity providers here in Germany. It is not clear to me what it is that makes some oligopolies problematic, while others (e.g. processor manufacturers) appear to be more benign.


If a business has even 100% of a market because they're consistently cheaper/better than all contenders, they may be technically a monopoly, but they aren't one in the usual pernicious sense. I'll leave alone the third-rail topic of Microsoft, but Facebook is an interesting case because they only became prominent after the domination of their niche by MySpace, and yet now they're dominant. Was MySpace a monopoly? Well, in the Microsoft sense, yes, but not in the pre-1980-AT&T sense. Yet, as soon as a solution people preferred came along, they were no longer.

Can a business get to 100% of a market, or nearly so, without state help? I think they often can. Can they hold that position in the face of better and/or cheaper startup competition, without state help? I think that's an open question, and I lean toward thinking that they can't.

The other major question is so-called "natural monopolies", such as infrastructural service provision (phone, power, cable, etc). The fact that there are communities which have multiple competing firms in some of these seems to show that they aren't natural in the sense that they will arise unless prevented. While most communities in the US have a legislated monopoly on, for example, cable service, those that do not often have competing cable services, which is exactly what we are told won't happen. (My father lives in a place with three overlapping cable companies, as it happens, and he's tried all of them at one time or another). I've seen people in some of those communities who are arguing for a city-granted franchise switch seamlessly from arguing that regulation is needed to keep monopolies in check to arguing that such regulation is needed to prevent the wasteful laying of lines that duplicate existing lines. I guess that's neither here nor there, just a pet peeve. :)

Anyway, searching on Rothbard and monopoly will turn up more rigorous arguments against the idea of free market monopolies than I've given here.


But libertarians that believe this believe it without evidence since there has never been an example of the ideal free market without government intervention the way libertarians imagine it.

Edit: Maybe Somalia is an example, I remember a few years ago people touting the proliferation of Somalian cell phone companies. But the instability there doesn't seem like something we should try to emulate.


The near-universal stance has been that monopolies are a natural byproduct of the free market, and not a "problem".

In my experience, this is quite a mischaracterization. The position isn't that monopolies are 'natural' and 'not a problem'. On the contrary, monopolies are seen as being extremely harmful, but also as products of government intervention and barriers to entry, not the market.


Not all monopolies rely on government entry or barriers. Something like economies of scale can be a natural barrier to entry and prevent competition.


I don't believe Eliezer has ever said that evolution works by incremental improvements, only by incremental changes that become increasingly complex as a system when there are dependencies. Therefore even if you have a super-complex system it can still suck, the complexity may add nothing to its goodness, incremental changes can be directly harmful, and the right solution may indeed be to throw it out and start over. This should be clear to any programmer.

I'll profess historical ignorance here, though from my knowledge I believe that most instances of government change to a better government (and there have of course been changes to a worse government) have come through sudden revolutions that upset much of the previously existing power hierarchy. Additionally, to me it seems like government is naturally against any change at all, which precludes it from being improved easily. Eliezer has written numerous times elsewhere: "Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is necessarily a change." So I don't think a "scrap the current system" is necessarily a bad idea, though I don't want bloody revolution.


Eliezer may not have been explicit about this but if your genes suck, you likely die before you spawn. Regardless of the complexity of your genome.

So, any harmful incremental change would be eventually selected out of the gene pool (or at least won't spread). Neutral changes are unlikely to become universal. Therefore, only improvements can be universal enough to be build upon.


But start over with what? I don't interpret libertarianism as "throw it out and start over", but as "throw it out and do nothing". They seek to strip government down and put it in a sealed box of predetermined size that can never change. It should be equally clear to any programmer that boxing yourself in eventually leads to disaster.


I don't seek to argue for/against libertarianism here (neocameralism intrigues me more), I just aimed to show that your initial statements about a complex system improving automatically with changes were false. I also wanted to show that "throw it out" by itself isn't unreasonable.

I'm not sure that the programming metaphor here fits, considering languages like Haskell et al. that do box you in have had tremendous success. There are also programs that have been 'running things' just fine for 10+ years unchanged. I'm not aware of any government that could claim that, though with the former I think one of the motivators for having a constitutional government in the first place is to box-in the government. The merits of that vs. having a "Lispy" government that does what it pleases can be argued some other time. (Separately, there is an argument of "premature boxing in" that I have used to argue against full-fledged unit tests early on, but that's getting even further off-topic.)


Actually, the metaphor works fine. Haskell doesn't fundamentally try to restrict what is done, but how it is done. Some things may be harder to do because of those restrictions, but they don't become entirely impossible, even if eventually you might find a corner case where you have to modify the language itself.

Constitutions can (usually) be amended. The US Constitution in particular has essentially no restrictions on what can be done by amendment (and it's pretty obvious that the one operative restriction can be dealt with if necessary). This is done out of knowledge of our own ignorance -- we cannot possibly conceive of every situation society will face, nor how our governance models will interact with those situations.

This is why libertarianism irritates me. It comes across as such an absolute. Few things are absolutes, and when you're talking about something that will affect millions of people, you can't realistically expect to arrive at an absolutely right solution that will work for everybody every time.


The inertia associated with implementing a new governmental model on a large scale is VERY high. If your experiment does not work, you may need a war or a revolution to abandon the experiment.


Virtually every functional democracy (or reasonable facsimile thereof) has built-in mechanisms for changes, and most provide for quite radical/unbounded changes. Unless you're starting with the premise that governance shouldn't be subject to voting, revolution/war should not happen.




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