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An Analogy We Can All Agree On

Posted by Ogged
on 11.08.13

There's talk lately about what we can know about experiences we haven't had, and it occurred to me that since becoming a parent, I truly understand the plight of the Palestinians. My kids won't let me sleep, won't let me eat, whack me in the head and poke me in the eye, and then, having worn me to the bone, if they poop in my house and I get angry, it's all "You mad, Baba? Why? You in death cult?" Worse, everyone I know sympathizes with the kids. Oh, those poor kids, with their angry, irrational parents. Would you be well-behaved if that's what you were dealing with? They don't have the luxury of being nice.


 

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No Shit, Sherlock

Posted by LizardBreath
on 11.08.13

Economists studied the effects of the Card Act, a 2009 law limiting and regulating deceptive and confusing credit card fees, and came up with some astonishingly counterintuitive results:

When Neale Mahoney, an economist at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, set out to evaluate the effect of that law, he was confident he knew what he and his colleagues would find: It didn't work.

"I went into the project with this sort of conventional wisdom that well-intentioned regulators would force down fees and that other fees and charges would increase in response," he told me this week, comparing hapless rule makers to the carnival visitors playing the game known as Whac-a-Mole, where a mole springs up somewhere else as soon as one is knocked down.

But his expectation was wrong. The study came to a conclusion that surprised Mr. Mahoney and his colleagues: The regulation worked. It cut down the costs of credit cards, particularly for borrowers with poor credit. And, the researchers concluded, "we find no evidence of an increase in interest charges or a reduction to access to credit."

Wait, you mean if you regulate deceptive fees, people end up paying less of them? Unpossible!

I mean, well done Mr. Mahoney, coming up with a result that contradicts your preconceptions. But honestly. How hard is it to figure out that these sorts of fees are made hard to figure out for a reason, and if charging that much deceptively is made impossible, firms aren't going to be able to charge as much openly. Did he really think that all the smoke and mirrors was just credit card companies amusing themselves?


 

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Cave People

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 11.08.13

VW sends along this interview. The guy is kind of likable:

Q. OK, so knowing what you know about human evolution, how do you propose that we deal with, say, the obesity epidemic?
A. Well, that's the trillion dollar question. Fortunately I'm an evolutionary biologist so nobody's going to take my opinion very seriously.

He is on board with soda and high sugar, processed food taxes. He doesn't talk about how the veldt equipped large soda companies to lobby so effectively against them, though.


 

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On the Road

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 11.07.13

Hi all! I have nothing to post. I'm at a conference with Ace. I hate national conferences where my nametag presents me as Country-Geebie From Possibly Very Religious School in Texas. If I don't wear the nametag, then introductions are very rocky, and plus I'll look like I'm lost and need help exiting the conference, what with Ace in her stroller.

On the other hand, I'm currently hanging out online in my hotel room while Ace sleeps, and no one is bothering me or demanding anything from me (besides you ingrates with your hunger for posts)(and besides this fucking hotel's $15/day internet charges because they're too swanky to provide free wireless)(I bet for the cost of that stupid hanging daybed in your lobby, you could provide free wireless for a decade, guys)(the wireless charges will be duly passed on to Heebie U.) All in all, it's a deeply peaceful moment.


 

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Nate Boyer

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 11.06.13

The long-snapper of the UT longhorns is a seriously single-minded guy. Slightly Forrest Gumpian in his scope.

Via Jammies


 

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Detroit

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 11.06.13

With all the talk of Detroit going bankrupt, I'm reminded of an old Yglesias trope where he said that we should allow increased rate of immigration from foreign countries, as long as they agree to live in a city that desperately needs people to keep it's tax base up and be revitalized and so on. Is this a bad idea? It doesn't seem like a bad idea.

Address verification wouldn't be any harder than verifying that people are actually married and not fake-married, which we already check for immigrants. Detroit might have some xenophobia, but it's a pretty damn diverse area. In the 90s, Detroit had the largest population of Middle Eastern people outside of the Middle East, although I doubt that's still true. What makes this a bad idea?


 

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No.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 11.05.13

My mom emailed me and told me she ordered me a vest. Her options were lavender and red, and she went with lavender. I said ok, and thanks, and that I was curious.

It turned out to be this. Pack your clothes in your clothes, and save on luggage fees! I was amused, horrified, and annoyed that I'd have to return it, in equal parts.

Then she sent an email asking if Jammies would like one of these. Same concept, but a few hundred dollars more. Plus it comes in leather! This time I had to email mom and explain that she is severely underestimating how vain both Jammies and I are.

I can't tell if Mom is aging into the Orders Batty Products age range, or if she's picturing us loading all the pockets with kid toys and producing a new toy every fifteen minutes during a flight. I don't know how to wrap this post up either, except no. I love you mom, dearly, and no.


 

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Guest Post - where else is like here?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 11.05.13

Torrey Pine writes: I think this is very neat: ZoomProspector is a web site that lets you search for places that are "similar" to a place you know. ("Similar" refers to demographic characteristics, tax rates, access to education and infrastructure, etc. -- the site is intended to help businesses decide where to locate.) Some of the results are surprising: for instance, if you enter "Laramie, WY," one of the matches that comes back is "Ithaca, NY."

Another interesting site is US Cluster Mapping (click on the "open/close" button to start). This shows where different industries are located in the US -- they tend to form clusters, hence the name. I like these maps, because they show the diversity of the US economy. Who knew that Orlando, FL had a cluster of businesses selling analytical (laboratory) instruments?

Heebie's take: The first site is completely fascinating. The second site has a ton going on, and I haven't delved yet.


 

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Homeland

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 11.04.13

This is kind of fun to read (not altogether new material): Non-American's impressions of Americans. Basically we're exuberant labrador retriever puppies, who are kind of stupid but lovable, and eat a ton of bread that's too sweet. And shamelessly crap with big gaps at the bottom of our stall doors.

Semi-relatedly, I paid $2.95 for gas this morning. Big dumb US with its destructively cheap gas, that's us!


 

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It Looked Better In The Abstract Than The Concrete, As The Researcher Said To The Contractor

Posted by LizardBreath
on 11.04.13

Holbo asks why non-philosophers have strong, hostile feelings about utilitarianism. As a non-philosopher, this seems really easy to me -- at the level at which I understand utilitarian arguments, they're difficult to argue against, but also very easy to use for justifying anything at all, no matter how horrifying. So if someone starts making a utilitarian argument that leads to a repugnant result (to pick a randomly selected example, "I have this terrorist with knowledge of the location of a ticking nuclear weapon, and these bamboo slivers..."), your best response is to reject the premises, think ill of the person who proposed the argument, and refuse to engage.

The problem is that almost everyone will accept a utilitarian argument where the facts are actually clear: if you actually know that one course of action will hurt fewer people, or help more people, in a directly comparable way, it's hard to argue that it's not the right thing to do, even if it violates your moral intuitions*. Unfortunately, most of the time it's really, really hard to be certain about the results of your actions, and it's usually not even possible to accurately assign probabilities to the possible results -- facts are difficult and slippery, and Niels Bohr was right about predictions and the future. Utilitarian reasoning doesn't get you much of anywhere in a realm where you don't have very solid knowledge about the consequences of your actions, and that's most of the world, most of the time.

Where this leaves you, though, when you're arguing with someone who's willing to claim certainty about the outcome of some unpleasant course of action and make a utilitarian argument on that basis†, is conceding that they're right in principle (if you limit the principle to "helping more people and hurting fewer people is good") but wrong in practice, which is a rhetorically weak position to be in, particularly if you don't have command of the facts sufficient to establish that they are definitely wrong about their predicted outcome, only that they might be wrong. It feels like you're sticking your fingers in your ears and refusing to accept a logically compelling argument, just because you don't like the results of it.

So, utilitarianism is immensely attractive in principle, of very little practical use in determining moral actions in most realistically factual difficult situations, and it's well-suited to being used rhetorically to justify the most horribly repugnant courses of action. On top of that, countering a utilitarian argument is factually laborious and difficult, and often the only thing you can do is reject the offered factual premises and refuse to engage. I'm not surprised at all that people get hostile about it. (Obviously, this is a non-philosophers' perspective. I'm sure there's all sorts of work on how to apply utilitarianism in an uncertain world; I'm just talking about how the arguments have trickled down to my level.)

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*This seems to me to be what's wrong with trolley-problem-type thought experiments generally; by stipulating to the certainty of what will happen as a result of your actions, they're systematically loading the dice in favor of utilitarian thinking.

† I see these mostly in 'counterintuitive' right-wing economic arguments. Raising the minimum wage hurts the poor; slashing the social welfare state to lower taxes on capital raises everyone's standards of living through higher growth, you know the drill.


 

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