Weekly Roundup #5

A note about what isn’t in this roundup: Nothing about the midterms or crypto/FTX. I wrote about Twitter earlier this week. The midterms are better covered elsewhere, I do not have anything unique to say about them. As for the situation with FTX, it is rapidly developing and I do not yet feel I have sufficient handle on it that saying things would be net helpful. I continue to recommend starting on that topic by reading Matt Levine (both in general, and for this in particular).

There were going to bea few additional things related to Twitter and Musk, but the section rapidly spiraled out of control as news came on top of news and I didn’t know if my statements were current, so I’m moving it to another draft and we’ll see if it ends up making it or not. For now, I will simply say that how badly and quickly you want to Find Out, which can only be done by F***ing Around, is increasingly the question of our age.

It is indeed weird to have so much going on and have that result in having less to say for the moment, while thoughts are gathered and things become clearer. Seems right, though, and also some background writing tasks got more urgent this week.

Bad News

More on the chess cheating scandals (via MR). My main contention continues to be that we are far too unwilling to punish competitors on the basis of statistical evidence in cheating cases. FIDE’s ‘99.999% sure’ policy, or whatever exactly it is, is Obvious Nonsense. No one is going to jail or being executed, and there are plenty of options well short of ‘can never again play competitive chess.’

Where would I put the bar? I don’t think it is crazy to put it at 51% if your estimates are fair and well calibrated. Certainly if I thought someone was 50/50 to be a savage cheater, I would not invite them to join my Magic (or chess) team or play group, help promote them, or anything like that. If I was running an invitational chess tournament, I would consider even a 10% chance to be a rather severe demerit to the extent that I had the freedom to consider it. My guess is that in practice the right answer for Serious Official Punishments is in the 75%-90% range.

Uber tests using push notifications to deliver ads. I am trying to imagine a world where this is a good business decision and failing.

Are falling retirement ages good or bad for people?

Joe’s question also raises the question of, if we are or become importantly poorer than we used to be, we should progressively raise the age to collect full benefits.

On reflection, I continue to think that this is an area where people are going to make decisions poorly, in both directions. Some people will retire far too early, either run out of funds or grow bored and lonely and have their health degenerate faster than it otherwise would have. Those that realize this is happening will then mostly have few good options to undo what was done. Others will refuse to retire for too long, although I expect this group to be smaller. My guess is that of those who keep working too long at their job, a lot of them would benefit from changing jobs and actively doing something else more than they would benefit from full retirement.

Do I plan to retire? My basic answer is no, at least not until very late in the game when I am unable to meaningfully work. I do not see such a decision improving my life. My hope is that I can fully retire from having to do work for or because of the money while continuing to do plenty of work. I don’t want to be keeping up quite this pace of work indefinitely, I likely should be taking more time to relax than I am as it is. I’m working on that.

In Magic: The Gathering, Aaron Forsythe asks why the Standard format is dying and gets a lot of answers, including this one by Brian Kowal. Standard was the default way to play for years, despite decks costing hundreds of dollars and then rotating out soon thereafter, due to the massive support Standard got from organized play structures and tournaments both casual and professional, from all cards starting their lifecycles there and from the lack of distinct good alternatives. Now the cards are siloed and both Modern and Commander allow players to invest in evergreen decks, while Standard cards are otherwise largely irrelevant and the decks tend to be piles of good stuff cards on top of good stuff cards, bans are more frequent to disrupt your investments, and Covid broke the cycle so everyone starts fresh without having an existing Standard collection.

Could we bring Standard back and make it, well, the standard again? Maybe. It would be a lot harder to make Standard return than it would have been to prevent the cycle from breaking. It would need to be a deliberate decision executed and fully supported over several years, to have much chance. I do not expect this to happen, nor am I claiming that it would be wise from a business perspective. The new approach sells a lot of product. I do think it hurts the game’s long term future, it simply does it slowly enough I do not know how one would convince a public company to not do it.

Good News, Everyone

Texas judge rules Biden’s student debt relief program illegal, strikes it down.

The best and worst case for using Twitter, perhaps.

Patrick McKenzie thread on one good way to go job hunting. Reach out to someone who gave a conference talk, by extracting their email from the slides, ask to talk to them about things, see where things go from there. Seems plausible and very much a freeroll.

If someone asks you what you eat at your talk, you say cupcakes.

While I Cannot Condone This

Good Advice on writing from Alan Moore. (1.5 minute video)

What do you do at an office job? (3 minute video)

Story of how Twitter, back in the day, asked an engineer to track every movement of every individual user and sell that data. He chose not to stay at Twitter, and the project got cancelled. Or perhaps do the same with a GitHub. I like it.

Why we might need The Alexander Technique.

In Putin’s Russia

A lovely illustration (1 min video).

End Occupational Licensing

Was planning on spinning this off but news on it slowed down so throwing it out there now.

Let’s see what laws Florida Man’s officials have been proudly enforcing, while having a free BBQ hosted by a local roofing company.

Same as it ever was.

Volunteer Tree-Trimmer Fined $275, Told to Leave Minneapolis, After Helping Tornado Victims Outside His Assigned Area

Even if we are not going to fix occupational licensing in general we should do it in emergency situations via permanent known rules that get triggered when there is a hurricane or other similar event.

Masks off, how do you do, fellow rent seekers:

Strong support for common sense given sufficiently overwhelming context.

Papers, Please

Part of the Balsa Research vision is the commission of papers and research projects. Recently I talked to someone whose organization commissions such papers already. This seems like an excellent opportunity to get some of this done both ahead of schedule and without having to handle the logistics or expenses involved. Thus, I am working on compiling a list of candidates. If you have a good idea for a paper that does not exist but could, and would be good support for some aspect of the abundance agenda, brainstorming is open in the comments, there are no bad ideas although there can always be hilariously terrible ones.

MR points to two papers trying to explain high vacancy rates in New York City retail, with combined results matching what I had seen elsewhere. Bank covenants effectively put high floors on rents and tenants get option value when they sign a lease, and move-in costs are high, so landlords often are right to hold out for a very good match. The negative externality of a vacant storefront is large, so in principle a tax on vacant storefronts makes a lot of sense.

My worry is not whether the tax exceeds the value loss. One has to get one’s taxes from somewhere. My worry is that if landlords are pushed into renting space quickly, that may cause poor matches that end up lasting a long time. I don’t think this is a big enough risk to stop us, but seems worth pointing out.

Via MR, job market paper from Elaine Guo claiming social media has large adverse effects on teenagers. I do not believe this paper measures what it claims to measure. What it actually shows is that the introduction of high-speed wireless internet increased girls’ severe mental health diagnoses by 90% relative to teen boys. Since girls tend to use visual social media far more than boys, Guo then argues that this implies we should blame the social media.

That’s a step I don’t buy. Not that I think the conclusion is false so much as I don’t think the evidence here is that strong for it. A lot changes with high speed internet, including non-social-media-related dynamics. It also changes access to information about mental health and mental health diagnosis, which can lead to different rates of diagnosis. Or the social media could be ‘raising awareness’ that causes girls to get a diagnosis more often, whereas before most such problems went undiagnosed. I can totally buy that until recently most children with what we would now call mental health issues went undiagnosed. I can also buy that now we are on a hair trigger and finding lots of things that aren’t there (both the child thinks they have it, and adults decide for them). Or that our obsession with control combined with high speed internet caused other changes in teenage lives that were disproportionately bad for girls. Another possibility is that high-speed internet has distinct positive effects for boys, such as (for example, perhaps) letting them move from single player to multiplayer gaming and that being healthier for them.

I also appreciated the theory of separating signaling equilibria of status presentation via social media. I see how, in theory, this could cause aspirational excess leading to mental health problems. I could also see this not being an important pathway.

Paper (from 2019) claiming Puerto Rico has been doing better than the economic statistics suggest and escaped the worst of the Great Depression, despite the Jones Act and all the hurricanes. Perhaps it helps to be immune to federal income taxes.

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12 Responses to Weekly Roundup #5

  1. Craken says:

    The Marc Goldwein tweet is a dead link. Maybe that was intentional. Either way, it’s a complete non-sequitur or a collection thereof–probably because it’s ingroup directed. Some part of some of those negative effects he lists may be traceable to early retirement–but it ain’t obvious. For example, the biggest discernible hit to life expectancy in the last 10 years, Covid aside, is due to rising drug overdoses. Most victims of that pandemic are not retired.

    In addition to Alan Moore’s suggestion to find a spiritual balance between aspirational reading and constructively critical reading, some have to be reminded that their creative heroes generally did not emerge like Athena fully formed. I remember Cynthia Ozick saying that in her early career she was perpetually disappointed with her productions because they fell so far short of the work she idolized, which was the mature fiction of Henry James. Eventually she realized she had fallen into the wrong comparison, that she could not magically hijack James’ artistic development and thereby avoid paying her dues. Emerson alludes to this matter of maturation in his beautiful letter to Whitman: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start.”

    Paper idea: Geothermal energy is abundant. Our use of it is not. Does geothermal energy for homes have to be so expensive? Is there any research by companies in this business to reduce costs? What can be done to better align incentives of home builders and homeowners, since it is cheaper to install when the home is built? Relevance: if we are to move to a wind/solar energy economy, one of the greatest apparent challenges arises from seasonal fluctuations in these energy sources. They create a temporal misalignment of “clean energy” production and demand, especially for northern latitudes during winter. Geothermal can reduce heating needs by a substantial amount–and by an amount exceeding the amount it can reduce cooling needs, providing some balancing to the system. This part of the geothermal business would complement Tesla’s solar and storage business, and they have the resources to invest in R&D–but I don’t think Elon can branch out into all realms. It seems to be controlled by small scale operators who don’t have investment capacity. This type of geothermal would not solve the forthcoming energy imbalance. It would mitigate it.

  2. M says:

    I’ve made just ~$14,000 over the course of a few years of my deep involvement in EA (without any extra source of income back then); this involved many personal sacrifices. This week, I’ve lost a non-negligible sum of money because of the FTX fraud. Feels like a stab in the back.

  3. Simon says:

    75-90% probability of cheating in chess (based on something more than just a blind analysis of the moves) as a threshold for serious punishment would be fine with me if we expected the false positives to be a random sample of the population (or, say, a random sample of grandmasters, or 2600+ grandmasters, or whatever). But we should strongly expect the false positives not to be distributed randomly: they’ll be strongly skewed toward the people who have synthesized something new from computers that other players haven’t. And these are the people who have the most to offer the game, and thus they’re the ones we want most to encourage to keep playing.

    For what it’s worth, Niemann’s OTB games don’t come anywhere remotely close to that threshold. My estimate is 20% chance of cheating.

  4. w97uc90rm3 says:

    Balsa idea: municipal charter as a service. Good land use regulations that leverage scale. Kind of like the international building code subscription model but instead allows appropriate housing etc to be built without friction and costs little to no local time and expertise.

    • Basil Marte says:

      Unfortunately, “costs little to no local time and expertise” is not a selling point but the central issue. Local politicians did not write themselves into the loop by accident. They can extract bribes in exchange for approving changes.

      • w97uc90rm3 says:

        If you’re picking a place to live and the community is a “Balsa Town” that you know will result in high quality investment and corruption mitigation that sounds like a good selling point for the electorate. So you’re point is well taken but might be a feature not a bug?

  5. w97uc90rm3 says:

    Balsa idea: municipal zoning as a service. Like the subscription model to the international building code but for land use and development, and housing.

  6. Alex N says:

    Re: occupational licensing.

    I had an unlicensed (but professional, with a crew) guy install a deck. I then had it inspected (and also educated myself on design of decks). End result: I had to have the deck filled in, it was unfixable.

    And that’s a deck. Simple to build, does not fall on your head, nor does it fly off in a hurricane, which generally results in house exploding. Unlike a roof, you can see the construction.

    So yes, “end occupational licensing” is very libertarian-minded, but there are buts. As a consumer, you have near zero visibility into the quality of your roof guy. References from other clueless consumers don’t really fix this.

    Can you replace licensing with inspections? Maybe, but that’s mostly moving $ between the right and the left pocket of the same pair of jeans.

  7. Lambert says:

    Oh, so *that’s* why people watch TV more today than they did in the 1880s.

    I think it’s worth pulling apart the ‘keeps you busy’, ‘socially beneficial’ and ‘lucrative’ aspects of working. Many pensioners use the fact they don’t need a day job to make ends meet to optimise for the first two e.g. doing charity work or turning a small profit (but not enough to pay bills) as a smallholder.

    I think people like our gracious host who have fingers in many pies tend not to retire as such but gradually scale back the scope of what they’re doing.

    Also note that the calculus is different for most of us doing interesting knowledge work compared to people stacking shelves or doing a trade that has a large physical component.

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