24 January 2011

Bryan Caplan on the moral incoherence of redistribution

The Stranger:

What are you morally forbidden to do to a stranger?  You may not murder him.  You may not attack him.  You may not enslave him.  Neither may you rob him.

What are you morally required to do for a stranger?  Not much.  Even if he seems hungry and asks you for food, you're probably within your rights to refuse.  If you've ever been in a large city, you've refused to help the homeless on more than one occasion.  And even if you think you broke your moral obligation to give, your moral obligation wasn't strong enough to let the beggar justifiably mug you. ...

One last question: What fraction of your "fellow citizens" have you actually met?  Virtually zero.  The vast majority of your countrymen are, in fact, utter strangers to you. ...

Even staunch anti-libertarians would be baffled if a homeless man announced, "Give me my money!" instead of asking "Spare change?"  After all, the beggar is a stranger.  All the libertarian is pointing out is that your other "fellow citizens" are strangers, too.  You're not cold and cruel when you refuse to help; they're being pushy and totalitarian when they refuse to take no for an answer.

22 January 2011

Peter Thiel on the technological cause of the boom-and-bust cycle

From this interview:

There’ve been a whole series of these booms or bubbles in the last few decades, and I think it’s a very complicated question why there have been so many and why things have been so far off from equilibrium. There’s something about the U.S. in the last several decades where people had great expectations about the future that didn’t quite come true. Every form of credit involves a claim on the future: I’ll pay you a dollar on Tuesday for a hamburger today; I’ll buy this house, and I’ll pay off the mortgage over 30 years; and so you lend me money based off expectations on the future. A credit crisis happens when the future turns out not to be as good as expected.

The Left-versus-Right debate tends to be that the Left argues that the expectations were off because of ruthless lenders who sold a bill of goods to people and pushed all this debt on people, and that it was basically the problem of the creditors. The Right tends to argue that it was a problem with the borrowers, and people were sort of crazy in borrowing all this money. In the Left narrative, it starts with Reagan in the ’80s, when finance became more important. The Right narrative starts in the ’60s when people became more self-indulgent and began to live beyond their means.

My orthogonal take is that the whole thing happened because there was not enough technological innovation. It was not really the fault of the borrowers or the lenders; the problem was that everybody had tremendous expectations that the country was going to be a much wealthier place in 2010 than it was in 1995, and in fact there’s been a lot less progress. The future is fundamentally about technology in an advanced country — it’s about technological progress. So a credit crisis happens when the technological progress is not as good as people expected. That’s not the standard account of the last decades, but that’s the way I would outline it.

People were expecting house prices to go up 8 percent a year. That would be quite possible in a society where the GDP was growing tremendously and where there were tremendous gains in efficiency and technological innovation. But we’re not having that much innovation and, because of that, the housing bubble was unrealistic. It’s also possible that the housing bubble was very deeply linked to the tech bubble. The tech bubble was about extrapolating technological gains; it turned out that the gains didn’t materialize as quickly, or at all, and then people went back to housing and back to credit to get the 8 percent returns. But housing and credit still depend on an underlying society that is progressing, and that sort of progress was not actually happening. So, if the tech bubble was fake, then the housing bubble would almost certainly have to be fake. The real root of the problem is always technology.

Social networks: strengths and weaknesses

Diagnostic

Entertainment (overall): Tumblr > Twitter > Facebook

Entertainment (visual): Tumblr > Facebook > Twitter

Entertainment (words): Twitter > Tumblr > Facebook

Information: Facebook > Twitter > Tumblr

Sense of community: Facebook > Tumblr > Twitter

Ego promotion: Twitter > Facebook > Tumblr

Illustrations of the entertainment value

Delivered by Tumblr:

dog-fence

Delivered by Facebook:

ionbarbu

Delivered by Twitter:

Capture

06 January 2011

Tom Healy – Si tu?

Vă oferim ca dovadă
lista noastră de cumpărături -

mâzgălitura ei indescifrabilă
drept arheologie a foamei

analiză grabită
a consensului nostru

demonstraţia
că săptămâna

are o premoniţie a laptelui
sau a votkăi

a pepenului sau îngheţatei
proclamaţii micuţe

şterse pe spatele
unui plic

semnele lui şi ale mele
o monedă

cu care schimbăm capricii
şi ne menţinem în viaţă

o cronică nu doar
a confortului şi-a unor dorinţe

ordinare ci a modului
în care ne-am construit

necesitatea
salvării şi capitulării

[din What the Right Hand Knows, Four Way Books 2009, via Poetry Daily, tradusa de mine]

05 January 2011

Roger Penrose on Quantum Mechanics and Schrodinger's cat

This is one of the most honest introductions to quantum mechanics I’ve seen (apart from these four lectures by Feynman). Penrose does a pretty good job at describing:</ br>

  • why quantum mechanics was developed in the first place,
  • the key empiric puzzle of quantum things that act as particles under certain conditions and as waves under other conditions,
  • the way quantum mechanics tries to solve this puzzle (the weakest part of the lecture),
  • the fact that the mathematical model is compatible with significantly different philosophical (ontological) interpretations, and
  • why the standard proposed solution leads to the “paradox of measurement” (i.e. the results of measurements turn out to be non-deterministic, although both the behavior of the measured stuff and the inner functioning of the measuring devices are supposed to be governed by entirely deterministic processes).
Excerpt from Fashion, Faith and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe, Lecture 3: FANTASY @ Princeton University (2003)

The only thing you won’t properly get from it is the explanation about the mathematical part. That’s explained much better by Feynman here.