lastmistborn

Pursuing a doctoral degree (e.g. PhD)
Working (0-5 years experience)
328Joined Dec 2016

Participation
3

  • Attended an EA Global conference
  • Attended an EAGx conference
  • Attended more than three meetings with a local EA group

Comments
60

I assume most people think these statements about female superiority are pretty harmless, both because they're seen more as "punching up" (given the history of men dominating women in much of the world until the late 20th century) and because the hypothesis of biological gender differences is less taboo and more scientifically established.

In my experience, the reason these statements tend to get less pushback is that they are generally explained by gendered socialization and norms rather than intrinsic biological or genetic factors, whereas the race/gender arguments that receive pushback claim that certain groups are genetically (intrinsically) inferior.

l think a lot of it comes down to goals and function.

In my experience a significant portion and function of academic conferences are to get feedback on works in progress: speakers present the project they're working on, get feedback from a specialized and expert audience, and the audience get to keep up with the current state of things. It's a part of a collaborative process, and I think that this does actually benefit from there being no recording or written published artifact, because it allows for an unpolished and much rougher version of the work to exist without there being much risk of errors in it being publicized or perpetuated through citation or sharing - kind of like a lower pressure and less risky preprint. This obviously isn't the case for all conferences or for all presentations, but it is something I've personally majorly benefitted from in my research. I've also attended some conferences where speakers were open about being more able to safely speak about politically contentious issues because they weren't worried about there being an easily accessible document for the government to use against them, but that's obviously specific to a context where academic freedom is limited by political pressure and threat of persecution.

Also, for academia, in person presentations like job talks function as a kind of dry run for hiring decisions. Academics teach, and presenting or teaching in an in person context is a different dynamic and skill set than presenting something in a prerecorded format.

In person conferences also serve major functions for both networking and building a community of researchers that have the resources and ability to interact with each other in ways that are less formal than the back and forth of academic publishing.

There's also a lot of institutional factors that come into play. Alongside the networking aspect, academics use conferences for CV building. Conferences are usually peer reviewed and having your abstract selected for presentation signals a level of quality and rigor that isn't necessarily present for producing and posting a video.

Re: universality: there are a lot of different UBI proposals, and a lot of things that are proposed as a "UBI" that i don't think enter into that definition, so I really can't speak to the UBI proponents you've been talking to, and I'm not familiar with Yang's proposals. I'm mostly familiar with academic works on basic income, and my understanding is that the most common definition of the universal component of UBI is that everyone gets a certain amount of money every so often, regardless of their income, tax bracket, in some cases citizenship status, etc. Some of these proposals argue that it should be tax exempt completely, while some say that it can be included in the total calculated for income taxes. In either case, it is still universal. I personally think arguing that a UBI where some people pay back part of it in taxes isn't really universal because of that, which is how I understand your argument on that point, is akin to arguing that, for example, you get paid less than your colleague because you have a second stream of income that puts you in a higher tax bracket and results in you paying a higher tax percentage on your salary, despite both of you getting the same amount of pay before taxes. Again, I can't speak to anyone you've spoken to, and I'm not trying to convince you of anything, but this is my understanding of the way universal is meant to function.

The thing I was talking about is known as a welfare trap, or an unemployment trap. This all depends on context and can vary wildly, but in a lot of welfare systems benefits - particularly cash benefits - are tied to fairly low thresholds, and depending on how your income/tax system functions, can be recalculated on different time scales. Where I'm from, last I checked, a number of poverty alleviation programs like food support and income support are tied to a level of household income that is something around a third of the monthly minimum wage per person (I'm a bit fuzzy on the exact number, but it's definitely less than minimum wage and very far below the poverty line) in the household. We have a very centralized social security and taxation system where your income is reported by your employer every month, and taxed before you receive it -so unless you're working freelance (which requires you to set up a tax entity and report income ~every three months) or illegally under the table, your income is reported to the government and entered into the central system which is used for means testing every month once you get any job. Once you get a job that moves you above the threshold, if you then lose the job, reapplying for and receiving benefits can take months. They'll pay you a lump sum for the time between your application and actual disbursements, so you don't end up not receiving what you're entitled to, but those months in between can be without any payment at all. So taking a job, particularly in job markets where employment security isn't great, is a serious risk for a lot of people who are low income enough to be receiving these benefits, which are almost certainly lost if you take any job because the cut off threshold is so low. This isn't really as rare a scenario as you might think, and you can look it up if you're interested in knowing more -there are a lot of papers studying this in detail in a lot of different places, and it's been a while since I looked into it so my knowledge is a bit rusty.

In regards tax credits that are payed out on a yearly or quarterly basis, if they are disbursed retroactively, then someone who had a good 2021 fiscal year and a bad 2022 fiscal year, for example, may not have access to funds to bridge the gap until they receive their disbursement, and if its projected than thats a wholeother issue - again, I think that this should be easy to tinker with and make it not be a problem, and what exactly it would look like depends entirely on your tax system and tax credit system proposal.

Similarly, there's a lot you can do even in a means tested system to try and remove the welfare trap - UBI proponents are just suggesting we solve the problem at the bud. I understand that you sent find it compelling - yeah, I do agree that the savings are not considerable, but if I were to argue that we should have UBI (I'm personally a proponent of universal basic services and don't think any proposed UBI should function as a replacement for welfare services, but that's a whole other topic) it would not be from a cost saving perspective. In regards to unemployment traps in particular, I think the universal aspect is important not because of savings but because it prevents people from falling through the cracks, and it's totally understandable if you have a different perspective on that ot that find it valuable. Again, I'm not trying to convince you or even make you consider anything, I'm just trying to answer what I perceived to be an open question about the arguments for universality with one that I think is interesting enough to merit attention.

Eh, I don't really agree with you on the definitional point - I understand it, and I don't think it's invalid, but I don't really think it's responding well to what UBI proponents usually mean when they talk about it being universal. 

In response to your other comment, I already said that you could tinker with negative income credits to alleviate the concerns related to means-testing and perverse incentives. I'm not trying to argue with you or convince you that UBI is better or anything like that, just trying to provide one common argument as to why UBI proponents argue that basic income should be disbursed universally instead of the initial payment being dependent on or tempered by income or wealth levels.

One justification for a universal basic income over benefits that are contingent on means testing is that it avoid the perverse incentives and poverty traps of means testing. The classic example for this is something like this: if you're entitled to receive 10.000 USD when under the means testing cut off, taking a job that would pay you 12.000 USD and put you above the cut off, leading to loss of benefits, tends to be a risk and potentially very costly move for people in poverty, and is disincentivized by the means testing system. This is because if you lose employment for some reason, or if the job you're taking is seasonal employment, you generally have to reapply for benefits. Applying to receive means tested benefits tends to be a long and difficult process and even a short term loss of income that is later compensated by back pay can have catastrophic results. Removing this risk allows for people to be able to take work that would be too risky or short term otherwise. Although I'm not too well versed on the details, I believe negative tax credits can also be similarly problematic because of the payment structure: if the income is only received during a certain time of the year and changes significantly on low thresholds, as opposed to being dependable and foreseeable and at usefully frequent intervals (read: generally aligned with the intervals of important expenses, like rent and bill payments), it can create similar perverse incentives. That being said, there should be ways to tinker with it to alleviate these concerns.

It's also important to recognize a difference between universal disbursement of a UBI and the net amount received when accounting for taxes. In a comment below you say "A program which simultaneously adds a UBI and a special tax specifically designed to take away the UBI from richer income groups is a UBI in name only, if even that; it is functionally just a more complicated form of income-adjusted welfare (e.g., a negative income tax credit but with extra steps). " I understand where you're coming from and I do see your point, but UBI being universal doesn't mean that the net amount after taxes is necessarily going to be the same for everybody. It's in reference to the method of disbursement and administration of benefits. You can equalize this in a way, by making UBI payments tax exempt: I have heard proposals that UBI should not be factored into the total amount of taxed income or wealth, and there are merits to that. But in either case, from a policy perspective, the benefit of universality and regularity is to create a greater freedom of movement for recipients without having to be concerned about the risks of temporarily losing entitlement to benefits if they take a job that doesn't work out or have to drop out of the workforce for care duties or health conditions or any other pressing reason or want to take on seasonal employment, thus counteracting the perverse incentives of means testing.

[my tone here is ranting because I'm mad at the Israeli public, but at the same time I'm aware that I'm no expert and you might correct me everywhere]

I truly and deeply feel you on that - this is all extremely frustrating and I've had to live with more than my fair share of terrible politics and politicians. 

Ah, if regulators were trying to get some tradeoff (for something like "safety" and not something like "get elected" / "corruption" / something like that), then I would change my mind very significantly.

Yeah, both corruption and tradeoffs for goals of election/reelection [1]definitely do come into this - I was focused on the ignorance aspect and didn't touch on the malfeasance aspect, but it is definitely very real. 

My point is that I think there are many cases where the government is not balancing some interest like "safety", it is simply something between "wrong" and "corrupt", and the way the gov pulls this off is partly because the public doesn't consider things like "there is a cost to protecting a specific Israeli pamper maker, and these costs add up, and it is negative sum". Maybe I'd accept it if the only people who'd vote for protecting the Israeli pamper maker were stakeholders in the pamper company, but that's not the situation, they get widespread support, "Israelies wanting to help each other" or something (but in a way that is negative sum way by mistake).

I certainly see your point, but I want to point out that the "negative net" here isn't necessarily as self-evident as you seem to think it is. Politics are messy and economic policy isn't only about pure economics - the costs of "Israelis wanting to help each other" could very well be acceptable and even necessary to someone who prioritizes nationalist sentiments. 

I don't want to comment on your examples in specific, because I don't really know the relevant policy and political context in detail, although I will say that I'm not sure I find them convincing as examples of "the government is acting corruptly/just wrong, and people don't get it because they lack economic literacy". In particular, 1,3 and 4 seem like they are actually very much related to not only corruption but specifically regulatory capture or just straight up institutional breakdown. The egg industry being heavily regulated but extremely unsafe is a sign that the regulatory institution isn't doing it's job, for some reason or other - corruption, collusion, capture, being underfunded or underpowered (and these can certainly coexist with a strong regulatory framework). I completely agree that the war argument in number 2 is bonkers, but it points to more of a lack of critical thinking in general than a lack of economic literacy - basic economic literacy won't tell you that your oil is being imported and farming needs fuel and ergo even if you have strong local agriculture industries, they can't be independent in war times.  But I am also fairly confident in assuming that this claim isn't the entire backbone of protecting local economies and industries - "protecting the local economy " tends to be tied up in a lot of political and affective ideas about right and wrong and national identity, and just the everyday anxieties around financial health, employment and sustaining one's life in a capitalist society. 

I'm not at all trying to argue that politicians are always good and wise, and that all regulation is good, and that people are generally smart enough to not have to learn things - quite the contrary, I think that a lot of these systems are fundamentally broken and I've never once in my life voted for someone I actually trust, let alone truly like. What I'm saying is that these are all very complex things - even the examples you seem to write off as just bad or clearly wrong. People have a lot of competing interests and priorities when it comes to voting, and something that doesn't make sense from an econ theory homo economicus POV can be accepted and supported broadly simply because people don't really function that way - they might care more about nationalism or supporting compatriots (I personally know a lot of people who would rather pay more for lower qualities products just because it's "home grown" and they have very strong national identification). I also don't think that the enitre reason people can't flag these examples of corruption as corruption isn't that they lack economic literacy. Things like disinterest, lack of knowledge about these policies, high trust in the government and institutions etc. all play a role in this. I don't think that economic literacy alone is a huge enough factor in a lot of political choices and attitudes, and I don't think that a simplified economic literacy will be helpful in rectifying these problems. I personally don't really think that there's much meaningful difference between the kind of "knowledge" you get about policies from your intuition and experience and from just following political debates in media and an economic literacy that is simplified to "Raising prices causes people to buy less. Reducing prices causes people to buy more./Limiting supply means there will be less to buy (even if prices are low)/Limiting prices (too much) causes less production, and so there's less supply", for example, in being able to understand policies. For economic literacy to be meaningful in understanding policies and politics, it needs to be much more in depth and complex, and give a good idea of the economic and non-economic context of the issue. 

I have a migraine coming on and I think I'm rambling because of it, sorry about that. To put it in a tidy summary, I'd say that the reason I don't think the type of economic literacy teaching you seem to be advocating for is helpful is because it's simply too simplistic - it doesn't really give people the knowledge or reasoning skills they need to navigate these very complex issues, and it tends to boil down very disparate problems down into some kind of amorphous blob like "regulation bad, free market good" or "regulation good, free market bad" to make it legible and shareable. I don't really think this will accomplish the admirable goal you have of either meaningfully raising economic literacy or leveraging that economic literacy for better policy and political outcomes simply because it's insufficient for that task. 

  1. ^

    I do want to say that making trade offs for reelection is, I think, a lot more complicated than something like corruption - there are a few ways to look at this. One is that it's a self-serving act in the pursuit of power, and it thus a Bad Thing. Another is a more populist approach - if you do thing to get elected and thing gets you elected, that could be considered a manifestation or reflection that thing is actually want the people wants, and even if it isn't in their best interest from your vantage point, democracy is the right of the people to make choices for themselves, even if they have to pay a price for it. Most importantly, in my opinion, you can also think of it as a calculated tradeoff with good intentions - if you think thing A is more important to do than thing B, but you need to get reelected or even just elected to do thing A and sacrificing what you think is the morally correct thing to on thing B is necessary for that, that can be considered an unfortunate but necessary trade off, and it's one that we see happen a lot in real life. Politicians don't run or get elected on a single policy choice, and a lot of the work of policy making involves making concessions and compromises to attain some kind of "greater good", even if an isolated policy choice made in that pursuit is undesirable or harmful. I don't want to say that this is always good or acceptable or reasonable - it most certainly isn't. But I do think that there is a lot more room for nuance when it comes to trade offs for election than there is for tradeoffs for corruption.

This might seem overly obvious (?) but in Israel (where I live, and which inspired this post), there are constantly regulations that ignore these facts, and I think most of the population doesn't understand them.

I feel like you might be overestimating the role of economic literacy in this dynamic. I can't speak to how well the public understands them, obviously, although I honestly find it hard to believe that most people don't at least understand 1 and 2 intuitively. More importantly, I'm very skeptical that the regulators are simply ignoring these "facts[1]". They are most likely making tradeoffs for different priorities than just trying to make something cheaper. You mention things like safety standards and protecting local manufacturers in your post, these are a good example of where other factors enter into the equation. They're also a good example of how having a perfunctory understanding of the basics of economic theory fall very short for actually understanding economic policy. 

One very anecdotal and simplified example for what I mean is that where I grew up, the government heavily deregulated and opened up the construction sector from the 80s onward to make home ownership easier and cheaper and to grow the economy. The deregulation and the speed of new construction (plus some good old style corruption) made it much harder to keep up with necessary safety standards, and a large earthquake in the 90s ended up with tens of thousands of people dying and hundreds of thousands of buildings being rendered uninhabitable. People who were previously homeowners lived in tents for months and even years until enough (heavily government subsidized) houses were built to rehome people after the disaster. 

So yes, while regulations slow down and limit the provision of certain services and needs, and can make it much more expensive, not having regulations can also come with heavy costs. A lot of policymaking is about figuring out the sweet spot where the trade offs are acceptable. I'm sure you're already aware of all of this, I'm just trying to explain why I don't think the oversimplified economic literacy (or lack thereof) that you seem to be advocating for doesn't seem very helpful or meaningful to me, both for understanding current policy landscapes and for influencing them.

My hot take (which you might totally disagree with) is that the population doesn't learn well from long references with source data. they (we) learn better from 100 examples such as "here's a regulation they're considering putting into place which limits prices, they say it will make the product more accessible, but in theory it will also limit supply and so I expect shortages. let's see what will happen" --> ... 3 months later "ok we have shortages now".

I don't disagree with this on pedagogic level, but I do think that it's ultimately not practical at all. Amassing that kind of volume of examples is extremely time and effort intensive for the blogger, and keeping track of it is the same for the reader, and it seems like it's very much not worth it for an outcome that is basically "oh look this one economic theory principle seems to function in reality". I don't see how you could actually give anyone a strong enough foundation of economic literacy to be useful using this method. 

and it's annoying that each "side" uses U.S medicine to "prove" their own side, and I'm sorry to be part of that here, seems like a mistake in hindsight

Honestly, I don't even know what "sides" you're referring to here so you're probably fine?

I don't know if the tweet overall makes sense or has some complicated background that I don't understand. 

This is actually indicative of the point I'm trying to make in regards to the utility of this type of blogging: reading it doesn't give you an idea if it makes sense overall or has some complicated background (and pretty much all things in the domain of economic policy do have a very complicated background), but it seems like a clear and useful piece of knowledge at first glance so it's easy to file it away in your brain as a way to judge policy proposals, despite it being at best extremely open to debate on many levels.  

  1. ^

    Even the very simple points you list as things you want to get across are a lot messier and more complicated in reality, and they depend very strongly on their context. For example, it's quite possible that a very tight housing market won't see a drop in prices from added housing stock until there's a severe surplus, because you have distortions in the market like big investment firms being able to buy a large portion of the available stock at higher prices than everyday consumers as investment properties to rent out, and housing is such a fundamental necessity that people can't or won't forego it without having absolutely no other option, so very high rents are a possibility in a way overpriced televisions aren't.

I'm a big fan of increasing economic and social scientific literacy in general, but I think using the Andreesen tweet as an example weakens you case significantly. The tweet that you linked to isn't from an economist or from whay I can tell a blogger at the moment, and the tweet itself seems to me to do less for economic literacy than it does to increase it: its a claim with nothing backing up its, no information about the actual context or economic theories its rooted in, and no policy recommendation. It takes a very complex issue and both reduces it and flattens it with no explanation or nuance, offering very little understanding to someone who isn't already economically literate. It's also a good example of why economic literacy alone is shortsighted, in that it implies that the problem with healthcare or childcare in the US is that the government regulates and subsidizes too much, which is not at all a straightforward or necessarily true claim. Healthcare in particular is generally recognized (including by the entire field of healthcare economics) as a field where free market theories fundamentally don't function well, for a number of reasons. Housing could definitely do with less strict zoning regulations, but regulations on building standards are absolutely necessary and life saving, as are regulations for healthcare provision and child care standards. These are also, for the most part, vital services that, unlike some of the blue lines, you cannot love without or do with less of, and that will have potentially devastating consequences if they are offered at substandard quality. All these different considerations are erased.

This points to a couple significant issues around using things like blogs to increase economic literacy: on the one hand, people who aren't already somewhat invested in learning about it won't be willing to read nuanced, useful explanations, and on the other hand short, pithy posts like the Andreesen tweet can do more harm than good by providing overly simplistic, cut and dry answers that arent necessarily true but that spread easily to complex and nuanced questions.

I think you're fine, I don't think that only the most effective causes should be discussed or pursued is a EA consensus and I really hope we aren't looking to dissuade people who want to be the most effective within their own framework of priorities as a norm.

Hope you find an org that does great work!

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