Monthly Archives: October 2016

Non-aggression principle, and where it fails

From Wikipedia, the non-aggression principle (NAP) is a ethical stance held among right-libertarians that forbids acts of ‘aggression’ against one’s property rights. Somewhat confusingly, the NAP seems to have many definitions and variants:

1961 Ayn Rand In an essay called “Man’s Rights” in the book The Virtue of Selfishness she formulated “The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships. … In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.”[8][9][10]

1963 Murray Rothbard “No one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.” Cited from “War, Peace, and the State” (1963) which appeared in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays[11]

Natural Rights: Some derive the non-aggression principle deontologically by appealing to rights that are independent of civil or social convention. Such approaches often reference self-ownership, ethical intuitionism, or the right to life. Thinkers in the natural law tradition include Lysander Spooner, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Nozick.

This suggests the NAP is sometimes interchangeable with the ‘golden rule’. As stated by Rothbard, defensive or retaliatory force should be commensurate with the force initiated by the aggressor. Thus it’s entirely within one’s discretion to engage in lethal fire against an intruder and or if one’s life is threatened, but not against targets that did not initiate sufficient aggression to justify a potentially lethal response. ‘Aggression’ can also be defined to mean coercion or force against property owners by entities such the government, an example being the IRS. The latter definition is descriptive wheres the former is prescriptive.

NAP as applied to deontological libertarianism seems to have a blind spot, which is how to deal with individuals that impose a collective or systemic burden on society but are not acting ‘aggressively’. Yes, if someone is threatening your life, lethal retaliatory force is justified, but what about small-time criminals, the mentally ill and unstable, loafers, and other ne’er-do-wells? The NAP, in the prescriptive sense, forbids simply rounding up all the unproductive and executing or exiling them all, as that is disproportionate ‘aggression’ against one’s right to life (natural rights) even if said individuals, individually, impose small externalities on society but collectively exact a significant burden.

For example, consider shoplifting, which is a very common and often non-aggressive crime that costs retailers, collectively, billions of dollars a year, and imposes a greater cost on society in terms of retailers passing on the costs of ‘shrink’ on to consumers. Obviously this is a big problem, and although most thefts are only around $50-100, when done many times by thousands of people, it adds up.

So how would a hypothetical libertarian or an-cap society that adheres to prescriptive NAP handle this problem. I imagine under NAP, the shopkeeper would exhort the thief to return the goods, possibly with the threat of physical violence for non-compliance, and the thief would probably comply knowing that there would be no long-term consequences for his actions and that getting caught is just a ‘cost of doing business’. Upon leaving the store, the thief continues to hit up more stores, occasionally getting caught, but it’s only a small setback, as there are no major repercussions for the thief besides the temporary inconvenience of having to relinquish the goods when occasionally caught. Stores don’t have the infrastructure nor want to bear the cost of warehousing thieves, and NAP stipulates violence is not an option for small violations of personal property. Also, some employees would probably have trepidation about exacting potentially lethal force to deter theft.

At some point having had enough, shopkeepers will band together, perhaps pooling money to create a facility to deal with these scoundrels in a manner that is sufficiency humane in compliance with NAP – in other words, a jail. But the problem is these reprobates, by in large, are unproductive and unwilling to work, and prison labor is not an option for most, and even if it were it’s not enough to cover the costs of housing them, but it’s worth the cost anyway if it means fewer thefts and sequestration of the most most undesirable of elements from greater society. This effectively acts as a ‘tax’ that individuals and businesses voluntarily enter into, from a utilitarian perspective, for the ‘greater good’ but also for the sake of their own profit margins and safety, with the prison becoming a ‘public good’, not a private one. Even if these prisons were privately run, business and individuals would still pay into them, effectively acting as a tax, the only difference being that it would be voluntary.

But then this is not ‘true’ libertarianism or an-cap. However, there are ways around this, such as by keeping ‘public goods’ as small and efficient as possible, and only when necessary, and possibly elective (meaning that one can ‘opt out’ of a public good). But the thing is, most self-professed libertarian and an-caps are only ‘partial libertarians‘ (similar to minarchism, as expounded by Nozick, Rand, Rothbard, and Hans Hoppe), and I don’t means this pejoratively, as the dilemma above suggests, may be the optimal approach of balancing individual rights with the ‘common good’. Interestingly, while there are ‘true’ neocons, neoliberals, and paleocons, it’s hard to find ‘true libertarians’.

Who Is in Charge?

From Free Northerner Chronic Kinglessness:

This is a perfect example of what Moldbug, referencing Carlyle, referred to as chronic kinglessness.

This is the secret of politics and modern society: nobody is in charge, no one has power, and nobody is running the show: not the people, not the corporations, not the politicians, not the bureaucrats, not the courts, not the military, not the journalists, not the bankers, not the white male patriarchs, not the SJW’s, not the Jews, not Davos, not the Bilderbergs, not the Tri-lateral Commission, not the Illuminati, and not the lizard-people.

Everybody likes to posit that some bogeyman composed of people they dislike is in charge and running, ruining, things behind the scenes because that is comforting. Even if a conspiracy is leading to disaster, at least we’re being led. Even if they are evil incarnate, at least they know what they’re doing and are leading society in a specific direction. It is comforting to know someone is in charge, even if we hate them.

To some extent this is true: no one in western society has divine power (the divine rights of Kings), but rather power often concentrated by a bureaucracy of sorts. At the turn of the millennium we saw the rise of so-called ‘fabian socialism’, a form of government where power is concentrated not by the proletariat (Trotskyism, Leninism) but rather by bureaucracies (Stalinism), with the likes of Bill Gates (in 2000, the most powerful man in technology, who having recently retired from Microsoft to work on ‘global philanthropy’), Warren Buffet (the most powerful man in business and close friends with Gates), George Soros (the most powerful man in finance), and Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (at the time the most powerful statesman alive, and still quite powerful), as ‘thought leaders’ and ‘evangelists’ that ‘jet set’ to the World Economic Forum in Davos to discuss how to improve ‘global welfare’ for people that they otherwise want nothing to do with, so much so that they have chosen to seclude themselves in the one of the most remote but expensive parts of the world to do so. At around the same time, in 1999, the Euro was formed, and the European Union was extended. It’s a paternalistic state where corporations and bureaucracies have control, with leftist social policies on issues such as immigration, where both commerce and nations have ill-defined borders. It’s similar to classical liberalism, democratic socialism (but really more like social democracy), and neoliberalism, but opposite of anarcho and libertarian socialism – the latter which reject concentrated forms of power. This continues to this day, 16 years later, with Obama and Mark Zuckerberg filling the ranks of a ‘global elite’ with socialist tendencies. Even with Brexit, not much has changed. But that’s pretty much who is ‘in charge’, at least as far as much of Europe is concerned. America is slightly more individualistic and power is concentrated among the president and so-called ‘executive orders’ that can override congress.

But on a more abstract level, power may not be exacted by a tangible entity (a king, a bureaucracy) but rather by forces (such as economic or cultural) beyond anyone’s control – inevitability, fatalism, and predestination. Despite all the cries for change against the ‘status quo’, things tend to remain constant, albeit with small changes here and there. Although Free Northerner says there is a ‘power void’, there are no shortage of people or targets to blame for disenfranchisement, for feeling ‘left out’. There are always ‘elites’ in one form or another. If nothing were imposing their force, there would be no resistance. So there is power somewhere…or maybe all of these ‘small oppressors’ are a symptom of a bigger problem. Democracy give the illusion of individual power, which more and more people are seeing through for the ruse that it is, so perhaps absolute monarchy is the alternative, which by having total power, is more empowering for individuals? Democracy and ‘freedom’ means always having to prove yourself, people having to fight a ‘mental war’ against mediocrity to ‘rise to the top’, whereas a consanguineous nobility and power structure means that people at least know their place in the hierarchy, but more importantly can come to terms with it instead of fighting it.

Wealth, Intellectualism, and Individualism, Part 5 (intellectualism)

Continuing on the wealth, individualism, and intellectualism series…

Part 1,2,3,4

The final pillar is intellectualism. Thanks to recent economic trends, Web 2.0, ‘nerd culture’, the growing importance of STEM, ‘esoteric celebrities‘, long-form journalism, as well as the elevation and idolization of intellectuals in public life, particularity for STEM fields, and recent groundbreaking discoveries and progress in physics, mathematics AI, and computer science, right now America is in something of an ‘intellectual renaissance‘.

This section, the longest of the three, covers:

1. ‘intellect’ as a form of social capital

2. rise of ‘nerd culture’ and cultural appropriation

3. the post-2008 ‘intellectual renaissance’ in America, as evidenced by the increased demand for complicated, esoteric subjects, that until recently were neglected, and in the process turning many intellectuals into ‘esoteric celebrities’

4. rejection of ‘low information’ in post-2013 internet journalism and in online discourse; ‘fact checking’, correctness more important than political tribal loyalty; proliferation of the ‘contrarian mainstream’ and esoteric ideologies

5. the ‘Social Darwinist’ aspect of how less intelligent people are faring worse in America’s competitive post-2008 economy

6. ‘shared narratives’ (#2,3,4,6 are under the umbrella of ‘intellectualism culture’)

7. the wealth-intellectualism-individualism synthesis

Intellectualism is how you become a part of the process, the national debate, rather than merely a spectator. It’s a common misconception that to be ingratiated you must conform, be ordinary, but it’s actually the opposite: to become a participant, you must be exceptional.

To be continued

SJW Narrative Collapse, Part Infinity

This is pretty funny… going on Reddit (I recommend logging out to see which default threads are on the front page, not subscribed ones), and it looks like the left, to quote the title of a Charles Murray book, is losing ground. A story on /r/news about “Leaflets calling for death of those who insult Islam ‘handed out at London mosque’”, was up-voted to the front page, much to the anger of the left, that wishes that this story would disappear and not be promoted to the ‘front page of the internet’ for the world to see the truth about the ‘religion of peace’:

Pretty much everything I write on this blog is true or will eventually be true, whether it’s about economics, the stock market, the media, Bay Area real estate, internet journalism, intellectualism, web 2.0 valuations, or the post-2013 demise of the SJW narrative.

The truth always prevails, but sometimes it takes a little while to break free from the web of misinformation and false narratives that are so appealing but also wrong. We’re seeing this with the post-2013 SJW backlash, in addition to the ‘alt right’, Red Pill, MGTOW, NRx and the ‘Dark Enlightenment’, Gamergate HBD, ‘frog Twitter’, and the election of Trump. And through this blog – which began in 2014 as these politically incorrect ideologies and movements were beginning to burst through like a battering ram against the fortress of leftism – I am proud to be a part of it, too.

By unleashing the frog that lies within us all, we can make America great again.

Who else is feeling deplorable today?

Leftist assumptions about economics and finance are being repudiated by the internet’s army of fact checkers.

For example, through the writings of Robert Shiller (a Noble Prize economist who shills for the left) and Michael Lewis (another liberal, who wrote The Big Short and Flash Boys), the left conveyed a narrative that high frequency trading was an unalloyed evil – an assumption that for many years went unchallenged by the ‘general public’ until only recently, as millennials on Reddit (as part off the post-2013 SJW backlash) eventually learned that high frequency trading actually helps traders by lowering transaction costs and speeding order executions.

A New York Times column If War Can Have Ethics, Wall Street Can, Too made it to the top of Reddit a couple days ago, but commenters attacked the leftist premise of the article, particularity as it pertains to high frequency trading:

Working at an investment bank conveys authenticity and authority in the eyes of other ‘redditors’, who up-voted the post in agreement. In many ways, finance and economics could be considered ‘STEM’, as it’s considered intellectually rigorous and involves empirical evidence, math, and number-crunching, and that’s why it ranks high in the hierarchy of degrees in terms of respect, along with philosophy, physics, and mathematics.

This was from /r/philosophy, not a ‘right wing’ sub, so it’s not like I cherry picked a sub that agrees with my view, and I could easily find more examples beyond the ones in the screenshot. But the reality is, there are a lot of misconceptions promoted by the left about algorithmic trading that are are easy to refute, and I have done so here. It’s nice to see so many people coming around to reality, rejecting the ‘blame the rich/banks’ mentality that was so pervasive in 2008-2012.

The same goes for the much maligned 2008 bank bailouts, which many people, in agreement with posts I wrote in 2011-2015, realize were necessary from a utilitarian standpoint, and helped the economy by stemming the bleeding from the ailing banking housing sectors so that the healthier sectors such as web 2.0, payment processing, information technology, and retail could thrive. The bailouts may have created moral hazard but indirectly created trillions of dollars of wealth in the form of rising asset prices, economic growth, and improved confidence – all at nearly no cost (as the bailout was funded with near-zero yielding debt).

The fact that the story went so viral, making it to the front page of Reddit, but also the intense, impassioned discussion in the comments, is further evidence of how finance is so important to millennials, who would rather debate regulation and high frequency trading than waste time on mind-numbing, disposable pop culture entertainment. This is more evidence of how intellectualism has become so important, contrary to pronouncements of how America is ‘dumbing down’. There is a huge demand for intellectualism that the internet and communities like Reddit, Hacker News and 4Chan are satisfying.

This is just one of many examples of how the truth always prevails. A reality-based worldview based on rationalism and logic always prevails. Leftists, who have to use misinformation and emotion to convert the uninformed to their causes, are losing.

‘Show, don’t tell’

‘Show, don’t tell’ is a literary technique whereby the author ‘shows’ what is happening through vivid language and senses as to allow the reader to make inferences from the clues that the author leaves behind, than merely ‘telling’ the reader what is happening.

But this also applies to extent to post-2013 internet journalism, with the trend being towards more ‘showing’ and less ‘telling’. ‘Telling’, in the context of punditry and exposition, is to tell the reader what is on your mind, often in a brusque, impassioned, or long-winded manner, and it sometimes reads like a rant. For decades, until its abrupt end some time around 2013 for reasons that still remain largely a mystery, punditry and journalism, particularly online, was dominated by ‘telling’. For much of the 90′s and 2000′s, during the whole Clinton and Bush era, bloggers could make a good living writing emotive, hyperbole-laden ‘cons/libs are good/bad’ screeds, which were shared through email lists, blogs, and aggregators like Drudge, in the process generating significant traffic and advertising revenue for bloggers and aggregators alike. Of course, all that changed around 2013 and it became much harder up-and-coming bloggers, pundits, and writers to ‘make their monthly nut’ by linking the ‘left/right’ with the incarnation of Satan, as worked so well in the 90′s and 2000′s.

Between 2007-2009 on a different website, I blogged about the 2008 presidential election, but it was less about ‘coverage’ than me taking potshots at Obama at every opportunity, and it was a lot of fun. But much has changed since then – that was back when Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were far smaller than they are today, and there were fewer political pundits. The major online media properties (Fox, CNN, WSJ, etc.) tended to have delayed opinion coverage (because they were late to the whole ‘blogging’ thing), allowing bloggers to one-up them, but these mega-sites have long since caught up. There is just so much content: Vox, WSJ, Bloomberg, etc., but the number of hours in a day, reading speed, and eyeballs haven’t grown to match the rate that content is being produced, so the result is a constant churn of content piled upon heaps of older content, and a lot of it ignored. This ties into post-2008 themes of winner-take-all, network-driven capitalism and how we’re in an age of abundance (content, ‘stuff’) but at the same time great scarcity (attention, differentiation).

But, again, the decline of opinionated punditry blogging (‘telling’) and the post-2013 rise of data-driven, nuanced style of online journalism, is also to blame for this decline, and as I will expound in a forthcoming post, most of the novelty that made blogging very successful in the 90′s and 2000′s has now worn off.

Although pundits can still do well with ‘telling’, it’s usually because they have already built a large, established audience/readership during the ‘telling’ days, that remain loyal. But in our era of ‘showing’, ‘telling’ techniques no longer work (or at least not nearly as well as they did years ago), and are perceived as ‘low information’ and intellectually lazy by a savvier readership and demographic that have grown tired and weary of charged partisan polemics and instead seek nuance, data, and intellectualism.

What is ‘showing’? Whereas ‘telling’ is to tell the reader what is on your mind, often in blunt terms, ‘showing’ is the use of data and empirical evidence to nudge, not force, the reader to your desired conclusion. Your opinions, beliefs are secondary to the evidence, not foremost. ‘Showing’ techniques include citing many references and links contextually and in footnotes, referring to historical evidence and case studies, data visualizations, as well as comparing and contrasting viewpoints, with the implication that your view is correct (or ‘less wrong’) but without explicitly saying so (showing).

Regarding contrast and brevity, the undisputed master of this technique was Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. For instructional purposes, if you can overlook his obvious political bias, he used this technique masterfully by showing on the screen, before the live audience, examples of the ‘right’ being hypocritical, by pasting quotes or juxtaposing images, and the audience ate it up without fail. He didn’t have to recite a 1000-word rant to convey his point, but just by the use of imagery and the inflection of his voice, was effective. This technique is employed heavily on Twitter, with Tweets of screenshots and highlighted passages of hypocrisy, not links to huge rants, going viral. Here is one example of viral image passed around the alt-right and NRx sphere of Twitter, about the difference between ‘order’ and ‘chaos’:

The aforementioned paragraph discusses brevity, but what about long-form, which is also hugely popular online? Isn’t that a contradiction? Not quite. In long-form, again, ‘showing’, not ‘telling’, is employed, but even more so. Showing in long-form involves, as mentioned above, data visualizations and lots and lots of links. Some examples of long-form sites that heavily employ ‘telling’ techniques to great success are Priceonomics, Ribbon Farm, Slate Star Codex, and Wait But Why.

A good example of ‘telling’ is a recent article by Social Matter Where Did It All Go Wrong. Note the extensive use of hyperlinking within the post, that instantly conveys authority and expertise in the eyes of readers. And not just links to Wikipedia, but many other sources, too. There’re are links to Moldbug, published studies, Amazon.com, etc. – all within a single paragraph. Even if you don’t agree with the underlying message, there is so much information that it’s impossible to not come away smarter having read the post, and because of these ‘showing’ techniques the post was successful and generated significant discussion in the comments and was shared extensively. Of course, it’s not going not be as popular as a Wait But Why article (and that’s an unfair comparison to make, as NRx is a very small niche, relatively speaking) but these techniques help immensely for all niches.

One problem with long-form is that it’s kinda pain in the ass, as it raises the standards for everyone, which is good because it means better content, but such content is very time consuming to produce. When Wait But Why wrote about cryonics, they didn’t just write an 800-word article about it – they wrote the most exhaustive article about cryonics ever. After I wrote my article about the simulation hypothesis, I realized that to get it to the standards of Wait Buy Why it would have to be 5,000-9,000 words and be filled with links and pictures, but I don’t think I would have been able to hold my interest long enough. After a certain point, you just want to move on to a new subject.

Also, having massive traffic, as Wait But Why obviously has, is in itself a great motivator to create longer content. Supply-side says that supply create demand, but demand also creates supply. If a boxing promoter cannot sell enough tickets (demand) to make it worthwhile, there is no fight (supply).

Tim Ferriss, Nootropics, and Accelerated Learning

Between his best-selling books The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Chef, and the 4-Hour Body, as well as a podcast, an iTunes TV show, and numerous high-paying speaking and consulting gigs, Tim Ferris has made a lucrative business out of teaching people ‘accelerated learning’, but does the supposed efficacy of accelerated learning hold up to scrutiny?

Here is an audio excerpt from The 4-hour Chef posted on Tim’s blog in which he discusses some of his techniques for accelerated learning. 16 minutes into the podcast he describes how taking a ‘nootropic’ allowed him to get a perfect score at Princeton on a Mandarin test after only a few minutes of study ‘skimming the pages of the study material as quickly as he could turn them and retaining everything’. The major problem here is that this is not a scientific study, rather a single anecdotal example, and one that doesn’t control for a multitude of factors. Assuming this story is even true, photographic memory has more to do with having a very high IQ and or ‘savant abilities’ (which are still a mystery to scientists) than purported efficacy of ‘mind drugs’. You would need a randomized trial that controls for IQ, and I imagine under such conditions individuals with mediocre IQs would perform more poorly on learning and memory tasks than more intelligent test participants, regardless of dosage. I also suspect in a randomized, double blind study there would be little improvement across all intelligence levels, that is statistically significant from a placebo.

Many of these drugs are just stimulants, but being stimulated doesn’t necessarily boost learning performance where it matters most (retention, recall, and speed).

From lifehacker: How Effective Are Nootropics and “Smart” Drugs?

In fact, in a 2014 systematic review of 11 different studies, published in the journal Nutrition Review, researchers found that use of caffeine in combination with L-theanine promoted alertness, task switching, and attention. The reviewers note the effects are most pronounced during the first two hours post-dose, and they also point out that caffeine is the major player here, since larger caffeine doses were found to have more of an effect than larger doses of L-theanine.

But alertness is not the same as actual learning and retention.

And from thehustle.co, Nootropics: What Happened When I Went 30 Days On Smart Drugs?,the modest results didn’t justify paying $50 a month.

It’s hard to know how much of the gains are attributable to nootropics, versus just practice and repetition.

As you can probably tell, I’m skeptical that learning ability can be taught or improved, whether it’s Tim Ferris and his books and podcasts on accelerated learning, Kevin Trudeau and ‘speed reading’, or Cal Newport and his ‘college guides’. As is almost always the case, the people writing these guides have vastly superiors IQs (and individual success is generalized as being applicable to the entire population, when in reality such success is attributable to IQ, not ‘special techniques’). Or it’s just flim-flam. Newport, for example, getting a PHD in a hard science at a relatively young age from a prestigious university. The reality is, less intelligent people suck at learning, learn slowly, retain little, and there are no ‘hacks’ or drugs that can change this, sorry (or at least none that meet the rigor to be published in a reputable journal). If these drugs worked, everyone would be using them, especially in our super-competitive economy where every point of IQ translates to money…they would be as ubiquitous as shoes. The military would be buying nootropics by the crateload to get recruits to speed. Same for schools…there would be no need hours of homework every week and years of classes…just use nootopics and get a perfect score after flipping through the book a few minutes (as Tim supposedly did). It would be awesome if it worked…years of schooling could condensed into weeks and the economy would get such a huge boost in productivity that Type 1 civilization status would be attainable in years, not centuries.

Additionally, the specific type of skill one is trying to acquire also matters. Tim frequently cites mastery of swimming, cooking, dancing, and martial arts as examples of accelerated learning, but many of these skills involve ‘muscle memory’ and ‘fluid learning’, not necessarily raw intellect. Psychologists distinguish between ‘crystallized intelligence’ and ‘fluid intelligence’ – the former involves memorization of past experiences and knowledge (vocabulary, math concepts, etc.); the latter involves processing new information, such as pattern recognition. Tim’s techniques may be more amenable to the latter, not the former. Trying to apply accelerated learning to quantum mechanics would probably be a huge failure for most people, whereas much more success would be had with cooking or dance.

In the podcast Tim cites other stories and examples of his success, but oddly enough there are a dearth of stories from actual normal people who have had success, as is almost always the case with these self-improvement books.

The Financial Media: It’s Still Useless

I respect Larry Summers as a maverick intellect – someone who exits the beaten path to express his occasionally politically incorrect views, but he seems to have fallen into the trap of ‘vague alarmist punditry’ that so commonly afflicts online financial journalism (and is why I long since stopped reading many news websites. I don’t actually read economic forecasts (because 99.9% of forecasts are useless and wrong) when making investment decisions, rather I develop models using data and risk management, and then test them under a variety of conditions).

From Washington Post, by Larry Summers: The global economy has entered unexplored, dangerous territory

Every year, pundits say the economy is ‘entering unexplored and dangerous territory’, and every year (save for 2008 or 2011) nothing happens. And then the cycle repeats, of more incorrect predictions and intimations of ‘impending crisis’ and ‘recession’ that never come.

there was no imminent crisis. Instead, the pervasive concern was that traditional ideas and leaders are losing their grip and the global economy is entering unexplored and dangerous territory.

Every year it’s a ‘paradigm change’, ‘the election of the century/decade’, ‘losing grip’, ‘uncharted/dangerous territory’ etc…and every year the world doesn’t come to an end, and we get through it. Brexit was supposed to doom the economy, but US stocks still near 52-week highs. So much for that. Someone phone Google and Facebook and tell them to take a break from counting their money be worried about ‘economic uncertainty’ – the media said so. lol.

Speaking of Facebook, recall in 2012 , after Facebook’s weak IPO in which the stock closed at $38 and then a few weeks later fell as low as the $29, the financial media became very pessimistic about Facebook, calling it a bubble and that it would be unable to monetize mobile. Now it’s at $132, having fully monetized mobile. Media wrong again.

The International Monetary Fund’s growth forecast released just before the meeting was once again revised downward.

Yaawn they have been ‘revising growth downward’ since 2008, yet the S&P 500 is up 200% since then. So much for that. We’re talking rounding errors here…the difference between 2.2% GDP growth vs. 2.3% – imperceptible.

Wasn’t the US consumer supposed to be ‘dead’ and ‘maxed out’ in 2007…yet they keep spending. Media wrong again.

The economy is never growing fast enough, but so what. Slow GDP growth isn’t stopping Tesla from inventing the future. It’s not stopping Uber, Facebook, or Snapchat. And compared to the rest to the world, America is still doing pretty well.

Unless the economy is growing at like 10% a year, the media will always complain about ‘slow growth’. What matters more is real growth. The media only focuses on nominal figures. High nominal GPD figures often come with equally high inflation. America has among the highest real GDP growth of much of the developed world. Countries like Brazil and Russia have higher nominal figures, but they are burning cash to prop up their economies and have poor credit rantings, meaning they have to borrow at very unfavorable rates to keep their nominal growth up. America doesn’t have that problem, being able to borrow at very favorable rates.

Recessions come intermittently and unpredictably. Containing them generally requires 5 percentage points of rate cuts. Nowhere in the industrial world do central banks have anything like this kind of room, even allowing for the effects of unconventional policies such as quantitative easing. Market expectations suggest that it is unlikely they will gain much room for years.

There are other options: negative interest rates, more bond purchases, and tax cuts. The economy can still recover on its own even after the ‘zero lower bound’ has been hit. Japan has had rates at zero for almost two decades, yet they have successfully navigated many boom-bust cycles:

After seven years of consistent over-optimism about economic prospects, there is a growing awareness that growth challenges are not so much a matter of the lingering effects of the crisis as they are of structural changes in the global economy that contributed to the crisis and the problems in its aftermath. There is increasing reason to doubt that the industrial world can simultaneously enjoy interest rates that support savers, financial stability and adequate growth. Saving has become overabundant, new investment insufficient and stagnation secular rather than transient.

Every year there is the same ‘doubt’, ‘growth challenges’, and ‘awareness’ and every year (save for a few exceptions like 2008) nothing happens.

It can hardly come as a great surprise that when economic growth falls short year after year, and when its beneficiaries are a small subset of the population, electorates turn surly.

This has more to do with the imprecise science of estimating GDP growth. Often there is a huge range and if one chooses the ‘high end’ of the range as the estimate, the actual will almost always fall below it.

In the same way — with Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the strength of right-wing nationalists in Europe, Vladi­mir Putin’s strength in Russia, and the return of Mao worship in China — it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the world is seeing a renaissance of populist authoritarianism.

Every year it’s something different, a ‘new paradigm’, and more turmoil and civil war in the same hotbed regions that have been at other’s throats for generations. Now it’s Trump, Isis, Syria, and Brexit. A couple decades ago it was Milosevic (Serbia vs. Bosnia). And then also Palestine vs. Israel. Pakistan vs. Bangladesh. Lebanese Civil War. Iraq invading Kuwait. Remember Jean-Marie Le Pen? Then there was Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan. It’s always going to be something. People have such short memories, I suppose. But maybe it’s also a backlash against a paternalistic elite, that perhaps looks down upon commoners, with condescension – ‘pity the poor, stupid people for not understanding the irrationality of their anger’.

And from Dissenting SociologistWeaving the Basket of Deplorables: On the Effort to reduce the White Working Class to an Untouchable Caste in America:

Hence the eruption amongst the ranks of the workers, joined by rebellious students and some disaffected intellectuals, of the arch-iconoclastic and antinomian alt-Right, which has set out to break every taboo in the book, to mock every piety, defile every sanctity, desecrate all that is “sacred”, speak incorrectly and with intentional grotesque poor form, to the extent humanly possible, and reject democratic and Modernist orthodoxy altogether and revive heretical and long-condemned doctrines such as Reaction. The revolt against the new ritualism soon found a public figurehead in Donald Trump, who quickly won legions of supporters precisely by dispensing with rote ritualistic platitudes read from teleprompters in conventional political address and talking to the people in a spontaneous free-form manner.

The US economy is driven primarily by three things: consumption, production, and innovation, all of which tend to remain constant regardless of whatever the latest media generated crisis is. And most economic data is very volatile. Sometimes durable goods may be up 1% and a quarter later it’s down. Same for consumer spending. This sort of stuff happens all the time, due to the imprecise science of calculating this data, yet the financial and general media will latch onto the negative data as evidence the economy is doomed or in recession, without putting it into the larger context.

From Why the News Is Still Mostly Pointless:

6. Following the news can be perilous to your financial health. Had you sold your stocks in 2008, at the depths of the crisis when the media had nearly everyone convinced capitalism and America was doomed, you would have not only sold at the bottom but missed out on the 2nd-greatest bull market ever – a bull market which continues to this day. The S&P 500 is up 80% (including dividends) since 2005, despite the crisis. Had you sold your stocks following the Brexit vote, you would have sold at the bottom and missed the 4% rally that immediately followed. Had you listened to the media and sold stocks in 2013 on fears of QE ending, you would have missed out an additional 25% gains in the S&P 500. Other examples include numerous predictions since 2008 of hyperinflation and dollar collapse, neither of which happened.

As many have noted, most financial commentary is advertising disguised as content, and much of it is wrong.

Simulation Hypothesis: Some Thoughts

Tech billionaires convinced we live in the Matrix are secretly funding scientists to help break us out of it

The simulation hypotheses is an interesting thought experiment that has received more media coverage than is justified by the paucity of science that supports it. As most people already know, the Bostrom thought experiment is as follows:

1. One possibility is that there is indeed an upper limit on a civilization’s development, and so before any imaginable human civilization has the chance to create reality simulators — to become posthuman — it is inevitably wiped off the planet.

2. Another possibility is that posthuman civilizations can come to exist, but that they are “extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations.”

3. The remaining possibility, assuming those two options don’t actualize, is that we ourselves are “almost certainly living in a computer simulation.”

Source: Why Elon Musk’s Simulation Argument Fails – Inverse

I am tempted to dismiss the simulation hypothesis because it strikes me as a pseudoscience and is unfalsifiable, mainly because:

-even if civilizations survive long enough to build simulations, and some build simulations (because the technology exists to build them), that doesn’t prove our existence is a simulation. ‘Almost certainly’ is not something that can be made mathematical rigorous. It’s like saying ‘between 0 and 1′. This is the most obvious flaw of the Bostrom argument.

-impossible to prove a negative. Evidence against the existence of a simulation may be part of the simulation itself. The ‘creators’ may be taking painstaking efforts to make sure we don’t know we’re in a simulation. One could argue that if we were in a simulation, the programmers could erase or censor the possibility of anyone realizing it, but then that may be ‘too obvious’ and the programmers allow some discussion, and so on. But this isn’t really science – it’s just all hypotheticals and speculation.

-evidence of a simulation can be explained by exiting physical laws and phenomena, without the simulation hypothesis (Occam’s Razor is invoked).

-it’s ‘programmers all the way down’. A programmer programs the program, who is programmed by another programmer, ad infinitum.

Along with The Singularity and Transhumanism, some of likened it to ‘creationism for nerds’. But that seems too harsh and dismissive. The simulation hypothesis can be turned into a more rigorous science, by breaking the trilemma into components. This is a multi-disciplinary question combines mathematics, physics, computer science…and maybe even neurology.

Number one can be answered by checking every star for civilizations (which would be a massive undertaking but a least something that is theoretically possible), to determine if there are enough civilizations that at least one is advanced enough to simulate reality. Musk says it’s ‘one in billions’, but it would be interesting to see a rigorous mathematical attempt at estimating it. The ‘Drake Equation’ may provide a ball park estimate.

Number two can be answered by trying to better understand the mathematics of simulations: is a simulation that replicates our reality (within a margin of error) mathematically possible, and if so, how could it be created with existing or hypothetical technology? If it’s physically impossible (if there are not enough atoms or power to build a sufficiently powerful computer, etc.), then that is evidence against simulations. One can create some ‘rules’ that a simulation may obey:

-A simulation should be logically consistent for all observers. If I place a full coffee cup on a table and leave the room for an hour, the cup should not have moved. Furthermore, the coffee should have cooled, and some should have evaporated, in accordance with the laws of physics. If there is a video camera in the room and someone else is watching it, myself and the observer should not notice any discrepancies.

-To save computing power, a programmer may ‘black out’ regions not within ones perception. If I am walking down the street in California, Shanghai may be blacked-out, and then vice-versa for inhabitants in China. But if I turn on the computer to a live-stream of news in China, I better not see any ‘blacked out’ regions. Furthermore, physical events in ‘blacked-out’ regions must still occur. If I leave the room after placing the coffee cup, the room may be blacked-out but the evaporation and cooling must still occur. If someone else enters the room and places a book, when I return there must be a book. These events (placing of the book, cooling of coffee, etc.) must be saved even in ‘blacked out’ situations. The whole thing seems like a daunting undertaking. But some senses may be harder to black-out: if you leave the room, you may still smell the coffee. If someone knocks the cup and it shatters, you must hear it break (provided you’re not too far or another sound doesn’t overpower it). The pieces under no condition may reassemble or move without an external force acting on them.

Once the rules have been established, the simulation can be populated and initiated, but the amount of memory and computing power required must be determined, and if such a computer can ever be built within the reasonable limits of the universe and known physical laws.

Another way to save power may be to allow some inconsistencies but not so many as to arouse suspicion. A ‘bad’ simulation would have a lot of of logical inconsistencies – stuff moving when it shouldn’t, blacked-out regions that are supposed to be revealed but aren’t, physical laws being violated, etc. Even Newton’s inverse square law of gravity has been replicated to the micro scale, without inconsistencies, which suggests a very, very high ‘frame rate’ for the simulation. Given that how rare this is (it’s so uncommon that it’s considered paranormal) despite the billions of ‘events’ that occur every second, either we’re not in a simulation or it’s programmed very well. Maybe ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ is an inconsistency, or maybe we just don’t yet have a physical explanation for it. The ‘fine-tuning’ of certain physical constants may also be evidence of a simulation, but there are other explanations for this (such as possibly a ‘multi-verse’ in which our universe happens to be one with constants conducive to life).

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The ISIS Presidential Debate

One would think that given all of the mentions of ISIS during the second presidential debate that it was 911 all over again or something. Both candidates invoked the specter of ISIS to exculpate themselves from difficult questions.

From the transcript:

TRUMP: No, I didn’t say that at all. I don’t think you understood what was — this was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly I’m not proud of it. But this is locker room talk.

You know, when we have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads, where you have — and, frankly, drowning people in steel cages, where you have wars and horrible, horrible sights all over, where you have so many bad things happening, this is like medieval times. We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.

And they look and they see. Can you imagine the people that are, frankly, doing so well against us with ISIS? And they look at our country and they see what’s going on.

Yes, I’m very embarrassed by it. I hate it. But it’s locker room talk, and it’s one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS. We’re going to defeat ISIS. ISIS happened a number of years ago in a vacuum that was left because of bad judgment. And I will tell you, I will take care of ISIS.

If he didn’t want to answer the question, he didn’t have to answer the question. There is no rule that says he must answer a follow-up question, but perhaps silence is perceived as weakness. But trying to evade the question by bringing up ISIS (especially so abruptly and without a good segue ) is a painfully obvious attempt at diversion. What Trump should have done is reiterate his apology one more time and just leave it at that, and refuse to answer any follow-up questions.

Both candidates disavow support of the Iraq war, yet this Isis rhetoric is what leads to permanent wars in the first place – it’s just that the country and people change.

Fortunately, Trump quickly recovered from his initial weakness and knocked out some home runs. The highlight of the debate was Trump intimating that he would try to have Clinton prosecuted, specifically for her illegally deleting thousands of emails after receiving a federal subpoena. Although public speaking experts recommend enunciation and varying speaking speed, the monotone of Trump’s voice and uninterrupted delivery packed in his two-minute condemnation against Clinton made his message powerful and threatening, almost like he was The Terminator coming after her.

But when you talk about apology, I think the one that you should really be apologizing for and the thing that you should be apologizing for are the 33,000 e-mails that you deleted, and that you acid washed, and then the two boxes of e-mails and other things last week that were taken from an office and are now missing.

And this part, where Trump demolishes Clinton for comparing herself to Lincoln:

TRUMP: Well, I think I should respond, because — so ridiculous. Look, now she’s blaming — she got caught in a total lie. Her papers went out to all her friends at the banks, Goldman Sachs and everybody else, and she said things — WikiLeaks that just came out. And she lied. Now she’s blaming the lie on the late, great Abraham Lincoln. That’s one that I haven’t…

OK, Honest Abe, Honest Abe never lied. That’s the good thing. That’s the big difference between Abraham Lincoln and you. That’s a big, big difference. We’re talking about some difference.

Senator, you’re no Abe Lincoln.

Hillary’s answer was so convoluted, it was obvious she was flailing.

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

From Thomas Barghest of Social Matter Where Did It All Go Wrong?, in which he gives an exhaustive historical recitation of the ‘history of decay’, beginning with the 20th century and ending, surprisingly, with the literal formation of the universe. It’s more of a history lesson than an action plan or a rallying cry (descriptive instead of prescriptive), and he concludes, contrary to popular belief, that reactionaries aren’t opposed to new things, rather they are better judges of history and how present events relate to past ones. Whereas mainstream conservatives tend to treat the ‘present’ as something that is isolated or detached, with no antecedent, reactionaries understand that the ‘present’ is merely a piece or a stepping stone that fits within a much larger historical narrative arc.

The poor history above, far from being ‘more rigorously’ reactionary, is a parody of progressives’ frequent inability to recognize that reaction is not simply a belief in contemporary degeneration and a hatred of everything too new.

Reactionaries must be, rather, good judges of both past and present: we know that most mutations are deleterious and that innovation is not an unalloyed good, but also that mutation is the engine of evolution and that even our oldest, fondest traditions were once innovations far back in forgotten time.

This is a good point, but the only problem is one could also interpret the essay to mean that because decay has always existed in one form or another – all the way since the beginning of history – it’s a fool’s errand to try to fix it. This is related to the ‘pacifist’ approach to NRx, one of many approaches, in which ‘understanding’ and ‘self-improvement’ takes precedence over action, but I think even the most avowed nihilist or fatalist seeks some degree of change.