Week Review #2

Slavery Dynamics:

Overcoming Bias has an interesting article on the economic dynamics of American slavery. It reminds me of a recent EconTalk episode with Munger, who talks about how the intellectual culture of the south created incredibly clever pro-slavery arguments. Not that they are moral, or correct, but that they are clever enough that if you were born into that society they would be convincing. Presumably this is in contrast to most portrayals of the time, which involve almost comically evil folks.

Munger quotes a book called Cannibals All, which I had previously partially read. The book takes a sort of Marxist approach to slavery, claiming that given how awful working poor conditions are for wage-slaves, slavery is actually a good deal. The author’s reasoning is that the slave owner actually has an incentive to keep the slave healthy and safe, whereas the capitalist doesn’t own any particular worker and has no such incentive. Yet with his capital he has a residual claim on slave labor from all of the working poor.

It’s no wonder Munger was arguing these arguments are… surprisingly good. Not good good, but about as good as any modern PhD Sociology thesis (that is, pretty bad). But they sound good. And while sounding good often has no correlation with reality, it’s often enough.

It’s strange that there is tons of literature on American slavery, some of it by brilliant minds, most of it painting a different picture than what we were taught. Probably what happens is clever well read scholars devote a lifetime towards studying slavery, and come to shared conclusions. The problem is most people don’t have the ability or time to study all those texts. Cutting the texts down is dangerous, as a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

The clever solution is to select a few core and simple texts on slavery that lead the reader to a one dimensional version of the slavery scholars final conclusions.  You can see the same thing in The Holocaust. The side effect of this is that those simple and selected texts are then mistake for the reality. So when someone starts digging a little into old books, and they spot inconsistencies, exaggerations, and exclusions, they immediately doubt the entire conclusion. Even though the conclusion is usually still generally right.

The problem is that these topics and conclusions become sacred, and are used as a shared signal for our morality. In Germany it’s illegal to deny the Holocaust. So when someone starts digging into small inconsistencies or questioning the past it’s viewed very negatively. Even though you would have to be delusional to actually deny the Holocaust or claim American slavery was in any way not a horror show.

So what seems to happen is every time someone makes a claim everyone goes along with it, since you can’t question the sacred.

And that sucks. Because while it might convince some people to care more, it also becomes a really inconsistent documentation of history that gives far too much credibility to groups who use conspiracy theories for their own ideological reasons.

U.S. Growth:

Interesting article on Sam Altman and his work at the head of Y-combinator. His goal seems to be to save America through incredible growth. The article reminds me of the Unqualified Reservations post on how Altman almost gets it, but that we are focusing too much on ‘pig growth.’Pig growth is a copy of a term philosopher Thomas Carlyle used, which basically decomposes growth between short run rum consumption and growth from buying your daughter a wedding dress.

What he thinks we should really be focusing on is getting the type of growth that creates a civilization worthy of pride. Interestingly enough, this type of thinking seems to be gaining traction as an economics paper on the value of uplifting makework programs was linked in Marginal Revolution.

Personally I think small organic farms are a great place to start. I used to think the French were stupid for their farm subsidies. Now I still think they are stupid, but accidentally got this one right. Our farm subsidies in the U.S. these days suck, because they mainly go to massive industrial farms.

We can imagine a scenario where there is always a job for any American citizen on a small farm somewhere outside of a city. We would all subsidize the farms, and this would provide a healthy life with meaningful work for anyone who feels they can’t make it in the private sector or find a job.

This would have been an insane proposition during times of high growth, but I get the impression the future of our growth is concentrated in an increasingly smaller group of high-tech  and high-IQ group of people.

The Rational-Sphere and Reaction Watch:

Great Interview by Game Theory professor James Miller with Greg Cochran of West Hunt. My favorite part was at the end, when Miller notes he had to cut out parts of the interview because the topics could destroy his career if he was on record discussing them.

There is a fast growing reaction towards immigration in the US. There currently seems to be a break down between immigration preferences for somewhere between 20-50% of the US population, depending on how you define it, and those preferences working their way into legislation through the electoral connection. My theory is that the longer that connection between electorate and legislation is suppressed, the more radical it will become.

Evonomics article on immigrants importing their destiny. It still feels dangerous to discuss, but there are real differences in cost and benefit towards admitting different immigrant groups.

“History is written by the winners, but perhaps in the future science will also be written by the winners. I’m not sure that the truth will win out. Perhaps the glass will become darker, rather than clearer. “

Does this document the start of the Progressive-Trump dichotomy?

General Interest:

Apparently in the Ottoman Empire when the King died, the son to succeed him on the throne was legally allowed to kill all of his brothers. The idea being this lowered the chance of a civil war and limited the scope of damage.

A physician talks about his urge to save lives in Aleppo. He risks his life daily.

A university in Syria was bombed. As I saw the picture with blood on their math homework I looked over at the math books on my desk, realizing my own frustrations of knowing I will never be smart enough to truly understand what is inside is not a real concern.

A surprisingly interesting post on the investment philosophy of a portfolio manager. He writes about Warren Buffet wannabes, and how he navigates investing and keeping clients happy.

Nerdy Residuals:

Apparently Tensor Flow can simulate PDEs. I’m sure that will help me with all the daily PDE simulations I do.

This is also a cool write-up on Graph Convolution Networks. This is a really interesting system to map graph theory data into deep learning models. I don’t know a ton on this field, but it seems like it’s the next big step towards using highly complex relational graph data for machine learning problems.