Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

Hot take on economics 

@freakazoid So, dynamics can turn up in various forms. I've tried (unsuccessfully) to catalogue the in the past.

There's fiat or imposed value, as with coin. Also with transjurisdictional standards, such as divorce law and shipping registries ("flags of convenience"). Whatever the *minimum* acceptable *somewhere* is, is acceptable *everywhere*.

There's effective perceived value -- Mencken's "Brayard", or consumer technologies, or bicycles.

@o @woozle

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@freakazoid Underlying quality is difficult to communicate, so some *quality indicator* is substituted. Accent. Vocabulary. Cultural myths. Clothing. Food. Table manners. Branding. Musical tastes. Books read. Schools attended. Management fads.

These signal *both* quality *and* group alignment -- and the wrong set can easily get you killed in many cases.

*Changing* signifiers is highly traumatic: culture wars and value shifts.

This also leads to cargo culting.

@o @woozle

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@dredmorbius @woozle @o These fall into a few different possibly overlapping categories: implicit bias, laziness or ignorance (because the information is available but people don't bother to look or don't know it's there), and places where it's genuinely hard to know, like interviewing and managing (though there's a lot we do know about management and interviewing so laziness and ignorance applies there).

...

@o @woozle @dredmorbius Volume also contributes to this a lot: for cheap things, the cost of research can be a significant fraction of the cost of actually buying it. This is probably why for many things there's not much of a "middle ground", just super cheap and super expensive things.

You can also get seemingly paradoxical effects where the brand with the better reputation has lower quality at a higher price point. I've noticed in general an inverse correlation between marketing and quality.

@freakazoid @dredmorbius @woozle @o

Mature markets tend to end up with two market leaders and a bunch of also-rans. In that kind of market, the #1 is often complacent and of poor quality, but the #2 tends to be better because it wants to knock the leader off the top spot.

e.g. VHS vs Betamax, Windows vs macOS, VW vs Toyota for cars, etc.

(Obviously there are counterexamples, and I think the trend is becoming less clear as markets fragment.)

@mathew @o @woozle @dredmorbius Two of the three examples you cite have strong network effects, where that's certainly true. But car manufacturers don't have this problem. Globally, in 2014 (the year I can easily find data for), the number 8 automaker by number of cars (Honda) sold almost 43% of the number of cars of the number one (Toyota). In the US, the number 7 manufacturer, Kia, sold 43% as many passenger cars as the top manufacturer, GM. And number 3, Toyota, has almost 83% of GM's sales.

@freakazoid @dredmorbius @woozle @o Cars may not be a two-player market, but I still maintain that VW has gotten lazy (and indeed downright criminal), lets its quality slip and failed to invest in new tech, while Toyota has focused on making better cars, even if they did make a disastrously bad move betting on hydrogen rather than battery storage. (There's probably an interesting case study there on why they went the way they did.)

@mathew @o @woozle @dredmorbius No case study needed: they did it because hydrogen is heavily subsidized in Japan.

VW's failure to invest in new tech is the case with car makers across the board. Their cheating was to try to avoid losing a bunch of car sales as diesel was essentially getting regulated out of business. Which IMO was a stupid move on the government's part since diesel has lower CO2 emissions than gasoline.

@freakazoid Incidentally, two cases of dyanamics I've been describingl

Toyota's forray into hydrogen fuel cells is based on government policies and incentives, creating a localised specialisation.

Volkswagon's diesel emissions fraud is a dynamic: trying to substitute a lower-value quality for a higher-value one, through fraud.

@woozle @o @mathew

@dredmorbius @mathew @o @woozle It seems like this is also the case with software. People pick software on the basis of features or price, because they have no idea how to measure quality. So there's no market for high-quality software.

A "Consumer Reports for software" might help. It could track historical bugs, usability/accessibility problems, vulnerabilities, attacks, and the maker's response to them, etc.

@freakazoid "The Tyranny of the Minimum Viable User"

old.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/c

Since users' _capabilities_ also vary strongly, the problem goes beyond this.

You see similar types of dynamics in, e.g., "audiophile" gear, much of which seems principally engineered to separate rich idiots from their lucre.

A better comparison might be precision or highly-skilled equipment, also somewhat affected.

@woozle @o @mathew

@dredmorbius @mathew @o @woozle This is why I think that products should lift up the user, not descend to the user's level.

@freakazoid The problem, given the dynamic, is that users don't _want_ to be lifted. They want to be comforted. You can try going against the grain. The market will punish you.

I'm not saying the market is right. The market and I disagree violently.

But the market is bigger than me.

@woozle @o @mathew

@dredmorbius @mathew @o @woozle Will it? I can think of plenty of examples of brands marketing how dumb their products are ("You already know how to use it" being a well-known example), but not of the market punishing products that are self-teaching. Do you know of some?

@freakazoid P.T. Barnum's dictum isn't an absolute universal, but it's close.

You can swim upstream, but you're going to find yourself in niche space. That *may* be a *profitable* niche, but it's still a niche.

The useful thing to do is look for cases of exceptions to the rule -- where is coplex, respectful, high-information-density content (or products or services) found?

Quality literature, news, education, music, information gear, etc.

@woozle @o @mathew

@freakazoid To counter that, you've got to raise the bound on that minimum.

You can gatekeep the users (certification). Or you can make sufficient degrees of incompetence nonviable -- harms or at least does not help the incompetent user is one route. This will still limit the scope of the market, but at least won't dilute the product. Call it a talent bar.

This also means a noneconomic motivation. You're not profit-maximising, but maximising for individual benefit.

@woozle @o @mathew

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@dredmorbius @mathew @o @woozle I don't agree with that, because it assumes that the reason for incompetence is lack of ability or desire to become competent. If it's lack of desire, let's exclude them not just from products, but from the planet, since they're ruining humanity. And I suspect lack of ability represents only a tiny fraction of the population.

But I think the real answer is that our system selects for people who are shitty at teaching.

@freakazoid So ... well, current use of idiots notwithstanding, I try to avoid prejudiced language, and the whole long first part of the Reddit essay goes into detail about why simple tools are often a net win.

The problem is where the dynamic directly impedes development of useful tools, systems, goods, services, etc.

And I really _don't_ think it's something you can chalk up only to pedagogy. Put another way: we're at the end of a phenomenal 300 yr ramp up in literacy.

@woozle @o @mathew

@freakazoid ... actually, if you look at it, changes in either who's included in classes or testing. Increased access => falling test scores. Rising test scores => falling access. That points to some population-level intractability.

(With exceptions. "Stand and Deliver".)

But trying to make all the children above average is a Sysiphean task, and a doomed premise for progress. You've got to work with the talent you've got.

My point is to not get in its way.

@woozle @o @mathew

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@dredmorbius @mathew @o @woozle Replying mid-thread because I think a lot of your reasoning farther down hinges on what I believe to be a mistake in this post. The fall in test scores from "increased access" is not necessarily because the larger group is not learning as well, but because the test wasn't actually testing how effectively the students were being taught. Most of our standardized tests are really indirect tests of socioeconomic class, not of how much students are learning.

@woozle @o @mathew @dredmorbius I think that the real problem is that "education systems" are super bad at educating. They can take a subset of students who have the right background and right set of parents and get them to do well on standardized tests, but they cannot take a random person out of a population of, say, English speakers, and on net provide them significant benefit.

@dredmorbius @mathew @o @woozle The reason students at "elite schools" tend to do better is that the school only allows in students who are going to be successful no matter what. They're *filtering*, not teaching. But they're not really filtering for innate skill. They're filtering for what the student has already absorbed from the world, largely due to the circumstances of their birth.

@woozle @o @mathew @dredmorbius And the problem isn't really that teachers are incompetent, though a bureaucracy isn't capable of hiring competent people; it's that it's not possible to be competent at teaching a class of 30+ randomly selected students.

@dredmorbius @mathew @o @woozle The fundamental problem IMO is that almost all societies treat teaching and learning as just one function among many, and something that's confined to particular institutions and particular phases of a person's life.

IOW it's not just Americans who are anti-intellectual but most of human society. And the reason is that we have entrenched groups who have a vested interest in a stupid population.

@woozle @o @mathew @dredmorbius Politicians don't want an educated population because they want people to be swayed by their emotional arguments. Pretty much every skilled profession has a vested interest in everyone else being stupid (or at least not knowing THEIR skill) because that's how they make their money. And the victims of this "uneducation system" want everyone else to be stupid because otherwise THEY feel stupid.

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@freakazoid I'd mentioned the long history of pedagogical evolution. This is a huge part of it.

In particular, there's a long-standing divide between "liberal" and "technical" education. Politicians (and employers) want a _skilled_ but _pliant_ public.

The "servile arts" is another term for technical arts. Technical / polytechnic schools specifically excluded much of the liberal education, whose heart is the Seven Liberal Arts, the Trivium + Quadrivium previously hinted.

@mathew @o @woozle

@freakazoid There's a huge (if obscure) literature on this, stretching to medaeval and ancient times. I've touched on it occasionally, see Hans Jenson on John Stuart Mill, 1860s England:

old.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/c

Effectively, there are forces working for and against this.

Of late, high-tech skills have been in need, but also tend to create hugely intelligent people with inconvenient consciences: Einstein, Oppenheimer, Chomsky, Ellsberg.

A dilemma for oligarches.

@mathew @o @woozle

@dredmorbius @woozle @o @mathew Literally every single person you gave as examples there is/was Jewish. I'm pretty sure they're all Ashkenazi, in fact. They are not the products of society at large but of a specific subculture that values learning, teaching, and thinking.

@freakazoid I hadn't even realised that.

I was temporising and didn't think through the list at length. I did think of adding Edward Snowden (not Jewish). I'm trying to think of other dissident scientists and engineers ... and several of the obvious contenders are _also_ Jewish.

The Jewish relious Talmudic tradition is one that treats many questions as _not_ answered, but as _subject to inquiry_. So there's a call for questioning concepts.

@mathew @o @woozle

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@freakazoid
The lack (until lately) of a nation state in which a uniform orthodoxy might be imposed (and in which that seems to be happening) is also notable. Prior to 1948, any Jew anywhere was part of an internal minority, often at least discriminated against, if not actively oppressed. The WWII oppression was only the latest in a very long history of similar such actions.

What effect that has had culturally or otherwise I don't know.

@mathew @o @woozle

2/end/

@dredmorbius @woozle @o @mathew Snowden is not an idiot but he's not in the same category as any of your other examples. He did, for example, misunderstand how the Prism program functioned, thinking it required the cooperation of the companies involved when even just looking at their own slides it was clear it did not - otherwise reverse engineering the protocols involved wouldn't have been necessary.

@mathew @o @woozle @dredmorbius I think discrimination probably had something to do with it, maybe because Jews were often excluded from those "servile professions" you speak of.

I don't know what impact the existence of Israel has on people's general competence, but I think it could as easily be negative as positive.

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