From deities to data - "For thousands of years humans believed that authority came from the gods. Then, during the modern era, humanism gradually shifted authority from deities to people... Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimised by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimised by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimises the authority of algorithms and Big Data." [more inside]
In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
Where do ‘good’ or pro-social institutions come from ? Why does the capacity for collective action and cooperative behaviour vary so much across the world today ? How do some populations transcend tribalism to form a civil society ? How do you “get to Denmark”?
Herbalife is an MLM company that its detractors believe is nothing more than a pyramid scheme. But, John Hempton manager of Bronte Capital disagrees. In a long post he sets out why "it is the stock in the portfolio I am most proud to own. It is also the stock about whose long-term prospects I am most bullish." 20,000 words of economic analysis sounds a dry read. But think again, exploring the economics of this one peculiar company is a rabbit hole of fascinating portraits on globalisation, psychology and everyday life around the world.
"Maybe it's a sore point: your field should have an answer (people think you do) but there isn't one yet. Perhaps it's simple to pose but hard to answer. Or it's a question that belies a deep misunderstanding: the best answer is to question the question."
And that's a bad idea. Much of standard group behavior data in Sociology/Economics/Psychology is based on Americans. Which don't seem (contrary to universal assumptions) to be shared by a lot of the World.
From the mid 40s to the mid 50s Coronet Instructional Films were always ready to provide social guidance for teenagers on subjects as diverse as dating, popularity, preparing for being drafted, and shyness, as well as to children on following the law, the value of quietness in school, and appreciating our parents. They also provided education on topics such as the connection between attitudes and health, what kind of people live in America, how to keep a job, supervising women workers, the nature of capitalism, and the plantation System in Southern life. Inside is an annotated collection of all 86 of the complete Coronet films in the Prelinger Archives as well as a few more. Its not like you had work to do or anything right? [more inside]
Happyism: The Creepy New Economics of Pleasure. Economist Dierdre McCloskey, in the New Republic, digs into the mathematical underpinnings of the scientific study of happiness. Executive summary: she doesn't like what she finds.
"Can doctors and investment advisers be trusted? And do we live more for experiences or memories? In a SPIEGEL interview, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman discusses the innate weakness of human thought, deceptive memories and the misleading power of intuition."
"We now have a smallish house in a nondescript working class Seattle neighborhood with no sidewalks. We have one car, a battered old minivan with a large dent on one side where you have to bang it with your hip to make the door shut. Our boys go to public schools. Our jobs pay enough to support our lifestyle, mostly anyway. If we wanted, we could both do the "next thing" on our respective career paths..... Fact is, we just don't want to work that hard! We already work harder than we feel like working. We enjoy having time to lay around in the living room with the kids, reading. We like to watch a little TV after the kids are in bed. We like going to the park and visits with friends and low-key vacations and generally relaxing. Going further down our respective career paths would likely mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids. So why do it?" David Roberts in Grist on satisficing, voluntary non-affluence, and the medium chill.
"The rich are different than you and me." A new study out of the Harvard Business School suggests that frequent use of luxury goods and services may encourage a narrower, more self-interested view of the world. Here's a link to the report itself. (Achtung! it's a PDF.)
"We infer that beyond about $75,000/y, there is no improvement whatever in any of the three measures of emotional well-being." Two social scientists at Princeton, Angus Deaton and Nobelist Daniel Kahneman, have a new paper in PNAS about money and the determinants of happiness. Increased income above $75,000 is not associated with higher subjective happiness, though it is associated with superior scores on measures of overall life satisfaction. Other tidbits: "Religion has a substantial influence on improving positive affect and reducing reports of stress, but no effect on reducing sadness or worry... The presence of children at home is associated with significant increases in stress, sadness, and worry."
Shared social responsibility - When customers could pay what they wanted in the knowledge that half of that would go to charity, sales and profits went through the roof ... Gneezy describes the combination of charitable donations and paying what you like as 'shared social responsibility', where businesses and customers work together for the public good. (via mr) [also see 1,2,3]
"Take a little bad psychology, add a dash of bad philosophy and ethics, and liberal quantities of bad logic, and any economist can prove that the demand curve for a commodity is negatively inclined." MIT economist Andrew Lo and string theorist turned asset manager Mark Mueller on the "physics envy" that plagues economics, and how to stop worrying and love uncertainty.
A Short Course In Behavioral Economics, an "Edge Master Class" from Richard Thaler and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman. [more inside]
Striking Out by James Surowiecki. "As TV writers hit the picket lines, Surowiecki discusses the motivations and consequences of labor strikes. Historically, he argues, strikes have rarely ended up benefiting workers; the deals reached are usually similar to offers on the table before workers walk out. So why strike? For one thing, he writes, striking may clarify how serious your employer is about his stated position. And strikes are often about fairness, rather than economics -- people tend to reject deals they view as unfair, even when doing so leaves them worse off. A cogent analysis offering some interesting, timely tidbits of economic theory." [via]
Have you ever thought your boss might be a sociopath? According to some, you just might be right. A recent film called The Corporation actually goes so far as to argue that American-style free markets select for sociopathic tendencies. While some on the left seem all too eager to chime in with their self-righteous “I told you sos,” others on the right dismiss all such notions to defend free markets with open contempt… Which is strange when you consider that free market theory owes its existence to Darwin’s theories of natural selection, which many on the right don't accept. Seriously--help me sort this out, or else I'm going to have to conclude we've all gone crazy.
You are very bad at making decisions. Welcome to the world of cognitive biases. They are why it is so easy to see conspiracies in the death of microbiologists, to be unaware of how incompetent we are, to regret our bids on eBay, and to be superstitious rationalists. Perhaps you should learn to use them before you are taken in. Finally, cognitive biases are why you will remember the end of this po
Neuroeconomics: "Eventually it could help economists design incentives that gently guide people toward making decisions that are in their long-term best interests in everything from labor negotiations to diets to 401(k) plans." Note the ambiguous use of the pronoun "their"--are we talking about the long-term interests of people in general or of economists?