September 21, 2014

Experimental Philosophy

Experimental Philosopher

Samsaran pointed to a story about some work experimental philosopher Eddy Nahmias did. I’m not sure what I think about experimental philosophy. To learn more I went to Joshua Knobe’s Web site. Knobe linked to this video as well as to a paper (PDF) he did where he explores the experiment in depth.

One of Knobe’s conclusions in the paper is that scientific reasoning and moral reasoning don’t appear to be separate processes but jumbled together. We’re moral creatures through and through.

But there’s an angle to this experiment that occurred to me watching the video that doesn’t come up in Knobe’s analysis. The basic outlines of the experiment is subjects are are asked to consider two scenarios:

1) The vice-president of a company went to the chairman of the board and said, “We are thinking of starting a new program. It will help us increase profits, but it will also harm the environment.”

The chairman of the board answered, “I don‟t care at all about harming the environment. I just want to make as much profit as I can. Let’s start the new program.” They started the new program. Sure enough, the environment was harmed.

2) The vice-president of a company went to the chairman of the board and said, “We are thinking of starting a new program. It will help us increase profits, and it will also help the environment.”

The chairman of the board answered, “I don‟t care at all about helping the environment. I just want to make as much profit as I can. Let’s start the new program.They started the new program. Sure enough, the environment was helped.

Overwhelmingly subjects attribute the intention to harm the environment, but do not so much attribute intention to helping the environment. 

The president’s intention is clear in both scenarios, to make profit. What’s missing from the analysis is what people know about making profits. Ordinary people may not be able to expound on the topic in economics of externalities, but I suspect people have a good grasp on how externalities work in the real world.

So of course hurting the environment is likely when the intention is making profit. Helping the environment is theoretically possible, but much less likely. Externalities deal with the difference between private and social costs. As a rule of thumb, the intention to maximize profits means minimizing private costs at the expense of social costs.

I think people always want to feel that we’re good people. So we have an uneasy relationship with the morality of making profits. 

Knobe makes this experiment carry a lot of weight about what it says about moral reasoning. But not taking into consideration the way people understand profit making enterprises makes me question whether Knobe’s conclusions are substantial enough.

September 19, 2014
"Economics may be too simple for economists to understand, but thankfully most of the rest of the world can pick it up with the right story. The job of non-mainstream economists is to tell that story."

Dean Baker at Center for Economic and Policy ResearchInfluencing the Debate from Outside the Mainstream: Keep it Simple

September 13, 2014, Dean Baker’s comments at the 2014 Rethinking Economics NYC Forum

Forum titled “The Role of Economic Models in Public Policymaking”

August 30, 2014
"The mechanisms of population contraction are simple enough, and as suggested above, they can have a dramatic impact on historical time scales without cataclysmic impact on the scale of individual lives. No, the difficult part of population contraction is its impact on economic patterns geared to continuous population growth."

John Michael Greer in The Archdruid Report. Dark Age America: The Population Implosion

August 8, 2014
"The case for direct state intervention to finance the development of the vaccines and antibiotics that the commercial sector neglects is overwhelming. And very urgent."

Gwynne Dyer at Straight. Ebola and the economics of infection

August 7, 2014

'Is the margin of society unstable?' Here there are two policy prescriptions. One is repression, the other is subsidizing the margins. Both of these lead to problems with the first question. The subsidy route directly. So subsidy answers to the instability problem invariably come with a back end repression component, or a bureaucratic one. Subsidize food? Then make sure people don't buy food cheaply and find ways of reselling it. Subsidize medical care? Then make it crappy, so no sane person who can pay private health insurance, won't.

But the repression answer also breaks the neo-classical economy. Military and police force, as Adam Smith pointed out in 1776, are worthless: the value disappears as soon as it is done. That means repression creates a larger and larger subsidized sector, one whose price will rise above the cost of subsidies.

There is no answer to this problem in micro- or macro- economics because, drum roll, stability is largely based on food prices, food prices are largely based on forces which do not answer to capital incentives. Food is based on land rents, energy rents, and weather conditions. The land can be massaged to respond to capital incentives, but basically, the oil in the ground, and the sun above us, do not care a whit what our economic system does. They don’t move in nice equilibrium friendly marginal increments.


Sterling Newberry at The Sorcerers Apprentice. A Short Post

July 28, 2014
"But even accounting for that, I’ve generally found the coverage of this story particularly irritating, with a handful of honorable exceptions. There’s an extra element here, which is making the reporting on this case much, much worse — and that’s the markets. In short, they’re doing the wrong thing."

Felix Salmon at Medium. The #Griefault trade

Why Argentina’s bonds may be worth even more in default

June 23, 2014
"The sharing economy appropriates a language of change and collectivity (e.g., “collaborative consumption”) to proselytize for business models that atomize individuals further, reducing their social usefulness to the spare capacity they can mobilize and marketize."

Rob Horning at Internal Exile commentig on Paul Mason in The New StatesmanPaul Mason: what would Keynes do?

The revolution in IT and how it is transforming our world in ways that even economists are struggling to understand.

May 30, 2014
"The nature of the human ape being what it is, once in a while some borderline personalities always find their way into every group, resulting in some amount of drama. But a bigger problem is that the helpful, healthy kind of drama was also almost entirely missing. Most of the attendees seemed to be able to process the intellectual content of the conference, but collapse as an intellectual pursuit seems almost worthless to me. It cannot be reduced to problems and solutions. The universe, and life on earth (jellyfish, cockroaches and all) will go on with or without you, and so the only real problem is you, and how you may need to change in order to adapt. And this is not an entirely intellectual transformation, but also an emotional and a physiological one."

Dimitri Orlov at Club Orlov. Review: Age of Limits 2014

May 30, 2014
"Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it."

George Monbiot in The Guardian. It’s simple. If we can’t change our economic system, our number’s up

It’s the great taboo of our age – and the inability to discuss the pursuit of perpetual growth will prove humanity’s undoing

May 28, 2014
"Peer review, to my mind, should be thought of as a continuous process: It starts from the moment a researcher first describes her result to a colleague over coffee and it never ends, even after her work has been published in a peer-reviewed journal (or a best-selling book). Many findings are contradicted or even retracted years after being published, and replication rates for peer-reviewed academic studies across a variety of disciplines are disturbingly low."

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEightBe Skeptical of Both Piketty And His Skeptics

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