Like the positive effect of government policy. The US Anti-trust policy was very effective at times.
Temporary National Economic Committee (TNEC) 1938-1941 forced licensing of tens of thousands of patents.
When AT&T Bell Labs invented transistor it was forced to allow anyone to use it's knowledge. People went to Bell Labs and they were taught how to manufacture transistors. Massive industry spurted overnight. If transistor was invented today, the inventor would have a monopoly for transistor 25 years and generate huge profits.
At the same time, pc, Cowen, and Zuck are in the thick of the SF "conservative libertarian" milieu. Thiel was a/the first major investor in FB, Stripe, and Cowen's "Emergent Ventures". Cowen's Mercatus center has deep ties (that I don't fully understand) with Koch industries and the federalist society. Etc.
I'm _far_ less impressed with the policies actually advocated for by these groups.
I'd actually be really interested in hearing the three of them discuss opportunities for government policy to have significant positive impact. I'd be surprised if pc wasn't a fan of at least some aspects of the FAA / NTSB , and I know Cowen advocates for public increases in basic research / R&D investment .
As "libertarian conservative" "public thought leaders", I wonder where else they might agree that government intervention can be net very-positive.
[Edit: sorry about the labels. There are real clusters of thinking and people here that need names, but I'm sure that they'd prefer different labels]
 https://www.amazon.com/Stubborn-Attachments-Prosperous-Respo... + thorough review/interview https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/tyler-cowen-stubborn...
I'm a huge fan of Patrick Collison and know that Stripe is also doing tons of experimentation and product innovation, but I was struck by how much less like an academic Zuck sounded. I don't know if it's a good or bad thing, but Cowen and Collison seem to focus on what everyone should be doing, while Zuck's focus is on what he, personally, can get done (again, caveat being that Collison is simply so well-read that he comes off as an academic, while I'm aware that in reality he's doing a ton himself as well).
I'm a big admirer of what Mark is doing with CZI (which is part of why Cowen/I agreed to the interview). Stripe is still a private company, but maybe I'll be able to intervene more directly over time. If I do, having CZI as precedent will be very helpful.
How do you see this? You say that you are an admirer of CZI. In my experience with obnoxious CEO types, they are happy to be philantrophic or "build" things when it suits them, and only then. Do you think it's a net positive? Wouldn't someone else (like Gates or even Buffet) be a better leader for these initiatives? I'm sure that if Mark did not get so successful with FB, it would have been the WA founders, otherwise someone else yet again.
Sorry if this is a steriotypical reaction, but I am sorry; I just can't trust something from camp Zuck.
Beyond that, while I'll certainly admit that government has a ton of problems, I'm not sure that the best model for funding -- for example -- research into various diseases is to put decisions under the control of rich people in the private sector, no matter how "reformed" and generous they seem. Or that super-rich people deserve to have praised philanthropic legacies because they managed to game the system during some point in their lives at the expense of income inequality and unfair markets.
Granted, Gates doing good with his money is orders of magnitude better than him sitting on it doing nothing, but I don't think he deserves all the praise he's been getting, given his background.
Bill Gates's transformation is not unique. It is a general pattern. Does the word Carnegie bring to mind Pinkerton union-busters? Or a brilliant university? Does Washington bring to mind a revolutionary hero or a slave-keeper? History will look kindly on Mark Zuckerberg.
Moreover, given the repeated problems Facebook has caused, the repeated apologies Zuckerberg has offered with little demonstration of true repentance, skepticism of him specifically also seems warranted. The best thing he could do to help humanity would be to mitigate Facebook’s various negative impacts on our societies.
Zuckerberg has fooled us many times. However much he’s right about wanting to encourage societal progress, he’s actively contributed to its decline in much of the world—to the point that Facebook has now clearly has been an instrument of genocide (in Bangladesh).
Just because he’s a rich and a successful startup founder who’s conducted an interview where he says the right things (contrast with his Georgetown speech) doesn’t obviate him from criticism or skepticism.
Some, not all, crop yields have been stalling in recent years. I think Tyler's point was maybe the increasing cost of research and effort to keep moving the yield curves up, such that it may be stalling progress there.
Data on crop yields here: https://ourworldindata.org/crop-yields
> some, not all...
Good that you made this correction. In 1960 the average yield for tomatoes was 50 ton/ha or less in the area where I am from. 
In 2019, the yield was 100 ton/ha, but in the most optimal areas you get 140 ton/ha. If you use nets you get 250 tons/ha.
>> How is it that science and technology move forward but crop yields remain constant?
This is bordering on conspiracy theory; I have experience in tech in agriculture and the progress the last 50 years is nothing short of a humanitarian miracle. The miracle is far from complete though.
 First hand knowledge.
If CZI is successful, over the long arc of history, it's almost inarguable that his greatest impact will be on medicine.
Ironically, in terms of innovation, the yearly output of companies such as Facebook and Stripe has seemed somewhat constant, despite those companies getting many orders of magnitude bigger!
Maybe MZ and PC should investigate this issue at their own companies, and perhaps even begin to fix it. After that, they'll be better able to look at fixing innovation in the world at large.
These thinkers propose a common constraint for stagnant growth in education and medicine: a philosophy of science. There is much more to it, and unfortunately it's not a concise explanation. However, I find this conceptual frame much stronger than the education/medicine problem "commonalities" described by Zuck, Collison and Cowen. Further, the "Game A" insight seems to predict the shortcomings of an applied meta-approach of "the tool-building which comes from having the experience building engineering teams."
Game A: ("hill climbing") invest in better microscopy tools, even though "right now, the actual technology of microscopes is ahead of scientists’ ability to process the data".
Game B: ("valley crossing") invest in a philosophy of science to better understand complexity management, causality and sense-making in the domains of education and medicine.
"And as engineers.. you really want to get into the code and step through it to see where the thing is breaking down" (Zuck). But whats 'broken' at FB? is it a server infrastructure? monetization? or is it interpersonal psychology of user relationships? Mistaking our tools' observation for reality, and optimizing for only what we can measure can build profits, but it has limits to make sense of complexity - and undefined/unmanaged complexity is common to the nature of education/medicine problems.
Facebook, especially, with the Oculus stuff, their tech stuff (React, Thrift, etc.), Instagram. They're damned good. No way around it. Facebook is absolutely on top of things.
So it still might be worthwhile to think about it.
Some big healthcare cost increases come from increased consumption. It's not just incentives, bureaucracies and inefficiencies that caused cost increases.
Once upon a time we had less medical care to consume, fewer procedures, cancer treatments and other such costly stuff. Medical care costs were mostly clinical, doctors salaries and such. Prenatal care once meant occasional visits to a doctor or nurse. These days, it also means ultrasounds, genetic testing, more blood tests & such. That costs more.
There are just more available treatments to treat patients, especially the already high-cost stuff like cancer treatment, surgery.... These are new things that the medical industry are doing, and cost money. It's at least partly a "we buy more" situation, not just price inflation.
A sociology degree, OTOH, is not different in a than it was in the 1950s. There are nearly no non-efficiency related cost increases in higher-ed. No new, expensive stuff is being used to teach these students. Prices just increased, and most of that got observed into administration.
In terms of ROI at a societal level... Idk if it's usefully measurable, for medicine at least.
There definitely aren't massive, healthcare-related increases I gross life expectancy and such. Does that mean bad ROI? This gets philosophical.
This might be true if there weren't stark counterexamples, e.g. Singapore at 1/4 the cost, with better outcomes. Notably there, government dollars flow through to consumers who choose among competitors by price and quality.
These issues are cultural, not just political or economic. I am looking forward to seeing what PC and TC can come up with for a common framework. This seems to be a tough problem.
- Zero price transparency
- Payment through intermediaries like insurance companies and your employer, who often pays half of your insurance premiums and other healthcare expenditures
With no price transparency, prices are just made up with little connection to actual value delivered. Because of the middlemen, most patients don’t feel the full cost of healthcare. Patients in aggregate still pay for the full negotiated cost, just indirectly in the form of higher premiums and forgone wages (marginal premiums paid by the employer).
At this point, Medicare for All is our best hope. A true market-based healthcare economy, as great as it may be, is a pipe dream. With Medicare for All, the government would set reimbursement rates in stone. Most doctors who want a substantial amount of patients would have to accept those rates. Unlike insurance companies, the government would not be able to aggressively increase its “premiums,” or taxes, every year and it won’t get kickbacks from hospitals for high cost care. The government would also set empirically backed standards of care that lower their cost burden with no impact on average lifespan.
We could potentially allow for parallel “luxury care” purchased by the patient if they want to be able to expedite their non-emergency knee replacement from 6 months to 2 weeks. The government would be incentivized to launch health initiatives and laws that help lower the rates of obesity and diabetes in the population. Lastly, the government would also be incentivized to increase the supply of doctors. There are multiple instances in the past when medical organizations lobbied or misled Congress into over-limiting the supply of medical residencies. They also had a hand in restricting the number and size of medical schools. So yes, overpaid, scarce medical professionals are a big part of the cost burden, and their representative institutions are making sure they stay overpaid. Only recently have medical organizations lobbied to increase the number of residencies again. That’s just damage control.
The American people should not accept compromise on healthcare any longer. That’s what the ACA was, and it did not do enough. Medicare for All will bring us in line with the rest of the developed world which has better health outcomes at a much lower cost. We can save >$1 trillion and put that money towards things like a national high speed rail network, anti-poverty efforts, government-subsidized corporate internships, and an accredited national online education and retraining platform with the best professors on every subject imaginable.
Health costs, across advanced economies, are on the rise for several decades. The UK system, and others are constantly busting their budgets.
The underlying cost base has grown, due to more types of medical things people are getting.
That doesn't exclude inefficiency of a particular system. The US system is expensive, and a lot of that is probably due to the US system accelarating the trend to more and more expensive procedures.
it's so broad with so many variables, so many assumptions that you might as well ask if God exists and you'd have the same chance of answering it.
Tthere doesn't seem to by any evidence of exponential gains in performance, even on their own benchmarks (which importantly don't measure "intelligence", but something more narrow):
Even though we are doubling the compute available to AI every 3.5 months, so a factor 10x per year, since say 2015, so some 10.000x, the classification performance as measured by top-1 accuracy on ImageNet had barely moved. Now arguably top-1 accuracy on ImageNet is probably not the best measure, but still that seems somewhat striking. The diminishing returns are visible elsewhere too, even that Open AI Rubic's cube is somewhat indicative.
From an outside perspective, it seems that everyone is coming around to the fact that self-driving cars is harder than expected. There are no "exponential gains" in that field -- to the contrary, it seems like 90% of the problem was solved several years ago, and you can now take undergraduate courses that teach the basics.
But going from 90%, to 99%, to 99.9%, etc. is taking decades, not months or years. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong with the current approach.
I believe at the time the OpenAI blog post was supposed to be "impressive". Certainly I felt a bit of that -- "hey something important is going on there!" I believe that in 10 years it will look like a waste of effort. There will be a different, more efficient approach to solving these types of problems.
Peter Thiel is one of the only "major tech figures" speaking out against AI, which I appreciate. And the "AI is communist" meme is pretty memorable, and I don't think wholly inaccurate. I listen to him for his contrarian opinions.
I just wish he didn't have these random "tribal conservative" outbursts. The most recent one was a video on here where he was rambling about Obama saying something far worse than George Bush and the Iraq war. I guess it was about sending their daughter to Harvard, but saying that lots of schools are just as good.
He was trying to get some points from his conservative audience. I guess it gets attention, but that kind of tribalism undermines the rational points that he generally makes.
(I realize the OP doesn't feature Thiel but he was brought up elsewhere in this thread, and is one of the people also lamenting the lack of technological progress despite investment, although maybe due to lack of investment in certain areas too)
This topic is one that Peter Thiel has been talking about for over a decade. I have a general theory that whatever smart people are talking about now, Thiel was discussing 10 years before. This is why I always try to find out everything I can about what Thiel is talking about today - it’s like getting a glimpse into the future.
> what Thiel is talking about today
what he said 10 years ago is more actionable
To be honest though, I feel the opinions and speech of billionaires are amplified in our media so one should always be more critical and cautious of any of their projects, because money gives the ability to shortcut a more critical vetting of the effort.
What your source points out is that the agreements Cowen made as a general director of the Mercatus Center seem to violate standard academic norms and "fall short of the standards of academic independence I expect any gift to meet."
The growing YIMBY movement calls for, among other things, some deregulation of our cities so that more housing can be built. A broadly left-leaning movement pushing for fewer regulations might be something the average libertarian might find encouraging, but galaxy-brain Cowen seems to take the opposite tack in some of his argumentation, that maybe all that regulation is good.
That, and he seems to enjoy just saying random provocative stuff. Today it's that Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg are great orators: https://twitter.com/dwallacewells/status/1201544920110174208
I much prefer his co-blogger, Alex Tabarrok, who seems much more a straight-shooting libertarian-ish econ guy. I mean, you can disagree with his conclusions or policy ideas, but it's much more "what you see is what you get". He's someone I'll read even if I disagree, since it's often reasonably well argued.
I got confused when Collison said that there was scientific evidence that business productivity increases with improved management practices. That’s the thesis of business schools and management consultants. What’s the new idea here?
1) What’s the difference between “Progress Studies” and economics?
2) When businesses acquire their competitors, does this accelerate or inhibit progress?
Ctrl-F management on his research page (https://nbloom.people.stanford.edu/research). In one paper, they randomly assign consulting services from a management consultancy to manufacturing plants in India and found a 17% increase in productivity.
He has a lot of other work showing correlations between management and productivity at much more scale, but this was the one attempt (that I know of) trying to establish something more causal
In theory, a monopoloy would be because you can make more profit and constantly reinvest more than any competitor into making better products and holding your monopoly.
Unfortunately, that doesn't happen in practice, because monopolies tend to buy competitors in order to stifle competition rather than reinvesting and building a better product.
So I think acquiring competitors tends to inhibit progress because you are wasting money that you could be reinvesting into building a better product for society.
But there's the obviously counterexamples of companies hoarding billions and not paying dividends because they don't know what to do with it.
It does sound a bit "Economic history. You've invented economic history." Mind you, VC/Koch-style libertarians are the only people who could be accused of that, given the recent beef between self-described economic historians and self-described historians of capitalism.
Reminder that Stripe as a company put out a position opposing Prop C. The hypocrisy, I guess.
Someone needs to update pg's 'founders should live in the future' to specifically include FAGSLC as the future, because otherwise we're just wasting heat.
For those having trouble parsing that acronym.
Isn't this just because the US was riding off of the coattails of two world wars and being _the_ global superpower? I wonder what the data says about the rest of the world in that period, probably not so good?
All three participants in this interview discuss the "exponential inputs, linear outputs" problem/slow-down that industries face as they scale and mature.
Question: how far does ROI have to fall for the growth of an industry to cost more than its returns to society are morally worth? Is this even possible? Or is there an assumption that the market would somehow fix/prevent this scenario?]
 Tyler Cowen, Stubborn Attachments, 2018
Are those really our biggest priorities right now? Should they be? How many more decades are we supposed to pretend the pie getting bigger will cause all problems to ~magically tricklesolve themselves~, because this there is lots of evidence that this is not happening.
It's not an intuitive position for most people, but it's a pretty convincing argument - it's certainly been the most important thing in the last 100 years, in my mind (think the incredible increase in health, standards of living, etc, which, even if they aren't spread close to equally, have benefited literally almost everyone).
Things that appear exponential locally usually turn out to be logistic or cyclic.
I would like to say that I'm surprised that an economist doesn't understand math, but I can't.
If exponential economic growth is possible now, then it should be invested in now. If yields change in the future, investment should be reassessed.
You can arrive at many false conclusions by assuming a false antecedent.
It’s worth reading (and it’s short). The only thing that bothered me about it was what I suspect was a poorly disguised justification of religion via “faith” that I found unnecessary and out of place.
Yes, it's true that here in the US, we set a river on fire that one time. That sucked. We tried to do better, and largely succeeded -- which feeds back into the larger question of why it takes 40x as much time and money to build a subway in the Y2K era as it did in the 1900s.
Point being, with a healthy economy, at least you have the option to do right by your neighbors, your countrymen, and the planet as a whole. That may be what Tyler is getting at.
Although in one part of the interview, his words sent chills down my spine ("I’ve often suggested for graduate school, instead of taking a class, everyone should be sent to a not-so-high-income village...") All three of the participants spent a lot of time and verbiage signaling their historical awareness, but apparently the Cultural Revolution escaped their notice because it didn't happen in Vienna or Edinburgh. I'd like to assume good faith... but holy hell, dude, how'd you think that would sound?
I think one issue with this analogy, is that companies have central points of authority but Western economies don't so much. For example GDP growth doesn't magically fix rising homelessness, and in the absence of central authority it becomes very difficult to address. People often don't like the idea that their "taxpayers money" is being spent on other people that aren't (currently) working.
Nothing magically fixes homelessness, but GDP correlates well with a host of public benefits, including
"poverty reduction and per capita income growth performances are correlated" . All these correlations can be more accurately detailed by searching google scholar.
In the US, it seems homelessness has decreased greatly since it was first investigated in the 1860s as people moved to cities. During the GD in 1930, there were about 2M homeless against a total population of 120M people, and now it's around 500k against a population of 320M.
I'd suspect that GDP rise over those periods helped reduce homelessness quite a bit by providing more resources per capita to address it.
I don't think that's true. For example, in the US, dept of urban housing has this , which shows total number of homeless decreasing despite total underlying population increasing.
More GDP/capita means more resources to fight things like homelessness.
To be clear, we're far away from that today. But the parent is mathematically correct, the best kind of correct.
So let's simplify this argument a little. It's not possible to have infinite growth in a finite universe. By definition infinity > not infinity for arbitrarily large values of not infinity.
Therefore the limit of growth as time approaches infinity is 0.
At some point you reach the physical limit of the system and exponential growth ends. This is true even for digital systems if the digital good involves some physical resource like energy, storage space, bandwidth, etc.
For example, if we keep growing energy usage at the historical rate of 3% a year, we would cook ourselves with the waste heat within 400 years. It doesn't matter where the energy comes from. Now we can get around that by moving off the earth, which buys time, but eventually, also in short order, we'd use all the available energy from our star. We could get around that through nuclear energy sources or widening the area to encompass more stars. But there is only so much matter and energy in the universe. Eventually the show stops.
I challenge you to find a theoretical counter example.
For example, a richer economy might replace physical goods with digital goods which have higher value and lower resource demand.
 Check out Andrew McAfee on More from Less
Increased GDP does not require consuming more resources. Using them more efficiently adds significantly to GDP, so this argument doesn't provide a rationale to claim infinite GDP growth is impossible.
A good example is many advanced economies have increased per capita GDP significantly while lowering per capita energy consumption at the same time (and lowering many other per capita material consumption areas).
Anyhow, let’s say everything you say is correct for today’s wants and needs. But if it is true that society changes and needs change etc, then your argument doesn’t hold for tomorrow.
Suppose for a moment there is only 10 years worth of X left, who is to say that one of these things doesn’t happen:
* X thing is no longer needed because Y thing is no longer in fashion
* X thing gets replaced by other comparable Z material
... and this goes on forever.
That’s the point.
Would be super interested to see your math. What are the inputs and equation that get you to these specific outputs (a few thousand years, all resources, a few thousand light years)?
Humans are encountering the limits of connection and communication. This means that even if the pie grows in the aggregate, we're going to fracture.
(US life expectancy actually declined for a 3rd straight year due to "deaths of despair" like drug overdoses and suicides)
But as for the 18% of GDP on healthcare, medicine is an inelastic good that has severe supply side restrictions (AMA + legislation) and no price transparency. Companies are profiting greatly, it's great for GDP and terrible for people.
Similar for the other "cost disease" areas mentioned: education and housing (though for different reasons).
Slatestarcodex has a good overview on cost disease too: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/09/considerations-on-cost...
I will give you the precis: I think X is important, why doesn't everyone think X is important (usually about five sentences of escalating grandeur about the importance of X), because I think X is important and "no-one is talking about X" you know that I am a real genius...on and on.
Cowen is also an utter ignoramus. He seems to confuse being an economist with having knowledge about literally everything (the mistakes Collison makes can be forgiven, there is no reason why an economist shouldn't realise they aren't an expert on literally everything). Btw, afaik, he is the only economist who has actually tried political philosophy too (again, the ego on this guy)...he made the same kind of trite insights and tried to pass them off as signs of his genius there too.
If you'd please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and take the spirit of this site more to heart, we'd appreciate it.
Just to be clear, whether he has those attributes or not, people like that exist. It isn't unacceptable to say something negative...ironically, as you yourself show by calling my comment "petty". One rule for us, amirite comrade?
Cowen does have knowledge on almost literally everything. If you listen to his podcast he will get into the weeds with experts in a diverse array of fields. When he interviewed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar he asked about specifics of his basketball career and also his writing and political work, when he interviewed an Asian food writer he asked specifics about cuisine in different regions of China. He always seems to have studied the entire body of work of every guest he speaks to every week. He reads and travels extensively. You may still think Cowen's ideas are bad, but he is obviously well-informed on the issues he discusses.
I am not going to do a line-by-line but several things he says in the interview are just inaccurate. That is fine, I am specifically saying that no-one knows everything. The issue is that he goes on to make other points based on stuff he doesn't understand.
As I pointed out too, his career is somewhat chequered. And he has a history of writing grand papers on subjects which he knows nothing about.
The latter is at least arguably true if one assumes that's all the thought he's put into things, but the former statement is just wildly false