• ## Notebooks

Anything tagged notebook is safely skippable by the vast majority of readers. Such posts are a rendering of code and date explorations performed1 in the service of later posts. I include them for the sake of completeness/transparency/intelligibility.

Full post

• ## Meta Monday

There are lots of things that I do habitually. I probably do some of them badly. It seems worthwhile to occasionally re-examine these things, learn about them, and try to do them better.

Full post

1. Rescuing Economics from Neoliberalism

Reductive summary of claims: It’s not that the core principles of economic theory are wrong. The problem comes when we apply those principles with insufficient imagination.

“But isn’t economics a science, and aren’t you one of its most distinguished practitioners? Even though you do not know much about our economy, surely there are some general theories and prescriptions you can share with us to guide our economic policies and reforms.”

So [the visiting economist] begins. The efficiency with which an economy’s resources are allocated is a critical determinant of the economy’s performance, he says. Efficiency, in turn, requires aligning the incentives of households and businesses with social costs and benefits. The incentives faced by entrepreneurs, investors, and producers are particularly important when it comes to economic growth. Growth needs a system of property rights and contract enforcement that will ensure those who invest can retain the returns on their investments. And the economy must be open to ideas and innovations from the rest of the world.

By the time the economist stops, it appears as if he has laid out a full-fledged neoliberal agenda. A critic in the audience will have heard all the code words: efficiency, incentives, property rights, sound money, fiscal prudence. Yet the universal principles that the economist describes are in fact quite open-ended. … And therein lies the central conceit, and the fatal flaw, of neoliberalism: the belief that first-order economic principles map onto a unique set of policies, approximated by a Thatcher–Reagan-style agenda.

2. The Jackson plan: a struggle for self-determination, participatory democracy, and economic justice

The three fundamental programmatic components are:

• Building People’s Assemblies
• Building a Network of Progressive Political Candidates
• Building a broad based Solidarity Economy
3. The Effect of the H-1B Quota on the Employment and Selection of Foreign-Born Labor

The annual quota on new H-1B issuances fell from 195,000 to 65,000 for employees of most firms in fiscal year 2004. … Using a triple difference approach, this paper demonstrates that cap restrictions significantly reduced the employment of new H-1B workers in for-profit firms relative to what would have occurred in an unconstrained environment. Employment of similar natives in for-profit firms did not change, consistent with a low degree of substitutability between H-1B and native workers.

4. Tetris with words

Now you too can feel a visceral frustration at opaque, brittle ML algorithms. Recent lowlights include “von Braun” not matching “rockets” until the third try.

In related news, autonomous cars driving into highway barriers,

5. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s Featured Tall Buildings

Keep the Internet weird.

Full post

• ## Some things which are and aren't Pareto optimal

### Definition and context

Briefly, a scenario (canonically, a distribution of resources across individuals1) is Pareto optimal in a set of scenarios if no other scenario is weakly preferred by all individuals (to be more precise, scenario A is a Pareto improvement over scenario B if no individual prefers scenario B to scenario A and at least one individual prefers scenario A). An immediate consequence of this definition is that Pareto improvement is a strict partial order. That is, in opposition to a total order, not all pairs of scenarios can be ranked; sometimes we can only throw up our hands and say, “I don’t know which is better. They both count as Pareto optimal.”

Economists, policy makers and others like the tools of Pareto optimality and improvement2 because they allow us to make some claims about the societal ranking of outcomes using only individual rankings of outcomes as input. That is, Pareto optimal is a thin concept which does not rely on the analyst’s moral intuition to make any controversial moral claims or tradeoffs. We expect all non-sadists to agree that a Pareto improvement is a moral improvement while we expect some to disagree with the Difference Principle or with Parfit’s impersonal ethics.

### Sets of scenarios without Pareto improvements

Scenario Person A Person B
no. widgets possessed no. widgets possessed
1 0 100
2 1 99
3 45 55
4 50 50
• Scenario 1 isn’t a Pareto improvement over scenarios 2–4 because person A has fewer goods in scenario 1. (We assume that people prefer more goods to fewer.)
• Scenario 2 isn’t a Pareto improvement over scenarios 3 or 4 because person A has fewer goods in scenario 2. It’s not a Pareto improvement over scenario 1 because person B has fewer goods in scenario 2.
• Scenario 3 isn’t a Pareto improvement over scenario 4 because person A has fewer goods in scenario 3. It’s not a Pareto improvement over scenario 1 or 2 because person B has fewer goods in scenario 3.
• Scenario 4 isn’t a Pareto improvement over scenarios 1–3 because person B has fewer goods in scenario 4.
Full post

• ## Innocuous and invidious majoritarian tyrannies

‘Tyranny of the majority’ is a powerful invocation when discussing trade-offs and policy. Using that power well demands careful attention to the meaning of the phrase. There are, in fact, a couple different kinds of majoritarian tyrannies. Invidious tyrannies occur when the majority’s whims overrule the minority’s vital interests to detriment of society as a whole. Innocuous tyrannies occur when the majority’s whims overrule the minority to the benefit of society.

##### Contents

$\newcommand{\norm}[1]{\lvert #1 \rvert}$

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch.

It seems that, in common use1, the term ‘tyranny of the majority’ conflates two importantly distinct concepts.

### Invidious

The first sense in which one can mean tyranny of the majority is the one highlighted in the epigraph. In this form, some passing whim of the majority overrules and outweighs the critical interest of the minority. The wolves’ purely gustatory (pretending that wolves aren’t obligate carnivores) interest in the lamb trumps the lamb’s literally vital interest in living. Real world examples in this category include: Jim Crow laws2; marriage for same-sex couples; often Nimbyism.

### A shift in perspective

Tyranny of the majority is often framed as a majority violating the political and moral rights of the minority. Once we permit ourselves the ontological spookiness that is ‘rights’, it seems only fair to allow ourselves cardinal utility and interpersonal utility comparison. With these tools, we can reframe and make precise the tyranny of the majority described above.

Invidious tyranny of the majority occurs when the weak preferences of many outweigh the strong preferences of the few such that the actual outcome doesn’t maximize utility/satisfaction of preferences3.

Full post

A weblog