Occupy Wall Street: Predictions, Speculations

by byrnema1 min read19th Oct 201143 comments

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On reddit today I read 'the-Gandhi-quote' on a post about the Wall Street Occupation Protest:

"First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you.."

I'm transitioning, possibly, from the laughing stage and am beginning to feel the tiniest bit excited that perhaps some actual change is in order. On the one hand, I feel sufficiently skeptical about the probability of a 'revolution'. On the other hand, given how fast the world has been changing (the internet, gloablization), maybe change is inevitable and this is the way it happens now.

I know this is a rationality site, not a current affairs site, but when something tweaks my interest I like to know what "Less Wrong" thinks...waiting for a spontaneous post could take forever and finding a 'rationality-spin' would be disingenuous so I'll just ask:

What is possible and what is likely?

What factors are important?

 

 

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It is possible that a more accurate version of the Gandhi quote would be:

"First they ignore you. If this succeeds, you are essentially forgotten by history. Then they laugh at you. If this succeeds, you are essentially forgotten by history. Then they fight you. If this succeeds, you are remembered by history as a villain. If this fails, you win." This of course is far too simple. Further, I don't know the original context of the Gandhi quote. As such, this is more a reaction to the sort of Whig history that the quote seems to generally be used to endorse.

I would agree with you that change is inevitable. However, I do not think it possible for us to know whether this movement will achieve its goals. (Perhaps some individuals on Lesswrong can. However, I am skeptical.) Second, if this current movement has goals, it is unknown whether achieving these goals would be classifiable as progress. However, it is also unknown whether this movement failing would be better than it succeeding.

"First they ignore you. If this succeeds, you are essentially forgotten by history. Then they laugh at you. If this succeeds, you are essentially forgotten by history. Then they fight you. If this succeeds, you are remembered by history as a villain. If this fails, you win.

... unless your cause is subverted or sublimated, in which case you are forgotten by history.

I'm transitioning, possibly, from the laughing stage and am beginning to feel the tiniest bit excited that perhaps some actual change is in order.

The next question is "Will this change be for the better?" (And no LW isn't the place to discuss this as applied to OWS.) I'm always amazed at how many people will embrace "change" without asking this question.

On the one hand, I feel sufficiently skeptical about the probability of a 'revolution'.

Keep in mind that from an outside view most revolutions produce a worse government then the one they replace.

I'm always amazed at how many people will embrace "change" without asking this question.

And, for that matter, without having any concrete idea at all about what the resulting state of affairs is supposed to be, even under the most optimistic assumptions.

Keep in mind that from an outside view most revolutions produce a worse government then the one they replace.

Is this true?

I would say yes but only on average because revolutions are made by coalitions of opponents of the regime.

For example, the overthrow of the Shah was achieved through the combined forces of liberals, secular nationalists, conservative Islamists, communists, populist leftist Islamists, etc. Only for one group was it worth it. Likewise in Algeria (where the secular nationalists won), Russia (where the communists won the civil war, and secular nationalists are winning after the fall of communism), etc.

For the group that wins, the revolution can be considered worth it, but many will be disappointed.

Note that I am taking a more subjective approach to this issue than Eugine_Neir did. I think it is fair for an inefficient ramshackle dictatorship to consider their revolution a success if they get to spread their ideology.

Keep in mind that from an outside view most revolutions produce a worse government then the one they replace.

If that's actually the case, it's particularly remarkable how much progress we've made over the past 3,000 years or so despite the steady march of worse and worse governance.

Or was there some mechanism other than 'revolution' that you credit with replacing some governments?

Some governments have been improved by slow, incremental improvement. Look for example at Great Britain which hasn't had a revolution for hundreds of years but is clearly better off now than it was then. Moreover, even if most revolutions end badly and revolutions are the only way to improve things there will still be a slow tendency to improvement if better governments are slightly less likely to have revolts.

Moreover, even if most revolutions end badly and revolutions are the only way to improve things there will still be a slow tendency to improvement if better governments are slightly less likely to have revolts.

Good point, though depending on the actual figures not necessarily true, especially depending on the starting values.

General worry about mindkilling makes me wonder how good a topic this for LW.

If one wants specific predictions, I will note that Prediction Book has two related wagers to OWS. See 1, 2. However, neither of these addresses issues like success of the movement (or what success would even be defined by). I'd certainly welcome in that context more specific predictions of the results.

General worry about mindkilling makes me wonder how good a topic this for LW.

I almost entirely forgive that due to this:

I like to know what "Less Wrong" thinks...waiting for a spontaneous post could take forever and finding a 'rationality-spin' would be disingenuous

That makes it seem almost worst to me. That means that one knows that it is offtopic and that it has little to do with rationality and posted it anyways.

I don't much care for either of those predictions. I'm happy to see the communicable disease one so strongly estimated against -- seriously, was a single wager anything other than 99% against? -- but that other one is poorly defined. What is "major" violence, contextually?

To the point of predictions regarding the 'success' of OWS: I don't know, right now, that this is a defineable question. It seems to me that not even the protesters themselves know what it is they want, exactly, besides "making things not suck".

The major violence one has a definition discussed in the comment thread. Anything leading to fatalities is apparently the agreed definition. I agree that the communicable disease one is extremely unlikely and not terribly useful (the highest percentage estimate given by anyone is 3%.)

Ahh. I didn't see there was a comment thread for the site. Interesting.

That being said -- is there anything required about intentionality of the fatalities? Pepper spray can kill people with allergic reactions. Tasers can and have killed in the past. A good solid thwack upside the head can kill if you're really unlucky.

But if we restrict it to clearly intended fatalities -- that's just a symptom of protests of duration and volume, more than anything else, is it not?

I don't know. The thread hasn't discussed intentionality. That is probably worth bringing up explicitly there. As to duration and volume- well yes, to a large extent, it is a measure of that. The prediction has a set deadline. So one way of looking at it is predicting certain volume before a specific date.

Ahh. Took a bit of puzzling to figure out where the deadline was -- that "known in 23 days". So really that prediction ought to read "There will be at least one incident of major violence at the Wall Street OWS protest within thirty days." That's a rather significantly different claim than "There will be at least one major outbreak of violence during the Occupy Wall Street protest."

Yes, the website design isn't always great. I generally try to put the deadlines in my predictions but most people don't.

On the other hand, given how fast the world has been changing (the internet, gloablization), maybe change is inevitable and this is the way it happens now.

This is a non sequitur. (And furthermore, it could be used to argue for almost anything.) The amount of change can increase while the proportion of attempted changes that succeed remains constant, and this is probably the case.

[-][anonymous]10y 10

"The Gandhi quote" appears to be apocryphal. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_misquotations .

With today's Internet, when someone says that famous person X said awesome thing Y, the first thing you should do is search for confirmation. It can keep you from being embarrassed.

the first thing you should do is search for confirmation

There ought to be a clever turn of phrase for what Google 'thinks' on the first page verses what you find when you dig a little deeper.

"For every interesting question there is a wrong answer with a high page rank."

[-][anonymous]10y 7

"For every interesting question there is a wrong answer with a high page rank."

-Benjamin Franklin

Intriguingly, no one seems to have any idea where the quote came from.

I know this is a rationality site, not a current affairs site, but when something tweaks my interest I like to know what "Less Wrong" thinks...waiting for a spontaneous post could take forever and finding a 'rationality-spin' would be disingenuous so I'll just ask:

What is possible and what is likely?

What factors are important?

I will add any concrete and precise predictions anyone has to PredictionBook for those that don't have their own account. Just reply to this comment with a proposition.

Having said that, I downvoted because I don't like seeing these kinds of posts on Less Wrong (not that the subject isn't interesting). Mind-killing content like this tends to attract comments full of data-less speculative bullshit.

Sure. I just realized this morning (because it is a new day and I have access to different information in my brain) that what I probably intended to do was post this as an open thread, but I forgot about the distinction between these two places for posting stuff-that's-not-appropriate-for-a-main-article.

Fair enough. I probably wouldn't have downvoted this if it was in an open thread.

I've got an account and added a prediction.

Prediction: New York will start to lose its importance as a financial center in favor of places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, and Shanghai.

Hasn't that, to some extent, already happened? (I would leave Dubai off of that list, though. I'd be surprised to discover an exchange there. The laws of that country don't really favor stock exchange by foreign parties...)

[-][anonymous]10y 2

Typo in the first line, should be spelled "Gandhi."

Thanks, fixed!

Regardless of whether you think Occupy Wall Street is "right," we should still be able to have a rational discussion about the outcomes, and there's one outcome in particular that's been worrying me.

The worst possible outcome, in my opinion, would be if Occupy Wall Street gains enough momentum to become a major political power in the U.S., but not enough to decisively win.

Regardless of what happens Occupy Wall Street will almost definitely polarize the left further from the center, as they have been recently.

If politics is a game of prisoner's dilema, then the Republicans through the Tea Party have been defecting for the past few years, with no sign of being willing to change to cooperate. Meanwhile, the Democrats have been repeatedly cooperating. If this were a normal prisoner's dilemma game, then the Democrats should switch to defecting as well.

But, in government there is a third term, ability to operate. Assuming there isn't a clear majority in all sections of government:

If both parties cooperate, operation is the highest. If one defects and one cooperates, it's lower, but still there. If both parties decide to defect, the government loses almost all effectiveness. And my fear is that Occupy Wall Street will lead to this outcome.

Leaving the specific politics aside... if party A routinely defects and party B routinely cooperates then the system is no more effective than party A operating on its own, and quite possibly less so, and this is reasonably stable unless party A is incompetent enough that it can't even maintain power in the absence of opposition. Whereas if parties A and B both routinely defect the system is far less likely to be stable.

Whether that's better or worse seems to depend a lot on what the outcome of that instability is... that is, if both parties start defecting and the existing system is no longer viable, one important question is: what replaces it, and how soon?

But, in government there is a third term, ability to operate.

How's this different from ordinary prisoner's dilemma?

Assuming there isn't a clear majority in all sections of government:

If both parties cooperate, operation is the highest. If one defects and one cooperates, it's lower, but still there. If both parties decide to defect, the government loses almost all effectiveness.

This is true at most in the short term. In the medium-to-long term the prisoner's dilemma is an epistemic prisoner's dilemma, and effectiveness is determined by the extent to which the people winning the short term prisoner's dilemmas are pushing the "right" policies. If they aren't, the level of "operation" is simply a measure of how fast the car is racing towards the edge of a cliff.

Or as Sir Humphrey from "Yes, Minister" put it:

Well, almost all government policy is wrong, but… frightfully well carried out.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I see a little discussion on intrade but no actual markets up yet.

I would guess that most of the regulars here are sane enough to be able to discuss positive/negative aspects of OWS, but I personally don't want this to be a place where people can turn to estimate the worth of most political events. "Let's see what those smart people at LW think" seems like the wrong approach to me. Most phenomena like this already have lots of expert attention/modeling/research on it, and it would be better to study that.

To really understand the economics of the situation, I recommend a basic economics text, a money and banking text, Mueller's Public Choice text, Olson's Logic of Collective Action, a basic Law and Economics text, Bryan Caplan's book on voters, and a google scholar search for "corporation campaign finance," or "campaign finance election outcomes." Look for papers doing statistical analysis of effect sizes, ignore papers without actual numbers backing the claims. All combined this should get you 1) The size and scope of the problem OWS protestors are protesting, 2) How effective their proposed solutions would be, 3) Blind spots of the protestors/media, 4) What's unique and what isn't with regard to this recession, etc.

I'm sure a sociology expert would have some offerings on the likelihood of the protest to create lasting political change, the probability of violence or worse resulting from it, and so on. But I really recommend digging into Google Scholar and finding out for yourself.

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What is possible and what is likely?

Many things related to the topics the protest began about/is now about are possible. Many are the sorts of things that people implicitly bet money on, by deciding how much money to give to each political candidate, deciding which stocks and markets to invest in, etc. Those are good hints for what is likely.

What factors are important?

Not the Wall Street Occupation Protest.