I am just working on a list of rationalist rules I live by, and this is the one I have most confidence in, so it seems a good topic for my first ever post (which will be short as I have to be on a train in 15)

Since people routinely exaggerate risk, and social norms pull us towards the crabs in a bucket effect (especially for women) I want to correct for that. (Preferably without ending up with a giant Rob Me sign over my head, but that's not the direction I err in.)

For example, there was this rationalist walked into a bar. I had a lot of luggage - everything I need for a four day break, including over two thousand pounds worth of electronic devices and binoculars. I am insured, but it would be an especially annoying time to lose stuff. I had a coffee and then I needed the bathroom, which was far away through a lot of people.

I knew logically how little risk there was in leaving all my stuff; a Highland bar in the middle of the afternoon is even safer than where I live in Edinburgh, and no-one was pinging any alarm bells, but I still spent more time than I'd like to admit convincing myself I didn't have to drag the huge bag with me to the ladies and back. Yes brain, even though I'm alone, and the customers are men, and I'm a middle aged woman, and my mother would freak if she saw me... 

Of course it was fine, like it was the last  hundred times. One day I hope to not even have to persuade myself, but meanwhile I notice my prediction was correct and feel just a little bit pleased with myself. 

New Comment
28 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:54 PM

I do hope you asked some particular person to watch your bag for you, which dramatically cuts down on the probability that someone would steal it: ordinary people really do take such an assignment seriously, so you'd be reducing the chances from "someone in the bar is a thief" to "either this particular person is a thief, or this particular person is indifferent to social expectations and someone else is a thief".

Good point, it's what I would usually do and I shall remember to do that in future

I have been leaving my stuff everywhere for years, most times in purpose and telling someone, but also sometimes being forgetful...

I live in a country that used to be famous for people's lack of trust in other people. Nothing ever happened to my stuff. I've left laptops, cellphones, wallets. Sometimes even money in places.
No one does anything. I always thought no one would, but eventually I noticed most people believe otherwise, and I would use it to amaze them by leaving my stuff. It's fun.

One day I hope to not even have to persuade myself, but meanwhile I notice my prediction was correct and feel just a little bit pleased with myself.

Could use the same reasoning when predicting you won't be having a car accident, then being pleased not having bothered with your seatbelt.

When you're unsure if an event is rare or really rare, noticing that an event did not occur in a few specific situations won't much differentiate rare from really rare, since it's the expected result in both cases.

"Rare" might well be enough for purplerabbits to feel happy leaving it there.

[-][anonymous]10y 3

Could use the same reasoning when predicting you won't be having a car accident, then being pleased not having bothered with your seatbelt.

The inconvenience of wearing a seatbelt is much less than the inconvenience of carrying lots of luggage to a toilet and back.

And the potential cost is much higher (even if the odds are somewhat lower).

The way I would approach this is with math, because humans are bad at probabilities.

What are the odds of your stuff getting taken? One in a hundred would still be compatible with 'nothing happened the last hundred times', and one in a hundred is probably a reasonable estimate. Let's go with one in five hundred, since you're feeling lucky.

You have two thousand pounds of stuff in your bag, which would disappear if someone took it. Simply multiply to get the expected loss: 0.002*2000 = four pounds. You trip to the loo cost you four pounds. (If the odds are actually closer to one in a hundred, your trip cost you twenty pounds instead.)

If you're ok with paying four pounds to go to the loo bag-free, then hey, victory is yours.

But remember that you are playing a lottery here, and that it's a net monetary loss in the long run. If your time/effort tradeoff is worth the money then so be it, but make that decision consciously and based on data. Do not try to 'gut feel' your way around probabilities of less than one in fifty.

The OP says that she's insured, so theft of the items would be significantly less costly than £2000.

Or more costly if you factor in the aggravation of dealing with the insurance company. For those that havn't done it before...well, it's not pleasant unless you know exactly what you are doing. Or have a lawyer handle it, which can be its own brand of pain.

Or more costly if you factor in the aggravation of dealing with the insurance company

Presumably if that was the case, she wouldn't have bought insurance...

The last time I dealt with an insurance company it wasn't all that painful (maybe 2-3 hours work). Depending on how the OP values her time of course I suspect the cost would still be quite a lot lower than £2000.

Yes, I would expect 2-3 hours work dealing with it plus a loss of utility for the holiday of around £200. If I cost my time at a tenner an hour that works out at under 50p for a luggage free bathroom break, which sounds pretty reasonable to me.

The cost would be measured primarily in emotional damage done by police and insurance investigators blaming the victim for leaving the goods unattended.

Then it seems the general advice prooffered should be "trust people more, but make sure you insure your expensive items and don't tell the insurers that you leave them alone in a crowded public place."

This reasoning reminds me a bit of Umesh Vazirani -- "If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re spending too much time in airports."

If your stuff has never been stolen, you're spending too much time/effort/money guarding it.

So if I'm in a coffee shop with a laptop, and I think I'll have to hunt around for a seat if I give mine up, I'll ask someone to watch my laptop. It's way less than $5k in value, but it's also both easier to steal and more obviously worth stealing.

About "how trusting should I be", I would like to quickly bring up a bit of the scientific research. I've read a bit of this, and have concluded in high certainty that individual trust gives off a decent positive externality.

Quite a bit of econometric research (yea, it's not the best, but it's what we have) shows that positive levels of trust correlate with higher economic growth.
See: http://oep.oxfordjournals.org/content/56/1/118.short http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-0297.00609/abstract

However, I very much remember reading about how entrepreneurs have lower trust levels than most people on average, but can't seem to find the paper right now.

What I'd imagine is that in general trust helps society, which makes a lot of sense as it allows trade to function. However, it may very well be that the level of trust optimal for an individual is quite lower than that optimal for his or her society. Makes sense if trust is looked at similar to altruism.

In this case, obviously the more trust people have with other people and their bags, the more cases of stealing that will occur. On the whole this may help your surrounding people, as some of these will benefit from stealing. However, the disadvantage would come to yourself at the expected cost of having your stuff stolen.

It would be interesting to factor in not only how much your bags being lost would cost you, but how much they would benefit the person who steals them.

Quite a bit of econometric research (yea, it's not the best, but it's what we have) shows that positive levels of trust correlate with higher economic growth.

Has anyone factored out the correlation to positive levels of trustworthiness?

Yes, this seems to be the key issue. There's a clear causal mechanism that would lead higher levels of trustworthiness to lead to higher growth, but unwarranted trust sounds like asking for someone else to steal your GDP tokens.

The point that's stuck with me from Fukuyama's book on this topic (http://www.amazon.com/Trust-Social-Virtues-Creation-Prosperity/dp/0684825252) is that there's not just one fungible bucket of trust -- the types of people and institutions that attract trust within a society tend to shape and limit the types of organizations that can be formed and sustained. He argues that what permits organizations to both scale (relatively) smoothly and then subsequently persist over multiple generations is the ability of essentially random people to form bonds of trust (as opposed to forming those bonds with family members or relying on the government).

I've got trust issues.

It helps me to clearly identify the potential cost involved should the trust be betrayed. "Ok, that's the loss, I'll live." I also try to inject some priors for the person I'm dealing with - not what they could do, but what they are likely to do.

I've concluded that I've missed far more in opportunities than I've made up for by avoiding betrayal. Life isn't so hard. I try to remind myself of that.

I grew up in New York City in the 1980s which was a high-crime period. I was personally subject to a fair amount of property theft, and became very sensitized to these issues. After moving out of NYC, and getting older, and crime in the US dropping in general, I let go of some anxiety around theft. However, there are some very minor things that help me.

For example, if I ride my bike to a coffee shop, I'll leave outside unlocked, but in view through the window and flip it over on its seat and handlebars. Or thread my helmet strap through the wheel.

My feeling is that little things like that will reduce the likely hood of theft.

Likewise, if I leave my laptop (in a laptop bag) in my car for a bit, I'll throw a jacket over it.

A while back here a few people revealed they were Mr Money Mustache fans. One of the more intriguing blog posts of his I read touches on this topic


More trust leads to less security expenses and more business proposals, thus creating wealth. But is the trust itself at the beginning of this causal chain, or something that enabled the trust? Because that would make a difference in the optimal behavior. Just starting to trust people around you might be a bad move.

As an example, if you are surrounded by bad people, and you start trusting them, you will probably get hurt. As another example, if in the past you were surrounded by bad people and now you are not, it is good to update properly, if you already haven't. (Most people probably don't update enough.) Alternatively, maybe your ability to detect bad people have improved, so the probability of the person you consider safe to be really safe has increased even if your environment stayed the same. (Or perhaps the important ability is to not speak about your ability to detect bad people, so you don't get criticized all the time by the people who don't have it.)

Interesting anecdotes in the article, but I think the guy missed a couple of points.

Part of why Mr. Moneybags was relaxed and secure was his money. He had power. He was likely fully insured for property damage, and fully assured of getting his way should it become a legal matter. Property damage is at worst an annoyance, while it is a bigger deal for people of lesser means.

On the other hand, I'd expect that trust elicits trustworthiness in the majority in those not habitually criminal or predatory. Sounds like something Kahneman would look into. Anyone have citations on this?

I had a similar experience in an LA pub while waiting for my flight out. I asked a couple that was sitting nearby to watch my stuff, and they were kind enough to do so. Less risky than what you did, but still a calculated risk.

I don't think that it's a good idea to use other people behavior as reference. The proper way to handle the situation is to do an utility calcualation.

How likely is it that something gets stolen?

I would guess that the average person has some instances where they trust too much and others where they trust too little. People in general put little trust in strangers but much more trust if they "know" the person. In reality getting to "know" a person doesn't change them. A lot of crimes aren't done by strangers but by acquaintances.

Getting to "know" a person, and sharing a social network with them, raises the cost to them of harming me. They would lose my good will, which could easily be more valuable in the long run than the contents of the bag. I could also harm their reputation by telling others about their crime, possibly costing them other friendships. There is also a filtering process in which evidence that people are likely to treat me badly leads to me not bothering to get to know them better.

New to LessWrong?