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So, it's been a long time since I actually commented on Less Wrong, but since the conversation is here...

Hearing about this is weird for me, because I feel like, compared to the opinions I heard about him from other people in the community, I kind of... always had uncomfortable feelings about Mike Vassar? And I say this without having had direct personal contact with him except, IIRC, maybe one meetup I attended where he was there and we didn't talk directly, although we did occasionally participate in some of the same conversations online.


By all accounts, it sounds like he's always been quite charismatic in person, and this isn't the first time I've heard someone describe him as a "wizard." But empirically, there are some people who're very charismatic who propagate some really bad ideas and whose impacts on the lives of people around them, or on society at large, can be quite negative. As of last I was paying attention to him, I wouldn't have expected Mike Vassar to have that negative an effect on the lives of the people around him, but I was always stuck in an awkward position of feeling like I was surrounded by people who took him more seriously than I felt like he ought to be taken. He evoked in a lot of people that feeling of "if these ideas are true, this is really huge," but... there's no shortage of ideas of ideas you can say that about, and I was always confused by the degree of credence people gave that his ideas were worth taking seriously. He always gave me a cult leaderish impression, in a way that, say, Eliezer never did, as encouraging other people to take seriously ideas which I couldn't understand why they didn't treat with more skepticism. 

I haven't thought about him in quite some time now, but I still distinctly remember that feeling of "why do these smart people around me take this person so seriously? I just don't see how his explanations of his ideas justify that."

Sugar crystal is about 1.5 grams per ml, while human fat is about .9 grams per ml, but fat has more than twice the calories per gram.

we already know European and East Asian populations are probably the smartest genetically because they are the smartest now phenotypically; this has already been conditioned on, so it's illogical to say 'well, we should expect an African subpopulation to be higher'. The race has already been run and the first and second place prizes handed out, it makes no sense to say 'there were a lot of other runners so maybe one of them is in first place'.

It's likely, but I think it's important to remember that there are a lot of environmental factors which can depress IQ, and some populations may have high genetic potential which is being depressed by circumstance.

The Dutch are the tallest nationality in the world today, but 150 years ago, they were among the shorter ones; as average height has risen in Western nations, the Dutch significantly overtook various populations that used to be much taller than they were.

Insurance companies are in a much better negotiating position than private buyers, because they're dealing in bulk, so their expenses are based on paying much lower prices for services than their members would get if they bought individually.

Other commenters have already addressed the difference between expected utility and expected monetary return, but in fact having insurance can have a positive expected monetary return simply because you're forced to pay more when buying the services privately.

The evidence with the Swedish doctors versus the lottery winners though, is that it's something other than just the amount of money they have that leaves their descendants better off.

If the reason that the poor are poor is only that they don't have enough money, then it shouldn't be necessary to keep funneling in more money to keep them from being poor. That is, if a person has a low-paying job, but has income supplementation which gives them the same level of money as someone with a better job, then their children should be as likely to be well off as the children of the person with the better job, because both have the same access to money. But in practice this appears not to be the case.

There's a lot of middle ground between "the poor have less money because they're morally lacking and deserve to have as little as they do" and "the poor have less money only because they started out with less money, and the key to being able to make money is already having money.

Having worked as an educator for some persistently poverty-stricken school districts, I have to say that there being a "human capital" element is definitely attested to in my experience, and I don't mean this simply as a euphemism for "genes." I've seen plenty of intelligent, conscientious young people who are going to be seriously disadvantaged in achieving future financial success, because they

  • Haven't been exposed to standards and expectations that prepare them for how hard they'll have to work to compete with similarly intelligent people from more functional environments.

  • Have absorbed disadvantageous social norms about how to manage money (flaunting it via conspicuous consumption, living ahead of paychecks, not investing for future needs or building up a buffer for unforeseen situations, etc.) because these were the examples that everyone they knew who had any money set with it.

  • Engage in a lot of avoidable conflict, because high conflict interpersonal styles are the norm in the social circles they grew up with (but are not the norm in the social circles they're going to have to move in in more lucrative careers.)

  • Have had their learning opportunities sabotaged, because even when they were capable and willing to engage in a high level of learning, they were surrounded by peers who disrupt their teachers' attempts to create an educational environment.

...And so on.

Not just on a personal level, but on a community level, there are different reasons for being poor, and some poor communities may have very different social norms and values (see Kiryas Joel for instance,) but the norms still tend to perpetuate poverty.

I can't claim it constitutes a large data set, but I've watched a couple of people in these communities regress from being financially well off (due to payouts from having won lawsuits) to being poor again in just a couple of years. And I tried to talk them out of the money management habits that were inevitably leading to that. But while they recognized my cause for concern, they made it clear that they wanted to use the money to gain a few short years living in a way that would make them pinnacles of admiration in their community. Neither of them were dumb, but they were reasoning according to the social norms they'd grown up with.

I don't think program paternalism is necessarily a good solution, since being forced to use resources pragmatically doesn't mean that people will learn to use their resources effectively when they have autonomy over them. But I think it's incorrect to suppose that poor people and more affluent people in general are separated only by the amount of money they have access to, and not by any sort of cultural gaps that act to perpetuate their differences in wealth.

As far as simple wealth transfers having a lasting impact, I think it's likely that the impact will tend to be different in different places. With the cash transfers to poverty-stricken Ugandan women, for instance, as the article says, most of them used the money to set some kind of retail operation in motion. They had the motivation to use the money entrepreneurially, but also, crucially, they had access to markets with relatively low competition and barriers to entry. Give a couple hundred thousand dollars to a poor person in an American city, and they might want to use it to start a business, but not many would be able to start a business with those resources which would turn a profit given the level of existing competition they'd have to face.

In the short term, giving people money makes them less poor, but in the long term, it may not be so effective.

However, our expected healthspan (the amount of time for which a person is capable of substantial physical activity and not beset by ailments) has gone up considerably in the last few centuries. Perhaps the relatively few people who made it to old age in hunter-gatherer societies might have had similar healthspans, but they constituted a dramatically smaller fraction of the total populace. The average 35 year old today has decades longer of healthy, productive living to look forward to than the average 35 year old 300 years ago (sources available in this book) and while people occasionally remark on, say, 50 being the new 30, it doesn't seem to leave most people dazzled or mentally unequipped for their new environment.

I'm highly skeptical that most people actually run out of stuff they take pleasure in over the course of a natural lifespan, or anticipate themselves doing so. Most people may have interests less "open ended" than are the norm here, but I haven't found that people interested in, say, football, tend to find that by their latter years they've had enough of football.

If immortality was available on asking, and some people chose to live forever to pursue their interests indefinitely, I think people who refused to follow their lead because they had simply had enough would be very much in the minority.

I have read the first three since I left that comment (so all but I Shall Wear Midnight,) and I thought they were, at least pretty good, as all the Discworld books were, but as far as younger-readers' Discworld books go, I rate The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents more highly.

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