Timothy Telleen-Lawton

Executive Director at CFAR starting 2018; Productivity Coach in 2017; Senior Research Analyst and Operations Associate at GiveWell 2013-2017

Timothy Telleen-Lawton's Comments

We run the Center for Applied Rationality, AMA

Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff — Totally changed the way I think about language and metaphor and frames when I read it in college. Helped me understand that there are important kinds of knowledge that aren't explicit.

We run the Center for Applied Rationality, AMA

What I get from Duncan’s FB post is (1) an attempt to disentangle his reputation from CFAR’s after he leaves, (2) a prediction that things will change due to his departure, and (3) an expression of frustration that more of his knowledge than necessary will be lost.

  1. It's a totally reasonable choice.
  2. At the time I first saw Duncan’s post I was more worried about big changes to our workshops from losing Duncan than I have observed since then. A year later I think the change is actually less than one would expect from reading Duncan’s post alone. That doesn’t speak to the cost of not having Duncan—since filling in for his absence means we have less attention to spend on other things, and I believe some things Duncan brought have not been replaced.
  3. I am also sad about this, and believe that I was the person best positioned to have caused a better outcome (smaller loss of Duncan’s knowledge and values). In other words I think Duncan’s frustration is not only understandable, but also pointing at a true thing.
We run the Center for Applied Rationality, AMA

All of these answers so far (Luke, Adam, Duncan) resonate for me.

I want to make sure I’m hearing you right though, Duncan. Putting aside the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of the original question, do the scenes/experiences that Luke and Adam describe match what you remember from when you were here?

We run the Center for Applied Rationality, AMA

Agreed I wouldn’t take the ratanon post too seriously. For another example, I know from living with Dario that his motives do not resemble those ascribed to him in that post.

Misapplied economics and overwrought estimates

What do you recommend if good data is too costly to collect?

I think that if someone has made a claim but failed to use good data or an empirical model, it should not require good data or an empirical model to convince that person that they were wrong. Great if you have it, but I'm not going to ignore an argument just because it fails to use a model.

How much does consumption affect production?

I agree with your definitions of the two curves, although I don't know what point you're making by the distinction.

In either case we can ask, "how much will changes in demand affect equilibrium quantity?" In a constant-cost industry, the answer will be 1:1 in the long-run (as indicated by a flat, or infinitely elastic long-run supply curve), but as you gradually shorten the scope over which you're looking at the market, making it a shorter- and shorter-run supply curve, it will steepen (elasticity decrease) such that the answer is "less than 1:1".

Misapplied economics and overwrought estimates

Great! This is the only 'complete' argument I've seen that our prior for animal products industries should be that they are increasing-cost rather than constant-cost. I'm not as confident as you seem to be, but that's more of a quibble at this point, and I'm glad we agree on the meta-prior!

The challenge then is to convince Norwood and Lusk that we want to know the long-run impact of consumer choices on animal production, not the short-run! They're clearly estimating short-run elasticities since (a) their supply curves are way too steep, even for an increasing-cost industry, and (b) they explain their elasticities with an explanation that is irrelevant to the long-run:

Because it takes a year between the time a cow is bred and the time her calf is born, and then it also takes a long period before that cow can be transformed into beef or produce milk, it is difficult for beef and dairy producers to alter production according to changes in consumer preferences.

Misapplied economics and overwrought estimates

Given our confidence for opposing positions and your credentials my best guess is that there's a miscommunication, in which case my guess on your correctness won't be well defined. Perhaps there's some critical word I'm using colloquially that has an importantly different meaning in economics.

Misapplied economics and overwrought estimates

The most important factor of production in haircuts is human labour. If you double the population of a country, then you double the number of haircuts demanded, but you also double the amount of labour supplied.

To get around the objection of increasing labor, let's assume instead that everyone in the country decides to permanently get their hair cut twice as often as before. What do you expect the real price of haircuts to be in 10 years? Significantly higher, about the same, or significantly less? My prior is "about the same" until I have more data.

More generally (and naively), if I had to guess whether a given industry is increasing-, constant-, or decreasing-cost, two factors I would consider are: 1) How important to the cost of the product are inputs that are finite? How much of the market for those inputs goes toward making the product (as opposed to other uses that might substitute away from that input if the price increases)? 2) What economies of scale exist in the production of the product? To what extent will greater demand-per-person allow firms to approach the maximally efficient scale?

I have not seen these (or other relevant) factors used to advocate that animal product industries in particular should be assumed to be increasing-cost. (However I do appreciate your attempt to argue that our prior should be that all industries are increasing-cost in the absence of better evidence, which I argue against in a separate comment.)

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