Gentzel

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Competitive Universal Basic Services?

Vouchers could be in the range of competition, but if people prefer basic income to the value they can get via voucher at the same cost-level then there has to best substantial value that the individual doesn't capture to justify it. School vouchers may be a case of this, since education has broader societal value.

Competitive Universal Basic Services?

Issue there is that implicitly U.S. R&D is subsidizing the rest of the world since we don't negotiate prices but others do. Seems like an unfortunate trade-off between the present and the future/ here and other places, except when there is a lack of reinvestment of revenue into R&D.

Competitive Universal Basic Services?

I agree with your point in general. In these cases, I'm specifically focusing on regulations for issues that evaporate with central coordination: 

- Government is doing the central coordinating, so overriding zoning shouldn't result in uncoordinated planning: gov will also incur the related infrastructure costs.
- If you relax zoning and room size minimums everywhere, the minimum cost to live everywhere decreases, so no particular spot becomes disproportionately vulnerable to concentrating the negative externalities of poverty while simultaneously you decrease housing cost based poverty everywhere.

Competitive Universal Basic Services?

I think I agree with the time-restricted fund idea on competitive commodities as being better than just providing the commodities since there aren't going to be a lot of further economy of scale benefits. 

Having competing services and basic income coming out of the same gov budget does create pressure to not make things as poorly as past gov programs. The incentives should still be aligned, because people can still choose to opt out just like the normal market. 

On food, the outcomes shouldn't be as bad as food stamp restrictions over time not just because of the opt-out option, but also because the data will be more legible to the government and enable better standards over time where we otherwise have pretty bad food science. 

I think people would only opt-in to the food plan if it basically allows them to capture benefits somewhere else within the service package they select (e.g. extra basic income via reducing expected medical bills). Otherwise basic income should dominate a food plan as an option unless the person is looking for a way to tie their own hands.

 

Competitive Universal Basic Services?

I agree that it is a huge problem if the rules can change in a manner that evaporates the fitness pressure on the services: you need some sort of pegging to stop budgets from exploding, you can't have gov outlawing competition, etc. 

I also don't have a strong opinion on how flexible the government should be here. The more flexible it is, the less benefit you get from constraining variance and achieving economies of scale, the more flexible it is, the more people can get exactly what they want, but with less buying power. I do think it is helpful to have the ability to individually opt out of services, and this would be a very useful signal for forcing both the government and service contractors to adapt. I'm not sure just how many services should be competing for a given service niche within the broader system. One idea would be you have a competition to come up with cheap standardized services, and then companies compete to provide them. 

The big thing you are trying to achieve is providing a welfare floor at a much more sustainable cost via competitive pressure combined with the ability to centrally coordinate consumer preferences. The coordination doesn't just give market power benefits, you also have increased legibility that decreases search and transaction cost for consumers and potentially the ability to do better large scale (though still not randomized) experiments in nutrition science and regulation design (e.g. food standards far exceeding regulatory requirements cheaply, exceptions to housing size requirements, etc.)

Competitive Universal Basic Services?

I think this is a good argument in general, but idk how it does against this particular set-up.

When spending levels are pegged, and you are starting out with a budget scope similar to current social programs, some particular company or bureaucracy is only going to capture a whole market if they do really good job since: A: people can opt-out for cash, B: people can chose different services within the system, and C: people can spend their own income on whatever they want outside the universal system.

As long as you sustain fitness pressure on the services, and constrain the competition to performance rather than anti-competitive capture maneuvers, I think it could go well. 

Singapore's health system comes to mind since it is a very low percentage of GDP, has both public and private options, and there is still universal care (though you always face some degree of cost when getting care in order to avoid bad rationing). 

This sort of thing could go very poorly in practice if the government is too corrupt, but in that particular case it seems like there is sufficient fitness pressure on government hospitals from the private sector that they are probably doing a good job. 

Competitive Universal Basic Services?

The goal is to standardize a floor, not to chop up the ceiling. People would be free to buy whatever they want if they opt out. Those that opt-in benefit from central coordination with others to solve the adverse selection problem with housing that incentivizes each local area to regulate things bigger and bigger than people need to keep away poor people, making housing more expensive everywhere than it needs to be and curtailing any innovation in the direction of making housing smaller. It probably isn't a coincidence that Japan has capsule hotels, better zoning, low housing costs, more spread out high speed transit and a lot of wacky houses given its barriers to immigration. Don't forget that most large group houses that people live in are illegal (though enforcement is lax unless something else goes wrong) and that cities all over the place have all sorts of NIMBY policy and rent controls that distort the market. That is the counterfactual you are replacing, there isn't a pure market counterfactual in any big city I can think of, but would be interested to hear. The current equilibrium in most places creates an extremely strong incentive to create barriers to housing innovation, and accordingly they do. Singapore is hyper market oriented and rich as a country, but nevertheless did central coordination on housing to drive down costs and erode the support base for communism (not saying one should copy all their policies of course).

https://reasonstobecheerful.world/singapore-affordable-housing-freedom/#:~:text=In%20Singapore%2C%20housing%20is%20affordable%2C%20diverse%20and%20impeccably%20maintained.&text=80%20percent%20of%20Singaporeans%20live,Singaporean%20context%20in%20a%20moment.)

On the lack of paternalist services, I am getting at why the market doesn't do them by default. If there are so many can you give one example? If you are just talking about gov ones, then we are talking about different things. 

On GiveDirectly, I am incredibly skeptical of unconditional cash transfer vs. other targeted interventions in terms of direct effectiveness and vs. or institutional interventions for the long-term: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/givedirectly_not_so_fast

In abstract, interventions like this have always been possible since there have been political entities that use money, and yet you don't see any country anywhere getting rich via this mechanism. Governments through history instead coordinate and provide services that would otherwise be difficult to provide. When there are  systematic transfers, they are usually conditional in order to sustain good incentives over the long-term.

More concretely, the costs the GiveDirectly RCT gives for roofing costs seem a bit strange once you start reasoning about local prices. If people are so poor they are earning like a dollar or two per day, it isn't going to cost $55 to thatch a tiny roof unless it someone actually has to spend about a month doing it... if metal roofing is less than $1 per square foot in materials I have no idea how you get to a $400 roof when labor wages are so low. 

The Alignment-Competence Trade-Off, Part 1: Coalition Size and Signaling Costs

I think those two cases are pretty compatible. The simple rules seem to get formed due to the pressures created by large groups, but there are still smaller sub-groups within large groups than can benefit from getting around the inefficiency caused by the rules, so they coordinate to bend the rules.

Hanson also has an interesting post on group size and conformity: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/10/towns-norm-best.html

In the vegan case, it is easier to explain things to a small number of people than a large number of people, even though it may still not be worth your time with small numbers of people. It's easier to hash out argument with one family member than to do something your entire family will impulsively think is hypocritical during Thanksgiving.

The Alignment-Competence Trade-Off, Part 1: Coalition Size and Signaling Costs

Yea, when you can copy the same value function across all the agents in an bureaucracy, you don't have to pay signaling costs to scale up. Alignment problems become more about access to information rather than having misaligned goals.

In Defense of the Arms Races… that End Arms Races

I think capacity races to deter deployment races are the best from this perspective: develop decisive capability advantages, and all sorts of useful technology, credibly signal that your could use it for coercive purposes and could deploy it at scale, then don't abuse the advantage, signal good intent, and just deploy useful non-coercive applications. The development and deployment process basically becomes an escalation ladder itself, where you can choose to stop at any point (though you still need to keep people employed/trained to sustain credibility).

I would probably rephase the "good guys" statement in terms of value alignment. For competitions where near term racing risks are low, long-term racing risks are high, the likely winner from starting race conditions earlier would be more value aligned with your goals, then racing may make sense. If initial race risks are high, or a less aligned actor is disproportionately likely to gain power, then pushing for more cooperative norms at the margin makes sense. You want to maximize your ability to foster or engineer risk reducing cooperation before the times of highest risk, and you want to avoid forms of cooperation that increase risk.

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