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The optimist fell ten stories, and at each window bar he shouted to the folks inside: 'Doing all right so far!'

Anonymous; quoted for instance in The Manager's Dilemma


It's rather against the point of the article to start talking about the above examples of privileged questions...

Even so, it's worth noting that immigration policy is a rare, important question with first-order welfare effects. Relaxing border fences creates a free lunch in the same way that donating to the Against Malaria Foundation creates a free lunch. It costs on the order of $7 million to save an additional American life, but on the order of $2500 to save a life if you're willing to consider non-Americans.

By contrast, most of politics consists of policy debates with about as many supporters as opponents, suggesting there isn't a huge welfare difference either way. What makes immigration and international charity special is the fact that the beneficiaries of the policies have no say in our political system. Thus the benefits that accrue to them are not weighted as heavily as our benefits, which means there's a free lunch if overall welfare is what you care about.


"Fairness" depends entirely on what you condition on. Conditional on the hare being better at racing, you could say it's fair that the hare wins. But why does the hare get to be better at racing in the first place?

Debates about what is and isn't fair are best framed as debates over what to condition on, because that's where most of the disagreement lies. (As is the case here, I suppose).


This is much better than my moral.


I will run the risk of overanalyzing: Faced with a big wide world and no initial idea of what is true or false, people naturally gravitate toward artificial constraints on what they should be allowed to believe. This reduces the feeling of crippling uncertainty and makes the task of reasoning much simpler, and since an artificial constraint can be anything, they can even paint themselves a nice rosy picture in which to live. But ultimately it restricts their ability to align their beliefs with the truth. However comforting their illusions may be at first, there comes a day of reckoning. When the false model finally collides with reality, reality wins.

The truth is that reality contains many horrors. And they are much harder to escape from a narrow corridor that cuts off most possible avenues for retreat.


"Alas", said the mouse, "the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into."

"You only need to change your direction," said the cat, and ate it up.

-Kafka, A Little Fable


Joe Pyne was a confrontational talk show host and amputee, which I say for reasons that will become clear. For reasons that will never become clear, he actually thought it was a good idea to get into a zing-fight with Frank Zappa, his guest of the day. As soon as Zappa had been seated, the following exchange took place:

Pyne: I guess your long hair makes you a girl.

Zappa: I guess your wooden leg makes you a table.

Of course this would imply that Pyne is not a featherless biped.

Source: Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion


I've always thought there should be a version where the hare gets eaten by a fox halfway through the race, while the tortoise plods along safely inside its armored mobile home.


That is true. But there are also such things as holding another person at gunpoint and ordering them to do something. It doesn't make them the same person as you. Their preferences are different even if they seem to behave in your interest.

And in either case, you are technically not deciding the other person's behavior. You are merely realigning their incentives. They still choose for themselves what is the best response to their situation. There is no muscle now-you can flex to directly make tomorrow-you lift his finger, even if you can concoct some scheme to make it optimal for him tomorrow.

In any case, commitment devices don't threaten the underlying point because most of the time they aren't available or cost-effective, which means there will still be many instances of behavior that are best described by non-exponential discounting.

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