Category Archives: SSC Atlanta

The looming specter of the Murder Ghandi

One of the things that came up at the last SSC Atlanta meetup was the notion of the Murder Ghandi (read the link for an explanation). It’s easy to think of the whole concept as a good example of slippery slopes, i.e. where the same person faces different incentives over time. However, I think the true point is a bit more lasting than that – and much more useful and interesting.

The “make me 1% less pacifistic” pill does not just change the incentives – it is fundamentally a transformative experience for the pill taker. The person who takes the second pill is not the same as the person who took the first pill. The person is different, not the incentives. This should be explained by mathematical formula.

The Seventh SSC Atlanta Meetup – the Devil Advocates!

I’ve waited a bit too long to write this up, as I’ve forgotten the salient links I was going post – the gist of it

  1. We did not make technological predictions
  2. I did my best to play the devils’s advocate position and come up with any defensible restrictions on free speech – it was quite difficult and I did not succeed.

One thing that did occur to me is that that everyone who goes to these sorts of things is all on one side of the “Atomized individual vs member of society” spectrum. I need to explore that a bit. And as promised, for a view from very much the other side of that spectrum, here is the long memory. It’s good to listen to people who don’t agree with you, and indeed are playing an entirely different game.

The turnout was good – five people IIRC.

Small groups produce abstract thoughts – the sixth SSC Atlanta meetup notes

It was a small group this time – just three of us, but good conversation. Out main accomplishment was to conclusively determine that the use of the word socialism as too vague – old school socialism of the 1920s Soviet sort will be referred to as “planned economy” or “central planning”, whereas the new “socialism” as espoused by millennial and their dreadful habits of using the same word to mean different but related things will be replaced with “Bismarkian social insurance” or some better term we come up with later.

Notable topics in their absence

  1. Guns
  2. Psychedelic medicines
  3. The Soviet Union
  4. The deeper meaning of infrastructure costs

And here is a better explanation of Tyler Cowen’s thought on infrastrcture costs – from his book “The Great Stagnation

ow let’s think about government in this framework. Let’s say government spends $1 million fixing a road: How much does that contribute to measured GDP? $1 million. No consumer “buys” the road, but the expenditure counts nonetheless toward the output of goods and services. In other words, in measured GDP, we are valuing the expenditure at cost. Sometimes governments sell their outputs in the form of goods and services (think of user fees for national parks, or toll roads), but mostly that’s not the case, and fees account for only a small part of what our government does. We typically resort to valuing government outputs at cost, and indeed it’s not clear how else we could do it.   Sometimes government outputs are worth a lot more than what we spend on them, and sometimes they are worth a lot less. The proper role of government in society is beyond the scope of this discussion. But still it is a general principle that the most fundamental functions of government are worth more than the extra, addon, or optional things that governments do. A dollar spent on very basic police and courts and army protection is worth more than a dollar spent on refurnishing a warehouse in Minneapolis under the guise of urban renewal. A dollar spent on welfare for the poorest is more valuable than a dollar spent extending the program to better-off but still poor cases. And so on. Yet when it comes to national income accounting, and measuring GDP, we are valuing every one of these different expenditures at $1.


Have you ever wondered why so many developing economies—the successful ones, I mean—rise to prosperity through exports and tradable goods? There are a few reasons for this, but one is that the external world market provides a real measure of value. If you are exporting successfully, it’s not based on privilege, connections, corruption, or fakery. Someone who has no stake in your country and no concern for your welfare is spending his or her own money to buy your product. Trying to export is putting your economy to the test every day with measurable results. If you can pass this test, it is a sign of better things to come. The successful East Asian economies, including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, understand this point well. Again, the market is a pretty clear measure of economic value. The more we move away from market tests, the harder it is to tell how we are doing in productivity.

Natural Aristocrats hire lawyers with their UBI – then get murdered by Bolsheviks – The fifth Atlanta Slate Star Codex meeting notes

The fifth Atlanta SSC meetup was a success – there were two new faces for a total of five. We met at the usual place (Hodge Podge) and discussed:

  1. Industrialization – in a generic sense
  2. Technological unemployment (a lot)
  3. Inequalities in the criminal justice system
  4. Universal Basic Income (a lot)
  5. Gulag death rates – originally quoted as 5% – but that seems to be deceptive – see this link for more (short version – the numbers were juked – they would move the inmates about to die out of the camp when they were near death)
  6. Negative rights
  7. Humanism (I think described as socialism)

Thoughts that occurred to me after the meeting

  1. Is there any evidence that UBI creates something other than the negative social attributes attributed to welfare dependency – I think Native American tribes have something like this with gambling revenue, and Alaskans have something like this with oil – is there any evidence based on that?
  2. The government has a monopoly on the supply of law enforcement and criminal justice. Given how a person feels about that does that make you more or less inclined to give government a monopoly in health care, or anything else? Does that alter one’s opinion on extending government health care, or socialism in general?
  3. Is there a bias to being innocent in the courts? If so, then the point made about publicly funding criminal lawyers weakens.

There were many other topics – there was more ideological diversity at this meetup, but I’m too late in publishing this anyway. We shall begin the next meetup by creating useful definitions of socialism and communism before any other discussion.

Tin Foil Hats are Comfortable – the Fourth Atlanta SSC Meetup

Last Saturday we had the fourth Slate Star Codex Atlanta meetup, with two new members (yay) for a total of five. We rambled on for about three and a half hours. Topics included

  1. Guns
  2. The math of revolutions and violent uprisings (historically more likely than I’d ever actually thought)
  3. Negative effects of smoking cessation (one of my pet theories)
  4. Creating a regional form of government between states and the federal government (the more I think about this the more I like it)
  5. LARPing
  6. Nootropics
  7. Relations between police and the citizenry
  8. And many more

The title line of the meetup came from new member BJ. The next meetup will be in three weeks or so, probably in the same place.

Here are the links

  1. The Great War and TimeGhost
  2. Handwaving Freakoutery

The second Slate Star Codex Atlanta Meetup

We had the second monthly Atlanta Slate Star Codex meetup yesterday and a fine time was had by all.  Fewer people attended (only four) – but I found the conversation just as interesting – it lasted the same amount of time too – a little over three hours.

Topics included

  • Wonder drugs and self-reported results
  • Machine learning
  • The evils of the modern medical system
  • “Lodge Doctors”
  • China and enlightened despots
  • Infrastructure spending

And for those keeping track at home – the economic theory I tried to explains  was Solow’s “Steady State Theory of Capital” – essentially  over time the depreciation of existing capital (essentially the same as infrastructure in our conversation) will equal investment – therefore leading to a leveling off of capital goods/infrastructure and growth.  Short version – every thing rusts – the more stuff you have, the more rust.  And also catch-up growth, and cutting edge growth.  My thought (with phrasing in hindsight) is that America is in a cutting edge growth phase, with an old population, whereas China is still in catch up growth, with a young population (albeit one aging rapidly.)

The next meetup will be at the same place – sometime soon after Thanksgiving.

It’s a real problem for people, but – the first Atlanta Slate Star Codex Meeting was a success

“It’s a real problem for people, but…” was the one-liner of the day, spoken by Nathan about the incentives faced by hospitals.

The first Atlanta Slate Star Codex meetup (that I’ve been to) was a smashing success.  We had one RSVP (who did not show) and seven attendees, which makes for a wonderful meetup.  The number was right (and the SSC readership  behaves quite well in groups) for everyone to be in on the conversation with no need for direction.

The topics of the day included

  • Brain chemistry and optimization
  • Melatonin (but not sleep in general, I found interesting)
  • Sleep in particular (particularly sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming)
  • Guns (group consensus – they’re awesome – (that surprised me))
  • Niche groups
  • Self-Selection
  • Ingroup/outgroup (a lot)
  • Mental illness
  • Optimizing credit card usage/gaming the system of rewards, bonuses
  • Machine learning/AI (of course)
  • Books (of course – Kolmya Stories  and American Hippopotamus were the ones I was talking about)
  • A couple others I’ve forgotten about

The meeting had no structure or set topics and the conversation just drifted happily.  I am setting up another meetup for next month, probably at the same place.