Pursuit of Truthiness

my gut tells me I know economics

Archive for the ‘about me’ Category

Returns to Like-Mindedness and Diversity

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I’m spending this week at a seminar put on by the Institute for Humane Studies, which involves people listening to lectures on lots of topics from a libertarian perspective and drinking free beer.  It is odd being in a place where most people around me also love to talk about economics and libertarianism, since the vast majority of Americans are not libertarians or economics majors.  But is this newfound consensus a good thing?

In some ways its great; conversations can flow at a much higher level when you can presume that most participants have taken the same classes and read the same books.  There aren’t many other places people laugh at my “how many Austrian economists does it take to screw in a light bulb?” jokes.

On the other hand, there is the potential for “groupthink”, the lack of imagination and the lazy arguments that are so easy to succumb to when there is no real live person to represent opposing views.  So a diversity of opinion can be good just to keep everyone on their intellectual best behavior.

But there can be a greater benefit to diversity than merely avoiding groupthink.  Sometimes the interplay between varying ideas allows great progress to be made; there can be an intellectual division of labor and specialization.  Richard Feynman said that other physicists thought him a math genius, but in reality he was not better at math than them, he just had a different approach; and though their approaches may be equally good on the whole, they would only come to him with problems to which their approach had failed.  There’s no reason this can’t apply in economics, or even to some extent in political philosophy.

Another way of thinking about this is the diminishing marginal returns of a political philosophy; perhaps a conservative could come here and argue libertarians out of the worst 10% of their ideas, or vice-versa in the real political world if a minority of libertarians can keep the worst 10% of the ruling party’s ideas from becoming policy.


Written by James Bailey

July 12, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Thought Catalyst

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Brain output is quite variable, presumably because brain input is similarly variable.

So when is it that you think best?

For me, its in math classes.  My brain recognizes the diffuculty of the problems being presented, calls up the reserve power, then proceeds to apply it to any problem except the one being presented.  I should really just hang out in math classes all day without taking them and their associated grades.

Written by James Bailey

July 7, 2008 at 2:49 pm

Economics Subfield Interests

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Like all areas of inquiry in the modern era, economics has been broken off into progressively narrower subfields, so that as the sum of human knowledge expands people can still feel as if they have mastered their “field”, however narrowly it has been defined.

With a healthy supply of youthful arrogance and naiveté, I hope I can reach a much broader understanding.

So what is worth studying in economics?

The practical answer is: econometrics. Econometricians are able to use their knowledge of economics, math and statistics to draw inferences from mounds of raw data. In the era of the internet, data is becoming ubiquitous, so its analysis is at a premium; econometricians can go into government, academia, or even the private sector.

The ambitious (power-craving) answer is: Applied macroeconomics. This is the most sure stepping stone to obtaining powerful, unelected government positions in the Federal Reserve, Treasury, or Council of Economic Advisers.

The ambitious (important mystery-solving) answer is: Development, health care, or macroeconomics. These fields each study complicated systems which effect just about everyone in the world. They are each fields into which many highly intelligent and driven people have poured their lives into studying; these people have discovered some simple rules, but the fields remain full of problems that have not been fully solved. These are the fields where the biggest payoff to society at large would accrue if they were to be “figured out”.

Our approach to each of these, especially health care, is likely to undergo sweeping changes in the near future. There is broad agreement of the need to reform health care policy, but very little agreement or understanding of what these reforms could look like. It is extremely possible that the desire for change, the pent-up political will, will be spent making a bad system worse. I hope that when the health care revolution comes, I will be at the policy-wonk barricades fighting for brighter, better-utility future.

Written by James Bailey

June 9, 2008 at 5:27 pm

On Motivation

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I’ve been finding lately that motivation is largely about momentum.  It gets caught in circles vicious and virtuous.  Having fun? Have more fun!  Got some work done?  Great, I bet you’d do well at some more work!

I’m in the virtuous circle at the moment, as long as blogging counts as work.  Accomplishing this post will push me on to great feats of mathematics.

Written by James Bailey

March 23, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Posted in about me, human nature

American Again

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Superbowl Sunday is the new July 4th.

I am officially acculturated and assimilated, purged of French idées and cultures.

Playing basketball was a good start; watching the Superbowl with friends patriotic; but the burgers, mozzarella sticks, and hundreds of wings are the real secret.  This food is enough to make a man’s heart burn with revolutionary fervor.

Written by James Bailey

February 6, 2008 at 4:28 am

Posted in about me, America, bad jokes

How well do you know yourself?

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As I get older and gain some experience in the wide world, I realize that some qualities which I had thought were intrinsic to my being were in fact contingent on something else.

When this happens, it feels a little bit like find out that your arm in detachable, or that unaided flight really is possible if you get the ratio of frosted flakes to beer just right.

Usually, these discoveries are really minor, but some are pretty important.  In middle school and high school, everyone (including myself) thought I was just a quiet person.  To some extent I was just shy.  But to a large extent, I was just chronically tired; I realize that I went through high school in a state of continual sleep deprivation.  Once I went to college and had classes starting at 11, I was suddenly a lot more social; and now I see as clearly as if it were graphed out this inverse relationship.

Conclusion- don’t make assumptions about your body or personality.  Instead, try some natural philosophy, where life is your laboratory.

Written by James Bailey

August 7, 2007 at 2:59 am

Church softball= Moral Dilemmas

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Do *you* think it’s bad sportsmanship to cartwheel onto home plate after your best hit of the season?

‘Cause the other team and the umpire sure did.

Me, I thought it was fun.

Written by James Bailey

August 1, 2007 at 1:33 am

Posted in about me, the church