The Steel-Man Against Minimum Wage

Before getting started, I mostly agree with these words. I’m not this confident though.

Minimum wage is the correct moral intuition. Some make heaps, others not much. We should be more concerned with people doing it tough.

But good economics asks ‘and then what?’

Businesses like making money. So if coerced into paying workers more, there’s ways to try and stay profitable:

  • Fire employees. Reducing wages to $0.
  • Replace employees with machines. Reducing wages to $0.
  • Outsource work overseas. Reducing wages to $0
  • Cut hours. Reducing total income.
  • Increase cost of the product/service. Making the cash in everyones pocket less valuable (on the margins).
  • Make less effort to make jobs pleasant.

Some businesses can afford to pay minimum wage, others can’t. These businesses die and so do the jobs they created. These tend to be smaller businesses – unnecessarily helping the big guys.

This reduced competition means surviving businesses require less effort to please customers (price, service, quality etc). This means we miss out on great businesses who never get off the ground.

People get upset when big businesses pay low wages. This makes sense if you compare low wages with high wages. But compare low wages with no wages and big businesses are great for the poorest people.

Advocating for minimum wage makes people feel good. But think about it longer and it’s actually condescending. It assumes well off people know what’s best for the poor. It implies they can’t make adult choices (given their circumstances). So government must be paternal and dictate wages they can and can’t work for.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone whose been involuntarily unemployed for years. Remove minimum wage and they might finally gain employment. The pay sucks. But they learn things, become more confident and have something to put on their resume. This can lead to jobs where the pay doesn’t suck.

To learn things that might help future employment, people earn zero dollars and pay money. Compared to that, low wages are a good deal.

Minimum wage does help some people (at least in the short term). Namely, employable people sitting just below that number. But the correct moral intuition is empathising with the very worst off. The long term unemployed and refugees who never earn a cent.

Please tell me why this is wrong on Twitter.

How To Be More Curious

Some people are lucky. They naturally ask lots of questions (curiosity).

Wether a natural or not, curiosity can be improved.

Here’s how:

Get Told You’re Wrong More:

When I was younger, I started to realise I didn’t know much. So I became intellectually humble. I started saying ‘I dunno’ a lot.

I still don’t know much, but I’ve realised ‘I dunno’ often isn’t pragmatic. Better to have ’strong opinions, loosely held’.

A bold conjecture elicits better feedback. You also get told you’re wrong. This makes you want to defend yourself better next time. You’ll effortlessly desire to answer new questions.

To exaggerate this, try exaggerating a little.

Be More Mindful

The ability to witness the mind allows you to engage useful thoughts and observe useless ones.

Without this skill, you waste brain power on crappy thinking. The opportunity cost of an undomesticated mind is useful thinking.

. . . 

The complexion of each moment is unique. It’s infused with circumstance and who you are at that time. How to maximising a moment (or sequence of them) is always different.

Mindfulness helps you notice this, so you can make better choices about wether to consume, generate or consolidate ideas.

It also helps you figure out which questions are most interesting at that moment.

Capitalise on inspiration by aligning actions with interest/mood.

Curiosity Compounds

Whatever your interest, solving problems always leads to interesting new problems. 

To Be Less Boring, Get Bored More.

Boredom creates a desire to do something interesting. 

‘Interesting’ can mean refreshing Instagram repeatedly. But eliminate junk input, and interesting means higher quality questions.

Follow a ‘not to-do list’ and boredom becomes fertile.

Make Daunting Interesting

Some topics appear daunting. 

Molecular Biology used to be for me, but now it’s interesting. What happened? 

I got bored more. But I also found/made an interesting side door to the topic. I studied viruses when I was sick. I fasted for 3 days and learnt what was happening to my body.

Don’t start on page 1 of the textbook.

Learn The Basics

Learning resembles a tree – you start with the foundation (trunk) then add details (branches). The brain turns off when it hears details about unfamiliar subjects. By learning the basics, it has a place to stick the branches. It opens up a world of interestingness.

Do What Works

I think good ideas come when waiting, such as in transit. They also come when engaged in a  low stimulation task, such as walking or a long shower.

I think it’s because there’s no decisions to be made. This frees up mental resources.

Regardless of why – spend more time walking, in the shower or doing whatever works for you. A change of scenery seems to help too.

Get Healthy

The most underrated aspect of intellectual growth is energy management. Make choices to increase sustained energy levels and your brain will be more interesting.

Deliberately Ask More Questions

Thinking is largely the process of asking and answering questions. To think better deliberately ask more questions.

For me, this is best done on the page.

Scale Personal Problems

For example, if interested in eating healthy, ask how to improve the diet of 100,000 people. Big thoughts are exciting, which stimulates the mind (h/t Lulie).

Why Don’t Men Talk About Their Problems?

Explanation 1: Cultural norms.

Explanation 2: On average, women naturally get more out of talking through problems. They then project their experience onto men. Men are naturally less compelled.

— 

I think both are true. Cultural norms discourage too much openness amongst men. On average, men also get less out of talking through problems than women.

I’ve tried talking through problems with women. Not because I feel compelled, but because I think it’s what they want. Each time I’ve tried I felt worse. And no, I don’t think I ‘push them down’. 

We live amongst some dinosaurs with 60’s values. But in general, I think culture does a decent job on this. Excess openness is discouraged. Openness in the wrong context is discouraged. Don’t talk too much about your ex on first dates. Don’t cry about your problems with strangers. 

But on average, a pro athlete talking about mental health struggles is applauded. Some tears during a best-man speech are endearing.

Fans of ‘The Patriarchy’ to explain the world haven’t caught on. Culture changed a lot since the 70’s.

I don’t think they ever will. Among 7 billion or so people, there will always be examples of misogyny. Just like there will always be some theft.

Are Supplements Worth It?

I used to take heaps of supplements.

Then I realised we don’t know much about how supplements effect the body. It’s hard to track second order effects of an input into a complex system. Even if the science is done well.

So as a hedge against limited knowledge, I stopped ingesting things my ancestors wouldn’t have.

I still believe this, but I take supplements again.

Why?

Some pills provide energy. Using this energy, you might make better health choices. It might be the difference between eating a mound of cake or not. Using this energy, you might get more done. Getting more done can be good for the psyche.

Some pills help provide calm. Using this calmness, you might sleep better. It might result in less shitty thoughts. Less stress is healthy.

There’s a spectrum of risk with supplements. I’m still very conservative, but sometimes the tradeoff is worth it.

FYI some stuff I use: Lions Mane, Rhodiola, B Complex, Zinc, Magnesium, Ashwaganda, Carnityl, Creatine, MCT shots.

Can a Layman Question Climate Change?

I know little about climate science. So I should just believe the experts right?

If a physicist tells me ‘we know’ something about physics – I’ll believe them. Same goes for a chemist or molecular biologist.

Climate scientist? Not so much. 

Here’s why:

A young physicist wants to make a name for themselves, so they try and prove conventional physics wrong. They’re probably wrong. Then other physicists point out their errors, specifically. Their incorrect criticism is welcome.

This is good science – a culture of criticism.

It’s a major reason physics has been so successful. The ideas are fallible. In this hostile environment, most ideas end up in the graveyard. The one’s which survive are winners.

It is always necessary to jump up and down on the scaffold of knowledge to make sure it is solid – David Sloan Wilson

A young scientist criticises conventional climate science. The response?

‘Science Denier’ ‘Climate Denier’. Engineered ad hominems.

Unlike physics, climate change is politicised. If one jumps up and down on the scaffold of knowledge, their reputations and careers could be in jeopardy. On the margin, these disincentives silence critique.

Believers in climate change evoke scientific consensus. Kinda like me deferring to a physicist. But in physics, ‘consensus’ isn’t uttered – it’s either true or not. ‘Scientific consensus’ is usually uttered to try and persuade.

But 97% of climate scientists agree?!

This was taken from a small sample of scientists, they agreed that:

The climate is changing. Humans are influencing this change. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.

There was nothing in there about how harmful it would be. 97% of scientists don’t agree on that.

Claims of ‘scientific consensus’ are usually unscientific.

———————

‘Imagine how much harder physics would be if electrons had feelings’ –Richard Feynman.

Another reason physics is so successful is that it’s conducive to the scientific method. It’s (generally) easier to control variables.

Climate science is not conducive to controlling variables. It’s a complex system. We try to map this complexity by using predictive models. Ask a scientist if these models are imperfect, they’ll say yes. But in reality this gets forgotten. Some scientists, much of the ‘skeptic community’ and laypeople conflate these models with hard science.

Unfortunately, we don’t have 30 identical realities where we can fully manipulate the carbon variable. We could have confidence in that experiment.

We can look back at the empirical success of prior models. People will point to some which have proved accurate, but this doesn’t tell us much. There have been lots of models. With a big enough sample, you can always cherry pick to confirm a bias.

A meta analysis of prior models would be informative. But how much data is missing because of publication bias/file drawer effect? Especially given the disincentives I talked about.

——————

‘Step 1: Look at how emotional each side is. Step 2: Assume the less emotional side is right and the more emotional side is wrong’ – Bryan Caplan

Once upon a time there was a perfect Garden Of Eden. Then humans came along and ruined it – original sin.

This story is Lindy. It resonates in our bones. For many, this intuitiveness creates a bias towards it. No one cares about asteroids destroying everything because we can’t feel guilty it.

From an evolutionary perspective, worrying about unlikely catastrophe isn’t irrational. It helped us survive (see Skin In The Game). But it does help explain why climate change is so politicised. 

Lefties who hate capitalism dig the narrative. Righties don’t like government coercion or Al Gore. 

There’s less emotion when discussing protons.

Like Taleb, I’m skeptical of the models. But too much of a single input into a complex system could push it too far (carbon). Even if catastrophe is really unlikely, it’s worth taking seriously as we currently have one usable planet.

The counter to this argument? There’s lots of potential catastrophes. Asteroids, nuclear war, pandemics, future black swan technologies etc. Does climate change deserve special status?

In trying to hedge against this risk, it’s questionable the approach taken has been very effective (see Bjorn Lomborg). 

Perhaps we’d be better off focusing on research and development. To make nuclear safer, make current tech cheaper or create a black swan tech. Ideally we get to a world where a green tech is also really cheap. Apparently there’s 100x spent on subsidies as R&D.

Or maybe we should do nothing from the national level. Leave it to states to reduce local pollution. Focus policy on getting as rich as possible so that solutions can be made from the bottom up. Notice there aren’t any Elon Musks coming from Venezuela.

Maybe I should have more faith in climate scientists. Maybe there is normal scientific dissent in the technical jargon. Maybe it’s only when non-technical enough for journalists that stupidity arises. Simply responding to consumer demand to confirm biases.

Perhaps the scientists are doing a decent job, we just don’t want to hear them.

This is something I know little about. If I’m wrong, please tell me how – specifically.

Why Meditate?

I love thinking. I’ve also spent years trying to do it less.

Why?

Seasoned meditators often advise against progress.

‘Just sit’

‘No goals’

They’re right too – at their skill level. That’s wrong for beginners though. Beginners need to put in time and make mistakes. This requires motivation. Motivation comes from a reason.

There’s deep things to say about meditation, but this post has none of that. For experienced meditators, it’s a little wrong too.

Instead, it’s the reason to get started – the ‘why’.

Continue reading Why Meditate?

Why Travel?

I got back from Oman recently (verdict: it’s ok). I’ve travelled a lot, but recently I’ve being weighing the benefits.

I’ve realised the best part about the journey (more so than the destination) is the effect it has on my thinking. New countries provide surprises. Stuff you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. But the mind changes beyond this.

I think because:

Different Input:

We’re less in control of ‘I’ than we think. Going to multiple new counties in succession helped me realise this. Different input = Different output.

Different People:

You share beliefs with friends. Being around different people provides distance from these ideas, allowing you to reassess them.

Change in routine:

I find this un-automating of decisions leaves the mind scrambling. In the scramble, neurons wire together in interesting ways.

Continue reading Why Travel?