Links - October 25, 2017
- Just own the damn robots Joshua Brown - The Reformed Broker
Brown brings up Vonnegut’s Player Piano, which features a dichotomous society where “only engineers and managers have gainful employment and meaningful lives.” Connecting the novel’s dystopia to the present isn’t too hard to do. What’s interesting is Brown’s connection to retirement investing. The origins of retirement come from not being able to do your work - i.e., losing your good hand, and with it your ability to work the land. Only in the past few decades did this financial structure evolve to the 401k’s and IRAs as we know them today. What if we’re going back to the origins of the model, except not as insurance for health, but for disruption? Replacement insurance. We invest in FAANG and reap the benefits.
- Ur-Fascism (1995) Umberto Eco - The New York Review of Books
So much of this seems familiar. The “thinking as a form of emasculation” and the attacks on “modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for betraying traditional values.” Reading Eco’s memories of his childhood in Italy, and comparing them to today’s environment is frightening. In short some features of fascism as described by Eco are:
- Cult of tradition.
- Rejection of modernism.
- Veneration of action for action’s sake.
- Repudiation of criticism - disagreement is treason.
- Fear of difference, structured against the intruders.
- Appeal to a frustrated middle class, suffering from an economic crisis, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.
- Lack of a clear social identity. The only privilege is to be born in the same country, with identity defined by enemies within and without.
- Shifting rhetoric - the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.
- Life as permanent warfare.
- Aristocratic and militaristic elitism, which implies contempt for the weak. Power is based upon the weakness of the masses.
- Heroism as the norm, which leads to a cult of death.
- Disdain for women, and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits.
- No Individuals rights - The People conceived as a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. The Leader pretends to be their interpreter.
- Impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. Newspeak.
Anyway go read Eco instead of my crappy summary.
- Uber is charging drivers to work Alex Rosenblat - Medium
Uber, like most modern companies utilizes randomized and semi-randomized experiments all the time to imporve their product. In most cases, these are externally labeled as promotions, or offers. In a strange case of these “deals,” Uber recently offered its drivers to pay a fee for the chance to get higher pay rates in the future. However, since Uber has nearly full control of the system - and specifically, the dispatch - this smells like a scammy pay to play. How can drivers trust that Uber won’t throttle their rides as they get near the break-even? This is hard to prove, unless you’re Uber. Over on HN, the discussion turned to ways that Uber could be cut up in an antitrust case. One company as the dispatch, the other handles the rest. That could work. We’ll have to wait and see what happens now that Lyft has some new air.
- Intellectual Property for the Twenty-First-Century Economy Joseph E. Stiglitz, Dean Baker and Arjun Jayadev - Project Syndicate
I recently had a conversation with my girlfriend about how IP is a system of the past that is about to change. Here, Stiglitz and friends agree with me, and say that the solution should look a bit like open source software, but don’t really give a good answer to the question at hand: how can we change international IP law to maximize welfare in the long run? I’d love to learn more about this topic.
- When the Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy Susan Dominus - The New York Times
We’re humans and, inevitably, we tend make examples out of innocent people when we try to solve hairy problems. I am sure there are ten psychology papers about this somewhere, most unreplicable, and most covered in some pop-science magazine with an accompanying TED talk. I am sorry for Cuddy. What she’s going through must suck. However, I am convinced that the overall movement will benefit the field, and science as a whole.
- Our Model Fred Wilson - AVC
I realize that in a way this is an ad for USV, but it is also a good explanation of how the VC business works, and its cyclical nature. I wish Fred had expanded more on how the new paradigm of cryptographic tokens and decentralized applications will change their model. I guess that’s the secret sauce, and we’ll have to wait and see.
- After the end of the startup era Jon Evans - TechCrunch
I can’t remember where I read (heard?) this argument, but I think the real issue is not so much that there is no upcoming technical revolution, but that the behemots have learned to disrupt themselves. The FAANG companies are pouring resources into areas that undermine their cash cows. Google is investing in one-shot answer voice assistants that can’t show ads. Apple is developing hardware like the Watch and the AirPods, whose goal is to distance us from our iPhones. Whatever can’t be done in-house in a reasonable timeline is solved by acquiring or copying. This hampers bottom up Clay Christensen style disruption for sure, but I am by no means as bearish as Jon Evans is in his piece. Technology never ceases to amaze us, and the paradigms keep changing. More on this topic, by Farhad Manjoo here.
- Why You Don't Know Anybody in the Military Justin Fox - Bloomberg
The demographics of the US Military are interesting, but I won’t pretend to know anything about them. The fact that there is such a strong divide on who signs up for it is a problem. Eventually, seemingly cohesive identities break. The distance is not only geographic.
- Faster Growth Begins With a Land Tax in U.S. Cities Noah Smith - Bloomberg View
When I first read George, it just clicked. It seems beyond logical that windfalls should be taxed at a high rate, especially when said taxation is paired with a fixed market size. If you want to go back to the source, read this excerpt, but Noah’s piece is a good window into how the land lays today. Pun intended.
- A Letter to Jamie Dimon Adam Ludwin - Chain.com
A lucid explanation of the technological breakthroughs of Bitcoin and other cryptographic assets. A bit long, but worthwhile. Ludwin’s main point is that this technology created a new kind of asset - one that enables decentralized applications to be financed and operated. Whether there is a real need for these DApps is still TBD, but Ludwin is (cautiosly) bullish in the long term. The Dimon thing is just clickbait, and Ludwin hedges his bets by acknowledging the frothiness in the crypto market. As an aside, Nick Tomaino’s The Slow Death of the Firm from earlier this week is even more bullish on decentralized applications, and also a good read.
- One person's history of Twitter, from beginning to end Mike Monteiro - Medium
More on the social cost of Twitter, and the kind of dynamics enabled by having social networks without strong principled moderation. It is always intriguing to read opinions that have morphed over time, and to go back to the origin story that most observers can’t tell first hand.
- Megan McArdle on Internet Shaming and Online Mobs (podcast) EconTalk
Totally related to Monteiro’s post above. McArdle and Roberts discuss how internet communities have inherited all the bad things about small-town dynamics, but shed most of the positives. When all of history is a few clicks away, errors become much more costly. This is one of the better EconTalk episodes in recent memory.
- Platforming the Future (podcast) Andreessen Horowitz
Hearing Benedict Evans and Tim O’Reilly discuss O’Reilly’s new book was good, but a lot of it was a rehash from the previously shared EconTalk episode. About halfway through there’s an interesting discussion on optimization. We’ve created institutions that optimize for certain metrics at all cost. At the micro level, we have companies building machine learning models to drive engagement, but at the macro level we expect companies to maximize shareholder value. This is a human decision, codified into law to maximize welfare - at least in theory. Perhaps trusting the market mechanisms and the individual search for arbitrage opportunities is no longer enough. There might be other trade-offs to consider in how companies, and the market at large, are run. In a way, the market acquires a life of its own, not too differentt from a paperclip maximizer.
- The Gun Show (podcast) More Perfect
I have been enjoying More Perfect recently. It has good insights into American History, and why things are the way they are in this country. They go deep. For example, there is a whole section of this episode about how the Black Panthers played a key role in the revival of the Second Amendment, and the rights to own guns. I had no idea, and fact that even this has a racial component is says a lot about the United States. On that note, if you have any general American History book recommendations, let me know, I’d like to learn more.
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