Archive for June, 2010

Temporal minimalism

Friday, June 25th, 2010

About 18 months ago, I gave away most of my physical possessions in a successful bid for simplicity.

Now, blog writers do craft catchy leads for impact. I could have written, “I gave away a pile of old clothes, books and junk, which collectively comprised 51% of the individual objects I owned.” Yawn. But overdramatic phrasing aside, this action greatly improved quality of life.

But possessions merely chipped a bit from a Sisyphean boulder of excess.  The real application for this “fewer, nicer” philosophy is time and attention.  I long resisted hard decisions, because I have so many interests, in no particular hierarchy.

I finally chose a crucible:  do fun things that have more direct impact on the rest of the world.  The top of that list includes both the whimsical (playing in my band) and the serious (developing, using and publishing investment tactics to clients in 8 countries).

Near the bottom of the list is this blog, which deals in subjects that interest me, but about which I have little leverage for direct action or impact.  So with great reluctance, I conclude it must be the first thing to go.

I write compulsively (figuratively, not clinically).  To prevent posting in moments of caffeine-infused weakness, this site has been converted from Wordpress to static HTML, where it remains readable but not easily editable. Just a safeguard.

And so, to my ~5 readers, I bid adieu.  There will be more blogs someday, I suspect.

Expected value and risk-seeking leaders

Friday, June 25th, 2010

The following is just a mashup of Darwin, SapolskyDawkins and Kahneman, but is interesting, to me anyway.

It’s easy to see how an evolutionarily stable subset of humanity could arise that compulsively takes insane risks to gain leadership positions.

Various primates, including humans, tend toward social hierarchy, with a greater or lesser tendency for there to exist a single male leader that may greatly, sometimes wildly out-reproduce the rest.  For example, the current state of genome evidence suggests that 8% of all Asians are descended from a single male less than 2,000 years ago, presumed to be Genghis Khan.

Evolutionarily, that kind of payoff is worth some risk. A lot of risk, in fact. Even an action with an 90% chance of sudden death (”hey guys, watch this!”) is “worthwhile” if the increase in reproductive success is sufficiently vast.  If the expected return is positive, evolution will make that risk-taking tendency increasingly common in a population, until the odds renormalize.

As a result, it is easy to see how something we today call a pathology — compulsive risk-seeking behavior, as occurs among gamblers, short-term traders, Kennedies, and would-be teapot dictators — is evolutionarily possible.

In Dogged Pursuit of Failure

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

The following policies have all failed consistently, for decades, yet are still actively pursued, with little or no evidence to suggest eventual success.

  • Economic sanctions (Cuba, Iran, Iraq, etc.)
  • Counterinsurgency (Algeria, Vietnam, Afghanistan, etc.)
  • ESL education (actually slows language acquisition)
  • War on Drugs (raises price, attracting more supply)
  • Agricultural subsidies (negative ROI, other market distortions)
  • Government housing (as opposed to successes like special zoning)

I’ll add more as I think of them — there are plenty — but it’s interesting to ask why these things would persist indefinitely, when they always fail.  A big reason may be the lack of transparency that results from a lack of careful, consistent, widely published measurements.