Archive for February, 2012

29
Feb
12

cool course from Yale

I want to watch this pretty badly. I don’t even have time to shower these days…

http://oyc.yale.edu/political-science/plsc-118

28
Feb
12

Social networks are dehumanizing

I strongly believe this. I wouldn’t leap to this conclusion on the basis of this one study, but it’s fascinating to me. I think solitude and time to be with oneself is critical to making ethical choices.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103111001958

Someone I once interviewed made their most courageous moral decision after going to an abbey for three days taking a temporary vow of silence. Not talking to anyone.

Also, whether you agree with or not, take a moment to appreciate what it would mean if social networks were dehumanizing. We are entering into the greatest “sociality” experiment in human history, where EVERYTHING is made social. Things could get quite bad.

27
Feb
12

Why Equality Doesn’t Matter and Why Prioritarianism Does

People often think equality matters. That it’s important for me to have close to the same level of welfare as the person next to me. That can’t be right though because in some cases — those of leveling down — there is no reason to move a situation toward greater equality because it makes no one better off and makes some people worse off. It makes no sens to take away something from me merely because it would make me live a life that’s closer to the lives of people on some distant planet that we cannot reach. In these cases, equality says to hurt me to push me closer to others, but that’s not ou reaction. Our reaction is to help those who are worse off. There are some lessons to draw from this. 

1. Why prioritarianism? Why is it important to give the same benefits to those who are worst off than those who who are better off? I think it has something to do with the way that pain relates to dessert and possibly even to rights. The reason I have to give a benefit of x to someone who has had a hard life compared to someone who has had an easy life is the fact that the person has had a hard life. This gets tricky though, should we look at happiness across time or at a moment of time. I think it’s over a life time and that we should give benefits to people have had it tough because they have suffered. So, when you volunteer to take on suffering, say, by running a business, you become entitled to things. But wait, shouldn’t happy people who build a business be entitled to what they’ve built? Maybe, but someone who actually loved their business all along, perhaps they are not entitled to what they did. Maybe there is domain specific desert, but then a general desert. What makes a project special is the way that it causes pain and also the way that it causes pleasure. A project is what allows you build general desert but also specific desert. 

2. Usually people think about there being two types of good. Those that are intrinsically good and then those that are only instrumentally good. The mark of an instrumental good is that it’s only good insofar as it brings something else about. You can usually identify such goods because you can imagine a case where the instrumentally valued good is increased, yet the intrinsically valued good is reduced. These cases usually leave us feeling bad, thus revealing that the intrinsically valued good is what mattered all along. For instance in cases where I could be hurt in the interest of promoting equality, we see that equality must be instrumentally valuable because reducing equality doesn’t seem to matter. We only want to make people better off and it’s just that reducing equality usually goes along with making people better off (or making those who are most worse off better off, which is prioritarianism). But there are some goods then do not vary in this way. Take competition. It is better to have two participants that are closely matched. This will create a better competition. However, one can’t increase the inequality of the skill levels of two participants without reducing the competitive nature of the game or sport. So, in this case, I want to say that equality of skill is instrumental to serve the value of competition, but that it is CONCEPTUALLY or NECESSARILY instrumental to that good. Competition and equality of skill move together. 

 

11
Feb
12

Documentary on Solitude

I’m planning on reading a book pretty soon about solitude and the value of being alone, and as with all subjects more and more knowledge is the best way to start thinking broadly and creatively.

So when I saw this documentary, I was really entranced. This photographer, Alec Soth goes around finding people who are hermits or monks or are otherwise completely withdrawn from the world. He then tries to capture their withdrawal, and some of the shots are really stunning. My only quibble is that some of the subjects don’t really seem to fit the project. And what I mean is that some of the people seem to be straightforwardly suffering from very serious mental disorders. So it’s not completely about withdrawal (which to me implies a purposive decision) but about neglect as well.

03
Feb
12

Planned Parenthood and Fungible Money

Planned parenthood is again in the news, and there is a lot of debate about the impact of giving one dollar to planned parenthood.

One side says that money is fungible so that even if I give one dollar to planned parenthood to do cancer screening, I free up a dollar for PP to put the dollar they would have otherwise spent on cancer screening towards the rest of its budgeted activities, one of which is to fund abortions. So, if I give  a dollar to planned parenthood — the argument goes — then some portion of that dollar goes to funding abortions. Megan McArdle makes this argument.

Though I’m pro-choice, I don’t share the outrage that was roiling my Twitter feed this morning.  It is, as Josh Barro noted, absurd to pretend that abortion is somehow incidental to Planned Parenthood’s services, and since money is fungible, giving them money is probably helping to fund abortion provision.

The Washington Post’s Clare Coleman says the opposite.

Opponents of Planned Parenthood insist that giving the organization federal dollars allows it to spend other money in its budget to provide abortions. That is not possible — there is no other money.

Title X is a federal grant program that exists solely to help low-income and uninsured people access contraceptives and sexual health care; 5.2 million people use the program annually. But Congress has never appropriated enough money to take care of the estimated 17 million Americans who need publicly funded family-planning care. There always are more patients than subsidies.

I’m very confused by Clare, and I don’t think Megan is strictly right either.

Instead, to know what an extra dollar would do for abortion funding at PP, we would have to know whether planned parenthood prioritizes certain services and what the priority curve looks like — the budget of PP at every level of funding. In other words, the impact of  a dollar may be different depending on how much money PP already has. Pretend that PP has grown so large that it is financing all the abortions that are asked for in the whole country. Then, if I give a dollar, am I helping to fund abortion? No, because the number of abortions that are performed would be the same whether I gave that dollar or not. There are cases in which it seems that a fungible dollar will not drive an increase in abortion services.

One might object that this is obviously not the position of PP today, and on that, I just don’t know. If I gave a dollar to PP, probably some of it (a small percentage) would go to fund abortions, but it might not. It’s possible that at current levels of funding, new donations are being pushed toward some other service, so that each dollar effectively goes, 100%, to something other than abortion services.

01
Feb
12

It’s striking how little $ Facebook makes

Everyone thinks Facebook will grow, and I’m not a skeptic. How could I be — I don’t know anything about investing.

However, Facebook doesn’t make that much in profit compared to a whole host of other corporations. Home Depot makes 3x more than it. Also in pg. 12 of the IPO, facebook warns about the source of its revenue, and how unstable it might be. It’s just kind of funny to hear Facebook say this itself and acknowledges it.

We generate a substantial majority of our revenue from advertising. The loss of advertisers, or reduction in spending by advertisers with Facebook, could seriously harm our business.

The substantial majority of our revenue is currently generated from third parties advertising on Facebook. In 2009, 2010, and 2011, advertising accounted for 98%, 95%, and 85%, respectively, of our revenue. As is common in the industry, our advertisers typically do not have long-term advertising commitments with us. Many of our advertisers spend only a relatively small portion of their overall advertising budget with us. In addition, advertisers may view some of our products, such as sponsored stories and ads with social context, as experimental and unproven. Advertisers will not continue to do business with us, or they will reduce the prices they are willing to pay to advertise with us, if we do not deliver ads and other commercial content in an effective manner, or if they do not believe that their investment in advertising with us will generate a competitive return relative to other alternatives. Our advertising revenue could be adversely affected by a number of other factors, including: 

 

decreases in user engagement, including time spent on Facebook;

 

increased user access to and engagement with Facebook through our mobile products, where we do not currently directly generate meaningful revenue, particularly to the extent that mobile engagement is substituted for engagement with Facebook on personal computers where we monetize usage by displaying ads and other commercial content; 

 

product changes or inventory management decisions we may make that reduce the size, frequency, or relative prominence of ads and other commercial content displayed on Facebook;

 

our inability to improve our analytics and measurement solutions that demonstrate the value of our ads and other commercial content;

 

decisions by advertisers to use our free products, such as Facebook Pages, instead of advertising on Facebook;

 

loss of advertising market share to our competitors; 

 

adverse legal developments relating to advertising, including legislative and regulatory developments and developments in litigation;

 

adverse media reports or other negative publicity involving us, our Platform developers, or other companies in our industry;

 

our inability to create new products that sustain or increase the value of our ads and other commercial content 

 

the degree to which users opt out of social ads or otherwise limit the potential audience of commercial content;

 

changes in the way online advertising is priced;

 

decreases in user engagement, including time spent on Facebook;

 

increased user access to and engagement with Facebook through our mobile products, where we do not currently directly generate meaningful revenue, particularly to the extent that mobile engagement is substituted for engagement with Facebook on personal computers where we monetize usage by displaying ads and other commercial content;

 

product changes or inventory management decisions we may make that reduce the size, frequency, or relative prominence of ads and other commercial content displayed on Facebook;

 

our inability to improve our analytics and measurement solutions that demonstrate the value of our ads and other commercial content;

 

decisions by advertisers to use our free products, such as Facebook Pages, instead of advertising on Facebook;

 

loss of advertising market share to our competitors;

 

adverse legal developments relating to advertising, including legislative and regulatory developments and developments in litigation;

 

adverse media reports or other negative publicity involving us, our Platform developers, or other companies in our industry;

 

our inability to create new products that sustain or increase the value of our ads and other commercial content; 

 

the degree to which users opt out of social ads or otherwise limit the potential audience of commercial content;

 

changes in the way online advertising is priced;