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Archive for the ‘food for thought’ Category

Which Eastern European countries have the best chances of surpassing Western European countries? (by economic development)

Posted by StepTb su giugno 16, 2018

In terms of GDP per capita, the best positioned is Estonia.

The country has, for now, made all the best possible choices it could have made regarding economic reforms and digitalization of the public and private sector, has a good education system, very low levels of crime, a lean and fast bureaucracy, a sustainable <8% pensions/GDP ratio, a healthy financial sector, citizens with a strong civic sense, and a culture that firmly and instinctively rejects bad populist (both leftist and conservative) policies disguised as “socially good”.

Tallinn is already the biggest innovative ecosystem in Eastern Europe in terms of investments volume and ROI on startups.
They really want you to bring money and businesses there, and have made things as attractive as they could from a bureaucratic and fiscal point of view.

The crucial problem Estonia faces is a dramatic brain drain – young professionals get a good education and formation, but then escape to some other place in Western Europe where the climate is less cold and salaries are high, no matter how smart and effective their own government is.

Other possible issues: geographic location, and small territorial size (but in an advanced digital economy, they can be both at least partially neutralized).

Give it time, though.
We’ve already had two examples of countries following similar patterns and strategies: Singapore and Israel. Look at where they both are now.
Also, many Western European countries seem to struggle quite a bit with heavy debt, aging population, absurd bureaucracy, and are not at the point where they should be in terms of digitalizing the economy and creating innovative ecosystems. The political direction is controlled by baby boomers, and they’re systematically averse to any possible loss of privileges and any status quo change. The majority of the wealth is in their hands, and is not getting invested where it should. The political currents on the rise are infected by far right and far left populists talking about rubbish instead of sound, rational reforms.

Estonia either didn’t start with or already solved those problems when it was time to first rebuild itself fast after 1991, and then to push itself hard to join the EU in 2004. They won’t likely face anything similar in the next decades, and they’re small, flexible and rational enough to potentially become an Eastern Europe’s equivalent of Singapore. Time will tell…


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What’s a better personality indicator test than the MBTI?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 5, 2018

The MBTI has four main problems:
1. The black-and-white dichothomy, which is enough to make it unscientific: a person scoring 49% on Extraversion will be classified as Introverted, and more similar to someone scoring 5%, while instead being basically identical to an Extravert who scored 51%.
2. The cognitive functions theory; this is absolute pseudoscience with no empiricism behind it whatsoever. But you can choose to ignore that whole part, like many do, and only read the result as a 4-dimension measure – that approach will actually lead to more accurate insights.
3. There is an industry behind it, that is interested in pushing it and promote it to make money.
4. The whole F/T dimension is bogus. First of all, it’s been proven by science that all our choices and decisions derive first from an emotional impulse, and there’s a process of rationalization after it that works to justify the impulse (this is why the scientific method is hard – you have to train yourself to go against human nature – and necessitates of peer reviews and communities). Which means that we’re all actually “F”. Second, the work of Kahneman and Tversky on the difference between intelligence and rationality is quite brilliant, and it would make sense to have a dimension for that, but that’s *not* what F/T measures, even if most of the people who score T will tell you otherwise to feel superior (while in reality a person scoring high in T can be completely irrational). Third, we now know (from research with the Big5 model) that feeling often/strongly positive emotions is associated with Extraversion, and feeling often/strongly negative emotions with Neuroticism. Thus, those two Big5 dimensions actually capture much better (and they do it twice more precisely, by separating them) what’s *really* going on in the F/T dimension. So you have “super feelers” (high E + high N) as well as “super stoics” (low E + low N), plus all the other possible combinations in the middle.

The Big5 solves 1 and 4, doesn’t have 2 and 3, and at the same time doesn’t sacrifice any of the “good” parts, because S/N gets captured by Openness, J/P by Conscientiousness, and E/I remains the same.
On the other hand, it has the annoying issue that the 5 dimensions were named with an obvious implicit value judgment. For example, why call it Agreeable/Disagreeable instead of Non-Confrontational/Confrontational? The name choice is clearly biased and quite irksome. But still, the scientific value of the test is definitely higher than MBTI’s.

Also, Kibeom Lee and Michael C. Ashton expanded the Big5 model with an additional dimension, H, which measures Honesty-Humility.
The only problem is they also rebranded Neuroticism as Emotionality, which is misleading.
With the additional H dimension, it’s also possible to identify narcissistic (low H, high E) and psychopathic (low H, low C, low N) tendencies.
One of their most interesting/useful findings is that high Agreeableness doesn’t actually predict high Honesty-Humility, which makes high A + low H people particularly deceitful and dangerous, since the high A works like a social mask hiding the low H.
I strongly recommend reading their book The H Factor of Personality for a breakdown of all the 6 dimensions and the research behind them.

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How can Peter Thiel reconcile his libertarianism with mimetic theory?

Posted by StepTb su maggio 29, 2018

It seems quite straightforward to me.

Girard’s position on Christianity derives from the fact that the more you emphasize the innocence of the scapegoat, the more difficult it becomes for people to fall into the trap of scapegoating.
So the Gospels were an especially important milestone in human cultural history because of their role in the unmasking of the mechanism.

In the very same fashion, the more you emphasize the uniqueness and centrality of the individual, the more difficult it becomes for people to fall into the trap of mimetic desire.
So probably Thiel thinks libertarianism is the best we currently have in politics to reach the goal of independent thought and differentiation at the individual level, in stark contrast to the nature of the dominant political currents, which instead seem to encourage and exploit various shades of mimesis and scapegoating.

Of course, this is also tied to a problem already noted by Girard himself, especially in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World: mimesis could very well be this powerful because it’s the easiest way to escape the problem of meaninglessness. So is it really feasible to someday reach a society that avoids it on a mass scale?

Some more Girard-inspired reflections on modern politics can be found in Psychopolitics, which expands on the observation that scapegoating doesn’t work as well anymore and therefore ‘traditional’ politics and its electorate are facing a crisis.

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Are conservative individuals more authoritarian-minded than liberal individuals?

Posted by StepTb su maggio 17, 2018

Any person can be “conservative” on any single issue, just like any person can be “liberal” on any single issue.
But let’s assume individuals can be classified as being “liberal” or “conservative”.
“Conservative” means you prefer the traditional way of how things have worked until the present moment, and you want to preserve it.
“Liberal” means you want to maximize liberty and freedom, and this goal takes priority over traditions if they’re an obstacle to it.

”Authoritarian” means you want a single, specific set of views, preferences, values, clothes or whatever to be forced on everyone else, with no room or tolerance for differences.

Therefore being a true “liberal” means being anti-authoritarian, since authoritarianism decreases (or opposes any increase of) liberty and freedom, instead of the opposite.
And having “conservative” preferences doesn’t tell us anything, because you could be an authoritarian conservative as well as a non-authoritarian one. Just like the terms “right” and “left” don’t tell us anything, because both preferences can be expressed through tolerant as well as intolerant means.

P.S. A super-professional visualization!

How the typical American mistakenly reads the political spectrum:


How the political spectrum is actually supposed to be read:

Hope this helps!

P.P.S. See also Why did Europe become so leftist and liberal?

P.P.P.S. A timeless, recommended read: The Open Society and Its Enemies

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Is Poland growing to be the next economic powerhouse of Europe?

Posted by StepTb su aprile 3, 2018

Poland and Slovakia have been absorbing the bigger chunk of the European industrial sector that has relocated or expanded in the Visegrád area; Poland has also worked extremely well on its internal reforms and, especially, has managed to build one of the current best education systems in the world, which positions the country to be the most likely of the Eastern region to successfully make the jump to the advanced tertiary sector in the next 10–20 years (the first one has been Estonia, but the size isn’t comparable).

Emigration from Poland started to explode in the late 1990s, and hit a peak with the 2008 recession. A lot of young Poles with a good command of English and an excellent human capital overall were not able to be absorbed by the national labor market, and went on to be successfully absorbed by other economies.

It seems reasonable to think Polish emigration rate should now start to decrease, since the system has fully recovered from the recession, and has kept growing and showing its strength and sustainability, unlike what has happened in other countries (ex. Italy), but it’s not happening, and the net migration rate is still negative.
Recent political shifts and turmoils have also impacted negatively on this possibility.

Unfortunately, even without considering the brain drain issue, there’s an even bigger problem: their current birth rate, which is one of the lowest in the world and also a bit of a puzzle, is not conducive to reaching the status of “next economic powerhouse” in the span of the current + the next generation in any case.
This doesn’t mean we couldn’t see the relative birth rate trend reverting, the emigration rate trend reverting, and that result happening in the long-run, though.

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Is the media overreacting to the incident with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?

Posted by StepTb su marzo 28, 2018

Yes, and it’s easy to choose between yes and no: compare this media hysterical coverage about a data breach interesting 50 million users to the same media’s reaction to the actual Internet biggest data breach ever, the Yahoo! one:

Marissa Mayer says Yahoo still doesn’t know who was behind Web’s biggest breach

Every single Yahoo account was hacked – 3 billion in all…

Yahoo! data breaches – Wikipedia

Which was reported with quite a “normal” bad news tone, like “Yeah that was quite bad. Now here’s Tom with the weather”.

And did you see an Altaba stock crash after their public statement (Oct 2017)? No.

But we’re talking about a 60:1 ratio of hacked accounts (and actually, much more “hacked” in the Yahoo! case).
Do you see a 60:1 ratio in the coverage/reaction as well? No, and in fact it’s more something like 1:10.

Of course, it’s also easy to see why.
This time, the hype supports a story so many people desperately want to be true – we didn’t lose the election, it was STOLEN from us with a trick!
A bipartisan classic (sadly).

Despite next to zero proof behavioral microtargeting could reach similar results.

In general, people will always ignore the obvious when it comes to their own political bias.

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What is the Cambridge Analytica controversy regarding Facebook data?

Posted by StepTb su marzo 28, 2018

The story‘s biggest takeaway is that, in the “wonderful” world of invasive, data-hungry social media and network effects, you’re only as smart, safe and in control of your data as *your weakest link* is, not as *you* are.

This goes against what we’ve been told over and over by both sm/data companies and public institutions about “make sure you keep your privacy settings in order and that’s it“.
It’s near-useless advice, because we’re not in control. But switching your point of view to adopt the correct one, in this case, implies going against the human deep instinct of believing you *are* in control (of your online persona, your data, your actions and their consequences…). It would be comparable to a paradigm shift– at least in the countries/cultures that score high on the individualism dimension, like the US, where the emphasis on the single person’s responsibility for anything that happens to him/her is deeply embedded and the automatic answer to all societal problems.
It also (together with many other stories in the recent past) flies against all the stuff we’ve been told about the greatly positive, progressive impact of digital democratization through social media.

Most sm users have yet to understand the degree to which they’re giving up control and the fact that you can’t know in advance how the data about you are going to be used, and even this big story will most likely have a limited impact on them – I doubt any change will come from the bottom-up, for the aforementioned reason (+ a layer of abstraction which makes the whole issue non-immediate to most).

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When will cryptocurrency holders realize that cryptocurrency is a scam?

Posted by StepTb su marzo 28, 2018

A bubble is not necessarily a scam, just something hyped and overvalued because of irrational exuberance and a relatively strong narrative behind it (the crypto narrative seems to fit very well the current climate – decline of trust in all kinds of institutions; pseudo-conspiracist bs a go-go everywhere online*; economic low growth, wage stagnation and increasing internal inequality in all the developed world; unsustainable levels of debt for either nations or households; long-term effects of austerity policies where they’ve been applied; widespread overvaluation of anything tech; etc).

Was the dot-com bubble a “scam”? No.
Were there scammers riding the wave and trying to make a buck? Yes.

To answer your question:

Nobody can say cryptos are a “scam” at the moment.

But basically everyone knows it’s a bubble. I’d say most holders have already realized that. They just hope to make money in it. But, in bubbles, late joiners typically don’t.

When will the hype stop? In terms of the aforementioned underlying climate changing, I don’t see the wave turning anytime soon, so the narrative is unlikely to lose force, but fads lose their excitement factor after a while nonetheless. If the narrative behind them maintains momentum, something new can easily come along and attention/excitement can easily change ship – that’s in the intrinsic nature of fads (and, in this case, I think we’re already seeing the 2017 excitement fading out, but there’s no equivalent substitute ready to catalyze it yet).

(*with the main one having been elegantly and succinctly debunked by Kevin Johnson on Quora, if you’re interested)

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What is the single most underrated trait a person can have?

Posted by StepTb su marzo 28, 2018

Historical perspective.

“A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries. He may regard the general, impersonal foundations of his existence as definitely settled and taken for granted, and be as far from assuming a critical attitude towards them as our good Hans Castorp really was; yet it is quite conceivable that he may none the less be vaguely conscious of the deficiencies of his epoch and find them prejudicial to his own moral well-being. All sorts of personal aims, hopes, ends, prospects, hover before the eyes of the individual, and out of these he derives the impulse to ambition and achievement. Now, if the life about him, if his own time seems, however outwardly stimulating, to be at bottom empty of such food for his aspirations; if he privately recognises it to be hopeless, viewless, helpless, opposing only a hollow silence to all the questions man puts, consciously or unconsciously, yet somehow puts, as to the final, absolute, and abstract meaning in all his efforts and activities; then, in such a case, a certain laming of the personality is bound to occur, the more inevitably the more upright the character in question; a sort of palsy, as it were, which may extend from his spiritual and moral over into his physical and organic part. In an age that affords no satisfying answer to the eternal question of ‘Why?’ ‘To what end?’ a man who is capable of achievement over and above the expected modicum must be equipped either with a moral remoteness and single-mindedness which is rare indeed and of heroic mould, or else with an exceptionally robust vitality. Hans Castorp had neither one nor the other of these; and thus he must be considered mediocre, though in an entirely honourable sense.”

– Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

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Why is Italy poorer and more underdeveloped than other European countries?

Posted by StepTb su dicembre 18, 2017

First of all, Italy is quite wealthy, it’s one of the 10 top economies in the world.

And not only that, but the Italian super-rich cohort keeps growing. In fact, it has just pushed the country to the world’s #8 for financial wealth, says a report by The Boston Consulting Group.

The problem is where all that wealth gets produced, and where all that wealth goes.

That’s why the country falls down to somewhere around the 25-36 position once you look at the GDP (PPP) per capita.

A small part of the country (the North, and not even all of it) produces >60% of the national GDP; at the same time, internal inequality has been steadily increasing for decades, with fewer and fewer people actually seeing that wealth because of internal dysfunctions in both the public and private sector.

The dysfunctions are due to excessively high costs, excessively low productivity, family and personal relationships considered more important than skills when hiring and promoting, protectionist laws, and a distorted use of public resources. These problems found a weird vicious balance during the decades right after the economic boom, but the 1992 (both political and economic) crisis first and the 2007–2008 financial crisis later inflicted a fatal blow to the absurd system that was built up until then. Italians have yet to wake up to the fact that that system was absurd and that it needs to be forgotten, though. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s also impossible to make most of them understand the basic point that a country grows if its productivity does. For some reason, the argument gets constantly ignored or rejected by the public.

The 5 key reforms Italy needs ASAP are:
1. Making pensions sustainable (pensions/GDP is at 16%)
2. Making the public sector efficient and accountable, and creating a federalist system (a real one, unlike the fake federal reforms that have blown up public debt for decades), to make regions (especially in the South, but also Rome) accountable and fiscally responsible
3. Cutting regressive taxes and bureaucracy (you can do this only after #1 and #2)
4. Increasing the private sector productivity by removing laws and subsidies that are artificially keeping unproductive firms alive and new, better competitors out of the market (you can do this only after #3)
5. Reforming the banking system, which is undercapitalized and unable to guarantee access to credit

Nobody is touching #5 because of rampant cronyism and corruption. Some micro reforms have been done during Italy’s darkest hour, after the financial recession nearly made us collapse (2011), especially about #1. But it wasn’t enough. Renzi tried to do something about #2, but it wasn’t enough, and his main idea (the referendum that didn’t pass) was going in the wrong direction in more than one sense.
The perfect moment to do all that was in the early 2000s, a stagnant but stable time when we had just joined the Euro and were enjoying low interest rates. But we lost a decade thanks to Berlusconi and his banana republic antics on one hand, and thanks to people obsessed by him 24/7 (rather than by those issues) on the other. Now it’s late. Anyone attempting to attack those points will lose the elections, because most Italians live with the dream that things could just go back to Eldorado (the 1980s, basically, when money was growing on trees), and, if they don’t, it’s because there’s some conspiracy going on (blame the EU, the Euro, the immigrants, the masons, the technocrats, Germany, CIA, politicians’ salaries, you name it – you can even find several examples in the other answers to this question here on Quora). They just can’t accept the fact that the world has changed and that’s what we should do as well, radically. Because we can’t afford to have an inefficient public sector anymore, we can’t afford to compete on low costs of labor anymore, and we can’t afford not to invest in innovation and not to jump to produce new things and leave behind the old models (non-innovative, non-meritocratic, family-run or relationship-based businesses and protected professions) anymore.

Until then, we’ll just keep stagnating and electing worse and worse demagogues promising us to go back to Eldorado through some silly or nasty slogan.
And, with a stagnating growth and a broken public sector, wealth will be shared with fewer and fewer people.
And young people with college degrees and work ethic will remain unemployed, or forced to compete like crazy for the few good jobs in the few productive centers, and to accept miserable wages to sustain the privileges accumulated by the Baby Boomers during the past crazy decades. Or forced to move out of the country, somewhere where they can be absorbed by the economy and be productive.

If you want to know more about the crazy policies that undermined the Italian public sector and distorted the social contract, I suggest two books: Il macigno and La lista della spesa.
If you want an overall analysis of the major problems of the Italian economy, then read I sette peccati capitali dell’economia Italiana.
All these three books were written by the economist Carlo Cottarelli, who got hired by the Government to help solving them, and then left the role once he realized nobody actually had any intention of applying his tips.

Two related videos, in English.

The first one focuses especially on the productivity problem of the Italian private sector and how it deliberately missed the IT train in the 1990s.

The second one explores three hypotheses to the question of “why has Italy stopped growing?”: 1. the size of the public sector, 2. the Euro, 3. the failed transition from an imitation to an innovation economy. Then it shows how some popular explanations (joining the Euro and having the wrong sectoral allocation) don’t hold once you scrutinize the data. The data show instead that the inequality of productivity and profits between exporting firms and firms oriented only to the local market has dramatically increased – with the first ones driving up the economy, and the second ones driving it down, since they should close and disappear, but they don’t because they’re protected by anti-competition laws and rules.
So the only possible solution should be to enable the reallocation of capital from the inefficient protected firms to the efficient and competitive ones, but it can’t be done because the large institutions (built during the imitation phase and useful back then but not now) have gained too much power to be dismantled, and the political parties’ culture is generally anti-competition across the entire spectrum.
The other odd difference found is that, unlike in other developed countries, in the productive firms, management comes mostly from within the family who owns the business.

They’re both must-watch, and probably the best ones on Youtube on the subject, if you’re interested in understanding the Italian economy.

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Why did Europe become so leftist and liberal?

Posted by StepTb su novembre 6, 2017

When will you Americans stop using the term “liberal” in the wrong way?

It’s quite sad to hear, especially since the US was founded as a liberal society.
The US, EU, and the rest of the modern developed nations are, thank God, all liberal societies, with a strong rule of law that exists to promote and protect individual liberty.

Then, within liberalism, there are different currents and schools of thought.
Social liberalism thinks that putting public money into the creation of safety nets and development programs is a better way to achieve the collective sum of individual liberties, because without a certain level of fairness in society, a random-born individual will have too high a probability of being unable to have choices and thus freedom. The debate among parties, here, is more on the effectiveness of specific solutions and resources allocations than on anything else.
Economic liberalism thinks the individual should be as free as possible to create wealth, and this will translate into a wealthier and freer society. Social liberalism advocates normally agree with this position, both in the US and in Europe. The whole debate on the best degree of economic freedom revolves around market failures and negative externalities. European countries are well aware of those points, and actually the debate in a lot of EU countries on how to best preserve economic liberalism is conducted in a more serious way than in the US, see for example Sweden’s fiscal policies for innovation and new businesses (How Sweden became the startup capital of Europe, Why does Sweden produce so many startups?), or Denmark’s labor market liberalizations, or anti-trust actions against big business giants.
(Your real-life average conservative is actually a mix of the two; for example, he thinks putting a lot of public money into military and defense is a good strategy to protect people’s freedom, and is ok with politicians doing it. So it comes down to a difference in allocation preferences.)
I’m making it brutally simplistic, but that’s how it is, basically. The differences are really small.
Take a look at China if you want to start to see some radical differences, not at the opposite party or at Europe.
I’m well aware politicians and media pundits want to create a climate of cultural war and polarization so they can manipulate your emotions and profit, but you shouldn’t play their game. That’s what a negative externality looks like.

Please educate yourself – consider that if you keep talking in those terms, when you’re doing it with someone coming from a European university or even just high school, you’re showing a lack of basic knowledge about Western history and/or a lack of critical thinking. Not a good signal to give, *especially* if you label yourself as a conservative. Conservatives should be the first ones to be interested in preserving historical knowledge.

See also:
– Human Freedom Index
– Index of Economic Freedom – Country Rankings
Year after year, these indexes keep showing a strong correlation between freedom and higher incomes, between democracy and freedom, between personal freedom and economic freedom.
Feel lucky and grateful to live in a liberal society where these are the common values.
Try to live for a couple of years in some of the countries scoring <5.5 if you think a less liberal society would be better.

P.S. A timeless, recommended read: The Open Society and Its Enemies

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Why do Americans work more than Europeans? Is there a cultural bias to live to work?

Posted by StepTb su ottobre 2, 2017

There are many countries with longer working hours than the US: Mexico, Korea, Greece, Chile, Russia, Latvia, Poland, Hungary, Israel, Estonia, Portugal, Iceland, Lithuania, Turkey, and Ireland.

Which countries work the longest hours?

With 1788 hours, US workers are just above the OECD average, which is 1770. So they’re not exceptional in this area.

Why then do Americans say they work so much more? Probably it’s just a cultural thing. Compared to other countries, Americans overwhelmingly believe everything in life depends just on hard work and not on luck, so they prefer to tell themselves and to people around them they work all the time.
Check the “Work-Luck Beliefs” map in the paper Culture and Institutions by Alesina & Giuliano.
When just the idea of “working hard” is so much linked to personal sense of worth and “social capital” compared to other places, you’re incentivized to signal to the rest of the world that you do work hard, and ironically it becomes even more important than *actually* working hard.

So you have this surreal situation where the average-working American thinks he’s the hardest worker in the world, and calls the extreme-working Mexican “lazy”, while instead Mexico tops the world’s chart.
Another seemingly bizarre thing is that nobody would ever call the average German “lazy”, but Germans are at the bottom of that chart, at 1363. How is it possible? Probably because they’re high in Conscientiousness but also strongly believe hard work *doesn’t* trump luck for life outcomes, unlike Americans. This combination makes you engineer a system where productivity gets maximized, instead of working hours, so you can have a more balanced overall life and at the same time feel like you work a lot. So you don’t waste time chatting and checking emails at work, you actually follow priorities. And then you also get to enjoy leisure/family/private time.

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Who is the richest person alive right now?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 27, 2017

I agree with Jasmin Bataille’s analysis.
Not to mention all the other natural resources other than oil that Russia is full of.
Putin de facto has strategic control over the entire national economy, which at 1283 billion US dollars constitutes the 2.07% of the entire world’s economy, and rule of law doesn’t apply to him (and others).
Proof and reinforcement to this is also the fact that, in just 10 years (2005-2015), Government plus State-owned companies have grown their share from 35% to 70% of the Russian GDP.
Even Saudi Arabia, at 646 billions and without a single person having a comparable position, is no match.
Charts like the one by Forbes only estimate wealth obtained via the very well defined set of rules of current US free market capitalism, they’re useless once you move away from that. You can’t use those formulas to compute how much wealth public sector (or crony private sector) figures de facto control in countries with a non-liberal, non-free market (by the western/US definition) system.

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Is there scientific consensus on social media being echo chambers? Whenever I see the expression used, the author seems to imply it’s an established fact

Posted by StepTb su settembre 22, 2017

No. Even if the “echo chambers theory” gets cited by politicians and journalists as if it’s a fact (because it provides a simple way for those two groups to explain phenomena and justify personal stances), in reality there isn’t a real scientific consensus on it. doesn’t find evidence of a worse fragmentation pattern in online media relative to offline, as well as of the existence of filter bubbles, in the 6 selected developed countries. doesn’t find empirical evidence of the “selective exposure” concept as formulated by the EC theory defenders, who say reinforcement seeking and challenge avoidance are strictly related; it finds, instead, that the trend seems to follow the first one without following the second one (which would be the real dangerous one of the two),

Another study here:

And another one here: New theory, old problem (EC theory fails to replicate)

Here’s another one, specific to politics: Epistemic Factors in Selective Exposure and Political Misperceptions on the Right and Left

And here’s another one: Exposure to Political Disagreement in Social Media Versus Face-to-Face and Anonymous Online Settings (the perception of political conflicts increases on social media instead of decreasing, ergo social media don’t work as filter bubbles)

And here’s another one, observing the last USA presidential elections: Helping populism win? Social media use, filter bubbles, and support for populist presidential candidates in the 2016 US election campaign

Another network analysis paper with a focus on Australia can be found here:

And another one: News consumption on Facebook led to less polarization and greater exposure to counter-attitudinal content

In general, the negative feelings seem to derive from an idealized view of the offline world. If you think about it, for a person it’s on average way easier to build a customized bubble in his or her offline life. Just take into consideration the daily lives of people once you eliminate interaction with media: they’re exposed to the same social circle, the same workplace, they go to the same places, etc. Social media are relatively more unpredictable, and even if you try to build your own personal bubble (mimicking the regular behavior humans exhibit offline), you’ll have actually more chances to come across new trends and diverging content.

Another interesting point: some decades ago, another version of the EC theory was formulated for what we now call ‘traditional media’. McGuire, one of the pioneers of psychology applied to political science, wrote that the first part of that theory (seeking ideas that reinforce your own ideas) had found some relative validation, while the second part (avoiding different opinions) never got proven.
It’s curious to observe how some people have taken, and shaken the dust off, the same exact theoretical framework, but this time for new media.

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Why does Poland have such a low birth rate?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 14, 2017

It really seems to be a bit of a puzzle, when you look at the numbers: Poland | Economic Indicators

  • Poland has experienced a stable economic growth for many years
  • The trend in wages growth has always remained positive
  • The unemployment rate, at 7%, has never been so low since the 1990s, and it will probably go down even further in the next years
  • The youth unemployment rate was very high in 1998–2004, but then went rapidly down (the Visegrád Group joined the EU in 2004), went up again a bit after the 2008 crisis, and then went down again and it’s now at a sustainable 15%
  • It should be therefore safe to say that people in Poland don’t have many reasons to hold a bleak/pessimistic view of the future, which instead can explain the <1.5 birth rate of other countries (Greece, Italy)
  • On top of all that, Poland is also a homogeneous and religious country, with 94.30 % of its citizens identifying as Christians – which is a trait positively correlated with high birth rates

Why then does Poland have one of the lowest birth rates in the world, at 1.2–1.3?

I suspect it’s another good example of reality not matching the model’s predictions – at least if you use simplistic models with simplistic assumptions.

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Why do intelligent people end up being lonely in life?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 3, 2017

I can come up with two explanations.

1. Being very different than the average (in any trait, really) means that, unless you’re one of the lucky ones, most things around you don’t satisfy you, since they weren’t built “for you” (or people like you). This will make you change your environment due to dissatisfaction and lack of sense of belonging at a certain point, and move somewhere else. And this, in turn, will basically kill the social environment you were a part of before the change; like expats and refugees, you’ll have to start a new life from scratch. And, as everyone knows, the older you get the harder it is to build a social circle – it’s easy to end up being lonely no matter your efforts.

2. Having a remarkable talent usually comes with a curse: the realization you’re also wasting it. This makes you visualize bigger goals and work more, because you’re driven by the fear of wasting your potential.
In the case of highly intelligent people, this translates into utilizing your abilities to solve complex problems. But working on hard stuff, of course, implies sacrificing most (if not all) of your time to study in depth a field, then an area of specialization, and finally hypothesizing and developing possible solutions through trial and error.
In the meantime, the people around you will go on with their lives. You’ll basically disappear from their lives, and the overall divide between you and them will increasingly grow – at a certain point, even having a casual conversation will become difficult, for the lack of common ground. Other people don’t put studying and working 24/7 before social relationships and communities, and will think you’re strange, and possibly unlikable or disagreeable, for doing it. So, at the end of the day, you’ll both end up with what you aimed for: social relationships for them, expertise and loneliness for you.

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Why did Hillary Clinton lose the U.S. elections to Donald Trump?

Posted by StepTb su agosto 20, 2017

I’d say there are three reasons, and I’ll list them all because they’re connected.
#1 and #2 would be already enough to explain it, and #3 put the last nail in the coffin.

  1. 8 years of Dems in the WH, and they underdelivered.
    – To find the last >8 years Dem Presidency, you have to go back to the extraordinary time of FDR+Truman.
    – You could say Obama’s original vision was a modest version of LBJ’s Great Society. Even as a modest version, it didn’t really come into action.
  2. Hillary wasn’t really a weak candidate, but she definitely was the wrong one. She represented a dynasty, in a moment where Americans strongly demanded change. She’s been in the WH or in other top positions of power for decades, and people wanted an outsider. Look at Jeb, he was the media’s favorite on the right, and probably the best Bush out of the three, but people rejected him for the same reason. Most even had no problems laughing and applauding at Trump bullying him.
  3. The last nail in the coffin was Hillary calling a segment of voters “deplorables”, and everything it implied. That was just an incredibly amateurish move for such a seasoned politician. You never-ever insult voters – they’re legitimately using their rights through the democratic process of a democratic country YOU are asking them to govern. And you especially don’t do anything like that if you’re branding/positioning yourself as the morally better option. If you think they’re making an absurd choice, it’s on you to understand why and give them a better answer. Otherwise, you’re not a strong alternative. That fit so wonderfully the Trump narrative of the “smug liberal elite” that he couldn’t have asked for anything better. It also wonderfully went hand-in-hand with an overall political strategy that was faulty from the start.
    I’ll expand a bit.
    As the statistician Andrew Gelman shows (book Red State Blue State, Rich State Poor State), lower classes vote based on economics and are much more similar in their behavior, while upper-middle and upper classes have the luxury of voting based on social values and are much more politically heterogeneous. Of course, a big geographical and cultural divide between the two during moments of crisis or stagnation results in an economically stressed segment of voters who want economic answers… and instead the affluent, metropolitan and liberal media and politicians talk to them about social values (since that’s the battleground in their world), while they actually don’t decide based on that dimension. Doubling down on this mismatch (not to mention calling them animals, bigots, deplorables, etc.) just shows them your complete disconnection, therefore inability to understand their issues, therefore inability to solve them. The majority of those voters would support left-leaning policies benefiting them (Gelman also shows “poor people voting against their interest” is a myth), but, if that’s the interaction, they’ll stay home or vote someone who “gets it” a bit better.
    Ideally, you should aim at a nationally unifying message (Obama’s 2008 campaign). Your second best bet is unifying a relative majority (Trump’s strategy, applied by channeling negative emotions against a precise series of enemies). What was Hillary’s strategy? Something quite amorphous – and anyway, whatever it was, anything else will lose to those two.
    If the Trump strategy keeps being applied, Dems will need to radically re-think whatever they’ve been trying to do, and find a strategy able to neutralize it. Some very interesting pieces have recently been written on this topic:
    Safety Pins and Swastikas
    Debating the liberal case against identity politics
    Richard Rorty’s prescient warnings for the American left

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Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy

Posted by StepTb su luglio 7, 2017

University of California Press, 2000 (first published 1997)
314 pages
Author: Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi

La versione in lingua italiana, dal titolo “Lo spettacolo del fascismo”, è acquistabile qui.

The section “The Mussolini Myth” is especially important and useful; it collects all the (seemingly) bizarre mediatic tactics Mussolini used to project youth, masculinity, strength, power, and, ultimately, immortality – in a gradual transformation from cult of personality to a deification.
In the meantime, a nation of people identified the leader’s projections as the quality of the nation itself, even if the nation was actually lacking them. A form of mass hypnosis and escapism, leaving such a deep cultural influence that I believe Italy has never managed to fully wake up from it.
It can be easily recognized how some contemporary leaders, like Putin, are employing the same tactics to project a carefully crafted powerful image to their people and, perhaps even more meticulously, to other countries’ citizens.

The chapter “The Politician as Artist” shows us how perfectly Mussolini understood the weaponizing power of media and the nature of politics as entertainment in a modern sense before any other leader. And the next chapter, “From Art to Violence”, leads us to the natural consequences of that realization.

Almost all the western world has gradually shifted towards an infotainment-dominated form of public politics since the end of WWII, so these topics are extremely current. And worrisome.


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John Rawls – Giustizia come equità: Una riformulazione

Posted by StepTb su luglio 7, 2017

Feltrinelli, 2010 (first published 2001)
259 pages
Original title: Justice as Fairness: A Restatement

A very important point Rawls makes in this book is the inability of the welfare state to realize his two principles of justice; he advocates instead for a property-owning democracy. This point was touched briefly in A Theory of Justice too, and here isn’t discussed as in-depth as it should have deserved, but it’s discussed and stated explicitly nonetheless.
The vast majority of both admirers and critics of Rawls seem to completely ignore this important and integral part of his theory.


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Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence

Posted by StepTb su giugno 27, 2017

Turtleback Books, 1998
350 pages
Author: David Keirsey

This book systematized and popularized MBTI, and it was interesting when it came out, but it’s now outdated.
Only because of popularity and a huge marketing machine behind it, Recruiters, HR Managers and people of all sorts are still using MBTI today to make strategic decisions (especially in the Anglosphere), which testifies the lack of scientific thinking in our society.

Anyway, it must also be kept in mind that the Big 5 (or 6) model, which is currently regarded as the most reliable one in psychology, was influenced by MBTI:
The I/E dimension remained the same.
The S/N dimension roughly corresponds to Openness-Intellect.
The J/P dimension roughly corresponds to Conscientiousness-Orderliness.

The trickiest dimension, and the most obviously wrong, was the T/F one. On paper, T/F seems to be a classification of decision-making preferences, but those preferences are very sketchy and poorly explained/supported. Decision-making ‘based on facts vs. feelings’ doesn’t really mean anything, so what T/F really measures seem to be raw brain power and emotional stability mixed together, so a mix of the Intellect and the Neuroticism dimensions.
But, if you read all the F personas described in PUM, you can also see how they’re all depicted as highly Agreeable. At the same time, though, the T personas are *not* described as low in Agreeableness.
So basically, just like in feel-good astrology, Fs were told they were highly A (skipping the I and N interpretations), and Ts that they were highly rational (skipping the A and N interpretations).
And, if you take a look at discussions in online MBTI forums and groups, you can find plenty of people who scored high on T/F because of each one of those three (I, A, N) very different reasons (with the most common ones being low Agreeableness as a predictor of scoring T, high Agreeableness as a predictor of scoring ExFx, and high Neuroticism as a predictor of scoring IxFx).
Mixing those three dimensions into one and trying to portrait idealistic archetypes made the whole model extremely confusing and unreliable, and the Big 5 put some order to that.

Then of course there’s the binary choice problem: MBTI is black and white and puts people into 16 exact boxes, so it ends up saying that a person who hypothetically scores 49% on one dimension is more similar to someone scoring 1% on the same dimension than to another one scoring 51% – which is completely absurd, since 49% and 51% are basically the same result.

The book’s most useful and insightful points are the ones talking about the 4 different types of intelligence, and the ones about mating strategies. NT-NF couples really seem to work extremely well.
(Also, luckily Keirsey completely ignores the theory of “cognitive functions”, the most pseudoscientific part of MBTI.)

P.S. For the curious among you: I score as INTJ.


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