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William_Newman comments on Blue or Green on Regulation? - Less Wrong

54 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 March 2007 06:04PM

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Comment author: William_Newman 16 March 2007 02:25:06AM 13 points [-]

Note that when someone reads your "if people have a right to be stupid, the market will respond by supplying all the stupidity that can be sold" it does sound rather as though you're making a point about market decisions in particular, not just one of a spectrum of points like "if people have a right to vote for stupid policies, then ambitious politicians will supply all the stupid policies that people can be convinced to vote for." Also, it's not too uncommon for people to play rhetorical (and perhaps internal doublethink) games where people's rationality in market decisionmaking is judged differently than in politics.

Similarly, you could state specifically "when we let members of someparticularethnicgroup vote, they often make uninformed decisions," and believe yourself logically justified by the general truth that they are people and when we let people of *any* ethnic group vote, they often make uninformed decisions. But I don't recommend that you try making that statement, especially about an ethnic group where it's not too uncommon for people to dump on them in particular, unless you're prepared to raise many, many more hackles than you would by just stating your general point about letting people in general vote.

And even though I give the parallel of another politically charged statement, I don't think this is just people getting irrational around politically charged issues. In ordinary, un-charged situations too, it is normal for people to choose reasonably general forms of their statements when possible, so if you make a narrow statement, it conveys a suggestion that a more general statement doesn't hold. "It's really cold in the living room" means in practice something like "the living room is colder than the rest of the house" or "I am physically unable to leave the living room and don't know about the rest of the house," not "it's really cold in the house."

It's not a completely reliable conversational rule, and it's probably one of the reasons that some wag said that "communication would be more reliable if people would turn off the gainy decompression," but it's not obviously an unimportant or silly rule, either. In fact, if I imagine designing cooperating robotic agents with very powerful brains, very sophisticated software, and very low communication bandwidth, I'd be very inclined to borrow the rule.