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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on Lotteries: A Waste of Hope - Less Wrong

28 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 April 2007 05:36AM

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 April 2007 05:55:57PM 13 points [-]

TJIC wrote: If you’ve got something that costs $1/day and takes 5 minutes of work to deliver more joy to the average person than a lottery ticket, go off and sell it. If you actually sell it, then you’re right. If you either can’t come up with such a product, or can’t succeed in selling it, then you’re wrong, and your product is less pleasing. Either way, don’t call the consumer stupid. His job is just to like what he likes.

Let's get one thing straight: I think people should have a right to be stupid and, if they have that right, the market's going to respond by supplying as much stupidity as can be sold.

The customer is not always right, either factually or morally. Customers do stupid things. If you can exploit it better than anyone else, come up with an even better superstimulus, you may be able to drain even more money from them, but that doesn't make it right.

In this case, the customer is shooting their own foot off emotionally, not just financially. Do you think that our fantasies have no effect on us? Do you think that dreaming has no consequences that depend upon the dream? I doubt I'd be recognizably the same person if my parents hadn't been science-fiction fans. Yes, the lottery fantasy is enjoyable. So is smoking. People will pay for that fantasy. They'll also pay for crack. You may not think that crack should be illegal but that doesn't mean it's a good idea - and yes, I do dare to judge other people's revealed economic preferences. I am a rationalist, not an economist and my goal is to help people make better choices, not just model the ones they do make.

The customer's job is not just to like what he likes. This may be a fine thing to say to undergraduates in an economics course, whose immediate task is to predict and model customers - but what an utterly insane attitude to take toward real life! I have morals and purposes in my life that go beyond being someone's "customer", and so, I suspect, do you.