Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

JoshuaZ comments on Why is Mencius Moldbug so popular on Less Wrong? [Answer: He's not.] - Less Wrong Discussion

9 Post author: arborealhominid 16 November 2012 06:37PM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (259)

You are viewing a single comment's thread. Show more comments above.

Comment author: Kal 23 November 2012 03:36:26PM 0 points [-]

Inferring causality from a time-series of various economic variables is incoherent. There first needs to be a deductive understanding of what the causal relationships are between economic variables. That is what is meant by "first principles" here - perhaps the disagreement is semantic.

Data about effects of economic policy tells us nothing if one has not already pre-supposed causal relationships between certain variables (ie, which variable is affecting which). If one had not done so, how does one know which variables to link with which other one? The causality which is being claimed to be derived is actually assumed or it is a result of the data-mining effect.

More importantly though, I suggest (for what it is worth) that you ignore my comments which are replies to others' comments and try the original article. It repays inspection.


I have no expertise in cosmology. So I have no opinion on that which is worth stating. The only comment I have is that Physics has causal relationships clearly defined and known. The different theories thus could make different testable predictions about what we should expect to see in the here and now.

In economics, the different schools (more accurate to call them ideologies) do not agree on basic causal relationships between variables. In more than one case, one of the main tenets (of a popular ideology) is plain, flat-out incorrect, and sometimes definitionally misunderstood. I know it may be hard to believe that monetary economics is that shaky a subject, but it is. The last hundred years have been a regression when it comes to monetary economics. Thus, the first principles analysis: What is an economy?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 23 November 2012 04:18:07PM *  1 point [-]

Inferring causality from a time-series of various economic variables is incoherent. There first needs to be a deductive understanding of what the causal relationships are between economic variables. That is what is meant by "first principles" here - perhaps the disagreement is semantic.

If I replace "economic variables" with "astronomy" what part of this sentence changes in implication? Why is this incoherent for some fields? The level of rigor cannot be the only difference: Physics and astronomy have become more rigorous over time, not by discussing first principles, even when moving from Aristotle to Medieval physics to Newtonian physics, but rather by adopting principles based on the empirical data. The same goes for the switch from Ptolemaic systems to Copernicus and then Kepler. It is the empirical data that matters, the apparent time-series of planetary and stellar motion.

Thus, the first principles analysis: What is an economy?

Does arguing over this definition pay any rent?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 23 November 2012 05:46:03PM 2 points [-]

If I replace "economic variables" with "astronomy" what part of this sentence changes in implication?

One can do controlled experiments in physics here on Earth and apply the results to astronomy.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 23 November 2012 05:57:59PM 1 point [-]

So that's true, but until the late 1700s (essentially post Newton) no one had any capacity to do so (because no ideas anyone had connected the two at all in a useful way). Would this sort of claim then been valid in 1650?

Comment author: Kal 24 November 2012 04:55:00AM 1 point [-]

Re the Q about rent-paying: Yes. You should rightly be skeptical now, but please read the Economics sub-section at Moldbuggery with an open mind. Or if you prefer, start with Rothbard's 'Man Economy and State'.

The reason I linked to Moldbug's articles in this thread (indeed, this thread being only reason I signed up instead of lurking) is cos I have seen it said in LW that Misesian economics is incoherent, anti-empirical etc. With respect, people who say that are making a mistake. But what is germane is not the mistake, but the financial effect it can have.

Economics - of all subjects - pays rent. Maybe not in the short term, but eventually and especially when the central banks of the major economies are doing effectively insane things.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 24 November 2012 02:18:45PM 0 points [-]

This doesn't answer the question. Note that no one is arguing that economics doesn't pay rent. The question was whether arguing over '"what is an economy" pays rent or not.

Comment author: Kal 26 November 2012 01:16:16PM 0 points [-]

I misunderstood the Q. In my opinion, yes. There is no other way to get a sound (ie, based on sheer deductive coherence) grasp of the subject. So, attack the issue for yourself:

The first one has a very minor error btw - prob a typo. Good exercise to find it. A friend of mine just pointed it out to me.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 26 November 2012 04:17:10PM 0 points [-]

So, can you explain how arguing over the definition of a word can ever pay rent?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 26 November 2012 11:31:53PM *  2 points [-]

Well, in a sense every definition carries an implicit assertion that the described object corresponds to a cluster in thing space. See also 37 ways that words can be wrong.

Comment author: Kal 26 November 2012 02:23:20PM -2 points [-]

Re Physics, please correct me as required but in the way I use the phrase "first principles" here, Physics does not have any first principles. Physics is observation, hypothesis, experimentation and repeat. After a certain hypothesis has sufficient amount of experimental proof behind it, it becomes a theory and thus the foundation for further work. And occasionally, we find that there is a variable missing in the theory as the experiments did not test the situations that that variable speaks to. Then we test to tease out the nuances of that aspect of reality. And so on.

Economics has first principles, in the sense I use the phrase. Thus the Q: What is an economy? It leads to those first principles and then deduction covers the rest. But one can of course get the first principles wrong and the deduction is then useless.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 26 November 2012 11:28:12PM 2 points [-]

Re Physics, please correct me as required but in the way I use the phrase "first principles" here, Physics does not have any first principles.

Yes it does. They're just so implicit in our intuition about how the world works that we don't notice them. For example, consider all the implicit assumptions necessary for statements like "these two sticks have the same length" to be meaningful.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 26 November 2012 04:12:43PM 0 points [-]

So, why does physics have no such first principles but economics does?