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

Comment author: elharo 15 May 2013 10:19:20PM *  23 points [-]

Boring munchkin technique #2: invest in tax advantaged index funds with low fees. Specifically, in the following order:

  1. Max out your employer's matching contribution, if available. It is near impossible to beat an immediate 50% or 100% return, even if you have to borrow money in order to take advantage of this.

  2. Pay off credit card debt. Do not keep any high interest loans. Do not keep a revolving balance on credit cards.

  3. Depending on circumstances (e.g. if you lose your job, is moving back in with your parents an option?) have a few months of living expenses available in ready cash.

  4. Put as much money as you can afford into tax advantaged retirement accounts. In the U.S. that means 401K, 403b, IRA, SEP, etc.

  5. Allocate all your investments except possibly your emergency fund into low cost index funds. 1% fees are way too high. Vanguard has some good funds with fees as low as 0.1%.

I could say more, but that's the basics. Do that and you'll probably be in the 90th percentile or higher of successful investors. If folks are interested in hearing more, let me know; and I'll whip up a post on rational financial planning. If there's a lot of interest, it might even be worth a sequence.

Comment author: Ford 21 May 2013 06:02:44PM 2 points [-]

Tax-deferred retirement accounts make sense if you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement than now. I expect tax rates to increase, so would rather pay the tax now than when I take the money out. In US, Roth IRA allows that.

"Your Money or Your Life" is worth reading. Build up your savings and decrease your spending until earnings on savings equal spending. After that, you don't have to work for money. Worthwhile work still enhances health and happiness, though.

Robert Frank's books on economics make the point that relative income is more important than widely recognized. Two examples he may have missed: 1) it's not just how much education you have, but how it compares to the competition. So the best-educated get the best jobs, but that doesn't mean everyone would have a good job if everyone was better educated. 2) losing health insurance is a disaster if you are competing for health services with the insured. But if everyone loses health insurance (e.g., Medicare collapses), doctors will have to lower their fees.

Comment author: Ford 22 February 2013 07:59:14PM 1 point [-]

You might like the "simple practice cases" in my recently published book, Darwinian Agriculture. Has natural selection favored solar tracking by leaves because it increases photosynthesis, or because it decreases the photosynthesis of competitors? What sex ratio (in reindeer, say) is favored by natural selection, and what sex ratio maximizes meat production from a given amount of lichen? Why do rhizobial bacteria provide their legume hosts with nitrogen, if healthier plants will indirectly help other rhizobia infecting the same plant -- their most-likely competitors for the next host?

Comment author: Caledonian2 07 November 2007 02:19:12PM 0 points [-]

Obviously, selection on the level of the individual won't produce individual restraint in breeding. Individuals who reproduce unrestrainedly will, naturally, produce more offspring than individuals who restrain themselves.

Wrong. Sometimes quality, not quantity, matters. Which is why rabbits will abort and reabsorb fetuses when under stress, even though the reabsorption process has a significant chance of causing permanent infertility.

It's not about which organism produces the greatest number of offspring - although restricting fertility can sometimes lead to that - but the greatest number of surviving offspring. It's more complex than a madcap race to reproduce as rapidly and prolifically as possible.

Comment author: Ford 22 February 2013 07:33:15PM 0 points [-]

It's even a little trickier than that. If overall population is increasing then one offspring this year may lead to greater proportional representation in the gene pool than two offspring next year. What few people recognize is that the opposite can be true if the population is decreasing.

But I think the original post assumed "all else being equal", to allow focus on the main points.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 18 February 2013 07:53:27AM 1 point [-]

Fair enough.

One way to deal with this issue might be to make it clear that the discussion proceeds conditional on the correctness of their position on the controversial thing. Either side could do this.

Comment author: Ford 22 February 2013 07:23:55PM 0 points [-]

I think that only works if you say "even if that were true, which we don't need to discuss now, I would argue that..." It's much harder to get someone to accept "for the sake of argument" something they strongly disagree with.

For example, I would only accept "morality comes from the Bible" if I had a convincing Bible quote to make my point.

Comment author: olibain 20 February 2013 08:34:42PM 8 points [-]

I'm Robby Oliphant. I started a few months ago reading HP:MoR, which led me to the Sequences, which led me here about two weeks ago. So far I have read comments and discussions solely as a spectator. But finally, after developing my understanding and beginning on the path set forth by the sequences, I remain silent no more.

I am fresh out of high school, excited about life and plan to become a teacher, eventually. My short-term plans involve going out and doing missionary work for my church for the next two years. When I came head on against the problem of being a rationalist and a missionary for a theology, I took a step back and had a crisis of belief, not the first time, but this time I followed the prescribed method and came to a modified conclusion, though I still find it rational and advantageous to serve my 2 year mission.

I find some of this difficult, some of this intuitive and some of this neither difficult or intuitive, which is extremely frustrating, how something can appears simple but defy my efforts to intuitively work it. I will continue to work at it because rationality seems to be praiseworthy and useful. I hope to find the best evidence about theology here. I don't mean evidence for or against, just the evidence about the subject.

Comment author: Ford 20 February 2013 09:20:13PM 0 points [-]

You may find this story (a scientist dealing with evidence that conflicts with his religion) interesting.


In response to Helpless Individuals
Comment author: Ford 20 February 2013 09:12:17PM 1 point [-]

In addition to the emotional issues you raise, there's the question of thresholds and scalability. If the puppy program already exists, giving $10 will help more puppies. But, for many scientific research projects, there's no point in even starting with less than $100K in hand. That could be $10 each from 10,000 people. An easy decision, perhaps, for the 9999th person, but who wants to give the first $10?

Elsewhere I've suggested "Social Escrow" as a solution. You pledge a certain amount, contingent on enough other people doing so and perhaps on other objective criteria. "Send us two checks. We'll tear up both if not enough other people send checks. We'll tear up the second if the research doesn't meet kilometerstone X by date Y."

Kickstarter has some of these features, but doesn't seem to fund science.

Comment author: shminux 11 September 2012 08:52:09PM *  2 points [-]

Whatever past trends were, the rate of progress must slow as we approach physical limits.

Past "physical limits" once considered immutable have often been broken. It was not long ago that 9600bps was considered the limit for phone line data rate. Replacing cattle with vat meat grown in factories powered by solar energy and methane digesters can likely alleviate many potential food shortages and environmental issues.

There is no guarantee that there will not be a true limiting factors of progress rate, but it is extremely bold (and misguided) to proclaim that you know in advance what they will be.

Comment author: Ford 13 September 2012 05:25:22PM 0 points [-]

I agree that some "limits" have proved illusory. But do you have an example where a limit based on conservation of matter or energy was surpassed?

I assume solar technology will continue to improve, but it would take several orders of magnitude of improvement for food-from-solar cells to be cost-competitive with cattle grazing low-value land. What does an acre of solar cells cost?

Comment author: [deleted] 11 September 2012 09:39:36PM 2 points [-]

On the other hand, if we reach a point where stockpiling human urine to supply phosphorous for agriculture (as opposed to merely conserving it locally) is economically viable, that implies some pretty scary things about the general availability of food and knock-on effects for general social stability. I'm not sure how much of it we're (literally) pissing into the sewers and whatnot, but I'd be surprised if agricultural runoff weren't a much greater percentage of the total.

Comment author: Ford 13 September 2012 05:17:57PM 1 point [-]

Yes, we should start with the low-hanging fruit. For example, nutrients in human waste are a small fraction of what's in animal waste, and the latter should be easier to capture. Even so, much of the manure still gets applied at pollution-causing rates near barns and feedlots, rather than paying the cost of transport to where it is most needed.

But your point about food availability and social stability is more important. Recycling urine seems like a good idea. But a society that needs to recycle urine will be a society where many people are spending most of their income on food and others are going hungry, as was the case for the societies mentioned above.

Comment author: Ford 11 September 2012 06:21:52PM 1 point [-]

Whatever past trends were, the rate of progress must slow as we approach physical limits. For example, there must be some minimum size for a reliable resistor. So even if we accept the inevitability of certain past trends, extrapolation is risky.

Once we've used most of the oil (or phosphate, for which there's no substitute), past trends driven by culture, technology, or economics won't continue. In agriculture, best-farmer yields haven't increased much since 1980, although averages go up as they buy their neighbors' land. (My recent book on Darwinian Agriculture discusses some prospects for improvement, but still within limits.) Cheap computer power may substitute for previous forms of education, entertainment, and travel, but not for food. I doubt that enough people will upload their brains to make a difference.

Comment author: homunq 05 January 2012 03:37:41PM 5 points [-]

Corporations optimize profit. Governments optimize (among other things) the monopoly of force. Both of these goals exhibit some degree of positive feedback, which explains how these two kinds of entities have developed some superhuman characteristics despite their very flawed structures.

Since corporations and governments are now superhuman, it seems likely that one of them will be the first to develop AI. Since they are clearly not 100% friendly, it is likely that they will not have the necessary motivation to do the significantly harder task of developing friendly AI.

Therefore, I believe that one task important to saving the world is to make corporations and governments more Friendly. That means engaging in politics; specifically, in meta-politics, that is, the politics of reforming corporations and governments. On the government side, that means things like reforming election systems and campaign finance rules; on the corporate side, that means things like union regulations and standards of corporate governance and transparency. In both cases, I'm acutely aware that there's a gap between "more democratic" and "more Friendly", but I think the former is the best we can do.

Note: the foregoing is an argument that politics, and in particular election reform, is important in achieving a Friendly singularity. Before constructing this argument and independently of the singularity, I believed that these things were important. So you can discount these arguments appropriately as possible rationalizations. I believe, though, that appropriate discounting does not mean ignoring me without giving a counterargument.

Second note: yes, politics is the mind-killer. But the universe has no obligation to ensure that the road to saving the world does not run through any mind-killing swamps. I believe that here, the ban on mind-killing subjects is not appropriate.

Comment author: Ford 06 January 2012 11:24:28PM *  1 point [-]

I agree with your main points, but it's worth noting that corporations and governments don't really have goals -- people who control them have goals. Corporations are supposed to maximize shareholder value, but their actual behavior reflects the personal goals of executives, major shareholders, etc. See, for example, "Dividends and Expropriation" Am Econ Rev 91:54-78. So one key question is how to align the interests of those who actually control corporations and governments with those they are supposed to represent.

View more: Next