Yes, from what I hear, it seems very hard. I'd point you to some recent pieces:
The NEPA lawsuit is brought by an environmental org against an agency. I could be wrong but I don't think a different party can appeal the decision.
I think airships could in principle approach rail costs but it would add a lot of complexity relative to just running another train on the same track. Big container ships are always going to be cheaper, I think.
FAA and pilots get mad about people pointing laser pointers into the sky.
I agree winds are super important and must be designed for and planned for in routing. Using them for sailing (added propulsion) is also promising.
The ability to charge people more and less based on observed (but not demographic) characteristics got pretty limited by the Affordable Care Act. I'm not sure of the details, however.
The party of record is a federal agency, though. I'm not sure IJ can defend them.
I like this Alan Watts quote:
“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”
And Nietzsche's new year's resolution is words to live by:
“I want to learn to see more and more as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all and all and on the whole: someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”
I'm amazed that existence exists at all. Every moment is a gift.
I still like that idea too, but it's pretty weird and unlikely to pass any time soon. A more likely reform that I also like is ranked choice voting.
That's a broad question, but as it relates to progressy things, I think imagination about what the future could hold is certainly a factor in the kind of social ambitions that we aspire to.
It's a common belief among some economic historians, for example, that we have already picked the low-hanging fruit. There are no new inventions in their mind that could match the inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries in terms of providing explosive growth. Maybe they're right, but I can certainly imagine new inventions that could change everything.
As I argued previo... (read more)
1. Housing is, depending on the year, 15-18% of GDP, and if we could get that for free, it would tautologically increase productivity. Also, high housing costs limit agglomeration effects by pricing some people out of the most productive markets. There are a bunch of other negative effects of high housing prices. I'd refer you to "the housing theory of everything" for a discussion.
2. I think the "lobbying super-army" we need is elite consensus. If we convinced all the smart people that vetocracy is a bad way to achieve environmental goals, that would basic... (read more)
I don't think there is any account of political authority that isn't defeated by the standard objections.
For purely prudential reasons, I think people should give some deference to governments as long as the government is mostly functional and aligned with the population. Living in a state where the government is ineffective is not generally pleasant, and we should all in some sense be rooting for the government to succeed at least at its basic functions.
I don't think there is a set of given-from-on-high proper limits to what the government should do, but ... (read more)
I think it's true to some extent that the masses exert some demand for stagnation.
The way I've been thinking about it is that laws and norms are ways of solving iterated prisoner's dilemmas. But because of loss aversion, there isn't symmetry in the kinds of PDs that get solved this way. The "prevent something bad from happening" PDs get solved more than the "make something great happen" PDs do. (This is essentially the Nietzschean distinction between slave morality and master morality, applied to laws as well as morals.)
I don't think the masses are ever go... (read more)
The biggest problem that I see in college education is that most people don't actually want to learn very much. College social life is undeniably fun, and although most people find a few classes they enjoy, they're there for the experience + the credential.
I don't know how to fix it because I think there is demand for the current system, but there should be at least one college with unlimited enrollment that is rigorous enough that it weeds out the people who aren't giving it their best effort. Maybe it should be self-paced, with a massive total learning r... (read more)
In the short term, I am doing some geothermal projects, and then possibly writing a book.
Longer term, I have a lot I'd like to do. If I ever found myself in a position where I could seize real power, I would take it and use it to promote progressy things.
I really enjoy the part of my job where I talk to people working on promising hard tech startups; often they need a bit of advice or some introductions to people in my network. I'd like to do more to help them, as they are often brought into contact with the barriers and obstacles I spend so much time thin... (read more)
I think the kinds of tests that prove that a human is intelligent or sentient or whatever are not the same as the kinds of tests that prove a computer program is sentient.
For example, imagine a test where we timed the test-taker on how long it takes to multiply two 8-digit numbers together. For most humans, this would take several minutes. For even a dollar-store calculator, it would take under a second.
For many decades, Alan Turing's proposal that a computer that could converse indistinguishably from humans would be a sign of human-level sentience and int... (read more)
If I understand the tethering question, I don't think that would help. A train or container ship can already carry many times more cargo than an airship can.
When I looked at space-based solar power, I was struck that the wireless transmission was not much denser than solar (otherwise, they would pose a danger to the ground if they missed the receiver). I think putting thin-film solar could buy its way onto the top of the hull if it was cheap and light enough. I have heard about very high-powered laser propulsion systems for high-speed aircraft, but those s... (read more)
The key to the process on this one was first spending several years thinking about cargo airships and how you could make a business around them. I made my first phone call asking if I could buy a cargo airship over three years ago.
All charts other than the one I cribbed from the Review of Maritime Transport are original, either to me or to the engineer that did the trade study.
Once I sat down to write, the narrative came pretty easily. I just wrote what I thought, trying to explain why I thought airships are interesting and why they could be profitable and why it's hard to get there from here (i.e., why I'm not starting an airship startup).
I am blessedly exempt from having to deal with any financial or management issues at the CGO, so I don't know. We do get along with the USU administration really well, though.
I don't think path dependency is the right way of looking at it. I'd frame it rather differently:
We are doing a bunch of clown stuff that is holding back productivity improvements all the time. There is nothing about that is unique to AI. However, it's possible that it will become especially apparent that we are erecting all these obstacles ourselves as we observe AI getting very productive in unregulated or otherwise functional sectors.
Absolutely, we should be dismantling the clown policies proactively, but it isn't proactive with respect to AI particularly, it's just that we should not have clown policies in the first place.
Getting online in the mid-90s was huge. The web was tiny back then, but it was still such a window to the world. I tinkered with everything, taught myself HTML, played with hacker tools, read The Anarchist Cookbook, made myself a Geocities page, etc.
The other formative thing was in college, discovering economics, which was a way of thinking that comes completely naturally to me. Finally, people are making some sense, I thought. In my early 20s, the Econ blogging scene was crucial. These are my people, I thought, and I ended up putting myself at the center of that group by going to GMU for a PhD.
It's true, the Supreme Court has ruled against vetocracy with NEPA every time, usually unanimously. I think for potential litigants, there isn't much value in going all the way to the Supreme Court. It's possible the court won't hear your case, so you have to take steps to comply with the lower court's ruling anyway. Once you're doing that, spending more on litigation isn't going to get you anything; you can always just fix the EIS and move forward.
In other words, taking a case to the Supreme Court for the purpose of setting a new precedent is a public good, and a lot of people don't supply public goods all by themselves.
- Very expensive, and we should take fiscal responsibility more seriously than we do.- Has some good stuff in it.- Will only translate into significant change in the real world if it is paired with permitting reform and other policies focused on deployment. Right now we are basically subsidizing companies to push through the headaches associated with getting to market, but it makes more sense to reduce the headaches.- It is more protectionist than I would like, but Europe is the most mercantilist place on Earth, so I don't have a lot of sympathy for th... (read more)
I got interested in wireless transmission for space-based solar. A lot of people have had doubts for a long time about whether the math works for space-based solar, but both panels and launch prices have plummeted, so people are giving it a second look.
One of the things about wireless transmission that could add value to space-based solar is being able to shift output on the fly from one receiver on Earth to another on a millisecond-to-millisecond basis. I thought that was pretty cool.
I haven't really looked at it for terrestrial applications, though.
A very important question is how long solar prices can continue to drop.
Assuming it continues a while, I have questions about whether it makes sense to transmit electricity long distances in such a world. A lot of smart people think transmission is very important to the clean energy buildout, but I don't know. Transmission adds a fair bit of cost, and if solar gets cheap then it might make sense to pay the rooftop premium rather than the transmission premium.
So if solar keeps dropping in price, it may make sense to have rooftop solar everywhere + off-grid ... (read more)
I'm not sure what the privacy implications are, but they can definitely give you the devices for free if it's cost-effective for them to do that.
As a writer: influencing other people, building consensus on what the problems are, building a network of people that are aligned.
As a researcher: coming up with highly-specific policy solutions to an important problem. Ideally, this would be a small, non-controversial provision that someone could slip into a bill unnoticed.
So for example, I have written a lot about the problems with NEPA and permitting, and I think there's been a consensus developed among a big chunk of the political spectrum that it's a real problem and we need to fix it. At the same tim... (read more)
I am glad the progress movement is still decentralized and organic. It's more a community of fellow-travelers than a centralized organization setting priorities and allocating funding. I feel like I gain a lot from people in the community who are pursuing very different approaches than I am, and I don't want that to stop.
I think being organic is better for influencing the culture in the long run. For getting specific things done, if we ever agree on what is to be done, we may need to think about some light centralization at some point.
1. Deregulate land use (YIMBY stuff)2. Make transportation insanely great: eVTOL, supersonics, small airports with minimal screening, autonomous dynamic bus service3. Lower the cost of clinical trials and expand freedom to go around the FDA through informed consent4. Reform permitting/abolish NEPA/end vetocracy5. Energy abundance/fix the NRC/fix the nuclear industry/expand geothermal/deploy solar6. Make government that works and is run by grown-ups (I am a big fan of ranked choice voting for this)7. Big increases in immigration, with concessions to the xen... (read more)
Given the trade you've laid out, I'd take the scientific breakthroughs.
I think there is no agency to regulate nanotech, so it would be a "born free" industry, and we'd see a lot of rapid progress. Benevolent AI too. On the cancer and aging cures, yes, FDA is broken, but they'd get through approval in several years, and then we'd have them.
I do think, however, that the policy environment is worth many years of R&D breakthroughs, perhaps 10 or more. We'd get a revitalized transportation and energy industry, dirt cheap housing, better consumer health tech, and a faster rate of R&D development going forward. It wouldn't take much unbalancing of the scales to make me flip the answer.
I kind of did this analysis in 2019 on "how to move the needle on progress" and landed on health, housing, energy, and transportation as important sectors to fix.
If you think about it in productivity terms, in general equilibrium, low-productivity-growth sectors will tend to get bloated as a percent of GDP, while high-productivity-growth sectors will tend to shrink.
I still think the 2019 analysis is basically right, although I would emphasize one particular aspect of tractability, which is having a specific solution in mind. Tom Kalil talks about this as a... (read more)
I think the biggest obstacle is FDA clearance for these devices.
The FDA seems to be concerned about people using consumer-grade products to make medical decisions. Let's say Apple or Google release a smart watch with non-invasive blood glucose capability. Maybe it's not perfectly accurate, but still useful information for non-diabetics to see how their blood glucose spikes after eating and to monitor the speed at which the body clears out the glucose.
If a diabetic customer starts giving themselves insulin shots based on the watch instead of a measurement f... (read more)
Yes, there are benefits to trying new hard things that are not captured by the entrepreneur, so we should want them to try even when the cost/benefit to them is marginal or even somewhat under water.
Agreed, Jason. I’ll add that it’s trendy among the longtermists to speak of biosecurity, but it seems obvious to me that the FDA, not the legality of admittedly dangerous research, is the biggest obstacle to genuine biosecurity. We could have had vaccines for Covid by spring 2020, and without Eroom’s Law we might have had them by January 2020. And we could have had strain updates in real time. So an agency that was designed to make us safe made us less safe, and many people focused on safety in this domain continue to miss the forest for the trees. Often arguments about safety are problematic because of these kinds of failures, not because safety isn’t a valuable form of progress (it is).
Not to be a double contrarian, but I am also skeptical of a lot of econ research on institutions. Ha!
I think TFP is not really ideas. It is deployment of production methods. New ideas give us new production methods, but they don't really help us deploy them. For deployment, we need a lot of effort (1% inspiration, 99% perspiration) and also high-quality institutions.
How do you explain the TFP drop in Venezuela? Did they suddenly lose a bunch of ideas? No, their institutions deteriorated and their deployed production methods declined in quality.
Same in the US. The creation of the NRC reduced the quality of the production methods we could deploy. NEPA too. ... (read more)
Stuart, I'm not seeing how it is a conflict per se to prescribe actions that would generate progress and also study what has worked to generate progress.
In the example you give, certain advocates of charter or public schools skew research on what creates valuable opportunities for children when they give advice. But the problem is that their true objective function isn't aligned with their stated objective function. They claim their goal is to advance opportunities for children, but what they really want is to promote or impede charter schools. So they ske... (read more)