All of ryan_b's Comments + Replies

Marc Andreessen pens “Techno-Optimist Manifesto.” Discuss

Comments in no particular order:

Marc Andreessen continues to sound just like himself. I think this is good for the piece, it feels very genuine. In the main I agree.

Markets is the biggest section. This feels telling and also kind of wasteful. It also had the clunkiest bits which were, but of course, the ones about economics. By contrast the Technology section felt a bit thin, but I could easily forgive a certain amount of c'mon, you know why you are here in the effort.

What is this for, really? I can tell who it is for, because it doesn't seem like it would... (read more)

New Paths to Poetry

This post is fantastic. Also, the last 8 months have been an eternity for LLMs. Have you been tinkering with any of the new ones since this experiment, and if so how'd they do?

Japanese Political Economy and Industrial Policy

This review is fantastic, well done. I am now going to go seek out books about American government written by people in Japan or Finland or something.

Unblocking Abundance

For other aspiring policy hobbyists:

  1. A lot of changes at the legislative level are non-obvious, because stuff gets hidden away in huge bills ostensibly about something else. For example: The National Defense Authorization Act Contains AI Provisions

    My understanding of the last 10 years or so of policy is wide agreement that this is both the easiest way to get small changes made when you want them, and the hardest to stop when you don't, which is why the US government shuts down periodically.
  2. Most of the executive details can actually be influenced by we
... (read more)
Peter Thiel’s Pessimism Is (Largely) Mistaken

I agree that making direct comparisons don't make sense on their own merits; I used them as stand-ins for the previous period of American growth (which may be in the book, but were not in the link). I don't think the frontier-vs-catch-up distinction matters to the point argued in the post, though: I strongly expect the American technical frontier 1920-1970 period looks more like the China or India catch-up 1970-2020 period than it does the American technical frontier 1970-2020.

Phrased another way, the time-price method gives us the same stagnation story as... (read more)

Building Fast and Slow: The Empire State Building and the World Trade Center (Part I)

This is a fantastic writeup, thank you for putting in the effort!

Peter Thiel’s Pessimism Is (Largely) Mistaken

I like this time-price comparison mechanism, because it looks like it will better for tracking human-level impact than money will. I am looking forward to the book!

Out of curiosity, what was the time price gain for the previous 40-50 year spans before the ones you mention? The stagnation claim isn't that progress is literally zero, but that the last 50 years has shown us much less than the 50 years before that, and the 50 years before that. Thiel's position is more specific to the United States, and I note that in the link you compare the Chinese, Indian a... (read more)

2ErikSchmidt1yI don't think it makes sense to compare America's growth vs China or India's growth over this period. Yes, the countries were adopting similar technologies, but when America was adopting them, they were adopting those technologies at the technological frontier. When China and India were adopting them, they were not. It's easier to grow by adopting already invented technologies than by inventing new ones. This is essentially the logic behind Solow-Swan convergence between rich and poor countries, which as an economic model has held up pretty well to what we observe in the real world. As advocates of progress studies, we should be looking to see if it is possible to accelerate the rate of frontier growth. There are good reasons to think it might be. As others mentioned, J. Storrs Hall lays out some technologies that were not adopted for various reasons. AI could greatly accelerate technological and economic development. But also, we've also observed upshifts in economic growth in the past. Post-Industrial revolution, the economic growth rate, at the frontier and per capita, was about 1% a year, then about 1.5% a year after 1880, and about 2.5% a year after 1930 (I think - my memory is a little fuzzy on the exact numbers here). Thomas Philippon's paper (summarized by the author in Tweet form here []) offers some interesting insights into why this might be. We've seen the story of accelerating frontier growth before - the question is why haven't seen it again in the past 50 years.
"Progress" alternative to GiveWell?

In the context of federal government action, 5 years feels like a huge win! Out of curiosity, was there any kind of generic background on the kind of policy being worked on? For example, with ARPA-H, did the background include the founding of other ARPA-pattern agencies, the references about the relevant authority, or budgetary shenanigans?

It's unrelated to the OP, but what I am driving at here is how much pre-work on behalf of the government is a valid optimization target. I want to make a comparison with the legislative case, where a successful strategy in lobbying is providing draft language for a bill; is there an equivalent in the executive case?

3Stuart Buck1yAs of 2017, the Suzanne Wright Foundation, which has only two employees andmakes only around $400k in grants [] a year, started publishing aseries of articles [] on the idea of a DARPA for health (with amateurish graphics). It created aseparate website [] (also with amateurish design and graphics), and a series of short videos (e.g.,this [],this [], andthis [], each of which had fewer than 2,300 views by 2022). All of that might seem like an inauspicious beginning, but the foundation also got the support of Geoff Ling (who had founded the DARPA Biological Technologies Office) and Mike Stebbins (who had just spent six years as Assistant Director for Biotechnology at the White House OSTP). Eventually, the idea made its way into the Biden campaign’s hands, and Biden started promoting the idea on the campaign trail (seethis clip [] from an August 8, 2019 speech). Ling and Stebbins then wrote up their proposal in more detail [] for the Day One Project, sponsored by the Federation of American Scientists.
AMA: Jason Crawford, The Roots of Progress

Do you have any methods of analysis or threads of scholarship that you think are definitely wrong, or seriously misleading, and so should be avoided?

2jasoncrawford1yNot sure exactly, but there are some popular books I dislike. I read the first chapter of Dawn of Everything and was unimpressed. See Holden Karnofsky's “book non-review” [] . Also, I tried to read Sapiens and I could not get through two chapters of it. C. R. Hallpike's review [] captures my feelings about it. Re methods of analysis, I am highly skeptical of cyclical theories of history (Turchin/cliodynamics). But generally as long as you're looking at data and other evidence, and applying logic, you should be able to discover some nugget of truth.
Distinguishing the impact and value of an idea

This is an interesting post, and the arguments make sense to me. Upvoted.

I did find one idea which is very popular in economics thinking that I want to push back on:

Some amount of time that the second group spent will have been duplicative and so wasted.

I claim none of the effort spent by the second group is wasted: all of the duplicative effort pays out as reduced time to understand (and therefore use) the discovery. In cases where two groups are very close, that amount of time is basically zero; in cases of multiple discovery it is actually zero. I stron... (read more)

The Progress Dashboard (Concept)

This is a cool project! I am going to spend some time poking around in there, and if I think of anything in the way of improvements I’ll let you know.

The Book of T: An Exegesis of The Greatest Paper in Economic History

This is a fantastic write-up, and I would like to see more like it.

I always enjoy seeing love lavished on important intermediate artifacts, like a particular paper, or particular tool, or particular storytelling technique. For papers in particular I would love to see piles and piles more highlights, walkthroughs, and appreciation of great papers across all fields.