Recent Discussion

In a fiery, though somewhat stilted speech with long pauses for translation, Javier Milei delivered this final message to a cheering crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week:

Don't let socialism advance. Don't endorse regulations. Don't endorse the idea of market failure. Don't allow the advance of the murderous agenda. And don't let the siren calls of social justice woo you.

The reactions on econ twitter were unsurprisingly less positive than the CPAC crowd about calls to boycott market failure, one of the most well established facts in economics. James Medlock, for example, begs libertarians to get a step past econ 101.

The people cheering in the crowd and self-righteously quote tweeting on X are cheering for the wrong reasons. Medlock is correct that these credulous fans need...

2Daniel Paleka3dThere should be some kind of official recognition + prize for people providing public goods on the Internet. There exist prizes for free software and open-source projects, but this does not cover even remotely the amount of intangible value people can deliver on the Internet. Examples include: [], but also a lot of open-source projects. and maybe people like patio11, gwern, Lilian Weng, or Bartosz Ciechanowski. Some YouTubers would also likely qualify, but I'm not very familiar with the medium. Theory of change: just increase the rate of reminders to people that if they are highly competent and passionate about something not directly marketable, the Internet has made it so that they can easily increase the amount of beauty in the world by making their passion a public project.

Counterargument #2: AI obsoletes creation of cool stuff on the Internet.

Response: on the contrary, in many possible futures (esp. with constraints on agency), AI empowers people to deliver beauty to others, by automating all except the things they are passionate about. Motivation becomes more of a bottleneck. 

Also, these types of public goods are some of the things that make me most proud of the current human civilization. I'm sure many here will agree. Even if we lose that in the future, I think it still matters, even as some sort of nod to the things we used to value in the past.

2jasoncrawford3dTyler Cowen did something like this for covid: []
1Daniel Paleka3dCounterargument #1: it might be better to incentivize people to run actual companies that deliver business value. Response: there is so much value to be created that is hard to capture via current market structures. There are many people passionate about things that fall into this category.

The U.S. aircraft industry 100+ years ago reveals a lot about our modern military-industrial complex and why it’s always been hard to sell new technology to the government. Pre-World War II government policy separately competed design and production contracts, which had Martin manufacturing Curtiss’ airplanes and vice versa. It was a disaster. It also gave us the myth of the fungible engineer, arguably the central tenet in defense acquisition today.

America’s First Dual-Use Technology

This is a linkpost for

With disintegrating 737s in the news, a lot of people are wondering how things got so bad. I’m here to rewind the clock 100+ years to reassure everyone that the aviation industry has always been beset by challenged business models, bad incentives, and shoddy aircraft. 

From the first takeoff in 1903 through the late 1920s, “dual-use” aircraft were merely a promise – there was no commercial aviation market. There was, in fact, barely any... (read more)

Fellow progress blogger Alex Telford and I have had a friendly back-and-forth going over FDA reform. Alex suggests incremental reforms to the FDA, which I strongly support, but these don’t go far enough. The FDA’s failures merit a complete overhaul: Remove efficacy requirements and keep only basic safety testing and ingredient verification. Any drug that doesn’t go through efficacy trials gets a big red warning label, but is otherwise legal.

Before getting into Alex’s points let me quickly make the positive case for my position.

The FDA is punished for errors of commission: drugs they approve which turn out not to work or to be harmful. They don’t take responsibility for errors of omission: drugs they could have approved earlier but delayed, or drugs that would have been developed...

This was originally posted on my Subtack: 


Where does genius come from?

Last year, Henrik Karlsson wrote an essay about the childhoods of exceptional people. Like Erik Hoel, who had previously written about aristocratic tutoring, Karlsson proposed that the intensive educations of earlier times were responsible—at least in part—for producing the remarkable minds of people like Bertrand Russell, Virginia Woolf, Mozart, and John von Neumann. Erik Hoel believes that the decline of aristocratic tutoring—the one-on-one education many geniuses in the past received—is why we lack geniuses today.

These essays prompted responses from Scott Alexander, Ian Leslie, and others, debating how effective these educations really are—and whether they make the children involved unhappy. Ian Leslie warned that there is a trade off between brilliance and happiness: exceptional childhoods make miserable...

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How do you optimize your life for serendipity?

Ken Stanley has a new social network and I asked the question here:

But progress studies forum should have more people who can answer this (esp b/c serendipity and progress are both close allies)

A few years ago, Matt Yglesias’ book One Billion Americans bounced around the indigo blob, running the usual circuit of podcasts and opinion pieces while stirring up the usual policy debates. Most books do little to change peoples minds, yet I get the sense that Yglesias marginally shifted the consensus towards immigration, pronatal policy, and YIMBY. He achieved this by making a solid case for growth-oriented policy changes and then just slapped on the flashy title “One Billion Americans”.

But nobody really took idea of one billion Americans literally. In all the podcasts and book reviews, nobody thought to ask, “what would the American economy look like with 1 billion people? How rich would they be?”

I make a few attempts to estimate this and I get answers ranging...

On Thursday, February 29, I’ll be giving my talk “Towards a New Philosophy of Progress” to the New England Legal Foundation, for their Economic Liberty Speaker Series. The talk will be held over breakfast at NELF’s offices in Boston, and will also be livestreamed over Zoom. See details and register here. Update: online registration is closed, please email to register.

This is a talk I have given before in other venues. The description:

Enlightenment thinkers were tremendously optimistic about the potential for human progress: not only in science and technology, but also in morality and society. This belief lasted through the 19th century—but in the 20th century, after the World Wars, it gave way to fear, skepticism, and distrust.

Now, in the 21st century, we need a new way forward: a new philosophy of progress. What events and ideas challenged the concept of progress? How can we restore it on a sound foundation? And how can we establish a bold, ambitious vision for the future?