Re: Which Project for Hanson?

Hal Finney (
Fri, 25 Jul 1997 14:12:07 -0700

I'll approach these from the point of view of which would improve the
world the most from my perspective.

> 1) "Incentive Contracts" (http://hss.caltech/edu/~hanson/buyhealth.html)
> 2) "Explaining Product Bans" (http://hss.caltech/edu/~hanson/
> 3) "Why Do We Disagree?" (http://hss.caltech/edu/~hanson/

First, I think (3) is the least pragmatically useful. The paper was way over
my head, and to the very limited extent I could understand it, it didn't seem
to match the real world. I don't know whether the problem is that people
aren't rational, or whether their stated reasons for their beliefs don't
match their real ones, or what. But I doubt that anyone's going to change
how people choose their beliefs. So it seemed mostly of academic value.

(1) and (2) are both interesting and suggest possible ways that the world
could improve. However (1) scares me a little. If my HMO also issued my
life insurance, it would seem like it was balancing my life vs my death on
strict financial grounds. Maybe this makes sense economically, but it
gives me a very uncomfortable feeling. "Sorry, we've decided it's cheaper
just to pay out your life insurance than to cure you. Have a nice death."

(2) looks promising. I think we may well see a climate in which
alternatives to strict government regulation are explored. The rise of
multinationals, the trans-territorial nature of the net, the increased
access to information, all could work towards government as provider of
authoritative information rather than as controller of interactions.

I just heard an example of how these ideas are in the air. On the Lehrer
NewsHour last night there was an interview, I think with Charles Murray,
about his book on libertarianism. In the book he apparently has his
own suggestion (more of a thought experiment) for an alternative, which
would be to let companies explicitly "opt out" of government regulation.
They'd have to make it clear up front that they were doing that,
so you'd have a choice of flying on a government-regulated airline or
one which was unregulated. Murray argued that unregulated businesses,
in order to compete, would have to make sure they were just as safe as
the regulated ones, but that they'd be able to do it more efficiently.

So from the point of view of making a difference in the world, I would
lean towards the product-ban alternative proposal. Whether this makes
sense in terms of a career path, I don't know. But it seems like an
area where some practical results could occur.