Re: Frustration with politics explained

Robin Hanson (hanson@econ.Berkeley.EDU)
Mon, 13 Oct 1997 11:44:37 -0700

[Hi folks! I'm back on the list for now. RH]

At 11:32 AM 10/12/97 Dan Clemmensen wrote:
>... My problem with political
>theory and economic theory is general, not directed toward
>any particular brand. My problem is that these fields
>do not appear to be based on any agreed-upon set of
>fundamental facts. They differ from disciplines such
>as physics, chemistry, biology, and geology, which each
>have an agreed-upon basis. Economics and politics
>are in the same category of fuzzy science with psychology
>and sociology.
>In my opinion, we will continue to disagree about these
>subjects, and we will have difficulty making any progress,
>until we have an underlying theory with the same predictive
>power as evolution in biology, atom theory in chemistry,
>or Newton's laws in physics, and plate tectonics in geology.
>Since this is true, debate makes little progress. ...

Geoff Smith responded:
>many concepts in economics are built on strong empirical evidence,
>just like physics and chemistry. Economists even employ the
>scientific method in the same way.

Let me go further. Dan, not only are there agreed on fundamental facts in
economics, but if you knew more economics you would be much less likely to
make your web-singularity predictions. (Knowing more AI would also help.)

The sort of singularity scenario you endorse *is* a claim about economics.
And economic analysis is directly relevant to evaluating it. If you don't
anyone knows enough about economics to say anything useful on this list,
then you shouldn't think you know enough about it to make the predictions
that you do.

To be even more explicit: most singularity claims can be thought of as
claims about rates of economic growth. So of direct relevance is our best
understanding of
sources and limits on such growth.

Your claim is, as best I understand it, that some new innovation in visual
programming will raise average programmer productivity by say a factor of
ten, and that there is some very strong non-linear dependence of world
economic growth rates on such productivity and the size of the web, a type
of non-linearity which only appears above some as yet unreached threshold
combination of productivity and connectivity, and which continues strong
through many orders of magnitude of growth.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614