Tyler Cowen on the Decline of American Dynamism: The Complacent Class

too many parts of society are oriented towards bottom line activities of mistake avoidance instead of top line activities of taking risk and creating value.

.. “You can think of this book as detailing the social roots of the resulting slow growth outcome and explaining why that economic and technological stagnation has lasted so long.”

.. Cowen identifies a country that very much has a cheerful, can-do spirit: China. “I have visited China many times over the past five years, for a different book project, and what I’ve observed there has made America’s social stagnation increasingly clear to me. That was one reason I came to write this book.”

.. Thinking about that point makes me wonder if economists are poorly-equipped to measure how an optimistic vision can propel growth.

.. “We are using the acceleration of information transmission to decelerate changes in our physical world.” Must our imaginations be limited by the screen? That would be a shame.

.. Maybe it can push forward nuclear fusion; it’s already been reported that American thorium scientists who could no longer develop the technology in the United States have taken their designs to China, which is happy to encourage their work.

.. One doesn’t have to admire Steve Bannon’s policy views to see that he’s lived a unique life. The recitation of his career path (born in Norfolk; Virginia Tech; HBS; officer in the Navy; Goldman; etc.) doesn’t sufficiently convey the diversity of his experiences. He has been involved with Seinfeld; Biosphere 2; the rescue effort of the Iran hostage crisis; a World of Warcraft virtual gold mining company; Titus (the Shakespeare adaptation featuring Anthony Hopkins); Breitbart; the White House; and surely other interesting ventures I’ve never read about.

Patrick Byrne

.. He contracted Hepatitis C from a trip to Xinjiang in his 20’s; ongoing treatment has required his heart to be stopped over 100 times.

.. Let me take this opportunity to register a complaint with the term “open-minded,” which is increasingly praised as an important virtue.

I’ve started to dislike the term. First of all, it’s unobjectionable—who would profess he is not open-minded? More importantly, it’s not always clear what the term refers to, and this is worth thinking through. It might indicate the state of being “soft-minded,” in which one would readily be swayed by better arguments. But often it tends to connote “empty-minded,” in which one accepts anything and retains little. Many people are indeed open to different cultures and ideas, but they’re not necessarily conceptualizing their experience, nor active in seeking new experiences out.

.. I would like for everyone to be “hungry-minded,” in which one realizes that there is so much to know. A hungry-minded person senses that he is expert in so few areas of knowledge; that terrible gaps plague even his supposed areas of expertise; that there are important areas of knowledge of whose existence he is barely even aware; and that he should be fixing these deficiencies, now and ravenously. My favorite people to talk to are those who look for new experiences, think about them in an analytic way, and are eager to share their thoughts.

.. I’m slightly skeptical of thinking that we can save the world with indeterminate policies like looser monetary policy or housing reform. Are so many companies waiting to make things happen if only we’d cut interest rates by 0.25 percent? Will so many excellent service jobs be created if rents in Manhattan and the Mission were only cheaper by $250? To me these are policies worth advocating for, but I must say that they feel so marginal.

.. The most striking thing I learned from Harford is that the most success-oriented teams are usually the most miserable teams. For example, the amateur investment clubs that generate the highest returns are usually composed of people who don’t know each other well—it’s the only way to generate pushback on ideas that aren’t well thought through. Clubs composed of friends will find it more important to keep friendships intact rather than focus on returns.

.. Living a life that’s not so well-ordered can improve skill-acquisition.

.. It’s odd to me that a country that hasn’t experienced warfare for centuries would maintain such a militarized culture. The book makes it feel that being Swiss is the civic religion of Switzerland, and the service in the army is the annual demonstration of faith.

.. The biggest objections to this book will come from those who haven’t been steeped in Thielian arguments for techno-pessimism.

.. Maybe we can lay the blame for complacency at the feet of Carter, who again and again entreated Americans to lower their expectations. He’s the president who encouraged people to carpool, who put on a sweater and asked people to lower their thermostats, and oversaw repeated crises.

.. The chapter never explicitly mentions pot, except in the title. By introducing little oddities in the text, Cowen makes room for claims that are too difficult to baldly state; in other cases, watch for occasions in which he’s offering commentary on something other than what he’s directly writing about.

Tech titans’ latest project: Defy death

For centuries, explorers have searched the world for the fountain of youth. Today’s billionaires believe they can create it, using technology and data.

What many of the recent efforts have in common is a belief that computerized analysis of big data sets can deliver cures, predict outbreaks and discover patterns that would have been impossible for the human brain to process. An oft-cited example is Google’s flu heat map, which is built on the idea that an improved predictor for flu activity might be clusters of searches for, say, Tamiflu or “flu symptoms,” collected from Internet service provider addresses.

That approach turns the traditional scientific method on its head. In the United States, most biomedical research happens at a gradual and sometimes painfully deliberate pace. Scientists start with a hypothesis, conduct experiments to test it and then spend years refining and analyzing the results they collect.

.. And there are few checks and balances on such initiatives. Once, two-thirds of scientific and medical research was funded by the federal government, beholden to the public good. Now, two-thirds is funded by private industry, a growing share by billionaires accountable to no one and impatient with the pace of innovation.

.. America remains deeply ambivalent about using new medical treatments to live radically longer lives. In a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 51 percent said they believed treatments to slow, stop or reverse aging would have a negative impact on society.

.. In that kind of world, social change comes to a standstill, he said; aging dictators could stay in power for centuries.

.. Fukuyama said in an interview. “Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirably by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

.. Vinod Khosla, one of Silicon Valley’s most revered venture capitalists, likened the practice of medicine to witchcraft. He argued that machines are better than the average doctor and that disruption in health care was more likely to be driven by those outside the industry than those in the profession.

.. Since 2010, the National Institutes of Health’s budget has been cut by about $3.6 billion — or 11 percent — after adjusting for inflation

.. Prevailing theory among the tech entrepreneurs holds that the federal government is too risk-averse to properly drive medical research.  A failed project in Washington is akin to a great tragedy — with managers being called to testify at congressional hearings and Government Accountability Office investigations being launched into why so much taxpayer money was wasted. But in the entrepreneurial world, say tech leaders, failure is regarded as a learning opportunity on the way to the next innovation.

 .. scientists, motivated by the pressures to publish and entangled in a web of conflicts of interest, manipulate data so often that it’s impossible to trust the body of scientific literature that  assesses the efficacy of hormone-replacement therapy or vitamin E or low-dose aspirin. Of 45 well-accepted journal articles about medical interventions, Ioannidis found, 14, or 31 percent, were later shown to be wrong or exaggerated.
.. Thiel said the problem with the grant-making processes at NIH, the National Science Foundation and other major funders of research is that they are “consensus-oriented.”
.. everyone would be like Harriette Thompson, the 91-year-old who broke records this year after completing a marathon in 7 hours and 7 minutes.
.. The big challenge of aging research is that to make it work the way people want it to scientists would have to figure out a way to extend all human systems simultaneously and shut them all down at pretty much the same time. Otherwise you would be replacing one way of dying with another.
.. “If you did this, you might start working on some great projects you might otherwise not have attempted because you didn’t think you’d finish,” Thiel said. “You’d treat strangers a lot better because you’d likely see them again. You’d be a much better steward of the Earth than if you thought it was your last day and you were having a crazy party or something.”