Seminar recap 12/25
final session on institutional rationality was held 12/20
What are the solutions to institutional decay? The first one we considered was Web 3.0 or Internet 3.0. As I wrote yesterday, there seems to have been a revival of the 1990s Net-head idea of a decentralized network society replacing the legacy centralized institutions.
Even though we may be skeptical of the full radical vision, there remains the hope that the new technology will make it easier to escape from bad institutions. For example, one can think of cryptocurrencies as a way to escape from poorly managed fiat currencies.
To take advantage of this ability to escape, it helps to be an “anywhere” rather than a “somewhere.” One’s ties to other people, in terms of work and socializing, should not be anchored in a particular location. Older people support the sports team of their city. Young people pick and choose. Maybe this is indicative of where the future is headed.
Close vertical families create ties to a particular location. Grandparents want to be near grandchildren. This goes against becoming an “anywhere.”
Perhaps the vision of Web 3.0 is implausible because it is ahead of its time, just as the Apple Newton was a handheld device that was ahead of its time. Some changes happen slowly relative to the most starry-eyed visionary predictions, but that does not mean that they never happen.
Part of the vision of Web 3.0 is decentralized identity. Instead of Twitter holding your identity and having the ability to cancel it, you have your identity and choose when to use Twitter.
Enough about government. What about universities? It seems that they can decline intellectually without a loss of status. They still are regarded as the source of future leaders.
Universities have become less meritocratic. The focus on building the endowment leads to admissions policies that emphasize potential donors over potential upward mobility (Recall Freddie deBoer’s take). Should universities lose their tax exemption if they admit a share of children of affluent families that is disproportionately high relative to the overall income distribution? This would obligate them to seek out high SAT scores among low-income students rather than abolishing the SAT and giving the admissions department the discretion to find mediocre students among the wealthy.
Should we just accept the fact that Harvard is too entrenched an institution to try to dislodge? Instead try to endow professors and departments that pursue truth the old-fashioned way?
Next, we turned to the Fantasy Intellectual Teams idea. It is costly to have third parties grade an intellectual’s work. Can this be automated using machine learning? Unlikely, because it requires a large set of training data.
Could use be made of something like a chess rating? Instead of a rating changing as a result of a contest, it could change as a result of a reference. For example, when Tyler Cowen gives a link to Zvi Mowshowitz, Zvi’s rating goes up.
Turning to media, why is it that although the NYT appears to have a smaller audience than the leading podcasters, we think that the NYT has more influence?
The NYT is more durable—popularity among podcasters comes and goes.
Also, the NYT knows what it stands for. Something like the Intellectual Dark Web only expresses opposition to mainstream media but has no coherent agenda of its own. It is analogous to the public in Martin Gurri’s depiction, in which the revolt of the public goes nowhere because it does not know where it wants to go.
Perhaps audience size is not the right metric. Joe Rogan’s hundreds of thousands of followers are not as influential as a handful of CEO’s who read the NYT.
As bad as Twitter is, it has mindshare among elites. The moral seems to be that if you want to improve things, you have to create new institutions or reform existing institutions that have mindshare among elites.
Going forward, my live events for paid subscribers will be of two forms. One form will be a conversation with someone about how they go about filtering information. How do they choose sources? How do they manage different sources, especially Twitter? Do they think about adding or subtracting to their information diet along different margins?
The other form will be a discussion of a book. For example The Mind Club. I am currently reading Interaction Ritual Chains, by Randall Collins. It is a sociologist’s theory of everything. Much of it is dense with academic prose, but there are some sections where he is more straightforward, and those I find interesting. Here is a recent article by Collins that updates his thinking.
> Also, the NYT knows what it stands for. Something like the Intellectual Dark Web only expresses opposition to mainstream media but has no coherent agenda of its own.
The IDW stands for classical liberalism. That's a vague term, but less so than whatever concoction the NYT knows it stands for.
I wonder how much Web3 as a vision represents the worldview of Gen X. In the end some key figures, the main ideologues in the movement - although it attracts plenty of young folks - are Balaji or Chris Dixon. Thiel has also become staunchly pro-Bitcoin...
Gen X is perhaps the first generation to experience the decay of the postwar western institutions and to suffer more losses than gains because of it, unlike the boomers who knew how to exploit that decay to their own benefit.