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March 29, 2009


Another link between rationalist causes is that rationalists will tend to approve of each other's causes. One rationalist's Favorite Project might be something other than marijuana legalization, but he's still likely to think that legalization is a good idea. That makes it a easier for him to ally with legalization supporters in spreading rationality, since rationality gains that get channeled to legalization aren't completely wasted in his eyes. Extremists don't have this connection - they're more likely to disapprove of each other's causes (since extremist causes are generally disapproved of). And Folks Who Think They'd Win Bets should be about neutral, on average, about the causes supported by other such folks.

"And since on average lowbrow folks find bets and track records more engaging, most elite-aspiring intellectuals avoid bets"

What - has no one here ever met an English gentleman? The Harrovians and Old Etonians live to this day by the honor of the Gentleman's Bet. Even if the stakes are only a token bottle of Scotch, the real currency is respect, which matters immensely to these folks.

I'm still with Caplan - a real scholar and a true gentleperson will bet. It's the refusal to bet that calls your status into question. The refusal shows an unwillingness to stand behind your word, and a disbelief in the value of reputation as an honor currency.

Those sound like forced examples. Compare the most well known coalitions of disparate folks (more or less) pulling together: the two main American political parties.

Julian, I certainly didn't mean to imply that no coalitions every work.

frelkins, I changed to wording from "bets" to "open betting markets." Gentlemen may well respect bets with other gentlemen, but they are put off those willing to bet with just anyone.

Unnamed, that seems right, but I don't see that it makes the coalition much more feasible.

My guess is that the best chance for making intellectual bets high status is for the stakes to be large enough. I.e. when somebody makes, say, over a million dollars on a bet made in a prediction market then we will probably see more status conferred to such markets.

frelkins - there's a difference between a token bet with implied 50-50 odds, which is usually only taken when both sides are fairly certain they're right, and a sports-style bet where the magnitude of the disagreement is probably much less and so you only bet if you're getting profitable odds.

In other words, saying "I'll bet you a bottle of scotch that (arbitrary proposition)" might be high-status in some circles, but arguing over whether the odds against some economic event happening should be offered as 9-1 or 10-1 is less likely to be seen in a positive light.

Shard, I don't think non 50/50 odds puts gentlemen off so much as betting with non-gentlemen. But yes betting non-cash is more comfortable than cash for them.

Mark, million dollar lottery winners don't make lotteries high status.

There's no implication of skill when one wins the lottery. A better argument against Mark's suggestion is that beating a prediction market by a significant amount tends to show that the winner did better at aggregating and processing information than the market did, so all the status accrues to the winner, not the market. There was a blogger who actually did this and blogged it for the past U.S. primary season, but I can't find the link.

I agree with Cyan. Top poker players who win a lot of money in big tournaments are often considered high-status. People who win at games of pure chance (slots?) are not.

Ultimately I think its a marketing problem. Eventually the profit motive will win out, and betting markets will be used (or used more than they are now) in the production of private goods. If this lends creditability and status to the process, public and intellectual goods might come next.

I wonder if the most valuable use of betting markets would be pedagogical. If politican X proposes to use huge tariffs to "protect the nations economy", arguments against the plan cannot easily be fitted into a soundbite and will be ignored by a rationally-ignorant voter.

On the other hand, if you could point to the betting markets and say that the smart money thinks that this plan would hurt the nations economy, even the most rationally-ignorant voter might be persuaded.

I do not think that rationality somehow inherently boosts certain causes, not even its own. You use rationality to optimize the outcome of your chosen cause, but you cannot use it to pick your cause in the first place. The idea that "all rational people ought to agree" on something always implicitly presupposes a shared goal, such as, humanity, less suffering, world peace, increased general wellbeing, etc. I.e., causes that are widely shared, but not necessarily in themselves "rational" in any way.
So, unless you are very clear on the goal you are trying to pursue rationally, no amount of rational thought is going to give you any directive on how to act.

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