Peter Thiel on Piketty

From an AMA on Reddit 4 years ago:

Three parts to Piketty:

1 He describes a world of greater inequality. I think this is happening and is an important phenomenon.

2 He explains the phenomenon as driven by high returns on capital. I think this explanation is incorrect (the real returns have been negative since 2008, with interest rates at 0% and inflation at 2% in the US).

3 He proposes much higher marginal tax rates and a wealth tax. I think this is very bad policy and almost impossible to implement, and will result in massive distortions as people try to shelter more income and wealth.

I think we need to find ways to grow the overall economy faster — without faster growth, inequality will be the least of our problems.

In general, Thiel is a fan of trickle-down economics, focused on wealth creation through the fast growth of new systems of value.

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Extracts from and comments on The Outsiders

This article in an issue of the journal of the high-intelligence Prometheus Society describes research on how difficult people with high IQs find integrating happily with society:

The single greatest adjustment problem faced by the gifted, however, is their tendency to become isolated from the rest of humanity. This problem is especially acute among the exceptionally gifted…

… The implication is that there is a limit beyond which genuine communication between different levels of intelligence becomes impossible. To say that a child or an adult is intellectually isolated from his contemporaries is to say that everyone in his environment has an IQ at least 30 points different from his own.

The point is that the danger lies in having an exceptional IQ in an environment completely lacking in intellectual peers. It’s the isolation that does the damage, not the IQ itself.

One way the gifted adjust to adult life:

And although they may superficially appear to have made a good adjustment to their work and friends, neither work nor friends can completely engage their attention. They hunger for more intellectual challenge and more real companionship than their social environment can supply. So they resort to leading a double life. They compartmentalize their life into a public sphere and a private sphere. In public they go through the motions of fulfilling their social roles, whatever they are, but in private they pursue goals of their own. They are often omnivorous readers, and sometimes unusually expert amateurs in specialized subjects. The double life strategy might even be called the genius ploy, as many geniuses in history have worked at menial tasks in order to free themselves for more important work.

The article then shifts gears:

The genius (as regards intellectual ability) not only has an IQ of say 50 points more than the average person, but in virtue of this difference acquires seemingly new aspects (potentialities) or characteristics…

Wechsler is saying quite plainly that those with IQs above 150 are different in kind from those below that level. He is saying that they are a different kind of mind, a different kind of human being…

… objective self-knowledge for the exceptionally gifted is nearly impossible to obtain. What he most needs to know is not how he differs from ordinary people–he is acutely aware of that–but how he is both like and unlike those of his own kind.

The writer seems to say that when an intelligence is far enough removed from the mean, it’s not only different from ‘ordinary people’, but is also unique among its peers.

The article is supposed to be among the best-known from the society’s journal. It was first published in 1987, thirty-two years ago. I wonder what the current studies of super-high IQ individuals show about the nature of such intelligence, and the coping mechanisms.

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Your margin is my opportunity

Alipay’s parent company’s other subsidiary, MYbank, exemplifies the Bezos quote:

…the Hangzhou-based firm’s operating cost per loan is about 3 yuan, versus 2,000 yuan at traditional rivals.

This Bloomberg article described how with technology + access to better data MYbank approves loans in 3 minutes instead of 30 days, approves 4 times as many applications as regular lenders, with a default rate of just 1%. It has now lent the equivalent of USD 290bn.

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Email clients as web browsers

But also, the original conception of email is that messages are plain text. No fonts, no styles, just plain text, with optional attachments. But those attachments are embedded in the message, not pulled from a server when the message is viewed.

Once we allowed email clients to act as de facto web browsers, loading remote content from servers when messages are viewed, we opened up not just a can of worms but an entire case of canned worms. Every privacy exploit for a web browser is now a privacy exploit for email. But it’s worse, because people naturally assume that email is completely private.

John Gruber’s Daring Fireball, “Superhuman and Email Privacy

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Big tech and startup tech tackle sleep

Longform GQ article on “The Business of Sleep” has some perspective:

If you want to isolate a time when the idea of wellness began to dominate our culture, you could do worse than point to the 2008 financial crisis. In a few short months an entire generation felt their grip on the future slip. Jobs became scarce, before scarcely becoming jobs. Zero hours became the new nine to five. Suddenly, nearly everyone needed a side hustle and nearly everyone else needed to be told what one was. Property became a pipe dream. Social media showed them what they didn’t have. Generation Anxious was born.

and

One upshot of the 2008 financial crisis, he says, was that, in the following years, “It wasn’t cool to sleep four hours a night any more, you know? There used to be this whole banker culture, crushing it at work, 100-hour weeks, let’s brag about how little sleep we get. And we started to turn the curve on that. When we started in 2014, our goal was to think about people sleeping better. People resting more. We got people to start thinking about sleep.”

But then you have addictive design from social media and streaming video services, with quotes from Netflix’s CEO like

“When you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. We’re competing with sleep.”

contrasted with Apple, which built the elegantly designed Bedtime night-and-morning alert feature into iOS, a feature I have used every day since it was released. This makes it

And so, when you are sitting there wondering if you should keep watching or scrolling or simply go to bed, chances are you’re making a choice between the largest companies on earth: Netflix (£127bn value), Amazon (£789bn), YouTube (owned by Google: £583bn), Facebook (£375bn) and Twitter (£21bn) on the one hand and Apple (£789bn) on the other.

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Thiel’s fresh look at nationalism

At the 2019 National Conservatism Conference:

The nationalist view, according to Thiel… asks a simple question: Is it good for America?

A nationalist, Thiel argued, simply asks what Silicon Valley has done to improve the lives of American citizens. Outside of the Bay Area, he said, the answer is not much. Social media may consume more of our lives, but it’s not clear it’s making those lives better.

[The Iraq War] would have sparked the cold calculation of weighing the value of the oil against the cost of the war — a calculation that would have made it clear from the start that the war wasn’t worth it.

But

The problem is that it is all diagnosis and no cure. Thiel challenged important preconceptions but failed to even gesture in the direction of answers.

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How to Build a Car by Adrian Newey

Finished “How To Build A Car: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Formula 1 Designer” by Adrian Newey.

The book is a whirlwind tour of an F1 designer’s career + how competitive the sport is, both for the constructors and the drivers. Ultimately, though the years blur into each other and it drags.

The problem is of balance; Newey spends too much time on the actual design and challenges compared to his experience as a senior member of an F1 team. Without curtailing descriptions of his design work, I’d have liked a book-length description of his years either just at Williams or McLaren or Red Bull (the last where he seemed/s happiest), than a tour of his entire career.

Nevertheless, a good one-time read.

Complement the book with this Aug 2018 WIRED longform article on the changes at F1 since the sale of the franchise to Liberty Media.

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Cars as private spaces

In Japan, a survey of people who rented cars revealed that

one out of every eight users rented automobiles for purposes other than transportation.

An overwhelmingly large number of respondents said they slept or rested in vehicles, followed by customers who said they used cars as spots to talk with friends, family and business clients on the phone.

People also rented vehicles to watch TV in, get dressed up for Halloween, practice singing, rapping and English conversation, and even do facial stretches said to reduce the size of their face, NTT found.

A car may be one of the last truly private spaces left.

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Using work apps for the home

A profile of families using email, Slack, Trello, Asana and even Jira the bug-tracking tool to coordinate housework has such examples as:

“We do family meetings every Sunday where we review goals for the week, our to-do list, and activities coming up,” she says. “I track notes for the meeting [in Trello]. I have different sections, goals for the week, a to-do list.” 

And

 it’s not uncommon for one of them to send an email recap, something along the lines of “As per our earlier conversation, we have decided that the children will be enrolled in tennis camp over the summer. Please let me know if you want to follow up on this.”

But also that such tools

might help even out the imbalances in household duties that often arise between partners—especially men and women—by making them more visible. “It tends to be that couples divide this work up in ways that aren’t exactly equitable, and that one person takes on more of that truly invisible work … Something like this might actually be a way for that person to say, ‘Look what I’m doing’

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The moment of creation of Zcash

“Last November, journalist Morgen Peck showed up at her friend Molly Webster’s apartment in Brooklyn, told her to take her battery out of her phone, and began to tell her about The Ceremony, a moment last fall when a group of, well, let’s just call them wizards, came together in an undisclosed location to launch a new currency.”

Among my favourite Radiolab podcast episodes is this one from two years ago about the planning leading up to, and moment of creation of the Zcash cryptocurrency. A complex topic narrated entertainingly. This is high-quality journalism.

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