Wednesday, June 26, 2013

yay!

I'm sure I don't have any unique commentary on DOMA, so let me just say I'm looking forward to being maid of honor at my best friend's wedding in a few months, now to include all the typical legal hassles and higher taxes that straight couples have always dealt with. Congratulations Jo and Laura :)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

motivated reasoning

Akerlof really has a knack for describing things in a way that makes it impossible to disagree, to the point where you think the point was almost too obvious to make:
Unlike a camera film or a filing cabinet, the human mind must “choose” which stimuli to process and store and which stimuli to ignore or to repress. It is all but inevitable that this choice process involves the aims of the organism, so that its view of the world is all but inevitably biased by its aims.
From "The Economics of Illusion", Akerlof 1989. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

in praise of craigslist and nice people

What website is there that has produced so much consumer surplus as craigslist? (Except amazon maybe.)

I've found four apartments on craigslist, bought three motorcycles, and sold two motorcycles on craigslist. I've bought and sold more concert, festival, and burning man tickets on craigslist than I can possibly count. I furnished three apartments entirely from free or almost-free furniture on craigslist, and then got rid of all that furniture on craigslist again when moving across the country twice. I've bought 13 bicycles and sold 13 bicycles on craigslist, and countless miscellaneous items.

I met one of my best friends via craigslist, and dated people I met on craigslist. I've found three roommates through craigslist. I set up two of my friends with people I found on craigslist (and they're both now engaged or married to that person, so don't let anyone tell you craigslist is only full of creeps :)

But until two days ago, I'd never realized how fantastic it is as a general-purpose focal point for all community-bulletin-board-type material, beyond facilitating trade. I was motorcycling around north Berkeley, and since it was hot out and I wasn't going on the highway, I stuffed my nice motorcycle jacket* in the saddlebag. But one buckle is broken, and it slipped out from under the other one. As soon as I got back to school I noticed and retraced my steps, but it was already gone.

I immediately went to craigslist to post an ad in the lost and found section, thinking, what the heck, there's no way this'll work but it's worth a shot. I then printed out 50 lost-reward flyers to put up along the route, and went to the gym to meet my friend and borrow her rollerblades so I could put them up in a reasonable amount of time. As I was leaving the gym about 90 minutes later, dreading having to go back and put them all up, I noticed a voicemail. Someone had called to tell me that she randomly saw my "lost" ad right next to someone's "found" ad with the same description, and she called just to let me know. Can you believe how nice some people are!?

I then went back to craigslist and saw that I had posted my ad within two minutes of the other ad, about 20 minutes after I lost it in the first place. I emailed the poster, retrieved my jacket, and he adamantly refused to let me pay him the $50 reward. These people give me faith in humanity. Within an hour of losing something quite valuable, a stranger had attempted to return it to me and another stranger had tried to facilitate.

I love craigslist. And nice people.

(And now I will of course use this incident to point out how well public services can be provided by private entities. Can you imagine what a horror show a government-run craigslist would be?)

*By the way, at least for smallish women, these are one of those rare things that are totally worth paying the exorbitant full price for. Over 8 years it's been worth its $280 price several times over...

Sunday, June 9, 2013

free markets prevent government abuse

This post is so exactly what I think, on such a fundamental level, that it wouldn't even occur to me to make the point explicitly. But I'm sure glad David Henderson did, and therefore you all should go read it.

(To summarize, free markets are decentralized and tend to provide what people want, so when the government starts abusing its power, the market provides ways to push back against that. Free markets therefore make me relatively optimistic about the world. In the case of privacy, there are already plenty of utilities you can use to make it harder for the government to spy on you.)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

privacy

With privacy issues in the news, there's been some interesting discussion:

MR on creative ambiguity
- Matt Yglesias (who I like more and more since he's moved to Slate) on tech companies and tech exports, and with a relevant movie recommendation which I heartily second, The Lives of Others.

It seems like social norms about privacy change much faster than laws about privacy (see how people have quickly adapted to privacy-compromising technology, and how short-lived were the objections to each new facebook rollout...). This is even more true for privacy law than other kinds of law because lawmakers have incentives that conflict with privacy protection. I also believe privacy is an extremely valuable legal principle, both simply as fundamental human right that should be enshrined as clearly as the freedom of expression, and because no government in history can hold so much power over personal information without abusing it. Therefore, I'm afraid that people will get used to a lack of privacy and stop pushing back through legal channels before the law can adapt to protect our privacy in the digital age. Maybe the negative consequences to this lack of privacy will initially be rare enough to be justified as acceptable collateral damage in the war against terror, but in the long run, you know, "first they came for the Xs and I did not speak out because I was not an X" and so on...