Links: The cost of construction, writing really long fiction, computerized farms, and more!

* Why American Costs Are So High.

* “What’s Left of the Center-Left?” Depressing. Also depressing, Clinton-era centrist Democrat Brad DeLong explains why the center-left is dead.

* Charlie Stross: Lessons learned: writing really long fiction.

* “What if All the World’s Economic Woes Are Part of the Same Problem?“, and that problem is demographic: an aging workforce is less innovative, takes fewer risks, and is more sclerotic overall.

* “Leaked Documents Show the U.S. Tracking Journalists Through a Secret Database.” How is this the country we’ve ended up living in?

* “Why Do People Love to Hate Steven Pinker? By proclaiming the gospel of human progress, the Harvard psychologist has made a lot of enemies.” I see a lot of straw-manning Pinker and almost no steel-manning of him.

* “Progressivism and the West;” we are our own worst enemies!

* “This is Roquette Science: How computerized arugula (aka roquette) farms take over the world.”

* But at least one random writer thinks Biden will win, which sounds like a good, electable outcome to me.

* An essay against Taleb’s Antifragile.

* “The Industrial Revolution of Shame.” Does this enhance rewards to shamelessness?

* On the new translation of The Odyssey.

* Attraction Inequality and the Dating Economy.

* “US to build six nuclear power plants in India.” Total comedy given the seeming inability of the US to build nuclear power plants in the US.

The college bribery scandal vs. Lambda School

Many of you have seen the news, but, while the bribery scandal is sucking up all the attention in the media, Lambda School is offering a $2,000/month living stipend to some students and Western Governors University is continuing to quietly grow. The Lambda School story is a useful juxtaposition with the college-bribery scandal. Tyler Cowen has a good piece on the bribery scandal (although to me the scandal looks pretty much like business-as-usual among colleges, which are wrapped up in mimetic rivalry, rather than a scandal as such, unless the definition of a scandal is “when someone accidentally tells the truth”):

Many wealthy Americans perceive higher education to be an ethics-free, law-free zone where the only restraint on your behavior is whatever you can get away with.

This may be an overly cynical take, but to what extent do universities act like ethics-free, law-free zones? They accept students (and their student loan payments) who are unlikely to matriculate; they have no skin in the game regarding student loans; insiders understand the “paying for the party” phenomenon, while outsiders don’t; too frequently, universities don’t seem to defend free speech or inquiry. In short, many universities are exploiting information asymmetries between them and their students and those students’s parents—especially the weakest and worst-informed students. Discrimination against Asians in admissions is common at some schools and is another open secret, albeit less secret than it once was. When you realize what colleges are doing to students and their families, why is it a surprise when students and their families reciprocate?

To be sure, this is not true of all universities, not all the time, not all parts of all universities, so maybe I am just too close to the sausage factory. But I see a whole lot of bad behavior, even when most of the individual actors are well-meaning. Colleges have evolved in a curious set of directions, and no one attempting to design a system from scratch would choose what we have now. That is not a reason to imagine some kind of perfect world, but it is worth asking how we might evolve out of the current system, despite the many barriers to doing so. We’re also not seeing employers search for alternate credentialing sources, at least from what I can ascertain.

See also “I Was a College Admissions Officer. This Is What I Saw.” In a social media age, why are we not seeing more of these pieces? (EDIT: Maybe we are? This is another one, scalding and also congruent with my experiences.) Overall, I think colleges are really, really good at marketing, and arguably marketing is their core competency. A really good marketer, however, can convince you that marketing is not their core competency.

Links: Breakthrough technologies, breaking technology habits, the nature of language, and more!

* How one guy ditched his phone and unbroke his brain.

* America’s Professional Elite: Wealthy, Successful and Miserable. Maybe.

* “Better babblers.” This rings true:

After eighteen years of being a professor, I’ve graded many student essays. And while I usually try to teach a deep structure of concepts, what the median student actually learns seems to mostly be a set of low order correlations. They know what words to use, which words tend to go together, which combinations tend to have positive associations, and so on. But if you ask an exam question where the deep structure answer differs from answer you’d guess looking at low order correlations, most students usually give the wrong answer.

* Related to the above, “Humans Who Are Not Concentrating Are Not General Intelligences.” This may argue for more in-depth books and articles and less Twitter.

* Thoughts on pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter Internet culture.

* “University of California system terminates subscriptions with world’s largest scientific publisher in push for open access to publicly funded research.” Unabashedly good news.

* The New ‘Dream Home’ Should Be a Condo. An obvious point to regular readers, but here it is.

* Money Out of Nowhere: How Internet Marketplaces Unlock Economic Wealth.

* “‘Men Are Scum’: Inside Facebook’s War on Hate Speech.” Some of the framing is bad but the overall article is far superior to most of its type.

* “A Radically Moderate Answer to Climate Change.” You may be getting tired of reading about nuclear power, yet we still seem as a culture not to be paying attention to it. See also “Nuclear goes retro — with a much greener outlook.” By the way, Vacant-land mythology impedes serious energy discussions, so renewables are not a panacea.

* “‘Do you ever think about me?’: the children sex tourists leave behind.” Brutal, fascinating.

* “The Era of Limited Government Is Over.” This is bad news even for people who favor greater government control.

* “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff ran $1M slush fund by diverting campaign cash to his own companies.” The greater the purity facade, the more entertaining the fall.

* “Arizona State University: From party school to global brand.” The story is poorly organized but despite that, there are interesting nuggets throughout. The story’s quality and venue may also indicate why people interested in ideas migrated away from most newspapers.

* “Markets Aren’t Buying Denial on Climate Change: Investors who put money at risk behave as if it’s not a hoax.”

* 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2019, curated by Bill Gates.

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