My Faults My Own

Any human’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in humankind.

IN  WHICH Ross Rheingans-Yoo—a sometime economist, artist, trader, expat, poet, EA, and programmer—writes on things of int­erest.

Reading Feed (last update: July 5)

A collection of things that I was glad I read. Views expressed by linked authors are chosen because I think they’re interesting, not because I think they’re correct, unless indicated otherwise.


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Blog: Don't Worry About the Vase | Spoiler-Free Review: Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (plus a Spoilerific section)

Blog: Popehat | The Fourth of July [rerun]

Blog: Tyler Cowen @ Bloomberg View | The NBA’s Reopening Is a Warning Sign for the U.S. Economy — "If so many NBA players are pondering non-participation, how keen do you think those workers — none of whom are millionaire professional athletes — are about returning to the office?"

Comic: SMBC | Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Holism


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Blog: Market Design | Job market technology is diffusing slowly through the armed forces

Blog: Marginal Revolution | Tales from Trinidad barter

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2018-19 Donor Lottery Report, pt. 2

This post is cross-posted to the EA Forum, where I expect comments will be much more visible than they are here.

This is the second in a series of reports on my decision-making process and decisions in allocating the $500k funding pool from the January 2019 CEA donor lottery. This writeup on my phase-2 grant recommendations is released simultaneously with my writeup of phase 1, which also provides a broader introduction to my personal background, philosophical foundation, and initial process.

While the decision-making process for phase 1 was largely completed prior to the widespread understanding of the scope of the Covid-19 pandemic, phase-2 grantmaking began in March 2020 and specifically focused on neglected responses to the pandemic. This writeup outlines what I can reconstruct of my process and opinions at the time, and discusses my thoughts on room for further funding.

As with the previous report, this writeup represents independent work and is not coauthored or endorsed by CEA, the organizations or individuals mentioned, or my employer. Grantee organizations

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2018-19 Donor Lottery Report, pt. 1

This post is cross-posted to the EA Forum, where I expect comments will be much more visible than they are here.

The results of the January 2019 CEA donor lottery meant that I was responsible for allocating the donor lottery's $500k funding pool. I entered the donor lottery anonymously, though I now intend to explain my grants and decision-making process publicly; I believe that transparency and open sharing of ideas is a good thing for effective altruism, and I'm glad to be able to contribute to that here.

I expect that my grant recommendations from this funding pool will ultimately be made in three or four phases; this writeup is a preliminary report on phase 1, and is released simultaneously with my writeup on phase 2.

The decision-making process for phase 1 was largely completed prior to February 2020, and phase-1 grants were not substantially affected by consideration of the Covid-19 pandemic (see "Adjusting for unexpected developments", below). Phase-2 decision-making began after February 2020, and phase-2 grants

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Personal opinions on my Harvard courses

A prospective Harvard student wrote the other day asking for advice about CS+Math at Harvard, and (among other questions) asked if I'd share the courses I took to help them compare with their own plans. As always, I was happy to help. I figured it might also be useful to someone else to have an (admittedly idiosyncratic) sample of a Harvard CS+Math schedule on the Internet, so I'm posting it here, too.

note: There really isn't much more here than it says on the tin, so if you're not interested in that, you really can skip this post.


It should be obvious, but no one should take this as a prescription -- not everything was the right choice for me in hindsight, so it's definitely not exactly right for you. At best, it's a data point for people exactly like me, and at worst you should consider reversing the major takeaways.

I also feel compelled to pass along the best advice I received about picking a major, which

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Speculative preparedness

note: "Preparedness" is right there in the title, but this is an economic analysis for the next crisis, not personal preparedness advice for the current one.

Jeff Kaufman discusses an interaction between price controls and emergency preparedness:

Let's say you see a potential pandemic coming, and you produce a product that could be critical. Maybe you make respirator masks, maybe you make ventilators, maybe you make PCR test reagents. You can see that if you and your competitors don't ramp up production and the pandemic happens, there will be a shortage. What do you do?

[...]

[One] option is to ramp up production now, speculatively. Start paying workers extra to work longer shifts and run your assembly lines around the clock. Train extra workers. Find what you're bottlenecked on and figure out how to get that ramped up too. If the pandemic fears were overblown you lose a lot of money, but if the pandemic happens people need what you have so much that you can charge high prices. How much

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Donations 2019

For the sixth year, I remain committed to using at least 10% of what income I earn to support the organizations that I think best make the universe a better place, and to talking about it on this blog. Here are my thoughts at the end of 2019.

These specific organizations I'm supporting are, in relative terms, mostly unchanged from 2018. The biggest changes are:

  • Marginally more saving / investing for later donation opportunities (including the potential for political contributions in 2020).
  • Because of the above, marginally less donor lottery.
  • The Good Food Institute replacing The Humane League.

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Compared to years past, I spent relatively more time thinking about donations this year. This reflects a few things:

  • I'll be giving more as my income grows and my personal savings reach more comfortable levels, so I expect to get more value from making an X% better decision.
  • I felt that some of the available opportunities were more difficult to think about but still worth considering (such as political donations), and
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Elasticities, revisited

Hannes Malmberg commented on my review of Saez and Zucman in response to a point I made about the elasticity of capital supply:

I think you are confusing demand and supply elasticities of capital.

The revenue calculations hinge on the elasticity of capital supply, i.e., how fast capital supply rise with the interest rate (how much more do people decide to save).

The Piketty spiral, in contrast, hinges on the elasticity of capital demand, i.e., how fast the interest rate fall with increasing capital (i.e., how fast firms and companies switch away from using capital when it gets more expensive).

There is nothing theoretically preventing us from having an almost horizontal capital demand curve, and an almost vertical capital supply curve. In such a world, a capital tax raises a lot of revenue, but increasing the savings propensity increase the capital stock without reducing the interest rate. (...)

I think he is basically right, and I'll partially retract section 3A of my

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Review: The Triumph of Injustice

Or, the coming debate on moral incidence of taxes

You're going to hear a lot about the triumph of injustice in the next 6-12 months. Or rather, you're going to hear a lot about The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay, by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman (2019).

For one thing, the two economists have signed on as economic advisors to 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who has for years been putting questions of economics and notions of justice front-and-center. But more generally, economic justice is having a moment, and I prophesy that you'll hear more about it before you hear less.

So this is my first real attempt to understand exactly what kind of moment it is, in the best way I know how -- by writing. Specifically, by writing a review that unpacks TToI for non-economists. (I am an economist, but not the kind that helps p— I mean, not a macroeconomist.

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