A little bit of altruism still seems to make it rational even if you care almost entirely about yourself—see the example calculations.
I used to think that making voting mandatory was a good solution, but nowadays I think it’s a draconian measure. Because what if you disapprove for example of the particular voting system (First Past the Post in the UK/US)? Then forcing you to comply with it, perhaps only symbolically (as you can discomply in other ways like spoiling your ballot paper—unless that will be criminalized too) is a waste of everyone’s time.
Similarly if you don’t want to vote because you are indifferent between the candidates, or think you don’t know enough about the issues to choose a candidate, etc.
Something somewhat similar to, but less draconian than, compulsory voting would be to pay people to vote, e.g. £5 / $5 in cash or vouchers as you exit the polling station. Which would also somewhat correct the current skew in turnout—poorer people are currently less likely to vote.
Having at least a plan for when to work, and being strict about that, works for me. I set alarms on my phone to work in 1 hour focussed bursts, with 15 minute breaks in between, all morning and late afternoon—it seems most people do their best focussed work in the morning; there’s also that famous violin/piano student research which indicates that the best students also practice late afternoon. I reserve early/mid afternoon for light work (admin etc.)
In addition, I suggest you have a general plan for which projects to work on during a week & month, and make a daily more specific (though not necessarily detailed) plan first thing in the morning, or (better) at the end of the work day for the next day.
Yes, I’ve been tracking my productivity daily for over 6 years. I do it using a simple iPhone app called ATracker, which lets you define projects & categories and hit a button whenever you start/stop them.
I use about a dozen categories (for different types of work & broad types of leisure, also broad locations). Every week or two I export the data into a spreadsheet and produce some pretty charts and also many metrics, e.g. about how my time usage matches up to various targets.
It’s kind of useful but I’m not that rigorous in keeping to the targets. Nonetheless if I start getting lax, then after a few days or weeks I can’t pretend it’s not happening, and the data helps nudge me back into being more productive.
By the way, I think you’re being overly ambitious aiming at 12 hours of proper deep work per day. I think it’s very hard to average more than about 6 hours per day over long periods.
If you start doing a similar kind of tracking, I’d be happy to share with you the kinds of charts, metrics etc. I produce, some of which aren’t obvious.
Yes, I found my thought processes improved dramatically recently when I stopped listening to the radio after waking in the morning, and in the shower. I now have excellent thinking & ideas at that time of day. Silence and no distractions are golden. (No wonder so many people have good ideas in the shower.)
I also recommend having a notepad by your bed. I’ve done this for years. Sometimes ideas (or things I forgot to do) occur to me shortly before going to sleep, or occasionally when waking in the night, and I write them down in the dark. It gets them out of your head, which helps you sleep too.
Thanks, I’ll read those with interest.
I didn’t think it likely that business has solved any of these problems, but I just wonder if it might include particular failures not found in other fields that help point towards a solution; or even if it has found one or two pieces of a solution.
Business may at least provide some instructive examples of how things go wrong. Because business involves lots of people & motives & cooperation & conflict, things which I suspect humans are particularly good at thinking & reasoning about (as opposed to more abstract things).
I.e. hence you can’t tell how effective a president will be from their party’s policies, because sometimes their most effective actions are following their opponents’ policies.
Yes, could be. It’s in line with the Putanumonit arguments that you just can’t tell which party will be better for the country.
I can’t think of particular instances of this in the UK, so I don’t know if this is more of a US thing. What quite often happens in the UK (particularly since Tony Blair) is parties stealing each others’ policies, even sometimes in stronger form than the other party. But presumably that’s just them trying to tempt voters across from the other side with occasional juicy little morsels. I.e. both parties converging on the median voter. [ADDED] Though similar to your point that the other party may implement your party’s policies, and perhaps more effectively, which makes it harder to predict which party would run the country better.
Yes, interesting points. I haven’t really given any thought to voting as a reward/punishment, but many voters do this. Though of course it’s mixed up with forward-looking voting, since (for many people) you vote against a politician who did something bad so that they won’t be around to do more bad things.
And politicians anticipate punishment-voting as a deterrent to them doing bad things, since there isn’t much other deterrent (except the law).
Also an interesting point re voting as reciprocation to similar voters as a kind of solidarity group. (Parties are themselves solidarity groups, but so of course are special interest groups and other supporters of particular policies.)
I’m not sure whether or how all this affects the calculus. Eliezer wrote an article on voting a while back in which if I recall his line was something like ‘it’s all too complicated to model, so just stick to simple reasoning’.
Re your pentobarbital example, this could be something where the 0.7 cents direct effect on you is bigger—though it would indeed have to be something approaching a $1 billion effect to count (since the expected benefit to you is this / 3 million, in the UK). Though that said almost all issues like this affect quite a few other people too, so altruism makes it worthwhile anyway.
I suspect that the chances of a 3rd party winning are orders of magnitude lower than a 1st or 2nd, so the expected value from you having the deciding vote would be too small. But in terms of policy influence, if the 3rd party does unusually well (without winning), I agree that can be significant. Indeed I recall an example of this happening in the UK in the 1990s, when in one national election the Green party (then the 4th or 5th party) did unexpectedly well, albeit still only getting a few % of the vote, which immediately made the major parties start saying how important the environment was and announcing new policies.
Yes, but since on my numbers the benefits of voting are so huge, a tiny difference between parties can still justify it. E.g. near the end of the article I calculate that in a UK general election, if the difference between the two main parties equals 10% of government spending (in benefit to the country, not necessarily actual spend), that equals 7% of Brexit or about $7,000 to a marginal voter.
So even if it’s only worth 0.1% of government spending (e.g. a small confidence that one party will make a small execution improvement on a few policies), that’s $70 - enough to justify voting.
[Response substantially edited:]
If I understand you right, you’re saying that if Remain were to happen then Leavers would incur a large actual loss (relative to the Leave scenario), because they reckon the benefits of leaving in terms of social cohesion, security etc. will not occur.
Perhaps those aren’t the best examples, as arguably those are matters of fact, so Leavers could find out they were wrong if it turns out there is no loss in social cohesion & security by remaining; so they wouldn’t necessarily lose utils. A better example might be national self-determination, which a Leave supporter would value come what may, and a Remain supporter might put little value on. That is, Leavers aren’t merely predicting that leaving the EU would make things better for the UK, they are expressing a (non-falsifiable) preference for being out of the EU.
I haven’t thought of that, and that could be so—or perhaps more likely it’s a mixture of prediction and preference. In which case Leavers would only get some negative utils, still leaving tens of thousands of $ per extra Remain voter. (And still plenty enough to justify voting even after major shrinkage by the uncertainty that policies will turn out/be implemented as expected.)
Complicated by the fact that if Remain happens, Leave supporters would always feel things would have been better if Leave had happened, even if their predictions were unknowingly false, because they never get to try out & compare both scenarios. I.e. Leavers will never be satisfied if the UK remains, and Remainers will never be satisfied if the UK leaves, regardless of how the other possible world would have been. (Maybe that’s your main point here.) But I reckon that dissatisfaction is small compared with the economic harm caused by leaving (if the median GDP predictions are true).
By the way, I’m not convinced voting is rational (hence I have never voted in my life), and believed that it wasn’t, until the altruism calculation occurred to me a year or so ago. My current suspicion is about the validity of multiplying a very small probability by a very large benefit to get a justification; but I haven’t yet read/thought of a strong argument against this.
(PS Ah, you’re Jacob F—good to meet you! I enjoy your blog.)
I’m inclined to agree with you—the Twitter comparison doesn’t make sense.
I think he half has a point when saying you can’t tell which party will do a better job, inasmuch as there is an information asymmetry between government and opposition. In the UK anyway, opposition parties don’t have access to the civil service who understand the detailed workings of government and have internal information, which means that opposition policies are somewhat speculative, and may have to be modified (or not) when they get into government. Particularly so on matters of national security, where it’s almost impossible for a voter to assess whether a government policy (based on secret information) is better/worse than an opposition policy (based only on public information). (Aside from your personal preferences about these policies—e.g. if you have an absolute moral opposition to nuclear weapons, or something.)
But that doesn’t apply to all policies, and in any case, the expected benefit of voting is so huge that you only need a minimal amount of information about which party is better (on some objective measure like GDP, or relative to your preferences). E.g. it’s fine to be only 1% confident.
Business practice and management studies might provide some useful examples, and possibly some useful insights, here. E.g. off the top of my head:
Fairly obviously, how shareholders try to align managers with their goals, and managers align their subordinates with hopefully the same or close enough goals (and so on down the management chain to the juniors). Incompetent/scheming middle managers with their own agendas (and who may do things like unintentionally or deliberately alter information passed via them up & down the management chain) are a common problem. As are incorrectly incentivized CEOs (not least because their incentive package is typically devised by a committee of fellow board directors, of whom only some may be shareholders).
Less obviously, recruitment as an example of searching for optimizers: how do shareholders find managers who are best able to optimize shareholders’ interests, how do managers recruit subordinates, how do shareholders ensure managers are recruiting subordinates aligned with the shareholders’ goals rather than some agenda of their own, how are recruiters themselves incentivized and recruited, are there relevant differences between internal & external recruiters (e.g. HR vs headhunters), etc.
Hmm, I see your point; but if each vote is independent, then given how all the other voters voted, my vote really does decide the election. E.g. if I go into the ballot box, what I write on my poll slip does not cause and is not caused by what’s written on all the other slips (as I don’t see them and they don’t see mine).
How about this thought experiment: I am the very last person in the country to vote. Unknown to anyone, all the votes made before mine constitute a tie, so my vote will be the deciding vote. Then it really is the case that if I vote one way, 10,000 lives are saved, and the other way, none are. And it is also the case that, given how I voted, if my neighbour had voted the other way, he would have changed the outcome too. (Incidentally it seems only people who vote the same way as me have the power to decide the outcome, given how I voted.)
I do sense the counterfactual complications. Is your argument that the 10,000 lives saved should be apportioned among all the voters in the case of a tie-break, and hence it still isn’t worth anyone’s while voting? What is the argument for apportioning?
Here’s a further hand-wavy argument:
You’re saying that in the case of a tie-break, everyone who voted for the winning party each gets to save 10,000 lives (overcounting the benefit). But in a normal outcome with no tie-break, none of them do, even though 10,000 lives are still saved (undercounting the benefit). If we account differently, with only the final voter getting the 10,000-life benefit in the tie-break case, and all voters for the winning party (or all after a majority was reached?) sharing the 10,000 in the normal case, so that in every winning scenario the benefit adds up to exactly 10,000 lives (more intuitively), doesn’t it all work out the same in terms of expected benefit per voter? (I wonder, without thinking/calculating further.)
Yes, I didn’t get into more detailed arguments about the pros/cons of voting & voting systems; the Put A Number On It post I linked to has a quite good discussion of these, and I didn’t mention other reservations of my own (in particular I’m suspicious of multiplying very small probabilities by very large benefits).
But on your particular point, my brief thought is that not participating in a voting system doesn’t make it change (though organizing a mass boycott of it could do). And on my estimated numbers, in the same way that even a tiny bit of altruism makes it worth voting, if you have even a tiny preference between the two lead parties, and even if it’s very uncertain they will implement their policies, it is probably still worth voting to keep out the worse one.
I think there’s a flaw in this reasoning. You’re assuming that the harm from lotteries increases monotonically with the time spend dreaming about winning. The form of your argument is: “a huge amount of dreaming is harmful (because it stops you improving your life in more effective ways), therefore a small amount is harmful (i.e. worse than none)”.
Non sequitur. A tablespoon of salt in your soup makes it taste terrible, therefore a pinch of salt makes it taste worse than no salt?
It may well be that spending $1 per week to buy 10 minutes of false but pleasant hope is the best use of that 10 minutes and $1, or at least, no worse than any other use you’re likely to make of it. E.g. if you’re taking that time and money out of your leisure budget, then you may well use it instead on smoking, or beer, or fries.
And if you instead allocate it to thinking about how to get a promotion, sure you could do that, but why not do both? (I.e. spend a different 10 minutes on your promotion.) So this is a false dilemma. People who play the lottery may exaggerate the probability of winning, but I doubt they make plans—and it’s not clear they displace other attempts at self-improvement—on the assumption they’ll win.