Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Episode 6: Robin Hanson

Today I speak with my great friend Robin Hanson. I'm lucky enough to be an elevated fanboy. I knew Robin through his blog, Overcoming Bias and his appearances on Econtalk well before we ever met in person. Since attending GMU as a student, I've been fortunate enough to get to know Robin both personally and academically. I'm not kidding when I say that he's quite probably the smartest person I know. I can't recall a single time I've had an economics-related discussion with him that I didn't walk away understanding something better, and this chat was no exception. It was my great privilege to record this talk, and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed recording it.


Also, around the 24 minute mark, I misspoke. I said that if the marginal benefit of each additional brain emulation approaches zero, it makes sense to produce a whole bunch. This is an obvious error. If the marginal cost approaches zero, new units would be produced even if the marginal benefit is small. I apologize to anyone I offended.

For anyone interested, the new thing I learned is the exchange around the 37 minute mark re: coordination. I claim that big social norms are examples of grand-scale coordination successes, but Robin cannily points out that enforcing violations of these big norms is always local. This is now one of those burning questions that I'm fixin' to tear up on Twitter (I'm @spivonomist, you can follow Robin under @robinhanson).

And near the end, we talk about KORROK without actually mentioning his name, which is pretty cool.

On a side note, I'm still working out how to get these talks up on iTunes or a similar service. Expect something in the near future (see what I did there?).


  1. Even when a norm is about local reactions to local situations, it can take larger scale coordination to change to that norm from a different norm.

  2. Something like this would make a good case study:
    "Texas teen claims he was suspended for refusing to say Pledge of Allegiance"

    Clearly pledging allegiance to a nation is a major success in terms of grand-scale coordination (patriotism), but social enforcement is typically local. Note the intriguing history of the pledge: It didn't become a norm spontaneous. James Upham went school to school promoting the Old Glory, getting local patriotic buy-in, until there was a tipping point.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?