Blabberbox:Random blog-like posts by pftq and his related selves.Share on Twitter

Net Prices

April 7th, 2019 | Posted by pftq in Blabberbox | #
Prices should be shown net of cost. Then everything would be clearly shown relative to each other as they actually are, and people would see when things are getting more expensive vs the illusion of everyone having more money.  It would also make clear who is overcharging with unnecessary premium, creating a stigma that socially discourages excessive spending or pricing.  For example, if every house on sale was at a net price of $1K but yours was randomly at $1M, it would reveal you are charging way more than what it cost you, making yourself look a little shameful but also making buyers think twice before blindly handing over money, driving prices up higher, and rewarding the greed. Since all businesses have to track expenses for audit by the IRS and most even already calculate cost of goods sold, it actually is practical in real life with all the pieces ready to go if a law passed for it.

Other side benefits indirectly permeate throughout the economy. It would conversely reveal when big corporations are selling below cost to unfairly bankrupt the competition (often local businesses).  People who care would not be willing to pay negative dollars to a corporation when they realize a smaller business is fairly asking for very low profits already.  If the corporation can make the case that something ought to be free, then consumers are fine with it and things go their natural way.  It only discourages unfair hostile business practices.  Along similar lines, it would make fraud or fake goods much more difficult if merchants are selling something but have no cost (they are selling hot air or operating a Ponzi scheme); their net price would skyrocket and they would also now risk tax fraud if they lied about their expenses to get a realistic net price.  Lastly, it becomes much easier to see when your own buying power actually increases, instead of it just being inflation, and who actually has more money than they'll ever need, instead of it just being a high cost of living.  For example, a $100k salary sounds like a lot in most of the country, but it's not even enough to afford a tiny studio in San Francisco (the 3x rent to pass the rental application is over $100k).

A good transition might be to show both net and nominal prices side by side at first, like they do with calories on a menu.  Then as people get used to thinking in net prices, the nominal ones can be phased out and replaced with cost of good, which is paid like a fee or base rate alongside the net price by the consumer.  Comparable goods would usually have about the same base rate cost, and those that don't would also quickly be revealed, only adding to the transparency.  If it is too difficult to pass in law immediately, perhaps it works better by example if large merchants like Amazon took the lead first to get consumers acclimated.

The main counterargument to this idea would be that it discourages innovation and cost efficiency.  Why innovate to lower costs if that makes you look bad with higher net prices? I would argue that's not a bad thing.  If cost to make is the only difference between two goods, then it would encourage innovators to make higher profits by selling more quantity rather than by having higher margins.  In other words, an innovator is rewarded for building the same thing more efficiently only when society as a whole benefits from having more goods to more people.  The nice part of all this is that it doesn't forbid higher pricing, just makes it transparent.  You can still sell at high margins if supply is short or if you are intentionally only targeting the wealthy who don't care; it wouldn't be illegal.  Alternatively, it means if you want to charge higher net prices and still convince the masses, you have to actually make a better and more interesting product, not just a more cheaply made one, so that people are willing to see past the stigma and justify paying the higher net price.  In other words, you are incentivized to add quality and no longer have a reason to use lower quality materials or cut corners to reduce cost.  Rather than a race to the bottom, it encourages a race to the top.

Nothing really changes in terms of freedom to do what you want to do in the economy.  The only things lost are the illusions and lies by numbers, while society gains transparency and better alignment of incentives.
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A Wish for a Life

April 2nd, 2019 | Posted by pftq in Stories | #
Imagine if you could make any wish come true but would cause the death of one random person.

A man, known as the Baron, lives in a castle atop a hill and is suspected of having a supernatural artifact that does this, causing many mysterious deaths in the nearby town for his own gain.  Each death is similar, with each person becoming suddenly frail and ghostly pale before dying within days.  The story initially seems one of despair, as no one can really prove this to authorities and people at random just keep dying.  Many supporting and likeable characters have their arc abruptly ended in this manner.

An investigator tries to solve this mystery but doesn't believe in superstition.  He's an outsider to the town and tries to bring science and reason he believes the townspeople lack.  He suspects more likely the Baron created this rumor to hide something more nefarious.  A friend of the investigator gets frustrated with the investigator's calm...[More]
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Racist Mentality

March 29th, 2019 | Posted by pftq in Society | #
This is more or less a concise version of one of my points from the longer Three Tiers of Mind and arguably an extension of the discussion on Inductive vs Deductive Reasoning.  What bothers me lately is there seems to be a general shift away from why racism is bad in the first place and more towards just any mention of race is bad or that any difference in advantage is bad (aka "privilege").  What makes racism bad at its core is that you are ignoring a person's individuality and making an assumption about that person based on association to a category.  In other words, you are not seeing the person in front of you but treating that person as just one of many belonging to some arbitrary label.  That person is no longer a person with their own agency and ability to cause change in the world but just a thing, an object, something that is not you.  That's the real problem that leads to all other acts someone may commit, which everyone then reacts to as racism or other crimes.

You see this immediately in any situation you normally associate with racism.  The reason slavery was able to make sense in people's minds was the ability to ignore the individuality of any person branded under the slave label.  Removing race would have made the act no better if the hierarchy still existed (and it did/does even amongst populations of same ethnicity).  The reason there is conflict between the rich and poor is because each side uses the other as only a means to an end, treating the other as just that - an other.  Removing money or other material differences makes the situation no better if people still view each other in terms of what they have, their demographics, or other population-level traits - in terms of association and value instead of as individuals.  Objectifying, commoditizing, treating someone as merely a statistic... these are all different names and outcomes for what is essentially the same thinking process deep down.  They judge you on where you come from instead of why you came, what you represent instead of what you actually chose to do.  You're X because you're a Y, and Ys are X.  It's the act of being too lazy to think about the full context and just reacting on a trigger word, of trying to think in broad-brush rules and sweeping generalizations instead of being willing to look at each situation case-by-case.  The flaw is thinking the abstract grouping more real than the individual the abstract was created around.  

This same manner of thinking pretty much leads to any other social aspects we consider "bad." An unfulfilling job - being a cog in a machine, working under someone's thumb - happens when your individuality is disregarded and you are treated as just a faceless number amongst many.  A friend or relationship feels false when the other doesn't actually listen to you specifically but just says what could be said to anyone else.  Someone is patronizing if they give advice without knowing anything about the person they are lecturing and just assume advice is warranted.  Someone is pedantic if they are ignoring what you're trying to say and only caring about how you said it.  Even the murderous psychopath - the difference between him and a hero soldier is that he does not think about others as individuals, just objects, a kill count, again a number.

When taken...[More]
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Four Notes of Us, Annihilation, Dark City

March 24th, 2019 | Posted by pftq in Blabberbox | #
Had these four notes from the Us trailer stuck in my head for the longest time and couldn't quite place why it sounded like I heard them in orchestral form before, then realized I heard them in Annihilation, and before that, Dark City.


Music obviously isn't mine but is meshed together just for fun to show how similar the pieces are from each respective movie.  Ironically, Dark City is the most uplifting variation of the melody and most thoroughly explores it.
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God Formula

March 24th, 2019 | Posted by pftq in Stories | #
Another one that came to me in a dream. Made more sense right after I woke, but I unfortunately started losing details as soon as I got to writing it down.

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The story is essentially a sci-fi thriller movie, where the founder tries to create AI from a math perspective similar to induction instead of the more common approach of fitting to data.  It's counterintuitive but rather than try to create a general algorithm that adapts to specific cases, the founder wants to start from one case and solve for the rest of the world - ie letting the AI define the rest of world on its own volition. In other words, instead of adapting or being an agent in the world, this algorithm plays God and creates it from scratch.  The idea is similar to trying to understand or simulate the current universe by instead creating a new one altogether via man-made blackholes in a lab.  It's also similar to what you do in theoretical math where you define hypothetical systems or...[More]
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Economic Literacy

March 7th, 2019 | Posted by pftq in Blabberbox | #
"I don't see why universal healthcare can't work. Other countries do just fine having it. In fact, they're doing better than us. Look at the pound - it's worth way more than the dollar!" And everyone agrees and cheers. Sigh...
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In the End

March 4th, 2019 | Posted by pftq in Stuck in My Head | #
In the End by Marcus Warner (@MWarnerMusic)
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Dreams Adrift

February 5th, 2019 | Posted by pftq in Stories | #

This could either be an animation or short film. The imagery of someone walking upsidedown against the night sky is what stuck in my mind.
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Scene starts panning down from a cloudy, moonlit night sky to a girl standing on the edge of a highrise rooftop with her arms out.  It looks like she is about to fall, but as she goes over the edge, the camera rotates to instead show her walking down the side of the building, apparently sleepwalking.  There is a wistful element as her hair is constantly flowing and her arms are out to balance.  The elements seem to whirl around her as she walks, as if animated by what she is dreaming.  The iconic scene is of her walking upsidedown on the bottom of a plank between two highrises against the backdrop of the moon and night sky in the background.  

Eventually...[More]
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