not sucking value out of the world (socially efficient commitment devices)

Hey Akratics, check out our new blog post. It now occurs to me that
normal people might not know what “socially efficient” means. Any
ideas for a better title? “Commitment Devices That Don’t Destroy
Happiness”?

http://blog.beeminder.com/anticharity/

Jennifer, I credited you for an idea in there (automatic deleting of
files, though the whole point of the post is how much I hate that
idea! :))
Is there a URL I can use as a link for your name?


http://dreev.es – search://"Daniel Reeves"
Goal tracking + Commitment contracts == http://beeminder.com

One comment:

“prevent things that don’t make the world worse” approximately equals
"prevent things that make the world better" or “encourage things that make
the world worse.” I fear you accidentally too many negatives here.

On your main question, perhaps “Commitment Devices that Don’t Make the
World Worse.” I like “socially efficient” - it will be intriguing to
those who don’t understand the term, so long as you define it in the
article.

David

On Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 6:15 PM, Daniel Reeves dreeves@beeminder.com wrote:

Hey Akratics, check out our new blog post. It now occurs to me that
normal people might not know what “socially efficient” means. Any
ideas for a better title? “Commitment Devices That Don’t Destroy
Happiness”?

http://blog.beeminder.com/anticharity/

Jennifer, I credited you for an idea in there (automatic deleting of
files, though the whole point of the post is how much I hate that
idea! :))
Is there a URL I can use as a link for your name?


http://dreev.es – search://"Daniel Reeves"
Goal tracking + Commitment contracts == http://beeminder.com


You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups
"Akratics Anonymous" group.
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David Reiley is a Research Scientist at Google
Learn more about me at http://www.davidreiley.com

instead of socially effecient, how about the Benthian term “greatest
happiness principle”

On Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 8:59 PM, David Reiley david@davidreiley.com wrote:

One comment:

“prevent things that don’t make the world worse” approximately equals
“prevent things that make the world better” or “encourage things that make
the world worse.” I fear you accidentally too many negatives here.

On your main question, perhaps “Commitment Devices that Don’t Make the
World Worse.” I like “socially efficient” - it will be intriguing to
those who don’t understand the term, so long as you define it in the
article.

David

On Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 6:15 PM, Daniel Reeves dreeves@beeminder.comwrote:

Hey Akratics, check out our new blog post. It now occurs to me that
normal people might not know what “socially efficient” means. Any
ideas for a better title? “Commitment Devices That Don’t Destroy
Happiness”?

http://blog.beeminder.com/anticharity/

Jennifer, I credited you for an idea in there (automatic deleting of
files, though the whole point of the post is how much I hate that
idea! :))
Is there a URL I can use as a link for your name?


http://dreev.es – search://“Daniel Reeves”
Goal tracking + Commitment contracts == http://beeminder.com


You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups
“Akratics Anonymous” group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an
email to akratics+unsubscribe@googlegroups.com.
For more options, visit https://groups.google.com/groups/opt_out.


David Reiley is a Research Scientist at Google
Learn more about me at http://www.davidreiley.com


You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups
“Akratics Anonymous” group.
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“prevent things that don’t make the world worse” approximately equals
"prevent things that make the world better" or “encourage things that make
the world worse.” I fear you accidentally too many negatives here.

Oh, I actually meant it that way but it was a terrible choice for a
pullquote because you’re right that it sounded backwards out of
context.
But in a way it summed up the whole thesis of the post: it’s possible
to be very motivated by penalties that are to you very bad but that
don’t harm the world in way. Namely the threat of having to pay
Beeminder money!

In other words, by definition your self-imposed penalty has to reduce
your own utility. Just make sure to transfer that utility elsewhere
instead of letting it be destroyed.

PS: I like “Commitment Devices that Don’t Make the World Worse” –
can’t decide if it’s too late to change the title.


http://dreev.es – search://"Daniel Reeves"
Goal tracking + Commitment contracts == http://beeminder.com

Hey Dan, nice article. It reminds me of a couple contracts I’ve made that
you might find interesting.

First, my failure payoff recipient on Stickk is always a friend. Friend
choice is obviously important. I tried making my Mom the recipient once but
knew the entire time that losing $100 would just mean her getting me gifts
totaling $100 over the course of the following months. Not too motivating
to stay on track. (Now that I think about it, that sounds like a good way
to make purchases you can’t justify to your significant other – just
purchase them indirectly through your “I can’t accept your money” friend
after you intentionally lose a bet to them. Although it also sounds like a
good recipe for one or more unhealthy relationships.)

The friend that I settled on agreed to do something irresponsible with any
money he earns from our contracts. Last December I failed a contract which
ended up costing me $300 (ouch). We were at a conference with a casino at
the time, so his plan was to go up to a roulette wheel and put all the
money on black. If he lost, so be it. If he won, it meant free dinner and
drinks all night for everyone in the party except for me (the idea being
that I shouldn’t benefit from my own failure). The result: he won, spent
the winnings frivolously all night, and still had a quarter of it left by
the end. Which he proceeded to put on black again. And won again.
Effectively I funded two nights of reckless entertainment for my friends.

While I admire his follow-through on his commitment to irresponsible
behavior, I can’t say it actually gave me any more motivation to meet my
contract; as far as I was concerned, it was his money to lose at that
point. If anything, it lessened the pain of me losing they money: at least
in the moment, I received more value out of watching his high-stakes antics
than I would have had he just gone home and bought groceries. Maybe I
wouldn’t feel the same way had he lost.

On another note, I’ve recently found the “public humiliation” contracts to
be very effective. Two of my friends and I entered into a race to run 100
total miles, where the losers have to erect 9 square foot shrines of the
winner and change their facebook profiles for a month to themselves
worshiping said shrine. To avoid the lazy outcome where nobody finishes the
race, anyone not finishing in 50 days has to post a video of themselves
dunking a basketball to Youtube (or rather, trying to dunk and failing
miserably).

There ended up being some pretty interesting strategizing going on (e.g.,
When should I report my miles? How will my reporting affect others’
behavior?), but in the end this contract taught me most about the
importance of getting the rules right to induce the desired behavior. For
example, we set no upper bound on the amount that could be run each day,
which gave the bet an unwelcome Cold War feel, with miles-per-day counts
escalating over time to avoid the pain of social media embarrassment. At
the same time, in order to run 10 miles per day without injuring ourselves,
our “running” pace slowed to a barely-acceptable crawl, further taking time
away from more important matters. All this demonstrates what I’m sure is
already known: if you want to maximize social efficiency, choosing the
contract failure consequences is only part of the battle.

Finally, regarding the article specifics, I have just one comment:

“In fact, if you set up a commitment device where you destroyed your
computer if you didn’t stay on your yellow brick road then I actually would
call that kind of immoral, even though it was your own computer. Because
you could’ve instead given it away and not wasted anything. Burning money,
in contrast, doesn’t waste anything (except some paper).”

I don’t think I consider destroying money any less immoral than destroying
a physical good. Whether you destroy a $500 computer or $500 cash, in both
cases, you’re giving up the opportunity to give away a $500 computer (it’s
just that in the second case you’d have to buy it first). Maybe destroying
the money could even be considered more immoral, since the person that
would hypothetically get the computer might prefer to have a cash donation.

BTW, I would definitely use that money-shredding alarm clock.

Best,
Eric

On Wed, Mar 6, 2013 at 1:31 AM, Daniel Reeves dreeves@beeminder.com wrote:

“prevent things that don’t make the world worse” approximately equals
"prevent things that make the world better" or “encourage things that
make
the world worse.” I fear you accidentally too many negatives here.

Oh, I actually meant it that way but it was a terrible choice for a
pullquote because you’re right that it sounded backwards out of
context.
But in a way it summed up the whole thesis of the post: it’s possible
to be very motivated by penalties that are to you very bad but that
don’t harm the world in way. Namely the threat of having to pay
Beeminder money!

In other words, by definition your self-imposed penalty has to reduce
your own utility. Just make sure to transfer that utility elsewhere
instead of letting it be destroyed.

PS: I like “Commitment Devices that Don’t Make the World Worse” –
can’t decide if it’s too late to change the title.


http://dreev.es – search://"Daniel Reeves"
Goal tracking + Commitment contracts == http://beeminder.com


You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups
"Akratics Anonymous" group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an
email to akratics+unsubscribe@googlegroups.com.
For more options, visit https://groups.google.com/groups/opt_out.

Eric, this is so many shades of awesome! Except the part about using
StickK. :slight_smile: Why not have the contract based on a Beeminder goal, even
if Beeminder isn’t the beneficiary of the contract? I feel like the
Beeminder graph is a better way for your friend to watch your
progress. I guess we should add the feature where we actually email
your friend as well as you. That may be the one thing StickK still has
on us.

Speaking of moms and commitment devices, my mom recently lost $5,000
to my brother. That was started in part as an experiment early in
Beeminder’s beta period before we’d thought of things like the
exponential pledge schedule. It was actually a pretty positive
outcome: my mom gradually lost a tiny bit of weight (more importantly:
didn’t gain weight!) for over 2 years, and paid my brother on average
$179/month for that fitness program. Not very cost efficient, but
quite socially efficient!

Btw, I vehemently disagree about $500 cash vs a $500 computer. It’s
funny how this kind of thing is simultaneously deep/subtle/confusing
and glaringly obvious, depending how you think about it. It’s true
that if I burn $500 I could’ve instead handed it to someone who
could’ve bought a computer. Which sounds similar to destroying a
computer instead of giving that person the computer. But it’s
night-and-day different if you think of it in terms of what’s actually
getting destroyed: cheap paper vs an expensive machine. The resolution
of the paradox is that destroying the money is actually helping
millions of people a minuscule amount by deflating the currency ever
so slightly. Or just think of it as helping to pay down the national
debt. The point is that the loss ($500) to you necessarily equals the
gain to everyone else – no value has actually been destroyed. Except
the admittedly kind of fancy paper itself.

Or use the basic economist’s trick of pretending there’s no such thing
as money. Money is merely an accounting device for figuring out the
thing that actually matters: how to fairly shift wealth around among
ourselves. Wealth is real – fancy gadgets and valued services and
food and whatnot. Money is just numbers we write down to keep track of
who owes what wealth to whom. Sometimes we write those numbers on
shiny coins or colorful paper and physically hand them to each other.
So destroying wealth is very bad. But destroying your own money is
fine. It just means abdicating your claim on future wealth. It’s quite
literally an altruistic thing to do to burn your own cash.

On Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 11:41 PM, Eric Sodomka sodomka@cs.brown.edu wrote:

Hey Dan, nice article. It reminds me of a couple contracts I’ve made that
you might find interesting.

First, my failure payoff recipient on Stickk is always a friend. Friend
choice is obviously important. I tried making my Mom the recipient once but
knew the entire time that losing $100 would just mean her getting me gifts
totaling $100 over the course of the following months. Not too motivating to
stay on track. (Now that I think about it, that sounds like a good way to
make purchases you can’t justify to your significant other – just purchase
them indirectly through your “I can’t accept your money” friend after you
intentionally lose a bet to them. Although it also sounds like a good recipe
for one or more unhealthy relationships.)

The friend that I settled on agreed to do something irresponsible with any
money he earns from our contracts. Last December I failed a contract which
ended up costing me $300 (ouch). We were at a conference with a casino at
the time, so his plan was to go up to a roulette wheel and put all the money
on black. If he lost, so be it. If he won, it meant free dinner and drinks
all night for everyone in the party except for me (the idea being that I
shouldn’t benefit from my own failure). The result: he won, spent the
winnings frivolously all night, and still had a quarter of it left by the
end. Which he proceeded to put on black again. And won again. Effectively I
funded two nights of reckless entertainment for my friends.

While I admire his follow-through on his commitment to irresponsible
behavior, I can’t say it actually gave me any more motivation to meet my
contract; as far as I was concerned, it was his money to lose at that point.
If anything, it lessened the pain of me losing they money: at least in the
moment, I received more value out of watching his high-stakes antics than I
would have had he just gone home and bought groceries. Maybe I wouldn’t feel
the same way had he lost.

On another note, I’ve recently found the “public humiliation” contracts to
be very effective. Two of my friends and I entered into a race to run 100
total miles, where the losers have to erect 9 square foot shrines of the
winner and change their facebook profiles for a month to themselves
worshiping said shrine. To avoid the lazy outcome where nobody finishes the
race, anyone not finishing in 50 days has to post a video of themselves
dunking a basketball to Youtube (or rather, trying to dunk and failing
miserably).

There ended up being some pretty interesting strategizing going on (e.g.,
When should I report my miles? How will my reporting affect others’
behavior?), but in the end this contract taught me most about the importance
of getting the rules right to induce the desired behavior. For example, we
set no upper bound on the amount that could be run each day, which gave the
bet an unwelcome Cold War feel, with miles-per-day counts escalating over
time to avoid the pain of social media embarrassment. At the same time, in
order to run 10 miles per day without injuring ourselves, our “running” pace
slowed to a barely-acceptable crawl, further taking time away from more
important matters. All this demonstrates what I’m sure is already known: if
you want to maximize social efficiency, choosing the contract failure
consequences is only part of the battle.

Finally, regarding the article specifics, I have just one comment:

“In fact, if you set up a commitment device where you destroyed your
computer if you didn’t stay on your yellow brick road then I actually would
call that kind of immoral, even though it was your own computer. Because you
could’ve instead given it away and not wasted anything. Burning money, in
contrast, doesn’t waste anything (except some paper).”

I don’t think I consider destroying money any less immoral than destroying a
physical good. Whether you destroy a $500 computer or $500 cash, in both
cases, you’re giving up the opportunity to give away a $500 computer (it’s
just that in the second case you’d have to buy it first). Maybe destroying
the money could even be considered more immoral, since the person that would
hypothetically get the computer might prefer to have a cash donation.

BTW, I would definitely use that money-shredding alarm clock.

Best,
Eric

On Wed, Mar 6, 2013 at 1:31 AM, Daniel Reeves dreeves@beeminder.com wrote:

“prevent things that don’t make the world worse” approximately equals
“prevent things that make the world better” or “encourage things that
make
the world worse.” I fear you accidentally too many negatives here.

Oh, I actually meant it that way but it was a terrible choice for a
pullquote because you’re right that it sounded backwards out of
context.
But in a way it summed up the whole thesis of the post: it’s possible
to be very motivated by penalties that are to you very bad but that
don’t harm the world in way. Namely the threat of having to pay
Beeminder money!

In other words, by definition your self-imposed penalty has to reduce
your own utility. Just make sure to transfer that utility elsewhere
instead of letting it be destroyed.

PS: I like “Commitment Devices that Don’t Make the World Worse” –
can’t decide if it’s too late to change the title.


http://dreev.es – search://“Daniel Reeves”
Goal tracking + Commitment contracts == http://beeminder.com


You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups
“Akratics Anonymous” group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an
email to akratics+unsubscribe@googlegroups.com.
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You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups
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To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an
email to akratics+unsubscribe@googlegroups.com.
For more options, visit https://groups.google.com/groups/opt_out.


http://dreev.es – search://“Daniel Reeves”
Goal tracking + Commitment contracts == http://beeminder.com