What I Learned In 2022 (and the books I read!)

Three things I learned in 2022:

  1. Florida is not weird, insurance is just really hard to get right. For one, it is a community of migrants who don’t totally trust each other yet and, two, it’s massively exposed to hurricanes. Natural disasters put a lot of pressure on the social fabric of any society and Florida’s social fabric is pretty thin! See my episodes with Gary Mormino and Dave DeMott on Florida. For 2023: A hypothesis here is that all disaster prone regions/societies will have dysfunctional insurance industries. Is that true? 
  1. Insurance is an expression of our value system. If you’re an insurer in Florida, for example, you have to be very careful to choose which subculture you want to insure as each will deploy a different set of values in their relationship with an insurer. I wrote an essay describing how it is the job of the insurance underwriter to use moral judgment to assess an insured’s values. See episodes with Howard Kunreuther, Joe Edelman and Jen Brady for discussions of values and insurance and this clip with Stan McChrystal nails it! 
  1. Your social theory only works if you can sell insurance with it. Joe Henrich taught me that we don’t pick our culture, we copy the culture of the prestigious. A lot of people have a problem with a big implication of this: it takes generations for a culture to change. If our treatment of risk is dictated by our culture and culture changes slowly, does that imply that we can’t do anything about newly identified risks? It does! My conversation with Joe Edelman explores some possibilities of another way and I’ve listened to a ton of interviews by Jim Rutt and Jordan Peterson studying this. It feels like something will be discovered here but not yet. Today, political compulsion is the only way to influence behavior reliably and no other theory of motivation is worth a damn. For 2023: What other theories can I test?

My top episodes for this in terms of downloads were: 

  1. Tyler Cowen on Talent
  2. Robin Hanson on Distant Futures and Aliens
  3. Howard Kunreuther on Behavioral Economics of Risk

Someone once asked me to list out the materials I use to prepare for my podcast. This year I studied about 40 books (some are re-reads, very few cover to cover), probably twice that many academic papers, probably 10x that many podcasts and interviews and a huge amount of time just thinking about what on earth I believe about all this stuff. Below are the books on my shelf and in my kindle this year (plus one library book I took back!).

  • Aspiration by Agnes Callard
  • Democracy and Decision by Brennan and Lomasky
  • Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein
  • Moral Economies of Corruption by Steven Pierce
  • Emerging Perspectives on Judgment and Decision Making
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Kahneman
  • Team of Teams by McChrystal
  • Leaders by McChrystal 
  • Risk a User’s Guide by McChrystal
  • My Share of the Task by McChrystal
  • Bureaucracy by James Wilson
  • Insurance and Behavioral Economics by Kunreuther
  • Mastering Catastrophic Risk By Kunreuther
  • The Complacent Class by Tyler Cowen
  • Stubborn Attachments by Tyler Cowen
  • Talent by Tyler Cowen
  • Creative Destruction by Tyler Cowen
  • What Price Fame by Tyler Cowen
  • Big Business by Tyler Cowen
  • The Art of Not Being Governed By James Scott
  • The Moral Economy of the Peasant by James Scott
  • The Sociology of Philosophies by Randall Collins
  • Why we Fight by Chris Blattman
  • Diminished Democracy by Skocpol
  • Human Agency and Language by Charles Taylor
  • The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
  • Self Efficacy by Bandura
  • Self Determination Theory by Ryan and Deci
  • Pricing Insurance Risk by Mildenhall and Major
  • Utilitarianism and Beyond by Amartya Sen
  • The Secret of Our Success by Joe Henrich
  • Seeing Like a State by James Scott
  • The Limits of Organization by Ken Arrow
  • Modern Warfare by Roger Trinquier
  • Risk Society by Ulrich Beck
  • The idea of a social society by Peter Winch
  • Why Democracies Need Science by Collins and Evans
  • Artifictional Intelligence by Harry Collins
  • The WEIRDest people in the world by Joe Henrich
  • The moral foundations of politics by Ian Shapiro
  • Rethinking Expertise by Collins and Evans
  • Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams by Gary Mormino
  • Dreams of a New Century by Gary Mormino
  • Age of Em by Robin Hanson
  • Elephant in the Brain by Robin Hanson

Addendum: I pulled my notes docs from a few of my interviews that listed out academic papers I took notes on. The two sources are the citations from the books above and me applying Cowen’s second law. Mostly these are from deep dives into literatures on Meaning and Motivation. I haven’t captured quite everything here because I don’t always take notes on all the papers. Google Scholar is a ridiculous treasure trove but not all literature is good!

  • Understanding a Primitive Society – Peter Winch
  • The Rapacious Hardscrapple Frontier – Robin Hanson
  • Testing the Automation Revolution Hypothesis – Keller Scholl, Robin Hanson
  • Post-conflict Recovery in Africa: The Micro Level – Blattman
  • Civil War – Blattman
  • Gang Rule – Blattman
  • ENGINEERING INFORMAL INSTITUTIONS – Blattman
  • Forscher, P. S., Lai, C. K., Axt, J. R., Ebersole, C. R., Herman, M., Devine, P. G., & Nosek, B. A. (2019). A meta-analysis of procedures to change implicit measures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
  • Consensus-based guidance for conducting and reporting multi-analyst studies
  • Mapping the moral domain. -Nosek
  • Understanding and Using the Implicit Association Test: I. An Improved Scoring Algorithm – Nosek, Greenwald, Banaji
  • Michie, S., van Stralen, M.M. & West, R. The behaviour change wheel: A new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions
  • EVERYONE DESIRES THE GOOD: SOCRATES’ PROTREPTIC THEORY OF DESIRE – Agnes Callard
  • Capability and Well Being – Amartya Sen
  • Equality of What – Amartya Sen
  • Rights and Agency – Amartya Sen
  • Rational Fools – Amartya Sen
  • Putting together morality and well-being – Rachel Chang
  • What is Human Agency – Charles Taylor
  • Utilitarianism and Beyond – Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams
  • The Centered Self – David Velleman
  • Systematic review of meaning in life instruments – Monika Branstatter
  • Beyond the Search for Meaning: A Contemporary Science of the Experience of Meaning in Life – King, Heintzelman, Ward
  • Three Forms of Meaning and the Management of Complexity – Jordan Peterson
  • Meaning and Belonging in a Charismatic Congregation: An Investigation into Sources of Neo-Pentecostal Success – Douglas B. McGaw
  • Finding” meaning” in psychology: a lay theories approach to self-regulation, social perception, and social development – Molden, D. C., & Dweck, C. S.
  • Life is Pretty Meaningful – Heintzelman
  • The three meanings of meaning in life: Distinguishing coherence, purpose, and significance – Frank Martela & Michael F. Steger
  • Routines and Meaning in Life – Heintzelman & King
  • Encounters with objective coherence and the experience of meaning in life – Samantha J. Heintzelman, Jason Trent and Laura A. King
  • (The Feeling of) Meaning-as-Information – Heintzelman & King
  • Motivation to learn: an overview of contemporary theories – David A Cook & Anthony R Artino Jr
  • Motivating the academic mind: High-level construal of academic goals enhances goal meaningfulness, motivation, and self concordance -William E. Davis, Nicholas J. Kelley, Jinhyung Kim,  David Tang, Joshua A. Hicks
  • Motivation for accepting parent values – Ariel Knafo,  Avi Assor
  • Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals – Duckworth, Angela L., et al
  • Grit, basic needs satisfaction, and subjective well-being -Jin, B., & Kim, J. 
  • Facilitating Internalization: The Self-Determination Theory Perspective – Edward L. Deci, Haleh Eghrari, Brian C. Patrick, Dean R. Leone
  • Regulatory fit: A meta-analytic synthesis – Tamar Avnet
  • Happy Soldiers are Highest Performers – PB Lester

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