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Unanswered Questions from Smart People on the Internet

April 14, 2019

Author: Bianca Yang
Email: ipacifics@gmail.com

I started on the path of reading smart peoples’ open questions pages by clicking on the Hacker Newsletter link to Patrick Collison’s open questions page. For anyone who keeps up with HN and the newsletter, you’ll probably realize how behind I am on the issues. I love the content but during the school year I only have time to shove newsletters into a mailbox on my Mac and read them on breaks.

I didn’t realize who Collison was when I clicked the link. I’d completely forgotten that I’d read his brilliant advice page and his awesome Farnam Street interview. This questions page only reinforced my view of Patrick as an immensely accomplished and smart person. I’ll definitely be going through the rest of his website.

Patrick’s very first question caught my eye because my dad has mentioned it two me twice in the recent past. Construction, education, and healthcare are the three industries that have experienced the greatest inflation over the past 5 decades. I think the response to this question by Arnold Kling is also pretty good. Kling’s thesis is one that prices increase where demand outstrips supply. Sure, that’s basic economics. But why does there seem to be a lack of accompanying quality improvements to these fields? Why does education now cost $70k+ and healthcare something else extravagant and construction still take 10 years and $10mil over budget to get completed? The other half of Kling’s answer is that we overprice these things based on hope. We hope that education will improve ourselves or our kids but we do it more for the status. We hope that all the effort and time with doctor’s and money spent on collagen and Botox injections and etc will cure us of aging and cancer and diabetes and etc. We falsely hope in these things which are, frankly, late-stage interventions. And do you know what the success rate of late-stage interventions is? Drastically less than the success of early-stage interventions. So invest in yourself and you kids while they’re young and take care of your body when you’re young.

The final point that Kling makes is that every industry is incentivized to jack up demand and restrict supply. Some poignant examples are encouraging people to get health insurance while restricting the number of licensed hospitals and encouraging subsidies for yoga therapy while inflating the requirements for a yoga license. I think we’re all, as Kling concluded, a bit willfully ignorant about the issues in these industries. It’s going to take some exorbitant amount of effort to change these things, to make them fulfill a different set of drawbacks and desires (The Evolution of Useful Things. We’d rather not open that Pandora’s Box.

Patrick links to a bunch of other people’s open Q’s pages so you’ll have plenty to read for the coming week. I think I’ll reopen my questions page… once I think of some better questions.