Three questions

I haven’t studied philosophy, but from the outside it mostly seems to revolve around three basic issues:

Reality (ontology)

Values (ethics and aesthetics)

Knowledge (epistemology)

Here are three basic questions, one from each field:

A. Why is there something rather than nothing?

B. Is it better that there is something rather than nothing?

C. Can we answer questions #1 and #2? If so, how?

I don’t think we can answer any of these questions with any degree of confidence, which is why it’s so hard to make progress in philosophy. If we had answers to these three basic questions it would provide a framework for answering many smaller questions. Perhaps everything else would sort of fall into place.

Some would argue that the answer to the second question is clearly “yes”. I’m inclined to agree, but most people would be hard pressed to explain why. If you said the answer is clearly yes because “blah blah blah”, then the blah blah blah would at least implicitly provide a theory of value, say utilitarianism or Christianity. But philosophers don’t agree on any given theory of value. And don’t say “well all the plausible theories imply that it’s better that there is something rather than nothing.” No they don’t. Here’s Thoreau:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

He may well be correct.

I’m sure that no one cares about my musings on philosophy. But what about social science? In “The Great Danes” I argued there were three basic social science questions, about ethics, causality and knowledge:

What is a good society? (ethics)

What policies are best able to deliver a good society? (economics)

How do we determine which policies are best, when people disagree? (politics)

My answers to the questions of ethics, economics, and politics were:

Utilitarianism (Denmark)

Neoliberalism (Singapore)

Democracy (Switzerland)

It seems to me that social scientists too often consider only one or two of the three basic questions. So let’s finally get to monetary policy:

A. What macro outcome is best?

B. What monetary target is most likely to achieve that goal?

C. How do we know where to set the policy instruments?

My answer to the first question is, “unemployment near the natural rate and slow but steady growth in per capita nominal income.” You might add another goal, say, “Every little girl getting a pony for Christmas”, but I’m limiting outcomes to variables plausibly impacted by monetary policy.

For the second question I’d say, “4% NGDP targeting, or something closely related”.

For the third question I’d say, “A policy setting where the market expects NGDP growth to be equal to the target growth rate.”

Did I miss anything?



53 Responses to “Three questions”

  1. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    23. April 2019 at 10:53

    On the philosophical stuff:

    A. There is no reason. It may well be impossible for there to “be nothing”: although you probably think you understand this as a possibility, I suggest that you are wrong.
    B. If “there being nothing” is impossible, this question, too, is senseless.
    C. I am suggesting that these are actually “pseudo-questions,” but no one should have much confidence in the suggestion–I certainly don’t!

    Thoreau seems to think the actual world has negative value. I think he is wrong, but the issue is empirical, not purely philosophical (not *a priori*).

  2. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    23. April 2019 at 11:02

    1. That’s a good question.
    2. I think so. If you disagree, there’s the door.

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. April 2019 at 11:57

    Philo, I wouldn’t rule anything out.

    Brian, #2, Option value. Also, no free will.

  4. Gravatar of myb6 myb6
    23. April 2019 at 12:29

    Utilitarianism is the root of my objections to your political thought. As the term is used, it ethically mandates the sacrifice of one individual’s interests to the interests of another who is unlikely to ever (be both willing and able) to return the favor to the donor or the donor’s (various kinds of) legacy. So utilitarianism is a self-destructive pathology.

  5. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    23. April 2019 at 12:45


    Option value is value.

    Conceiving a universe without free will is easy and maybe accurate, but it isn’t a universe where the word “should” has any meaning, just a big 4-d structure that sits there. Why can’t those who reject free will see that? Because they can do no other?

    In such a universe, Hitler is just a thing that happened, like a big tornado. So it goes. Possibly correct.

  6. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    23. April 2019 at 13:26

    My answers to the questions of ethics, economics, and politics were:

    Utilitarianism (Denmark)

    Neoliberalism (Singapore)

    Democracy (Switzerland)

    These aren’t bad answers, out of context, but the fact you and I can both find some agreement on this means you might just be targeting the wrong metric here. We all like rich countries, and realize that societies around the world aren’t all that different. Even though institutions can be pretty diverse, there is, short of imperfections caused by error or malice, much more similar between them than different. For the most part, they don’t try to aim at different goals. And that makes it difficult for people to point to national examples when they want their domestic institutions to be changed. It’s also the case that different countries face different problems, making pointing to national examples for inspiration for optimal policies even more difficult.

  7. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    23. April 2019 at 14:59

    On “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, that’s a physics question. I don’t think the question about whether something is better than nothing has any meaning.

    I agree with the likes of Feynman and Hawking. Philosophy has long been a dead discipline. Philosophers just don’t know it. It was rendered obsolete by modern science. It’s the Weekend at Bernie’s of academic pursuits. It’s mental masturbation, without climax.

  8. Gravatar of sflicht sflicht
    23. April 2019 at 16:14

    >My answers to the questions of ethics, economics, and politics were:
    >Utilitarianism (Denmark)
    >Neoliberalism (Singapore)
    >Democracy (Switzerland)

    Given these answers, isn’t there necessarily a preliminary question as to how to distinguish your choices from (for example):

    > Christian virtue ethics (Denmark)

    > Market-oriented socialism (Denmark)

    > Democracy (Denmark)


    > Cosmopolitan neo-confucianism (Singapore)

    > Neoliberalism (Singapore)

    > Moldbuggian neocameralism, or perhaps “soft authoritarianism” (Singapore)


    > Stridently neutral Alpine pastoral deontology (Switzerland)

    > Neoliberalism (Switzerland)

    > Democracy (Switzerland)

  9. Gravatar of Kgaard Kgaard
    23. April 2019 at 16:34

    Bizarrely, I was just doing the same exercise. While I agree that the first question is something vs. nothing, I think the second question has to be “order vs. chaos.” When you put it that way, the values and ethics all sort themselves out nicely. That which supports order is good, that which supports chaos is bad.

    Put differently, the forces or order need to rule the forces of chaos, or your society becomes chaos. So whatever the question, the answer should be, “How do we support order over chaos in this matter?”

  10. Gravatar of Kgaard Kgaard
    23. April 2019 at 16:50

    Myb6 — I agree completely. Utilitarianism is bad news. Reciprocity is a much better ordering principle.

  11. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    23. April 2019 at 17:05

    Why is there something rather than nothing?

    You can only think about this question because you exist. So there is your answer.

    Is it better that there is something rather than nothing?

    I’d say no, not in general.

    The question leads to a purely human assessment, which is subjective, and moreover, based on individual values only. There is no general answer.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. April 2019 at 17:13

    Brian, Not sure I follow. My only point was that the fact that someone doesn’t commit suicide doesn’t tells us that their life has positive value. People (and animals) have a strong instinct to survive.

    Michael, I don’t agree; the 20th century produced lots of interesting philosophy.

    sflicht. I agree that there are multiple possible interpretations, but I believe mine fit best, for the reasons outlined in my paper “The Great Danes” at SSRN. For instance, while Switzerland has lots of characteristics, it’s extreme democracy is the most distinctive. During the 20th century, more than 50% of all the national referenda occurred in tiny Switzerland. Add the decentralization, and it’s even more democratic than that statistic suggests. Denmark has the world’s highest level of civic virtue, etc. Singapore has soft authoritarianism, but so do lots of other places. Those other places don’t have Singapore’s unusually efficient economic regime.

    Kgaard, I can envision some pretty nasty types of “order”.

    You said:

    “Utilitarianism is bad news.” Bad in the sense of reducing aggregate happiness?

  13. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    23. April 2019 at 17:14

    By the way, on the question of “nothing”, what is “nothing”? It’s not empty space, because space is something. That’s why I say the question is meaningless. It’s not a question that makes sense in the broader scope of existence.

  14. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    23. April 2019 at 17:30

    Philosophy has long been a dead discipline.


    this is SO wrong. Have you read, and at least partly, understood people like Wittgenstein, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, and Cioran? They are just great and have so much to say. Today more than ever.

  15. Gravatar of Kgaard Kgaard
    23. April 2019 at 17:30

    Scott … Yes I was thinking about the problem of order run amok. The proper formulation would be “Order must rule chaos … but with a light hand. Order should respect chaos as an earlier form of itself.” This is a recipe for benign but firm rule. Headship.

    In this context orderly people run affairs and disorderly people follow instructions. Noblesse Oblige, you might say.

    The problem with democracy, of course, is that the majority are not particularly capable of self-governance.

  16. Gravatar of Kgaard Kgaard
    23. April 2019 at 17:31

    The problem with utilitarianism is really in the framing of the concept. “The most good for the most people” basically means Aristotelian order: Those who are capable of rule, rule. Those who are incapable of self-control, are ruled.

    Put another way, we know the best system: Rule of law based on reciprocity, on natural law. Debate the good in congress via deflation of truth claims.

  17. Gravatar of Jeff Jeff
    23. April 2019 at 18:02

    I think Sandifer is right. The only questions that can ever be answered definitively are scientific questions, and philosophy is not science. As best I can tell, philosophical questions only appear interesting because we don’t always notice that they are poorly posed and a waste of time. Think of Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic” sketch.

  18. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    23. April 2019 at 18:14


    My question then would be, what specifically has 20th century philosphy given us and what is the value of its contributions? Is it measurable? The value science produces is obviously very tangible and measurable.

  19. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    23. April 2019 at 18:14

    Christian List,

    See my question to Scott above.

  20. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    23. April 2019 at 18:17


    Yes, I’d say that to the extent philosphers are making contributions, they’re doing science or developing specialization in other fields. The scientific method grew out of philosophy and then outgrew it and killed it.

  21. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    23. April 2019 at 18:39

    I wonder if we are not barking up the wrong trees in macroeconomics. #2.

    Deontology as monetary policy—that is, the Fed should target 2% inflation or 4% NGDPLT.

    It this like the NBA basketball coach whose key metric is that 70% of shots from the floor should hit?

    Imagine a nation that has 4% inflation and no real GDP growth. They hit the Sumner 4% NGDPLT metric. I can imagine a no-growth or very slow growth economy with moderate inflation lasting for a long time. But by the deontological standard set forth by Sumner, the 4$ NGDPLT is the key metric.

    In Japan, there are 162 job openings for every job hunter, officially. That is a great result. They have a mild problem with recurrent deflation, so maybe they need an even higher ratio of open jobs. Unless I am mistaken, the Bank of Japan is effectively paying down the national debt.

    Timothy Taylor recently posted something to the effect that 75% of new jobs in the US are filled by adults who were not previously (officially) in the labor force. This is great news, and means the US ranks of (real-world) unemployed are about four times as large as previously thought. It suggests the inflation boogeyman-totem has feet of clay.

    Maybe the new macroeconomic metric should be something along the lines of “The US should seek to have 125 job openings for every 100 people seeking work.” Japan-lite.

    Well, that is if you want the huge employee-class (150 million Americans) to buy into the free-market system.

    The Fed wants an unemployment rate in the US near 5%. Egads.

  22. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    23. April 2019 at 19:13

    I agree with Ben that above-full employment needs to be a goal of both monetary and regulatory/tax policy. Work sets men free.

    The philosophy-bashers here are really dim and myopic. Have any of them read any of the good 16th-21st century philosophers? I strongly side with our host and Christian on this question.

    @Michael Sandifer Sadly, most of the 20th century philosophical accomplishments have been destructive, rather than constructive.

  23. Gravatar of Matthias Görgens Matthias Görgens
    23. April 2019 at 19:15

    Philosophy has the same problem as AI: whenever we start figuring something out, it’s bo longer philosophy (respectively, no longer AI).

    Natural philosophy ceased to be philosophy after about Newton’s time. John von Neumann made lots and lots of big problems tractable, and thus no longer philosophy.

    Chess used to be a prime example of AI when computers were young. Nowadays, opinions have shifted.

    Google search would have been AI about thirty years ago. I mean just the basic search (ignore the fancy features they added in the mean time.) Think about it, it’s a box that gives gives you just the documents you need to answer almost any question. But PageRank is relatively easy to understand, so not AI.

  24. Gravatar of Mikko Särelä Mikko Särelä
    23. April 2019 at 22:39

    I think you misunderstand the value of philosophy and the progress it can (and does) make. This is easy to do, since whenever philosophers learn to answer some of those questions for a particular problem, it seizes to be philosophy and moves to become a field of science.

  25. Gravatar of Aleksander Aleksander
    24. April 2019 at 06:26

    A. is a physics question.
    B. is an evolutionary biology question.
    C. is a neuroscience question.

    Philosophy gives us the best answer to each question given our current state of knowledge, but it won’t give us the final answer on its own until each of the above disciplines evolve enough.

  26. Gravatar of Student Student
    24. April 2019 at 06:50

    Interesting post. I didn’t expect you to be a brute facts guy… I had you pegged a sufficient reason guy.

    While I kind of agree with you… the existence of fundamental laws like mathematics seems probable enough for me to accept that there are things which just are. Given that and the causal nature of the material world… I will accept an uncaused cause.

    Which one becomes the question. I find one grounded in love the most palitable.

  27. Gravatar of Charles Fox Charles Fox
    24. April 2019 at 07:50

    Why slow, steady growth and not rapid, steady growth? Or even just “steady growth”?

    Why does your first answer reference per capita, but not the second?

    If used book sales do not count toward GDP, should kindle?

    How would the GDP futures contract settlement process prevent collusion by two or more businesses in a state without sales tax to buy large volumes of data from each-other, artificially inflating the GDP print?

  28. Gravatar of J J
    24. April 2019 at 08:22

    @Matthias Görgens: We may have found out new psychological and physiological facts over the 20th century spanning into the 21st, but we have yet to see problems in existentialism or phenomenology being reduced to less than philosophy. Take moral philosophy for instance: I don’t think there’s one scientific finding or even a set of them that would convince a particular individual that say, utilitarianism, is a no-brainer choice for the way we ought to live. Does obtaining new facts about the natural world inform us about what knowledge is, or how it can be used? I think what you’re saying applies to earlier natural philosophy, but too broad to say for such a large discipline that touches so many things. Would a neurologist ever really have a say as to whether or not someone was a p-zombie?

    ssumner: I enjoy the philosophy discussions, and I like seeing good economists take part of them. Like it or not, economic findings have social and moral implications, so we need to have the proper toolkit to evaluate this stuff. AS JMK said, “(the economist) must be a mathematician, historian, statesmen, philosopher-” I’m not convinced that those questions need to asked or answered, though, or if they are the right ones to be asked. I don’t know what a philosophical degree of confidence is, but surely we would be allowed to make a couple of assumptions to answer the questions, no differently than how a model can help answer your welfare-based questions. Our “confidence” is then generated from evaluating the answer, finding out what it implies, and negating the answers that aren’t up to snuff. For example:

    A. Why is there something rather than nothing?

    If we assume that this is a question worth answering, we surly wouldn’t except an answer like “because there are reasons that things happen,” or anything of that form, because it is circular. We also wouldn’t like answers that imply some weird infinite regress or logical inconsistency. Accepting the kind of logical system we use to evaluate questions like this brings us closer to good answers. So in that way I’d feel confident – maybe it can’t be measured in degrees, but how much would it really add to your assurance?

  29. Gravatar of myb6 myb6
    24. April 2019 at 08:45

    “Utilitarianism is bad news.” “Bad in the sense of reducing aggregate happiness?”

    No, in the sense that we were referring to its unsustainable nature.

    But also yes, utilitarianism indeed fails on its own terms: utilitarianism (judging societies with different ethics) would judge utilitarianism (as one society’s ethic for judging economic/political choices) negatively.

  30. Gravatar of myb6 myb6
    24. April 2019 at 09:22

    Haha, looking through your responses, you’ve already identified a principle that’s higher than our preferences Scott:

    “People (and animals) have a strong instinct to survive.”

    I’d generalize the subject to any complex adaptive system, and interpret “survive” broadly and long-run.

    Utilitarianism is way more context-dependent (say…cooperation with a highly-selected social circle and third-party defenses/enforcement).

  31. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. April 2019 at 10:11

    kgaard, You said:

    “The problem with democracy, of course, is that the majority are not particularly capable of self-governance.”

    Yes, that’s why Switzerland is such a hellhole.

    Jeff, Something doesn’t have to be answered “definitively” (whatever the hell that means) for it to be useful. Newton’s theory turned out to not be definitive, but remains a very useful approximation. I have found that 20th century philosophy has helped me with my research.

    Michael, I’m no expert, but I find the methodology of the philosophy community far more helpful to my research than the methodology of the economics community.

    Charles, Good question. I suspect that would not boost NGDP, as the gain to one offsets the loss to the other. Recall that GDP = GDI. How does your example boost aggregate income? It doesn’t. If it works by raising depreciation, then target NGDP minus depreciation, i.e. NNDP.

    If it did work, it would also affect other nominal variables like inflation, and you could trade the TIPS spread. So why aren’t people already doing this? If it becomes a problem then switch over to aggregate labor compensation targeting.

    Per capita NGDP is slightly better, but I don’t always mention per capita. Fast NGDP growth is bad as it raises the tax rate on capital income.

    Thanks J.

    myb6, If utilitarian reasoning reduces happiness in the long run, then a utilitarian would say we should use some sort of alternative reasoning, one that leads to higher happiness.

  32. Gravatar of sd000 sd000
    24. April 2019 at 10:33

    Calling Singapore “neoliberal” is funny when it’s literally the perfect example of a neoreactionary state.

    I’m not sure how many “liberals” would favor: extremely harsh criminal justice laws, governmental right of reply laws in the media, an immigration policy that explicitly seeks to maintain existing racial balance, government that affirms that there are differences between different racial groups (LKY was outspoken about this, he regularly quoted the Bell Curve and Richard Lynn), government that at one point tried to heavily promote (through subsidies) educated women having multiple children, etc, etc

    The classic joke in some right-leaning circles is that in the modern age, socialism has been tried endless times and produced nothing but failures, neoreactionary policy has been tried once and resulted in the most efficient, well-run country in the world.

  33. Gravatar of myb6 myb6
    24. April 2019 at 10:59

    Right, you’re agreeing utilitarianism is self-refuting if treated as both a pure-assertion (“it just is”) for judging ethics (which is not how the term is used practically) and as an ethic for judging politics/economics (which is precisely how you defined the problem). Somehow I don’t think I’ve yet convinced you to stop identifying as “utilitarian” and to adjust your politics accordingly, though, but given your agreement I’m not sure why, haha.

    Broad long-run survival is the a test for ethical systems that doesn’t seem to be pure assertion. And reciprocity does considerably better on that test than utilitarianism (as ethics for testing politics/economics). We can investigate more-meta problems using their less-meta consequences.

  34. Gravatar of Student Student
    25. April 2019 at 06:05

    For the interested. I think the Catholic answers to your questions would be something to the effect:

    Why is there something rather than nothing? Because God exists – brute fact. God the the prime mover… the maker of fundamental laws… the author of mathematics and matter… just is. The Thomistic take is that it reasonably has to be so otherwise space-time and fundemental laws couldn’t be.

    Is it better? Yes. One could appeal to divine wisdom after having accepted the existence of God and say it had to be better otherwise it wouldn’t be. However, I think one could also appeal the natural law as well. In John’s Gospel it says that God is love. Now think about children. Sure survival instincts exists in a way consisten with evolutionary processes but why do people want to create children? They want offspring to love and love back. That’s why God created matter and the physical world and endowed man with a reflection of his being (however tarnished the reflection is). Out of an act of love… like bringing children into the world.

    From the CCC:

    [God creates by wisdom and love

    295 We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom.141 It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance. We believe that it proceeds from God’s free will; he wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom and goodness: “For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”142 Therefore the Psalmist exclaims: “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all”; and “The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”143

    God creates “out of nothing”

    296 We believe that God needs no pre-existent thing or any help in order to create, nor is creation any sort of necessary emanation from the divine substance.144 God creates freely “out of nothing”:145

    If God had drawn the world from pre-existent matter, what would be so extraordinary in that? A human artisan makes from a given material whatever he wants, while God shows his power by starting from nothing to make all he wants.146”]

  35. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. April 2019 at 08:08

    sd000, I should have specified neoliberal economic policies. In other areas, Singapore is not neoliberal.

    myb6, You said:

    “Right, you’re agreeing utilitarianism is self-refuting”

    Actually, I did not do so.

  36. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    25. April 2019 at 09:58

    Do Denmark, Singapore and Switzerland scale?

  37. Gravatar of myb6 myb6
    25. April 2019 at 11:14

    “Actually, I did not do so.”

    Ah, I was assuming you were conceding the survival critique with your hypothetical “If utilitarian reasoning reduces…”, but it turns out you haven’t actually responded to the critique. My apologies.

  38. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    25. April 2019 at 13:12

    “Per capita NGDP is slightly better, but I don’t always mention per capita. Fast NGDP growth is bad as it raises the tax rate on capital income.”

    I am glad you reminded us of per capita NGDP

    Re:”Fast NGDP growth as bad becuase it raises tax rates on capital income”. Because inflation rises and tax rates are not adjusted? That can be fixed by law. Or is it some other reason?

    Re: reality. The most mysterious question to me for aware beings is “why did one particular egg that mixed with one particular sperm result in the consciousness which is “me”?” If it was a different sperm it would have been a different awareness or person. This is actually an obvious statement—-but it still seems remarkable—perhaps not even possible. All beings seem to have been randomly chosen from a virtual if not literal infinite pool of potential beings. Like the universe, the odds of any of us being here are mathematically indistinguishable from zero. Yet here we are.

  39. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    25. April 2019 at 13:19

    Do Denmark, Singapore and Switzerland scale?

    They are very small indeed. And how funny-weird (or expectable?) is it that these countries have (inter alia) the strictest immigration laws and border controls in the Western-neoliberal world; and that they seem to be extremely focused on bewaring their “culture” (whatever that is or might be).

  40. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    25. April 2019 at 13:27

    Like the universe, the odds of any of us being here are mathematically indistinguishable from zero.

    Michael Rulle,

    My suspicion is that people who say something like this (in all its variants) over and over again simply don’t really understand probability and/or probability theory.

    It’s a bit like Scott’s first question. Can anyone enlighten me, please? What do you even mean? What’s your point?

  41. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    25. April 2019 at 14:32


    Perhaps you can do a post sometime on how philosophy has benefited your work as an economist. I recognize that I can be wrong about philosophy. Perhaps my imagination is just too limited.

  42. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    25. April 2019 at 14:33

    Immigrants constitute a higher % of the population in Switzerland than in the US. In Denmark and Singapore they form a smaller % of the population.

  43. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    25. April 2019 at 16:10

    Immigrants constitute a higher % of the population in Switzerland than in the US.


    I was talking about rules, not about sheer numbers. Immigration is useful if you have a good plan with clear rules.

    Your example can mean many different things by the way:

    The EU forcing Switzerland to take more people in than they want to?

    Switzerland is richer than the US, and therefore more attractive?

    Most immigrants come from Italy and Germany?

    The US is the classic example for Ius soli. In Switzerland you can live for years and endless generations without ever becoming a citizen. Following this Swiss logic the percentage of immigrants in the US is about 99-100%.

  44. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    25. April 2019 at 17:32

    Fair point. By that criteria, all three countries seem to make it very difficult to gain citizenship. I wonder how much, if any, of their success Scott attributes to those factors.

  45. Gravatar of Ralph Musgrave Ralph Musgrave
    26. April 2019 at 02:50

    “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

    Er – if something came into existence, then prior to that point in time, there must have been a REASON for something coming into existence. I.e. before there was something, there was something. Ergo something has always existed.

    I’m sure that clarifies the issue….:-)

  46. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    26. April 2019 at 04:57

    Okay, Q1 GDP up 3.2%.

    I think we start to see better productivity stats. When the economy grows, we tend to see higher output per worker, and lower unit labor costs.

    That will hold down inflation.

    The “we can only grow at 2% real” view may be wrong.

    75% of jobs are being filled by adults who were not in the labor force officially

    Let it rip!

  47. Gravatar of Charles Fox Charles Fox
    26. April 2019 at 08:46

    ssumner, thank you – I see now why my example fails.

    Peter Thiel has argued that some of the adjustments to CPI are done with the intention to keep the print lower and reduce entitlement liabilities. Do you agree?

    How much discretion do you think would be needed in the calculation of NGDP/NNGDP?

    If the system consistently generates 4% national growth, would state governments be incentivized to run larger deficits to capture a larger share of the 4%?

  48. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    26. April 2019 at 09:36

    You don’t answer the question.

    I wonder that, too. But I think at the same time we can already guess the answer.

  49. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    26. April 2019 at 09:58

    Christian—-Perhaps “I don’t know probability” although I am pretty sure I do—but lets assume I don’t. I also will concede I should have used the term statistical inference—-since probability usually refers to that which is already known under a given set of assumptions. Although I think that it can still apply here but it is not my point.

    I believe you did not understand what I am try to say. My fault. Let me try again.

    I said I find it a mystery that we all exist as conscious individual beings. But further, we each are the only conscious individuals we could be and this purely is a continuous function of an infinite number of random micro events that operate on us and thru us. I am not being metapysical in the slightest—-this is just a fact. I make the assumption that a particular sperm and a particular egg make us the self aware unique individuals we are. If it was a different sperm and or egg, I assume the being would not be “me’ but some other “me”. I would not exist. Someone else would exist. If this is not true, then I must default to God (which may be correct). If my assumption is true, think of how ramdom it is and virtually impossible that each of us exist versus someone else. If my father washed his hands a few seconds longer, I would not be here, someone else would be here. Every single second of my parents life determined that I would exist. Change anything at the 1 or less second level and I would not be here. While there is a 100% probability that billions of “someones” would exist, there is virtually a zero percent chance that any single one of us would be here. This is mysterious to me. You should know that Physics math says the odds of Big Bang, mathematically speaking, was really zero. This is why I said it is as if we were randomly chosen from an infinite pool of potential beings,and therefore the probability that Christian or Mike exist is zero. But, as I said, here we all are. So maybe there is a 100% chance each of us should be here. This implies God. I do not believe like many of the classical physicysts believed, that everything is predetermined.

    I would appreciate a serious response rather than assuming I am an idiot and you are not 🙂

  50. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    26. April 2019 at 12:31

    Michael Rulle:

    Your parents had an encounter (apparently with clean hands) that took place in 1 gazillion zillionth of the universe for about 1/10 quadrillionth of the lifespan of the universe and made you exactly as you are. With all the random interactions of different objects in that massive space over that vast timespan, what are the odds that you wouldn’t have been created?

  51. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. April 2019 at 12:37

    Christian, About 40% of Singapore residents are foreign born. I’d be thrilled if the US copied Singapore.

    Charles, Yes, I agree that that is one of the goals. But I’d add that the economists who favor this adjustment sincerely believe it is more accurate.

  52. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    1. May 2019 at 09:40


    I appreciate the attempt do disabuse me of the concept that our individual existence is not a mystery. Perhaps I enjoy the idea for no rational reason. I am not trying to be clever or smart——just expressing what I find fascinating and what I call “mysterious” which may be a bad choice of words. But, given my assumption, i.e. “one sperm and one egg”, I believe your logic does not work. It’s just a thought of mine that I have always found fascinating—-nothing more. We are here, so what does it matter? Scott brought up some interesting questions and I merely said what I find fascinating. I still do. Does it have meaning? I think it does——but there is nothing we can do about it.

    So we just live——-

  53. Gravatar of Roger Roger
    9. June 2019 at 18:38

    I think we will answer question A, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, but I don’t think either academic philosophers or physicists will answer it.

    My view is that the thing we often think of as “nothing” (the lack of all
    matter, energy, space/volume, time, abstract concepts, laws of physics/math/logic, “possibilities” and the lack of all minds to consider this supposed lack of all) is, when thought of from another angle, a “something”. That is, asking how you go from “nothing” to “something” in the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is like saying that you start with a 0 (e.g., “nothing”) and end up with a 1 (e.g., “something”). Because there’s no mechanism in 0 to change it to a 1, the only way you can do this is if the 0 is really a 1 in disguise, and it just looks like a 0 from the one perspective we’ve always looked at it from.

    How can “nothing” be seen as a “something”? To answer this, I think we first have to answer why does any “normal” thing, like a book, exist? That is, why is a book a “something”? I think that a thing exists if it is a grouping. Groupings unite things together into a single unit whole and define what is contained within the whole. This grouping together is visually seen and physically present as a surface, or boundary, that defines what is contained within and that gives “substance” and existence to the thing. Some examples are 1.) the definition of what elements are contained within a set groups those previously individual elements together into a new unit whole called the set, which is visualized as the curly braces surrounding the set and 2.) the grouping together of previously unrelated paper and ink atoms into a new unit whole called a book, which can be visually seen as the surface of the book.

    Next, in regard to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, when we get rid of all existent entities including matter, energy, space/volume, time, abstract concepts, laws or constructs of physics and math as well as minds to consider this supposed lack of all, we think what is left is the lack of all existent entities, or “absolute nothing” (here, I don’t mean our mind’s conception of this supposed “absolute nothing”, I mean the supposed “absolute nothing” itself, in which all minds would be gone). This situation is very hard to visualize because the mind is trying to imagine a situation in which it doesn’t exist. But, once everything is gone, and the mind is gone, this situation, this “absolute lack-of-all”, would be it; it would be the everything. It would be the entirety, or whole amount, of all that is present. By its very nature, it defines exactly all that is present (e.g., nothing). Is there anything else besides that “absolute nothing”? No. It is “nothing”, and it is the all. An entirety, whole amount or “the all” is a grouping that defines what is contained within (e.g., everything), which means that the situation we previously considered to be “absolute nothing” is itself an existent entity. Said another way, by its very nature, “absolute nothing”/”the all” is a grouping. It defines itself and is therefore the beginning point in the chain of being able to define existent entities in terms of other existent entities. Overall, I think that “something” is necessary because even what we previously considered to be “nothing” is a “something”.

    Thanks for listening!

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