Clever people’s laws

One area I am quite interested in is eponymous laws. These are often statements that seem obvious in hindsight but reveal somethings about the real world that tends to be quite profound. Whilst one could quite easily know the ideas behind these without knowing the names I find that having the names crystallises some of the concepts behind them and makes the concepts easier to recall in everyday life. Below is a list of some I find particularly interesting or applicable.

Dunning-Kruger effect: people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is

Fredkin’s Paradox: The more equally attractive two alternatives seem the harder it is to choose between them even though choice can only matter less

Buridan’s ass: A donkey that is equally hungry and thirsty placed between food and water and the indecision leads to death 

Lindy effect: future life expectancy of a non-perishable thing like technology or idea is proportional to current age 

Jevons paradox: technological progress/policy increases efficiency where resource is used but paradoxically the rate of consumption rises. increased efficiency reduces relative cost and increases real incomes 

Overton window: range of ideas tolerated in public discourse 

Barnum effect: individuals give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them even though they are in fact vague and apply to wide range of people 

Gresham’s law: when two currencies are both acceptable and one is more valuable then the less valuable one will crowd out the more valuable 

Dunbar’s Number: 150 people is the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships

Meehl pattern: in highly uncertain environments an expert in a field who tries to predict something complicated may have a lower success rate than a simple statistical formula based on a few key variables 

Baumol’s cost disease: as capital intensive industries get more efficient they can pay their workers more. This leads to upwards pressure in wages in other sectors as well such as labour intensive ones. However, as these industries are not experiencing increases in productivity they pass on these higher wages in higher prices. This is one possible explanation as to why things like cars and computers don’t get more expensive but healthcare and education does

aumann’s agreement theorem: two rational agents cannot agree to disagree when having the same information. They can still disagree but only if they have different info. If people have common priors and common knowledge then posteriors must be equal 

Parkinson’s law of triviality/bicycle shed effect: substituting a hard and important problems for easy and inconsequential ones. part of this may be that small ones are easy enough for everyone to contribute to. shouldn’t argue about every detail based simply as you have the knowledge 

parkinson’s law: work expands to fill the time available for its completion 

Algernon’s law: IQ is nearly impossible to improve in healthy people without tradeoffs. if we could get smarter w/o tradeoffs then it is perhaps likely evolution would have done this 

Goodhart’s law: when a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure 

Campbell’s law: the more any quantitative social indicator is used for decision making the more subject it will be to corruption pressures  and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt to social processes it is intended to monitor e.g test scores 

Chesterton’s fence: If you can’t see the purpose of a social norm e.g any value in a family unit, you shouldn’t ignore it without having thought hard about why it is there 

Peltzman effect: people often take more risks when they feel safer. reduction of predicted benefit from regulations intended to increase safety 

Schelling point: a natural point that people will converge upon independently. participants may not even realise  happening. For example, “I don’t want to live in a society where genetic enhancement of children increases the gap between the rich and poor. Unfortunately, there’s no clear place at which to say ‘wait, we’re about to reach that society now, let’s stop enhancement!’ Perhaps my comrades and I should instead object against any genetic manipulation at all, including selecting for embryos without cystic fibrosis (even if we wouldn’t mind that particular selection occurring)

Schelling’s segregation: even when groups only have a mild preference to be around others with a similar characteristic, neighbourhoods will segregate  

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