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Classified Thread 6

This is the…monthly? bimonthly? occasional?…classified thread. Post advertisements, personals, and any interesting success stories from the last thread.

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The Chamber of Guf

[I briefly had a different piece up tonight discussing a conference, but the organizers asked me to hold off on writing about it until they’ve put up their own synopsis. It will be back up eventually; please accept this post instead for now.]

In Jewish legend, the Chamber of Guf is a pit where all the proto-souls hang out whispering and murmuring. Whenever a child is born, an angel reaches into the chamber, scoops up a soul, and brings it into the world.

In the syncretist mindset where every legend has to be a metaphor for the human mind, I map the Chamber of Guf to all the thoughts that exist below the level of consciousness, fighting for attention.

We already know something like this happens for behaviors. From Guyenet’s The Hungry Brain:

How does the lamprey decide what to do? Within the lamprey basal ganglia lies a key structure called the striatum, which is the portion of the basal ganglia that receives most of the incoming signals from other parts of the brain. The striatum receives “bids” from other brain regions, each of which represents a specific action. A little piece of the lamprey’s brain is whispering “mate” to the striatum, while another piece is shouting “flee the predator” and so on. It would be a very bad idea for these movements to occur simultaneously – because a lamprey can’t do all of them at the same time – so to prevent simultaneous activation of many different movements, all these regions are held in check by powerful inhibitory connections from the basal ganglia. This means that the basal ganglia keep all behaviors in “off” mode by default. Only once a specific action’s bid has been selected do the basal ganglia turn off this inhibitory control, allowing the behavior to occur. You can think of the basal ganglia as a bouncer that chooses which behavior gets access to the muscles and turns away the rest. This fulfills the first key property of a selector: it must be able to pick one option and allow it access to the muscles.

So in the process of deciding what behavior to do, the (lamprey) brain subconsciously considers many different plausible behaviors, all of which compete to be enacted. I don’t know how this extends to humans, but it would make sense that maybe only the top few candidate behaviors even make it to consciousness, with the rest getting rejected without conscious consideration.

The particular qualities of a behavior that help it reach consciousness and implementation vary depending on mental state. Guyenet goes on to talk about how in dopamine-depleted states, only the simplest and most boring behaviors make it out of the Guf; with enough dopamine blockade, a person will sit motionless in their room for lack of any better ideas. In high dopamine states like mania or methamphetamine use, it’s much easier for behaviors to make successful “bids”, and so you tend to do bizarre things that would never have seemed like good ideas otherwise.

This is how I experience thoughts too. When I’ve had a lot of coffee, I have more interesting thoughts than usual. New ideas and clever wordplay come easily to me. I don’t think it makes sense to say that coffee makes me smarter; that breaks Algernon’s Law. More likely I always have some of those thoughts in the Guf, but the relevant angel considers them too weird to be worth scooping out and bringing into the world. This is probably for the best; manic people report “racing thoughts”, a state where the angels build a giant conveyor belt from the Guf to consciousness and give you every single possible thought no matter how irrelevant. It doesn’t sound fun at all.

I find this metaphor especially useful when thinking about Gay OCD.

Gay OCD, and its close cousins Pedophilic OCD and Incest OCD, are varieties of obsessive-compulsive disorder where the patient can’t stop worrying that they’re gay (or a pedophile, or want to have sex with family members). In these more tolerant times, it’s tempting to say “whatever, you’re gay, that’s fine, get over it”. But a careful history will reveal that they aren’t; most Gay OCD patients do not experience same-sex attraction, and they’re often in fulfilling relationships with members of the opposite sex. They have no good reason to think they’re gay – they just constantly worry that they are.

I studied under a professor who was an expert in these conditions. Her theory centered around the question of why angels would select some thoughts from the Guf over others to lift into consciousness. Variables like truth-value, relevance, and interestingness play important roles. But the exact balance depends on our mood. Anxiety is a global prior in favor of extracting fear-related thoughts from the Guf. Presumably everybody’s brain dedicates a neuron or two to thoughts like “a robber could break into my house right now and shoot me”. But most people’s Selecting Angels don’t find them worth bringing into the light of consciousness. Anxiety changes the angel’s orders: have a bias towards selecting thoughts that involve fearful situations and how to prepare for them. A person with an anxiety disorder, or a recent adrenaline injection, or whatever, will absolutely start thinking about robbers, even if they consciously know it’s an irrelevant concern.

In a few unlucky people with a lot of anxiety, the angel decides that a thought provoking any strong emotion is sufficient reason to raise the thought to consciousness. Now the Gay OCD trap is sprung. One day the angel randomly scoops up the thought “I am gay” and hands it to the patient’s consciousness. The patient notices the thought “I am gay”, and falsely interprets it as evidence that they’re actually gay, causing fear and disgust and self-doubt. The angel notices this thought produced a lot of emotion and occupied consciousness for a long time – a success! That was such a good choice of thought! It must have been so relevant! It decides to stick with this strategy of using the “I am gay” thought from now on. If that ever fails to excite, it moves on to a whole host of similar thoughts that still have some punch, like “Was I just sexually attracted to that same-sex person over there?” and the like.

I practice in San Francisco, and I rarely see Gay OCD these days. Being gay just isn’t scary enough any more. I still see some Pedophilic OCD and Incest OCD, as well as less common but obviously similar syndromes like Murderer OCD and Infanticide OCD. I’ve also started noticing a spike in Racism OCD; the patient has a stray racist thought, they react with sudden terror and self-loathing, their angel gets all excited, and then they can’t stop thinking about whether they might be a racist. There’s a paper to be written here about OCD patients as social weathervanes.

All of these can be treated with the same medications that treat normal OCD. But there’s an additional important step of explaining exactly this theory to the patient, so that they know that not only are they not gay/a pedophile/racist, but it’s actually their strong commitment to being against homosexuality/pedophilia/racism which is making them have these thoughts. This makes the thoughts provoke less strong emotion and can itself help reduce the frequency of obsessions. Even if it doesn’t do that, it’s at least comforting for most people.

This is not an official theory by an official professor, but I wonder how much of a role this same process plays in normal self-defeating thoughts. The person who can’t stop thinking “I’m fat and ugly” or “I’m an imposter who’s terrible at my career” even in the face of contradictory evidence. These thoughts seem calculated to disturb the same way Gay OCD is. They’re not as dramatic, and they rarely reach quite the same level of obsession, but the underlying process seems the same.

If you want to see the Guf directly, advanced meditators seem to be able to do this. They often report that after successfully quieting their conscious thoughts, they become gradually aware of a swamp of unquiet proto-thoughts lurking underneath. They usually describe it as really weird, which is a remarkably good match to the theory’s predictions.

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Anxiety Sampler Kits

The best thing about personalized medicine is that it’s obviously right. The worst thing is we mostly have no idea how to do it. We know that different people respond to different treatments. But outside a few special cases like cancer, we don’t know how to predict which treatment will work for which person. Some psychiatric researchers claim they can do this at a high level; I think they’re wrong. For most treatments and most conditions, there’s no way to figure out whether a given sometimes-effective treatment will work on a given individual besides trying it and seeing.

This suggests that some chronic conditions might do best with a model centered around a controlled process of guess-and-check. When it’s safe and possible, we should be maximizing throughput – finding out how to test as many medications as we can in the short time before we exhaust our patients’ patience, and how to best assess the effects of each. The process of treating each individual should mirror the process of medicine in general, balancing the need to run controlled trials and gather more evidence with the need to move quickly.

I don’t know how seriously to take this idea, but I would like to try it.

Some friends and I made thirty of these Anxiety Sampler Kits, containing six common supplements with some level of scientific and anecdotal evidence for treating anxiety (thanks to Patreon donors for helping fund this). The 21 boxes include three nonconsecutive boxes of each supplement, plus three boxes of placebos. They’re randomly arranged and designed so that you can’t tell which ones are which – I even put some of the supplements into different colored capsules, so you can’t even be sure that two capsules that look different aren’t the same thing.

Each box contains enough supplement for one dose, and all supplements are supposed to work within an hour or so. Whenever you feel anxious, you try the first non-empty box remaining. Afterwards, you rate how you felt on the attached log (not pictured). When you’ve finished all twenty-one boxes, you fill out a form (link is on the attached paperwork) and figure out whether there was any supplement you consistently rated higher than the others, or whether any of them were better than placebo. If your three highest ratings all went to boxes which turned out to contain the same supplement, and it did much better than placebo, then you have a strong argument that this is the best anti-anxiety supplement for you.

(this setup isn’t quite as irresponsible as it sounds. The six supplements I’m using are all considered very safe. I’m not concealing which six supplements are in it – it’s magnesium, 5-HTP, GABA, Zembrin, lemon balm, and l-theanine – so you can check if you have allergies to any of them. And there’s a spoilers page available if you have a bad reaction and need to tell your doctor what caused it)

Also on the form is a link to send me your data, which I’m asking you to do as a condition for using the kits. I’ll add everything up and this will double as an n = 30 placebo-controlled trial of six different supplements. I don’t think n = 30 is enough to impress anybody, but it might be enough to get some informal hunches about what works and be able to give people better advice. And if the experiment goes well, I can always make more kits.

If you live in the Bay Area, have enough anxiety that you expect to use a sample at least two days a week, and are okay with self-experimentation, these kits might be for you. Starting tonight I’m leaving a box full of them at the Rationality & Effective Altruism Community Hub, on the ground floor of 3045 Shattuck, Berkeley. REACH is usually open (or contains people who will open it if you knock) at all reasonable hours, and the caretaker there is aware that people might be coming in to get these kits. If you notice the box is out of kits, please comment here telling me so and I’ll add an update so people don’t waste their time. [EDIT: All out of kits, sorry! Once I have gotten results I might make a new batch.]

Remember that by taking a kit, you’re saying you expect to have anxiety that you’d be willing to experiment on at least twice a week (it’s okay if it doesn’t work out this way exactly) and you’re committing to – if you’re able to finish the test – sending me a form with your results. People who are pregnant or nursing, who have relevant preexisting medical conditions, or who are already taking potentially-interacting medications should talk to their doctor before trying these kits. I will not give you medical advice about whether these kits are safe for your specific situation, so please don’t ask. If you would be comfortable taking a random supplement you got off the shelf at Whole Foods, you should feel comfortable with everything in here.

I might take this idea further, but I’m going to wait until the first set of results come in. If you are interested in taking this idea further, send me an email and let me know your thoughts.

Links 10/18: +1 Insiteful

Mark Hofmann, master forger, built a comfy career for himself forging documents that discredited Mormonism and selling them to Mormon officials who wanted to cover them up – for example, a letter in which Joseph Smith confessed that instead of seeing an angel, he had only seen a salamander. Then the murders began.

Byron White is the only person to have ever been both an NFL player and a Supreme Court Justice. He also won two Bronze Stars working naval intelligence in World War II. From his Wikipedia article: “White said that he was supposed to enroll at Harvard Law School, but got sick on the train ride there, so he got off the train in New Haven, Connecticut and went to Yale.”

Update on the mystery illness plaguing US diplomats in Cuba (and now China) – it may be a microwave-based weapon developed by the old USSR, possibly deployed from the back of a van. Still no word on who is using it against US diplomats or why.

Want to participate in a medical study? Don’t care which one? helps connect researchers to wannabe-subjects. If you have a disease, great, but even if you don’t you can be someone’s control group.

Exposure to opposing views on social media increases partisan polarization. It’s not true that if people read the other side they would appreciate or like them more. I think this is probably related to everyone giving up on convincing the other side and focusing on radicalizing the base instead. If people were trying to convince you, listening to them would make you more convinced; if people are trying to radicalize your enemies, listening to them will make you more concerned. And here’s an article about people trying to do this right.

It’s 2018, so of course a rapper is planning to build a cryptocurrency-themed city in Senegal, and of course it’s already being compared to “a real-life Wakanda”.

One way to identify a brilliant person is that, while ordinary people are afraid you’ll steal their ideas, brilliant people have so many ideas that they know they will never be able to do all of them, and practically beg you to steal them so that they get done. Luke Muehlhauser is definitely a brilliant person, and here is his list of Projects I Wish I Had Time For. Somebody please do the historical music one and send it to me.

Eleven European nations are planning to mandate that recipients of government scientific grants must publish resulting papers somewhere they are freely available to everyone, eg open-access journals. This could be an even bigger deal than it sounds, since it would ensure open-access journals were the only place you could find a lot of the most important research, and so raise their prestige. Good job governments solving coordination problems!

Inevitably, capsule hotels have come to San Francisco. The symbolism isn’t great, but I’ve stayed at capsule hotels before and can recommend them as surprisingly comfortable and convenient.

Related: a real estate startup is getting into the Bay Area group house market. This sounds kind of like dialing the Bay-Area-ness up to 11, but it…actually seems like a good idea? They acquire and maintain the houses, screen potential residents, take care of chores like cleaning and keeping provisions stocked, and occasionally hold events, and residents pay them like any other landlord. professorgerm on the subreddit describes it as “take college dorms, remove the college, and make it a subscription model with transfer options”.

This month in dog-whistling: was a low-level Trump administration official resting her arms on each other in a totally normal way during the Kavanaugh hearings? Or was it a secret white supremacist salute? Update: it was the first one, and the official involved is a half-Mexican, half-Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors.

Iran has one of the world’s largest cash transfer programs, though it’s not quite a basic income. Now a new study finds generally positive effects on labor participation.

Robin Hanson: The Game

The Institute for Competitive Governance is trying to crowd-fund an “open source legal system”, ie “an alternative law system for places where existing legal systems either do not exist or cannot be trusted”. Some more information here. There is no way this doesn’t end up being on the blockchain somehow. Also in crowdfunding news – friend of the blog Thomas Eliot is raising money for his new illustrated translation of the Enchiridion of Epictetus. Somewhat less likely to end up on the blockchain, but it is 2018.

This month in phrenology: “A series of studies conducted by Caltech researchers show that when people are shown photos of politicians they’re not familiar with, they can make better-than-chance judgments about whether those politicians have been convicted of corruption”. In particular. politicians with wider faces are more corrupt. And here’s a photoset in case you want to remind yourself what wide- and narrow-faced politicians look like.

The partisan makeup of different occupations. Note the consistent pattern where professions that manipulate the physical world are conservative and professions that manipulate ideas are liberal (in a way that doesn’t seem to depend entirely on skills or salary).

Ben Carson (who, remember, is still the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) comes out against NIMBYism, cites econblogger Noahpinion’s article.

Why do people on hallucinogenic drugs so often see spirals or concentric circles? Because the brain maps the visual field to the visual cortex using a polar-to-Cartesian coordinate transform, and drugs cause linear abnormalities in the visual cortex through a reaction-diffusion process similar to the one that makes stripes on zebras. If this doesn’t make sense, read the link, it’s brilliant and fascinating and one of the only times I feel like some aspect of human perception has been completely explained with no mystery left anywhere. Original paper is here, zebra-stripe-generator applet is here. (h/t eukaryotewrites)

Ron Unz did a lot of interesting work on both sides of the political spectrum, and you may have cached that he’s a guy with some heterodox opinions but still pretty thoughtful. I was disappointed to learn that he’s now gone totally off the deep end into Holocaust denial and other related beliefs; this article gives a good bio and summary. This scares me because I don’t know how it happened; I often see people I respect in one domain having otherwise crazy opinions, but for some reason it’s worse when I can watch it happening in real time.

Step one: some Chinese people are going back to wearing traditional Chinese clothes, how #aesthetic. Step two: uh oh, it looks like the people wearing traditional Chinese clothing are a far-right supremacist movement. Step three: “Conspiracy theories among Han Clothing Movement participants claim that there is a secret Manchu plan for restoration [of the Qing Dynasty] that has been underway from the start of the post-1978 reform era. They argue that Manchus secretly control every important party-state institution, such as the People’s Liberation Army, the Party Propaganda Department, the Ministry of Culture and especially the National Population and Family Planning Commission which is regarded as a stronghold of Manchu influence. They believe that its one-child policy is but “an escalation of the long-term Manchu genocide that targets the Han people”.

You know the planet astrological symbols? Where Venus is a mirror, Mars is a circle with an arrow coming out of it, and nobody ever remembers the others? Well, did you know that more than thirty asteroids have their own astrological symbols for you to not remember?

Roopkund is a small lake 15,000 feet high in the Tibetan Plateau, which made headlines when explorers discovered several hundred human skeletons on its desolate shores. Scientists carbon-dated the skeletons to around 700 AD. Now somebody has gene-sequenced them, and found that they are mostly Greeks. How did hundreds of Greek people get to a remote part of Tibet and die there en masse in the eight-century AD? Wikipedia discusses the mystery.

This month in “nobody has principles”, USA Today on the implications of Kavanaugh: “’Law review editors: brace for a tidal wave of legal academic theories supporting judicial minimalism, Thayerianism, and strong — very strong — theories of precedent. Above all: the Court must do nothing without bipartisan agreement, otherwise it is illegitimate.’ The past half-century’s enthusiasm for judicial activism will vanish, as legal academia turns on a dime to promote theories that will constrain the court until a left-leaning majority returns, at which point they’ll turn on a dime again.”

Ben Hoffman: Financial investment is just a symbolic representation of investment projected onto a low-dimensional space inside a control system run by the US government. Tldr he disagrees with Nassim Taleb’s barbell strategy.

A year after China said it would “dominate” AI, it seems to be walking back its position and calling for international collaboration.

Will MacAskill’s TED talk on effective altruism. Related: 80,000 Hours synthesizes and summarizes their research finding the highest-impact careers.

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” – Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire Of Louis Bonaparte

Confronted with the science saying it’s bad for teenagers to wake up too early, California’s legislature passes a ground-breaking bill saying that schools may not start earlier than 8:30 AM – only for it to be vetoed by governor Jerry Brown, who is apparently in the pocket of Big Morning.

This probably confuses a lot of people’s narratives: women are having more children than they were a decade ago.

Evidence that the solar cycle affects human lifespan, embryo survival, and number of children, probably because UV affects folate levels. h/t towardsagentlerworld

Commuting by bicycle has gone down over the past few years, at least in part because working from home is finally starting to rise.

no_bear_so_low does research on Google trends, including how left-wing searches are gaining on right-wing searches over time and anxiety-related searches are exploding.

Genomic Prediction launches their flagship product, a test that will assign polygenic scores to embryos and let parents decide which ones to implant. So far only being used for a few specific disorders, but the same technology would work for traits like height or intelligence. Gwern estimates that at current tech level, a process like this could probably gain three IQ points.

Americans with a science PhD can “get a fast track to influencing policy” by applying for the AAAS Science And Technology Fellowship by Nov 1.

NYT uses Facebook data to generate a map of how likely people in any one American county are to have friends in another American county. You could probably do some interesting research on migration patterns with this tool.

A clustering algorithm sorts 50,000 philosophy papers onto a 2D grid to make a map of philosophy. Somebody needs to turn this into sentimental cartography.

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Kavanaugh: A Probability Poll

There’s some literature suggesting that people are more careful when they think in probabilities. If you ask them for a definite answer, they might give it and sound very confident, but if you encourage them to think probabilistically they might admit there’s more uncertainty.

I wanted to look into this in the context of the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, so I asked readers to estimate their probability that Judge Kavanaugh was guilty of sexually assaulting Dr. Ford. I got 2,350 responses (thank you, you are great). Here was the overall distribution of probabilities. Horizontal axis is percent chance he did it; vertical axis is number of people who responded with that percent:

This looks weird because people were most likely to give numbers rounded off the the nearest ten.

I separated responses into bins from 0 – 9%, 10 – 19%, and so on to 90 – 100%. Keep in mind that the last bin is slightly larger than the others, so it might make it unfairly look like more people gave extreme high answers than extreme low answers. I also switched the vertical axis to percent of responses in each bin. Smoothed out, it looks like this:

This looks pretty balanced, and it is: the average probability is 52.64%. This is probably a fake balance based on all the different demographic skews involved cancelling out: 2.5x as many Democrats as Republicans answered the survey, but 9x as many men as women did.

Here are the results broken down by party (blue is Democrats, red is Republicans):

And here are the results broken down by gender (blue is men, pink is women):

There should be an interaction between party and gender, because men are more likely to be Republicans, and women Democrats. I didn’t have enough data to investigate this too carefully, so I can’t say whether gender controlled for party remains significant or not.

I asked two questions to assess participants’ level of background knowledge: where did Kavanaugh go to law school? (correct answer: Yale) and what is Kavanaugh’s wife’s name? (correct answer: Ashley, but a shout-out to everyone who wrote “Mrs. Kavanaugh” and to the one person who wrote “beer”). Here are the probabilities of people who got both questions right (gold) vs. both questions wrong (green):

People with high background knowledge were more extreme in their answers, and slightly more likely to think Kavanaugh is innocent. I worry that I made a mistake in the questions I chose, since people who are more sympathetic to Kavanaugh might be more likely to know about his family. In retrospect, I should have asked at least one question about Dr. Ford.

What about neutral people? Do such people exist? I looked at people who were neither registered Democrats nor Republicans, and who rated their liberal-vs-conservative ideology, on a one to ten scale, as 4, 5, or 6. These people looked like this:

This chart makes it look like they’re slightly leaning towards guilt, but I think that might be a function of the binning; their mean probability of guilt was 49.85%, about as close to “totally uncertain” as you can get. Neutral people with more background knowledge were, again, more likely to lean innocent, with a mean of 41%.

I asked people whether they felt the evidence that Kavanaugh may have committed sexual assault was sufficient to reject his nomination to the Supreme Court, regardless of any other reasons to vote for or against him (like his legal opinions). 55% of respondents thought that yes, his nomination should be voted down; 45% still supported him. Here is a list of support for confirmation by probability of guilt:

Of people who thought there was only a 0 – 9% chance Kavanaugh was guilty, 98% thought he shouldn’t be rejected from the Supreme Court on this basis alone. Of people who thought there was a 90-100% chance of guilt, 96% thought that was sufficient to reject the nomination. Of people who thought there was 50-50 chance of guilt, about 50% still supported him and 50% opposed him.

This question suggests there is no real consensus about how plausible an accusation has to be before it means someone should be denied nomination to the Supreme Court. People generally agreed that if there was below a 25% chance the accusations were true, he should definitely be confirmed, and if there was above an 80% chance, he definitely shouldn’t be. But between 25% and 80%, people were pretty split on whether the Senate should err on the side of not confirming a potential assaulter, or wait until it was beyond a reasonable doubt. If we were trying to make these answers into a guideline for how a Senator should vote, it looks like they would be satisfying the most people if they voted to confirm if they thought the accusations had a less than 50% chance of being true, and to reject if they thought they had a more than 50% chance. I wonder how many people would endorse this rule as written.

I also asked people whether they would reject Kavanaugh in the hypothetical universe where he had immediately admitted to the accusations, then apologized for his actions and said he had changed as a person since then. About 55% of people said they would accept him in this scenario, meaning he gains about 10% support in the SSC demographic compared to the real-world situation. But the question was poorly worded and I’m not sure how many people answered yes they would reject him, accidentally meaning to say yes they would accept him.

Here is a graph of how people answered this hypothetical compared to how guilty they thought he was:

There’s no correlation. This makes sense: how guilty you think he is in this universe shouldn’t affect your opinions about a hypothetical universe where you know he’s guilty – but for some reason I’m still surprised. I guess I expected people’s partisan biases to sneak in, even if they didn’t make sense. Maybe the question was so confusing that answers to it are basically random.

Overall, when asked to use probabilities people were able to admit to a little bit of uncertainty in their answer. They could give probabilities that were well-formed and self-consistent. But none of this came close to removing the partisan bias and the strong difference in opinions. There is no consensus in the general SSC demographic, and even unbiased people as a group are unable to send a coherent signal. This is not a good way to get beyond confusion and disagreement on an issue like this one.

You can download the raw data (slightly cleaned up) here.

OT112: Opentagon Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. I am retiring the scott[at]shireroth[dot]org email in favor of scott[at]slatestarcodex[dot]com. Please use the new email if you want to reach me. I prefer not to receive comments on blog posts by email. If you have a comment on a blog post, please put it on the comment section of the blog or the subreddit.

2. Comment of the week is this set of tweets on how the adversarial collaboration contest’s main benefit might not be to readers, but to participants and to democracy itself.

3. I am interested in publishing basically any good adversarial collaboration people do (this isn’t a promise, just an expression of interest). If you have one, let me know. If you’re thinking of doing one and you want to know if I would publish it beforehand, let me know. Also, I am slightly behind on paying some of the people who need payment, but I will take care of it later this week.

4. In some weird reverse of Conquest’s Law, any comment section that isn’t explicitly left-wing tends to get more right-wing over time. I am trying to push against this and keep things balanced, so I want to be explicit that I’m practicing affirmative action for leftist commenters. You may have noticed some leftists saying things that should have gotten them banned. After some thought, I’ve decided to keep them around anyway with warnings instead (this means you, Brad and Freddie). I will still ban leftists for more serious issues. This doesn’t mean other people will be able to get away with this kind of behavior, so consider yourself warned.

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Nighttime Ventilation Survey Results

Thanks to the 129 people who tried altering their nighttime carbon dioxide levels after my post on this, and who reported back to me. There was no difference between people who pre-registered for the study and people who didn’t, on any variable, so I ignored pre-registration.

126 people reported one intervention they performed. The most common was sleeping with a window open:

People generally reported slight but positive changes:

When asked to rate the magnitude of improvement to well-being on a 0 to 5 scale, they averaged 1.4:

I mentioned in the post that succulents could help in theory, but you needed to get the right kind of succulents and you needed at least ten of them. I was skeptical that anyone really got ten succulents in their room, so I wondered whether that might work as a crypto-placebo group.

If so, the intervention failed to separate from placebo. Succulent users had an average improvement of 1.29, compared to about 1.50 for people who did other things. The difference wasn’t significant, although admittedly the sample size was low.

Looking at the various groups, the most striking difference was actually people who left a window open (1.57) vs. people who did one of the other named options (1.31). A few people who left windows open mentioned this made their room cooler, which seemed to help with sleep. But this is very post hoc, and this difference wasn’t significant either.

Here are some reports from people who described dramatic improvement:

Less headaches, less fatigue in the morning, less trouble staying asleep through the night

I slept more comfortably, woke less in the night, and felt less fatigue in the morning. I also felt more alert during the day. I used a CO2 meter. Peak level changed from 1400s before to 800s after the intervention.

When I get up I feel less groggy, It takes my brain less time to get on line, I can way more often wake up and do things right away rather than spend time in a stunned haze or distracting myself so I don’t fall back asleep. I feel more like doing things and have the energy to back that up, it lasts some time after I wake up but usually not all day. I feel like I sleep better.

And here are some of the more typical results from people who said they felt only minor or placebo-like improvements:

Possibly more alert upon waking, possibly needing slightly less time sleeping to feel rested

Slightly more likely to sleep through the night and/or feel better rested in the morning.

I don’t recall waking up as often, but maybe it’s a placebo. If it’s a placebo, it’s a cheap/free one and I’m happy to keep taking it as long as it works. Oh god is taking this survey going to make it not work anymore?

Despite the underwhelming results, most people were going to stick with their intervention:

I consider these results basically negative – both for nighttime ventilation, and for the ability of informal blog surveys to give data that one can be confident in either way. But I’m glad some people think they feel better, and the results of the last question suggest it still might be a cheap and productive thing to try.

If you’re interested in analyzing this further, you can download the data at this link.

Next Door In Nodrumia

[Content note: attempt to consider real people’s real problems using angel-on-pinhead impractical reasoning and ideas]


Imagine the state of nature, except for some reason there are cities. Some people in these cities play the drums all night and keep everyone else awake. The sleep-deprived people get together and agree this is unacceptable. They embark on a long journey to the wilderness where they found their own community of Nodrumia.

They form a company, the Nodrumia Corporation, which owns all the property in the area. The corporation distributes usage rights via a legal instrument that looks suspiciously like private property: people who own usage rights keep them forever, can do whatever they want with the land, and can freely transfer and sell them to others. The only difference is that the usage rights have a big asterisk on them saying “contract is null and void if you break the rules of the Nodrumia Corporation”. These rules are set by a board chosen democratically by the inhabitants, and are all things like “You can’t play drums at night”, and “You can’t sell property to people who will play the drums at night”, and “Anyone who plays the drums at night shall be exiled”.

One day a Nodrumian wants to move out, so he puts his house up for sale. The highest bidder is a drummer who wants to use the property as a studio so he can play the drums at night. The Corporation steps in and bans the sale. The property owner protests, saying that he is being oppressed.

According to libertarian philosophy, who is in the right?

The argument against the drummer: the land is basically the private property of the Nodrumia Corporation, and libertarians believe that private landowners should be able to determine what happens on their property. And more fundamentally, the people there have a strong preference against living near drummers, and that preference seems fundamentally satisfiable if their property rights are respected, and it seems stupid to legislate a world where people are forever forbidden from satisfying a fundamentally satisfiable preference and have to be unhappy all the time.

The argument in favor of the drummer: this is basically just a town. “People who live together in a community, and are governed laws made by a democratically elected council” is a town. It seems sort of unlike a town because of its strange history, but really in America a lot of towns were formed by people leaving society, finding unoccupied (or “unoccupied”) land, and building a community there. Some of them were even formed with some sort of utopian goal in mind, or specifically to escape things the inhabitants didn’t like about the places they came from. The only real difference between Nodrumia and the average town is its odd property right structure, but this is a difference in name only: everyone who moves into any town knows that they own their property only insofar as the things they do on their property don’t conflict with town bylaws. Seriously, Nodrumia is just a town. And the whole point of libertarians is that they are skeptical that governments (including town governments) should be able to ban people from doing things. Therefore, the drummer should be allowed to open his drum studio.

A second argument against: imagine we’re talking about a private company like Microsoft. Libertarians agree that Microsoft has the right to decide that none of their employees can play the drums at their cubicle in a way that disturbs other employees. This suggests that playing the drums isn’t a fundamental right. But it’s unclear how Microsoft is different from the Nodrumia Corporation.

A second argument in favor: maybe this isn’t just a town. The way it’s presented, it sounds like more of a city-state. Its government is a national government. If we’re saying national governments can make laws banning musical instruments, we’ve gotten very far from libertarianism, haven’t we?

We could resolve the conclusion by saying that libertarianism is wrong, actually externalities are bad, and it’s totally okay to ban them. Or we could use an expanded idea of property rights that included that right not to have noise on your property (though this opens up a big can of worms). But if we wanted to at least keep some claim to be working within a strict libertarian paradigm, I think we would have to make an argument based on what kind of characteristics an institution needs to be more like a corporation or intentional community (which have the rights to be strict) vs. a national government (which should be erring on the side of permissiveness). To me, the key differences seem to be things like:

– exit rights and transaction costs of leaving
– number of other options
– ease of forming a new one
– degree to which membership is voluntary vs. hereditary

So to give an example, most people have the intuition that the US government banning pork for religious reasons is bad, but also that if you go into a mosque and demand they let you eat pork there you’re in the wrong. I think this is because:

– the people in the mosque have the option to very easily not be in the mosque
– if you don’t like the mosque, you can always go to a church or an atheist meetup
– you can always start your own mosque, with blackjack and hookers
– most people in the mosque chose to be there because they agree with the mosque’s principles


– it’s hard to leave the US if you don’t like it
– there aren’t that many other countries and you might not be able to find one you like
– it’s very hard to start a new country
– most US citizens are only citizens because they were born here, and didn’t necessarily sign on to any philosophical commitments

This is ignoring some important issues, like whether banning pork is the ethically correct action, or whether the majority of the people in each community support the ban. It’s just trying to give a completely formal, meta-level account of why our intuitions might be different for these two cases.

This seems to justify the libertarian intuition that we shouldn’t be bossing private companies around. It also justifies the much more common intuition that we can boss private companies around when they’re monopolies or otherwise seem hard to get rid of, like people discussing whether the government should make Facebook have better privacy policies. If there were hundreds of equally-sized alternatives to Facebook that people could easily switch to, with a wide variety of privacy policies, it probably wouldn’t come up as often.

Towns seem kind of midway between companies/mosques and national governments. They’re not easy to leave, but realistically people leave towns all the time; I’ve switched cities maybe six or seven times during my life. There are thousands of towns you can live in, including dozens of big cities. Forming a new town isn’t easy, but there’s lots of open land where you could do it in theory if you wanted to; it’s not really beyond the ability of even a dedicated private citizen. And about two-thirds of people no longer live in the town where they were born.

I think a libertarian treatment of this issues would argue that towns have the most right to pass restrictive laws when things like exit rights are most salient, and less right when they aren’t.

The drummer moving into Nodrumia seems like a clear case where exit rights are really salient. The drummer isn’t even in Nodrumia yet, so clearly he has the ability not to be in Nodrumia if he wants. The transaction costs of moving to not-Nodrumia are zero, since he’s not even in the town yet. It seems like starting a new town is easy, since the Nodrumians themselves managed it. And although the story doesn’t give a time course, it seems plausible that most of the people involved are still first-generation migrants to Nodrumia – and the drummer definitely is.

The harder case would be one where, by natural population turnover, the first generation of Nodrumians has children, about half of the second generation want to play drums, and in the interim all the available land has been settled by other towns that ban drums, and there are no pro-drum towns to move to. I don’t know what I think in this case, although I’m tempted to say that if there are thousands of towns but none of them permit drumming, that’s kind of like there being thousands of companies but none of them will pay you $500 an hour – you’re asking for something nobody else wants and you should reconsider your request (though given numbers like this, it should be possible for the pro-drum faction to get at least one town for themselves, even if they have to buy out the existing inhabitants).

In the recent discussion of NIMBYism, YIMBY partisans keep saying things like “it’s illegal to build high-density cities!”. This confuses me, because I don’t think it’s illegal for a private citizen to build a high-density city, assuming she can afford enough unincorporated land and the construction costs [EDIT: maybe not]. And it’s not illegal for a town to change its urban policy to become a high-density city, assuming it wanted to. This seems kind of like saying “It’s illegal to have a community made entirely of log cabins”. You can totally get some people together and found a log cabin community, you’re just not allowed to force existing towns to switch to all-log-cabins unless the citizens want to. I think the reason this argument seems unconvincing to me but convincing to them is that I’m reasoning from a perspective where communities are a basic unit, whereas the YIMBYs are reasoning from a perspective where individuals are the basic unit, eg “It’s illegal for me to sell my house to a high-rise developer”.

And I’m reasoning from a perspective where communities are a basic unit because I believe in Archipelago, a world where the only win-win solution to our many differences about what societies should look like is to let people form highly-varying communities with exit rights and let people live in whichever one they want. This solution depends on Nodrumia’s right to kick out drummers and it depends on viewing towns as being basically a form of private property owned cooperatively by the town members.

If you try to take someone else’s private property because it’s standing in the way of economic progress, that’s eminent domain. I’m not 100% against eminent domain all of the time, but it should be a very last resort. This is why I find NIMBYs’ objection of “we should be allowed to decide what happens to our town” so sympathetic. They’re analogous to Nodrumia’s right to not allow drum studios, and without that kind of private-property-analogous right I’m skeptical that anywhere can provide the good life to its citizens. Without letting towns be at least kind of like private property, they all converge onto the highest-entropy state permitted by the wider country they live in (eg Las Vegas but more so). If you want a libertarian national government but also accept that some people want to live in places other than Super-Vegas, you need to let towns pump against entropy and retain some distinction from each other, the same way we let individual citizens arrange their own lives the way they want. That’s part of why I find myself more sympathetic to local governments than to national governments.


This model also suggests a solution for YIMBYs – start their own town somewhere.

This might be harder than it sounds, because if the YIMBYs aren’t very committed, once they have a high-density walkable city that they’re happy with, they might lose their will and be tempted to keep other people out to prevent it from becoming more crowded. Even if they were very principled, the next generation of inhabitants might not be.

The solution is charter cities. Some profit-seeking individual or corporation could buy some land, explicitly note that they weren’t making it a full democracy, and then try to turn it into the biggest, most economically productive city possible so they could skim a little bit off the top.

If the California state government is really concerned about the housing shortage, but also doesn’t want to densify San Francisco, here is what it can do. Encourage some company to buy a promising but currently empty tract of land (I’m saying “some company”, but we all know it would end up being Peter Thiel). Give them various concessions to lure people in, like that people living there only have to pay half as much in state taxes (or, if they really want to start a land rush, they can exempt the area from the plastic straw ban). The company has strong incentives both to make the city as populous and dense as possible, and to make it the sort of place where rich people want to live and businesses want to operate. Tech companies, social-climbers, and the like move there instead of San Francisco. The San Franciscan NIMBYs are happy, the tech companies are happy, the company that owns the land is happy, and the California state government is happy. The end.

This isn’t so outlandish – I grew up in this city. In 1864, an investor named James Irvine bought a big tract of California land. Over the next century, his heirs formed a group called The Irvine Company to develop it further. They got their big break in 1959, when James’ grandson Myford Irvine cut a deal with the University of California to build a college on the still mostly-empty land, virtually guaranteeing it would grow into a town. The Company planned out their ideal urban utopia, raised some money, and built it according to plan. Now Irvine is the 16th largest city in California, and Irvine Company head Donald Bren has $16.3 billion and is the 80th richest person in the US. Irvine consistently tops various “best city” and “highest quality of life” rankings and manages to balance some density (the listed density of 4,000 is probably an underestimate because of the deliberately preserved wilderness areas; other parts are much denser including a few 20-story buildings) with a very safe, suburban feel. It’s also very good at attracting tech companies: Blizzard, Broadcom, Allergan, and the US headquarters of Samsung, Sega and Toshiba are all located there. It’s also an outlier in new housing construction, growing its housing stock at (informal estimate) 5% per year – twice the rate of Austin, three times that of Seattle, and five to ten times that of San Francisco.

I know this probably “won’t” “work” “in” “real” “life”, just like everything good or interesting or creative. But a state policy of deliberately creating super-Irvines in suitable areas would relieve the need to develop anywhere else. It would slice through concerns that it’s politically impossible to upzone existing cities, concerns about congestion and crime and transit inadequacy in existing cities, concerns about disrupting the culture of existing cities, and concerns about existing cities’ poor business climate and poor reception of out-of-staters. It would be a good way to attract all of the pro-density pro-walkability people to one place so that they weren’t scattered among a bunch of people who wanted lower-density towns. People could make it sustainable and renewable and otherwise buzzwordable. We could finally say, in all honesty, that America had caught up to Senegal.

Right now there’s a small movement for charter cities, but it’s usually considered the sort of thing that will only happen in the Third World. But California already has some legal provisions for a very weak form of charter city, and some parts of California are already getting kind of Third-World-ish. I don’t know whether it’s possible. But it doesn’t seem obviously harder than getting San Francisco residents to agree to add new housing at the rates that would be necessary to make a dent in the crisis.

Highlights From The Comments On NIMBYs

Quixote writes:

It’s odd to me how bad San Francisco is, when other large cities like New York or Paris are basically utopias.

But just a few comments down, Lasagna says:

I despise (I’m choosing that word carefully) [New York City]. I still commute there every day, and I can’t stand it – the broken infrastructure, the horrible smells, the $14 for a yogurt and coffee in the morning, the massive crowds of unpleasant people (how could we NOT be? We’re walking through an open sewer). There’s a litany of other things that keep me permanently angry and depressed (just the thought of how much earlier I would have started a family if I didn’t live there….) I find it decadent, selfish, shallow – pick your bad adjective. I’ll stop now.

Where I live now is nice. We have a town we can walk to, a lawn for the kids to play on and me to mow, we cook at home, we have enough room for our family to live and the kids to get exercise, even indoors. There’s no WAY I’m giving that up so I can live in an apartment again, all so NYC can squeeze MORE people into its area.

If I had my way, we’d be much further away from the metro area than we are now, in a bigger, cheaper home with more land. But that isn’t possible; NYC is where my job is, and that’s that. Fine. But let’s not make things worse, and make NYC (and San Francisco, and DC, and Boston) even MORE indispensable generators of jobs. And please don’t think for a second that there aren’t sizable numbers of people like me, and like you, who do not want these things for our families […] Thanks for letting me rant. You should have seen the first draft of this thing. Twice as long, Scott. A litany of woes and anger.

This would be fascinating if it weren’t so predictable. One person describes NYC as “basically utopia”, and another person can’t stop ranting about how much he hates it and is glad to have escaped it.

In the same vein, from Cerastes:

“I think neurotypical people usually underestimate how bad cities are for people with noise sensitivities, anxiety, purity intuitions, or just a need for nature and green things in their environment, …”


The concept of living somewhere that isn’t green is literally nauseating to me, and the idea of a place that isn’t teeming with wild animals feels like suffocating. My house is in as wild a place as possible given my commute, budget, and region, and almost every room has a fully planted vivarium with an animal (as well as my office).

The amount of urbanist triumphalist crap drives me up the wall, as if these people cannot see why someone would not want to live in conditions far inferior to even low-quality zoos, or why someone might need to balance a job in a city with such desires.

Being 100% honest, I actually feel like there’s something genuinely wrong with people who don’t feel the need to spend time in nature, especially if they also lack pets. They’re like sterile androids in some sort of weird dystopia, utterly cut off from life.

I think this is why these discussions are so hard. People’s preferences on what makes an acceptable place to live differ so strongly, and in so many little ways, that I think a lot of the debate is just people screaming to have their existence acknowledged. It’s infuriating to feel like everyone around you is calmly assuming as obvious and universal, preferences that could make your life not worth living.

And that makes it tempting to come on too strong, to say that no, my preferences are obvious and yours are crazy. An earlier draft of the post suggested that people who enjoy living in San Francisco might be “lizardmen”; I deleted it on advice from more sober-minded friends. I assume it would have just made the lizardmen San Franciscans angrier, and made them talk even more about how they couldn’t stand living somewhere where they had to drive more. I get it. Everyone’s preferences exist, competing access needs, etc.

If cities are your personal Hell, then even if on some intellectual level you know that other people can tolerate them, it becomes hard to fight for subjecting more and more people to hellish conditions. And if cities seem great to you, and suburbs boring and stupid, then you start thinking anyone defending their suburb against urban encroachment must just be classist or racist or something.

FosterBoondoggle writes:

As far as I understand it, the gist of the complaint about YIMBYism here is that SA likes living in a lowish density suburb (Montclair? Piedmont?), thinks that’s his right, and fears the YIMBYs will try to upzone his neighborhood and fill it with condos and 5-story apartments. But if he’s been paying any attention to what YIMBYs (like, say, Brian Hanlon, head of CAYIMBY) are actually saying, it’s not that Montclair needs to be full of skyscrapers (it’s on a hillside with narrow streets, so that doesn’t make much sense). It’s that the parts of Oakland, SF, Berkeley, the peninsula, parts of the S. Bay that are accessible to people without a car (Rockridge, N. Berkeley, S. Berkeley near Shattuck, the area near the Apple spaceship in Cupertino) should be upzoned for greater density. Walkability is desirable to a lot of people.

It brings network effects, like stable and successful local businesses, good restaurants – e.g., College Ave. in Rockridge – that are net positive for everyone. It brings walkable access to mass transit, which reduces climate impact. Another net positive for everyone. It brings easier access to wilderness like the east bay hills or west Marin, because dense communities mean less sprawl. (Which is why the CA Sierra Club’s opposition to most current development, as captured by Scott Lucas here is particularly ironic.)

No one (I know, never say “no one”) is trying to upzone SA’s single family Oakland hills neighborhood.

Yes, a lot of the discussion of preferences above is completely irrelevant, because in the real world there will always be some suburbs and some cities (at least until the age of ecumenopolis).

When I say that YIMBYs are often right about their policy proposals but make me hate them anyway, that’s what I mean. There’s no reason these debates have to devolve into “suburbs and people who like them suck” vs. “cities and people who like them suck”, but they often do – and I admit I am personally guilty of reinforcing this.

(case in point: in accordance with the prophecy, someone definitely wants to upzone my single-family neighborhood)

From fluorocarbon:

I didn’t know what to think going into this article, but I ended up being fascinated with it for anthropological reasons. Is San Francisco really that horrible? Programmers live three to a bedroom? People play music all night at BART stations?

I would say that, though it’s an interesting post, it’s not really an accurate representation of the YIMBY movement outside of the Bay Area. When I think of the YIMBY movement, I think of organizations like Strong Towns. They don’t want giant towers, but rather fewer shopping malls and more pedestrian-centric development.

I’ve also talked to some people in Boston on the YIMBY/pro-development side. The arguments I heard from them are:

1 – parking requirements are dumb
2 – more inner suburbs should zone for multi-family units (triple deckers)
3 – there should be more mixed used developments
4 – increased density should be allowed close to public transportation (MBTA) stations
5 – there’s an absurd amount of red tape when developing anything and it should be reduced

These all seem reasonable to me and nothing on that list would destroy existing neighborhoods. But then again I find walkable multi-family neighborhoods (2-4 stories) with mixed use developments and narrow streets much more pleasant than either single family suburban car sprawl or Mega-City One huge Manhattan towers everywhere.

Okay, I vote that Team Gleaming Skyscrapers and Team Leafy Suburbs come together to burn the heretic.


The equivalent cities by population in Europe [to San Francisco] would be Valencia, Seville, Leeds, Glasgow, Stockholm, Cologne, Frankfurkt. And they don’t suck as much. Most of them are quite pleasant.

You can have a greater density than San Francisco, a lower crime rate, a nice metro system, all while living in an apartment that is at a bikable distance to work and is much more affordable. With clean streets and no visible needles. For that, you need better sidewalks, good infrastructure, bike lanes, better policing and social policies, better public transportation, more parks (and close them at night). I lived in a city with the population of SF, and I never had anybody shout at me in the public transportation (although I usually biked). San Francisco is a high density city. Why isn’t it more bikable? that would reduce the strain on the public transport and the roads.

So, in order to fix all those things NIMBYs complain about, you just need to fire the entire SF city council, and hire a foreign one fix those issues separately from the housing issue..

I agree with this. Most of the US’ problems with dense cities are solveable in principle. But I would still feel more comfortable if the order went first, solve the problems, second, tell everyone not to worry about them because of how solveable they are. Otherwise, I think people are justified in having a high prior that the problems won’t be solved, just as they haven’t been solved so far, and so higher-density cities will indeed keep having all of these problems that make them hard to live in.

Andrew on why prices might go down faster than the models I quote predict:

I think that SF allowing moderately more housing would affect prices far more than what you suggest. Prices follow supply and demand, but prices also build in future expectations about supply and demand. Right now, SF works very hard to forbid construction. Therefore, you get lots of investors buying property. SF’s stance on denying construction affects demand as well as supply. If SF started allowing enough new construction that housing prices would stop going up, many of those outside investors would take their money elsewhere.

Atlas against worrying too much about agglomeration effects:

Increasing density in SF could make things worse, because…it will increase the economic benefits of living and working in SF? Enrico Moretti’s book the New Geography of Jobs did a good job explaining that there are a lot of positive effects that come from people living and working next to each other in big cities.

Gwern adds:

Yeah, that was my problem with #3’s summary. ‘It might not lower housing prices on net, all it might do is fail by creating billions or trillions of dollars in compounding new wealth through greater economic efficiency in a vital technological hub.’ Oh, is that all? Sounds like a pretty good way to fail.

DS against some of the statistics:

Unfortunately, the post’s numbers are based on a badly unrepresentative sample. 2008-2015 is right after the housing bust. This sample looks at housing construction at the single lowest period it’s ever been in modern American history.

The post tries to generalize from 2008-2015 to answer “how fast could we build.” But that’s like measuring unemployment in 2009-2011 or 1930-1934, and using it to answer how many people could have a job!

Even in Texas and California, they used to build a lot more apartment buildings than they do. The peak of American construction seems to have been 1965-1985. New construction permits in that period in (e.g.) California appears to have been about 3-4 times the rate of today. That’s more than fast enough to meet the standard set in your post.

Meanwhile, New York City has been seriously limiting new construction since about 1960, which makes citing Manhattan prices as evidence that allowing construction doesn’t work exactly backwards. (Fun fact: the NYT did an article showing that 40% of Manhattan’s already-existing buildings would be illegal to build today.)

If you want dense with lots of current construction, try Seoul, South Korea. There, rent-to-income is about 35% of average national income.

That’s equivalent to an SF Bay Area with a median rent of $2,000 a month (~35% of average California income), as against current typical rent of about $3,000/mo (~50% of average California income).

So if the Bay Area were as pro-housing as Seoul, over time you might cut housing prices by a third, and get a lot more people in.

Douglas Knight, on how growing cities doesn’t necessarily have to be disruptive for people who don’t like density:

Lots of people in the comments are equivocating or talking nonsense because they refuse to talk about details.

3% growth, doubling in a generation, sounds pretty reasonable to me. If you know it’s coming, then you shouldn’t buy the density you want, but a little less dense. And it is the plan. The State of California requires towns to build at a certain rate and most of them are just cheating. One of these days the State will take back the power of zoning and catch-up building will be disruptive, in part because it will be done at such a distance.

Whether 3% growth is disruptive depends on the details. If it’s smooth in place and time, it sounds pretty reasonable to me. Consider a town of 1 acre lots. Every year, tear down 1% of the houses and build 4 new houses on 1/4 acre lots. The character of the town will change, but smoothly. This shouldn’t disrupt the community, no more than the normal turnover, which is a lot higher than 1%.
Alternately, one could tear down 1/3000 of the houses and build apartment buildings for 100 people each. This would be much more socially disruptive. It would create more economic diversity. It would cluster newcomers, making them less integrated into the new community. This is the kind of thing the State will do, if it acts on its own. On the other hand, if the apartments are near train stations, it might not be as bad for traffic.

TheNybbler on whether cities have to be where the jobs are:

When cities were hollowed-out enclaves of crime and poverty, many employers set up in or moved out to suburban office parks and had plenty of productivity. Some even did that before the fall of the cities, Bell Labs being a NYC area example. Now cities are fashionable again and the suburban office parks are empty (except in Silicon Valley). But it doesn’t have to be that way.

wulfrickson is skeptical that agglomeration effects are really that bad:

The Zuegel piece that Scott linked in point 3 (arguing that agglomeration effects may mean that more housing => higher prices) was discussed pretty widely when it came out, and the consensus was that things could come out that way in theory, but the empirical evidence points in the other direction: agglomeration effects are probably not big enough. Here’s a bit of Twitter discussion. Another paper by French economists estimates that increasing a region’s population by 10 percent would increase costs of living by 0.3 to 0.8 percent, once housing supply adjusts to compensate (in the short run, it’s more like 1 to 3 percent). This isn’t anything to write home about.

peopleneedaplacetogo takes a wider perspective:

I expect my friends to keep moving to the Bay regardless of what happens with housing policy (since their employers can generally pay enough to make it worthwhile no matter how high rent is). But more broadly I think this kind of regional economic inequality is actually exacerbated by NIMBYism; for most of their history per capita incomes in rich US regions (like California) and per capita incomes in poor US regions (like Kentucky) were converging, but this trend stopped in the late 1960s right around when zoning became widespread, and subsequently reversed. Caps on production of housing near jobs made it hard for workers from Kentucky to fill labor shortages in California, but also weakened the bargaining power of the workers still in Kentucky who could no longer so credibly threaten to move to California. Everyone being free to move where they want can help those who don’t move too.

grendelkhan says that one reason California is especially bad is Prop 13:

Normally, these things scale reasonably: if you build more houses, the occupants pay property tax, and that pays for the fire and police service, the roads, power lines, water service, all that.

Prop 13 in California turns this on its head. Housing, even when it appreciates in value, doesn’t pay more in taxes. In fact, the real property-tax rate goes down due to the 2% annual cap on increases, which is generally below inflation.

California has an unusually high cost of living, largely driven by high housing costs. (Everything here is interconnected.) So infrastructure costs more there, because labor costs more. To raise the money for this, cities and counties issue bonds and raise sales taxes, and most of all, “impact fees”, where a new development pays tens of thousands of dollars to make up for the depressed property taxes of their neighbors.

And because commercial developments change hands more often (property taxes reset on sale), and commercial developers can afford larger impact fees, cities fearing a pension crunch approve more commercial than residential real estate; the incentives are such that every town wants someone else to be the bedroom community. So we add more jobs than places for workers to live, as well.

The pension crisis is very real, and cities are trying to make up for a broken revenue model. Infrastructure is pretty much off the table.

And from eternaltraveler:

I’m in SF bay and have been for the last 9 years because this is the best place in the world to find venture capital for anti aging biotechnology. The entire Bay is otherwise almost entirely horrible, but the alternative is certain death.

Uh, thanks for putting things in perspective, I guess?

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Steelmanning The NIMBYs

[Epistemic status: very unsure. I sympathize with many YIMBY ideas and might support them on net; this post is me exaggerating the NIMBY parts of my brain to a degree I’m not sure I honestly support. This focuses on San Francisco to make it easier, but other cities exist too. Thanks to Nintil for some of the bright-line argument in part four. Conflict of interest notice: I live in a lower-density part of Oakland]

Everyone I know is a YIMBY – ie “Yes In My Back Yard” – ie somebody who wants cities (usually San Francisco dominates the discussion) to build more and denser housing. This is a reasonable position, and is held by apparently-reasonable people – centrists, rationalists, economists, self-proclaimed neoliberals. Since everyone involved holds reason and civility as an important value, I would expect the discourse around housing to be unusually reasonable and civil.

I have a weird habit of encountering the best parts of some movements and the worst parts of other movements, in a way that doesn’t match other people’s experiences. And certainly I know many YIMBYs who are amazing people who I love. But as for the movement as a whole, I feel like apparently-reasonable people have dropped the ball on this one. Sorry for having to say this, but YIMBYism is one of the most tribal, most emotional, most closed-minded movements I have ever seen this side of a college campus. So much so that even though I agree with much of what it says, I cannot resist writing a 5,000 word steelman of their enemies just to piss them off.

So here are some YIMBY claims and why I cannot be entirely on board with them.

1. San Francisco is uniquely terrible at building new housing

San Francisco currently has just short of 400,000 houses.


Each year, it builds a few thousand new houses, for a long-term growth rate hovering a little above 0.5%.


How does this compare to other cities? I used data from Civic Dashboards to compare the housing stock growth rate of ten major US cities. They only had data from 2008 – 2015, so the analysis only includes those years. They find a higher SF growth rate than listed above, probably because growth has been increasing recently. Here’s what they got:

San Francisco is actually doing pretty okay. [EDIT: Commenter peopleneedaplacetogo points out a chart by metropolitan area rather than city, and using slightly different years, in which SF comes out looking quite a bit worse]

The problem isn’t that SF is building fewer houses than other cities in its league. It’s that demand keeps increasing so much that a normal amount of housing construction doesn’t help.

This might be an unfair objection, because the YIMBY argument might be that San Francisco is uniquely terrible at responding to demand for new housing, and this may be true. But it will important to get a sense for the range of levels of housing construction different cities are capable of, so we can better understand what scenarios are plausible in the next section.

2. Building more housing in San Francisco is an easy way to lower rents

Lowering rents in San Francisco is certainly important: a 1-bedroom apartment costs about $3500. At prices like these, city natives may have to move out because they can no longer afford rent. The lower- and middle- class citizens who work service jobs and maintain infrastructure either disappear or are faced with multiple-hour commutes from the nearest affordable area. Even tech workers with good salaries have to live in overcrowded apartments with multiple roommates to make ends meet. Facets of a good life that depend on having lots of space – like having social gatherings or raising a family – become almost impossible.

The laws of supply and demand suggest that if San Francisco built more housing, the price would go down. This is the foundation of YIMBYism, and it’s basically correct.

But how much would price go down? This requires some economic modeling, which has luckily been done for us.

The San Francisco Examiner follows a paper by Albouy, Ehrlich, and Liu that estimates a 2% increase in housing will cause a 3% decrease in rents. On the other hand, by the time San Francisco has finished building 2% more housing, the population and demand will have increased, meaning that a large portion of the gains will be expended just staying in the same place. They come up with a model that accounts for this, and set themselves a goal of decreasing the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment to “only” $2100 – at least we can’t accuse them of being too ambitious!

They find that this would require a 2.5% housing stock growth rate maintained over twenty years. Going back to the graph from before:

No large US city was able to attain this rate in the eight year period my data comes from, including cities experiencing tech booms during those years. Austin, Texas was able to come close. But at the time, Austin had a population density of 2,500/sqm. San Francisco has a density of 19,000/sqm. Building new houses is easy if all you have to do is clear away tumbleweeds and rattlesnakes – and Austin still only made it up to 2%. We’re expecting San Francisco to clear away existing neighborhoods and angry anti-development activists, and reach 2.5%? And maintain that rate for twenty years?

[EDIT: Commenters point out that the time period my data covers is unusually bad for housing growth. Austin’s records show it was able to grow faster – 4.8% – until 2000, although during that time it was a very small city expanding into mostly empty space. Since 2000, growth has averaged about 2.8%, which is slightly faster than the SF scenario above.]

And even if it works – even if the city can do the impossible – that only lowers rents down to $2100 for a single-bedroom apartment.

Experimental Geography uses broadly the same model, but asks a different question: how much does San Francisco have to increase housing just to tread water and not have rents keep going up? You can read their reasoning at the link, but the answer is “1.5%”:

This seems potentially achievable, but still difficult. A paper by the Federal Reserve finds similarly grim results. I’m not aware of any models that have come to the opposite conclusion.

True, every little bit helps. But affordable housing advocates frequently say that complicated policies like public housing or subsidies are necessary to help poor people who want to stay in high-cost cities. I often hear YIMBYs push new construction as an alternative to these measures, saying that all we need is increased housing supply. But even in the best-case scenario, increased housing supply will take decades to do anything, and lower-income people are at risk of losing their houses now. And even in the best case scenario, increased housing supply will just make apartments slightly more affordable. It’s less likely they can let low-income people live comfortably in the city, or high-income people comfortably raise families there.

3. But at least building more housing will make things a little better, and it certainly can’t make them worse, right?

Devon Zuegel points out that we’re really not sure if that’s true. Why does Manhattan have higher land values than Kansas? Because people want to live where other people (and jobs) are. The denser you make a city, the more other people and jobs will be there, and the higher the land values will get.

Or to put it another way – suppose San Francisco dectupled its housing growth for decades, until it was packed border to border with skyscrapers, and was exactly as dense as Manhattan. In a simple supply-based model, the glut of supply should make rents crash to only a few hundred dollars a month or less. But in actual Manhattan, single-bedroom apartments cost $3800 a month – even more than in San Francisco! If your theory predicts that turning a city into Manhattan will make rents plummet, then consider that turning Manhattan into Manhattan made rents much worse, and so maybe your theory is wrong.

Devon points out that she cannot calculate the coefficients here, so she is not sure whether building more housing will make rents go down (because of supply and demand) or up (because of the Manhattan effect). But we might consider Austin a natural experiment. The model above found that if San Francisco grew housing at 2.5% per year for twenty years, rents would go down by a third. But Austin grew housing by 2.0% per year for about twenty years, and during that time, the average cost of a house doubled. I am not sure San Francisco, which starts from a much higher baseline density, would see the same trend. But at the very least, agglomeration effects suggest all of the terrible and pessimistic models above are still overly optimistic.

Tripling San Francisco’s housing rate until it’s higher than any existing American city, and maintaining it at this rate for an entire generation, might make one-bedroom apartments cost “only” $2100. Or it might do less, or nothing, or make things worse. Right now we don’t know.

4. Holdouts who oppose development are inexcusably selfish, or hate poor people, or are racist

If you want to see real loathing, don’t ask a communist about the rich, or a Trump voter about immigrants. Ask a YIMBY what they think of landowners in a nice quiet part of the Bay who don’t want San Francisco spreading to their area, or who don’t want the BART light rail line connecting their city to San Francisco.

And if you want to see great acting, don’t go to Hollywood or Broadway. Wait for a YIMBY to start monologuing their impression of what these people are like. The exact script differs from person to person, but always includes liberal use of phrases like “the poors”, “brown people”, and “I’ve got mine”.

But I sympathize with these landowners. San Francisco is easy to hate. Even a lot of the people who already live there hate it. They hate the streets piled with discarded needles and human waste. They hate the traffic (fifth worst in the world) and the crime (third most property crime in the US). They hate living five people to a three-bedroom apartment. They hate having aggressive people scream incomprehensible things at them on the sidewalk. They hate the various mutually hostile transit systems that interlock in a system I would call byzantine except that at least you could get around medieval Constantinople without checking whether the Muni and CalTrain were mysteriously failing to connect to each other today. They hate that everyone else in the city hates them, from visible KILL ALL TECHIES graffiti on their commute to work, to a subtle mood of seething resentment from everyone they meet. They hate the omnipresent billboards expecting them to have strong opinions on apps.

I’m not saying everyone in San Francisco hates it. There are people who like all sorts of things. Some people like being tied up, whipped, and electrocuted by strangers. And a disproportionate number of these people live in San Francisco. I am just saying this isn’t a coincidence.

And I sympathize with the people who don’t want BART stations near them. BART stations are also easy to hate. I have a friend who ended up needing stitches after ill-advisedly walking too close to a BART station late at night and getting robbed and beaten up. One of my patients is currently freaking out after their friend ended up in the hospital for the same reason. Some women avoid getting beaten up, but still have stories of getting groped or sexually harassed. BART stations tend to collect a penumbra of litter, drug use, weird people playing incredibly loud music at all hours of the night, weird people shouting at each other at all hours of the night, and the never-dissipating stench of marijuana mixed with urine. This stuff is usually just background noise, but it did make the news last year when forty to sixty teenage thieves took over a BART car in the station and robbed and beat up the passengers, and then again earlier this summer when there were three unrelated murders at BART stations in one week. These don’t seem to have been gang shootouts or anything – they were just people trying to get on their train and getting randomly murdered instead. I am very aware I could get murdered every time I get on a BART. Last time I got off one (three days ago), there was a guy standing in front of the door shouting “FUCK YOU KKK WHITE BITCH” at any woman (of any race) trying to enter or leave the station. Nobody found this surprising or unusual. It’s just what BARTs are like.

But tell a YIMBY that someone, somewhere, is against having a BART station in their neighborhood, and it’s like waving a red flag at a bull.

Maybe clear-cutting everything in the way of San Francisco’s expansion is the utilitarian correct thing to do. Maybe it would increase the US economy so much that we can’t afford not to do it. But Thomas Hobbes wrote that sovereigns may not demand someone go willingly to their death, because resisting death is such a natural human urge that people in the state of nature could not sign it away when forming a primordial state. And some European countries don’t count resisting arrest as a crime, because they consider freedom so fundamental that nobody can be blameworthy for trying to protect it. I believe some people need to have BART stations near their houses, just like some people need get arrested or be executed. But resisting each of these seems so natural and fundamental that I am unwilling to blame anyone for trying. I think neurotypical people usually underestimate how bad cities are for people with noise sensitivities, anxiety, purity intuitions, or just a need for nature and green things in their environment, and that the campaign against people who want to keep their suburbs suburban doesn’t take this into account.

I have heard YIMBYs counter that we don’t have to turn Marin County into San Francisco II, that there’s a balance between trying to preserve what’s good about a place and reflexively opposing all new development. But on slippery slopes where a coalition of people with slightly different preferences are trying to coordinate, drawing a bright line and refusing to cross it is the theoretically correct solution. This is especially true when each new development brings in new voters who may be less attached to the current nature of a place and more willing to vote in future development. Sometimes the only stable solution is just to not get on the slope.

And I have heard YIMBYs counter that if people don’t want to live in an urban environment, they shouldn’t have bought a house in a city. But they kind of didn’t. They bought a house in a medium-density suburb, then some other people came and said “No, this has to be a city”. If they give up, let San Francisco spread to their current home, and move to another medium-density suburb, what’s to prevent other people from trying to urbanize there too? Is our social technology just totally unable to deal with the problem of “how can we let people who want to live in a medium-density suburb live in a medium-density suburb?” Wasn’t the solution supposed to be “these people all gather together, start a community together built to their unique specifications, incorporate, and then pass laws about what their community can or can’t include”? What was wrong with that solution? Some people can’t tolerate the big city – what do you want them to do? Sell their house, leave all their friends and family, and try to start again somewhere else? You think that’s an exaggeration? If where I live became more like San Francisco, I would do that. Lots of people would!

I’m not saying there aren’t compelling reasons to urbanize less-dense areas. But I do feel like there’s a missing mood here that makes me really upset whenever I hear YIMBYs talk about this.

5. Even if building more housing doesn’t lower costs, it will at least allow the people who want to live in San Francisco to do so.

I don’t like the “even if” framing.

If you have been pushing a claim for years, and it turns out you were wrong, then you owe it to the people you have been disagreeing with to say “oops” and take a moment to worry about whether you should lower your smugness level in general. I try to do this when I remember, though I am not always good about it and of course I am limited by my ability to catch and correct my own mistakes.

(I have sometimes been guilty of pushing the “all we need is more housing claim”, so, uh, oops, sorry, upon doing more research I see I was wrong)

The opposite of this is saying “Even if that’s not true, this other thing supports my point”, without explicitly conceding anything at all.

5b. Okay, sorry. Oops, I was wrong about the housing prices. Now that I’ve said that, don’t you also think that building more housing would at least allow the people who want to live in San Francisco to do so?

This is a good and important point, and I think the strongest one in the YIMBY arsenal. I am not really against it, but I can think of two qualms I have with it.

The first is that the argument for ignoring the costs of new construction to existing communities have always relied on the humanitarian necessity of lowering rents for the disadvantaged. If all we’re trying to do is be able to pack a few more people who can pay $3500 a month in, the humanitarian necessity seems less pressing.

But second, bringing more people in helps trap the economy in the same dynamics that caused this problem in the first place.

Some people really enjoy living in dense cities like San Francisco. Other people, for the reasons listed above, really prefer not to. Many of the people who prefer not to are in San Francisco anyway. I signed up to work in the suburbs, but just before I started, my group begged me to work a few days a week in San Francisco because that was where they needed more doctors. I grudgingly agreed. During my time there, I treated depressed San Francisco residents. One refrain I heard again and again was that they hated living in San Francisco, but had come anyway because their company pressured them, or because their companies would pay them extra, or because that was where all the best jobs in their industry were. These people’s long-term plan was to use San Francisco as a springboard to gain enough money or career capital to be able to achieve their dream of leaving San Francisco.

Alon Levy describes the same thing his In The Mines, where he compares the outlook of people moving to San Francisco to that of people working in mines or oil rigs. Nobody likes working in a mine or oil rig. They go there because it pays really well, and if they grin and bear it for long enough, they can pay off their debts or save for the future or do something that allows them to live in a place that isn’t a mine or oil rig:

. People who work on oil rigs, which as a rule are placed in remote locations, get paid premiums. Remote locations with oil have high incomes and high costs in North America, but even the Soviet Union paid people who freely migrated to Siberia or the far north extra. The high wages in this industry are especially remarkable given that the workers are typically not university-educated or (in the US) unionized; they cover for poor living conditions, and a hostile environment especially for families.

I bring up this background because of conditions that I’ve heard second-hand in San Francisco. When I first heard of university-educated adults living several to a bedroom, I assumed that it was a result of extremely high rents and insufficient incomes. But no: I am told a reasonably transit-accessible two-bedroom in San Francisco proper is $5,500 a month at market rate, which is affordable to a mid-level programmer at a large tech firm living alone or to entry-level programmers (or non-tech professionals) living one to a bedroom.

And yet, I’ve heard of Google programmers living two to three to a bedroom in Bernal Heights, not even that close to BART. I’ve also heard a story of people near the Ashby BART stop in Berkeley renting out their front porch; the person sleeping the porch was not a coder, but some of the people living inside the house were.

I have not talked to the people in these situations, only to friends in Boston who live one person (or one couple) to a bedroom, even though they too can afford more. As I understand it, they treat the Bay Area as like working in the mines. They earn a multiple of the income they would in other industries with their education and skills, and have no particular ties to the region. (Some East Coasters have taken to use the expression “drain to the Bay,” complaining that friends in tech often end up leaving Boston for San Francisco.) The plan is to save money and then retire in their 30s, or take a lower-paying job in a lower-cost city and start a family there.

But people have to grudgingly endure poor conditions aboard oil rigs because they’re the only place you can pump oil. Why do they need to grudgingly endure poor conditions in San Francisco?

My understanding is that some industries like technology benefit from centralization. The more programmers are in a city, the easier it is to run a tech company there. The more tech companies are in a city, the easier the job search is for programmers. The more entrepreneurs are in a city, the easier it is to be a venture capitalist there. The more venture capitalists are in a city, the better it is to be an entrepreneur. Add useful infrastructure like Y Combinator and Triplebyte and maybe everyone in tech benefits from being in the same place.

This raises the possibility of a classic inadequate equilibrium, a situation that nobody likes but everyone is stuck in. For example, even if people don’t like Facebook’s privacy policy, interface, or anything else about Facebook, they mostly stick with Facebook because that’s where all their friends are and they’re not coordinated enough to move at the same time. Even if neither passengers nor drivers like Uber, they might use it anyway, because the passengers know that’s where they’ll get a driver soonest, and the drivers know that’s where they’ll get a passenger soonest, and nobody acting alone can break out of the trap.

But if centralization really increases productivity, hasn’t the market decided this is the best solution? I see two ways this might be false. First, it could be that centralization happened in the wrong place – that, if anyone had been able to centrally coordinate, the tech industry should have ended up in Austin or somewhere else that’s well-planned and has lots of geographical room to expand into. Second, it could be that centralization is just a game of keeping up with the Joneses. If there were no San Francisco, then some company would still end up employing the best programmer. But given that there is a San Francisco your company might have to move to San Francisco or have no chance of luring them away from all the companies that have.

Imagine that rising sea levels or something force the evacuation of the Bay Area. Google moves to San Diego, Facebook moves to Santa Barbara, and Twitter moves to San Rafael. Five years later, when Google programmers are sipping daiquiris on the beach in San Diego outside their affordable four-bedroom homes, are they thinking “Man, I wish I was in a crowded unliveable city with multiple inconsistently-connected transit networks right now”? Or are they happy that the option of not living in San Francisco suddenly opened up for them?

The other reason I often hear why people move to San Francisco even though they hate it is because everyone in their subculture is there. Lots of subcultures – queers, hippies, rationalists, etc – seem to be centering in San Francisco. But this might have similar dynamics to the tech situation. Suppose you’re a hippie living in St. Louis, and you’ll be happy as long as there are at least fifty other hippies to form a thriving hippie scene. All the other hippies in St. Louis have some number of other hippies they need to be happy. We can imagine a domino effect where one hippie leaves St. Louis, that causes another hippie to go beneath their threshold and leave St. Louis, that causes more hippies to go beneath their threshold, and so on, until there are no hippies in St. Louis anymore and you have to move to San Francisco or remain tragically un-hip. In this case, the best-case scenario for most St. Louis hippies is that the outflow to San Francisco is limited, so that St. Louis isn’t depleted of its hippie population as quickly. This is also good for hippiedom in general, since there might be proto-hippies in St. Louis who would join the scene if it existed, but who will never convert if all the St. Louis hippies are gone to SF.

(if it sounds like I’ve been thinking about this a lot, that’s because exactly these dynamics have been shaping rationalist communities in cities around the world for the past 5-10 years).

The hyperbolic worst case scenario is that centralization dynamics are too strong, and as more and more people move to San Francisco, life becomes harder and harder for the few remaining stragglers, until finally they give in. San Francisco becomes more and more crowded. Rents increase (through the process mentioned in part 3), number of people per bedroom increases, traffic increases, crime increases. Finally everyone lives in San Francisco, everyone hates it, and nobody can move out – unless they want to give up any chance of working in tech, and spend their entire life talking about cars and football with people named Bud. “San Francisco is unliveable, but at least we’ve made sure lots of people can live there!”

So the counterargument to “Every new housing unit built lets one more person move to San Francisco” is “Every new housing unit prevented saves one person from having to live in San Francisco”.

6. There are no alternatives

I’m not sure this one is wrong.

The argument in Part 5 seems much weaker than the other arguments – so weak that we should probably keep our usual policy of erring on the side of letting people live where they want.

And even if we didn’t want that – even if we thought centralization was a big problem that has to be fought against – it seems weird to leave the fight to crotchety old homeowners worried about noise pollution, and to hope that their self-interest coincidentally creates the world that is best for everybody.

I know there are a lot of urbanists who hate suburbs. I don’t. I grew up in a suburb consistently included in those Most Liveable Towns In The US ranking. It was really nice, and I often remember of it fondly when dealing with the stresses of living in slightly-more-urban Oakland due to me being a dirty rotten defector and participating in the centralization dynamics above. I wish for a world where everyone who wants has a chance to grow up in a nice suburb like that, and I don’t want anyone to have to live in a place like San Francisco unless they’re genuinely into that kind of thing.

I wish for a world with perfect coordination, where half the population of San Francisco decides to move to Helena, Montana at the same time. Half the number of tech companies in San Francisco ought to be enough tech companies for anybody, and the wide sky and endless plains would be a nice change of scenery. I wish for a world where hippies collectively choose Augusta, Maine as the new hippie capital, and so all of the hippies can move there and have great hippie culture and not have to fight with techies for the last $3000 apartment in the Mission.

I’ve heard some people say the federal government should take an active interest in decentralizing tech, since right now one well-placed tsunami could wipe out the United States’ entire technological advantage. I don’t know if this would be a good idea. I’ve heard other people say maybe we can just use virtual reality offices and VR teleconferencing to avoid the need for living anywhere in particular at all. I don’t know if this would be a good idea either.

Since none of those things will ever happen, I don’t know how to get to any of the worlds I want. If there are processes that favor centralization, I don’t know how to fight those processes. I don’t know if there’s some affordable housing policy that would really work. I don’t know if there’s something that balances the interests of every demographic. But I do think that just building more houses won’t, on its own, be a solution to the problem.