"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

A Something Sort Of Like Left-Libertarianism-ist Manifesto

I.

“Forgive him , for he believes that the customs of his tribe are the laws of nature.” –George Bernard Shaw

Our tribe has a custom of dividing into Right and Left. The Right supports economic laissez-faire and traditional social norms. The Left wants economic regulations and greater civil liberties.

(unless of course a Democrat is in office)

If you live too long under this system, you start thinking the Left-Right division is a law of nature. I like the Libertarians’ pet Two Dimensional Political Compass because it reminds people that they’re allowed to mix and match.

And so, glory be unto the infinite variety of human thought, we have moved from an unwillingness to credit more than two possible visions of a flourishing society to a grudging acceptance that maybe there are as many as four such visions.

(one of which nobody will admit to believing)

“The limits of our language are the limits of our world”. If the only two words in political discourse are Left and Right, it becomes hard to realize libertarianism is a possibility, let alone evaluate it. What equally coherent possible views might a four-word discourse be missing?

What if we abandon our tribe’s custom of conflating free market values and unconcern about social welfare?

Right now some people label themselves “capitalists”. They support free markets and oppose the social safety net. Other people call themselves “socialists”. They oppose free markets and support the social safety net. But there are two more possibilities to fill in there.

Some people might oppose both free markets and a social safety net. I don’t know if there’s a name for this philosophy, but it sounds kind of like fascism – government-controlled corporations running the economy for the good of the strong.

Others might support both free markets and a social safety net. You could call them “welfare capitalists”. I ran a Google search and some of them seem to call themselves “bleeding heart libertarians“. I would call them “correct”.

II.

I think I only realized how committed to this position I was when I read an article about the BART strike. Workers on the BART, a San Francisco area mass transit system, were striking for higher pay. A tech CEO suggested solving the problem by firing the workers and automating their jobs. Some other people didn’t like that, said that BART Worker was one of the only jobs that people without college education could get and make good $60,000+ salaries, said employees were mostly old and wouldn’t be able to get other work, said even if their jobs could be automated it would be cruel to destroy their livelihoods just for the sake of profit.

And my first thought was: if your job can be done more cheaply without you, and the only reason you have it is because people would feel sorry for you if you didn’t, so the government forces your company to keep you on – well then, it’s not a job. It’s a welfare program that requires you to work 9 to 5 before seeing your welfare check.

Suppose BART work really can be done just as well by a cheap machine. Compare the current system – in which BART is prohibited from firing the workers and replacing them with the machine because that would be greedy – to a system where BART fired the workers, bought the machines, but continued giving the workers their old paychecks for no reason. BART gets the same profits either way. The workers get the same amount of money either way. The only difference is that the workers gain forty hours of free time a week.

That suggests that long hours worked by BART employees under the current system are deadweight loss, and the role of BART work is the same as those legendary New Deal welfare programs where they made people dig ditches and fill them in again.

Assuming society has decided it wants to give people welfare, it can do it in one of two different ways: the traditional way, where the government sends them a simple welfare check once a month. Or the sneaky way, where it gets billed as a “job” at the BART.

In the “Simple Check” condition the welfare is funded by the tax base, which presumably is the general population, with rich people paying significantly more. In the “Sneaky Job” condition, the welfare is funded by mass transit users – disproportionately poor people – and the increased cost inevitably disincentivizes mass transit. You may remember mass transit as the thing that cuts down on traffic, sprawl, and carbon emissions – you know, that thing we are trying to desperately convince people to do more of.

In the “Simple Check” condition the recipients of the welfare are the entire impoverished population, although the system may place more emphasis on those who are poorer or need more. In the “Sneaky Job” condition, the recipients of the the welfare are those few well-connected people who get cushy jobs at the BART, chosen somewhat at random but with the usual biases of employers being more likely to hire attractive, tall, Caucasian, etc people. They get $60,000 + no doubt excellent benefits, and everyone else misses out.

In the “Simple Check” condition, the recipients of the welfare can live enjoyable lives doing their hobbies – as the woman in the article puts it, hair and makeup. In the “Sneaky Job” condition, the recipients have to work long hours doing busy work, suffer the normal vagaries of jerkwad bosses and office politics, and suffer the constant stress that they might be fired for underperforming.

With all these advantages of “Simple Check”, what exactly is the “Sneaky Job” condition good for that makes it so popular? As far as I can tell, it is good for fooling people. People do not like paying welfare. But if welfare is placed in work boots and wears a big sign with the word “JOB” painted on it in bright letters, they will walk by it without grumbling. Also important, people do not like being on welfare, and as the Rogers & Hammerstein song goes, “when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well”.

[lest I be accused of being insensitive by pointing out how other people’s jobs are welfare, I will freely admit I have a job partly because the government pays my hospital $100,000 to employ me (of which I get less than half). This is a sufficiently complicated system that a full explanation will have to await another post.]

III.

Welfare has even more clever disguises than this. Let’s talk about those fast food workers who want $15 an hour.

No one denies that it’s pretty crappy to have to live on $8 or so an hour, which is about what fast food workers currently make. But if fast food workers get $15 not because they do $15 worth of work, but because we feel sad that they’re living on too little money, then once again it’s welfare.

And once again we can give them that welfare in one of two ways. We can send them a check, or we can pressure fast food places to pay them more.

If we send people a check, it goes to everyone, whether employed or unemployed. If we pressure fast food places to pay more, then it’s only employed people – the people who need money the least – who get anything.

If we send people a check, who gets the check is presumably determined by need. If we pressure fast food places to pay more, then who pays more is determined by media exposure and political clout. Fast food workers seem to have good union and good public visibility, so they can demand their wages get raised to $15. Garment workers aren’t as well-organized or are less sympathetic, so their wages stay at $8. It encourages a system of “squeaky wheel gets the grease” in which “squeaky” means “go on strike a lot and act miserable”.

If we send people a check, the costs are passed on to the taxpaying public, which includes rich people who pay extra taxes and does not include poor people who get out of a lot of taxes because of their low income. If we pressure fast food places to pay more, the costs are passed on to fast food consumers, who are less likely to be wealthy and more likely to be black than the general population.

And if we send people a check, there’s not much taxpayers can do to get out of the extra cost. But if we pressure fast food companies to pay people more, we punish them for hiring workers. If the workers do $8 worth of work for the company, and the government makes them pay $15, it’s the equivalent of fining companies $7 an hour for hiring poor people. Not only is this morally unfair, but companies will probably respond rationally by automating as much work as they can, hiring fewer people, or trying to figure out how to replace multiple poor people with fewer wealthier people (for example replacing several clerks with a programmer who runs a computer system).

This is a somewhat harder case as the demand for higher wages among fast-food employees seems endogenous – they’re threatening to strike and show the companies how much they need them – rather than exogenous – motivated by government fiat or popular demand. Labor negotiations are coordination problems that are more opaque to analysis than I like. But I think a case can certainly be made that here, too, people are shooting for a noticeably inferior solution just because it helps them avoid thinking about the poor. It’s not about complicated problems or a changing economic landscape – just make that greedy Walmart behave and somehow I will be freed of all responsibility and all consequences.

At the moment, I might support higher minimum wages just because doing things the right way is politically impossible. One can make all sorts of stupid political policies attractive when they are combined with other stupid political policies. But I am not pleased about it and any time people say we need minimum wages to “punish greedy corporations” it just makes me question the life choices that have made me end out on the same side of a political issue as they did.

IV.

But combining market values and compassion isn’t just about solving everything with basic income guarantees. Let me give another example of a government program meant to increase social welfare and how a more market-informed version would be better than a brute-force regulation.

Affirmative action and minority rights. I don’t trust people on this blog to think clearly about any actual minority group, so let’s pretend we’re worried about affirmative action for Martians, who have been a disempowered underclass ever since their giant heat-ray-bearing tripod machines broke down.

Modern affirmative action says that given the choice between a Martian or an equally qualified Earthling, one must hire the Martian. One big obvious problem here is that “equally qualified” is a matter of opinion. It may be that a boss is prejudiced against Martians, and so tells an excellent Martian candidate that ve is underqualified for the position – the Martian may never know. Or a Martian who was genuinely underqualified may paranoidly believe ve was denied out of prejudice and start a costly lawsuit.

There are other problems as well. Some jobs may have legitimate reasons not to hire Martians – maybe Martians make lousy pilots because their single lidless eye gives them terrible depth perception. Certainly a Martian actor is unqualified to play Abraham Lincoln in a historical biopic. One could offer to let these jobs apply for exemptions, but this means a costly bureaucratic process, and is likely to end with large companies with good lawyers obtaining the exemptions, small companies with poor lawyers not obtaining the exemptions, and no concern about fairness to Martians in any case.

In the worst possible situation, a non-prejudiced boss may decide not to hire Martians because it would be harder to reprimand or dismiss a Martian when they could threaten to sue the company or start a viral Tumblr post accusing the company of speciesism.

Compare a market-informed solution: run a bunch of controlled studies in which bosses get identical Earthling and Martian resumes, find out exactly how strong the prejudice against Martians is, then levy an appropriate tax on hiring Earthlings (or give a subsidy for hiring Martians). Maybe hiring Earthlings costs 5% extra, which is funnelled into scholarships for impoverished Martian larvae.

Now there’s no question of a company wriggling out of their obligation – no matter how stylish their lawyers’ hair is, they’re going to pay the tax. There’s no question of lawsuits – if a company didn’t hire a qualified Martian, that’s their own business and the Martian community can laugh all the way to the bank. But on a statistical basis, we expect companies to be indifferent between hiring Martians or Earthlings.

Any company that has a legitimate reason to not want to hire Martians can just pay the (small) tax. And there’s no problem with firing Martians anymore – if you decide to fire the Martian in favor of an Earthling you like more, you’re perfectly welcome to do so as long as you don’t mind paying a little extra.

If ten years later the social scientists do some studies and find that companies are still more likely to accept Earthling resumes over identical Martian resumes, they can raise the tax until that’s no longer the case. If they find that companies are more likely to accept Martian resumes now, then prejudice has decreased and the tax can decrease as well.

I think everyone has a lot to like about this proposal. Martians can rest assured that with enough time to tweak the tax level, they will have a provably equal playing field in this area. Non-bigoted Earthlings can rest assured that they’re not going to be unfairly accused of bigotry and taken to court by some Martian playing the planetary origin card. And bigoted Earthlings who just really don’t like Martians – maybe someone’s father was killed by a heat-ray-tripod during the invasion and she’s had PTSD every time she sees Martians ever since then – can stand by their “principles” as long as they’re willing to pay a little extra.

(This is my answer to Jim’s question of “How many cities are you planning to burn, how many women are you planning to have raped with large objects in order to achieve equality of opportunity?”, which I honestly have to admit is not a question I ever really considered before reading Jim’s blog)

Someone will object that small fees can’t eliminate as pervasive a social problem as prejudice, but I’m not so sure. Consider the Islamic Caliphate (7th – 12th century AD). Their modus operandi was to march into a new territory, tell the non-Muslims there that they were perfectly welcome to continue to practice their old religion as long as they paid a tax, and if they ever wanted to save those couple shekels or dinars or whatever, they could also convert to Islam – but no pressure. The current religious makeup of the Caliphate territory (Northern Africa and the Middle East through Iran and Pakistan) should be taken as some evidence of the effectiveness of this policy.

V.

In my opinion the biggest advantage of a market-based system for improving social welfare is that it allows more flexibility – it leaves your options open.

Suppose the government, noticing mercury is toxic and has few good industrial uses, bans the use of mercury in industry.

A month later, some chemist discovers a really really lucrative industrial application for mercury that will make billions of dollars and cut the price of automobiles in half.

Probably this chemist can’t single-handedly convince the government to relax its views on mercury. She could consider selling her idea to a really big company like Dow Chemical, who could afford the necessary lobbying. But then she’s lost the ability to profit from her own invention, and we’ve replaced what could have been a nimble startup with yet another Dow product that they’ll overprice and destroy a couple of Indian villages producing. And the brilliant scientist becomes a mid-level drone working for morons in suits.

Or maybe it’s worse than this. Maybe she goes to Dow, but they don’t want to take the time to understand this fringe idea. Or maybe Dow is mildly interested but not interested enough to throw all its lobbyists and lawyers at the problem. Or maybe Dow does throw all its lobbyists and lawyers at the problem, but the Sierra Club reasonably believes that this is just another evil company trying to gut vital environmental legislation, and successfully blocks them. Sure, Dow says “This will halve the price of automobiles!”, but they probably make grandiose claims about all of their products when they’re trying to look good in front of the government.

So suppose that instead of banning mercury, the government just places a tax on it. The tax could be the cost of mercury cleanup, it could be enough money to treat and emotionally compensate mercury poisoning sufferers, or it could just fund public health programs that do more good than fighting mercury ever could. It could be all these things combined plus a little extra. Let’s say the tax on mercury is 500%. Every company that has any possible alternative to mercury switches to that alternative. The companies that have no alternative to mercury close down if the benefit of their product to society is less than the cost of the mercury they produce. And the companies that use mercury in a way that net benefits society stay open and subsidize lots of environmental and public health programs.

Now the chemist who discovered the brilliant unexpected use for mercury is able to start her startup – at increased costs, sure, but if it’s as lucrative an idea as she thinks she’ll be able to get the investment or just swallow the losses. In any case, it’s nothing compared to the cost of pushing around an entire government agency. The price of automobiles decreases by half, the taxes are more than enough to clean up the mercury and improve public health, and everyone is happy.

VI.

The problem with banning and regulating things is that it’s a blunt instrument. Maybe before the thing was banned someone checked to see whether there was any value in it, but if someone finds value after it was banned, or is a weird edge case who gets value out of it even when most other people don’t, then that person is mostly out of luck. Even people operating within regulations have to spend high initial costs in time and money proving that they are complying with the regulations, or get outcompeted by larger companies with better lobbyists who can get one-time exceptions to the regulations.

In short, the effect is to decrease innovation, crack down on nontypical people, discourage startups, hand insurmountable advantages to large corporations, and turn lawsuits into the correct response to everything.

The problem with not banning and regulating things is that the rivers flow silver with mercury, poor people starve in the streets, and Martians get locked out of legitimate industry and are forced to turn to threatening innocent cities with their heat rays just to get by.

The position there’s no good name for – “bleeding heart libertarians” is too long and too full of social justice memes, “left-libertarian” usually means anarchists who haven’t thought about anarchy very carefully, and “liberaltarian” is groanworthy – that position seems to be the sweet spot between these two extremes and the political philosophy I’m most comfortable with right now. It consists of dealing with social and economic problems, when possible, through subsidies and taxes which come directly from the government. I think it’s likely to be the conclusion of my long engagement with libertarianism (have I mentioned I only engage with philosophies I like?)

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384 Responses to A Something Sort Of Like Left-Libertarianism-ist Manifesto

  1. Gunlord says:

    Interesting ideas. While I generally agree with you about the minimum wage, another reason folks would prefer to have a job rather than a check is that unemployment is psychologically stressful, or even emasculating for many, regardless of whether or not they’re actually cut out for actual “productive” work. In theory, you’re correct, “simple check” sounds a lot better than “sneaky job,” but in practice, many feel depressed, disgruntled, and useless when they’re just sitting around collecting welfare. Going to a job every morning makes them feel like contributing, valued members of society, even if their job sucks and isn’t that important anyways.

    At least, that’s the impression I’ve gotten from many of the people I’ve talked to in my life. I’d love to be proven wrong, but in any case, Scott, you’re probably right that a “bleeding-heart libertarian” solution is most likely politically unfeasible; neither the bleeding-hearts nor the libertarians will be wholly satisfied with it. Oh well, we can dream…

    P.S: You may be surprised to hear that the neo-reactionaries you’ve been going head-to-head with recently may not be -entirely- opposed to the guaranteed-income idea…with certain caveats, of course. As the Dark Lord opined,

    Offer the option for a guaranteed lifetime income in exchange for permanent sterilization. All voluntary, all eugenic, all humane. No need to worry about a future of Matt Damons blowing up your Elysium.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I agree with everything you’ve said. I think the standard retort is that unemployment is stressful and dehumanizing because it’s socially shameful and you’re under a lot of pressure to get back to work and a lot of stigma if you don’t. You feel like a disappointment to society.

      If unemployment was considered totally okay, and you were just given some money guilt-free as long as you wanted it, there would be less stigma, less pressure, and there’d be more opportunities to occupy yourself doing something you liked. If that meant working at a fast food restaurant, you could do that – you’d probably have a much better time doing it, since all the people who just wanted the money are at home and there’s less competition for fast food jobs. If it meant trying to write the Great American Novel you could do that too. Or you could go volunteer at an animal shelter or school or something.

      I’ve said many times that I think the Reactionaries have some good ideas, but the narrative in which they place them turns me off (I feel the same way about Communists, feminists, libertarians, et al). Even though I like both basic income guarantees and eugenics, I don’t think these are two things that go well together – making the income conditional upon sterilization is a little too close to coercion for my purposes. Still, probably better than what we have right now.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        it’s socially shameful and you’re under a lot of pressure to get back to work and a lot of stigma if you don’t. You feel like a disappointment to society”

        This downside to removing this stigma is that anecdotally, children of people on welfare might be harder to employ: I read a comment on Sarah Hoyt’s blog that makes this case better than I can:

        I lived in the Detroit area for the first 35 years of my life. When we moved into the city proper, it was to a neighborhood on its way down, and we were surrounded by families on welfare. On thing I discovered is that some of those families had been on welfare for two, three, even more generations, which meant each succeeding generation grew up never seeing anyone in the house go to work on a regular basis.

        That simple thing – the concept of showing up somewhere everyday, whether you wanted to or not – is the big thing the kids never learned, that no government job training program can teach. It’s not even addressed, and that, I believe, is why so many of these programs fail. Most of the trainees simply go back to the family business, and learn to “work the system.”

        The Detroit media used to refer to this group of people as “the hard-core unemployable,” whenever yet another wonderful, costly job training scheme was launched. I just refer to the “professional poor.”

        Also do people on welfare have more children than people who have trivial jobs? That might be another reason to prefer the sneaky condition.

        I enjoyed the rest of the post though.

        • Part of why my own policy would include training and/or random stuff, on a very short hours basis. Gives many benefits of work, leaves a lot of time open, and provides state with a whole bunch of people who can do something….

        • Andy says:

          Also do people on welfare have more children than people who have trivial jobs? That might be another reason to prefer the sneaky condition.

          This is part of the “Welfare queens” narrative, where some who want more benefits have or adopt or foster a bunch of kids, especially kids with disabilities who can draw a bigger check. I’ve only heard anecdotal evidence for it and I’m not sufficiently acquainted with the US welfare systems to be certain it’s a real possibility, let alone whether it’s happening.
          So you’d either have to figure out some system to prevent some people from gaming the welfare systems to gain as much money as possible, and producing a number of (possibly-dysfunctional) children in the process.
          The best solution I’ve seen for this comes out of science fiction, where one society I saw had a licensing system for children – you could not produce a child until you had gone through parenting classes and evaluations, and secured a co-parent willing to back you up, and if you still fucked up raising the kid, the State took the kid back. OTOH, this was a society made up entirely of men, where reproduction was rather complicated and mediated through a State-run bunch of Reproduction Centers, where kids were cooked up in artificial wombs from eggs harvested from ova on life support.
          (Seriously. Real book. Ethan of Athos, by the great Lois McMaster Bujold. Quite a good adventure yarn, wth some seriously thought-provoking plot elements.)
          The other alternative would be universal sterilization for both men and women (So we have both components of reproduction covered) and only approved people, who have the support system, can produce children. With a strong system to deal with those who fail at parenting.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          I agree that the general issue that this comment points out is worrisome, but this particular line in the bit that you quoted stuck out at me:

          That simple thing – the concept of showing up somewhere everyday, whether you wanted to or not – is the big thing the kids never learned, that no government job training program can teach.

          I would have thought that just having to go to school would teach that – much more effectively than simply seeing someone else have to go to work would.

        • Andy says:

          I would have thought that just having to go to school would teach that – much more effectively than simply seeing someone else have to go to work would.

          And if the parents are going “Eh, school doesn’t matter, you don’t have to go, now gimme another beer,” a child’s chances of learning to show up every day at school would be poor at best.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          And if the parents are going “Eh, school doesn’t matter, you don’t have to go, now gimme another beer,” a child’s chances of learning to show up every day at school would be poor at best.

          True, but being on welfare doesn’t automatically give you that attitude. You can be on welfare and still consider education valuable for developing your mind and perspectives even if it didn’t lead to any employment opportunities. (I’m from a country where this is a rather common attitude, or at least you hear it a lot: I think I might’ve been in my late teens before I even heard of the notion that the benefits of education would be *mainly* about job opportunities.)

          Though it’s also true that the easier it is to get money without going to school, the more likely it will be for people to develop an attitude of schooling not mattering.

        • Randy M says:

          @Kaj: I can believe that there are people who value education for factors other than the ability to learn marketable skills. But I would be surprised if these weren’t the same people who are very unlikely to be on welfare regardless.

          Because people who don’t have the time preferences and intelligence to be likely to hold down a job for some periods of time are likewise unlikey to see the long term advantage of investign time in into studies when those studies get difficult or boring.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Randy: Might be more likely than you think, at least in my part of the world. I know of at least some academic types who get at least part of their income from welfare, because they’re more interested in e.g. studying than making money. And of course the government pays people to study over here, which one might consider a form of welfare – and once somebody gets used to that, the notion of continuing to study on welfare even after the actual student benefits run out isn’t so far-fetched.

        • Army1987 says:

          That simple thing – the concept of showing up somewhere everyday, whether you wanted to or not – is the big thing the kids never learned

          Ain’t that what compulsory schooling is for? :-/

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          That simple thing – the concept of showing up somewhere everyday, whether you wanted to or not – is the big thing the kids never learned, that no government job training program can teach.

          Quoted outside the context of this particular study, that would carry the frightening assumption that all productive work is done away from home on a tight arbitrary (and abrasive) schedule. And, that the only productive activities are those labeled ‘work’.

      • Meredith L. Patterson says:

        In Belgium, there is already something a bit like the “simple check” solution in the form of disability benefits. I used to know a guy who is (was) a carpenter; he also has ADHD. A couple of years ago, the government decided that people taking ADHD medications were no longer allowed to operate heavy machinery, so this guy is no longer allowed to operate power tools. This doesn’t work so well for carpentry, so in his mid-twenties he’s now on permanent disability. He was pretty upset about this, despite the fact that a disability check here is easily enough money to afford a small apartment, necessities, and modest entertainment; he had ambitions, those ambitions were about carpentry, and now he can’t be a carpenter anymore.

        Unfortunately we fell out of touch, and I haven’t heard from him in a few years, so I don’t know whether he’s managed to find a different ambition to pursue that doesn’t conflict with his diagnosis. (Personally, I think the “no power tools if you’re on Ritalin” rule is absurd, but that’s the law here.) Another guy I know, a former electrician put on permanent disability for some admittedly pretty severe heart problems, has picked up bicycle repair as a hobby, and seems to enjoy that pretty well; I don’t know whether the government would allow him to open a bike repair shop, though, given the Byzantine nature of the Belgian legal system.

        The problem that I see here is, as with your forced-sterilisation example, coercion; people who would like very much to be working in a field where they get to improve skills that they enjoy practicing are coerced into taking a fixed income and not working at all. I think a better system would provide access to retraining programs, where people who are coerced out of working in their chosen field for health reasons could pick another that doesn’t conflict with their condition, get retrained for free as part of their disability benefit, and re-enter the job market. Certainly there are plenty of people on disability who are happy to collect their monthly check and call it good; but a system that tells disabled people that they shouldn’t think about having ambitions anymore has glaring flaws in a world that continues to have ambitious people in it.

      • Chris Prather says:

        Have you (or anyone) seen studies on simple idleness causing depression? I’ve heard and read anecdotal accounts of people suddenly thrust into the situation where they’re idle but their needs/desires are still satisfied (lottery winners, “successful” business owners, Princesses of Genovia …). The rates of depression in these people were higher than was expected, and many of them found themselves at a loss for things to do.

        I’m wondering how common this actually is, and has it ever actually been suggested (or happily demonstrated) through a study?

        • I think worries that idleness will cause depression because people won’t know how to make lives for themselves, are a bit like worrying that we can’t expect a new groom to go and build his new home out of grass, sticks, leaves and mud, because he won’t know how to do it.

          Well, if his culture doesn’t make that sort of thing normal, then he won’t know how to do it. But if he’s part of a culture where building your home out of the handy local materials is a commonplace skill, and he’s able to observe lots of others doing it, and talk to others who have done it if he needs advice, then he’ll be fine.

          If increasing automation and a Basic Income Grant of some sort leads to people living on BIGs becoming a common feature of our culture, then people will learn how to fill their days in a meaningful (to them) fashion. Or, at least, they will if our society supports them rather than shaming them. (Or so I suspect.)

      • A general point about the shame angle– living on inherited money isn’t considered to be extremely shameful, though it’s considered better to do some sort of work even if one doesn’t have to.

    • Gunlord says:

      Ethan of Athos

      Hahaha, I love that book! I was thinking of doing a more in-depth review of it sometime, given the prominence reproductive technology has in the thinking of neo-reactionaries (especially the ‘manosphere’ ones), I’m surprised more people aren’t familiar with it.

      • Andy says:

        Oh, yet someone else knows about LMB! I may faint…
        (I got them read to me as bedtime stories when I was a teenager, but I’ve rarely run into someone else who’s heard of them.)
        Since hearing about Neoreaction, I actually did an LMB binge, and was surprised how many of her social mechanisms (Komarran planetary shareholders, the Vor caste on Barrayar, free movement between Counts’ Districts, etc) were echoed in the Neoreactionary thought.Another author who echoes it frequently is David Weber, who’s set up a far-future monarchy/aristocracy in his Honor Harrington series.

        • Bujold isn’t nearly as well known as she deserves to be– even when she was winning one Hugo after another, I’d run into fans at sf conventions who hadn’t heard of her.

          I blame the ugly/boring/disorganized Baen covers, I’m just guessing.

        • Gunlord says:

          So far I’ve only read Ethan of Athos, but it was good enough that I want to read the rest of the Vorkosigan saga later. I also enjoyed Basilisk Station, the first Honor Harrington book, but from what I’ve heard from my friends the later ones are iffy.

        • Damien says:

          Selection bias? Not uncommon in my circle, and she’s won 4 Hugos for best novel, like Heinlein.

          Free movement is basic emancipation of the serfs; forcing competition on District policies seems to be a “what we can do now” in lieu of comprehensive liberalization. She has the Vor caste and planetary voting shares but they don’t seem to be great ideas.

          OTOH, we first meet licensed reproduction as a feature of Beta Colony. Everyone gets a contraceptive implant at puberty (along with anesthetic breaking of the hymen and ear piercings for sexual availability signalling via earring code) and you need state approval to reproduce. Justification being they live in tunnels and so carrying capacity is a very visible limit. Otherwise it’s a hyper-liberal, “hyper-egalitarian” state on a mixed economy model, private capitalism but food and information access guarantees and by reputation lots of voting. Reactionaries would hate it.

  2. Tyrrell McAllister says:

    Nitpick:

    BART gets the same profits either way.

    … minus the cost of purchasing and maintaining the machines.

    • Vaniver says:

      Indeed.

      A somewhat related story: I was recently told the story of a toll bridge that was constructed using bond money. After twenty years, the bonds had been paid off, and the question was raised, “Do we continue charging the toll?”

      An investigation was launched, and it was discovered that the tolls just paid for the wages of the toll collectors (and the various other expenses incurred in collecting tolls). It was decided to keep charging the tolls in order to maintain the jobs.

      The first level of horror is that the bridge is being held hostage; usage is disincentivized because of the toll, but the toll’s only purpose is to maintain itself.

      The second level of horror is that, unless the toll revenues or costs changed significantly over the lifetime of the bridge, the bridge did not actually pay itself off- the department that was previously paying the toll collectors’ salaries paid off the bridge.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That’s why I specified they were cheap machines.

      • MugaSofer says:

        But not free, so unless they actually do a better job than the workers … which they might, actually, if the workers keep striking.

  3. Doug S. says:

    “The current religious makeup of the Caliphate territory (Northern Africa and the Middle East through Iran and Pakistan) should be taken as some evidence of the effectiveness of this policy.”

    Most modern Arab states expelled their Jewish populations some time after the founding of the state of Israel…

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m operating on a broader level than your point allows for here (or else you’re nitpicking). There’s a reason it was the Muslims expelling a Jewish minority rather than the Jews expelling a Muslim minority.

      • Ryan Reich says:

        Just to clarify, the reason you have in mind is that the Muslims had by then become a majority through their incentivized conversion policies? Another argument you could make is that the dominant religion in the region in question was never Judaism, but presumably had once been something entirely different, or else Christianity in the Roman areas, and any and all of these religions are now significantly minority there (as opposed to being significant minorities, heh). The removal of just the Jewish populations doesn’t have much to do with the fact that most of the people are now, and were before, Muslim.

  4. Cyan says:

    In the “Sneaky Job” condition, the welfare is funded by mass transit users – disproportionately poor people – and the increased cost inevitably disincentivizes mass transit.

    So, effectively, the “Sneaky Job” option amounts to a price increase relative to a counterfactual world in which the work is automated. But later:

    If the workers do $8 worth of work for the company, and the government makes them pay $15, it’s the equivalent of fining companies $7 an hour for hiring poor people. Not only is this morally unfair, but companies will probably respond rationally by automating as much work as they can, hiring fewer people, or trying to figure out how to replace multiple poor people with fewer wealthier people (for example replacing several clerks with a programmer who runs a computer system).

    Or… raising prices.
    From Tax incidence, mutatis mutandis: Imagine a $7 increase on an hour of person-labor a McD “restaurant” uses. If the product (McCrap) is price inelastic to the consumer (whereby if price rose, a small demand loss would be accounted for by the extra revenue), McD’s is able to pass the entire wage hike (WH) on to consumers of apples by raising the price of McCrap by an amount sufficient to offset the increased cost of labor. Consumers bear the entire burden of the wage hike; the WH incidence falls on consumers. On the other hand, if McD’s is unable to raise prices because McCrap is price elastic (if prices rose, more demand would be lost than extra revenue gained), McD’s has to bear the burden of the wage hike or face decreased revenues: the WH incidence falls on McD’s. If McD’s can raise prices by an amount less than the full labor cost offset, then consumers and McD’s are sharing the WH burden. When the WH incidence falls on McD’s, this burden will typically flow back to owners of the relevant factors of production.

    • MugaSofer says:

      Scott says in the article such price raises will primarily impact the poor?

      • Cyan says:

        My purpose was really just to link to the tax incidence article so that the impacts of various policy options could be assessed in light of the relevant theory.

  5. In response to your naming dilemma, may I suggest neoprogressive?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      No, for a few reasons.

      1) “Neo-” philosophies have a bad brand – most people dislike neoliberalism and neoconservativism, and in fact I don’t think many people self-identify with those philosophies; they seem to be more things you accuse your enemy of being. The less said about neoreaction and neo-Nazis, the better.

      2) “Progressivism” to me is either the artificial strawman the Reactionaries invented as a foil for themselves, something people said a lot in 1910, or a hubristic claim to be the party that’s for going forward, not backwards. And I don’t think the philosophy I’m pushing above has too much in common with classical progressivism.

      3) I don’t agree with all Sam’s points (I think you meant to link here). 13 and 20 seem more like slogans than sound policy prescriptions (should we ban classified information? China would love that). I see where 19 is coming from, but it’s also overly simplistic and I’m generally against calling a broad demographic of the population assholes just because they don’t support your vision of society.

      4) Even though I do agree with many of Sam’s values they don’t seem especially related to the philosophy I’m pushing above. Many Sort-Of-Like-Left-Libertarians might end up neoprogressiveish, but it doesn’t seem like a foregone conclusion. I’d hate to say that if you’re a deathist or pro-life you’re not allowed to want to use taxes, subsidies, and income guarantees to regulate social ills.

      • Hmmm… updating away from thinking “neoprogressive” is a good term, and I would be interested to see you try to persuade me further on this, but responses:

        (1) I thought of this (though I didn’t think of neo-Nazis), and thought, “fuck it, establish new branding norms!” Also, hardly anyone outside select nerd circles has heard of neoreactionaries and Matt Yglesias has toyed with calling himself a neoliberal.

        A big advantage of “neoprogressive” over “neoliberal” though, is that even if it doesn’t totally escape existing connotations of the “neo-” suffix, there’s at least less in the way of existing negative connotations to shed.

        (2) In my experience, “progressive” is something an awful lot of liberals call themselves because… I’m not entirely sure why, possibly wanting to sound more hip, possibly to avoid the negative connotations that conservatives have successfully tarred “liberal” with in America.

        (3) and (4) Yeah, Sam’s list is heavily simplified. In fact, the simplified nature made me wonder if it was a spoof when I first saw it (though I thought that, if so, it was a pretty spot-on spoof). But after talking it over with him on Twitter, I think I’m about 95% on board with what he meant by these things.

        I specifically asked him about the secrecy thing, and he explained that what he actually thinks we should do is require the government to keep the public informed on the general nature of the secrets it’s keeping, and set dates for when various pieces of information will be released, which seems pretty reasonable

        Personally, I’m not sure how practical 6 really is, and I worry about the downside of 15. But the thing is, I’m extremely sympathetic to the motivation behind both of them. And what makes me like Sam’s list so much is not that I think these are the 20 most important political issues right now but that I can instantly recognize the underlying philosophy and I am so totally on board with it. It’s the general philosophy I’d focus on rather than the specific positions on deathism or abortion or whatever.

        FYI I am thinking of writing a post trying to spell out said underlying philosophy. It would probably be a good idea to make up my mind on whether “neoprogressive” is a good label before I write that.

        • St. Rev says:

          I associate “progressive” with the political line espoused by The New Republic–basically the authoritarian wing of the American center-left, pretty consistently since 1914. As such, I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to coopt it for an anti-authoritarian stance.

        • Is something-sort-of-like-left-libertarianism even all that antiauthoritarian?

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I don’t think it is necessarily all that anti-authoritarian. 🙂

        • Zakharov says:

          How about “Social Libertarianism”? Combines social welfare and libertarianism.

        • Army1987 says:

          (2) In my experience, “progressive” is something an awful lot of liberals call themselves because… I’m not entirely sure why, possibly wanting to sound more hip, possibly to avoid the negative connotations that conservatives have successfully tarred “liberal” with in America.

          I use it because liberalism is ambiguous when speaking to an international audience, referring to conservative economic liberalism in Europe.

      • ‘Liberal’ falsely implies a continuity in beliefs between the original liberals and the people who call themselves liberals in America today — not to mention that the European analogues to those ‘liberals’ don’t call themselves liberals at all. And that there’s no bright dividing line between liberals and whoever is to the left of them, unlike between, say, liberals and conservatives. (One of the things Moldbug goes into great detail to point out is that the separation of ‘liberal’ and ‘socialist’ is a relatively recent development, though that point is made in far fewer words by the descriptions of the Hollywood Ten (card-carrying capital-C Communists) as liberal. I’m not sure if that’s the same thing as his “Anglo-Soviet split” but it might be.) Hence ‘progressive’.

      • Randy M says:

        “2) “Progressivism” to me is either the artificial strawman the Reactionaries invented as a foil for themselves, something people said a lot in 1910, or a hubristic claim to be the party that’s for going forward, not backwards.”

        Progressive is the term I tend to use for liberals, partly because it is what Hillary Clinton chose to label herself during the 2008 election, and partly since it is more ideological than tribal, I think.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Good reasons, imo.

          Also, to me, ‘liberals’ suggests a close group who have already settled into some extreme left positions, some of which are more tribal signalling than anything else. Whereas, ‘progressives’ suggests a loose group who are progressing toward the left on some or most (mostly practical) issues, without specifying how far left they have gone, or want to go.

          • Damien says:

            “liberal” means extreme left to you? You’re pretty badly calibrated, then. Most people who call themselves liberal aren’t all that left, at least lots of actual extreme leftists despise liberals of whatever definition.

            If you’re American you’re likely starved for exposure to an extreme left. Try this on: 70% top marginal income tax, capital gains taxed like regular income (or even higher), Medicare for all gradually being replaced by an expanded NHS-style VA system, free college for all, a partial basic income funded by land/resource tax, an outright personal wealth cap of $400 million, Keynesian full employment policies via loose money and government jobs programs as needed, random selection of citizens to administrative oversight boards.

            You won’t find many liberals who can endorse all of that without choking on something; I’d guess a majority of US liberals wouldn’t support even a majority of that list. And that’s still not all that extreme, nothing like full central planning or the supposed absolute equality of communism or Soviet socialism or abolition of money/private property. $400 million is still a vast amount of wealth, the only radical thing there is the idea of having a cap at all and that there’s a level of “too much” for one person to have at once.

        • Multiheaded says:

          That’s quite a reasonable point, Damien. We just have to repeat it 36,843,974,000 more times and then Americans will increase their awareness of the political spectrum.

      • Alex Richard says:

        Neo-liberalism in IR is an example of a “neo-” philosophy with good PR.

  6. Intrism says:

    I think your fast-food argument proves too much. A fast food employee costs $15/hour, but is only paid $8. You argue that it’s better for the government to pay the remaining $7 (for reasons that seem pretty reasonable) than for the fast-food company to do so. These numbers, though, are pretty arbitrary… $8 and $7 are, after all, just the status quo. What if that were different? What if, instead of $8 and $7, the numbers were $5 for the fast food company and $10 for the government? $1 and $14? Or even $0 for the fast food company and $15 for the government? Where, exactly, should the fast food company start paying its own workers? Or do you intend to argue that fast-food companies should have free labor?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      My position is that the government should pay everyone a certain amount whether they work for fast food or not, and then people can choose whether to supplement that amount by working for the fast food industry. I assume the fast food industry would then offer whatever the market ends up valuing their labor as. Does that answer your question?

    • MugaSofer says:

      Why *shouldn’t* they have free labor, if people will work for them? Wikipedia does it.

  7. Ben Lehman says:

    The problem with taxation as a means to control behavior is that it doesn’t seem to work? Like, there are fairly good studies that show that increased cigarette taxation doesn’t lead to a decrease in smoking rates (googled up a cite: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18326 ). Indoor smoking bans, on the other hand, cause significant reduction in smokers.

    This isn’t necessarily a big deal? If the compensation for something _really is equal_ to the problem itself it’s fine. But that’s not in practice ever the case, both because taxation is a regulatory regime and prone to regulatory capture, but also because some things are simply not cash-exchangeable.

    For instance, if a factory produces a lot of extremely toxic byproducts, and everyone in the neighboring town dies, painfully, over the course of the next few years. The ground around the town is permanently ruined (on the 10k years scale) for human habitation.

    The people who suffered can’t actually benefit from a compensatory payout, because they are dead, and you can’t take it with you. The ground cannot be restored in any reasonable time frame or with any modern technologies. Cash is simply not an option. What do we do in this instance?

    Similarly, and perhaps more realistically, any sort of compensatory payout regime imbeds the assumption that any polluting party will have cash on hand to make payouts when (and if) it is eventually discovered that their pollutants are involved in human suffering. This is highly unlikely.

    I agree with you tax schemes can be good for compensation (but not in behavior change) but they ultimately fail with respect to any harm that is difficult to calculate and they completely fail with respect to any non-monetizable problem. The problem here is that the _vast majority_ of state problems are difficult to calculate or non-monetizable. Eliding these isn’t really engaging in political discussion, it’s just taking the easiest possible case.

    yrs–
    –Ben

    • Cyan says:

      I think we can interpret the cigarette tax finding as saying, per my tax incidence link, that the demand for cigarettes was price-inelastic, but the supply of time for outside smoke breaks was even more price-inelastic.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      From my three second glance, it looks to me like a large preponderance of studies (1, 2, 3, 4
      5), and expert opinion (survey) believe that cigarette taxes do decrease consumption (and here is the argument in sketchy polemic form).

      I’m not sure whether you’re unfamiliar with those studies, or because you’ve looked into this area much more carefully than I have and found better once, or flaws in those. Even if it ended up that taxing cigarettes didn’t work, I would expect that tobacco is among the hardest cases – a substance used by individuals without great budgeting skills, primarily by addicts, and without many good replacements (at least before e-cigarettes became popular). Mercury thermometers are the opposite – they’re produced by businesses smart enough to realize how much they’re losing, there are lots of ways to make a thermometer without mercury, and most people are indifferent between mercury and non-mercury thermometers.

      Likewise, I’m very skeptical there are too many things that can’t be monetarily compensated – the old “ask people whether they would prefer $X to Y outcome, and keep increasing X until they are indifferent” trick. Death is one area where this doesn’t work, sure, and you make a good point about how there need to be laws in place to discourage factories from building in populated areas. But there seem a lot of outcomes more likely than the one you name, including the factory’s fear of lawsuits from the dead people encouraging them to build somewhere else, or people moving away from the factory once they realize there’s a problem and the factory having to pay their relocation costs.

      I’m not sure why you mention the compensatory payout regime bankruptcy issue as a problem for me. If society knows that mercury is toxic before the mercury factory opens, those taxes will be levied from them as soon as they start operation, and even if they go bankrupt next year society will have gotten its due. If society didn’t know mercury was toxic before the mercury factory opens, then it’s still no worse than the old system – no one in the old system would have ever thought to ban mercury.

      The belief in non-monetizable problems seems equivalent to the belief in non-comparable utilities, and is properly considered a Heresy. The belief in difficult-to-calculate things is permissible, but that’s what we have prediction markets for.

      • Ben Lehman says:

        Hrm. I can’t figure out how to read your response. It seems partially serious and partially joking (like, I literally cannot tell at all what your line about prediction markets is supposed to mean). In the joking spirit I will point out that calling me a heretic implies that I have been baptized. I’m 90% sure you meant “heathen,” although more properly I am a Jew.

        Thank you for the links on cigarettes! I did not know that there were mixed results from such studies. Clearly it is not open and shut.

        The problem with the “the state fixes a median price for a human life / human suffering” model is that, first, it is price-fixing, and second, it rapidly becomes absurd.

        Let’s say I have a business wherein sportsmen pay to point a loaded gun at a living human (who has no foreknowledge of this, just a random person on the street) and pull the trigger. This business is very profitable. Is it reasonable that, with an upfront fee, my business could murder or maim anyone I chose, as long as it was price-fixed by the mechanism you propose? Does the cost vary depending on their actuarially remaining DALYs? Are people over 79 freebies or does the state actually pay me for offing them?

        The funny thing is that our modern pollution regime is very much like what you describe: it is enforced via fines rather than criminal punishments (criminal convictions for environmental are exceedingly rare, usually involve humans at risk / actually dead, and generally result in fairly light sentencing.) Since there’s no way for a regulatory agency to actually set a decent schedule of fines, most decisions are based on EIRs which are required to be filed beforehand. And, while it’s far from perfect, it actually works fairly well and has managed toxicity in a decent way(1). It is currently utterly failing with more indirect harm, i.e. fracking and water tables, but I’m not sure a criminalization approach would work any better. However, I think keeping the criminal approach open, and allowing fines to be punitive rather than merely compensatory, is important given the extremely non-consensual nature of harm from pollutants. Harm from pollutants is bad and more importantly cannot be collapsed into market value because it is inherently non-consensual.

        yrs–
        –Ben

        (1) Toxicity is of course only one element of pollution: my hometown’s salmon fishery was nearly destroyed by the effects of logging near salmon spawning grounds, some of which will never recover, some of which has been recovered at great expense, all the costs which were eaten by the state. EIRs don’t fix everything: being funded by those undertaking to pollute, they generally are fairly biased.

        • Zakharov says:

          In the loaded gun example, there’s a huge societal cost in terms of people who fear being randomly murdered if random murder is allowed. This is sufficient justification for banning it.

        • Ben Lehman says:

          @Zakharov
          There is also a huge societal cost to people’s water supplies being arbitrarily poisoned. We, as a society, have decided that this is sufficient justification for banning them.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      The problem with taxation as a means to control behavior is that it doesn’t seem to work? Like, there are fairly good studies that show that increased cigarette taxation doesn’t lead to a decrease in smoking rates (googled up a cite: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18326 ).

      Imagine the case where cigarette taxes drive the price of a single cigarette to $100,000 and it cigarettes either die out entirely or are reduced to a niche market for rich people trying to signal their wealth and sophistication. This seems like a reducto of the idea that taxes can’t decrease cigarette consumption. So I’m more inclined to think that taxes were simply too small to make a significant difference, and that taxes which raised the price by an order of magnitude or more would have been more effective than taxes which merely doubled it.

      The people who suffered can’t actually benefit from a compensatory payout, because they are dead, and you can’t take it with you. The ground cannot be restored in any reasonable time frame or with any modern technologies. Cash is simply not an option. What do we do in this instance?

      Taking the fungibility of money into account, and accepting the utilitarian axiom on the fungibility of human life, the answer is probably along the lines of “save a town’s worth of people from slow and painful medical deaths, and use the leftover money to buy a plot of land which was destined for similar environmental destruction and preserve it as a place for people to live.”

      • AJD says:

        Imagine the case where cigarette taxes drive the price of a single cigarette to $100,000 and it cigarettes either die out entirely or are reduced to a niche market for rich people trying to signal their wealth and sophistication. This seems like a reducto of the idea that taxes can’t decrease cigarette consumption. So I’m more inclined to think that taxes were simply too small to make a significant difference, and that taxes which raised the price by an order of magnitude or more would have been more effective than taxes which merely doubled it.

        It’s this likely to produce the kind of situation in which we get violent black markets on (in effect) banned addictive drugs?

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          It’s this likely to produce the kind of situation in which we get violent black markets on (in effect) banned addictive drugs?

          Yep, if you make cigarettes worth $100,000, you’ve effectively banned them and the obvious black markets ensue. But the point of the thought experiment is not to price them that high, it’s to show that there is some level at which the tax starts decreasing consumption. Now the trick is to find the tax-level which best optimizes the conflicting requirements of decreasing cigarette consumption, paying for the damage cigarettes cause, and minimizing the emergence of black markets.

          • Jonas says:

            Now the trick is […]

            Is the decrease in utility for those who keep smoking and now have less money for other things somewhere on the radar of your considerations?

      • Ben Lehman says:

        I was wrong (or, ambiguously wrong) re: cigarettes. See Scott’s reply above. Also you cannot tax something out of existence you can just create a black market.

        Human lives are not a fungible quantity. You would not accept me murdering you if I paid for enough police patrols to prevent some random other murder. Don’t pretend that anyone else is different.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Also you cannot tax something out of existence you can just create a black market.

          True, but such a black market would likely be much, much smaller than a legal one at minimal tax levels, which is all that’s required for the argument to work.

          Human lives are not a fungible quantity. You would not accept me murdering you if I paid for enough police patrols to prevent some random other murder. Don’t pretend that anyone else is different.

          I’m not actually a utilitarian, but I sympathize with some of their ideas. For example, if you don’t know in advance whether you will be one of the guys in the town, or one of the guys in the hospital rooms, or both, or neither, which decision maximizes your probability of not dying an early, painful death?

        • Anonymous says:

          True, but such a black market would likely be much, much smaller than a legal one at minimal tax levels, which is all that’s required for the argument to work.

          But black markets tend to create huge negative externalities (Al Capone, Pablo Escobar), so just because a policy lowers net consumption of Bad Thing doesn’t mean it’s socially optimal.

        • Cyan says:

          Specific lives aren’t fungible, but lives are fungible in sufficiently uncertain expectation. That is, it’s reasonable to might pay more for policy X that decreases the (across-the-board*) murder rate relative to policy Y, even if it can be expected that some random set of persons end up murdered under policy X who would not under policy Y.

          *Things get (really!) sticky if we can identify different demographics for which the murder rate is expected to go up or down under the two different policies. The “across-the-board” qualification is meant to rule out this case.

  8. Cyan says:

    ♫ Hello cell phone tower, please give me number nine, and if you disconnect me, I’ll… dial again, I guess.

    Switchboard operator seems to fit the bill as a Sneaky Job in days of yore — automatic switch technology is almost as old as the telephone itself, and yet operators were ubiquitous until about the 60s. How did telephone utilities make the switch (no pun intended)? They replaced only retiring humans with automatic switches.

    Generalizing from this case, I expect that any transition from “Legitimate” Job to Sneaky Job will be quite detectable, albeit with a selection bias towards technologies that can interoperate with human workforces.

  9. Michael Edward Vassar says:

    It seems to me that the socially conservative economically egalitarian quadrant is the human default. Political philosophies can then be understood as deformations from the human default. Leftists spend optimization to move policy towards social freedom, the right moves towards economic freedom, and libertarians don’t acknowledge the starting point.

    It’s important to notice that most of the most prominent historical Libertarian intellectuals, such as Hayek, Friedman, and more recently, Murray, have supported a basic income.

    FWIW, my positions precisely matched Scott’s when I was his age, but having aged and gained more experience with life, I now see these youthful extravagances as well-meaning but poorly informed and impractical. 🙂

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Curious how you changed so that I can bootstrap that process and be smarter than you when I’m your age.

      • Michael Edward Vassar says:

        Short version is that I updated strongly away from the Enlightenment beliefs as descriptive of the world, though I still hold pretty similar beliefs as normative. If people don’t actually respond to incentives, believe in value creation, or even have values in any very meaningful sense, it’s not clear *what* follows. I see human behavior as basically just a biological phenomenon, and rational behavior as an almost orthogonal phenomenon emergent upon it. The conflicts that I care about are primarily those between human behavior and the rational behavior that emerges out of it and the main obvious mechanism to explore is exodus. I want people who make their decisions deliberatively to leave society and adopt a novel species-level (or kingdom level) identity.

        • Misha says:

          I would very seriously consider living in VassarTopia or the Kingdom of Michael the First as long as its not a seasteading, and maybe even then.

        • komponisto says:

          In a rational world, every hotel room would contain an anthology of Michael Vassar quotations.

        • Andrew McKnight says:

          Exodus, as a strategy, strikes me as an impractical youthful extravagance. Can you make it sound more plausible?

    • Medivh says:

      “It seems to me that the socially conservative economically egalitarian quadrant is the human default.”

      That is not exactly true.
      Hunter- gatherers are egalitarian and socially permissive.
      Pre- industrial agricultural societies tend to be socially conservative and non- egalitarian.

  10. Blake R says:

    Others might support both free markets and a social safety net. You could call them “welfare capitalists”. I ran a Google search and some of them seem to call themselves “bleeding heart libertarians“. I would call them “correct”.

    While you can’t apply this term to everyone, I’d call them “typical economists”. Using cash transfers to improve welfare and targeted taxes/subsides to deal with externalities sounds exactly what the average economist would endorse and attempts to teach in intro classes.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I was tempted to call one of the axes “basic economic literacy”, but that would have been mean.

      • Jack says:

        “I was tempted to call one of the axes “basic economic literacy”, but that would have been mean.”

        ROFL!

      • Jonas says:

        I was tempted to call one of the axes “basic economic literacy”, but that would have been mean.

        Would it have been accurate?

  11. Charlie says:

    In the case of the mercury pollution, you favor taxing mercury pollution and disposal (and, I’d guess, using that money to fund mercury-cleanup projects and health care for kits who eat thermometers) because that will lead to the best aggregate outcome. That is, mercury usage is halted when the externalities are not worth it, but continues when the value created outweighs the externalities.

    In the case of the black people [martians], having a racist hiring policy is like employing humans at BART – you’re wasting talent, creating a loss for all involved. Black people get lower wages somewhere else, and companies with bad hiring policies get worse products.

    In the case of the mercury pollution, we knew who to tax and who to give the money to, because the people using mercury were getting extra money by creating pollution that made people sick. So we tax the mercury producers by the amount of value that the sick people lose because of the mercury, and then give that money to the sick people. Basically. And then after we do this, the free market is able to handle finding the right policy.

    In the case of the black people, it’s possible to tax companies based a function of average skin color until everyone has on average equal opportunity – that is, the loss to society is minimized. But where does the money go to get the best aggregate outcome, if we’re already minimizing the deadweight loss just from the incentive of the tax? Givewell, of course.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That is the correct answer but not the answer that will make people support this policy

      (especially since it would lead to questions like “Wait, why aren’t we giving all our taxes to GiveWell? Have we really solved so many problems that it’s effective to split our taxes up among several hundred different things?” Do you want to be the one who arbitrates between the person who asks that question and the average American citizen?)

      • zac says:

        I think its important to note here that Givewell’s top charity is ‘find the poorest people and give them no-strings attached money’

  12. Douglas Knight says:

    small…current religious makeup of the Caliphate territory

    If the current makeup were due to the long term effects of small fees, there should have been a slow bleed-off. But my understanding is that conversion to Islam occurred in jumps, under times of heightened persecution.

  13. James says:

    Do you have Professional Opinions on SSI as sneaky welfare, a la http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/11/the_terrible_awful_truth_about_1.html ?

  14. Ryan Reich says:

    This approach to social change has always seemed attractive to me, as well; I’ve always heard it described as being game-theoretic in nature, but it actually seems to me to be probabilistic (or rather, belonging to the mathematical field of analysis, not game theory). Contrast:

    – Ordinary lawmaking seeks to exactly demarcate the prohibited activities by some verbiage giving their properties, and hoping that the words are interpreted appropriately. That is, prescriptive laws define the set of activities they consider to be illegal.

    – Tax-incentive lawmaking seeks to suppress undesirable activities by assigning penalties to them, and hoping that this leads to a lessened distribution of these activities among all activities. That is, incentive laws define a probability distribution supported, approximately, on the set of desired activities.

    It does have its problems, though.

    Prescriptive lawmaking fails when its language is disputable (which it always is, because a good descriptive law is open to interpretation lest it become instantly obsolete). Incentive lawmaking will fail if lawmakers can’t estimate the actual response to their incentives—and mapping a penalty (as legislated) onto an eventual profit for all possible parties that are affected (which are very variable) and thence onto the response of these parties, particularly the second-order response when they take into account the new behavior of the marketplace (and that is a game-theoretic concern) is hugely complex.

    There is also the more immediate concern that doing this would make the tax laws even more complex than they currently are. Already we have statistics to the effect that the average American commits n felonies, for some positive value of n, for lack of information on what the law is. In place of this statistic we’d have innumerable inadvertent tax dodges (already an issue), and on top of that, it would make enforcement of the law a responsibility of the opaque agency the IRS and…tax accountants.

    I do think, however, that provisions such as these tax incentives, or other strictures that “change the default behavior”, are an essential part of enlightened and flexible legal design. The first thing that a rational proposal has to do, though, is critique itself, a constraint of which ideological laws are free.

    (Obviously you were not purporting to advance a complete legal framework, though.)

  15. Desrtopa says:

    “Someone will object that small fees can’t eliminate as pervasive a social problem as prejudice, but I’m not so sure. Consider the Islamic Caliphate (7th – 12th century AD). Their modus operandi was to march into a new territory, tell the non-Muslims there that they were perfectly welcome to continue to practice their old religion as long as they paid a tax, and if they ever wanted to save those couple shekels or dinars or whatever, they could also convert to Islam – but no pressure. The current religious makeup of the Caliphate territory (Northern Africa and the Middle East through Iran and Pakistan) should be taken as some evidence of the effectiveness of this policy.”

    This is why my objection is that it sounds very likely that it would be hard to implement such a policy without overcompensating. Maybe it would work out great, but I can easily see people who had previously had a hundred little reasons to think that the earthling was a better pick than the “equally qualified” martian start asking themselves “if I hire the earthling in the face of a concrete extra cost, does that mean I’m *really speciesist?*” And then they overwhelmingly hire martians instead. It sounds extremely hard to calibrate such a thing prior to actually implementing it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The easy solution is “prediction markets”. If I’m not allowed to use the easy solution, then if people really expected this to be a problem they could just make sure to recalibrate frequently (by which I mean repeat the resume experiment and adjust the tax accordingly). I wouldn’t expect these sorts of huge changes on a sub-yearly level – and if one time they did happen, we’d know for next time and could calibrate sub-yearly.

      • Desrtopa says:

        My main objection to prediction markets (at least, as I understand them,) is that they implement the solution that the populace expects to be implemented, not the solution that the populace *wants*. I forget the name for meta-contests of this sort, but they sometimes result in a win for options which the majority of participants do not personally favor.

        • Damien says:

          I suspect you want “Keynesian beauty contest”.

          I think the futarchy idea of Robin Hanson/Hal Finney(?) involved democratically creating a oscial utility function, then using prediction markets/idea futures to select for policies that maximize the function. And I’m not sure what you say about implementing is accurate: you’re not betting on what policies get implemented but on the behavior of various measurables given proposed and existing policies. If you think public policy will lower life expectancy you buy futures expressing that, and if you’re right you cash out. “vote values, bet beliefs”

  16. I would be very interested to see the cultural counterpart to this.

  17. Meredith L. Patterson says:

    The term I’ve been using for something very much like the viewpoint you describe here is “anarcho-game-theorist,” but it hasn’t really caught on.

  18. Ben Kuhn says:

    My (admittedly not-very-informed) impression is that this is pretty much standard economic theory (taxing to internalize externalities definitely, basic income guarantee less so though as Vassar points out still supported by a surprising number of people) and the difficulties were mostly in implementation?

    Like, I can’t imagine a process by which people could agree how much to tax Earthlings without it becoming horribly acrimonious. And then what if the Martians are actually a model minority where they’re favored for entry-level jobs but hit a glass ceiling and never make partner because they’re stereotyped as being bad leaders? And now suddenly you have a whole massive taxation apparatus where you have to test every possible combination of variables, and everything is distorted from regulatory capture, and you’re paying billions of dollars in tripod-head-gun subsidies for no apparent reason.

    My impression is that (the steelman form of) the current political parties would all agree that your system sounds nice in principle but disagree with what the most practical approximation to it is.

    • Ryan Reich says:

      The problem here is the same problem with any law: while we can establish principles that suggest our intentions, individuals not acting in good faith with respect to the spirit of the law will nullify these principles in practice. So, the tax encourages hiring Martians but not promoting them, which you’d think are linked but suddenly become separate when it’s beneficial. This isn’t a legal problem, it’s a social one, and you can’t expect an instantaneous response from any legal prescription. However, it is possible (even likely?) that if Martians come to achieve proportionality in the workforce through incentive measures rather than prescriptive affirmative action, society will respond approvingly of their abilities rather than skeptically (as is said to be the response to the existing affirmative action laws). Thus, over time, the promotion problem will attenuate as people simply stop feeling there’s a reason not to do it. So, tax incentives may have a default-altering effect that outright prescriptions don’t, because people come to think they’re doing what the lawmakers want because they want to, rather than because they haveto.

      • Brian says:

        So, the tax encourages hiring Martians but not promoting them, which you’d think are linked but suddenly become separate when it’s beneficial.

        Defining the tax as a proportion of income rather than a flat rate should go some way towards solving this. If it’s more expensive to promote an existing Earthling worker than to promote a Martian, then the law incentivizes promoting Martians in the same way that it originally incentivized hiring them.

        Built-in resistance to creeping inflation-related obsolescence, which is a huge problem with things like fines and minimum wage laws, comes as a bonus.

    • James James says:

      The interesting question is how you get the state to set the tax to the economically efficient level. If there was a non-Martian jobs tax, it wouldn’t be set to the social cost anyway. Martians would lobby to increase it and non-Martians to decrease it. In a democracy, the median voter (non-Martian) will want to decrease it. So democracy and efficiency are not compatible.

      Also, how did the Caliphate set the level of the non-Muslim tax? It’s hard to evaluate the “social cost” of not being a Muslim”. 😉

    • Damien says:

      Another fairly standard economics idea is a stiff land value tax. You can even fund at least a partial basic income directly out of land and other resource (minerals, broadcast wavelengths) taxes.

      The flip side to taxing negative externalities is subsidizing positives ones: basic research, census and weather information, public beautification…

  19. Gabriel says:

    “Effectivism”

  20. St. Rev says:

    A nine year old has invented more or less the polar opposite of your system: http://axecop.com/comic/ask-axe-cop-89-law-order-part-1/

  21. Angela B. says:

    I find myself baffled at the idea that “the government” can just give people money, as if all money belongs to the government in the first place. I can’t speak more of that, because I can’t get my brain around it. But I can speak from experience (or at least first-hand observation) of the issue of minimum wage and forced raises in the same.

    Many years ago, my parents owned a McDonald’s franchise in eastern Washington state. They hired mostly high school students, with a few adults who worked full time during the days or evenings as the core crew, including maintenance. I myself worked there from the age of 13, a few hours a week, as did my siblings.

    My parents paid new hires the minimum wage, but every X months (I think it was every 6 months) they did performance reviews on all the crew, with raises based on their scores. The scores were based on their ability to provide benefit to the business, and thus to help the business make money. Good workers got bigger raises. People who called in “sick” and were discovered on the ski hill that day….not so much. There were also performance bonuses and often holiday bonuses as well. In practice, the only people who were earning minimum wage were high school students working at their first jobs.

    If you know much about the food industry, you know that the profit margin is very slim, and if you know anything about franchises, you know the franchise fees are large – not to mention utilities, inventory, and insurance to pay for the idiot kid who jumped off the top of the Grimace structure in the play area (posted very clearly, ‘Do Not Climb The Outside’) and broke his arm, etc. Now, every so often, the state in all its ineffable wisdom would come along and say, you horrible cheap employers, you have to pay your employees a higher minimum wage! And my parents had a few choices. They could:

    1) Raise their prices.
    2) Reduce employees’ hours
    3) Fire somebod(y)(ies).
    4) Some combination of the above.

    Bear in mind, ONLY the people earning minimum wage got a raise. For everyone else there was no effect. You can be certain that if they walked in and found their favorite meal, which they ALWAYS paid $3.95 for, was now $4.15 overnight, it made them angry. Their standard of living had effectively been reduced. Don’t brush off the impact on them – it was their money and not yours, so what they perceived in the price hike was that they were suddenly being stiffed by a greedy businessman.

    If employees had their hours reduced, they worked less and still made the same amount of money. However, this had the effect of providing less customer service, slower service, and ….made the customers angry as they had to wait longer.

    If somebody got fired, they were now making no money at all, and with fewer available employees, you get the customer service problem again, and angry customers.

    Furthermore, every business in town – and it was a small town – was in the same situation. Prices went up all over town, and even the people who got the forced pay raises weren’t actually better off, because everything cost more. People who didn’t get raises were worse off.

    And this was called ‘compassion’. When I told this story to Dave Ross, Seattle radio personality, he informed me that all those other people should have been happy to ‘sacrifice’ for others’ betterment. However, it’s not a sacrifice when it’s forced on you, and they weren’t actually better off.

    Lather, rinse, repeat. You can see it better in the fishbowl of a small town, that’s all. Go on, raise the minimum wage to $15/hr. Raise it to $100/hr. When we’re all paying $5 for an apple and $8 for a loaf of bread, we can pat ourselves on the back for the compassion squeezed from us under penalty of law. I’m sure we’ll bask in the glow of our own beneficence.

    • Vanzetti says:

      >>>I find myself baffled at the idea that “the government” can just give people money, as if all money belongs to the government in the first place.

      This is one truly amazing sentence which describes the speaker to an incredible depth. No further reading is required.

    • dhill says:

      Thank You for this post. We can easily forget how reality works with all the grandiose language. I sure would like people to own money too, instead of currency.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I find myself baffled at the idea that “the government” can just give people money, as if all money belongs to the government in the first place.

      Money is just a mechanism for facilitating and organizing the exchange of labor in society: it doesn’t have an inherent value by itself. Government is one of the mechanisms by which people attempt to organize society in a way they consider appropriate. Tasking the government with changing the way money is distributed really means tasking the government with changing the organization of society to something that better suits people’s desires, which is the reason why we want to have government in the first place.

    • With all due respect, 100% of the evidence you cite is anecdotal, so it cannot be independently verified. Evidence that can be verified tends to show that the minimum wage, at least at the relatively low levels we’ve seen it at, does not cause measurable job loss.

      Regarding if the fast food industry makes money, McDonalds spends about $2.6 billion a year buying its own public stock (which is enormously profitable for executives who are getting paid partly based on stock value), and until this last quarter has reported large profits for years, despite the recession. None of that would be possible if they were barely scraping by.

      It’s true that not all franchises turn a profit. When owners of a franchise don’t have the skill or business acumen to turn a profit while paying livable wages – or if they do have the skills, but some other factor, such as location, makes it impossible for them to turn a profit – that’s genuinely sad. But merely because something is sad doesn’t mean that it’s bad from an economic perspective. The economy will be much better off, in the long run, if franchise owners who can’t figure out how to run their businesses profitably while paying livable wages go out of business and get replaced by franchises run by more capable businesspeople.

      Here’s some good news, though. Your post strongly implies that the minimum wage causes job losses. This is a matter that has been studied a LOT empirically, and the majority of studies – and in particular, the more rigorously designed studies – have failed to find any such effect. See the graph at the top of this post, which comes from a meta-analysis of minimum wage studies:

      …An adverse employment effect is not supported by this large and rich research record on the employment effects of minimum wage regulation. This conclusion is drawn from an extensive meta-analysis of 64 minimum wage studies that combined offer 1,474 estimates of the employment elasticity.

      We know from empirical evidence that the minimum wage doesn’t have any negative job effects (or at least, none that are consistently detectible by empirical research methods). So although I’m sorry your parents had a bad experience, that’s not a good argument against the minimum wage.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I have to admit I’m really confused by the studies that show raising minimum wages doesn’t have noticeable effects. The theory that says they should seems pretty sound. And there’s a reductio ad absurdum where the minimum wage gets raised to $1000/hour and that probably doesn’t end with everyone being super-rich, and although of course it’s a fallacy to think that the change must be perfectly linear from $1 to $1000, we also don’t know why there would be an inflection point or have any idea where that point is.

        This is especially true if what Angela says is correct and the food industry is operating at a low profit margin. The best way I could think of for the minimum wage to not have any effect is that business owners are making so much profit that they can just give workers the extra money out of profit while keeping everything else the same. Otherwise what is supposed to happen?

        The only article I’ve found that tries to address this issue is this one. It agrees with Angela that there aren’t enough profits in fast food for minimum wage increases to reliably come from there. It says that instead they come from workers being more productive with less turnover, and prices getting higher.

        These are kind of hard for me to believe. First, why would workers be more productive with less turnover? There’s nothing magical about $7.25 that makes it interesting; it’s all about wages relative to everyone else. No matter what the minimum wage is, you’re still drawing from the same worker pool – minimum wage workers – and their alternatives are still “other jobs that pay the minimum wage” and “maybe they can find a job that pays more than the minimum wage”. Why would a new wage suddenly make them more productive? If workers worked harder out of gratitude for more absolute (rather than relative) money, why aren’t workers infinitely better now than they were back in the 1910s when they would be paid a tiny fraction of their current wages (even adjusting for inflation)? Second, this one would require companies to be idiots. If they could get more money by raising wages, why haven’t they done it already?

        High prices seem like a pretty reasonable place for the money to come from, but it would be really mysterious for restaurants to be able to raise prices without decreasing business. If you want to claim it doesn’t decrease business very MUCH, then fine, I don’t know the exact number – but for exactly the same number of people to eat there as before? I dunno. But that seems like what would be required for the minimum wage not to decrease employment.

        I don’t like going against so much data, which is why I’m grudgingly in favor of minimum wage increases. But when I see studies like this saying that the research was very flawed, I definitely take notice and am interested to see where the economics field goes with it.

        • Kerry says:

          “It’s all very well in practice, but it’ll never work in theory!” strikes again?

        • The theory that says they should seems pretty sound.

          No, it’s not sound. The way to measure a theory’s for soundness is to test it empirically. I literally cannot think of an economic theory that has been more thoroughly disproven by data.

          Increased unemployment is only one of about a dozen possible channels for absorbing the costs of a minimum wage increase. There’s no theoretical reason to believe that unemployment is the only channel that’s viable, and there’s an enormous amount of empirical evidence showing that minimum wage increases are not being measurably compensated for in that way.

          What other theoretical channels exist? Quoting John Schmidt: “Employers can reduce hours, non-wage benefits, or training. Employers can also shift the composition toward higher skilled workers, cut pay to more highly paid workers, take action to increase worker productivity (from reorganizing production to increasing training), increase prices to consumers, or simply accept a smaller profit margin. Workers may also respond to the higher wage by working harder on the job. But, probably the most important channel of adjustment is through reductions in labor turnover, which yield significant cost savings to employers.”

          Note that no one of these has to absorb costs by itself; instead, the minimum wage is probably absorbed by a combination of methods. (There is more evidence for reduced turnover at present, but more evidence may appear in the future which changes that picture.)

          although of course it’s a fallacy to think that the change must be perfectly linear from $1 to $1000, we also don’t know why there would be an inflection point or have any idea where that point is.

          Thank you for acknowledging the fallacy in the “why not pay $100,000 an hour?” argument.

          We know why there would be an inflection point, in theory. There is A amount of money saved by reducing turnover, B amount by improving organizational efficiency, C amount by wage compression (high earners getting smaller raises), D amount in small price increases, etc. X is the amount the minimum wage is raised. The inflection point would happen where X is greater than A+B+C+D+etc.

          Of course, although we know that in theory, saying what X would be in practice is beyond me. But since there some states reliably keep minimum wages above the Federal minimum wage, we in effect run experiments in the states before making any particular wage a new Federal minimum wage. So far, the inflection point has not been reached.

          The only article I’ve found that tries to address this issue is this one.

          The John Schmitt paper that article links to is significantly better and more detailed than the article itself is.

          These are kind of hard for me to believe. First, why would workers be more productive with less turnover?

          Low turnover saves money because training is expensive – when I was training new employees, that was days spent NOT doing my regular work, or working extra hours so I could do both. That costs money. The trainees were also not being very productive during training, but they were still being paid.

          Low turnover also saves money because a ten-year employee is more productive, all else held even, than a one or two year employee, and a restaurant full of ten-year-employees is likewise more productive than a restaurant full of two-year employees.

          That low turnover saves money is not even slightly controversial within labor economics, or in business school. It’s something that pretty much any textbook will tell you.

          Why would a new wage suddenly make them more productive?

          Because the opportunity cost of losing a $9 an hour job is greater than the opportunity cost of losing a $7.25 an hour job.

          And because the higher the minimum wage, the more motivated managers are to make the workplace systems more productive and efficient.

          If they could get more money by raising wages, why haven’t they done it already?

          This reminds me of the joke about the economist who doesn’t even bother to look when her friend tells her that there’s a $100 bill on the sidewalk. “It can’t be there,” says the economist, “because it there were a $100 bill on the sidewalk then someone would already have picked it up.”

          Companies don’t have to be idiots to not recognize a counter-intuitive truth; they just have to be run by humans. Companies are, in practice, frequently less than perfect in their decision-making.

          Besides, one of the channels by which the minimum wage is paid for is “wage compression,” which is to say, the highest-paid employees get paid a bit less than they would otherwise. So managers have a motivation not to give raises to the lowest-paid employees.

          High prices seem like a pretty reasonable place for the money to come from, but it would be really mysterious for restaurants to be able to raise prices without decreasing business.

          Maybe business does go down marginally – I wouldn’t find it surprising if that were so.

          But I wouldn’t find it “mysterious” if it doesn’t. If a hamburger that used to cost $3.50 now costs $3.70 – 6% increase in prices, which is compatible with what’s been suggested by research into the minimum wage and prices – and there’s no reduction in business, my conclusion would be that consumer desire for hamburger isn’t elastic enough for a twenty-cent increase to matter. There are a zillion products that aren’t elastic enough to respond discernibly to small price changes; why don’t you think it’s “mysterious” if fast food turns out to be such a product?

          But that seems like what would be required for the minimum wage not to decrease employment.

          I find this pretty illogical thinking. Both theory and empirical evidence show that what you say here is not true.

          Finally, Neumark and Wascher are ideologues – to such an extent that they once published a paper using secret unreplicable data provided them by a fast food industry think tank (I posted about this here). That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, of course. But I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I say I’d want to see their findings replicated by other economists – preferably some not in the pay of the fast-food industry – before I’d take it to be more authoritative than what literally dozens of other economists have found.

        • g says:

          First, why would workers be more productive with less turnover? There’s nothing magical about $7.25 that makes it interesting; it’s all about wages relative to everyone else.

          If the very worst-paid people get a pay rise but others don’t, then the very worst-paid people are better off (1) relative to others and (2) relative to the cost of living, which might rise in proportion to the average wage or something but won’t double if the minimum wage doubles.So if you increase the minimum wage, then people on the minimum wage will have slightly more secure lives, with less danger of outright starvation, less (actual or perceived) dependence on loan sharks, etc. I have no idea whether that would produce higher productivity, but it doesn’t seem crazy to suppose it might.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I think your treatment of “the theory is sound” is simplistic. It *is* sometimes useful to separate prior from evidence – to separate the plausibility of the theory from the plausibility of the evidence supporting it. For example, I remember a couple of very very strong studies that came out in favor of ESP. People spent a long time trying to overturn them and couldn’t, but most people still doubted ESP just because in theory it shouldn’t be possible. Eventually a very subtle and complicated flaw in the original studies was found (a pseudorandom number generator they used as part of a control used an algorithm with a small amount of predictable regularity that subjects were unconsciously picking up on) and sure enough once that was corrected they stopped showing evidence of ESP.

          It is very useful for people to be able to say “Even though all our evidence is in favor of ESP, there’s very strong theoretical reasons to believe it shouldn’t exist. Without totally dismissing this data, let’s be a little suspicious.” That’s the point I’m at. I acknowledge the data, but I’m also a little suspicious.

          When I asked “Why would workers be more productive with less turnover?” I didn’t mean “Why would less turnover make workers more productive” but “Why, in the case of an increase in minimum wage, would it make workers be more productive and have less turnover?” I’m sorry for the ambiguous phrasing of that statement.

          I’m pretty skeptical of the idea that increased minimum wage would make managers “increase efficiency”. It implies that managers know how to increase efficiency per worker (or could easily figure it out when motivated) but just aren’t bothering. But if managers tried those ideas now, they could pocket the extra money as profit.

          This segues nicely into your $100 bill joke. The reason that’s such a classic joke is that it is how economists thing, and it’s how economists think because it accurately describes the business world. There are hundreds of big fast food chains, and they all employ really smart MBAs whose entire job is trying to figure out counter-intuitive clever things that could raise their profits a little bit above their competitors. If even a single one of them tried it and it worked, then their chain would have a huge advantage, they’d become rich, and everyone else would quickly follow suit.

          [I think the correct way to tell that joke is that one economist claims that a $100 bill has been lying on the ground of a major public walkway in plain sight for the past ten years, and if the other economist gives him $10, he’ll tell her where it is. The proper response would be “I am skeptical of your story because that’s a pretty long time for people to go without picking up such an obvious reward”]

          I agree that companies are run by fallible humans, but you’re not claiming a general failure of fallible humans to figure this out. You’re claiming that all the political activists are smart enough to know that raising wages would be good for companies, but none of the executives who have studied economics for years are able to figure this out, even though it’s their whole job to read the same papers you’ve read and evaluate their conclusions.

          If this were actually the way the world worked, then activists could get together, start a fast food chain, and use their superior understanding of economics and business strategy to totally wipe the floor with everyone else. I’m not saying this in a confrontational “you haven’t done this, therefore you have no right to complain” way, I’m saying it to try to put into perspective how surprising it would be if this were correct.

          Your definition of “wage compression” is different from others I have read and I don’t want to comment on it until I have looked into it further.

          Unlike the $1000 minimum wage thing, demand decreasing as prices increase *is* something I would expect to be nearly linear. The only reason this might not be true is if fast food is “sticky” – if people are used to buying X amount of fast food now and so they keep buying the same amount when prices go up. That would make me wonder what size increase things are sticky over, and how long they stay sticky.

          I’m not sure why you think it’s “illogical” to believe that a company selling fewer products would cause them to employ fewer people. Maybe this is another misunderstanding, either mine or yours.

          Neumark and Waschler may be ideologues (your blog article is ambiguous between N&W participating in the secret research and them being the ones to correct/disprove the secret research, and when I click through to the original article to try to clarify it’s no longer online and isn’t on archive.org) but dismissing people who disagree with you as biased and therefore not bothering to refute what they say is dangerous and you can almost always find some tidbit of evidence to confirm how biased they are.

          When you say “I’d want to see their findings replicated by other economists – preferably some not in the pay of the fast-food industry – before I’d take it to be more authoritative than what literally dozens of other economists have found” – have you read Belman and Wolfson’s meta-analysis? The meta-analysis by the London School of Economics and the Central Bank of Turkey? Meer & West 2013? These are just the meta-analyses – collections of hundreds many smaller studies. If you want single studies, of course there are dozens (of varying quality). This is why three days ago the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog (noted for its near-perfect partisan balance) declared Obama’s claim that there’s no evidence that minimum wage increases will cost jobs to be untrue.

          I’ve already told you I provisionally accept the research in favor of minimum wage not costing jobs, I’m just not 100% convinced and await future research. I’m not sure what else you want from me? Saying I’m 100% sure and all the studies that say otherwise must be done by ideologues and all future research in this field should be banned?

        • I’m not sure what else you want from me? Saying I’m 100% sure and all the studies that say otherwise must be done by ideologues and all future research in this field should be banned?

          No, of course not. Nor did anything I wrote even REMOTELY suggest such a thing.

          I’m sorry I failed to acknowledge the line where you said that you accept the evidence provisionally. You’re right that this is a reasonable attitude, and I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise by disagreeing with the logic of a specific sentence you wrote.

          With all due respect, I feel you’ve gotten hostile, and I’m going to bow out of any further participation in this thread.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I guess the part about supporting minimum wages was in my post above and not in the comments. Sorry for not making that clearer.

          I’m sorry if I sounded hostile. Rereading my post, the only thing I think could come off that way was the “all future studies should be banned” thing, and I’m sorry for that. If there’s more, please let me know so I can recalibrate my tone.

          Thank you in general for being an interesting person to talk to and presenting good counterarguments.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Scott, Barry mentioned meta-analysis before you did. There is a huge difference in the methodology of the one he cited from the ones you cited. The ones you cited combine the data and try to extract a number and a p-value. The one he cited examines the studies for internal consistency. If there were a real effect, it would be the same in all the studies and the p-values would be smaller for larger studies. Instead, all the p-values are 0.05 and the effects are smaller in larger studies.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Douglas, I was under the impression that at least Belman and Wolfson dealt with those same issues, but this may be my poor understanding of statistical concepts talking.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Yes, that paper, and also the paper Barry cited, takes the position that empirical economics is a fraud, but it can extract an answer. Well, of course if it’s a fraud it can produce an answer. Indeed, the two papers produce two answers.

          My main point was that it was obnoxious for your to lecture Barry on meta-analyses when he had brought them up first. Also, you complain that he dismisses one study, just because the authors have been caught fabricating data and then you invoke a meta-analysis saying that the effect is not zero, but 1/10 as big as the study he dismissed.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Also, don’t link to NBER bullshit when you could link to public papers. You know about google scholar don’t you?

        • Damien says:

          “The theory that says they should seems pretty sound”

          How about the theory that saving money is good for you? Seems pretty sound, but if everyone does it at once the economy tanks. Fallacy of composition, and circular flows. I don’t think there’s a minimum wage equivalent to Keynesianism yet, but the idea that microeconomics breaks down when you’re adjusting the price of a large percentage of the economy is plausible to me. Supply and demand curves work for isolated goods; when raising minimum wages does a lot to increase the demand for minimum wage-paid goods, then those curves don’t apply easily.

          Also, looking at unemployment rates (higher with lower education), it may be that the minimum wage sector has almost always been depressed, in a sense, and thus is ripe for cheap and easy improvement via stimulus of sorts.

        • No, you mentioned supporting minimum wage in the comments, too – just a couple of comments upstream.

          I’m sorry if I sounded hostile. Rereading my post, the only thing I think could come off that way was the “all future studies should be banned” thing, and I’m sorry for that. If there’s more, please let me know so I can recalibrate my tone.

          Apology accepted, and I apologize in turn for being oversensitive.

          I don’t have time today for a detailed back-and-forth, but I may return to these comments later, in my work allows. Thanks for hosting a good discussion.

    • Cyan says:

      If you know much about the food industry, you know that the profit margin is very slim, and if you know anything about franchises, you know the franchise fees are large – not to mention utilities, inventory, and insurance…

      Oh man, I love it when representatives of the entrepreneurial class whine that life is so hard under capitalism. Hee hee hee. Slim profit margins? That’s a feature, not a bug. Profit margins are only large in the absence of well-functioning highly competitive markets. (Profit margins are zero in the idealized case of a frictionless market with competition.)

      Now, every so often, the state in all its ineffable wisdom would come along and say, you horrible cheap employers, you have to pay your employees a higher minimum wage!

      Of course employers are cheap! The ones who aren’t go out of business. That doesn’t make y’all horrible though; that’s just the way the system is supposed to work. But don’t pretend that giving raises makes an employer non-cheap – that too is just sound practice for retaining good workers.

      Prices went up all over town, and even the people who got the forced pay raises weren’t actually better off, because everything cost more. People who didn’t get raises were worse off.

      Everything cost more? No – everything for which demand is price-inelastic and minimum wage labor is a significant factor of production cost more.

      The most price-inelastic consumption goods are the essentials: food, shelter, and clothing. Food might be a wash, but shelter would be cheaper in real terms; I don’t know about clothing. So to a first approximation, after a minimum wage hike, minimum wage earners get to retain a proportion of the extra wages equal to the proportion of their budget that goes to housing expenses. I don’t have any quibbles about calling that “compassion”.

      You can be certain that if they walked in and found their favorite meal, which they ALWAYS paid $3.95 for, was now $4.15 overnight, it made them angry. Their standard of living had effectively been reduced.

      So business owners have apparently never learned to set expectations by warning customers of coming price hikes? Nope, not buying that — inflation’s been around for a long time.

      Go on, raise the minimum wage to $15/hr. Raise it to $100/hr. When we’re all paying $5 for an apple and $8 for a loaf of bread, we can pat ourselves on the back for the compassion squeezed from us under penalty of law.

      Nominal dollars are different from inflation-adjusted dollars. You know that, right? (And you know why we need stable inflation, right?)

      • Randy M says:

        Everything cost more? No – everything for which demand is price-inelastic and minimum wage labor is a significant factor of production cost more.

        and that is made where the law takes effect.

        • Cyan says:

          Yes, right. I was going to start speculating that the labor that goes into clothing for sale in the US comes from Asian sweatshops, so the clothing budget would be immune to a wage-hike-induced price hike, but I decided to just leave it at “I don’t know.”

        • Andy says:

          I was going to start speculating that the labor that goes into clothing for sale in the US comes from Asian sweatshops,

          And you’d pretty much be right, with a few exceptions. About 98% of our clothing comes from other countries. The garment mass-production companies that I know operate on US soil (mostly here in Los Angeles) rely on non-union immigrant labor.

      • Anonymous says:

        (Profit margins are zero in the idealized case of a frictionless market with competition.)

        Um, just economic profits (taking opportunity cost into account), not accounting/nominal profits, which seem to be what we’re talking about here.

    • Andy says:

      I find myself baffled at the idea that “the government” can just give people money, as if all money belongs to the government in the first place. I can’t speak more of that, because I can’t get my brain around it. But I can speak from experience (or at least first-hand observation) of the issue of minimum wage and forced raises in the same.

      And yet current governments give people money All. The. Time. Taking money from people (via taxes, fees, etc) and giving it to people (as welfare, but also subsidies, and payments for things like asphalt and buildings and tanks and airplanes, and paychecks for soldiers and police and planners and post office workers) is pretty much what government does.
      I think of the government’s role in this scenario as analogous to the heart in a human body – it pumps blood (money) around the entire organism (the economy.)
      Though in this case the heart would also be the bone marrow, since all our current US dollars originated with the government, which created them and with a tear in its eye sent them out into the world to be earned and spent and stolen and lost.

    • Damien says:

      “I find myself baffled at the idea that “the government” can just give people money, as if all money belongs to the government in the first place. I can’t speak more of that, because I can’t get my brain around it.”

      The gov’t gets money through taxes, obviously. If it can tax for police and the military, it can tax for welfare.

      Forget money, and go back to the basics of forming a society. A group of people come together and need to figure out how they’ll survive. Requiring that everyone chip in 20% of their labor/time for public goods like roads, seawalls, and defense, seems pretty reasonable to me, and more likely to lead to group survival than a bunch of isolated individuals. Allocating that labor to health care, care for those who can’t care for themselves, and other welfare goods is likewise defensible.

    • MugaSofer says:

      Out of interest, how do you expect Guaranteed Basic Income – which Scott actually endorses – to work out, based on this experience?

  22. Patrick says:

    “If the workers do $8 worth of work for the company, and the government makes them pay $15, it’s the equivalent of fining companies $7 an hour for hiring poor people.”

    The fact that someone is paid $8 an hour does not mean that they are doing “$8 worth of work.” Free markets do not work that way unless you’re defining this as “$8 worth of work” because that’s what the market bears, in which case the latter half of your sentence doesn’t follow.

    If you know someone is earning $8 an hour, all that tells you is that the overall value to the employer of having this person on staff is some amount greater than $8 an hour. This is a > not a =.

    The value of the work you perform (from the perspective of your employer) is not the amount you get paid because your employer earns a profit on your labor or else doesn’t hire you. In fact, the value of the work you perform may be far from the amount you are paid, depending on the relative bargaining power between you and your employer when your wages are determined.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m assuming some level of market competition preventing people from squeezing too much out of their employees.

      • lmm says:

        Is the labour market actually liquid enough for this to be realistic?

      • Patrick says:

        If you’re analyzing the labor market for minimum wage employees, you should stop making that assumption.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Agreed. If people are even ready to work jobs like these due to a lack of better alternatives, then I think it’s fair to say that there “some level of market competition preventing people from squeezing too much out of their employees” isn’t present.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’m curious what you mean.

          Suppose a marginal worker increases McDonalds profits by $10.

          McDonalds won’t pay them more than $10; that would be stupid.

          Suppose it could get away with paying them $5 (suppose there’s no minimum wage in this world) and pocket $5 profit. Burger King could then pay its workers $5 and instead of pocketing $5 profit, pass the savings on to customers. Burger King would be much cheaper than McDonalds and no one would go to McDonalds any more. Therefore, McDonalds cannot get away with paying them $5 – if it could, it would be forced to already be doing so.

          Where does that argument go wrong?

        • Patrick says:

          what is this i don’t even

          “If you’re analyzing the labor market for minimum wage employees, you should stop making that assumption.”

          “Suppose it could get away with paying them $5 (suppose there’s no minimum wage in this world) and pocket $5 profit.”

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Oh I see, but why should we stop making that assumption? Competition does exist.

        • Patrick says:

          Yes, but it isn’t the only thing that exists. If your theory of pricing requires that you omit all mention of supply and demand and all mention of setting prices based on maximizing profit via supply and demand curves, you’re probably doing it wrong. These things are also not the only things that exist. But they do exist and they do matter.

          Further, competition doesn’t just happen on one side of the isle. Workers also compete to offer cheaper labor (when an applicant factors in concerns about a possible employer hiring someone else if they demand too much money, that’s what they are doing). Minimum wage exists explicitly because competition also exists as to wages, and because at the low end of the wager spectrum where labor is cheap and easily replaceable, an unregulated race to the bottom in wage competition ends in sweatshops, subsistence agriculture, serfdom, and slavery.

          So, yeah. The marginal value of hiring an employee has an effect on that employees wages. But it isn’t the only thing that has an effect on them, and its fairly easy to decouple the two. For crying out loud, sometimes industries that employ unskilled labor see industry wide rises in profitability for reasons other than productivity gains- say, because their product is in greater demand. If the just-so story being offered was all that mattered, that wouldn’t happen because they’d just compete away the gain.

          I don’t even want to get into the reality of informal collusion between businesses to avoid competitive death spirals of price cutting. You’d think it would be really, really, REALLY easy to explain that to someone who works in medicine. But its late and I’m tired and somehow I doubt it will be so easy in practice.

        • Kibber says:

          > I doubt it will be so easy in practice.

          Would probably be much easier if you tried to explain it in terms of McDonaldses, dollars and Burger Kings instead of serfdoms, slaveries and crying-out-louds.

  23. Blogospheroid says:

    I don’t disagree much with what is presented here. One cannot completely disregard systemic ways in which people’s opportunities are being suppressed.

    Pay your basic income guarantee/wage subsidy out of a land tax. That will ensure that the value of land remains low and people who want to start enterprises can do so easier.

    Make laws simpler and remove unnecessary work regulations that prevent the poor and the low IQ people from starting a trade.

    Have money supply injected into the economy by providing every adult with an equal amount of money or an equal non-collateral loan.

    –End of mini rant

    You can check out

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Sounds mostly reasonable, except I don’t understand why a land tax would make the value of land lower. Doesn’t taxing something raise its price?

      • James James says:

        Neither. Land taxes do not reduce the value of land, they just transfer some of that value to the state. They don’t increase the cost of land because land is perfectly inelastic (they’re not making it any more).

        (N.B. The objection that a very small amount of land is in fact being produced does not work. Land Value Tax is misnamed. It should be called Location Value Tax. People might be making artificial islands to put airports on, but they are not making new real estate in the centre of London.)

        Imagine renting a piece of land for £100k/year. The government introduces a tax on that land of £50k a year. The rent you pay does not change at all, because the location is perfectly inelastic. The landlord just has to hand over half of the rent to the govt. The incidence of LVT is entirely on landlords.

        Since the land is now worth only £50k/year *to the landlord*, its resale value is halved. But the total value of the land is the same, it’s just that the govt now “owns” half of it.

        • James James says:

          “a land tax… will ensure that the value of land remains low and people who want to start enterprises can do so easier.”

          So no, it won’t. Rents will remain exactly the same, just part of them will go to the govt instead of the landlord. This can be demonstrated in the complete failure of cargo-cult “enterprise zones” in the UK. Instead of cutting regulations and taxes on income, they cut land taxes, predictably having no effect on business at all — just diverting rents from the govt to landlords.

          Abolishing all income and sales taxes would be very good for business, and you could fund it by LVT which is not bad for business. Not only are you getting rid of the deadweight costs of income and sales taxes, but LVT has a small benefit because it encourages unproductive people to occupy less land. Occupying land has a negative externality on everyone else, because any location you occupy prevents others from occupying it, which is a cost on them.

        • Ryan Reich says:

          Actually, they are (were) making new land in the center of London (New York): it’s called Battery Park City and it’s built on what used to be under the WTC. I assume similar things have happened elsewhere.

        • Zakharov says:

          Is it actually possible for the government to earn enough from LVT to replace income & sales tax income?

        • James James says:

          Ryan, that’s just building a taller house on some land. Under LVT, if all the houses are two storeys high, then the LVT bill for a plot of land will be a certain amount, and it will be possible to make super-profits by building a four-storey house. But if everyone does it then the LVT bill will go up. If everyone has a four-storey house and you only have a two-storey, your bill will go up too. A professional landlord/developer will be forced to add a couple of storeys to cover the tax bill.

          One problem with LVT is how to price it. The state wants to tax the land rents but not tax the productive enterprise of the building. But since the organisation that collects the rents (the state) and the organisation that gets the money to maintain the building (the developer) are different people, there is a danger of overtaxing. It’s not a hugely difficult problem to avoid, but if the state overtaxes and starts taxing the building as well as the land, then the developer will not be able to afford to maintain the building and it’s unsustainable.

          Zakharov: “Is it actually possible for the government to earn enough from LVT to replace income & sales tax income?”

          I think so, but it’s right to be skeptical. Nonetheless, this isn’t a problem. First, institute a complete LVT. All existing land rents are diverted to the govt. You can stop now if you like.

          Then, start to abolish other taxes, gradually if you like. I expect reductions in revenue from other taxes to be more than matched by increases in LVT. It may turn be the case that it takes a variety of taxes for the state to capture the high percentage of output that it currently does. So the states revenues as a percentage of GDP may go down. But since we’re abolishing all transaction taxes, huge dead-weight costs are eliminated and the economy will grow, lots.

          You’ll notice that I refer to income taxes and sales taxes as “transaction taxes”. That’s because they are. Land taxes and head taxes (poll taxes) you have to pay regardless of your productivity, which is good because then the state is not taxing productivity. Poll taxes aren’t very nice — you have to pay them to stay alive, and the only way to avoid them is to leave the country — whereas with LVT you can reduce your tax bill by occupying less land. LVT is a Pigouvian tax.

          The interesting question to me is, what role do landlords play in the reigning political formula? Is LVT politically possible? Historically, Kings relied on their fellow-landowner nobles. This is evidence against the viability of LVT. Hong Kong is evidence for: all land is leasehold except the Cathedral. How do we get there?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          If a parcel of land cost $100,000, and the government put a $50,000 tax on it, why wouldn’t the landlord raise rent to $150,000? Doesn’t he have good reason to think all the other landlords will be doing this? Isn’t this what happens when the government taxes cigarettes or something?

          And although land can’t be created, you always have the option of not buying it. If I were thinking of buying a big tract of land to buy a farm, and then I learned that the land would be heavily taxed and so decrease my income, I might just not buy that land and decide to do some business that doesn’t require land, like Internet marketing. Wouldn’t this distort the price?

        • Eric Rall says:

          If every landlord raises their rents to cover the tax, then that’s a pretty big incentive for tenants to economize on their consumption of land by using less space (taking on roommates, etc). That would lead to a shortage of tenants from the perspective of landlords, and landlords would respond by bidding down their rents back to equilibrium prices, which standard econ predicts would be just about the same as the old pre-tax rents.

        • James James says:

          “If a parcel of land cost $100,000, and the government put a $50,000 tax on it, why wouldn’t the landlord raise rent to $150,000? Doesn’t he have good reason to think all the other landlords will be doing this? Isn’t this what happens when the government taxes cigarettes or something?”

          No. If the landlord thought he could get away with charging $150,000, he would do so already. This is orthodox economic theory — see the graph on the wikipedia article on Land Value Tax. The supply curve for that location is vertical. The tax shifts the supply curve downwards, which makes no difference because it is vertical. The incidence of the tax is entirely on the landlord.

          “And although land can’t be created, you always have the option of not buying it. If I were thinking of buying a big tract of land to buy a farm, and then I learned that the land would be heavily taxed and so decrease my income, I might just not buy that land and decide to do some business that doesn’t require land, like Internet marketing. Wouldn’t this distort the price?”

          Begging the question. If land taxes do affect rents then your objection holds. If land taxes don’t affect rents, then it doesn’t: a land-intensive business will have higher land costs regardless of whether land is taxed or not.

          Think of a land tax as a one-off confiscation of land (taxing land rents is economically equivalent to confiscating it). Everyone who owns land loses out, everyone who doesn’t own land is unaffected. (Though they would benefit from the subsequent abolition of income tax.) A one-off wealth tax does not affect the economy iff people think it will never happen again. With capital taxes, people will think it will happen again, and it will make them less likely to invest. But with land tax, the government cannot confiscate land more than once.

        • Xycho says:

          “Think of LVT as a one-off confiscation of land” – this is exactly why the idea of LVT puts me off this philosophy. There’s a lot of libertarianism I agree with, but the implication there (that the government, and by extension society, should be granted the privilege of just deciding to take whatever it wants, in a way that almost exclusively benefits people who are not the people the [whatever] is taken from) is horrendous. Moreover, it would be near-unavoidable. Liquid assets, and even low-volume goods, can be obfuscated, disposed of, invested or otherwise secured against confiscation and distribution – land cannot be practically subjected to a similar process.

          It is possible to be accepting of, though not cheerful about, taxes in general because there are concrete benefits; a strong national defence force, protection against violent crime (private forces would be preferable, but local government-funded police forces are acceptable), sewage management, road systems and so on function much better when centralised. Benefit received, payment made in the form of taxes; as long as the government is represented as just another corporation providing a service it all makes sense.

          Land value taxes effectively constitute a massive disincentive to the most practical passive-income arrangement (the letting of commercial and agricultural property), while providing no significant benefit to those affected by it. This is roughly equivalent to walking into McDonalds, handing them £100 and saying “the next thirty people’s burgers are on me”. Perhaps if you’re the sort of person who gets warm fuzzies from such an action you win, but it’s the kind of activity which should be optional, and neither stigmatised or encouraged.

    • Paul Torek says:

      Left-libertarianism without the land value tax is like orange juice without sunshine. Or something like that. It’s an ethical and economic no-brainer. Only problem is, as James James points out, it sure looks to be politically impossible. But that pretty much applies to left-libertarianism as a whole — which doesn’t take away the attraction.

  24. Blogospheroid says:

    last one wasn’t formatted correctly. You can google for Morgan Warstler guaranteed income. He has worked out a few details in the wage subsidy scheme and looks better oriented for skill building than a standard BIG.

  25. David Barry says:

    The term I usually think of for this sort of thing is ‘left liberalism’. I don’t know how well that term works in the US — liberalism for me carries with it connotations of ‘classical liberal’, but perhaps for Americans it’s too close to ‘liberal’ in the left-wing sense (especially when used as an adjective, ‘left-liberal’).

    As some other commenters have pointed out, the political philosophy (whatever you call it) is pretty common amongst economists. Not all of them, by any means, but there are Nobel laureates like Krugman and Stiglitz who’d fit pretty neatly inside a left-liberal umbrella.

  26. Others might support both free markets and a social safety net. You could call them “welfare capitalists”. I ran a Google search and some of them seem to call themselves “bleeding heart libertarians”. I would call them “correct”

    Would you now?

    What then is your opinion on thousand page bills that generate ten thousand page regulations. Obviously these substitute government decision making for markets, prices, and private decision making, with all the usual disastrous consequences of socialism, as described by Hayek, as dramatized by Ayn Rand. Ten thousand page regulations which don’t work and are then illegally changed by ad hoc executive decrees are what Ayn Rand depicted.

    Substituting government decision making for private decision making is hard, indeed impossibly complicated, and this has become obvious with the failed implementation of each of these thousand page bills, the latest being Obamacare.

    In the event that you commit crime think about thousand page bills, you will not be able to post this crimethink.

    • Do you think he’s stupid?

    • Andy says:

      In the event that you commit crime think about thousand page bills, you will not be able to post this crimethink.

      And yet you just did… The black helicopters will be at your location in 15 minutes. Please do not attempt to flee or resist. You will be assimilated.

      I kid. Somewhat.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I can’t tell if you’re agreeing with me in a confrontational way, or disagreeing with me while saying approximately the same things I am.

      • I see:

        So you are going to say that you oppose Obamacare, Sarbannes Oxley, the farm bill, Dodd Frank, and all the rest of those gigantic piles of micromanagement?

        Say it: Any bill longer than a thousand pages is a manifestation socialism, and socialism always winds strangling itself in disfunctional red tape and Obamacare is socialism, and all its crises the typical crises of socialism.

        • Andy says:

          Any bill longer than a thousand pages is a manifestation socialism, and socialism always winds strangling itself in disfunctional red tape and Obamacare is socialism, and all its crises the typical crises of socialism.

          I think this is an incredibly sloppy and simple-minded approach to public policy. Set a flat page limit? Do you have a font size, and line-spacing requirements for this rule?
          I looked at the Building Code for the city where I go to school (Long Beach, CA) since I could find the Building Code in one nice PDF-block at http://www.lbds.info/building/engineering_n_development_services/building_codes.asp and with what I estimate to be 12-point font, single-spaced, it runs to 358 pages. Set it to double-space and it’s up to 716 pages. Increase the font size a bit, add definitions from other parts of the Municipal Code, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it went over 1000 pages.
          And that’s a building code. It regulates how buildings are built. It is not within a light-year of “social ownership of the means of production.”
          Now let’s turn to Obamacare, which seems to be your bete noir. It’s a law regulating health care, which is one of the most complicated sectors, if not the most complicated sector of our economy. And the law has to cover all kinds of edge cases and so forth. No wonder it’s over 1000 pages.

  27. @johnwbh says:

    Arguably this is what the 1997 UK Labour government’s “third way” policies were about, achieving left wing objectives via the free market. y

    Policies like this are moderately mainstream in European social democrat movements, though whether they use solutions like this or more blunt instruments is generally decided on an ad hoc political basis.

  28. Scott, if you are not already reading him, I think you would enjoy Chris Dillow’s writing who combines this kind of political position with an emphasis on cognitive bias’es and a Marxist background. He calls himself a market socialist, which is, admittedly not much of a starter in the US but a nice term to consider/play around with.

  29. hf says:

    Certainly a Martian actor is unqualified to play Abraham Lincoln in a historical biopic.

    As a science-fiction fan, I strongly disagree.

  30. Jake says:

    “Some people might oppose both free markets and a social safety net. I don’t know if there’s a name for this philosophy, but it sounds kind of like fascism”

    If you’d like a slightly less boo-light name, might I suggest “mercantilist”? Pretty much all states from Sumer to about 1830 heavily regulated private enterprise, and while they often had a minimal safety net (panem et circenses, the Elizabethan Poor Laws), they weren’t exactly motivated by modern notions of economic justice.

    • This might be a good place to ask– I’ve wondered whether opposition to immigration might include merchantile ideas. There seems to be a notion that only the money immigrants get paid matters, and the useful work they contribute doesn’t.

  31. Vladimir Slepnev says:

    > And bigoted Earthlings who just really don’t like Martians… can stand by their “principles” as long as they’re willing to pay a little extra.

    You just said that you’re going to raise the fee until they start hiring Martians, so calling it “little” seems misleading.

    • Erik says:

      “If there’s a single hardline nationalist Earthlings-only employer and everyone else is indifferent, then the tax on hiring Earthlings will rise indefinitely.”
      Is that your point? I’m not sure if I’m interpreting this concern correctly.

      My response is that they wouldn’t stay indifferent: as the tax on hiring Earthlings goes up, other employers will start to prefer hiring Martians.

      Although that in turn undercuts another part of the argument:

      If they find that companies are more likely to accept Martian resumes now, then prejudice has decreased and the tax can decrease as well.

      Prejudice has decreased or the tax has increased. (Unless prejudice in this context is measured only in terms of actions.)

      • Vladimir Slepnev says:

        > Is that your point?

        Well, that’s a special case. The more general version is that under the most straightforward interpretation of Scott’s plan, the amount paid by prejudiced employers isn’t bounded (it depends on the number of prejudiced employers, the strength of prejudice and other things), so Scott shouldn’t say it’s small. Or he should make an argument why it’s small. I agree that it’s small if prejudiced employers are a tiny minority, but in that case we don’t need much social change in the first place.

  32. lmm says:

    The free market has a problem with discrimination! Let’s solve it by adding more free market!

    Companies already pay for discrimination, in exact proportion to how much they discriminate – if you won’t hire a Martian unless they’re 30% better than the alternative Earthling, you end up (in the perfect market we’re assuming here) with workers who are 30% less productive. The invisible hand clearly doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do here. Adding another level of financial penalty and then trusting the free market smells like dividing the cake “fairly” by giving George 5/9 and the other two 2/9 each.

    • dhill says:

      I didn’t think of that, but this gets to the point like no other reply. +1

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Adding another level of financial penalty makes the penalty obvious to the people doing the hiring, whereas not having allows them to think that they’re just rejecting unqualified candidates. And the “base” level of penalty probably isn’t large enough to noticeably favor all the non-prejudiced companies, given that it’s just one minor thing out of countless that cause the efficiency of companies to vary. (Especially since one might expect prejudice and ruthless business practices to correlate, in which case prejudice with correlate with efficiency, further diminishing the average impact.)

    • Patrick says:

      ” if you won’t hire a Martian unless they’re 30% better than the alternative Earthling, you end up (in the perfect market we’re assuming here) with workers who are 30% less productive”

      Not necessarily. If all workers are roughly equally productive and it is impossible for a worker to be 30% more productive than his colleagues in his field, you just end up with a lot of unemployed Martians.

    • Ryan Reich says:

      In addition to what Patrick says, note also that prospective employees aren’t necessarily chosen in one-on-one matchups. There’s a bunch of Earthlings, and a bunch of Martians all seeking a job; even if there’s a Martain who’s 30% better than the average Earthling in that pool, one would expect (by symmetry) that there is also an Earthling 30% better than the Martians, and that one will get hired. If there’s only one position then the company doesn’t lose out.

    • Companies already pay for discrimination, in exact proportion to how much they discriminate – if you won’t hire a Martian unless they’re 30% better than the alternative Earthling, you end up (in the perfect market we’re assuming here) with workers who are 30% less productive. The invisible hand clearly doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do here.

      See, that’s the question! I would expect there to be at least one company with enough of an interest in optimizing its hiring practices that it would’ve already looked into this. Certainly some did during segregation — IBM, for one. Has this happened? What were the results? Then again: what results, if gotten, would be more likely to be made available, and what would be more likely to be suppressed?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I continue to be mystified why this “wait for the market to correct prejudice” thing doesn’t work, but apparently it doesn’t.

      We can either shrug and decide that in some mysterious way there’s no problem, do affirmative action, or do a tax like the one above. And the first option is a political no-go anyway. I think the tax is the best choice, although I’d be a lot more comfortable if I understood what was going on to make it necessary.

      • Jack says:

        I continue to be mystified why this “wait for the market to correct prejudice” thing doesn’t work

        That’s a very good question, and I feel I _should_ understand it even though I don’t. I agree with you that that’s what the evidence says, so we should accept it even if we don’t completely understand WHY.

        Thinking about it, there are lots of methodologies that are better, but not so much better that everyone can immediately see that from their own experience. And when you’re a manager, you’re flooded with *hundreds* of potential methodologies. I can see this in software all the time: lots of methodologies are common now that were niche ten years ago. But if Company A is successful, and they adopted policies A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H… and rejected policies M, N, O, P, Q…. it’s very hard to see if policy A is good or not.

        The only thing that tells you is a large statistical study.

        The results of large studies trickle through to managers very slowly, and containing much data from garbage studies.

        Is that a plausible description?

      • Evolution needs variation to work on– if there aren’t enough unprejudiced employers, then the erosion of prejudice doesn’t happen.

        Also, if prejudice is sufficiently pervasive, then less prejudiced employers will be punished by customers, prejudiced employees, and possibly suppliers.

      • Given that IBM began its corrections right around the time desegregation hit, it may be that the markets are about as slow to update politics as the government is. In which case, well, it’s been how many decades since the government instituted, at the very least, preferential buying from minority-owned companies?

        Admittedly, that’s only one data point, but it may be possible to estimate market speed relative to government speed if more data points are considered.

      • Damien says:

        ‘I continue to be mystified why this “wait for the market to correct prejudice” thing doesn’t work, but apparently it doesn’t.’

        What’s the expected timescale of correction? If it’s a lifetime or two then there’ll be lots of suffering while you’re waiting for market forces to work.

      • lmm says:

        To me the tax proposal sounds like that definition of stupidity: doing the same thing we already tried, that didn’t work (even though we thought it should). Affirmative action is a different mechanism so seems like a more reasonable response, as does noticing that we are seriously confused here and being very cautious about trying to use economics to make policy suggestions.

        • Raoul says:

          If you gave someone an underdose of antibiotics and it didn’t work, you wouldn’t want to conclude that antibiotics are useless.

          Potential reasons why this issue hasn’t been dealt with so far (I have no expertise in this and haven’t run a search, so I’m sure that some of these suggestions have holes and that there are better suggestions out there):
          (1) Firm death is mostly down to luck, so small differences in efficiency don’t exert much selective pressure.
          (2) Mismatches between the incentives of the people doing the hiring and of the company that they work for. People making decisions in large companies are rarely rewarded for slightly increasing the chance that the company will still be around in 20 years. It’s much more important to look like you’re making good decisions. Even if a black person is better at the job, the people doing performance reviews, etc. could rate them lower, either for conscious or unconscious reasons.
          (3) Larger companies will be hiring a lot of people, with decisions on who to employ taken by many individuals. No single hirer can make much difference to the company’s productivity, so no individual has much reason to try to make good decisions. And having worked in a large company, I doubt that most centrally-planned instructions will make much positive difference.
          (4) Discrimination by customers: Will they buy just as much off a black salesperson?
          (5) Racism in other staff leads to communication issues, etc. within the company, countering the increased productivity.

          Increasing the cost of racist hiring would lessen all of these. (1), (4) and (5) would be dealt with directly, while you’re likely to start to see bonuses based either directly or indirectly on the race of those you’re hiring, which would deal with (2) and (3).

          (I’m not entirely convinced on the policy though. I think that it would have an effect, but it would have side effects too.)

          Incidentally, I’m sure I’ve heard of some sort of study of English football (soccer) that found that when black players were first entering the game, teams with more black players did better on average than teams with similar characteristics but fewer black players, but that this effect has now disappeared, presumably because the teams no longer discriminate.

  33. Kaj Sotala says:

    I have expressed similar views before, and a couple of people have thought them characteristic of social liberalism. The Wikipedia description seems to roughly fit the bill: “Like classical liberalism, it endorses a market economy and the expansion of civil and political rights and liberties, but differs in that it believes the legitimate role of the government includes addressing economic and social issues such as poverty, health care and education.”

    Though I just use “somewhere between right-wing socialist and left libertarian” as my Facebook “political views” field.

  34. Magnus Keen says:

    Shouldn’t you also study whether Earthlings and Martians with identical resumes have identical job performances? Isn’t this morally relevant?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Sure.

      • Magnus Keen says:

        I guess I was too glib.

        What does discrimination even mean in a context where martians with identical resumes don’t do as well?

        If they did 1000 times worse, obviously it wouldn’t be unethical to use this information. If they did 1.2 times worse, it does seem ethically dubious.

        • lmm says:

          Really? It seems weird to rule out any piece of evidence about competence, no matter how big or small the effect is.

          • I guess I was too glib. What does discrimination even mean in a
            context where martians with identical resumes don’t do as well? If
            they did 1000 times worse, obviously it wouldn’t be unethical to use
            this information. If they did 1.2 times worse, it does seem ethically dubious.

            Really? It seems weird to rule out any piece of evidence about competence, no matter how big or small the effect is.

            We are talking in code about real life. What is the real life difference?

            In surveys of the financial crisis, it was admitted that blacks with the same credit rating, income, and assets, as whites, were three times as likely to default on their mortgages. (What was not admitted was that best black recipients of loans seldom had as good credit rating and assets as the worst white recipients of loans, though there was reasonable overlap in income)

            Thus, on the face of it, blackness a stronger indicator of chance of default than bad credit rating. Makes more sense to give loans to all whites and no blacks, than to all people with good credit rating regardless of race.

            Of course there are quite a lot of stupid white criminals living on welfare and using their obamaphones to tweet their muggings, so should not give any relevant single factor overwhelming weight, or any relevant factor zero weight.

            But of the two stupid policies, giving race no weight at all, and giving nothing except race any weight at all, the latter stupid policy is the saner and more morally justified.

        • Army1987 says:

          @lmm:

          If a particular piece of evidence 1) would have very little effect (when controlling for everything else) for an ideal reasoner and 2) tends to be over-weighed by humans because of cognitive biases, then an ethical injunction against using it may have benefits outweighing the costs (though in general I’m not a big fan of fighting biases with biases).

  35. MugaSofer says:

    I really like this article – I agree with most of it, and you’re an engaging writer – but a lot of the arguments are really loose. Not up to your usual standards.

    (I’m assuming other commenters have already pointed out the specific flaws, but I’ll post any ones that got missed after I read through the comments.)

  36. naath says:

    Isn’t this the position that in the UK is sometimes called “Liberal”? (this is all very confused)

  37. Suppose BART work really can be done just as well by a cheap machine. Compare the current system – in which BART is prohibited from firing the workers and replacing them with the machine because that would be greedy – to a system where BART fired the workers, bought the machines, but continued giving the workers their old paychecks for no reason. BART gets the same profits either way. The workers get the same amount of money either way. The only difference is that the workers gain forty hours of free time a week.

    1) Minor point, but calling “BART is prohibited from firing the workers and replacing them with the machine because that would be greedy” “the current system” is grossly inaccurate.

    2) It’s not correct that “BART gets the same profits either way.” Automated systems are not costless; they have start-up costs and maintenance costs, and require new hires to handle the maintenance. So the costs of the system in which we paid all the current workers to stay home, but additionally paid for installing and maintaining automated systems, would be higher than current costs, and that extra expense would cut into BART profits.

    * * *

    Your discussion of McDonalds wages is, to put it mildly, conceptually sloppy. You say:

    No one denies that it’s pretty crappy to have to live on $8 or so an hour, which is about what fast food workers currently make. But if fast food workers get $15 not because they do $15 worth of work, but because we feel sad that they’re living on too little money, then once again it’s welfare.

    But if a union leverages its power within the system to get $15 an hour wages, then they are presumably doing $15 an hour worth of work, if we’re defining the worth of someone’s work as what the system pays them.

    To describe that as being paid $15 an hour “because we feel sad” is simply an inaccurate description of what happens when a union strikes for more money.

    It’s a more accurate (albeit rather trite) description of one argument for the minimum wage – but your example here isn’t the minimum wage, it’s a union strike. And if you are talking about the minimum wage, then you can’t really claim that garment workers are excluded from benefiting.

    (Incidentally, even without a minimum wage, if fast food pays $15 and many garment workers are qualified enough to apply for fast food jobs, that would put upward pressure on garment worker wages, and on low-skill wages in general).

    Without a minimum wage, “send them a check” is mostly a slightly disguised system of using tax dollars to subsidize McDonalds, by allowing McDonalds to pay much less for labor, since the taxpayers will be paying most of labor’s living costs. It means that the check we send has to be higher than it would be with a minimum wage, and that extra money is goes not to McDonalds workers, but to McDonalds owners.

    Now, maybe we should be increasing subsidies to McDonalds owners; that’s an outcome I could live with, if it’s the only politically feasible way to get libertarians to sign on to “send them a check” policies, and if libertarian support for such policies would make those policies law. But I doubt that most Americans actually prefer a system in which we subsidize McDonalds so that they don’t have to pay much for labor, to a system in which McDonalds has to pay a living wage to its employees.

    It encourages a system of “squeaky wheel gets the grease” in which “squeaky” means “go on strike a lot and act miserable”.

    Why is this a problem? The more unions go on strike, the more power will accrue to unions, and the better off workers in general and our economy as a whole will be (compared to a status quo in which employers and corporations have an overwhelming amount of power). That strikes have been very rare for the last thirty or forty years is a major problem, and a major reason that wages have been so flat.

    Strikes are not a bad thing, unless you believe that the status quo is perfectly just for all workers.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      Strikes are a bad thing. They hurt bystanders. A good system won’t involve frequent strikes.

      Frequent threats of strikes, maybe. Frequent invocations of third-party arbitration under a system negotiated via rare strikes, maybe.

      But frequent strikes mean something has gone wrong.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      1. It’s not the current system because as far as I know no such machines exist. Nevertheless, given that people are arguing that BART workers must be paid more because it is important to have good jobs for non-college graduates makes it look like something in the general category of “employ people and pay them good wages because we want people to have high-paying jobs” is going on.

      2. I specified that the machines were “cheap” because I wanted to do a very pure version of the thought experiment. In real life there would be small losses from the machines (arbitrarily small as the machines become more advanced) but it wouldn’t change the basic calculus.

      Re: unions – I specifically brought that point up at the bottom – CTRL-F “exogenous”. If I equivocate between the minimum wage and union strikes, it’s because as far as I can tell the fast food workers themselves are doing that and don’t have a single coherent plan. Right now my model of their strategy is getting popular opinion in their favor, turning that into pressure against the fast food companies, and they eventually cave in because they don’t want the bad publicity. I don’t know how accurate that is but after quite a bit of time Googling the issue I can’t find anything more definite. What do you think?

      Re: higher wages for fast food workers driving up wages for garment workers – good point. But the degree to which this happens is the degree to which there’s competition to get workers, and given the unemployment rate right now that degree is probably low. More likely the best workers will compete for a spot in fast food, the medium workers will get a spot in garment, and the rest will stay unemployed.

      Re: Subsidies to McDonalds – either you are misunderstanding me, I am misunderstanding you, or one of us misunderstands economics. The mechanism you’re talking about would seem to require that the factor preventing fast food companies from lowering wages is survival – that they have to keep wages artificially high or else their workers would literally starve to death and therefore not get work done. That seems wrong to me. If we send every poor person a $10,000 check, the ones with low expenses (maybe live with family or something) might drop out of the work force. The others will continue to be paid either the market value of their labor or the minimum wage, whichever is higher. McDonalds doesn’t get to cut its wages, and they still raise wages either when market value goes up or minimum wage goes up. How does McDonalds benefit at all? My prediction is that McDonalds would have to raise wages, because so many poor people with low expenses (or a second job) have dropped out of the workforce that it decreases supply of labor causing price of labor to go up.

      Re: strikes not a bad thing – the *results* of strikes may not be a bad thing – that is, it is nice for workers to have more money and more bargaining power. Strikes themselves are a horrible thing. They’re horrible for workers who have to go without making any money, sometimes for very long periods, without being able to search for another job or predict when the dry spell will end. They’re horrible for businesses who also don’t make any money and in some cases never regain the customers they lost – a big supermarket chain in my hometown closed down after a (resolved!) strike because in the months it was closed, everyone had gotten used to going to other supermarkets. And they’re horrible for consumers who occasionally wake up to find that the buses aren’t going to be running this week and so people without cars can’t get to work. And for citizens, who occasionally hear that the schools have closed down and their kids are going to miss a couple weeks of third grade and now they have to find daycares which are pretty expensive. Ask someone who lived in Italy back in the 70s (like my parents) about a culture where strikes are a natural part of daily life, and you will hear some pretty crazy stories.

      None of this is to say that the results of strikes (workers getting more money and benefits) is bad, but if there’s any way to achieve the same result without needing strikes, I think anyone who’s familiar with what strikes are like would take that one. Please don’t say that the only reason someone could be against having a society with lots of strikes is because “they think the status quo is perfect for all workers”, especially in a post that’s entirely about how there are better ways to solve problems for workers.

      • Randy M says:

        “Right now my model of their strategy is getting popular opinion in their favor, turning that into pressure against the fast food companies, and they eventually cave in because they don’t want the bad publicity.”

        On an off topic, game-theory tangent, it strikes occurs to me that strikes don’t serve to get popular approval, but rather to test it by forcing the customer to take a side (shop as normal, or observe the picket line) based on whom the customer can more readily identify with. Demonstrating to the management that other members of the public (potential workers or customers who might go elsewhere out of solidarity) agree iwth the strikers demands would prove a useful bargaining chip, but it is risky (in addition to inconvenient for all involved) to employ use the tactic because the added bother might alientate potential support.
        (incidental puns striken for clarity)

      • MugaSofer says:

        “Re: Subsidies to McDonalds – either you are misunderstanding me, I am misunderstanding you, or one of us misunderstands economics. The mechanism you’re talking about would seem to require that the factor preventing fast food companies from lowering wages is survival – that they have to keep wages artificially high or else their workers would literally starve to death and therefore not get work done. That seems wrong to me. If we send every poor person a $10,000 check, the ones with low expenses (maybe live with family or something) might drop out of the work force. The others will continue to be paid either the market value of their labor or the minimum wage, whichever is higher. McDonalds doesn’t get to cut its wages, and they still raise wages either when market value goes up or minimum wage goes up. How does McDonalds benefit at all? My prediction is that McDonalds would have to raise wages, because so many poor people with low expenses (or a second job) have dropped out of the workforce that it decreases supply of labor causing price of labor to go up.”

        This assumes that the value of such work to McDonalds is roughly equal to what they pay for it. Intuitively, it seems obvious that a worker who has no need to pay for food can charge less and outcompete the others.

        I have no idea which of these is true.

        I thought I knew, but then I started thinking about it, and now I just don’t understand economics.

  38. buddyglass says:

    Not sure if it’s been mentioned already, but I’m a fan of wage subsidies. Either applied directly or end-of-year at tax time (e.g. EITC). Preferably directly. For psychological reasons, the subsidy should be obscured from the recipients. It should “feel” like they’re just getting paid more rather than receiving “welfare”. The govt. could grant tax credits to employers based on the wages they pay their low-wage employees. At some threshold the credit would phase out completely. This would create a “de facto” minimum wage, equal to the amount of the tax credit + epsilon. So we could drop other minimum wage laws. This should be the primary avenue of providing welfare as opposed to all the piecemeal programs we currently have, many of which end up being utilized by folks who actually have jobs. Anyone who can’t work because or age or disability (or child care requirements, e.g. single mothers) get a straight up check. Also, the cutoff for “too old” should be higher than 65.

    One problem: giving checks to single mothers creates an incentive to cohabit instead of marry, since cohabiting confers many of the benefits of marriage w/o requiring the mother to give up her benefits. Would need to work around that somehow. Maybe rejigger the tax code so that it’s more favorable to married couples w/ kids.

    • AJD says:

      Why do we, the public, care if people decide to cohabit rather than marry?

      • AJD says:

        (That is to say, the policy regarding “single parents” need not be defined in terms of marriage per se.)

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Why do we, the public, care if people decide to cohabit rather than marry?

        Well, now that marriage has been reduced to a slightly more serious boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, which is easily dissolved and which unilaterally robs from the man and gives to the woman in the likely event of a breakup, I suppose it doesn’t much matter if they are cohabiting or marrying. Back when marriage was a lifetime commitment which granted a man a socially and legally recognized status as head of the household, with all the positive incentives and outcomes thereby implied, there was actually a reason to care.

      • buddyglass says:

        We don’t, per se, unless by cohabiting (as opposed to marrying) they can game the system for extra benefits.

    • Tom Womack says:

      At least in England, cohabiting requires the mother to give up her benefits too; it’s assumed that if someone shacks up with me for a month I’m going to provide her free board and lodging and therefore the State doesn’t have to. I find it hard to convince myself this is the right answer; maybe two can live as cheap as one.

  39. Randy M says:

    I think you place too much faith in the integrity of social scientists and beaurocrats to either come to a rational consensus on the true costs of things, from mostly concrete ones like mercury to more nebulous ones like irrational discrimination.

    I lean towards doing away with minimum wage in favor of more direct, less paternalistic form of welfare… and yet I worry about the dysgenic and anti-social effects of subsidizing those who can’t even muster a pleasant demeaner for 20 minutes and spell their name–though that’s not quite fair of me given the current economic climate, which is way I do say I lean towards basic income guarantee. Also, the one convincing argument in favor of public educationmay well apply to requiring people to be busy for extended stretches–at least it keeps them off the streets. But on the plus side, business would boom among thsoe who program the robots that repair the robots that make the X-Boxes.

    I’m also quite suspicious of your characterization of the Sultanate. That tax did not go along with social pressure to convert, favortism towards muslims, or the fear that a less tolerant Sultan would come along? There was only the tax, and not the occasional village burning or impaling, etc.?

    Notwithstanding these points, you have a pretty convincing arguument, though I think it basically boils down to “have rational incentices” and “consider trade-offs” and “consider longer term implications of policy, and do it quantitatively” whihc pretty much sounds similiar to conservative/libertarian economists like Thomas Sowell and probably others.

    (Sorry if this has all been said, but I wanted to comment while it was fresh; now on to the comments…)

    • Brian says:

      I’m also quite suspicious of your characterization of the Sultanate. That tax did not go along with social pressure to convert, favortism towards muslims, or the fear that a less tolerant Sultan would come along? There was only the tax, and not the occasional village burning or impaling, etc.?

      I’m unaware of any village burnings or impalings, but the jizya system did usually come with certain social pressures and second-class citizen status; Christians and Jews etc. were for example required to conduct religious ceremonies out of the eyes of Muslims, and to adhere to certain Islamic norms in public. My understanding is that these pressures were mild by the standards of the time — compared to the treatment of Jews under late medieval Catholicism, for example — but still considerably worse than modern secular liberalism would tolerate. It also initially applied only to “people of the Book”; followers of non-Abrahamic religions received harsher treatment, although it was eventually applied to other major religions in various areas.

      • Randy M says:

        Thanks, and I didn’t mean to imply that I know of those specifics, but was rather pulling examples that Scott quoted of Jim of more extreme effects that may occur as opposed to a simple, impersonal, and likely small tax.

  40. Jack says:

    That was fascinating. And I will save time by saying that I agree with almost all of it, to a greater or lesser extent, even the bits about Martians. And I’ve tentatively had similar thoughts starting from a somewhat different starting point, and very much enjoyed seeing it laid out thoughtfully (and wittily).

    However, I also have a long list of responses 🙂

    1. “Capitalism with welfare state” to me sounds like social democracy, or whatever we have in left-leaning European countries, especially Scandanavia. I know it sounds ridiculous to have the same political system described as “socialist” and “libertarian” but if it takes the best aspects of both… I’m not sure how much hypothetical welfare-libertarians and social-democrats are fundamentally different and how much they disagree on where we need more capitalism and where we need more government regulation? I’m really not sure, maybe we should make a list of where we need less (or more) government regulation and see where people disagree?

    After all, most people (even most people I know who are very left wing) want SOME capitalism, they just don’t like politics being controlled by giant oligopolies, which I think libertarians SHOULDN’T like either (but some people identify as libertarian while, to me, seeming blind to the problems of one company having too much power and no oversight).

    2. Minimum wage. After thinking about it for a while, my conclusion is that most people arguing for higher minimum wages implicitly or explicitly assume that minimum wage workers DO generate more than $X value for the company, but are paid less than that because Nty minimum-wage-paying companies have a lot more bargaining power than N hundred million minimum-wage workers. And that sounds very likely to me, though I haven’t worked the numbers. As someone said above, the free market is notoriously bad at correcting this sort of imbalance, and the assumption that it’s working isn’t automatically reliable: sometimes it gets stuck and needs a big kick.

    Alternatively, if it’s true that the jobs are essentially useless, I think a stealth tax on minimum-wage-paying companies to support people who need it (even if they’re not very good at their jobs) is better than the alternative, though . See point #3.

    3. I mostly agree with your view on automation. I feel conflicted about it, because I think in the short term it’s really awful (many people put out of work by the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, the computer revolution, etc, etc, did have their lives ruined or ended) but in the long term good (none of those revolutions resulted in PERMANENT 90% unemployment).

    I agree that an ideal solution would be a very generous safety net that meant “my job is obsolete and I need to retrain from scratch” is not a humiliating stigma, but a marvellous opportunity.

    But I think it’s important to recognise that preferring government-mandated jobs to welfare isn’t just something we do arbitrarily, it’s for lots of real reasons, like “if I lose this job, everyone assumes I’m a loser and will never hire me for anything like my current salary” and “people treat many unemployed people like scum” and “I want to contribute something to society” and “if I have a job, I have some protection, but if I’m retraining, the government can pull the rug out from under me at any time and then I’m stuck permanently on minimum wage” and “we can’t go to 100% automation all at once because it might not be as easy as we think”, and those need to actually be tackled in conjunction with automation.

  41. I suppose we’re assuming that the Martians in this case are just as competent at any profession as humans ordinarily are. Which is incredibly unrealistic. Even someone skeptical of the claims of HBD must realize the likelihood of Martians having a perfectly human-like psychological disposition is essentially nil.

    What if they actually were just incompetent relative humans? Your policies would penalize competency and promote the flourishing of the incompetent, leaving you with a smaller effective tax base and a larger underclass, making the problem even worse. Your welfare system actually helps to create the conditions which supposedly justify it. It isn’t really a solution, in other words.

    What if they were more competent than humans? Then they don’t need help, as the economic incentives are enough to mitigate prejudice. Then again, there is a potential cost to not exercising prejudice and at least delegating a second class status to the Martians. We have no reason to believe the Martians, here for the purpose of invasion, wouldn’t consistently favor policies which benefit their population at the expense of other groups, i.e. humans.

  42. Michael says:

    One of your policy proposals is not like the others.
    Both (II, III) a negative income tax to replace make-work and minimum wage, and (V) taxes on spillover costs rather than bans are well understood and have strong support from libertarian types.
    But point IV about taxing employment based on race (and gender?) seems underspecified and problematic.
    You handwave at how people will be divided for the purpose of this equalizing taxation but this is a critical point. The same person might receive a bonus or a penalty depending on how people are grouped (by race, by geography, by gender, by age).
    You also seem to imagine that scientists will be able to figure out what level of tax will counter the measured bias, but this is not straightforward to determine and will become a bitter political issue.
    The standard libertarian reply is that people are already ‘taxed’ for their prejudices. If a business hires an Earthling over a better qualified Martian they get less value as a result.

    • Randy M says:

      “The same person might receive a bonus or a penalty depending on how people are grouped (by race, by geography, by gender, by age).”
      Or by how they identify themselves! Genetic tests could pinpoint race to a fraction, but what if someone is perceived as more ‘martian’ than they are? Maybe a cumulative percent for the pointed ears, another fraction of the tax for the antennae, etc.
      Or do social science studies to determine exactly which features are most commonly linked to identification as a Martian?

  43. Hear Hear! Some minor quibbles:

    On the welfare question, I would point out that they might pursue worthwhile hobbies, or they might spend 80 hours a week hanging around on street corners harassing the citizenry, fighting with each other, and developing a toxic underclass culture. The truth of course has elements of both. The basic point I’m trying to make is that hard work imposed from the outside may be better for the cultivation of some people (especially low conscientiousness/low ambition/low intelligence welfare recipients) and have fewer negative externalities than simply turning them loose with license to ill. Obviously it has to be meaningful and cultivating work, though.

    Further, consider the incentives: if welfare is available, why would you push yourself a bit harder to get a job? Thus you might lose a lot of people who could have been productive.

    Have you read Moldbug’s take on this problem (http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.ca/2013/03/sam-altman-is-not-blithering-idiot.html) he suggests targeted banning on certain technologies (eg plastic toys) to create a market where these previously obsolete people can do productive and meaningful work. “Every ghetto rat in America today could find employment as an organic slow-food artisan.” Harsh banning may not be best as you mention (eg a plastic crap from china *tax* might be better), but the human cultivation aspect is very important, IMO.

    This is something we’ll have to face on a wider scale as we approach the singularity, and I’d rather things were restructured to make us less obsolete rather than just having us all sit around twiddling our thumbs and degenerating on welfare.

    On the privilege tax idea, your proposal has the same old vulnerability: what if some component the prejudice is not irrational hate, and there are actually important ways that martians are less useful employees (culturally, physiologically, mentally) that don’t show up on resumes? This could explain the observed experimental results without resorting to the specieisism hypothesis. If this were true, your system would overshoot. This is not a major issue of course, because if everyone really does have to discriminate a bit, the difference can just come off the income tax, and the difference is bounded.

    The problem would be worse, however, if we were not allowed to evaluate potential employees on certain important aspects of qualification (eg IQ score), and there were group differences (eg one stdv). The more things you disallow as qualifications, the more twisted it gets (but not too twisted on an absolute scale, which is cool).

    The final problem is that there might be some vulnerabilities in how you draw the boundaries of the groups being tested for privilege differences. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, though. Worth thinking about.

    The environmental damage tax is perfectly sensible, and is exactly how it ought to be handled.

    Very well done, I like it. Now if only we had a political system that could do sensible things like this…

    • On reading other comments, another vuln in the privilege tax is the fact that the privilege measuring studies would become hopelessly politicized; everyone has an incentive to distort such things in their favor.

      Still computing on the boundaries problem.

      • Andy says:

        The final problem is that there might be some vulnerabilities in how you draw the boundaries of the groups being tested for privilege differences. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, though. Worth thinking about.

        I think I’ve found one vulnerable boundary: people of mixed race. Not a problem with the Martian example, assuming Martians are incompatible with Earthlings.

        A lot of people in my generation have parents of different races – where they get placed is often a function of their observer rather than their identity. A friend is half-White and half-Asian, and when she lived in a predominately white town in Florida, she was known as the only Asian kid, except for her sister.
        When she moved to Japan, to follow her father’s job teaching English, she was known to her Japanese classmates as the only White kid in school – again, except for her sister.
        And appearance can be deceptive: I’ve met people with white and Asian parents who ended up looking quite Hispanic, does their employment tax value follow their appearance or their identity?
        And then there’s the entire Hispanic population, which is more or less an amalgam in differing proportions of three different races – white, black, and Native American. Thus you have Hispanics who identify as white, and Hispanics who identify as black and Hispanics who identify as Native American; and which do they count as for tax purposes?
        I could see someone with multiple possible demographic tags highlighting them to look more attractive to employers: “Yes, I’m Native American and White, but I identify as Native American, so hire me and save on your taxes!”

        • Identity is exactly the wrong basis. You would do it by perception, since that’s what we’re fixing.

        • Andy says:

          Identity is exactly the wrong basis. You would do it by perception, since that’s what we’re fixing.

          But how do you standardize perception? I’ve known some people who were perceived as both Hispanic and Asian by different people at the same time.

  44. Sarah says:

    I’ve heard several commentators (Venkat Rao , Greg Mankiw, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Matt Yglesias) basically call for an “economically efficient” ideology. Basically, “Ok society, pick what you want to do, I don’t care, but implement it in a way that doesn’t cause deadweight losses and minimizes unintended consequences.” It’s sort of a meta-ideology.

    I don’t place my locus of identity at the state level, but if I did, I’d consider this the only really inarguable philosophy.

  45. Sarah says:

    On things being welfare:
    Look at Bureau of Labor Statistics data sometime. A really large proportion of US jobs are the easily automated ones. There’s a lot of consumer retail and a lot of clerks. It’s like 20% of the jobs. And these are the worst-paying jobs — in the 20,000-30,000 range, while factory workers, janitors, and repairmen are in the 30,000-50,000 range. We have a lot of people working jobs that are arguably unnecessary. I very much wonder what would happen if you gave all those people checks and made it socially acceptable for them to just do what they wanted –make art, have really awesome families, reach enlightenment, work out a lot, socialize? But mass leisure and abundance really has no historical precedent. A lot of early 20th century socialists thought it was coming, as did mid-century futurists of the Buckminster Fuller/Stewart Brand/Robert Anton Wilson type. But mostly it seems we’ve dealt with material affluence by pretending we haven’t got it. The only material need that is genuinely scarce in developed countries is health. Food, water, sanitation, shelter, and information are abundant; some people haven’t got them, but that’s social structures, not absolute scarcity.

    By cultural identity, I’m firmly libertarian, but I think the intuition of “property” weakens when things become too cheap to meter. When benevolent actions don’t actually require sacrifice from anyone, because they’re cheap or even profitable, then basically the whole political debate about redistribution is dissolved.

  46. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    How does a market system deal with illegal immigration?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think it legalizes it.

      (but doesn’t provide the immigrants with a BGI for the first generation. I dunno. The whole thing about separating people out into different countries and only focusing on one is kind of weird and hurts my head to deal with)

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I think it legalizes it.

        (but doesn’t provide the immigrants with a BGI for the first generation.

        So they are incentivized to have lots of children who will be able to divert a fraction of their BGI to them instead? Maybe if you delayed BGI until the 4th generation or so that would provide sufficient distance to work better. Which brings up the interesting case of children of recent immigrants and established members of the population.

      • Randy M says:

        Do you pay your neighbors rent as well?
        Your reponse indicates you think it is an arbitrary separation, and, ironically, it is somewhat after immigration, but with the more original meaning of nation as basically an extended kin group (rather than arbitrary geographical division) I don’t see why it would be confusing.

      • St. Rev says:

        If you base your GBI system on something like dividends from national natural resources–like the Alaskan oil dividends–then there’s a simple answer: the price of citizenship is the price of a share of USG ‘stock’. This is similar to how a lot of ancient political-legal systems worked, e.g. the Irish system described by David Friedman.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Hmm perhaps I should make my question more pointed. I’m not sure if you believe that illegal immigration from particular poor countries has negative externalities associated with it – in particular increased gang membership, IQ dilution, increase in violent crime and in the long term culture problems such as increased clannishness and nepotism (if the immigrants are from more clannish and nepotistic cultures)*. If you do believe that one or more such negative externalities are a problem how would you deal with that? It doesn’t have to be a market approach.

        I’m dissatisfied with the solution of withholding BGI. Another commenter pointed out that it leads to perverse incentives if it is withheld for one generation and it seems inhumane to withhold it for two or more generations. Maybe force outbreeding by mandating that you can only become a citizen if one of your parents is a citizen? Otherwise you have to earn citizenship as in the current US system. That solves most of the problems that I listed somewhat.

        *Of these, I’m least confident in IQ dilution but it concerns me the least, its the crime rates and culture problems that bother me – I’m pretty confident in those effects.

        • Suppose you can’t keep them out unless your own economy is wrecked. What can you do to acculturate them?

        • Army1987 says:

          in particular increased gang membership, IQ dilution, increase in violent crime and in the long term culture problems such as increased clannishness and nepotism (if the immigrants are from more clannish and nepotistic cultures)*. If you do believe that one or more such negative externalities are a problem how would you deal with that?

          The way you deal with gang membership, violent crime, clannishness and nepotism by natives?

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          @ Army1987
          That is not an answer

          @Nancy
          Is that just a restatement of the problem with border control and employer verification ruled out?

        • “Is that just a restatement of the problem with border control and employer verification ruled out?”

          Alexander Stanislaw, that’s it exactly. Suppose we’re living in the real world, what do we do? I’m not ruling out border control for the fun of it– there doesn’t seem to be any way to make it work whenever the US economy is much better than Mexico’s.

          I’ll add that it seems grotesque to blame illegal immigrants for being expensive while at the same time making it hard for them to do valuable work.

        • You have the right to make any laws you want. You don’t have the right to get only the consequences you thought you were going to get from those laws.

      • Andy says:

        The whole thing about separating people out into different countries and only focusing on one is kind of weird and hurts my head to deal with

        The solution to this, of course is to conquer the world so that policies can be applied worldwide, and we can avoid stupid spheres-of-influence BS like what’s happening in the Ukraine, where the President has been playing off Russia against the EU and the country is about to be stomped by both.

        • The solution to this, of course is to conquer the world so that policies can be applied worldwide,

          This, of course, avoids the inconvenient embarrassment that progressive policies lead to the collapse of civilization and a reversion to living in grass huts and eating people. Thus destroying Rhodesia avoided the embarrassing comparison between Rhodesia and the rest of Africa.

        • Andy says:

          This, of course, avoids the inconvenient embarrassment that progressive policies lead to the collapse of civilization and a reversion to living in grass huts and eating people.

          Still waiting for the enslavement of white people by black people as predicted by finger-waving conservatives pre-1865…
          Keep shouting that the sky is falling. I’ll probably still be here in 60-80 years, and somehow I doubt that these predictions will get anywhere close to the mark.

          • Still waiting for the enslavement of white people by black people as predicted by finger-waving conservatives pre-1865…

            We have genocide in rural South Africa, ethnic cleansing in Zimbabwe and Detroit.

            Will that do?

        • Andy says:

          Occurred to me after posting my reply above: Conquering the world does not have to be a Progressive solution. A sufficiently powerful God-Emperor with some smart subordinates and some military power could do the same, and impose Reactionary utopian policies across the globe.

          • But reactionaries are anti utopians, or dystopians. That all men are not created equal, that individual men, groups of men, categories of men, are unequal, and that women are not equal to men is the bad news, not the good news.

            That is why they call it the Dark Enlightenment.

      • misha says:

        Fundamentally this is the difference between heroic(or possibly villainous) planning and good planning. You seem to want to come up with a plan to save EVERYONE EVERYWHERE. The steps one takes A) to gain control of everyone everywhere. and B) to save all of them are very very different than the steps one should take to make the people in your own domain happy and healthy.

        I personally think it averages out far better to encourage people to help themselves and those around them than to encourage people to take over the world. There’s a lot less mass graves that way.

        If you’re optimizing locally instead of trying to optimize the world over, the question of immigration becomes a lot less fraught. A nation should allow immigration at a rate and of a kind that is good for its citizens. This is not the same as a rate that is good for the citizens of other countries.

        • Andy says:

          And yet we live in a more and more connected world where optimizing locally sometimes involves screwing someone thousands of miles away – why not try for at least some global norm, some unification of international law? The UN passes a Declaration of Global Futarchy?
          Yes, I’m an unabashed dreamer, but the more I look at the world, this seems like where the world is heading, with the way our financial and communication systems are slowly getting tied together.

          • And yet we live in a more and more connected world where optimizing
            locally sometimes involves screwing someone thousands of miles away – why not try for at least some global norm, some unification of international law?

            Because, just as regulatory organizations are always captured by special interests (Consider Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, the man of many of hats, regulator and regulated, the most regulated man on planet earth), any movement to apply some rule universally is always a reaction the embarrassing discovery that applying the rule locally has effects similar to being ravaged by a mongol horde. Thus, to avoid embarrassing comparisons between those places where it is applied, and those places where it is not applied, needs to be applied universally.

  47. Ken Arromdee says:

    A couple of random comments.

    1. The Islamic caliphate example is a poor one. There are many other types of bad treatment of non-Muslims in Muslim lands other than just taxing them. For instance, a non-Muslim could not testify in court against a Muslim. Of course, you could just describe everything as a tax (“that’s a tax in justice, not in dollars, but it’s still a tax”), whereupon the generalization is so broad as to be meaningless.

    2. Taxes create incentives. As members of government and members of minority groups will gain from the tax, they have incentives to modify the system so that the amount of the tax is not just the amount necessary to overcome prejudice. Most real-life taxes created for specific purposes are prone to this. Furthermore, taxes won’t just be a flat percentage of the minority in the same way that income taxes are not just a flat percentage of your income–sure you could say we are hypothesizing an unusual tax that is a flat percentage, but the incentives aren’t aligned for the tax to stay that way.

    3. The tax could end up exceeding the benefit. Your claim that “the chemist who discovered the brilliant unexpected use for mercury is able to start her startup – at increased costs, sure, but if it’s as lucrative an idea as she thinks she’ll be able to get the investment or just swallow the losses” is not justified–it’s entirely possible that the use for mercury is profitable without the tax and unprofitable with it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      1. Thanks, point taken.

      2. Agreed, this system does not solve regulatory capture. But I don’t think it makes it worse, either.

      3. Possibly, but it places a limit on how much harm the tax can do. A ban on mercury could prevent useful applications of mercury even if they were infinitely awesome. A tax will prevent useful applications of mercury up to some finite level of awesomeness, but no more. Getting it quantitatively right as opposed to qualitatively right in this vague way requires setting the tax at the right level.

      • Chris Prather says:

        It’s a bit more than just regulatory capture. Even un-captured regulatory agencies are susceptible to bias or corruption.

        Because of the concentration of power in the regulatory agency there is a strong ability for a non-rational actor to introduce flawed data, a biased model, or to attempt to bring “extenuating circumstances” into the mix.

        “The tax will force us to close all our factories in your state Senator, and move to Nevada where there are more/fewer Martians, if you just dampen down the model this year I’m sure we can work something out.”

        These make the system at the best less efficient / ineffective or at the worst counter-effective. Unfortunately the concetration of power is, I suspect, the reason the regulatory agency can actually create change so there is no getting around that fact.

  48. Your petition has been received, and the Dark Cabal from the Furthest Void finds these object-level policies compatible with the meta-agenda of the Blackest Cult of the Outer Gods, and decrees that they will be implemented immediately upon Zombie-King Jobs’ reanimation and coronation—except for the one which, absent data, is indistinguishable from demotist faction-politics bribery and/or attempts at mucking about with Bayesian reasoning from priors professors neither have access to nor even acknowledge the existence of*, but it’ll commission a study or something.

    Mᴏʀᴀʟ: Nice object-level policies you have there; now how are you going to implement them and protect them from hijacking by factional interests? (Though that phrasing assumes they begin without factional interests, and if there’s anything neoreaction and postmodern progressivism both teach us, it’s to notice when such claims are being made and poke them with a stick.)

    * I have heard from multiple people who work as waiters that blacks tip less. I once made the mistake of mentioning this to a professor; he assured me it couldn’t be anything but a myth. It is certainly possible that systemic bias results in mass delusions stronger than monetary incentives toward reality; it is also possible that systemic bias resulting from the combination of defaulting to popular/respectable memes and the absence of firsthand experience/studies to confirm/deny those memes results in probably-mass delusions that have essentially zero monetary incentive pushing toward reality and nonzero status-incentive pushing in the direction in which movement is actually observed. Mᴏʀᴀʟ: If there’s any second thing neoreaction and postmodern progressivism both teach us, it’s that systematic-within-a-certain-natural-class-of-people unknown unknowns are things that can exist.

  49. Damien says:

    You should probably read Matt Yglesias’s blog. He’s often sloppy, but he also seems one of the few prolific market-friendly liberals out there. He could be a moderate libertarian if libertarians didn’t tend to purge moderates; as it is, he’s firmly in the liberal camp, but is all for identifying bad regulations (typically local ones on businesses and land use) and more price-manipulating ways of achieving liberal goals.

    Of course, when you say you’re pro “free market” (free from what?) but then talk about judicious use of taxes and subsidies, you’ll get lots of people telling you you don’t really support free markets. I predict I’ll find a lot of that in the 170 comments at the time of posting.

    For precision I like to say I’m all for competitive markets with accounted externalities and symmetric information; this isn’t snappy but is defensible via economic theory and also highlights that turning a government service into a private monopoly is in no way a clear improvement.

    As for the bleeding-heart libertarians, I’ve been following their blog for like 4 years now and I still don’t know what, if anything, they actually endorse. Sometimes the bloggers sound friendly to tax-funded welfare on a “free” market, othertimes they sound more anarchist while spouting paranoid conspiracies about liberals and cashing out their “bleeding heart caring for the poor” solely as claims that laissez-faire would be awesome for the poor, really, because of how much richer we’d be without any government. As your own WP link says: ‘The term “bleeding heart libertarian” does not refer to a single comprehensive philosophical position. Some bleeding heart libertarians are consequentialists, others are natural rights theorists. Some are anarchists, some are minarchists, and some are classical liberals who allow for the state provision of public goods and possibly some form of social safety net.’

    • komponisto says:

      Of course, when you say you’re pro “free market” (free from what?) but then talk about judicious use of taxes and subsidies, you’ll get lots of people telling you you don’t really support free markets.

      This is a good point, actually. There is a difference between “markets” and “free markets”, and (1) endorsing the former doesn’t entail endorsing the latter, and (2) not everyone endorses the former.

      • Damien says:

        Right. On the flip side, I think the number of people who actively oppose markets in general is much smaller than many libertarians and conservatives like to think. Lots of liberals don’t know much about economics and are suspicious of market talk — not without reason, in terms of real politics — but this is a far cry from wanting to try central planning of everything again.

        • komponisto says:

          One could also have domain-specific policy preferences, favoring market solutions for some problems but central planning for others. Tribal politics makes it difficult to articulate such a position, but I would guess someone has it, since it seems to be the way the world is actually set up at the moment.

  50. Chris Prather says:

    For your plan to correct employment disparities. It seems to me we really don’t care if any of the employers are acting fairly, we simply care if the disenfranchised group becomes more enfranchised by whatever models we use to measure that with.

    Why bother testing the employers for fairness directly at all? Why not simply measure the results after the fact. If employment of disenfranchised-group-X is statistically out of alignment with where it should be, use that misalignment as the input for your taxation function. Bonus points if you publish your fundamentals and the models so that other groups can replicate the results and/or verify the models are accurate.

  51. Pingback: Linkblogging for 10/12/13 | Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

  52. Ialdabaoth says:

    > The position there’s no good name for

    Try “Market Socialist”.

  53. Kevin says:

    I would describe this position in general as “pragmatic liberalism” – still operating under liberal values and working toward liberal goals, but trying to use the most efficient and effective policies, instead of policies typically pursued by liberal groups (for various historical, political, and otherwise arbitrary reasons). Also suggested in the comments were “social liberalism” and “third way”, which both seem pretty close to me.

    A few relevant articles:

    The Minimum Wage Ain’t What It Used to Be discusses the US policy shift from minimum wages to the earned income tax credit. EITC is a form of negative income tax, i.e. a basic income guarantee, although it only applies to a limited portion of the population.

    The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income is pretty much what it sounds like.

    Kludgeocracy in America thoroughly describes the effects of weird, overcomplicated policy norms.

    Also, see my favorite article from Bleeding Heart Libertarians, discussing the related/overlapping philosophy of “market democracy”: Recharting the Map of Social and Political Theory: Where is Government? Where is Conservatism?.

    • oligopsony says:

      I would describe this position in general as “pragmatic liberalism” – still operating under liberal values and working toward liberal goals, but trying to use the most efficient and effective policies, instead of policies typically pursued by liberal groups (for various historical, political, and otherwise arbitrary reasons).

      This does not strike me as the most useful way of categorizing things.

      • Kevin says:

        It does fail to distinguish between policy pragmatism and political pragmatism, which, sadly, tend to be quite opposed.

    • Damien says:

      Another phrase I picked up from BHL, and they from Rawls, is “property-owning democracy”. Which reminds me of a friend’s line: “I think private property is awesome. I think it’s so awesome I want everyone to have some.” I’m not sure if they’re for it though, or if it means what it seems to on the surface.

  54. Anonymous says:

    While I do agree with much of the material you present here, I think that you missed something very big when presenting that “discrimination tax”.

    Some people discriminate more than others. We can imagine that there are some people who would prefer to pay 5% more to hire an earthling over a martian with equal talents, some 10% more, and some 0% more (in other words, they don’t discriminate).

    Let’s look at a world with employers divided equally among those three categories. In this world, the average cost of discrimination on the economy is 5%, so you say there should be a 5% tax on hiring earthlings.

    For the 5% discriminating employers, this precisely is enough to counterbalance their discrimination. Great! But it is a mistaken assumption to assume that all employers discriminate at a constant rate. Look at the 10% discriminators in the world I suggested. They half their discrimination, sure, that’s good, but do not stop it. A 10% tax wold be needed to stop them, and they make up a third of the employers.

    Far worse, though, is the fate of those who do not discriminate. They too pay the tax, on their earthling employees, even though they do not discriminate, and their proportion of earthling employees is exactly the proportion of earthlings in the population. They are being taxed, but fine, you can say: fire the earthlings, and replace them with martians of the same skill level. But: The people in the jobs right now are by definition the best people for the job. To replace them, you’d have to find someone with a worse skill/salary ratio, because otherwise, you’d have employed the other guy in the first place.

    This is not to mention the cost it would cause the employer to train the new employees, or the effort it would take to find a new martian employee with an acceptable level of skill.

    Look at it this way: I hire you, not because you are an Earthling, but because you have one-of-a-kind skills that I need. The proposed tax would make me have to pay 5% more, despite the fact that I do not discriminate in the slightest. Overall, in the entire economy, there is discrimination, but it is not fair to saddle the non-discriminators with the tax as well.

    If X% of the population are earthlings, you are taxing me 5% on (number of employees I have)*(X%), even if I don’t discriminate at all.

    • Erik says:

      I hire you, not because you are an Earthling, but because you have one-of-a-kind skills that I need. The proposed tax would make me have to pay 5% more, despite the fact that I do not discriminate in the slightest. Overall, in the entire economy, there is discrimination, but it is not fair to saddle the non-discriminators with the tax as well.

      Your argument seems to map to “I’m innocent, but I get put in jail for seeming guilty, that’s not fair.”

      The problem with this, seen from the other end, is that sometimes guilty people will say the same thing (because they’re lying). Your stipulation that you hired an Earthling for a good reason in this hypothetical situation is impractical to take into account: it’s hard for me to test the goodness of your reason, and it’s hard for me to set up “good reason” exemptions to a bright-line rule without having it potentially bog down into the sort of affirmative action mess that the rule was supposed to be fixing in the first place.

      Going back to the original post:

      Some jobs may have legitimate reasons not to hire Martians – maybe Martians make lousy pilots because their single lidless eye gives them terrible depth perception. Certainly a Martian actor is unqualified to play Abraham Lincoln in a historical biopic. One could offer to let these jobs apply for exemptions, but this means a costly bureaucratic process, and is likely to end with large companies with good lawyers obtaining the exemptions, small companies with poor lawyers not obtaining the exemptions, and no concern about fairness to Martians in any case.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        From Anon’s post:

        They too pay the tax, on their earthling employees, even though they do not discriminate, and their proportion of earthling employees is exactly the proportion of earthlings in the population.

        In this scenario, the innocent do not even seem guilty. Yet they are punished all the same.

        Also (and separately from Anon’s point — this is in response to you), from a moral perspective, the idea that we not only assume everyone’s racist and tax the accordingly, but also insist that guilty people look just like innocent people and therefore the latter have no opportunity to say “but look! I am clearly innocent, you can see it in my behavior!”… is absolutely abhorrent.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yes. And actually, I have a simplified way to put it a similar point:

          If I have a 10% preference for earthlings, then if I hire only earthlings I am up 10% in utility without the tax, or (10-5)%=5% within it.

          If I have a 5% preference for earthlings, then if I hire only earthlings I am up 5% in utility without the tax, or (5-5)%=0% within it.

          If I have a 0% preference (I am unbiased), then if I hare only earthlings I have a 0% change in utility whether or not I hire only earthlings without the tax, and a 5% decrease in the world with the tax.

          In the end it is the unbiased people who suffer.
          Although there does need to be two corrections to the numbers: Firstly, the utility numbers I gave are for 100% earthling employees. Obviously if one hires X% martians, apply that appropriately to the numbers. Also, one might raise the minor technical point that I made the discriminators utility monsters, by giving them an extra source of utility that the non-discriminators didn’t get. If you object this way, just multiply all the utilities of the discriminators by 10/11 or 20/21 as appropriate.

          But the important thing, without quibbling over the numbers, is regardless of what those modifications are, they will not switch the sign of a utility modifier, as they are multiplicative modifiers, and so we still end up with the original point: This tax makes the non-discriminators lose utility.

  55. Kevin S. Van Horn says:

    None of this is libertarianism of any sort, whether “bleeding-heart” or “left”. All of your proposals rely on aggressing against people who have not trespassed on another’s rights (via robbery, a.k.a. taxation), hence are violations of the Non-Aggression Principle that defines libertarianism.

    What is conspicuously missing from your discussion is any consideration of voluntary, peaceful, non-coercive action and organization. Why must violence (in the form of robbery) be an essential ingredient of every proposal you put forth in this post? For that matter, what makes you think that a single, extremely centralized organization (the US Federal Government) is the right vehicle — the only vehicle — for solving the social ills that concern you?

    One final note. Your fantasy of an objective government study to determine levels of prejudice against Martians ignores the reality that politics permeates everything done by government; the only thing such a study would truly reveal is who has the highest combination of political pull and motivation to get the results biased in their preferred direction.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      The NAP is not the be-all and end-all of libertarianism. There are plenty of consequentialist libertarians for whom the idea of axiomatically deriving property rights and government functions from a limited set of deontological rules seems more like an exercise in creative rationalization than anything worthwhile.

    • Paul Torek says:

      The Non Aggression Principle is, however, incompatible with property rights as we know and love them. The NAP implies lots of liberties to use material things, but not the right to exclude others from them. I prefer capitalism over the NAP.

      • blacktrance says:

        The NAP is a ban on aggression, not force. According to it, it is not aggression to defend your property and exclude others from it.

    • Kevin says:

      robbery, a.k.a. taxation

      This is an instance of The Worst Argument In the World.

  56. This plan seems to be “lets create equality and social justice without using brutal and immoral means”, while avoiding the disturbing implication that at present progressives are using brutal, immoral, disturbing, and destructive means.

    Trouble is that about a hundred and fifty years ago or so, they tried creating equality by mild mannered means, did not work, so they used firmer measures, and the measures have been getting ever more extreme ever since, and they still don’t work.

    So at some point you have to say either have to say that people, groups of people, and categories of people really are unequal and society should recognize and accept the fact, or else proceed to full on mass murder and genocide, as in the Congo.

    This proposal is “lets not proceed to full on mass murder and genocide, but not accept inequality either.”

    Been tried. Did not work.

    • ozymandias says:

      But… in America women have in fact gotten substantially more equal to men, and people of some races to white people, and LGBT people to straight people, and disabled people to abled people, and no one has been mass murdered or genocided at all.

      I feel like “no one can ever be made more equal unless you commit genocide” is both in theory and in practice not true, and that “equality between people is an important instrumental value, but not as important as our ‘no genocide’ instrumental value” is a perfectly consistent ethical position.

      • But… in America women have in fact gotten substantially more equal to men, and people of some races to white people

        Rather, we are seeing brutal and extreme inequalities in their favor (I earlier remarked on the special privilege that Martin Trayvon had to rob and assault) which inequalities supposedly compensate for real and imaginary inequalities to their disfavor.

        But the real and imaginary inequalities to their disfavor have not gone away, which require ever more extreme interventions in their favor.

        Thus, for example, females have lower average IQ than males by about five points, and lower variance in IQ than males, which means that females on the smart edge of the bell curve are disadvantaged relative to males to a considerably greater extent than females on the dumb edge, as is quite noticeable on the SAT and LSAT.

        To compensate for this problem, females are shoved into university and into stem fields, in ever increasing numbers, substantially outnumbering men in the initial intake, though most of them wind up changing their majors from the hard topics into which they are initially sent to courses in hating white heterosexual males. The inequality does not go away.

        Therefore, ever more extreme measures are applied. The exclusion of males from college becomes so severe, as to encourage businesses to ignore academic accreditation.

        Hence the forbidden saying “Women ruin everything”, meaning that women artificially placed into jobs for which they are not qualified disrupt the goals that the job is intended to achieve.

        • Andy says:

          Therefore, ever more extreme measures are applied. The exclusion of males from college becomes so severe, as to encourage businesses to ignore academic accreditation.

          Have you been on a college campus lately? Mine is 60% female, 40% male, but we’re atypical among universities in this region.
          Second, your point in “hating males” simply does not scan, and I have a LOT of friends in the Womens’, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department, many of whom are straight white males and females who have a more subtle view of the world than the strawman that you have constructed.
          And this semester, I’ve regularly eavesdropped at the door of one of those WGSS classes while waiting for , and “hating males,” as a blanket philosophy, simply doesn’t exist. There’s some “disliking males who treat womens’ bodies and souls as theirs by divine right,” which you might have gotten confused with your strawman.
          I acknowledge the feminist viewpoint has some problems, and many of my fellow feminists can’t argue their way out of a paper bag, and are too quick to judge, but you might want to learn to speak the language if you want to make any rhetorical headway among people who don’t agree with you already.
          I frankly look forward to living through the next hundred years and watching every single Reactionary prediction come false.

          • I acknowledge the feminist viewpoint has some problems, and many of my fellow feminists can’t argue their way out of a paper bag, and are too quick to judge, but you might want to learn to speak the language if you want to make any rhetorical headway among people who don’t agree with you already.

            That language is Orwellian newspeak, designed to make dissent literally unthinkable, in so far as thought depends on language.

            The neoreactionary program was made possible largely by reading old books, containing old language, making old thoughts once again thinkable, an unintended consequence of the Internet Archive.

        • ozymandias says:

          OK but even if we postulate women are stupider than men (*sigh*), women and men have, in fact, become more legally equal. Women have the right to vote, women can get credit cards in their own names, women are not forbidden from any occupations, and women are no longer legally the property of their husband when they get married.

          Now, you may believe those things are bad things. That is possible. But it is clear that a person who can get a credit card and a person who can’t are unequal, making them both able to get a credit card makes them equal, and there have been very few credit-card-related genocides in Western history.

          • OK but even if we postulate women are stupider than men (*sigh*), women and men have, in fact, become more legally equal. Women have the right to vote, women can get credit cards in their own names, women are not forbidden from any occupations, and women are no longer legally the property of their husband when they get married.

            The changes of which you speak have not worked, have failed horribly, and their continuing failure is interpreted as continuing oppression of women, requiring ever more extreme measures.

            Observe that allowing women into the army immediately leads to lawsuits which cause the speed of marching to be slowed down, allowing women to become firemen results in a lawsuit imposed change of policy that people overcome by smoke shall no longer be rescued from burning buildings, and so on and so forth.

            Thus women should be excluded from certain occupations by law or custom, because they are not in fact equal to men, and treating them as equal leads to problems of which these lawsuits and policy changes are a manifestation.

            Further it was never the case that women were the property of their husbands, even in the Roman Republic. Rather, the husband was the head of household, with was legally enforced until about 1820 or so, and socially enforced until about 1960.

            If you have a single household, if people are really going to live together, a household needs a single head, and that head has to be the man, because females will not accept a man who accepts a subordinate role, and female headed households are disastrous because females are innately ill suited to the role.

            In every actually existing marriage, people perform their eighteenth century roles, or else divorce follows soon afterwards.

            it is clear that a person who can get a credit card and a person who can’t are unequal, making them both able to get a credit card makes them equal, and there have been very few credit-card-related genocides in Western history.

            In practice, women have substantially shorter time preference than men, and as a result, on average, they wind up paying substantially more to credit card companies in interest and fines, and defaulting on their credit card payments substantially more often than men, so though we have formal equality, we have substantial actual inequality, just as women used to pay substantially more for health insurance than men.

            I expect, in due course, that just as obamacare has remedied the health insurance inequality, we are going to see a similar remedy for the credit card inequality between women and men and between blacks and whites. After true credit card equality, credit card related genocide may loom a little closer.

            If the credit card is used by members of group B, and paid by members of group A, I see genocide on the wind.

        • Andy says:

          Now, you may believe those things are bad things. That is possible. But it is clear that a person who can get a credit card and a person who can’t are unequal, making them both able to get a credit card makes them equal, and there have been very few credit-card-related genocides in Western history.

          Though to a person sufficiently faithful to Reactionary thought, I imagine the ease of getting a credit card or financial independence would have very little effect on the likelihood of race-based genocides occurring…

        • ozymandias says:

          James: I have read the Iliad in the original Greek and the Aeneid in the original Latin. My old books dick is SO MUCH BIGGER THAN YOURS.

          Still a feminist.

        • Andy says:

          There’s a lot here to attack, but you are flatly wrong on one point:

          Further it was never the case that women were the property of their husbands, even in the Roman Republic. Rather, the husband was the head of household, with was legally enforced until about 1820 or so, and socially enforced until about 1960.

          The thing is, in the US laws are not descended directly from the Roman Republic, but from the common law of England, which had this little gem:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coverture
          (Not using the link code because Bad Things have happened.)
          And I’ll quote:

          A feme covert was not recognized as having legal rights and obligations distinct from those of her husband in most respects. Instead, through marriage a woman’s existence was incorporated into that of her husband, so that she had very few recognized individual rights of her own.

          Which sounds a lot like “a woman is the property of her husband,” in practice if not specifically in theory.

          And unfortunately for you, reality is a lot messier than your neat little theory. Not every female-headed household collapses into a quagmire of debt, many women are doing quite well in STEM fields, and female firefighters and EMTs do rescue people from burning buildings. Your parade of horribles has enough strawmen for a decent-sized farm.

          • And unfortunately for you, reality is a lot messier than your neat
            > little theory. Not every female-headed household collapses into a
            > quagmire of debt, many women are doing quite well in STEM fields, and
            > female firefighters and EMTs do rescue people from burning buildings.
            > Your parade of horribles has enough strawmen for a decent-sized farm.

            The great majority of women in stem fields are rather obviously affirmative action hires. If given positions of real responsibility, their incompetence is apt to be disruptive. Female firemen watch fires from a safe distance, not fight them. Observe that the no female firemen died in the 9/11 disaster, while several hundred firemen died. Further, due to lawsuits, the requirement to carry an unconscious person out of a building has been removed from firemen’s training and tests, in order that they can pass women. Recall that the usual cause of death in fires in unconsciousness or disorientation due to smoke inhalation. People who need rescuing, usually need rescuing because unconscious or impaired. Women are not required to be able to carry an unconscious person (obviously very few women would be able to do that anyway) and to maintain the pretense of equality, firemen are no longer required to do that either.

        • Andy says:

          That language is Orwellian newspeak, designed to make dissent literally unthinkable, in so far as thought depends on language.

          The neoreactionary program was made possible largely by reading old books, containing old language, making old thoughts once again thinkable, an unintended consequence of the Internet Archive.

          And yet dissent happens. A lot. And forbidden thoughts get thunk and discussions and debates and arguments happen. Try again, please.

          That’s a neat trick, where you can dismiss people who don’t agree with you as members of a cult who are trapped into narrow little patterns of thought. And I’ve met a handful of progressives of that stripe, to be sure. And the blogosphere is filled with them and their emissions.

          But disagreeing with you does not mean that dissent from the progressive norm is impossible. I’ve considered your points, and I intend to research them – especially Zimbabwe and rural South Africa – after my finals are over.

          But most of Reactionary though I have read, considered, pondered, thought your “unthinkable thoughts,” and come to the conclusion that it’s understandable from its own perspective, but ill-considered, building an over-simple set of natural laws out of opinions, customs, and incomplete data.

          Nice try, to label progressives as thoughtless sheep incapable of dissenting from the party line. Too bad it’s complete and utter manure.

        • Andy says:

          Further, due to lawsuits, the requirement to carry an unconscious person out of a building has been removed from firemen’s training and tests, in order that they can pass women.

          Citation please? I haven’t found any reference to this, and two of my female cousins who have gone through EMT and volunteer firefighter training haven’t heard of this. This sounds like something that would end up on a linkbait “satire” site like National Report than something in current practice. Wikipedia’s page on the Fireman’s Carry says that it’s been replaced with dragging a person along the ground, though it also does not cite sources, so is dubious.
          And per your contention that women in STEM fields are affirmative action hires, you hold whatever you want in your ossified mind. But I am the son of a female engineer, who got her start in the 70s working in a particle accelerator lab, and did both operating system programming and aerospace engineering, and currently engineers satellites for the US government.
          No, not every female student can take STEM classes, especially not with the idiotic sexism that pervades the field. But on this, you’re just flat wrong.

          • Citation please? I haven’t found any reference to this, and two of my
            female cousins who have gone through EMT and volunteer firefighter training haven’t heard of this.

            Check with them again. They were trained to drag people by their clothing along the ground, a change in procedure introduced to accommodate women, because women, with a few extraordinarily rare exceptions who usually look as if they have been hitting more male steroids than Arnold Schwarzenegger, just cannot do the fireman’s carry – or they can do it, but only if someone else helps lift the unconscious person in order to get them started.

            As for citations. I can no more give you a citation, than someone in the Soviet Union under Stalin could have given a citation that Trotsky was at one time the leader of the red army: What you should do instead of a citation, is look up “Fireman’s carry” and then check with your cousins, or indeed anyone who does emergency work, if that is what is now permitted to be done.

        • Meredith L. Patterson says:

          women, with a few extraordinarily rare exceptions who usually look as if they have been hitting more male steroids than Arnold Schwarzenegger, just cannot do the fireman’s carry – or they can do it, but only if someone else helps lift the unconscious person in order to get them started.

          I can’t speak to firefighter training, but during the field-medic portion of US Army basic training, everyone performs a fireman’s carry and must deadlift the person from the ground. We had races. It was tremendous fun.

          The trick, like carrying anything else heavy, is to lift with your legs, not your back. The smaller females (as women are referred to in the army — similarly, men are “males”) typically had to wriggle under the simulated victim to get the victim’s weight distributed across their shoulders, heave up to the “take a knee” position, and then it’s a surge of lower-body strength to transition into vertical-and-running. (Standing is a mistake; it’s easier to use the momentum from the up-and-forward surge than it is to try to arrest the momentum and then start running.) The hardest part is actually keeping your balance. But, hey, some of the males needed help with that part too.

          Source: I am a 145lb female who was packing about 25lb more muscle during my stint in the National Guard. The 5’2″, 110lb females in my platoon all succeeded in this task as well.

          • The smaller females (as women are referred to in the army — similarly, men are “males”) typically had to wriggle under the simulated victim to get the victim’s weight distributed across their shoulders, heave up to the “take a knee” position, and then it’s a surge of lower-body strength to transition into vertical-and-running. (Standing is a mistake; it’s easier to use the momentum from the up-and-forward surge than it is to try to arrest the momentum and then start running.)

            But a man can simply pick someone up physically and walk off with them.

        • ozymandias says:

          The fireman’s carry was replaced with dragging because smoke and heat are greater higher up so dragging is safer. In addition, it obstructs the firefighter’s peripheral vision and ability to see the person being carried and is dangerous if someone has a spinal injury.

          • The fireman’s carry was replaced with dragging because smoke and heat are greater higher up so dragging is safer.

            Dragging is not safer, for obviously reasons, and is frequently impractical. We changed to dragging so that women could pretend to be equal – but then hit another, and considerably bigger inequality. Men are the expendable sex, so naturally have the kind of courage required to fight fires. Women are not, so will not expose themselves to that kind of danger, nor will men make them expose themselves to that kind of danger.

            So female firemen are, in practice female fire watchers. Of course women have another kind of courage, or else the human race would have died out for lack of reproduction, but they do not have, and should not have, the kind of courage required to fight fires.

        • ozymandias says:

          So James, I hear you’re into old books. How many languages do you speak? Do you prefer the Mediterranean classics, the Indian, or the Chinese? Or are those too new for you and you prefer Sumerian? Unfortunately I have only a passing understanding of anything outside the Mediterranean myself, I haven’t even read the Mahabharata or the Ramayana and I’ve just started Zhaungzi. Don’t even ask about after the Fall of Rome! I haven’t even read more than excerpts of the Summa Theologica, and I read Beowulf and Chaucer in a modern translation rather than the original Middle English! I am sure you are far more educated than I, and can discuss fine points of the translation of Boethius and the symbolism of Piers Ploughman.

        • James James says:

          “The fireman’s carry was replaced with dragging because smoke and heat are greater higher up so dragging is safer. In addition, it obstructs the firefighter’s peripheral vision and ability to see the person being carried and is dangerous if someone has a spinal injury.”

          I’m sure it was.

          Denying that entry requirements to certain professions are being made easier is just silly. They are being made easier, for firemen and the military.
          http://www.isegoria.net/2013/06/female-rangers-and-seals/

        • Andy says:

          As for citations. I can no more give you a citation, than someone in the Soviet Union under Stalin could have given a citation that Trotsky was at one time the leader of the red army: What you should do instead of a citation, is look up “Fireman’s carry” and then check with your cousins, or indeed anyone who does emergency work, if that is what is now permitted to be done.

          Checked with both cousins – the over-the-shoulder carry is one of several carries that are taught. Your argument fails.
          And on the lack of citations: All it would take is one mens’ rights activist working for a fire department, or one lawsuit for negligence, and the story would be front-page on Fox News if nothing else. We live in the age of manufactured outrage, James, and that outrage comes from all sides. While I get the idea that some news and thoughts are unpopular and therefore harder to find than others, we do not live under Stalinesque censorship, much as you want it to be so. This sounds more like “I heard it once, thought it plausible, and recorded it as fact without checking for evidence,” or worse, “I decided it had to be happening without seeing any evidence, because it fits my biases.”
          On the drag-along-the-ground: it may be more useful for someone of smaller stature, but I can think of one very good reason for it: Smoke rises. Someone lower down gets less exposure. Assuming they don’t have broken bones, wrenched joints, or other trauma that could be exacerbated by the drag, it does seem a marginally better way in some situations.

          • All it would take is one mens’ rights activist working for a fire department, or one lawsuit for negligence, and the story would be front-page on Fox News if nothing else.

            Oh come on. Progressives complaining about Fox news is like Trotsky complaining about Pravda.

            Because you never hear any dissent, you perceive the slightest deviation in nuance as full fledged opposition.

            Fox news ran full bore with the worship of the reformed Marxist, mass murderer, and terrorist Nelson Mandela, without ever mentioning that the reason they are beatifying him is that Mandela stopped murdering large numbers of people in horrifyingly brutal ways.’

            If they cannot mention that Mandela was a Marxist to the end of his days, and was at one time a terrorist and mass murderer, they cannot mention that physical requirements for physically demanding jobs are being adjusted downwards to allow women to pass.

            Could Steve Sailer appear on Fox News? Even Ann Coulter has to censor herself to be allowed to appear on Fox news – compare her web page with her Fox News persona.

        • Andy says:

          Denying that entry requirements to certain professions are being made easier is just silly. They are being made easier, for firemen and the military.
          http://www.isegoria.net/2013/06/female-rangers-and-seals/

          I’m not saying they aren’t, I am countering James’ assertion that lowering entry requirements to allow some women to get in negatively impacted job performance.
          The thoughtful Progressive argument in these cases is that women in physical jobs should be able to perform the same physical tests, but that “lack of penis and/or Y chromosome” should not be used to bar someone from a job unless the duties of the job require the operation of said penis (jigolo, male porn actor, etc.)

          • I am countering James’ assertion that lowering entry requirements to allow some women to get in negatively impacted job performance.

            In the British army they imposed a rule that in marches, the women should be at the front of the march to set the pace for the males, because if males are allowed to set the pace, they overstress the women. Women complained that they suffered medical injury trying to perform like men. Interestingly, their injuries tended to be of their pelvis or reproductive organs. If they tried to do what men do, they broke the systems they use to carry and produce babies.

            Since even today, it is often important in war for large groups of people to move on foot to some place or away from some place before the enemy does, and to so in a martial fashion that does not undermine their own morale, or improve enemy morale, this must have impacted performance, forcing all soldiers to exercise as if they carried a large, complicated, and fragile organ for making babies.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Andy, you are moving the goalposts. First, James asserted that the fireman’s carry was no longer a required skill enforced by testing. You were skeptical and said that you didn’t trust wikipedia’s confirmation of this. Now you have moved the goalposts to whether the change is a good idea.

        • Andy says:

          Douglas, where did I move goalposts? Quote please?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I already cited something you said: you called wikipedia “dubious.” You were skeptical of the fairly concrete question of whether fireman’s carry had been replaced by dragging.

          There, I used quote marks. Happy? Does that actually give you more precise information than my previous comment? Did you bother to look at what you said?

        • Andy says:

          Of course women have another kind of courage, or else the human race would have died out for lack of reproduction, but they do not have, and should not have, the kind of courage required to fight fires.

          I refer you to the quote at the top of Scott’s OP. People are more complicated than neat little evolutionary Just So Stories.
          Another writer, when I was first learning to write, told me something that stuck with me ever since: “The differences between gender are smaller than the differences between individuals within either gender.”
          I would say that, as a general rule, men have more physical courage than women.
          BUT exceptions exist. I am one of them, as I have far less physical courage most people I know. I can’t even stand to ride a bicycle in traffic because the wind from passing cars scares the bejeezus out of me. And that’s fine. I can live my life without ever fighting. Neither geography nor urban planning require much in the way of physical courage or upper-body strength, which I also lack. The good news that I will probably never have to jab a pointy stick into a leopard in order to ensure that my future children, if any, grow up to pass on my wimpy genetics.
          And the reverse is true – there are women with more physical courage than the average man, like my cousins, who both volunteered to rescue people from burning buildings. Like the women who join the Army and do their job.
          Or like Boudica, who was never faulted for lacking physical courage when she led an army against the Romans. Strategic sense she might have lacked, at the end, but plenty of males had thrown their hordes into the teeth of the Roman Army before her. Or the Trưng sisters in first-century Vietnam. Or the several Teutonic tribes that fought against the Romans, with women fighting alongside their men or holding fixed positions while their menfolk were in the field.

          should not exist

          Given the aforementioned exceptions, what do you think should be done with women who have more-than-normal physical courage and want to use it?

          • “The differences between gender are smaller than the differences between individuals within either gender.”

            Not much overlap in upper body physical strength, physical courage, or, on the other hand, ability to find the car keys.

            And, in those matters, such as IQ, where there is a great deal of overlap, nonetheless if you are looking for the very smart people, or very fast runners, or very X for just about any value of X that is not connected to bearing children and taking care of them, the group of very X people will be almost all male.

            If you take a woman at random and a man at random, the chance that the woman will be smarter than the man, or faster than the man, is near to fifty fifty. If you take an entire group of women, say half a dozen, and entire group of men, the chance that the group of women will on average be smarter than the group of men is near to fifty fifty. You need a very large group before the difference in averages over the group becomes noticeable, and it is a small difference.

            But if you have job that needs a very smart person, and you select the very smartest people from a large group of people, you will be selecting men. If you want the very best, the difference becomes very noticeable.

        • Andy says:

          I already cited something you said: you called wikipedia “dubious.” You were skeptical of the fairly concrete question of whether fireman’s carry had been replaced by dragging.

          I’ve read the entire conversation several times now, and I still don’t entirely understand. I said,

          Wikipedia’s page on the Fireman’s Carry says that it’s been replaced with dragging a person along the ground, though it also does not cite sources, so is dubious.

          I meant that I did not entirely trust Wikipedia because it presented no citations for that entire passage. I then said later in the conversation,

          Checked with both cousins – the over-the-shoulder carry is one of several carries that are taught.

          From my point of view, I won that part of the argument, which from my point of view was being waged on several fields:
          1) Whether the Fireman’s Carry is still being used (Yes, among several other carrying techniques for moving a person out of a building.)
          2) Whether women firefighters, to quote James, “watch fires rather than fight them.” He cited 9/11, which I haven’t had time to research to respond effectively.
          3) Whether (I took to be implied in James Donald’s arguments) letting women do “men’s work” results in more people dying from fires when they could have been rescued. (I think I’m winning this point.)

          I felt that the assertion that lowered requirements for some jobs was a bad idea was always part of the argument, and that even if some fire departments had lowered height or strength requirements, that the performance of the job (rescuing people from burning buildings) had not been affected. I’m still waiting for a citation on James’ point that “female firefighters are fire watchers,” which I took to mean “Fire departments aren’t doing their jobs anymore!”

          • 2) Whether women firefighters, to quote James, “watch fires rather than fight them.” He cited 9/11, which I haven’t had time to research to respond effectively.

            Marie Curie effect. If a woman ever did something physically brave, she would be a poster girl. Thus, for example Amelia Earhart got a ticker tape parade and a meeting with the president for being flown across the Atlantic by a male pilot as if she was a sack of potatoes.

            Though women, of course, should not do physically brave things. It is unfeminine. Also, like Amelia Earhart, they are usually just not very good at it and tend to die doing it, or endanger the men around them who are forced to rescue them.

            Women who do brave things tend to get the kind of ridicule that men who are good at ballet or needlework receive. And they should. (Usual exception applies for a mother tearing a tiger limb from limb when the tiger abducts her baby. I mean that women who gratuitously do brave things tend to get the kind of ridicule that male ballet dancers receive.)

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          @Andy
          The fact that some women have more physical courage than men does not imply that we should ignore average differences between the two groups. That proves way too much, and is a frustratingly common argument. For example:

          “Some smokers are healthier than some non-smokers therefore we shouldn’t discourage people from smoking”

          You’ll never hear someone make that argument but you might hear something like:

          “Well my father is a smoker and outlived my mother who wasn’t a smoker, so who are you to tell me that smoking is bad for me!?”

          Regarding this bit
          “The differences between gender are smaller than the differences between individuals within either gender.”

          So what? All that shows is that there are individual difference in addition to population level differences. Sensible policy will take both into account and not ignore the population level differences.

        • Andy says:

          Yes that was poorly stated.

          So what? All that shows is that there are individual difference in addition to population level differences. Sensible policy will take both into account and not ignore the population level differences.

          My argument is that the individual differences should be put before the population differences, and that individual differences make the population differences something that should be applied with extreme care. And because we don’t have a good handle yet on how these population differences happen, and how they add up to make the complex and variable people we interact with, the population differences should always have a big honking “BUT NOT ALWAYS” following them.

          To make this specific, if a woman wants to serve her community as a firefighter, and has the physical strength and will to do the required tasks, she should be given the job rather than told “Go home and make babies.” Or if a woman has a talent for working with computers, and a desire to keep working in the STEM field, she should be encouraged, rather than told how “unladylike” she is, and “you’ll never get a man fooling with computers all the time,” and “Oh, that’s men’s work.” Putting a “NO GURLS ALLOWED” sign on the entire STEM field, for example, is absolutely not sensible policy.

          I was objecting to thinking of people as stereotypes and not as individuals. A lot of stupidity and aggravation and just plain rudeness, in my view, arises from that. It’s as frustratingly common, in my experience, as the Healthy Smoker fallacy you cited.

          My example: I have a female friend who is both gay and very feminine. People tell her that she cannot be a lesbian because she doesn’t look like the Platonic Form of a lesbian – butch, spiked hair, muscles, tattoos, masculine attire – even after she say “No, this is who I am, deal with it.”

          Or telling a female IT technician who shows up to fix a computer, before she even has a chance to prove her competence, “Go get a man, honey.”

          Treating people as individuals, not as the sum of their stereotypes, in my experience avoids a great deal of the jackassery that human beings do far too much of to each other.

          • My argument is that the individual differences should be put before the population differences

            But individual differences are hard to detect and hard to measure, whereas population differences are glaringly obvious even when we are forbidden to measure them.

            Further, in a politically correct society, information about individual differences is suppressed. Anarcho tyranny means that a habitual black criminal is unlikely to have a criminal record if he avoids killing and any serious maiming. Accreditation is given differently to women than to men, as is evident from the discrepancy between SAT and GPA, even though the new SAT measures the same things as GPA. The more discrimination is forbidden, the stronger your need to discriminate.

            If you have two candidates for a stem job, one of them female, one of them male, you would usually be correct to disbelieve the qualifications on the female’s resume, and the more vigorously our society attempts to shove women into stem jobs and keep them there, the less you can believe the resume.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          @Andy
          I think that there is a happy middle ground between absolute stereotypes and treating everyone as though there were no population level differences at all. But I’m interested in pragmatics so bear with me for a bit.

          Note: This the following is a tentative argument and is stated more strongly than I intended. I admit I am not well read in this area.

          Consider a world in which the people who are most capable of becoming firefighters regardless of gender are able to become firefighters without a lowering of standards. That world might contain a gender breakdown of lets guess 5% women and 95% men as fire fighters.

          This world seems like the ideal world to me, what do you think? The trouble is, I don’t think this world is actually capable of existing. At a mere 5% prevalence, the female firefighters, who are actually just capable as the men will still face significant challenges. In particular there are cultural issues (having one woman in a male dominated organization is something that will happen regularly), issues with getting equipment that will fit women, ensuring that fire departments actually keep them in stock etc.. So what will be the result? Feminist outrage, demands for a more inclusive environment, demands for increased representation of women in fire departments and an inevitable lowering of standards as more women (who are less capable) become firefighters. Perhaps this isn’t inevitable but if an alternative exists other than simply keeping women out of the profession entirely then I’d like to hear it.

    • Andy says:

      So at some point you have to say either have to say that people, groups of people, and categories of people really are unequal and society should recognize and accept the fact, or else proceed to full on mass murder and genocide, as in the Congo.

      And yet we have had neither in the United States, except for your Detroit example above. Since the population of the City of Detroit is still 10.8% White as of the 2010 Census, and I see no incidents in the City’s history that I would call genocide, I must ask for more details.

      • So at some point you have to say either have to say that people, groups of people, and categories of people really are unequal and society should recognize and accept the fact, or else proceed to full on mass murder and genocide, as in the Congo.

        And yet we have had neither in the United States, except for your Detroit example above.

        We have had ethnic cleansing in Detroit, (which I somehow keep mistyping as Destroit) despite a federal and state white majority. With the federal white majority going away due to a government policy of race replacement, genocide will be next on the agenda – probably with a Mandela like transitional figure to gently ease in the narrow end of the knife.

        • ozymandias says:

          Hey Scott, are you feeling ethnically cleansed?

        • Andy says:

          We have had ethnic cleansing in Detroit, despite a federal and state white majority.

          Flight due to lousy economy does not count as genocide, sorry. Especially not when 115 of 185 townships and cities in Metro Detroit have over 90% White population, and the MSA is 70% White. This sounds more like rampant flight to suburbs where the cost of business is lower rather than genocide.
          This is the equivalent of poor minorities declaring gentrification “genocide” because poor people are priced out of their neighborhoods in favor of young wealthy (often white) professionals.
          Which is a real argument I’ve heard and facepalmed at from some progressives with more outrage than brains, so you’re not alone in the “calling things genocide that are not” club, if that’s any comfort.

        • Erik says:

          Ehh, the lousy economy was accompanied by a surge in the murder rate helping to drive people out. That probably qualifies under the UN definition of genocide (which, it must be said, has holes wide enough to drive a truck through at both ends: double-murder can count as genocide if the perpetrator has genocidal intent, and the Dekulakization does not count as genocide).

          • We have had ethnic cleansing in Detroit,

            Ehh, the lousy economy was accompanied by a surge in the murder rate
            helping to drive people out.

            It was not the murder rate, which was unexceptional, it was the beatings and the arson, particularly the arson. Whites were burned out.

  57. ozymandias says:

    I am endlessly amused that you have basically reinvented the concept of racial reparations.

    Or halfway invented it, I suppose. I guess the other component is the fact that some sociologists think wealth gaps between white people and black people is part of the reason black people are in such shitty situations. Even if black people are not being discriminated against now, white people have had several generations of unfair advantage over black people in which to accumulate wealth, and the wealth is still there to make college, buying a house, etc. easier.

  58. Erik says:

    Here’s another worry: What if taxation of this sort proves to have low but nonzero effectiveness?

    Suppose the God-Emperor’s economists make an initial estimate of the cost/value of discrimination, and on their advice, the God-Emperor proclaims a 10% tax on hiring Earthlings.

    Five years later, evaluations are done of the policy’s effect so far, and the God-Emperor’s statisticians estimate that discrimination has been reduced by about 2%.

    What do you want for the God-Emperor to do next in this situation? I see at least three possibilities:
    A) repeal the tax, it’s ineffective, and investigate other measures against discrimination
    B) leave the tax, it helped a bit, and investigate other measures for the remainder of the discrimination
    C) raise the tax by 490% to see how much it will counteract the other 98% of discrimination

    Option c) looks ludicrous from here, but absent a God-Emperor, the more general form worries me: we’ve established that you’re a whore using taxation against discrimination, we’re just haggling over your price (With apologies to Churchill) and it looks the price is about to get ludicrously high. If taxation proves to have very low efficiency, I worry that the decision-makers at high levels would be more like “We need to do it harder” than “This isn’t really working”.

  59. Ben says:

    I think you’re grossly overestimating the extent to which wages are determined by market mechanisms. Wages are determined in a weird arbitrary way that has more to do with the social prestige of work as viewed by elites, custom and practice, the general hive mind feeling about the economy, etc. The rates for low-paid workers aren’t determined by the value they create for the company, but by how desperate people are for work, how effectively bosses can suppress attempts to implement minimum wage legislation and break up unions, etc.

    If McDonald’s had to pay workers $10 rather than $8, it wouldn’t be paying them $2 more per hour than their work is “really worth”. (You’re buying into the idea that labour magically creates value, which is actually one of Marx’s weird ideas.) It would just mean there’d be less available profit for the people at the top to skim off.

    I agree that a basic income guarantee would be a better idea for society overall than unionism and strikes. But in our neoliberal era, rich company owners and their allies in government work constantly to dismantle any safety nets to provide cheaper labour. In the UK, the Tory government requires unemployed young people to do “work placements” that consist of doing (usually unskilled) work in exchange for their (way below minimum wage) benefits. This isn’t about making unemployable people employable, because even skilled graduates are forced to do it. And presumably a workfare shelf-stacker is creating as much value as a paid one. It’s about extracting as much labour from those weaker than you (and being unemployed or disabled is now hugely stigmatised in the UK by the government and most of the press).

    So in the real world the choice isn’t between “government help” and “low-paid makework jobs” – you get to do a real productive job, for no pay.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “The rates for low-paid workers aren’t determined by the value they create for the company, but by how desperate people are for work, how effectively bosses can suppress attempts to implement minimum wage legislation and break up unions, etc”

      I agree that “value added” is a complicated concept, because there may be different amounts of value added at different wages and so on. And I agree that “desperation” figures into it pretty strongly, although I think (don’t hold me to this) that in an economy without a minimum wage worker desperation would be closely linked to how much value a worker added to a company through the worker’s opportunity costs. But generally this point is correct and thank you for helping me clarify my thinking.

      I’m not so sure about your other points. Saying that the rates for low-paid workers are determined by “suppression of minimum wage” rather than by the market is true but kind of off the point. It’s like saying that how many basketball games I win is determined not by my skill at basketball, but by how effectively the referees resist my requests to award me one million points. Yes, you can always say something is determined by inability to get an outside party to change the rules, but that doesn’t seem to be what we’re talking about. Ability to break up unions is sort of like this as well when we’re talking about how we need laws artificially making unions more viable.

      “Wages are determined in a weird arbitrary way that has more to do with the social prestige of work as viewed by elites, custom and practice, the general hive mind feeling about the economy, etc”

      Would like to hear more about this, including link if it’s an official theory. It would require that “elites” view firefighting and teaching as unprestigious, but basketball playing as extremely prestigious. I can’t see you supporting that except through some redefinition of “prestigious” that turns this into a tautology plus a conspiracy theory about “elites” with really weird values. To me a more parsimonious theory is that there’s a lot of demand for teachers, but only a few hundred spots on NBA basketball teams – ie supply and demand – plus having the absolute best basketball player rather than the thousandth best means the difference between winning and losing while having the absolute best versus thousandth best teacher is a few percentage points. This also explains things like why prestigious graduate students get paid so little – because lots of people want to be art professors (which is a prestigious job!) but there isn’t much of a demand for them.

      (there do seem to be a few cases where this is true – for example medicine, where doctors successfully maintain a cartel because they are prestigious enough that everyone trusts them to “manage themselves”. But even here, the social prestige aspect works through supply and demand – doctors leverage social prestige to artificially restrict supply).

      “But in our neoliberal era, rich company owners and their allies in government work constantly to dismantle any safety nets to provide cheaper labour.”

      Even if this is true (and I’d love to throw you and the reactionaries together and watch you fight it out), wouldn’t neoliberal company owners be much more opposed to things that directly hurt companies (like high wages and unions) then to things that distribute the responsibility for the poor onto society in general (like taxing people for welfare)?

      • Kevin says:

        I can give you a limited example, which is CEO pay. From Matt Yglesias:

        It would be wrong to say that compensation for America’s chief executives is handed out randomly, but there’s certainly no clear link to corporate performance, and even the link to corporate size is surprisingly vague. But there are patterns.

        In practice, norms tend to dominate. Media CEOs are very highly paid because so are other media CEOs. Nationality matters, too.

        Meanwhile, nobody is going to be crying for the poor oil executives, but the huge and seemingly nonsensical gaps between CEOs of one company and another should give us pause. Executives are compensated lavishly but arbitrarily, and there’s no end in sight to the upward trajectory.

      • Ben says:

        Saying that the rates for low-paid workers are determined by “suppression of minimum wage” rather than by the market is true but kind of off the point. It’s like saying that how many basketball games I win is determined not by my skill at basketball, but by how effectively the referees resist my requests to award me one million points. … Ability to break up unions is sort of like this as well when we’re talking about how we need laws artificially making unions more viable.

        You’re assuming here that the condition of a completely free market with no worker rights is the natural state of things, and any attempt to regulate is a weird imposition, almost like cheating. And yet in fact, the status quo for decades in most developed countries has been minimum wage laws, rules about maximum hours worked, etc.

        Now the standard classical economics prediction is that minimum wage laws would hurt workers by reducing employment. And yet, when you empirically look at the effects of raising the minimum wage – and this was done on fast food workers – it turns out that it doesn’t reduce employment, and may even raise it, while increasing worker income.

        (It turns out that analysing earlier studies purporting to show that minimum wages hurt employment shows the effect was down to publication bias – not surprising given how many economists are funded by right wing billionaires to tell them what they want to hear).

        A minimum wage is “artificial”, but so is money. Forming a union is “artificial”, but so is forming a limited company, or sending all your profits to a subsidiary in a tax haven. All these things are part of an artificial system – the question is to what extent we design a system that protects workers. And there’s an empirical case that paying workers badly actually decreases overall economic growth.

        (Of course, I’m not disputing that there are good economic reasons why it’s bad to set the minimum wage to be $100 an hour, or have government fix prices, but like rods of plutonium, markets need to be regulated if they’re to be beneficial.)

        It would require that “elites” view firefighting and teaching as unprestigious, but basketball playing as extremely prestigious

        Well, billionaires will pay a lot of money for courtside tickets to see basketball players doing their jobs, and sometimes even buy the teams, so there’s evidence they value basketball. Whereas the status of firefighters and teachers is denigrated because (a) they are public employees and therefore outside the market system that enriches elites

        (b) they retain union membership and benefits that private sector workers don’t, and therefore the elites have to turn private workers against them lest they wonder why they don’t get the same benefits

        (c) elites want to privatise the publicly funded school system and turn it into a profit centre with cheaper labour – in the UK, the Tories have brought in a parallel “free schools” system where teachers don’t need to be qualified, but their Lib Dem collaborators blocked the part of the reform where schools could be run for profit.

        Republican politicians openly valued tax avoidance for corporations over healthcare for 9/11 first responders, the most high-status of firefighters.

        When I say ‘elites’ I specifically mean the billionaires who own half of society’s wealth and lobby for their own interests directly and using ‘think tanks’ etc. I take it you recognise they exist and aren’t some kind of conspiracy theory. Being a college professor isn’t prestigious in their eyes. An example of a job that’s purely highly paid because of prestige among capitalists is a trader in the financial services industry.

        Traders have little to no ability to actually predict markets when you actually analyse their records – in fact, the traders who do most transactions tend to do worse – as Kahneman puts it, they’d be better off just taking a shower and waiting for stock values to rise. But they are very highly rewarded purely for cultural reasons. Of course, everybody would like to be paid well to make random guesses, so artificial barriers to entry have to be put in place: internships where would-be traders have to work 72 hour shifts doing menial tasks like changing the colours in a Powerpoint presentation, a culture of presenteeism where you have to be seen to working long hours, sexism, old-boy networks etc.

        As Kevin pointed out, CEO pay actually negatively correlates with company performance, so again, the high pay can’t be justified by “value produced”. It’s socially prestigious to be a CEO, the CEO’s mates sit on the board that determines his pay, etc.

        wouldn’t neoliberal company owners be much more opposed to things that directly hurt companies (like high wages and unions) then to things that distribute the responsibility for the poor onto society in general (like taxing people for welfare)?

        If they were rational, perhaps, but there are plenty of neoliberals who are vocal fans of Ayn Rand, think that their success means that anyone who isn’t a billionaire is a lazy parasite, and are against taxes in general.

        Now, I just want to make it clear that I don’t think that the market has zero influence on pay, or that we should have a centrally planned economy where the Chairman tells us all to smelt our own steel in our backyards or whatever. I just think you’re naively overestimating the power of ‘market forces’ when often the real determinant is ‘what the people with money want’.

        • You’re assuming here that the condition of a completely free market with no worker rights is the natural state of things, and any attempt to regulate is a weird imposition, almost like cheating. And yet in fact, the status quo for decades in most developed countries has been minimum wage laws, rules about maximum hours worked, etc.

          And, predictably, in countries where these rules are most stringent we see a large proportion of young people never enter the workforce, and slowly drop into the underclass, an underclass majority partially obfuscated by sending lots of them into endless education in stupid.

          In the US, we are importing Mexico’s non working underclass to vote ever lefter, to avoid the gap between election outcomes and what the government actually does becoming too embarrassingly large. In Europe, importing a non working underclass from Africa and south Asia has begun to generate some friction, so much friction that the pretense of democracy, which was the whole point of importing them, has begun to wear thin, so instead, they turning whites into the necessary non working underclass to provide the ever more left wing vote, so that the gap between election outcomes and what the permanently fireproof unelected government employees do does not become too embarrassingly large.

        • Multiheaded says:

          In the US, we are importing Mexico’s non working underclass to vote ever lefter, to avoid the gap between election outcomes and what the government actually does becoming too embarrassingly large.

          :headdesk:
          1) I believe you don’t know any Mexican immigrants to the U.S. first-hand, because 2) reports say that many of them are fairly conservative, Catholic and would gladly vote Republican if the Republicans didn’t need to pander to a racist “base”.

          • I believe you don’t know any Mexican immigrants to the U.S. first-hand, because 2) reports say that many of them are fairly conservative, Catholic and would gladly vote Republican if the Republicans didn’t need to pander to a racist “base”.

            The overwhelming majority of Mexican immigrants are Indios, or high Indio Mestizos.

            Casual observation shows that nearly all female Indios in California, though theoretically Catholic, are fat sluts, starting at an astonishingly early age, and most adult female Indios are fat single mothers. Hence not at all conservative, not very Catholic, and highly unlikely to vote Republican no matter what the Republican party does.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Just when I thought you couldn’t sink much lower… Note to self: don’t waste time on this.

        • Andy says:

          In the US, we are importing Mexico’s non working underclass to vote ever lefter, to avoid the gap between election outcomes and what the government actually does becoming too embarrassingly large.

          “Importing” implies intent, and I have to ask: intent by who? Deportations of immigrants are at an all-time high since Obama took office, a factor that immigrant-activist groups have been quite ticked off about.

          Casual observation can be terribly misleading, especially when you are dealing with a phenomenon as complicated as immigration. My casual observation of Mexican immigrants in California reveals the opposite – a great many Mexican immigrants are working hard jobs, cleaning other peoples’ houses, taking care of other peoples’ children, car washes, etc – very low-paying menial labor.
          There’s a JFK quote I think is apropos:
          “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

          • a great many Mexican immigrants are working hard jobs, cleaning other peoples’ houses, taking care of other peoples’ children, car washes, etc – very low-paying menial labor.

            If you spend all your time in expensive Californian urban whiteopia, those are the only Mexicans you see, the ones that come in from slightly less expensive suburbs to do the gardens of affluent whites. The typical Mexican immigrant does not live anywhere near high housing prices. The typical Mexican immigrant lives in exurbs, semi rural areas, and rural areas.

            The great majority of these hard working Mexican immigrants doing white people’s gardens are male and Mestizo, often Mestizos white enough that if they shot a black thuglet in self defense, they would find themselves redefined as white. The typical hard working Mexican immigrant in California is Mestizo. The typical Mexican immigrant is Indio.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Are the deportation rates genuine or a statistical artifact from counting people who are turned away at the border? I’m asking, I have no idea. Also, while I wouldn’t say it is intentional, the US government has failed to enforce some very simple measures that could cut down on illegal immigration (the most glaring is the absence of employer verification).

          And lets be perfectly clear, restrictionist do not deny the hard work that immigrants do, or their short term benefits to the economy, or the fact that they have families to feed. We don’t hate them, we simply think in the long run, they are harmful to the US for many reasons.

          Now if you think that its okay that they harm the US because they are benefiting then we do not see eye to eye and this discussion will go nowhere. But if you want to talk about the object level matter of why I think that they harm the US then we could have an interesting discussion.

        • Andy says:

          Are the deportation rates genuine or a statistical artifact from counting people who are turned away at the border? I’m asking, I have no idea. Also, while I wouldn’t say it is intentional, the US government has failed to enforce some very simple measures that could cut down on illegal immigration (the most glaring is the absence of employer verification).

          Given that most of the yelling I’ve heard has been about people who have been here for a while, I’ll go out on a limb and say it isn’t a statistical artifact, though I haven’t found a good statistic as of yet.
          My own position is that immigration should be easier and more straightforward so that illegal immigration is less of a necessity, but that can be argued ’til the cows come home. Though another acceptable alternative is to improve conditions in immigrants’ source countries (Most people have Mexico and Latin America as the face of illegal immigration, but the Philippines and China are also major sources of immigrants) so that not as many need to come. The problem is, many of these source countries are caught between the demographic transition and the automation of industrialization, and their entrenched inequalities really, really don’t help the situation. Thus my favored policy is world conquest, but that’s a whole nother ball of wax.
          Second, employer verification is IMO an incomplete solution. A great number of illegal immigrants work through the informal economy and are unlikely to be affected by verification.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Here is the source of the deportation statistic. (Click on “Expand All.”) Only 17% of the 2012 number consists of “border removals.” A slight majority is “convicted criminals.” That category has increased 65% from under Bush, while other categories have increased 10%. It is possible that the 2012 boost in border removals is fudging the number to maintain the trajectory, but change from 2008 to 2011 is big.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Thanks Douglas, that’s progress I suppose.

          @Andy

          I think your position is quite reasonable, and I agree with a lot of it. In particular, the need for improving conditions in the countries where illegal immigrants come from. World conquest sounds great, if only decolonization didn’t make that completely impossible – I’m pretty sure that my home country (Trinidad and Tobago) would be much better off if it were still under British rule.

          There are many significant challenges to improving things in say Mexico though. Among them are:

          1) Low IQ (in some countries) – the solution to this is eugenics which is infeasible right now so lets skip this.

          2) Bad institutions, bad laws, poor enforcement of laws. This is very difficult to overcome – it is very difficult to replace bad laws with good ones. My preferred solution to this is charter cities: cities within a country that are either under foreign control (such as Hong Kong was) or are based on a charter and not the laws of the country. In other words, build a city, throw out all of the failed laws and institutions and replace them with good ones. China’s Special Economic Zones are something like this but I haven’t looked into them. I realize how difficult these are logistically and politically, but trying to improve bad institutions has repeatedly failed so I figured I would suggest something different.

          3) Nepotism: this is also a very difficult problem and I don’t know how to overcome it. For cultural and I suspect genetic reasons, Hispanics are much more altruistic towards family members than other Westerners. This leads to nepotism, corruption and gang membership. I’m open to ideas for changing this.

          A couple of other points. Increasing legal immigration doesn’t necessarily funge against illegal immigration. Unless you lower the standards for immigration to almost nothing, none of the would be illegal immigrants would qualify for legal immigration anyway. But it might be more politically feasible to attack illegal immigration while simultaneously increasing legal immigration. That’s possible.

          Regarding employer verification – no it won’t solve most of the problem but it is still a ridiculously simple measure that would help and it hasn’t been enacted.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Note: I am not claiming that Mexicans have a low IQ. Just that it would pose a problem if it were true – some countries do have a low IQ due to genetic factors, but I don’t know if Mexico is one of them.

          • some countries do have a low IQ due to genetic factors, but I don’t know if Mexico is one of them.

            Average Mexican IQ is low, but average is irrelevant. We are getting the Mexican underclass, which has below average Mexican IQ, and far above average Mexican aversion to work. This stuff about hard working Hispanics is selection bias.

            No one wants to be raciiiiisssssst, and since the only Mexicans they see are guys that show up in the white suburbs to work, they say “Oh, Mexicans are so hard working”. Mexicans in Mexico are not hard working, and Mexicans who cross the border into the US are one hell of a lot less hard working.

        • Ben says:

          James A. Donald: I know you’re probably too insane to bother providing evidence to support your worldview, but why do you think worker rights are correlated with unemployment among ‘young people’? Please link to the figures. Let’s restrict it to developed countries, because I do believe that developing countries have less stringent laws and more 10 year olds in factories.

          Also, I find it ironic that I was once nearly banned from commenting on Slate Star Codex simply for designating the Catholic Church as “Team Boyfuck” – referring to its long and well-documented history of covering up the abuse of children on an industrial scale – but when I spend a fair amount of time making a proper detailed comment with evidence and everything, the response is derailed by a rant about how Mexican immigrants are “fat sluts”, evidenced by “casual observation”.

          • but why do you think worker rights are correlated with unemployment among ‘young people’?

            1: Economics 101

            2: Europe, in particular, Spain and Greece.

            If you compare one European country with another, pretty obvious that economics 101 is correct.

          • when I spend a fair amount of time making a proper detailed comment with evidence and everything, the response is derailed by a rant about how Mexican immigrants are “fat sluts”, evidenced by “casual observation”.

            So where is your evidence that Mexicans would vote Republican?

            In Mexico the middle class votes for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, a party whose far left policies (far left relative to US democrats) would cause even worse economic disaster than they do were they not ameliorated by corruption.

            The Mexican working class votes for commies, who favor the policies that were discredited when Pol Pot put them into action. Fortunately if the left of Mexican center parties ever got to power, they would probably be even more corrupt than those of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, so would be unlikely to put them into action.

            We are of course, for the most part getting neither the Mexican middle class, nor the Mexican working class, but the Mexican underclass, who do not have a sufficiently clear conceptualization of politics to vote coherently, but if they did, would presumably vote left of the Mexican working class.

        • Ben says:

          “Economics 101” predicts a lot of things which aren’t so in reality, as the minimum wage research I discussed at length shows. There’s a reason it’s known as the ‘dismal science’.

          Germany and the Scandinavian countries have the same or better worker rights than Spain and Greece – yet they haven’t experienced the same serious economic problems. Also, those rights have been around for decades, yet the trouble in Spain and Greece came after the 2008 financial crisis and the resulting austerity hysteria. So your theory doesn’t fit reality on even the most basic level.

          It’s not even internally consistent: labour rights drive young people out of work, creating an underclass, but the underclass must be “imported” from outside the country via immigration?

          You can’t even keep straight the two or three different people who are bothering to engage with you, since you asked me to evidence a claim about Mexicans voting Republican which I didn’t make.

          • “Economics 101″ predicts a lot of things which aren’t so in reality, as the minimum wage research I discussed at length shows.

            If one is looking a small effects, easy to lie with statistics, easy to get the desired result. Coyote points out that all of the studies looking at harmful effects of regulation or minimum wage laws, would have recorded his business as not altering its behavior in response to regulation, because he always started the behavior change earlier than the study allowed, and usually the behavior change took considerably longer to implement than the study allowed. Indeed, the studies were arguably set up to guarantee the desired result, treating the regulation as coming into effect instantaneously at an arbitrary date with little connection to reality.

            Observe that the same people who produce studies showing minimum wage laws have no effect on employment (therefore showing that the labor market is highly inelastic) also produce studies showing that immigration has no effect on wages (therefore showing that the labor market is highly elastic). Both sets of studies cannot be true. One set, or both sets, have to be lies. Indeed, we have overwhelming evidence that labor market elasticity is of order one, so both sets of studies have to be lies.

            Therefore, to determine the effect of the minimum wage, look for large effects, the elephant in the living room, the mass destruction of entire peoples, lives, and economies. Observing Europe. living rooms are full of elephants crushing people and furniture.

            Germany and the Scandinavian countries have the same or better worker rights than Spain and Greece

            Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, and the rest have no minimum wage. Whenever “worker rights” start destroying the economy and human lives, Germans turn around and do the sane thing, either abolishing the regulation, or retaining the regulation on paper, while emasculating it in practice.

          • It’s not even internally consistent: labour rights drive young people out of work, creating an underclass, but the underclass must be “imported” from outside the country via immigration?

            Democratic hovernments everywhere are using a wide variety of measures simultaneously to create an underclass. Germany, however, is concerned about the economic consequences, remembering hyperinflation, so has no minimum wage. Similarly Sweden found their economy was going to hell, so decided to rely primarily on importing an underclass, instead of destroying the lives of their children with minimum wage laws.

            Some countries rely most heavily on minimum wage laws to create an underclass, others rely most heavily on importing an underclass, some rely equally heavily on both.

        • Army1987 says:

          If you compare one European country with another, pretty obvious that economics 101 is correct.

          And if you compare a European country with the same country 20 years ago, it’s pretty obvious that it isn’t. (But both my comparison and yours have large confounders.)

  60. Pingback: “Liberal” means extreme left to you? You’re pretty badly calibrated, then. | Alas, a Blog

  61. Multiheaded says:

    I… pretty much agree. I used to be a left-authoritarian, but over the last year and a half – reading various anarchists and libertarian leftists – I changed my mind on many issues to something a lot more like your musings. (All glory to the Senders, I suppose.) As boring and sane it might be to say: yay democracy, yay economic freedom and yay personal liberties. Make that a *big* yay.

    • oligopsony says:

      What writers or writings did you find most convincing/disabusive specifically?

      • Multiheaded says:

        Among bloggers, Kevin Carson, Jeremy Weiland, Roderick Long and some less widely read ones that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

        From a more philosophical libertarian-socialist standpoint, I’ve been seriously impacted by John Holloway’s (masterfully written, IMO) Change the World Without Taking Power – but even more so by Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, a book that has grown on me. When I first finished it, I felt so wistful and misty-eyed that I had to chase it down with a reread of Homage to Catalonia. Since then I’ve thought more about it. And in my best moments, I feel like I’d gladly go if there was a ship leaving for Anarres right now, despite the low tech and the scarcity and all that. That description of a society without people and things owned by each other, one that resists coercion and alienation rather than piles them on, just felt so right to me.

        It might just be a sign that the book is extremely effective as propaganda to some people, I don’t know. And I might still be halfway authoritarian in how I view this life’s daily struggle. But at least my ideal is decidedly libertarian now.

        • oligopsony says:

          Ah, but even us Thuvians are libertarian in our ideals! (Which I think why what brought me to Thuvianism was mostly aphilosophic history, rather than general defenses.) I feel like Annares convinced me that anarchism could work as long as you had a self-selected population, no military competition, don’t call the government a “government,” and don’t call the prisons “prisons.” That came out more sarcastic than I meant it – it’s a great book featuring a utopia that’s all the more attractive for Le Guin’s honest and plausible assessment of its costs.

          I’m familiar with Carson (though may have him confused with Kelley somewhat) and Long, surprised you didn’t mention Scott (whom I think any intelligent authoritarian or democrat should wrestle with), and will be sure to check out Weilland and Holloway. Thanks!

        • Multiheaded says:

          I vaguely remember seeing that last one. Link?

        • Would you be willing to summarize what you got out of Holloway?

          From my point of view, he’s doing very low density writing, though I appreciated the part at the beginning about getting in touch with one’s original outrage.

        • Roberta X says:

          Annares is a pretty harsh place for the non-conforming, though. How many dead playwrights are enough, do you think? (And do they pile them any less high on Urras?)

      • Multiheaded says:

        Sigh. Well, of course I would forget some of the most important influences. Here goes.
        Among bloggers: Chris Dillow, a really excellent and thoughtful libertarian Marxist (for a taste, see here, here, here or here). And some of Unlearning Economics.
        Among writers: Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, written with a pragmatic and Machiavellian approach and, IMO, skirting the edges of liberalism and anarchism.

        • Multiheaded says:

          P.S.: Scott, couldn’t you whitelist submissions with my mail address? Whenever I post something with lots of links, I’m afraid it’ll languish in pre-moderation for a long time.

  62. Ken Arromdee says:

    Compare the current system – in which BART is prohibited from firing the workers and replacing them with the machine because that would be greedy – to a system where BART fired the workers, bought the machines, but continued giving the workers their old paychecks for no reason. BART gets the same profits either way. The workers get the same amount of money either way. The only difference is that the workers gain forty hours of free time a week.

    This is only true if the machinery has zero cost.

    If the machinery has some cost, then the comparison requires that either 1) BART pays the workers for no reason, but using an amount less than their former paychecks (in which case BART’s expenses are the same but the workers’ income decreases), or 2) BART pays the workers their old paychecks for no reason, and BART’s expenses increased from the on-th-job case.

    You could think of this as a type of welfare for workers; however it’s a type of welfare that is partially compensated for. Since the machinery is more efficient, it’s a loss for them, but it’s not as big a loss as if they were to just give the employees checks.

  63. Roberta X says:

    “BART gets the same profits either way.” Um, only if they got the machines for free and those machines require no maintenance. As you go on to point out, “automating” ten-to-100 low-skill jobs means hiring one-to-ten high-skilled workers to fix the automation. So figuring profit/loss on such changes isn’t easy, and that’s *before* comparing the ease of getting J. Random Low-Wage-Worker to accommodate minor changes in his routine vs. reprogramming/reconfiguring automation.
    .
    (Most political thinking consists of simple solutions to complex problems. This doesn’t keep us from doing it and probably shouldn’t.)
    .
    The fast food wage fracas is interesting because it *may* get resolved without government’s thumb on the scales, or perhaps only local or state governments, which means it’s likely to be resolved in different ways by different firms and/or in different localities and we’ll have a chance to see what works. Will people stay away in droves from robot servitors or $15 greaseburgers? Will they flock to Living Wage Drive-Thru?
    .
    Men, Martians, Machines (nod to Eric Frank Russell) — this becomes a “who decides?” issue, and the deciders get the power. OTOH, it’s an interesting idea. OTOOH, the Islamic Caliphate may not be the best example of tax-tweaking, as they also limited the marriage choices between believers and unbelievers in such wise as to give the faithful & converts a marked advantage at wedlocking; run that a few generations and see which group is in the majority.
    .
    The same problem of metrics gnaws at the environmental-regulation notion — how much tax is enough to cover clean up? How clean is “clean?” What happens when, twenty years later, we learn dihydrogen monoxide is a horrible risk to the very young when all along it was taxed as a mild risk?
    .
    The very worst problem is the same very worst problem all governments — and anarchies — have: who watches the watchers? And who watches them? How do you keep The Government from deciding technology A is just plain more fun than Technology B, and slapping a tax on the one they find uncool, to subsidize the one they like? (I’d love to argue that perfect transparency would fix that…but it wouldn’t; by the time you find the ten people working on possible side effects of pentavalent McGuffinanium, you need a ChemEng degree to figure out what they’re on about, and so on.)
    .
    There are more questions than answers. The good sign is people are still asking them. The bad sign is that a lot of people are after The One True Answer. It might not exist.

  64. Midnight Rambler says:

    (NOTE: Sorry for the full stops in between paragraphs. I’ve tried everything Google could find, but I can’t figure out how to insert a blank line between paragraphs in this editor).
    ___
    Okay, two points: one about the Simple Check thing, and one about your general political position.
    .
    I don’t know how social security works in America (as a European, of course I’m tempted to say it doesn’t). Here in the Netherlands, we have a complex system of many different benefits. Some are paid with tax money, others with insurance fees paid by employees and businesses (social insurance). One of these benefits is the Simple Check.
    .
    It’s called the bijstand, after a somewhat old-fashioned Dutch word for “aid” or “support.” For this discussion I’ll stick with the Simple Check name, because that’s more or less what it is. You don’t have to work for it, or earn your right to it by having worked X years. It’s pretty much a last resort for people who aren’t eligible for anything else.
    .
    With that in mind, I tripped over this sentence.
    .
    In the “Simple Check” condition, the recipients of the welfare can live enjoyable lives doing their hobbies – as the woman in the article puts it, hair and makeup.
    .
    At least in this country, living on Simple Checks is no fun at all.
    .
    First of all, you’re required to prove you have no other source of income. No other benefits, no job, no spouse who can support you, and no savings above € 5000. If you do have savings (including real estate!) you have to “eat” those first before you get your Simple Check.
    .
    Second, it’s not exactly a lot of money. As in, below minimum wage.
    .
    Third, and most importantly, you’re on the government’s leash. The people who send you your Simple Check have direct access to your bank statements, to check if you aren’t cheating on the “no other income” condition. You have very little control over your own finances (since you’re not allowed to have any savings). You’re legally required to look for jobs, and constantly prodded to do so; failure to show up at required meetings, trainings or interviews can mean your Simple Check will be reduced or even scrapped entirely.
    .
    And you know what? Harsh as it may sound, I think that’s just. It’s a good thing the Simple Check exists; we’re not going to let people starve in the streets. But if you’re going to live on tax money – not a salary, not a stipend from a spouse or wealthy relative, not a social insurance policy, but money paid directly by the collective – then there are two conditions. One, you really need it, and two, you’re trying your damndest to find work. I identify as a social democrat, but solidarity has its limits.
    ___
    Now, as for your position. You say you can’t find a name for it. This may sound weird, but you know how it comes across to me? Good old-fashioned 1970s socialism. And I’m saying this as a left-wing European.
    .
    There are three reasons I’m saying this. One is the whole basic income idea. That one was pretty radically leftist even in 1970s Europe; I hear “basic income”, I think of these guys.
    .
    Also, at the end, you mention your political ideology consists of dealing with social and economic problems, when possible, through subsidies and taxes which come directly from the government.
    .
    That’s a very left-wing position no matter which way you look at it. Not “something sort of like”, not “liberaltarian”, not “bleeding-heart” anything – just leftist, and radically so.
    .
    This is closely related to the third reason, and the most important one. You seem to have a rather optimistic (and I would say naïve) belief in the maakbare samenleving – which can be translated, somewhat clumsily, as “shapeable society.”
    .
    Your general approach seems to be that whenever there’s a problem – overpaid workers, discrimination against Martians, mercury pollution – you just hang a number on it, instate a tax or subsidy to compensate for it, and presto! Problem solved. All very rational and quantifiable.
    .
    This kind of optimism about the ability of government policy to influence society is what’s referred to as belief in the “shapeable society”. It used to be common among the European left, even within the mainstream social democratic parties. Many of them lost this belief at some point in the 1980s or 1990s.
    .
    As loudly as they’ll deny it, many right-wing free-market hardliners are shapeable-society believers, too. Their policies are often made under the assumption that humans are “rational profit maximisers” and will thus act on every financial incentive exactly as predicted.
    .
    Reality is a little more stubborn. Social problems are often hard to quantify; any attempt to do so may well be biased and/or require massive bureaucratic effort. Many humans act on gut feeling and sentiment more than on rational financial calculations. Any reform, especially a big one, will have all kinds of unforeseen and unintended consequences, while its intended effect may be negligibly small. The most well-intended, best-thought-through plans can be frustrated to no end by “office politics” and “interservice rivalry” (euphemisms for grown men and women acting like small children).
    .
    Neither orthodox Marxists nor orthodox free-market thinkers understand this. From reading your post, I get the impression you don’t understand it either.

    • Damien says:

      @Midnight Rambler

      Basic income, like land value tax, actually has appeal across the political spectrum. (Or at both ends, anyway.) Leftists can like it for obvious reasons, but some rightists like Milton Friedman or Charles Murray like it for being less intrusive and bureaucratic welfare. No social workers seeing if you have a spouse or boyfriend (down to counting toothbrushes in the bathroom), just a survivable amount you can get so you can eke out a living in dignity and also not bug us for more.

      “you mention your political ideology consists of dealing with social and economic problems, when possible, through subsidies and taxes which come directly from the government.
      .
      That’s a very left-wing position no matter which way you look at it”

      You’re pulling that out of context: he’s contrasting subsidy and taxation primarily with banning and regulation, currently more popular on the left. Instead of telling people what to do or not do, adjusting the prices so that they make more socially beneficial decisions, but can still do things if it’s still worth it to them. E.g. the US has recently banned conventional incandescent light bulbs, and I think older high-volume toilets, where Scott and I would prefer electricity and water prices that incentivized efficiency but still allowed people to pay more for blackbody light or more effective toilets. (Rumor has it low-volume ones often don’t actually flush turds properly, and might not even save water.)

      It’s true that the statement still implies dealing with “social and economic problems” via government at all; I suspect if pressed Scott would say most of the problems he wants taxed and subsidized are externalities. Self-inflicted social problems can be sucked up by the victim-culprits, perhaps. But note the problems he talks about are keeping people alive, widespread discrimination against classes of people, and pollution, not e.g. gambling addiction.

      • Midnight Rambler says:

        You’re pulling that out of context: he’s contrasting subsidy and taxation primarily with banning and regulation, currently more popular on the left. Instead of telling people what to do or not do, adjusting the prices so that they make more socially beneficial decisions, but can still do things if it’s still worth it to them.
        .
        On second reading, you’re right, I did misinterpret that one. So, taxation instead of regulation it is. Scott is suggesting we legalise Banned Item X, but tax it heavily to discourage its use.
        .
        To be honest, I don’t think that solves a whole lot of problems. The mechanism is still essentially the same: punish undesirable behaviour. The associated problems also remain: for example, how do you determine what’s undesirable? If Item X can be banned for stupid reasons, it can also be taxed for stupid reasons.
        .
        I’d also hazard a guess that regulation is more effective at getting people not to use Item X. (I’d be happy to see data that supports or debunks this). In both situations, you pay a lot of money to the government for using Item X. The difference is whether it’s called a “tax” or a “fine.” Doesn’t sound so different, right?
        .
        However, to pay a fine, you first have to be convicted of having broken the law. This involves a lot of harassment from the government: a court case. It’s also hugely stigmatising, and can completely tank someone’s reputation. Last but not least, breaking the law is something which most people in the more comfortable areas of the world have been raised not to do.
        .
        This is a point which I feel many libertarians miss: laws and regulations aren’t just tools to get people not to do something, they’re also moral guidelines. They define the boundaries of what a given society considers acceptable behaviour. Replace “Item X is banned” with “Item X is okay but it’s heavily taxed” and people will start thinking more lightly about using Item X.
        .
        Anyway, perhaps my biggest problem with it is that taxation-instead-of-regulation allows rich people to buy their way out. Scott expresses concern that regulations hand insurmountable advantages to large corporations, and turn lawsuits into the correct response to everything.
        .
        Well, with taxation instead of regulation, they don’t even need to sue! Scott essentially replaces “no one is allowed to use Item X” with “only rich people are allowed to use Item X.” The idea may be that those willing to pay can “opt out” of a rule, but he overlooks that it’s not just about willingness to pay – it’s also about ability.

        • Damien says:

          Good points, but I’d say it depends on what X is. If it’s something you want to not happen at all, then banning may be the right way to go — though realistically, it still might not be, or may have atrocious side effects (see addictive drugs). If it’s something that conceivably has trade-offs, taxation’s more sensible. For pollution, it’s often the case that we *can’t* get rid of it absolutely yet, and what’s being discussed is regulation telling you how to use less (and that you must, all of you individually) vs. taxation letting you figure out how to use less, and whether it’s worth it to you to use more. Equally, that the rich can pay to do it more isn’t a problem, if our concern is e.g. with the total amount of pollution; yes, the rich could pollute more, like they can do more of most other things, but they also *are* paying for it. If there’s still too much pollution, raise fees/taxes more.

          (As for wealth and *fines*, fines can be levied as a percentage of income, not as fixed amounts; I think Finland does this. Yes, this can lead to $20,000 speeding tickets…)

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          What are some things that you think are better off banned than heavily taxed?

        • Midnight Rambler says:

          @Damien: Oh, of course, some items should be taxed but not banned. We’re already doing this with alcohol, tobacco and petrol (as far as I know, taxes are the main reason for the huge difference in petrol prices between the US and Europe).

          And I’m definitely in favour of taxing pollution. A plan that seems to be gaining ground among the European left is “greenifying” the tax code: higher taxes on environmental impact (pollution, natural resources, energy consumption etc) compensated by lower taxes on income. In theory, this should be a huge incentive for industry to switch to cleaner and more efficient production methods, while also creating more employment because it becomes cheaper to hire people (and still pay them the same net wage). Of course, like I said, reality is stubborn, but it seems like a pretty solid plan to me.

          And yeah, I’ve heard about income-dependent fines. I think Belgium has them too. I’ve got mixed feelings about them. Of course, it seems fair to let everyone feel the same “pain” from a fine, but on the other hand it runs counter to the principle that justice is blind – that the same crime should get the same punishment, no matter who committed it.

          Speaking of justice and income, I would support heavier punishments for white-collar crime (fraud, embezzlement, forgery…). Right now you’re in for a much easier time if you cheat on your taxes for € 1000 than if you steal € 1000 from one person, which doesn’t sit right with me. That’s another discussion, though.

          @Alex: Tons. To name a few:

          – Prostitution. My country has legalised prostitution in the hopes that this would make it easier to keep the problems (human trafficking, slavery, abusive pimps) in check. It doesn’t seem to be working all that well. I’d say at least criminalise the pimps, and perhaps the customers too.

          – Prescription drugs (unless prescribed of course). And be strict about what’s available without a prescription. I’ve heard that in the US, you can get antibiotics over-the-counter, which is a really bad idea since careless or excessive use of antibiotics increases the risks of bacteria becoming resistant.

          – All kinds of technologies and substances with great health and/or environmental risks (e.g. asbestos, leaded petrol).

          – Firearms. There are two kinds of people for whom it makes sense to carry guns: criminals and the police.

          I’d still allow firearms for sport, but only on licensed shooting ranges and designated hunting grounds. And those weapons should be stored on the range, not taken home by the members. Shooting ranges and hunting clubs should meet stringent conditions to get a licence, and individual members should be background-checked to Hell and back before they’re even allowed to look at the guns. (These policies would be very strict even for Europe, but I think firearms are dangerous enough to warrant them).

          • Damien says:

            @midnight
            Same punishment right, but a fixed fine isn’t the same punishment for people of wildly different income/wealth levels.

            Germany, Switzerland, and New Zealand also have fully legalized prostitution (so does Chile, I think); it’s the Netherlands that I hear about trafficking the most in. Perhaps the police aren’t policing trafficking enough? “Criminalise the pimps” tends to get worded as criminalizing “profiting from prostitution” which can be interpreted as banning bodyguards, or renting to prostitutes. Banning the purchase of sex in Sweden has resulted in more violent customers, customers who won’t report suspicions of abuse or trafficking lest they be arrested, and I think sex workers who can reluctant to report too, though I can’t think of why just now. It initially shrank the amount of reported sex work but I’m not sure even that effect stayed, and there’s doubt about “reduced” vs. “pushed around”. Plus it seems odd and condescending to say “you can sell your body, but we’ll arrest all your customers.”

            You’re wrong about the US; antibiotics aren’t over the counter at all. Probably in some other countries in the world, but not ours. We do use some a lot in agriculture, and some antibacterial soaps have stuff like triclosan.

            I think optimal gun laws varies a lot by country. Netherlands and England are highly urbanized and tamed. The US has lots of actual wildlife, large dangerous wildlife, and large ranches that can interact with it. Also still a significant number of poor rural people for whom hunting in what amounts to wasteland is a significant protein source. So your “store guns on ranges and designated hunting grounds” doesn’t make sense for us, or similar countries.

            Also, long arms like rifles (especially traditional hunting ones) and shotguns aren’t used much in crimes. It’s handguns that are mostly used in muggings and murders and suicides, though putatively also for personal defense; it makes more sense to regulate those. I’m neutral on the issue myself, but lots of American will point out that again, we’re more spread out, with police far away from many homes, or unresponsive even in many urban areas.

            Per the topic, I’ve had the idea of imposing either an externality tax, or strict liability (with private insurance available) for gun deaths. If we use statistical values of life like $7 million, I estimate the premium for handguns would be 10x that of long guns, ,and comparable to the cost of the handgun, and that’s a yearly premium… of course, insurance premiums would adjust by sex and age of the owners as well.

            But mostly, the category of “firearms” combined what are practically rather dissimilar items.

    • How hard is it for people to get off the Simple Check? A serious problem in the US is that government aid becomes a trap. The requirement (varies by state) to not have assets is so stringent and the withdrawal of support kicks in at such a low income that making enough money to have a chance of being self-supporting becomes extremely risky.

      • Midnight Rambler says:

        Ah yes, the poverty trap. I’ve heard of something like that, but I don’t know how much of a problem it is here. I should talk to my mother about this; she’s been researching the effects of social security for 25 years and knows our system inside and out. I’ll get back to you on this!

      • Midnight Rambler says:

        Okay, as promised, some answers.

        The size of the Simple Check depends on the makeup of your household. There are three different cases.

        – For a single person without kids: 70% minimum wage;
        – For a single parent: 90% minimum wage;
        – For a couple (kids or no kids): 100% minimum wage.

        Okay, so let’s look at how this works out for Alice, Bob, Charlie and Doris. Alice is a single mother; Bob is single and childless; Charlie and Doris are a couple who live together. All of them receive the Simple Check.

        We’ll call a full-time salary at minimum wage m, because I’m too lazy to type “X% minimum wage” every time.

        Bob lives on 0.7m. If he finds a full-time job at minimum wage, his income will be m: a significant increase. Not much of a poverty trap there.

        For Charlie and Doris, the potential increase is even bigger. They receive m together. If they both find full-time jobs, they’ll make at least 2m. Even if they only work three days each, their income will still increase to 1.2m.

        Alice is in a much stickier situation. As a single mother, she receives 0.9m. Assuming she can only get jobs at or just above minimum wage, she’ll have to work at least 90% full time in order to increase her income at all. For a single parent, that’s often not realistic.

        In other words, it’s not so much a “poverty trap” as a “part-time trap”.

        Another issue, which affects everyone in this example, is job security. Once you have a job, you have to sign off of the Simple Check, obviously. Many of the jobs Alice, Bob, Charlie or Doris may find, though, will be “flexible”, temporary jobs, from which they can get fired again at very short notice. If that happens, they have to sign on for the Simple Check again. Processing that request will take some time… which may lead to a “gap month” between their last salary and their first new Check. Given their extremely limited financial buffers (remember, they’re not allowed to have assets above € 5000) this is a risk many people can ill afford to take.

        Allowing people to put their Simple Check claim “on hold” so they can quickly sign back on if they’re fired would solve this problem, but that raises its own set of issues.

        And then there are all kinds of supplements for people with low incomes (e.g. to help them pay healthcare insurance). If your income increases, you may not be eligible for those anymore, which means Internal Revenue will claim back a handsome sum from you at the end of the year.

        Also, keep in mind that I make it sound much easier than it is. People who end up in the Simple Check system often have a ton of other problems – addictions, psychriatic disorders, chronic illnesses, abusive relationships, you name it – making it hard for them to just “get a job”. In fact, Bob is slightly more likely to have these kinds of problems than Alice.

        • Thanks for the information– as might be expected, the US also has the problem with a lag between when people ask to get their benefits and start receiving them.

    • Aaron Brown says:

      Paragraphs don’t have space between them in the preview but they do after you post (something’s wrong with the CSS I guess). You can verify that you’re really making <p> elements by using “inspect element” (if your browser has it) in the preview.
      When I typed this, I put a newline after the previous sentence, which made this sentence a new paragraph.

  65. Shenpen says:

    Hi Scott,

    Why nobody even considers Distributism (red torysm, revolutionary aristoteleanism etc. etc.) these days? The Left sez the basic reason interventions in the free market are necessary is the power relationship between employers and employees, so basically the wage labor system? So in a market mostly consisting of small family businesses, and not huge corporations, there would be way less need for interventions, right? So why nobody even considers that?

    I know there are technical issues with that, it is sort of hard to imagine how to manufacture airplanes in a mom and pop shop way. But there are difficulties with every ideology, why would this difficulty be so big that it would not even warrant taking Distributism even seriously, while the huge issues with Libertarianism and Socialism do not prevent people from taking them seriously?

    • Multiheaded says:

      A very simplified socialist argument against the sufficiency of small businesses is that it’s very hard to stop them from snowballing into powerful corporations in a perfectly “natural” way – and the government might have incentives (war, imperial expansion, anti-socialism) to support large corporations (beyond “ordinary” political corruption). Most socialists, especially Marxists, say that all capital tends to snowball, acquiring more capital makes it easier to acquire even more capital. Additionally, in many industries there’s a high bound on how “small” a business can be without becoming utterly uncompetitive and unable to employ the economies of scale. And if you distribute shares in it equally, either the state would need to tightly control them (potentially in a corrupt way), or they’d get concentrated in few hands quickly.

      One example that struck me recently is from an article I read on the Chavez administration in Venezuela; it established many workers’ cooperatives in the industry, hoping that they’d give labour more leverage over private capital. But many of those cooperatives started to behave in an extremely capitalist manner themselves, with de facto power in the hands of the management, and the workers there not even having unions as an alternate power structure, being less protected by labour laws, etc.

      Since they are supposedly equal “partners” in a firm, groups of cooperative members who feel exploited within their workplace cannot engage in industrial action. This status as “self-employed associates” rather than “workers” also means they are exempt from national labor laws governing basic protections such as minimum wage requirements. These features are attractive to large capitalist firms that outsource work to cooperatives—many of them staffed by unemployed ex-union members—in order to minimize their reliance on combative permanent workers.

      So the distribution of economic power is hard to maintain, you tend to get either all-powerful, Unfriendly corporations or all-powerful, inefficient state capitalism (like in Britain before Thatcher). But I do agree that economic democracy as such is a worthwhile goal, it just appears to be a challenging organizational problem – especially without democratic workers’ collectives wielding political power on a national level, like the Spanish CNT was able to do for some time in ’36-37.

      Some other proposed remedies include a basic income guarantee and/or an unalienable right for citizens to use the commons, both of which are aimed at reducing capital’s leverage over a worker. Personally I think that basic income is an excellent and long-overdue idea, but have very little hope that it wouldn’t be stopped by heavily entrenched political interests.

      • Oligopsony says:

        Inasmuch as the problem is management rather than ownership I don’t really think there’s a way out, at least as long as we’re living in roughly the same technological era. Whether you have private ownership or cooperatives or central planning the most competent and ambitious 10% is going to be making all the decisions. What you can do is frustrate elite efforts to make their status hereditary and have them live in enough fear of the 90% to give them the material circumstances to pursue what they want to pursue. (There may be a tradeoff between these, as a more open elite is better able to siphon off the potential leadership of the opposition. This probably explains a good amount of recent history.)

        • Multiheaded says:

          Yeah, I agree. I also think the Venezuela story illustrates that there’s a danger of management/business expertise just turning into ownership if the established crust of owners is displaced. Kind of like if a vulgar right-libertarian’s dream came true and every USG employee was abducted by Martians, only to have capitalists immediately rebuilding the state they depend on, welfare and all, rather than “privatizing” it.

        • Damien says:

          “Whether you have private ownership or cooperatives or central planning the most competent and ambitious 10% is going to be making all the decisions”

          Except are they the most competent 10%? That’s far from obvious. Ambition isn’t competence; emotional intelligence is only part of competence.

          There’s also possibilities of more democratic governance, ranging from nearly fully equal input, to a smaller subset proposing detailed decisions but needing those to be approved by majority vote.

        • Multiheaded says:

          (The usual conservative grumbling about The New Class might also be grasping at such developments, from the opposite perspective on class conflict.)

        • Multiheaded says:

          Damien: I’d say “competent” and “ambitious” in the context of any specific industry do not neccessarily correlate with “worthy” or even “generally intelligent”; we’re just speaking in language charged by the #pureideology of meritocracy.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Also, one can argue – and I certainly do – that democracy might work better in all kinds of situations even given that the administrators are genuinely “competent” and their subjects are not. (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/machiavelli/#7) I think that in fact the cliched argument about the rule of competent self-selected elites and its superiority over democracy is so popular because of ideological moralism.

          • What surprises me is that so little has been accomplished in the way of democratic businesses– it seems reasonable, considering the amount of damage that bad bosses and owners can do, that some more-or-less bottom-up procedure for restraining them would have evolved by now.

            Worker co-ops exist, but they’re very rare. Any theories about why completely top-down businesses are still the default?

          • Worker co-ops exist, but they’re very rare. Any theories about why completely top-down businesses are still the default?

            Just look!

            Democracy sucks, and nowhere is this more obvious than when we have a worker’s co-op and a conventional business side by side.

            Democracy is always a lie, in that only the top five percent are really capable of making those kind of decisions, and to the extent that it is the truth, in that certain members of the top five percent provide bread and circuses to fifty percent of the voters plus one, the truth is worse than the lie.

          • A law partnership is a worker’s coop composed of high verbal IQ, high IQ, socially adept people. These work. For democracy to not stink abominably to heaven, franchise has to be limited to those sort of people.

          • Damien says:

            Business structure gets set by the person/people forming the business, which tends to the one/ones with capital, who favor centralized control[1]. Fully worked owned businesses seem to be successful when they get off the ground, but they’ll have more trouble raising capital (can’t just sell off ownership shares), and I’ve seen arguments they’ll be less concerned with expansion due to wanting high profit per worker, not highest total profit.

            [1] If my choices as a new businessman are Mondragon-style, 10% more efficient but widely spread profits, or conventional style, less efficient but I get to keep most of the profits for myself, my choice is obvious.

            “considering the amount of damage that bad bosses and owners can do, that some more-or-less bottom-up procedure for restraining them would have evolved by now.”

            ‘Evolved’ how, with what incentives? The bosses and owners are choosing the procedures in most cases.

          • Businesses don’t always remain in the hands of the people who started them, which means that a workers co-op could buy an existing business. I’ve heard that this happens occasionally when a business is going under.

            Your point about businesses with significant worker input not having a chance to evolve might be right, though I’d think that business owners might gain something by noticing that the people doing the work know something about the work.

            I’m not saying that employee input necessarily implies profit-sharing.

          • Damien says:

            @Nancy:
            1) Even if worker-owned businesses were the stable endstate, over what period would we expect to evolve?
            2) Better-run businesses will at least listen to worker input even without formal processes, just as better monarchs will keep an ear to the ground. Though http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1002204,00.html
            “A 1993 survey of 188 companies conducted by the Washington State Office
            of Trade and Economic Development found that employee-owned firms grew
            no faster than conventional companies unless they gave workers a voice
            in management. Likewise, broader sharing of information and authority
            with workers didn’t boost growth unless that was combined with
            ownership. But firms that put the three together grew about 12% faster
            than their competitors.”

            3) I was also thinking that, leaving aside the evidence of superior performance, we’ve got different problems here. A business is “I want to reach this goal, will you help me, if not you can go leave.” Politics is “we have to live together, how do we do that, what are our goals?” So an anarchy of monarchies works well in competitive markets with full employment or other backstops, while democracy is the moral and superior solution to living in a society. Big business oligopolies are a gray area in between. (And some people want society to be like an anarchy of city states, but moving between cities is much more troublesome than changing jobs.)

            3a) Plus complications about employee “citizenship”, how long do you have to work to get a voting share, will people vote in the business interest if they can bail out easily.

        • Oligopsony says:

          Worker co-ops exist, but they’re very rare. Any theories about why completely top-down businesses are still the default?

          It makes sense for marginal claimants to have control over management, and those with fewer assets are more risk averse. Ironically this leads to more principal-agent problems than you’d have under labor-managed firms, which I believe exhibit higher technical efficiency but make fewer innovations for precisely this reason, but it’s all self-reflexively rational given the distribution of risk cushions IMO.

          • There’s a huge market for firms that can do their work reliably. They do need to innovate to improve their process, but they don’t need to invent new products very often.

            I don’t think lack of innovation is a good general explanation for why there are so few worker-managed firms.

            I also don’t think an absolutely flat structure is needed. Even if it was just workers who’d been there for more than ten years getting significant influence, it might well be better than what we have now.

        • Oligopsony says:

          I don’t think lack of innovation is a good general explanation for why there are so few worker-managed firms.

          Risk, not innovation. Conservative business choices are just one way of avoiding risk; exchanging marginal claims for a paycheck is more common.

        • Oligopsony says:

          Also, if you put much stock in psychologistic explanations, Robin Hanson has advanced a number to explain why firms keep current management structures in preference to internal futarchies which mostly also apply to any alternative management structure.

        • Oligopsony, could you expand on “exchanging marginal claims for a paycheck”?

          Damien, getting an extra 12% growth if information, management, and ownership is shared with employees is pretty impressive.

          I’ve wondered if part of the problem is that banks generally have a gut-level disbelief in businesses with significant employee participation, so it’s too hard for such businesses to get loans.

          I’m watching crowd funding with considerable interest.

          • Damien says:

            Yep, 12% is nice. But it’s not so huge as to dominate the economy quickly, and it’s certainly not so attractive as to motivate a capital-rich founder to convert his company to employee-owned/run. 12% more profits but then having to share those profits much more widely? Nooo… And it’s not a widely known fact (if it even is a robust fact.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Another version of Nancy’s link: 1 2 3.

          A 12% annual growth advantage is huge. The example given in the article is Southwest, only 11% employee-owned. So the claim is that it pays for itself in a year. That’s an easy decision for the owners of an individual firm. But, yes, that doesn’t mean it will take over the industry. That’s only a factor of 100 over the 40 years of Southwest’s existence, which sounds about right.

  66. Damien says:

    @Douglas: my link, but I see it’s paywalled now, so thanks for the archive.org ones.

    “A 12% annual growth advantage is huge. The example given in the article is Southwest, only 11% employee-owned. So the claim is that it pays for itself in a year. ”

    No, no one said that giving out 11% ownership gets you a 12% growth advantage. From the article:

    “A 1993 survey of 188 companies conducted by the Washington State Office of Trade and Economic Development found that employee-owned firms grew no faster than conventional companies unless they gave workers a voice in management. Likewise, broader sharing of information and authority with workers didn’t boost growth unless that was combined with ownership. But firms that put the three together grew about 12% faster than their competitors.

    To see the difference between merely giving stock and letting workers shape their destiny, look at the airline industry. In return for lower wages in 1994, United Airlines pilots and mechanics got more than half the company’s stock. But life inside the cockpit and at loading ramps barely changed. By contrast, Southwest Airlines employees own only about 11% of the company’s stock, but the company works to encourage and implement workers’ suggestions, in part through town hall-style forums with top management. While there are other important differences between the carriers, workplace culture is a big reason United posted record losses last year while Southwest made a healthy profit–as it has for 29 years”

    So even majority ownership doesn’t do much by itself. Going by the survey, just listening to your employees doesn’t reliably help either. It has for Southwest, but we lack the information to say that the 11% employee ownership was a big part of that.

    I’d cynically say that implementing workplace democracy might be harder for the average manager than simply handing out shares…

  67. Amanul Islam says:

    This clears up years of confusion. Thank you!

  68. Damien says:

    “but the implication there (that the government, and by extension society, should be granted the privilege of just deciding to take whatever it wants, in a way that almost exclusively benefits people who are not the people the [whatever] is taken from) is horrendous.”

    Conversely, the idea of private land ownership and the ability to charge rent without services is horrendous, the ultimate expression and power of idle wealth, charging people simply for a place to exist.

    “Land value taxes effectively constitute a massive disincentive to the most practical passive-income arrangement (the letting of commercial and agricultural property)”

    You say that as if discouraging idle wealth is a bad thing. Also, you’re wrong. It’s a massive disincentive to land speculation, holding onto land and keeping it empty in hope of future sales. It’s a massive incentive to getting the most productive use out of a plot of land, so as to pay the ongoing taxes on it. And as it’s a tax on land, but not on buildings, it encourages a shift from idle rentier income to actual useful services, providing and maintaining buildings.

    When I rent an apartment, I’m paying for two bundled but unrelated things: a sound and maintained building, which is a useful service from my landlord, and access to the land the building is on, which owes nothing to the landlord. Land tax takes the latter component away from the landlord and gives it back to the public who generally create high land values in the first place; far from being arbitrary or confiscatory it’s entirely moral and economically appropriate. If city police, water, and subways create high land values, it’s logical that the city should collect the higher rents those induce people to pay.

  69. Autolykos says:

    “The position there’s no good name for […] that position seems to be the sweet spot between these two extremes and the political philosophy I’m most comfortable with right now.”
    How about “Pirate”? – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Party
    Economic policy is not what they mostly talk about, but when they do it is usually a similar mix of social-liberal and libertarian positions with some creative and weird-sounding ideas thrown in. They were also the main force behind popularizing Universal Basic Income in Europe, by the way.