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Links 7/15: Link-Carbon Battery

Contrary to claims of dumbing-down curriculum, it looks like schools are assigning tougher reading material at earlier ages than in the past. To riff off Woody Allen, “I read War and Peace in tenth grade. It involved Russia.”

Jai on the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics, ie “people are punished for touching a problem without solving it.”

Nowadays we say the brain is like a computer. Fifty years ago, people said the brain was like a telephone switchboard. Three hundred years ago? Human beings are basically made of fireworks.

In case you were insufficiently convinced about the crime-IQ link, the latest study from Finland demonstrates it conclusively across > 20,000 people – or you could skip the text and just look at the graph (since the same effect is found on self-report of crime, it’s not just “stupid people get caught”). h/t Stuart Ritchie.

Lovecraft fans: did you know the dhole is a real animal?

The latest promising potential obesity treatment is celastrol, a chemical isolated from the awesomely-named Thunder God Vine. I have already started confusing this with Thorazine for the obvious reason. [EDIT: This may have excessive side effects]

Mississippi is in special trouble for having the Confederate banner on its state flag, but you should know that every state flag is horrible.

Silk Road and similar bitcoin dark markets keep either getting their organizers arrested or turning out to be scams. Now some coders have a vision of creating a distributed dark market as decentralized and open as bitcoin itself. Not for illegal things, mind you. Just for totally legal things that you happen to want to sell via an untraceable currency on a heavily encrypted site. Something something call up something can’t put down.

Space probes that fly by the Earth for a gravitational assist seem to gain speed in a way inconsistent with known laws of physics. Possible explanations include dark matter halo around Earth.

Big new study claims to have found that black-white outcome differences are almost entirely a result of how children of different races are raised. They compare black people with white mothers to black people with black mothers, and find that black people with white mothers do just as well as white people; then they conclude that this means it’s the way you get raised by your mother which determines which racial pattern you fall into. Interesting result, but seems to have no awareness of the fact that people who identify as black but have white mothers are most likely half-white – this reintroduces discrimination as an explanation (since half-white people presumably will have whiter appearance and people might not recognize them as black or discriminate against them as much) as well as genetics. One might argue that in genetic or discrimination explanations they should at least be halfway between all-whites and all-blacks, but I don’t really see the study doing the analysis necessary to make that argument. Although the blindingly obvious next step is to look at children of black mothers and white fathers, either I am missing this in the study or it isn’t done. Overall interesting methodology but very disappointing; I only skimmed it but I’m interested in seeing further analysis.

Closely related: The IQ Gap Is No Longer A Black And White Issue. What should we conclude from African immigrants to the US (and their children) being among the highest-IQ and most successful people in the country, while ‘native’ African-Americans do much worse? Does this argue against discrimination-based explanations for outcome gaps, since immigrants’ blackness doesn’t seem to hurt them at all? Does it argue against genetic explanations, since both groups have broadly similar genetic makeup? (but the article seriously misunderstands regression to the mean, which probably dooms us to a slog through quantitative arguments about exactly how strong selection effects can be – see also here ). Does it argue for something about “poverty traps”? Should we take it as corroborating evidence for the above study that it has to do with cultural transmission and child-rearing?

And related: statistician looks over three of the most celebrated papers purporting to find evidence of racial discrimination and finds that they seem to have heavily fudged numbers, almost as if there were some sort of “ulterior” “motive” “incentivizing” people to publish shoddy research in the field. I don’t really understand the test used and would be grateful to someone explaining it to me using short words.

Not related: the cookbook written by the spouses of Supreme Court Justices.

For-profit colleges are charging tens of thousands of dollars for courses that tend to leave most of their graduates unemployed or working below-poverty-line jobs. Cosmetologists and medical assistants hardest hit. Now the government is cracking down.

Stuart Armstrong’s top ten myths about AI risk. I would have also included “people only worry about AI risk because they think superintelligent AI is very near”.

Drone strikes in areas associated with decreased terrorism in those areas.

Scott Sumner on the startling level of inequality between the northern and southern parts of various European countries, especially Italy.

Actually, please don’t.

Master craftsman Shing Myongsik is apparently very serious about selling this game board, which “took twenty years to make” and “has appeared on TV numerous times”, for $100,000. Plus $54.30 for shipping.

A very comprehensive meta-analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation gathers studies showing that giving poor families money improves children’s outcomes considerably – for example, closing the financial gap between rich and poor kids would close half of the school achievement gap. Some obvious caveats – it doesn’t seem to have been published in a peer-review journal, and the Foundation seems to be a think tank associated with the cause of giving poor families money – but the research and methodology seem solid as far as it goes. My main caveat, and it’s a big one, is that pretty much all their studies measured very near-term outcomes – eg giving families money this year improves their childrens’ grades in school this year. No proof that there is any effect on outcomes that actually matter, like whether the children break out of poverty when they grow up. On the other hand, one would have a hard time arguing that getting better grades throughout your childhood and so getting into a better college or something doesn’t give you a leg up when you’re older. I can’t remember exactly which, but seems like a good place to point out that a lot of these study links are h/t Nathaniel Bechhofer and Ben Southwood.

But this is SSC and we are totally going to try! Estimating The Return To College Selectivity Over The Career Using Administrative Earnings Data by Dale and Krueger (of minimum wage fame) finds that, after accounting for the unobserved differences in ability that allow some students to get into better colleges than others, the return to going to a better college is basically zero. An unrelated analysis in the Economist on a similar topic comes to the same conclusion with a striking graph. [EDIT: Robin Hanson tears this apart]

Also, a while back, China increased years of required schooling, leading to a perfect quasi-experiment to see whether more schooling led to better outcomes. Authors conclude that “our results are consistent with the signaling story [ie education being mostly about signaling]; further consistent with such a story, we estimate that the labor market return to another year of schooling is very small, though greater for the less-educated.”

Some people volunteer to moderate for AOL. Later, they decide to launch a class action suit against AOL for not paying them for the volunteer work they volunteered to do as volunteers. They argue that they worked really hard, so it was kind of like being an employee, and so AOL owes them lots of back pay for all the work they weren’t compensted for. The court decides this makes perfect sense and AOL eventually settles for $15 million. Am I misunderstanding the legalities here, or has volunteering just been made illegal? [see discussion in comments]

Florida is the only state with its own embassy in Washington DC, for some reason.

There’s a common talking point that the US’ private health system is demonstrably inferior to Europe’s public health systems because it spends more money to get worse results. I was recently linked to two articles that challenge that assumption. Random Critical Analysis argues that GDP per capita is the wrong measure to compare healthcare to, and when we use the right denominator the US’ health care expenditure is no more or less than expected given its size and wealth; I don’t know enough economics to be sure it’s right, but I admire the number of graphs included in the argument. And a team from University of Pennsylvania claims that the US’ sub-par life expectancies are unrelated to the healthcare system, although their methodology consists of some measurements of health care quality that for all I know could be cherry-picked or nonrepresentative.

Language Log on the International Classification of Diseases, the official medical coding manual which goes above and beyond in trying to have a code for every possible reason somebody might come to a doctor – plus extra commentary on the inherent difficulty of ontologies. They include some classic ICD codes like “bitten by orca”, “burn due to water-skis on fire”, and “struck by tortoise”. But I have had occasion to use the ICD myself and would add personal favorites V97.33 (sucked into jet engine), V90.23 (drowning due to jumping from burning ship), W58.13 (crushed by crocodile), W50.3 (accidental bite by another person), Y38.5X3 (terrorist injured by their own nuclear bomb), Y92.72 (injury occurring in chicken coop) and W22.02 (walked into lamppost).

Interfluidity gives the Greeks’ side of the Greek financial crisis; Tyler Cowen gives the creditors’ side. Somewhat related: at least according to Forbes (whose ideological committments give them little reason to lie), despite their lazy reputation Greeks work the longest hours in Europe [EDIT: but see comment].

I get accused of overusing the word “orthogonal”, so I want you to know that the Supreme Court has officially ruled that this is cool. (h/t Oscar Cunningham)

Relevant to previous discussion on this blog: Colorado finds that giving out lots of birth control does, indeed, decrease teenage pregnancy rates.

This is a complicated paper and I’m not sure I’m understanding it right, but I think it says that genetic factors and childhood trauma both play independent roles in increasing people’s risk for psychosis, and that the chilhood trauma -> psychosis link isn’t just an artifact of genetics where psychotic people have psychotic parents who cause them trauma.

I was sure that this picture of a deep blue tarantula was photoshopped, but it’s actually a pretty typical poecilotheria metallica.

Congratulations to everybody starting, graduating, or progressing up in medical residencies this July (the rest of you might want to stay away from hospitals for a while). If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you (and medical students also) might want to check out a new book written by LW/SSC community member / new radiology resident Peter Wei: Learning Medicine: An Evidence Based Guide. It talks about how to best use spaced repetition software and similar tools to memorize and understand medical knowledge as quickly as possible.

A lot of the links this week have been studies, some more credible than others, purporting to find that genetics don’t matter as much as we thought. We had better hope they’re right: according to Pew only 46% of Americans support genetic engineering to reduce disease risk, and only 15% of Americans support genetic engineering to make kids more intelligent.

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769 Responses to Links 7/15: Link-Carbon Battery

  1. Adam says:

    Exactly how mythical is the thesis that American slaves were specifically bred for brute strength and subservience? That always seemed to me like a just-so urban myth, but would seem to explain at least some things, even if it was only true for 20% of them.

    • FJ says:

      There were oral accounts of attempted eugenics (at least for size and strength) from surviving slaves. But I very much doubt that these occasional events would explain anything today. There’s nothing to indicate that 20%, or even 2%, of slaves born in the New World were the result of deliberately eugenic conceptions. Moreover, I know of no evidence that there was any systematic and deliberate attempt by any slaveowner to select against any particular trait. Undoubtedly natural selection was at work — slaves who were relatively feeble were unlikely to survive the Middle Passage and pass on their genes in the New World.

      But think about what would be necessary to breed human beings, even slaves, in the manner that we breed cattle. You’d have to castrate or slaughter the vast majority of the boys before the age of sexual maturity, so that only the “best” ones passed their genes on to the next generation. You’d also have to segregate the men from the women in such a manner that they could not engage in illicit sexual congress (not to mention keeping the white people away). You’d have to mate close relatives — at least first cousins, if not siblings. And for any real hope of having enough initial genetic diversity to be useful, you’d have to have a breeding population in the thousands — either your own, or several cooperating plantations that all took similar precautions. That list seems like it should be titled, “How to Be Murdered in a Slave Revolt by the Weekend.”

      • Leif says:

        Slaves knew that their children would become slaves too; possibly sold at auction and separated from their parents. That knowledge might have reduced their desire to willingly have children. (That doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t having sex. Pulling out isn’t the best birth control, but it is fairly effective.) If voluntary breeding is reduced, that leaves more room for the children of involuntary breeding.

        Also, disobedient slaves were whipped, etc. Physical punishment probably reduces the desire to have sex, and maybe attractiveness as well. Castration was also sometimes used as a punishment; in fact, according to an article I found, it was legally mandatory in South Carolina to castrate male slaves on a second offense:

        The South Carolina legislature pioneered these laws in the 1690s, mandating that for the first offense, male and female slaves would be branded with an “R” on the cheek. For a second offense, female slaves would have an ear cut off, while male slaves would be castrated.

        • ivvenalis says:

          Probably not, considering 388,000 slaves shipped to North America between 1525 and 1866 became (at least) 4.8 million blacks by 1870.

          http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2012/10/how_many_slaves_came_to_america_fact_vs_fiction.html

          http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/aap/timeline.html (you can download the indifferently-scanned 150MB 1870 Census and look there, too, if you’re put off by the web design. File #2 Page 3.)

          • Leif says:

            That doesn’t necessarily imply that they were doing a lot of voluntary reproduction; just that they were reproducing. Since slaves were treated as an economic commodity, masters had an economic incentive to produce more of them. And if masters were breeding their slaves, perhaps they had a tendency to choose the “best” slaves for the purpose; not because they were thinking in detail about eugenics/artificial selection, but simply because they liked those slaves better.

      • Adam says:

        Yeah, probably shouldn’t have gone with “specifically bred.” The only prima facie plausible account of how it could happen would just involve the weak and rebellious not being cut out for it and getting selected out by other means, plus the fact that slaves were definitely purchased in the first place for these traits.

      • keranih says:

        You’d have to castrate or slaughter the vast majority of the boys before the age of sexual maturity, so that only the “best” ones passed their genes on to the next generation.

        In some senses, this is what happened, only further upstream from the shores of America. The same areas that were selling slaves to the Yankees and the Portuguese were also selling them to Arab traders. The Europeans wanted male slaves, the Arabs wanted women. And the Arabs were much more likely to use castration.

        In any case, population of African-descent slaves in USA, 1860 was likely not a good representation of population of all Africans transported for the Americans and definitely not of population of sub-Sahara Africa, 1600.

        Or population of sub-Sahara Africa, 2000.

        (The modern non-African-descent population of the USA really can’t be equated to the Founding Fathers, either, for that matter.)

    • AR+ says:

      I have wondered about the fact that, among the entire potential slave population of the relevant regions of Africa, the slaves were the ones who actually were enslaved. If this event has any correlation w/ either individual or group mean intelligence, that could also be a factor.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        The flip side of that argument is that the Africans who managed to immigrate to the US voluntarily almost certainly tend to be smarter, richer, harder-working and/or better connected than the average for those who stayed behind.

        IIRC Thomas Sowell made a similar observation ages ago about the “overseas Chinese” in The Economics and Politics of Race: that Chinese people who managed to leave China did spectacularly well almost everywhere else in the world they went, but the ones who stayed in China didn’t do nearly as well for themselves.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          If “ages ago” means “before 1985 or so”, he may be interested in revising his opinion of how well Chinese people in China are doing. The past couple decades seem to decisively confirm that China had a lot of potential being untapped because of their poor government. Right now I don’t see any sign that Chinese emigrants are systematically outperforming Chinese Chinese.

        • Mary says:

          OTOH, do Caribbeans who managed to immigrate to the US voluntarily act like the Africans or the American born? I’ve heard some evidence of the former.

          On the third hand, the Caribbean got a lot of slaves because their slave populations kept dying, so they had to import enough slaves to replace them entire population every five years. (That explains the original zombie legends right there: you can’t escape this horror even by dying.)

          • Thomas Sowell, in _Ethnic America_, reports that immigrants from the Caribbean to the U.S. reach the median U.S. income in one generation. He offers that as evidence against both the genetic inferiority and discrimination explanations of low African-American wages and in favor of a cultural explanation.

      • Ano says:

        My understanding is that various African kingdoms sold recently conquered neighbors and criminals to the Europeans (in exchange for manufactured goods from Europe). At times, Europeans would deliberately capture Africans, but that seems to have been the exception rather than the rule.

        I guess it’s possible that Europeans ended up with a statistically unrepresentative sample of Africa that was then bred into the current African-American population; but that wouldn’t explain the strong performance of Caribbean blacks. Whatever happened to blacks, it happened after they arrived in the Americas.

      • anon says:

        The typical way to get enslaved and transported overseas was lose a battle to your neighbors in a war, or be captured in an undefended settlement which got raided. While some African polities were generally more successful in these constant wars than others, pretty much all tribes did lose battles or get raided enough that the outgoing population was similar to the original population.

        I doubt the individual genetic attributes of those sold overseas were selected against intelligence or anything else complex like that, other than maybe the “will never accept being a slave and would rather die” demographic which would obviously be wiped out.

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          other than maybe the “will never accept being a slave and would rather die” demographic which would obviously be wiped out.

          This reminded me of a statistic I read stating that African Americans are less likely to commit suicide than other ethnicities in the USA. Looking at Wikipedia’s list of counties by suicide rate, African countries do not appear to be unusually underrepresented. So it’s quite possible that a low suicide rate was selected for by the slave trade. Of course, there are probably a billion confounding factors involved in the suicide rate of countries today, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them torpedoed this theory. But it is interesting.

          • I’ve puzzled over this, too, and my suspicion is that the absolute poverty, violence, and disease levels in Africa prompt some people there to decide suicide is the way to go, whereas in the US, people tend to be less sick, have at least some food, fewer civil wars, etc., so life is just a little bit more pleasant.

      • Deiseach says:

        (T)he slaves were the ones who actually were enslaved. If this event has any correlation w/ either individual or group mean intelligence, that could also be a factor.

        Well, let’s have a look at an account of one woman who was captured as a slave, St Josephine Bakhita:

        Sometime between the age of seven to nine, probably in February 1877, she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders, who already had kidnapped her elder sister two years earlier. She was cruelly forced to walk barefoot about 960 kilometers (600 mi) to El Obeid and was already sold and bought twice before she arrived there. Over the course of twelve years (1877–1889) she was resold again three more times and then given away. It is said that the trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her own name; she took one given to her by the slavers, bakhita, Arabic for lucky She was also forcibly converted to Islam.

        If you want to make any extrapolations about the eugenic status or relative intelligence of little girls kidnapped by gangs of armed bandits and sold into slavery, you go right ahead. I don’t know how useful they’ll be, though.

        Maybe the native Irish and English settlers kidnapped during the Sack of Baltimore by Barbary Coast raiders were the stupid, slow, weak, servile ones out of the local population? We just can’t know, can we?

        You give the impression of coming dangerously close to implying that people enslaved deserved to be enslaved as they were the runts of the litter, so to speak, and so had neither the intelligence, courage, or ability to remain free. I wonder how well you’d do, unarmed and ambushed, against a professional gang of armed and trained raiders who specialised in capturing fresh fodder for the slave markets? I mean, if they managed to drag you off, we could then assume from that that you were of inferior stock to the others in the area who hadn’t been enslaved?

        • suntzuanime says:

          I think you’re unnecessarily moralizing about natural selection. It’s hard to think clearly about anything if you moralize about it, but natural selection is especially difficult in this regard. There was zero moral valence in the post you responded to, so if you want to dispense with all talk of evolution you should come right out and say so.

          • Deiseach says:

            suntzuanime, you explain to me how a “Hmmm, maybe the people who were enslaved were somehow natural slaves? You know, too weak and cowardly and stupid to avoid being made slaves?” comment is about natural selection rather than piss-poor post facto rationalisation? We are not talking about people who strolled up to the slave markets and went “Yassuh, massa, me wanna b’long you, you take care me, me not have to think for meself!” We are talking about people who were stolen away, often at young ages, by armed bands who specialised in raiding for slaves, or people who would (in another context) be the equivalent of POWs.

            Maybe we should attribute the current state of Greece to the fact that, given their ancestors’ conquest and enslavement by the Romans, this proves they are the degenerate and incapable descendants of a degenerate and incapable stock who couldn’t preserve their liberty?

            This is along the lines of the people who go “Well, why did the European Jews just tamely go along with the Nazis when they were being rounded up for the concentration camps? Why didn’t they fight back?”

            In both cases, the implication is that the parties in question must have deserved or invited their fates because of their deficiencies of character.

            Asking why African-Americans have poorer outcomes on a range of measurements, and does this have to do with deficiencies in the ancestral stock which mean that modern African-Americans are the descendants of the stupid and the weak, is not invoking natural selection: it’s ignoring that slavery happened out of human cruelty and greed, and that any rebelliousness or independence was crushed in order to safeguard the slave-owners. Deliberately breaking up structures such as the family was all part of it.

            What can we deduce about the traits of the ancestral population of the city-dwellers in California who, after one disastrous earthquake, rebuilt the city on the exact same faultline as before? Obviously this is proof of shocking levels of mental degeneracy not to be able to properly assess risk or have the intelligence to recognise potential danger or be able to make reasoned choices! This kind of sentimental, soft-headed, easy going, lazy nature unwilling to grapple with the hard choice of moving to a safer locale but preferring the slothful inertia of remaining in familiar surroundings despite the demonstrated risk of such can only be attributable to inferior genetic stock!

            You bet your life I am morally outraged out of “proportion”: the British Empire adopted (even before it was an empire) the same policy of keeping the natives poor, ignorant and subservient, then blamed the Irish for being poor, ignorant, dirty, superstitious and subservient obviously arising from natural deficiencies of character. Or they graciously conceded we had a simple, childlike nature which was easily pleased, often moved to laughter or sentimental tears, and that we were a merry, pleasing folk but unfortunately totally unable to take care of ourselves so they had to shoulder the burden of ruling us for our own good.

            If that kind of “watermelon and the cake-walk” attitude sounds familiar….

          • Nornagest says:

            I think you might want to recalibrate your dog-whistle detector, Deiseach; it seems to be turning up false positives.

        • AR+ says:

          People who make arguments that can be reduced to, “lower intelligence justifies poor treatment, therefore we can’t say that anybody has lower intelligence,” will have really painted themselves into a corner if there is ever a broad consensus that some groups really are less intelligent.

          Then they might argue that, actually, a group having lower mean intelligence does not justify poor treatment, but it would probably be easier to have just argued that from the start.

    • alexp says:

      This raises a few questions:

      1. Why weren’t there larger slave revolts in the American South? Think Spartacus rather than Nat Turner. Was it lack of organization and opportunity? It seems like given the chance, hundreds of thousands joined the Union army.

      2. The Romans needed to constantly capture new slaves since their slave populations were always declining. This was partly due to manumission and partly due to the fact that slaves preferred not to have children. Why wasn’t this observed with American slavery? The best explanation I can think of is that American slaves didn’t have the option of waiting until after they were freed to have children.

      • ryan says:

        The theory I’ve read is that throughout most of history populations were constrained by Malthusian limits. Putting the effort into raising a child didn’t produce any excess food when they started working as an adult. So the only economically sensible form of slavery was to use captured adults. Didn’t have to invest resources into their childhood, then toss them into the streets when they’re used up.

        Slavery in the antebellum South was a different ballgame. Technological advancements made it that an adult could produce enough economic excess that raising children and even providing for them after they’d passed their productive years was economically viable.

        • Mary says:

          Against that, there is the Roman tendency to take up foundlings and raise them as slaves. Indeed, Justin Martyr’s Apology first cites in defense of their not exposing babies that most of the babies are raised by brothels (indeed, anyone visiting a brothel is quite likely to be coming incest), and only secondarily, “some of them be not picked up, but die, and we become murderers.”

          OTOH, a brothel doesn’t have to raise the child to very old before exploiting their work.

          On the third hand, we don’t actually have statistics as to how many were enslaved that particular way — or indeed, enslaved at all. You can see that in the way Christian writers can argue as if virtually all of them die, or as if virtually all of them were raised by brothels, depending on the polemic needed.

      • Schmendrick says:

        Re: the slave revolts, at least one reason was that Southern Whites were freakin’ paranoid about slave revolts and took steps to ensure that organization was very very difficult – requiring passes signed by an owner from any traveling black person on pain of horsewhipping or death, organizing night-riding patrols to whip or shoot any blacks out after curfew, making slave literacy illegal, etc.

      • FJ says:

        Romans captured slaves because it was advantageous and they could. Both the United States and Britain prohibited the Atlantic slave trade by 1808. They also devoted substantial resources to the task.* Since the supply of imported slaves was cut off, prices rose and American slaveowners took greater pains to preserve slaves’ lives (not, like, the proper amount of effort that a human being should exert to preserve another’s life, of course).

        Also, American slaves were mostly agricultural workers. Romans employed a much greater fraction of their slaves doing things like mining. Hardly surprising that the fatality rate among Roman slaves exceeded that of American slaves — pre-industrial agricultural work is hard but you aren’t going to be killed in a mine collapse.

        As for slave revolts, the question is simply why the many Turner-style slave revolts didn’t survive long enough to grow to Spartacus proportions. After all, Spartacus’s army didn’t spring forth in an afternoon. I assume the most plausible explanation is that better communication and transportation technologies, plus the existence of firearms, made it much easier for American slaveowners to assemble and slaughter slave revolts before they grew tens of thousands strong.

        *Anyone interested in tackling why the US and UK were very successful in restricting the importation of contraband humans in the 19th century but not the importation of contraband substances in the 20th? Or, for that matter, the importation of contraband humans in the 21st?

        • Mary says:

          The Caribbean used mostly agricultural workers, too, and had a fearful death toll. Then, they were mostly absentee owners, and their overseers were heavily bottom line driven, and they were closer to Africa, too.

        • stillnotking says:

          According to Wikipedia, the period from 1808 to 1865 still accounted for 28.5% of total volume, or about 3 million slaves. It seems the West Africa Squadron wasn’t all that successful.

          On the topic of slave revolts, I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Haitian Revolution; Toussaint L’Ouverture is surely the clearest New World analogue to Spartacus. American slaveowners were terrified of the revolution being exported to their shores, and took major precautions to prevent it. Still, it probably could have happened with a sufficiently capable leader — not to go all Great Man Theory on y’all.

        • FJ says:

          I feel like this is probably a good time for me to admit that I don’t know a lot about this topic and both Mary and stillnotking make excellent points.

        • Matt M says:

          “As for slave revolts, the question is simply why the many Turner-style slave revolts didn’t survive long enough to grow to Spartacus proportions.”

          I’m not hugely familiar with the topic – but most Roman slaves were captured soldiers from defeated armies, correct? Even if they were from barbarian tribes, they would be people with military experience, some degree of expertise, and semi-functional knowledge of roman military tactics and geography.

          African slaves, even if they were captured soldiers from a tribal army in Africa, were being transported to place they had zero knowledge of. They had no experience with American weapons, geography, military tactics, etc.

          It would make sense, therefore, that a Roman slave revolt, once they’ve escaped, would be able to organize themselves in such a way as to mount a meaningful resistance against Roman armies; whereas an American slave revolt would be in no such position to do any such thing.

          • onyomi says:

            I’ve heard that early European settlers tried to enslave Native Americans but found it impossible. Not because they revolted, exactly, but because they always escaped and, being familiar with the terrain and having friends and family to escape to, it was relatively easy.

          • Matt M says:

            Right. That makes perfect sense, and can also be contrasted to some of the smaller Caribbean islands, where there really wasn’t any vast open spaces left to “escape” to.

          • FJ says:

            I’m not sure the “African slaves don’t know the local conditions” idea explains very much. The vast majority of American slaves were born in the New World. They would have been at least as familiar with the local terrain as a Thracian soldier would have been familiar with Mount Vesuvius.

            I think the African-slaves-as-strangers idea makes a lot more sense in explaining why New Spain colonists imported them, though.

          • Matt M says:

            But slaves born in the new world would have no military experience.

            My general point is that many roman slaves were both “people with military experience” AND “people with relevant knowledge” This makes them well suited to carry on a meaningful resistance.

            Military experience ALONE, without the proper context, would not be enough. And knowing geography and culture and customs ALONE, without the ability to fight, would not be enough either. Both would be necessary to mount a large-scale rebellion.

            Edit: I suppose you could suggest that imported slaves and native-born slaves could band together and each contribute their share of relevant knowledge – which is almost certainly why slave-owners banned any and all local customs and probably made it a point to not amass a large number of slaves from the same tribes. Communication and coordination to that degree would have been quite difficult.

          • Lesser Bull says:

            In fact, the core of the Spartacist revolt was a gladiator training camp. So, well-trained, well-equipped, physically quite fit.

    • AlexanderRM says:

      It seems to me that “subservience” would most likely be *very strongly* bred for, both during slavery and even after it during various stages of racism. If there were enough time and pressure to produce genetic changes in the slave population, we would predict African-Americans to have a lower crime rate than other demographics, or at least a lower rate of things like confrontations with authority figures.

      Since this isn’t the case, the simplest and most obvious explanation is that selective breeding didn’t produce genetic changes in the slave population.
      There are, however, more complicated explanations- for instance, breeding against intelligence could happen simply if slaves had almost no use for their intelligence and thus those who saved resources on their brains would be selected for. I have trouble believing the anticorrelation between intelligence and crime would be stronger than between subservience and crime, though.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        ” for instance, breeding against intelligence could happen simply if slaves had almost no use for their intelligence ”

        While most American slaves did field work, there were also house slaves and slaves that learnt specialized crafts. Intelligence was obviously useful for both of them.

        • Mary says:

          Washington gave a farewell dinner to his officers at an inn owned by a black man. He had to. Free blacks monopolized the high-end dining and catering of the region; freed house slaves had the training to cook and serve, and put the knowledge to good use.

          Takes some wits, there.

        • Devilbunny says:

          And even among those doing field work, there is reason to believe there were specialists – I recall reading that the Tidewater Georgia and Carolina slaves were heavily drawn from a few specific regions of Africa because they were rice-growers, and rice cultivation is apparently a rather tricky thing.

          Picking cotton is another matter entirely.

          Still, there are a lot of gaps in knowledge about how society worked in the antebellum South – the primary sources are so often politically motivated that one is always suspicious of their reports, and yet some modus vivendi must have been reached.

      • Leif says:

        Subservience doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with law and order; it could just mean following whoever (metaphorically) shouts the loudest. That kind of subservience might lead to increased gang involvement. You’re afraid of the cops, but you’re more afraid of the gang leader (or your peers in the gang).

      • PGD says:

        People have this bizarre semi-magical belief in genetic explanations. American slavery lasted only 200 years, subtle selection pressures would have no time to act. The only way genetics would be operating is if you had a really extreme bottleneck — very intense selection for very targeted characteristics either at the time of enslavement or through large-scale selective killing later (which doesn’t seem to have happened in the US).

      • Lesser Bull says:

        Depends on what the mechanism is that creates the subservience. I have no idea about the experience of slavery in the American South, but in principle the fact that a creature doesn’t act ‘subservient’ in one environment doesn’t tell you that it wasn’t bred for subservience in a radically different environment.

    • It might be worth looking at the obvious selective pressures on slaves, since deliberate selection by owners is pretty hypothetical. I don’t think anyone has mentioned that a lot of slaves were owned by people who weren’t all that well off themselves– there were just a few slaves on a subsistence farm. The owner didn’t have the resources of any sort for grand experiments.

      One factor is simply that slaves were very poor people– underfed and overworked. Does this select for anything? Anyone have information on infant mortality?

      • FJ says:

        “Anyone have information on infant mortality?”

        Anecdotally: there is a substantial race and gender disparity in how well premature infants grow in U.S. NICUs. The colloquial name for the phenomenon is “Wimpy White Boy Syndrome.” African-American premature infants, especially girls, typically gain weight and are discharged much faster than Caucasian males. I suspect this has a lot to do with the fact that not all premature births are created equal: lots of factors, from maternal age to smoking, are risk factors for prematurity, and it’s not obvious that they all affect infants in the same way. Those risk factors themselves are unequally distributed among the races, so it might simply be that premature whites are likely to be premature for a different reason than premature blacks, and we shouldn’t be surprised that their prognoses are different.

        I’m not ruling out genetic explanations that are themselves a result of natural selection during the slavery era. But we *know* environmental factors have a huge influence on infant prognoses, and we also know that those environmental factors are unequally distributed. Moreover, it’s unlikely that we have already identified all of the unequally-distributed-but-very-important environmental risk factors. As such, the only real way to establish a genetic cause for racial disparities would be to identify the actual gene(s) that influence mortality and show that they are unevenly distributed.

        • Emily says:

          I was just reading a paper that used whether the child had been born premature as a variable and made some conclusions about racial disparities in special education (namely, that white kids are actually over-represented, given their vector of covarariates). I thought that was fishy.

        • The claim I have seen is that African children develop somewhat faster than white children, with an evolutionary explanation going back long before North American slavery and based on the influence of environment on optimal reproductive strategy.

    • Troy says:

      Another way that contemporary African-Americans might be systematically different from their ancestor populations is their white ancestors. African-Americans have on average 20% white ancestry. I don’t know the details of who these ancestors are, but my guess is that they are largely white slave-owners who impregnated black female slaves. Presumably this is not a random sample from the white population. For example, slave-owners may have been wealthier than average whites, and slave-owners who raped their female slaves were presumably more violent and callous than even the average slave-owner.

      • Matt M says:

        “For example, slave-owners may have been wealthier than average whites, and slave-owners who raped their female slaves were presumably more violent and callous than even the average slave-owner.”

        I think the first part just isn’t true. I don’t have any stats handy but I remember reading that the average slave owner wasn’t some huge plantation guy and owned like 3 slaves or something.

        The second part couldn’t possibly work with “genetic selection” if it only happened at one point along the way. Does selection work with a single generation? If it kept happening over multiple generations then someone would be 50% white, would they not?

        • Nornagest says:

          the average slave owner wasn’t some huge plantation guy and owned like 3 slaves or something.

          Average over slave owners, or average over slaves? I don’t know a lot about that part of history, but seems likely that we’d see some 80/20 style effects there.

          • Matt M says:

            I readily admit to basing this all on a vague memory of “something I think I read somewhere” but I believe it was both, with a certain caveat.

            I think the “average slave-owner” owned 3-4 slaves or something like that, and the “slaves per white male southerer” statistic was about the same, (as in, there were enough non-slaveholding poor white southerners to balance out the large-scale plantations where one owner could have hundreds of slaves)

          • John Schilling says:

            Does it matter? Even an outright rapist of a slave owner is probably going to focus his attentions on a few of the most attractive slaves he owns, assigned to clean and convenient household work, rather than pick randomly from the field workers. And a slave-mistress or any other sort of quasi-consensual relationship is going to be even more selective.

            The wealthiest slave owners might spread their genes around a bit further than the poorest, but average over slave owners is probably closer to the truth than average over slaves.

        • Troy says:

          Right, this wouldn’t be genetic selection, if I understand that notion correctly. Rather, it would be something more like a bottleneck — the founding members of a new population being systematically different from other members of their own original population.

      • Mary says:

        Mulatto children were overwhelmingly born in towns, where slaves acted so freely that cities frequently passed laws trying to get their owners to control them, only to pass them again in a decade or two because they didn’t work.

        (Town slaves were ideally situated to run away, they often could read, had moved about, knew the roads, etc — their masters did not want to keep them under a strict rule because they would not keep them.)

        • Troy says:

          Thanks; that’s informative. Any idea if these mulatto children were mostly born to black mothers or white mothers, and what kind of person the white parent would have been (e.g., owner of the slave, unrelated townsperson)?

          • Mary says:

            Hmm. . . don’t remember. . . remember that Thomas Sowell was the source but not the book.

    • Desertopa says:

      Working at inner-city educational programs, I’ve come to the impression that there’s such a cocktail of cultural influences which seem dramatically counterproductive to effective educational and prosocial development that I find it doubtful that genetic factors would be a particularly load-bearing influence. It’s possible that cultural factors could be influenced by genetic factors, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in that considering how much individual ethnic groups’ cultures have fluctuated over time. There was a time when the Middle East was perhaps the most scientifically productive culture in the world. Things changed, but genetics probably wasn’t one of those things.

      • Anonymous says:

        A thousand years ago the Persians were at the forefront of science. Today, they come in about 10th in the race to build a bomb.

        Genetics does change, if only because groups displace each other. Three thousand years ago, the Phoenicians invented the alphabet. What are they doing now? Well, it’s hard to tell. They were overrun by the Arabs and it’s not clear whether the people in Lebanon and Tunis today are Phoenician or Arab.

      • Troy says:

        As Anonymous notes, often historically influential cultures aren’t doing as badly today as we might immediately think, because (a) which groups are descended from which is not always obvious, and (b) which groups were actually historically dominant is not always obvious.

        Case in point of (b): the Arabs were not, by and large, that scientifically productive. Most of the great Islamic minds of the Middle Ages were Persian.

        Case in point of (a): Egypt was dominant in ancient history and isn’t doing so well today. But the descendants of ancient Egyptians are probably the Copts, who tend to be wealthier than other Egyptians (who probably have more Arab admixture).

        This is, of course, quite compatible with culture being very important, as you say. And there are cases of cultural decline I can’t account for with genetic changes: e.g., Greece. (Although maybe I just don’t know enough here: anyone care to enlighten me on whether modern Greeks are descended from Plato, Aristotle, et al.?)

        • Lesser Bull says:

          There was significant population replacement by Slavs in the Middle Ages. Scholars debate whether it was only a serious admixture (maybe 50-50?) or something close to actual replacement.

  2. Mitchell Powell says:

    Above, you claim that “native African Americans” are about 50% white. I believe it’s more like 20%, genetically speaking

    See this links map for starters http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/12/25/science/23andme-genetic-ethnicity-study.html?referrer=&_r=0

  3. Brian says:

    Regarding the “Brain like a computer,” Take a look at Idhe and Selinger talking about Epistimology Engines and how victorians imaged the brain as a camera obscura.

    • Alraune says:

      Likewise, Soviet brain science was rife with industrial metaphors.

      As above, so below.

    • lunatic says:

      With a bit of luck, our metaphors will converge to something maximally useful.

      • Brian says:

        Well, the metaphors are culturally dependent. The dominant tools a culture uses to manipulate the world-out-there are obviously a “useful” (insofar as the utility of metaphor goes as having local explanatory power) map to the imagined world-behind-eyes.

        Requiring or imagining the convergence of metaphor requires the introduction of what amounts to magic nanomachine pixie-dust that solves all problems (and provides a delicious dessert topping).

        That which shapes our world shapes our understanding of our world which shapes our tools-of-understanding. Since there exist no useful ways of confronting these metaphors with “the real” in popular understanding, they exist as artefacts of culture and artefacts of understanding-of-world.

        These metaphors, however, *are* useful, not in a “understanding the brain” way, but in a “understanding how we understand the world” way.

        • lunatic says:

          I have no idea why magic nanomachine pixie-dust that solves all problems is necessary for metaphors to converge.

          I happen to believe that the currently dominant brain metaphors are likely enough to be replaced by others that give no more insight or better analogy for the operation of the brain, but to suggest that this is necessarily the case just seems wrong.

          If a clearly better vehicle for metaphrising the brain were to become generally available and applied as a metaphor for the brain, I’d be far from shocked to see it stick.

          • Alraune says:

            Obviously he’s referring to Bably, the nanocloud translator AI whose value-function optimizes for mutual understanding and will force us all to think in the same metaphors.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @lunatic:
            For metaphors to converge to something “maximally useful” I think we have to posit a metaphor that is very close to how the brain actually works and yet is simple enough to function as a metaphor.

            This implies that how the brain actually works is driving the metaphor, rather than how things in the outside world work (which seems to be the case in all the other examples). So convergence doesn’t seem possible, but a maximally useful metaphor is, once we understand enough about how the brain works.

          • Alraune says:

            “The brain works like a brain-like computer.” will probably be a pretty good metaphor once the brain-like computers are sufficiently brain-like.

          • stillnotking says:

            By the time computers are brain-like, calling them “computers” will probably sound as quaint as “horseless carriage”.

          • Alraune says:

            More to the point, when we have a design for a sufficiently brain-like computer, saying “brains think” will be explanatory rather than tautological and the metaphors will lie further down the hierarchy of understanding.

      • Sean Aubin says:

        I’m a researcher in Cognitive Science at the University of Waterloo. In my lab, we work with the Neural Engineering Framework and the Semantic Pointer Architecture as a way to transcend brain-metaphors and to unite previous research done under existing ones. This idea has had some pretty cool applications, like novel theories of consciousness and massive brain models. Recently, my lab created Spaun, the world’s largest functioning brain model that can solve IQ puzzles and transfer knowledge between tasks. The idea of “moving beyond” the previous metaphors for brains is explained in this paper, but I’m going to try and summarise it below.

        Modern Brain Metaphors
        The three main brain metaphors in use today are Symbolicism (the brain thinks with symbols like a computer and neurons are pointless implementation details, see ACT-R), Dynamicism (the brain is a dynamic system that we should describe with differential equations like a Watt Governor, also neurons should still be ignored) and Connectionism (everyone should be paying attention to neurons. The brain is neurons and connection weights) .

        Moving Beyond Metaphors
        Using the NEF and SPA, we’re able to use components from all the previously mentioned paradigms to create a new paradigm in a similar way that waves and particles were combined to understand light. All the “computations” or “information transformations” occurring in our model is based on biologically plausible neurons, so we’ve got Connectionism covered. Of the information we’re able to represent, we’re able to construct dynamical systems and manipulate symbols, so we’ve covered Dynamicism and Symbolism as well!

        This means we can take all the cool aspects from each of these systems and make cool things. Spaun uses symbols to solve the IQ puzzle I mentioned before, while dynamic systems is a more accurate description of it’s arm control and connectionist deep belief networks (think Google stuff) form part of its vision system.

        However, you may have noticed I haven’t used any metaphors for NEF and SPA. That’s because there are none. Not to say its hard to explain. It isn’t. It’s just that it doesn’t fit into a specific metaphor. The NEF and SPA are just spiking neurons that represent vectors that can be manipulated via… Anyways, you end up just saying that the mind is a mind, the brain is a brain and a rose is a rose.

        More Info
        For more info check out this YouTube video from my professor and also feel free to tweet me! I’ll also be making YouTube videos about how this works and how to build your own brain models soon, so let me know if you’re interested.

        • James Picone says:

          This sounds like the difference between high-level and low-level emulation of another CPU.

          Connectionist approaches are low-level – obviously if you simulate all the neurons in a brain in sufficient detail and get all the timing right and so on, you’ve got an artificial brain.

          Symbolicism/dynamicism are different approaches to high-level – directly simulate the algorithm the low-level neural architecture is executing.

          • Sean Aubin says:

            You’ve got a really awesome analogy there!

            However, if you don’t mind, I’d like to extend that metaphor to point out some of the flaws in both of those approaches.

            At the high-level, you make assumptions about what the brain can do, which can be really bad. For example, although ACT-R (the most useful symbolic architecture) can model a bunch of behaviours really well, once you start having to take into account brain damage and the effect of drugs, you start having to do really awkward parameter tuning to try and replicate data. In that way, it’s really hard to make any neurobiological predictions.

            On the low-level side of things, you can end up wasting a ton of time figuring out what the correct detail is. If you look at the Blue Brain project, they’re spending tons of effort and money to map to excruciating detail. Although this might be useful for drug simulation, there really isn’t any evidence that getting the architecture right will result an intelligence emerging.

            This is why I find the NEF and SPA so exciting because it unites the two. It lets you decide at what level you want to work at while letting you move between levels if you want to.

            Surprising no one, I basically just summarized the arguments from this paper.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Tom Wolfe’s “The Boiler Room and the Computer” (reprinted in 1976’s Mauve Gloves and Madmen, Clutter and Vine) argued that Freud saw the brain as a steam engine and that the rise of computers would result in people seeing the brain as a computer.

  4. Alraune says:

    Looks like heavier reading than usual this week. Should be fun.

    According to Pew only 46% of Americans support genetic engineering to reduce disease risk, and only 15% of Americans support genetic engineering to make kids more intelligent.

    Sure, but those are the numbers before we engineer away the opposition-to-genetic-engineering genes.

    • Adam says:

      You know, I feel like my intellect, if not my wisdom, tolerance, empathy, whatever other brain traits are desirable, is sufficient for most purposes, but as I literally just consulted with an orthopedic surgeon earlier today for three separate joint injuries at the same time, if we can just do robotic limbs or even exoskeletons, god damn I’ll be happy. This seems way easier than figuring out how to manipulate the genes that make people smart.

      • Alraune says:

        Easier, but less obviously world-changing and therefore less exciting.

        Of course, plenty of non-obviously world-changing stuff is still very world-changing in practice.

        • Adam says:

          I’m hopeful, given the amount of effort DARPA seems to be putting into it, but for them, it just seems to be about increasing the average infantryman load from 90 pounds to 300 pounds.

          • Alraune says:

            Yeah, that. A future where tripling infantry carrying capacity is world-changing is conceivable but unpleasant, and a future where smart joint braces buy us all an extra five years of full physical function is pleasant but non-world-changing.

          • Adam says:

            Dude, I’m 34. It would buy me like 50 years, I’m hoping.

      • DanielLC says:

        I’m sure actually altering the genes is difficult, but finding them is simple enough. Just have people do IQ tests and correlate the results with their genomes. I remember seeing somewhere on here that about half the genetic variation in intelligence is explained by just the genes we’ve already found.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          No, almost nothing is explained by the ~10 genes that have been found. Individual effects are small. Steve Hsu estimates that it would take a million people to get anywhere.

          There is a study that suggest that half of the variance is due to additive effects. This was a study of 3000 people from a single town. This did amount to finding genes that predicted IQ for people in that town, but those genes were not causal and did not replicate to other towns. They worked because they were in linkage disequilibrium with actual genes. But outside that town, they were in equilibrium and uninformative.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            Only 10 genes? Maybe if you restrict yourself to GWAS studies. Mendelian disorders are much more informative — take a look at OMIM sometime. There are at least 40 autosomal dominant inertial retardation syndromes, where a mutation in a single allele drops you from normal IQ to below 70. How are these not known genes of large effect? The effect may not be in the direction you desire, but surely it tells you something about the underlying architecture of intelligence (i.e. many genes are involved, and intelligence is particularly fragile).

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Maybe they are genes of large effect, but they are so rare that together they explain much less of the variance than any gene found by GWAS.

    • Jiro says:

      Seriously, engineering to remove specific diseases is likely to work completely and have no side effects. Engineering for intelligence… isn’t.

      Furthermore, genetic engineering raises the issue of not being able to afford the genetic engineering and being at a competitive disadvantage with someone who has. Engineering for intelligence means that poor people in general are at a disadvantage against rich people in general. Engineering for lack of diseases means that there is a small chance of a poor person being at a disadvantage (if the poor person has the disease), but this will not extend to poor people as a class.

      • Alraune says:

        That’s specious. First, poor people in general are already at a disadvantage against rich people in general, and a non-negligible portion of that disadvantage is already in the form of intelligence gaps. Second, the likely form of engineering for intelligence would be the removal of intelligence-hampering genes, which would be of the same form as engineering away genetic diseases, not introducing novel traits in some sort of attempt to create mentats. Third, it assumes there’s no economy of scale either on having more smart people around or for the technology to make people smarter, and both of those are extremely bad bets. Once those assumptions are corrected, it looks like any other form of technology: we start with those few use cases that can leverage a crappy and expensive breakthrough, and end with nigh-universal high-quality access.

        • Deiseach says:

          end with nigh-universal high-quality access

          Why would you bother? What good does it do to have the World’s Smartest Streetsweeper? Low-level manual labour jobs will be mechanised and automated eventually, and possibly service jobs as well.

          If you let everyone increase their intelligence by X amount of points, then you are committing to letting everyone attend university, and that means everyone expects to get high-paying jobs. The economy can only absorb, because it only needs, so many doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc.

          The knock-on effect will still be stratified society, with somebody on the bottom and somebody on the top, except now the people on the bottom all have Masters’ degrees. Or even doctorates, depending on how far intelligence can be pushed.

          Somebody made the point in another comment thread that the Great Amish Takeover is not going to happen because America cannot support or function as a society of 300 million farmers. I don’t imagine it could work as a society of 300 million software engineers, either. Or 300 million individual CEOs of their very own start-ups.

          So why create an intelligent, over-educated, disgruntled underclass who are likely to engage in revolt and political and social violent disruption, when you can just leave them as they are and only apply intelligence enhancement to a selection of the population?

          • Slow Learner says:

            Because ultimately most people are going to be un- or under-employed *anyway* due to robotics, advancing technology and improved productivity.
            Ultimately we will have to bite the Basic Income bullet, whether the people for whom society has no gainful employment are IQ of 90 or IQ of 120 or IQ of 150.

          • Alraune says:

            Because in the future, central planning is still retarded.

            Also you’re conflating intelligence and education, and further are confusing World’s Smartest Streetsweeper with World’s Least Stupid Streetsweeper’s Son.

          • Mark says:

            “The knock-on effect will still be stratified society”

            Presumably, if more people are capable of becoming doctors, you will receive less social cache for being one.

            I get the feeling that there are a lot of people who, rather than viewing a hierarchical social structure as a means of getting necessary work done, view a hierarchical structure as an end in itself, and consider work a marvelous way of *creating* such a system.

            I think that is a really foolish atitude.

          • stillnotking says:

            “What good does it do to have the World’s Smartest Streetsweeper?”

            What good does it do whom? I imagine the street sweeper, at least, would prefer it. I could probably shed 20 IQ points and still do my current job, but that doesn’t mean I want to.

            “So why create an intelligent, over-educated, disgruntled underclass who are likely to engage in revolt and political and social violent disruption”

            Smarter people tend to be less violent than dumber ones. Besides, all someone needs to do to sell genetic engineering of IQ is point out that other countries will be doing it, and We Have To Beat the Chinese!!1!

          • Deiseach says:

            Say you have a population of 500 million. In the Brave New Future, where reliable and efficient methods of enhancing intelligence are routine, probably also we’ll have driverless streetsweeping vehicles running without drivers or operators and all the low-level jobs automated.

            So what work will the Streetsweeper’s Son do? His father had a necessary if menial job. Those jobs are gone. In his father’s day, New Smarter Son would have gone to college and got an education that gave him a foot on the ladder of upward social mobility to a white-collar job.

            Now, though, there are 300 million other New Smarter Sons and Daughters, all going for white-collar jobs or better. (I’m pulling figures totally imaginary out of the air; let’s assume 200 million already are the luckier ones with established upper middle-class background or money or the current top of the population who are plugged into the network of power, status, and connections where Dad knows a guy who’s the C.E.O. of MegaCorp plc and can swing me an internship there when I finish my MBA).

            The joke today may be about the guy with the PhD in Soft Social Science only being able to get a job burger-flipping, but will it be such a joke if there are guys with PhDs in Real Hard Sciences who can’t even get a job burger-flipping because robots do those jobs now?

            Everybody can’t get a job in a research lab, unless you’re going to have make-work and busy-work and pay-peanuts-for-work jobs to absorb all the new higher intelligence better educated people. Imagine the published papers including all the contributors – the list of Jones, A., Smith, B. et al. could run even longer than the work itself!

            So why would any government, looking at the possibility of having (a) 300 million (out of total 500 million) really smart people with only a relatively small proportion of them being able to access the success and opportunities they were promised – remember, we can’t make a living by taking in one another’s washing, and I don’t need you to (say) develop a cool new app for me when I can do it for myself – who are likely to feel restive, betrayed by the broken promises of Bright New Future they and their families felt they were promised when they underwent the BiggerBrain Baby Treatment, and who are likely to be restive politically, and maybe even attempt civil disobedience or something like the Occupy sit-ins (b) 300 million (out of total 50 million) ordinary or a bit below intelligence people who can be kept soothed with the promise of selective BiggerBrained Baby enhancement treatment through government selection programme so their kids have a chance at getting the Good Life (people play the lottery and still buy into The American Dream where anyone can become a millionaire by hard work and grit, after all) and who won’t organise or stir up unrest?

          • Alraune says:

            Uh… it would take a couple lengthy blog posts to unpack everything that’s wrong with your assumptions there, but the short answer?

            We want our welfare leeches to be as smart and efficient as possible. We want our criminal gangs to be as smart and efficient as possible. We want our corrupt politicians to be as smart and efficient as possible. We want our increasingly dissatisfied adventure-seeking emigrants to be as smart and efficient as possible. We want our jackbooted praetorians to be as smart and efficient as possible. We want our roiling mob revolts to be as smart and efficient as possible. And come the end, we want the barbarians who loot our temples and corpses to be as smart and efficient as possible.

          • Mary says:

            “Everybody can’t get a job in a research lab, ”

            Why not? It may be the number of questions that can be researched is finite, but we’re talking about a number larger than we are ever likely to reach.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Smarter people tend to be less violent than dumber ones.

            Soviet revolutionaries tended to be middle class, as did the US anti-war movement in the 60’s and 70’s. Weather Underground were a bunch of white middle class kids.

            It may be that poorer people on average have poorer impulse control, but widespread politically-inspired violence requires leadership and structure.

            On the question in general, I think it’s going to be really hard to predict the aggregated actions of a population whose median intelligence is, say, one standard deviation above our own. Especially if the “smart” tail is pushed roughly proportionally — who would be able to predict what sort of industries might be invented to create more jobs when you have thousands of people who make Bill Gates look average?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ deiseach
            Somebody made the point in another comment thread that the Great Amish Takeover is not going to happen because America cannot support or function as a society of 300 million farmers. I don’t imagine it could work as a society of 300 million software engineers, either. Or 300 million individual CEOs of their very own start-ups.

            I dunno if it could support X,000,000 of a perfectly balanced-population, either, without running into Malthus. Whether the limiting factor is food or room to walk in or lack of some trace element that can only be produced by spotted owls at the top of the climax forest in South America – some physical limit will turn up. At which time, if y’all “yay more babies” people keep making more babies, then as many of them as possible better be as smart as possible so as to build space colonies.

            In the meantime, the more street-sweepers get smart, the more smart gadgets they will want, so there’s employment for the software engineers. So there’s demand. So all we’ll need to do is give the ex-street-sweepers some money to buy with, which is a distribution problem. I do hope that the make-smarter stuff succeeds first, before the “more babies” meme does.

        • Jiro says:

          Alraune: It is true that poor people are already at a disadvantage competing against rich people, but that doesn’t mean there are no worries about adding another item to the mix.

          It is also true that the existing disadvantages of poor people in comparison to rich people often involve the economy of scale you’re talking about, and that doesn’t keep them from being disadvantages, so we really shouldn’t expect anything different for intelligence increases

          • Alraune says:

            Why do you think it would be an additional item rather than a permutation of the same items?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            This may be naively optomistic, but if a number of rich people become much, much smarter, some of them will look for solutions to these problems. How that will play out with the other rich people who want to continue or increase the oppression, I don’ t know. But there’s always the chance that one of the smarter good guys will think of a solution so good that everyone will accept it, including the smart bad guys.

  5. James Picone says:

    W22.02 (walked into lamppost).

    I, uh, may have once walked into a post supporting some kind of veranda thing, rather hard. This is a thing that happens. Trying to justify it, I was standing near it and turned ~90 degrees and took a step forward fast – it wasn’t like I just walked straight into it. Also I was a really awkward kid.

    Didn’t need medical attention though, so that’s a thing.

    • nico says:

      I had to take a friend to the hospital once for having run into a lamppost. Is that a different code?

      In his defense, he wasn’t unobservant, he was blindfolded. Also, it might have been my job to warn him about the lamppost.

    • Adam says:

      This happened all the time with posts of various sorts, including lamp posts, in high school cross country practice. I thought terrorist blows himself up with his own nuclear bomb was the funniest.

      • Deiseach says:

        Terrorists blowing themselves up with their own bombs happens frequently enough; it’s tricky getting the mix of home-made explosives right, or if you manage to acquire something such as Semtex, getting the timers set correctly.

        I’m rather alarmed that someone managed to develop their own nuclear bomb, though!

      • wysinwyg says:

        There’s also a whole set for injuries, accidents, and diseases occurring on the space shuttle. I wonder if they’re being grandfathered into ICD-10?

    • jeff says:

      I’ve done it too.

      Well, unless they have a separate code for ‘ran into a lamppost’

    • Pku says:

      I walked into one once. I was walking along talking to a friend, and he said “watch out!” just in time for me to turn my head forwards and be hit by it head-on.

      • US says:

        If their codes are specific enough to have a ‘walked into a lamppost’-code, I would not be surprised if they also have a ‘ran into a lamppost’-code as well… (Especially considering the other codes mentioned…)

        It seems to be a common thing to happen to people, considering the responses above. I’m so going to tell my brothers about the fact that this has happened to other people… (I’ve done this twice within the last year or two, both times while taking a walk while reading a book. Nothing serious happened either times, but I’m much more careful now than I used to be).

    • Deiseach says:

      When I was in secondary school, I walked into a basketball post. Even better, I apologised to it (before I realised that it wasn’t a person) 🙂

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I mean, it definitely happens, it’s just a funny diagnosis.

      • The Unloginable says:

        If you haven’t walked into a lamp-post, you’re wasting valuable reading time.

        • Careless says:

          I’ve got to say, I’ve never had a problem not running into things while reading and walking.

  6. J says:

    Contractors contracting for Microsoft sued them after the IRS decided that they were being treated more like regular employees. The courts agreed, awarding the ex-contractors a ton of money to compensate for the benefits they didn’t get.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/04/01/businesspropicks-us-findlaw-dont-treat-c-idUSTRE53063S20090401

    So now big companies have to be careful not to treat their contractors too well, because if you treat your contractors as first-class citizens you might get sued.

    • Pku says:

      Reading it, I was under the impression that the issue wasn’t that they were being treated too well but rather that they were being worked full-time while being paid as if they were part-time employees. While (from this source) at least, it doesn’t seem to have been problematic in this case, I can see why a court would crack down on something that could easily be used as a loophole to subvert labour laws (you could argue that you weren’t paying someone overtime because he’s a contractor or something, etc.)

      • Adam says:

        I don’t think they were paid less. The problem is they were treated exactly like employees. They had to work on-site, clock in and out at the same time as everyone else, go to normal employee meetings, answer to an employee boss. That isn’t an independent contractor. My ex from about a decade back was an actual independent contractor for a county planning commission. She got a job spec and a suspense date, checked in periodically, and otherwise worked where she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted. She could have hired her own employees if she was being paid enough. A contractor is a business unto itself that produces something in contract to another business. Microsoft was just hiring temporary employees.

        • ento says:

          This is common practice, at least in the small business world. I was an independent contractor at age 16 during my summer job at a software place. I set (and billed for!) my own hours, but got the impression that if they differed significantly from 9-5 M-F that my benefactors wouldn’t be happy.

        • Nathan says:

          I’m in a similar situation – theoretically a contractor, but in all practical measures an employee. It’s probably illegal.

          On the other hand I like my job I like my pay and I generally support less restrictive industrial relations laws, so I’m not about to sue over it.

          • Matt M says:

            Well you can always (apparently) wait until a few years after you’re done there and then sue them after the fact!

      • Anonymous says:

        This isn’t a full-time/part-time issue. From the article:

        A worker qualifies as an IC under the test the IRS and many other government agencies use only if the worker — not the hiring firm — has the right to control the manner and means by which he or she does the job. Government auditors examine a number of different factors to determine whether the hiring firm or the worker has this right of control, such as whether the workers must follow company directions, are furnished with tools and materials, are integrated into the company’s regular business and so on.

        The IRS has a long history with this distinction. Basically, if Microsoft were to say, “Here’s a pile of money; go write Software X,” then they would be a contractor. Instead, Microsoft controlled pretty much all aspects of their job as if they were an employee.

    • Godzillarissa says:

      Loosely related: In Germany it’s possible to “sneak” your way to a full-time job by working consistent overtime on a part-time job. After a few months you just pull a “the company obviously doesn’t mind me working 40 hours, so they should pay accordingly, too”. Something about an “Implied-in-fact contract”*, which might also apply in the volunteer scenario.

      *I translated that from “konkludentes Handeln”, so it may or may not convey what I mean :/

      • Alraune says:

        “Implied-in-fact” is a correct translation, though most people are probably more familiar with the Latin de facto.

      • Creutzer says:

        I suppose that doesn’t work on universities, does it? Would be a nice way to combat the German epidemic of half-time academic positions.

        • J says:

          At my (US) university, they were very clear that I was not to work more than 30 hours, and the once or twice when I accidentally went over, they threatened to fire me if I kept it up.

    • Deiseach says:

      A lot of companies use contractors, or ask employees to set themselves up as sub-contractors, precisely to avoid having to pay full wages, benefits, etc.

      The person or persons work exclusively for the company, work the kinds of hours that proper employees work, and so forth, but are not treated as employees. So I can quite see why people would sue to be recognised as employees when they’re being treated as such in all but name.

      I can see the point in the German practice, as well; if you hire someone to work (say) twenty hours a week but in practice they’re working forty, and expected to work forty, and there’s enough work to work forty hours – then yeah, that’s pretty much a full-time job, might as well bite the bullet and give them a proper contract.

      The hotel (or I suppose I should say the hospitality) industry is notorious for this; I saw it when two of my siblings were working in hotels for summer jobs, and just last month when the daughter of a work colleague was working in the same hotel: supposed to be working X number of hours, ended up working Y number of hours (because more and more work was piled on), only paid for X hours instead of Y hours because the contract said they were going to work X hours.

      • Alraune says:

        Sophistry is a common business model in over-regulated economies.

        • Deiseach says:

          Ah yes, the evils of over-regulation! Why, if only our pesky employment laws were looser, that particular hotel owner (whom I know personally, and who other people who know him will agree that he, in the words of the Irish saying, “wouldn’t give you the steam off his piss”) would blossom out into generosity and pay his staff for all the hours they worked instead of expecting them to either (A) do two to three hours worth of work in one hour or (B) skimp on the work (so if you expect clean sheets on your bed when you book into a hotel, and not “the same ones as the last guest slept on because sure they’re not dirty”, good luck with that one).

          Regulations come about precisely because it is human nature to take advantage of others. Do you really think those “contractors” were in an equal position to tell Microsoft “No, we’re not working under the conditions you impose”?

          • Leif says:

            so if you expect clean sheets on your bed when you book into a hotel, and not “the same ones as the last guest slept on because sure they’re not dirty”, good luck with that one

            Is your point that hotels would be more environmentally friendly with less regulation?

            If you’re implying people would get sick from dirty sheets, that could be solved through lawsuits, without any special regulation. Hotels wouldn’t want to be liable for getting people sick.

          • PSJ says:

            @Leif
            The laws that allow the lawsuits to exist ARE regulation. That is how regulation works.

          • Matt M says:

            “Regulations come about precisely because it is human nature to take advantage of others.”

            No kidding. Regulations are, themselves, a form of humans taking advantage of others. When a group of barbers gets together and lobbies the state to require that someone receive a barbering license (that will be granted or refused by the group of barbers) before they be allowed to cut hair, the barbers are taking advantage of aspiring barbers and the public at large.

            “Do you really think those “contractors” were in an equal position to tell Microsoft “No, we’re not working under the conditions you impose”?”

            Of course they were. They could quit and Microsoft was powerless to stop them. If they had skills which were in-demand, it should be trivial for them to find other work. If their skills aren’t in demand, why should anybody pay them at all?

          • PSJ says:

            @Matt M
            If their skills aren’t in demand, why should anybody pay them at all?

            Because human suffering is generally considered bad, and nobody paying them would result in more human suffering than having somebody pay them for services rendered. The policy “do not provide money to people whose skills aren’t in demand” is not universalizable.

            Also, there are situations when it is beneficial for an economy as a whole to subsidize the existence of skills that are not currently in demand.

          • Creutzer says:

            @Leif: It’s not exactly easy to prove in court that you became sick because of unclean linen, is it? You might think twice about taking the huge financial risk of hiring a lawyer to sue the hotel.

            (No, I don’t think American litigation-addiction is worth exporting…)

          • Alraune says:

            If only our pesky [everything] laws were looser, his employees would be more willing to quit, and his competitors would be more willing to build, and the city layout would better reflect the needs of the public instead of arbitrary zoning choices, and cetera and cetera and cetera.

            Exploitation is enabled by illiquidity. Laws create illiquidities, both individually and in aggregate.

          • Mary says:

            If their skills aren’t in demand, why should anybody pay them at all?

            Because human suffering is generally considered bad, and nobody paying them would result in more human suffering than having somebody pay them for services rendered.”

            That’s not being paid, that’s receiving charity. Messing them up and putting the burden of the latter on employers is unwise.

          • PSJ says:

            @Mary
            I think that argument leads to nonsensical conclusions. In a totally free market, people are set to work for obscene hours. We have regulation that prevents this to the cost of businesses.

            How exactly do you propose we solve this without unequal costs on different business models?

          • Matt M says:

            “In a totally free market, people are set to work for obscene hours. ”

            What is “obscene” to you might not be so obscene to them. In fact, we can prove that it isn’t by observing the fact that they choose to do it voluntarily.

            You are simply using violence to enforce your values and preferences on those who disagree and claiming some sort of victory for the greater good. You pretend you are somehow protecting these people by refusing to let them choose for themselves.

          • PSJ says:

            @Matt M
            I honestly don’t even know how to respond to this… Do you not believe that people can be given choices where all of the options are bad or obscene?
            Child labour in 19th Century England
            (If you think children should be exempt from this, please explain why.)

            Can you say to me with all honesty that if you were behind Rawls’ veil you would prefer to be born in a world with no regulation on business practices? If so, have you read this piece by Scott?
            Scott’s Libertarian FAQ

          • Matt M says:

            Why do you suppose child labor exists?

            Because of evil capitalists?

            Because of terrible parenting?

            Or perhaps, because, the alternative to child labor in most situations is “the entire family starves to death”?

            You will never ever EVER improve someone’s life by making a list of all of their options and then eliminating the one option they actually choose.

          • PSJ says:

            @Matt M
            That’s the exact logic behind the regulation in the first place and a wonderful argument for wealth redistribution:
            It is horrendous to have people in your country be forced to choose between wage slavery and starvation. We can increase the utility of these poor with a much smaller decrease in the utility of the wealthy.

            We’re not just removing an option from the worker, we’re also removing an option from the business and their competitors, and that DEFINITELY can make a worker’s life better, and it can DEFINITELY increase net utility.

            Also, your last statement is demonstrably untrue:
            Paradox of Choice
            Also, the decision to start heroin?

            Do you have an answer to “Can you say to me with all honesty that if you were behind Rawls’ veil you would prefer to be born in a world with no regulation on business practices?”

          • alaska3636 says:

            @PSJ
            It is tough to generalize the effects of regulations. Do some regulations prevent the behavior that they intended to, in a manner consistent with their intention? Do regulations increase the barrier to entry in any activity? Are regulations regularly influenced by those in an industry who wield the greatest power? All of those questions can be answered yes.

            The philosophical presuppositions of collective force imply that ultimate ends can be determined in a sense that is objectively rational and that those ends can be enforced for the good of the rest of those who are unable to come to those same ends. While I understand the logic of “but what about the childrenisms” the apparent chaotic nature of human interactions are endowed with an order that can only be called irreducibly complex.

            Every use of force in social interaction is an arbitrary one based on a subjective judgement of value, the consequences of which have proven time and again to be unpredictable. This probably seems like a philosophical diversion from a specific issue (i.e. regulations), but it is critical to understanding the interrelation between capital formation and incentive, cooperation and competition, power and abuse.

            To return to child labor, it seems to me impossible to say that by increasing the scope of government power to regulate an industry that you would gain the outcome sought. An increase in regulation minimizes the competition in an industry while simultaneously increasing the wasteful bureaucracy of enforcement. The capital accumulation that would provide parents with the means of educating their children rather than forcing them to work is pushed further out on the horizon. Furthermore, as has been shown, eventually the elevated costs of running that business migrate to places where regulations are less strict thus further reducing the availability of means of those same stricken parents who themselves might now be out of work.

            The paradox of power is political ponerism: those least capable of wielding power are most likely to gain it.

          • Alraune says:

            Also, the decision to start heroin?

            Heroin addicts are demonstrably made far worse off by the illegality of heroin.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            PSJ
            “We can increase the utility of these poor with a much smaller decrease in the utility of the wealthy.”

            Weren’t children a substantial fraction of the British workforce during the industrial revolution? Wouldn’t banning them lead to a significant decrease in the entire countries standard of living?

          • James Picone says:

            @Matt M:

            You will never ever EVER improve someone’s life by making a list of all of their options and then eliminating the one option they actually choose.

            The prisoner’s dilemma is a situation where every participants’ outcomes are improved by eliminating the option they would choose.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            You will never ever EVER improve someone’s life by making a list of all of their options and then eliminating the one option they actually choose.

            This is only true for situations with a single, rational, computationally unbounded agent. When dealing with mere humans, and specially when dealing with more than one human at the time, it is trivial to make them worse off by offering them more choices. See Mr. Yudkowsky’s “Harmful Options” and “Devil’s Offers”, as well as Dr. Alexander’s “Meditations on Moloch”. More generally, see the entire fields of cognitive biases and game theory.

            I will concede, however, that the vast majority of currently existing regulations are in fact harmful.

          • Mark says:

            “Heroin addicts are demonstrably made far worse off by the illegality of heroin.”

            And murderers are made far worse off by the illegality of murder.
            Isn’t that the point?

          • PSJ says:

            @Alraune
            My point was that the decision to begin taking heroin is a bad choice. @Matt M appears to not believe in such a thing as a person making a bad choice. Your comment is irrelevant, if unfortunately true.

          • Alraune says:

            Isn’t [making heroin addicts worse off] the point?

            What? No. Laws against heroin use ostensibly exist to help the heroin-prone, not exact retribution on them.

            My point was that the decision to begin taking heroin is a bad choice.

            And my point was that making a law against heroin is at best very weakly correlated with removing the decision to take heroin.

          • Mark says:

            “What? No. Laws against heroin use ostensibly exist to help the heroin-prone, not exact retribution on them.”

            I don’t know what purpose the law as it exists actually serves, but theoretically it should exist as a deterrent – creating a negative personal cost for those doing something deemed to be damaging to society in general.
            Where someone is determined to not be responsible for their own actions, they wouldn’t normally be subject to punishment.

        • Creutzer says:

          @Mark: This is a bit of a tangent, but no, it isn’t. The point of punishment for murders is to make murders rare, thereby making the counterfactual victims of murders better-off. This doesn’t map to the situation with heroin, because a) illegality is not a sufficiently strong deterrent against drug use, and b) you’re making the actual victims of the action worse off (because they happen to be identical to the perpetrators) in exchange for improving the situation of a handful of people who would otherwise be victims.

          • Mark says:

            The victims of drug use are the rest of society who have to put up with inconsiderate people who choose to make themselves into morons.
            In almost all countries liberalisation of drug laws leads to a rise in drug use.
            Countries with lowest rate of drug use are the ones in which possession of drugs is punished most severely.

          • Creutzer says:

            Right. Better make alcohol illegal, too…

            Countries with lowest rate of drug use are the ones in which possession of drugs is punished most severely.

            Well, presumably, countries with capital punishment for traffic offences would also have the lowest rates of traffic offences.

          • CJB says:

            “Right. Better make alcohol illegal, too…”

            In general, and I won’t speak for Mark, but most people use “drugs” to mean “Hard addictive drugs”.

            Millions upon millions of people use weed and alcohol responsibly, do not get addicted, and simply enjoy a few beers on a weekend or a toke once in a while.

            No one uses heroin responsibly. At all. It is impossible pretty much by definition.

            I’d say a better analogy would be cigarettes, but even so- people get real pissy when they’re nicotine deprived. Crackheads and smackheads will murder people for a fix.

            The simple fact is that most hard narcotic drugs- heroin, crack/coke, meth (not narcotic, admittedly) are so heavily addictive in such a brief period of time at such a low dose that they are not comparable to other substances.

          • Mark says:

            The number of people who think that the disastrous social consequences of alcohol are a point in *favor* of legalizing/encouraging the use of other mind bending chemicals is absolutely astonishing.
            If we lived in a society where alcohol consumption didn’t exist as an established custom, we would be mad to introduce it, and we should be doing whatever we can to limit the damage it causes.
            I would actually say that cannabis is the *worst* drug because of the way it effects your mind, and in extreme cases, sanity.

            Now, the point was that laws have no (or extremely limited) effect on people’s consumption of drugs – I say that is not true. Would a nation with the death penalty for traffic offenses have the lowest rate of traffic offenses. Almost certainly.

          • Protagoras says:

            @CJB, it seems that you are almost completely unfamiliar with the actual research on addiction. The popular image is incredibly misleading, probably because cocaine and heroin and so forth are illegal, so people who use them and don’t have significant problems, the equivalent of the social drinkers of alcohol, generally successfully keep their use secret. Only the ones who get caught, obviously overwhelmingly those with more serious problems (equivalent to hardcore alcoholics) tend to become known.

          • CJB says:

            Not to be sassy, but- you’re gonna have to provide me with some hard evidence here. I’m aware that DARE isn’t exactly reliable, but every bit of info I’ve ever seen indicate that crack, heroin and meth (coke to lesser degree) is extremely addictive.

            “so people who use them and don’t have significant problems, the equivalent of the social drinkers of alcohol, generally successfully keep their use secret.”

            There’s a big difference, I think, that even those who got it “under control” are still addicted.

            I’m an actual social drinker. I cannot remember the last time i had a drink. I get sloshed once in a while, but if youtold me that I could never ever get drunk again, I’d be totally fine with that.

            What happens if I take away your social heroin users heroin?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @CJB: The chief negative effect of long-term heroin use is constipation. When heroin was legal, people often took it in pill form. If a heroin addict can GET heroin when they need it in an appropriate and safe dose, there is no particular HARM to being addicted to it.

            Essentially all the negatives people ascribe to heroin use are caused by the illegality and our collective Puritanism not letting us do the logical thing and just let people take the drugs they want to take. When a drug is illegal it’s much more expensive, which leads to the need to take it via injection (which is much less safe than pills but far more cost-effective per unit dose). When a drug is illegal it’s hard to reliably get it in the dosage and purity you need, which leads to dangerous swings in the amount of dosage. When a drug is illegal people may have to commit crimes and/or associate with criminals to get it, which leads to all sorts of additional problems.

            “Like most opioids, unadulterated heroin does not cause many long-term complications other than dependence and constipation.” (source)

            In times and places where cocaine is legal, a common way to consume it has been by making tea from the leaves. But when drugs are illegal, dealers are incentivized to come up with more concentrated (easier to smuggle) forms. So just as under alcohol prohibition whiskey was cheaper than beer, under cocaine prohibition you can’t easily find safe low-dose cocaine products such as tea leaves. Or Coca Cola.

            To counteract some of the DARE perspective, I recommend this old book by the editors of Consumer Reports: Licit and Illicit Drugs.

          • Protagoras says:

            Every time I’ve seen numbers on it, the percentage of people who have used heroin or cocaine who developed a serious addiction problem was estimated to be in the 10-15% range, in the same ballpark as alcohol. I have not bothered to save any of the relevant studies, but I really have never seen any other numbers. If you have, I’d be curious to see the source.

          • Mark says:

            “just LET people take the drugs they want to take.”

            If you live on beer street, that might be fine. Some of us have the misfortune to live on gin lane, though.

            (The fact that some successful, middle class people can take recreational drugs without it interfering in their lives overmuch (though I wonder what those surrounding them really think about this) doesn’t mean that their aren’t lots of people, families, and communities out there for whom drug use is absolutely devastating. This is true even for *alcohol*, which is entirely legal.
            It seems to me that liberalisers value the convenience of middle class drug dabblers who wish to render themselves insensible more highly than *the lives* of those who aren’t quite as well equipped to cope with the effects of drugs. )

          • Creutzer says:

            Did you read that wikipedia article about the effects of illegality? Who’s to talk about valuing lives here? And let’s not get into the lethality of cannabis. All those dead (or dumbed-down) Dutch people…

            Also, adverse effects of alcohol are to a significant extent culturally mediated. I’m not saying that the culture surrounding drinking in some countries isn’t messed up.

          • Alraune says:

            It seems to me that liberalizers value the convenience of middle class drug dabblers who wish to render themselves insensible more highly than *the lives* of those who aren’t quite as well equipped to cope with the effects of drugs.

            In some instances, maybe even a lot of instances, that’s a valid criticism. In the case of drugs, though? This isn’t a “won’t somebody think of the poor college stoners and oxy-addicted docs’ wives?” thing. They don’t arrest us for that anyway.

            We’re not running out ahead of the culture here. We tried it your way. We’ve been attempting to protect the hypothetical undrugged lives/cultural intangibles/etc. via law for decades and it didn’t work. What we got was piles of bodies and a fully armored drug culture. Those few improvements that have been made have been extralegal, instead coming from market innovations or cultural adjustments by drug users. However bad their judgment may be, they’re still better at routing around the most hellish options than the police are at doing it for them.

            Law & Order only works when the order the law is trying to uphold actually exists. For the drug war to have even a hope of success, it would have to drop its pretense of defending the underclass rather than subjugating them. And I want no part of that.

          • Mark says:

            OK – I’m not from the US – but from what I understand, there are all kinds of social problems in America to do with racism etc. The law has traditionally been imposed, without consent, on black communities – and is often viewed as (or has been) a means of oppression.
            I would therefore suggest that the problem with the war on drugs is that the law enforcement/social system in the US stinks – not that there is something fundamentally wrong with laws against drugs. It isn’t the case that legalizing drugs will make life better for black people (except to the extent that the legal system is so corrupt that any reduction in law enforcement will improve their lives).
            If you look at Britain, a more ethnically homogeneous country with a history of “policing by consent”, you see that the liberalization of the drugs law (around 1970) was followed by an explosion in both drugs use and social problems.
            If you look at Japan, a country that didn’t liberalize their drug laws, there was no corresponding explosion in either drug use or social problems.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Protagoras
            Every time I’ve seen numbers on it, the percentage of people who have used heroin or cocaine who developed a serious addiction problem was estimated to be in the 10-15% range, in the same ballpark as alcohol.

            Hm. All I’ve ever heard about heroin is that even one recreational shot instantly makes you a desperate addict forever. There seem to be quite a few such addicts around. I wonder if a placebo effect might be involved.

            (My teetotal relatives said the same thing about alcohol.)

          • onyomi says:

            “All I’ve ever heard about heroin is that even one recreational shot instantly makes you a desperate addict forever.”

            I think the rhetoric surrounding drug abuse is similar to that surrounding, say, Amazon deforestation: i. e. insanely hyperbolic but justified by supposedly good intentions.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Mark: If you take black people and predominantly black communities entirely out of the equation, American drug laws still lead to negative outcomes for basically everyone except the drug-warrior cops. We have predominantly white communities with frequent responsible drug use, and we have predominantly white communities with horrible drug abuse problems, all with predominantly white police forces and political leadership, and we see in them all of the pathologies that you would attribute to racism against the black community.

          • Alraune says:

            Likewise, we have black-policed black communities with the same set of problems. I’m not sure it even leads to positive outcomes for the drug-warrior cops, except whichever one gets the dealer’s widescreen TV.

            Resolving the whole “law enforcement/social system” relationship is obviously beyond the scope of this discussion thread, and I suspect beyond human ken, but stopping the drug war is one of the few clear steps in the right direction. From there… whatever the best patchwork solutions we can create turn out to be. Less police, more private security, less housing market and zoning distortion seem like the right policy directions to move, but I’m obviously biased.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Protagoras
            Every time I’ve seen numbers on it, the percentage of people who have used heroin or cocaine who developed a serious addiction problem was estimated to be in the 10-15% range, in the same ballpark as alcohol.

            Continuing my thought from above, if there are really so few customers with serious/desperate addictions, how do the drug dealers get prices high enough to justify their expenses and dangers? During alcohol Prohibition, even people who were not desperate alcoholics paid good prices for liquor, but booze had been an established social thing and remained pretty open. I can’t see anything like that kind of open, moderate recreational use of heroin, even back when it was legal and very available. (In the US.)

      • Tarrou says:

        Yup. Problem with just paying them as full time employees is that there are a host of relevant regulations that spring into effect once that threshold is reached.

        Person works X hours when they were supposed to work Y hours! Just pay them for X!

        But that means we also have to start health insurance, unemployment insurance, pension contributions etc, so the actual cost isn’t X, but X+A+C+Z, and we can’t afford that!

        In my experience what companies do in this situation when they need X hours but can’t afford all the extra overhead that produces is give people jobs that require X hours, demand that they only work Y hours, and fire them if they document the difference. So anyone who wants to keep their job needs to underreport their hours. Pretty shady, but if the money isn’t there, the money isn’t there.

    • Matt M says:

      Hasn’t this also happened with various unpaid interns to the extent that many companies were sued by former interns, and as a result, many companies decided to end their unpaid internship programs in some jurisdictions, and in others, unpaid internships have been declared to be illegal outright?

      I don’t have sources but I feel like I remember having watched an episode of John Stossel that was about this…

    • wanderer2323 says:

      1. obligatory mention that the point is not “treat your contractors as first-class citizens” but “treat your contractors as regular workers” but without those pesky labor laws
      2. guess what happens when you can freely hire contractors which are indistinguishable from regular workers – e.g. in another countries? I’ll give you a clue: you get to have 5 HRs working with contractors for every 1 HR working with your employees – but don’t worry, all six of them are themselves on the contract.

  7. Alex Richard says:

    Some people volunteer to moderate for AOL. Later, they decide to launch a class action suit against AOL for not paying them for the volunteer work they volunteered to do as volunteers. They argue that they worked really hard, so it was kind of like being an employee, and so AOL owes them lots of back pay for all the work they weren’t compensted for. The court decides this makes perfect sense and AOL eventually settles for $15 million. Am I misunderstanding the legalities here, or has volunteering just been made illegal?

    That is an inaccurate summary. AOL paid the ‘volunteers’ in-kind, by giving them free internet in exchange for their services. (AOL is also not a non-profit.) See here for a summary of Department of Labor guidelines. Of the six guidelines, AOL definitely failed two (AOL is not a non-profit; AOL did compensate the ‘volunteers’); what you described in the quote is the argument that AOL violated another guideline (‘volunteers’ did not perform their services free of pressure or coercion); and AOL may have violated two more guidelines (‘volunteers’ may have performed services normally performed by fulltime employees, displacing them). (The lawsuit came before the modern internet and social media; I’m not clear on what sort of norms there were regarding internet mods or the offline equivalent back then. It’s definitely true that had they not had the volunteers, AOL would have had to hire people to do the same.)

    • MichaelT says:

      That might be a sound legal argument, but it makes no sense morally. These people agreed to work for free internet, and later thought the work was more valuable than free internet. In a purely moral sense, how is that different than someone agreeing to work for $15 an hour, and then later suing a company because they felt like the work was actually worth $20 an hour?

      • Rangi says:

        They agreed to volunteer work for free internet, and later AOL “announced that volunteers would no longer receive free Internet service; instead they would receive a discounted rate.”

        And given that the volunteers were treated like employees (“Aol required community leaders to apply for the position, sign the company’s terms of service agreement, make a minimum 3-4 hours a week time commitment, and follow a shift schedule enforced with timecards.”), I can see why they sued for a lack of fair compensation.

        (Oh, and of that $15 million, “one third went to the community leaders, one third to the lawyers, and one third to charity.”)

        Source: “The Aol Chat Room Monitor Revolt”, Priceonomics.com

      • Patrick says:

        Because there was an existing law making the contract illegal. Try “people agreed to work for $2/hour, and now they’re suing for minimum wage.” The moral difference is that the other party had no legitimate expectation of being able to make said contract and cannot complain that their reasonable expectations are not being honored.

        • Esquire says:

          @Patrick – The moral case for preventing people from working for below minimum wage is also pretty shaky.

          @Rangi – I don’t see how this talk of AOL “requiring” X and “enforcing” it with Y makes any sense… They weren’t threatening them with violence or lost money, just the loss of their (apparently unrewarding) volunteer gig at worst. How is this different than “Hey Rangi, want to help me move my stuff to my new house as a favor? By the way, please don’t throw the fragile stuff, and don’t bother if you’re only going to help for five minutes.”

          • Nathan says:

            So here’s a stab at a moral argument for a minimum wage.

            Let’s assume that as per standard microeconomic theory the market wage is equal to the marginal product of labour (eg – how much the worker is worth to the firm – because if he was worth more they would hire more and if he was worth less they would fire him).

            Let’s say there’s a burger joint with ten employees, and they get enough business that it takes 9.25 people to feed all customers.

            The value of the marginal worker here is that 0.25 – the business they would lose by not being able to serve everyone if they fired one guy. So that’s the wage.

            However since there are ten workers the work is shared evenly, and so each worker contributes 0.925 of value to the company, while being paid for 0.25.

            Introduce a minimum wage and one unlucky guy gets sacked and the other nine work harder, but get paid a wage closer to the actual value they create.

            …which still leaves minimum wages looking like a bad solution, albeit to an actual problem.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “but get paid a wage closer to the actual value they create.”

            There is a step missing here. The wage they are paid is higher, but their productivity is also higher. Why should we believe the gap closes?

          • Creutzer says:

            But in Nathan’s toy example, the productivity only increases very slightly, while the wage will increase substantially.

          • Nathan: You seem to be leaving out of your calculations all costs other than wages, hence concluding that running a burger stand results in making lots of money. If so, wouldn’t you expect more people to start such stands, driving the return down to the market return on capital?

            In competitive equilibrium, the workers get the marginal productivity of their labor and the owner gets the marginal productivity of his capital and, assuming no other costs, those two just exhaust the firm’s income.

            If you don’t see how that can be possible, you might want to run through the standard micro analysis that leads to Price=marginal cost=average cost.

          • wanderer2323 says:

            You don’t need “The moral case” for minimum wage. You just need to observe that the balance of power between the worker and the corporation in the absence of regulation is skewed extremely heavily in favor of the corporation. The labor laws are mitigating this imbalance.

            There is a good capitalistic reason for this: the amount of money is the same. If the corporation is paying you less, the difference gets value-transfered to the CEO or whomever. You will participate less in the economy but they are not going to participate more. Multiply that by a hundred million and retail sales drop and we can’t have that.

            C0:
            I believe this is why in this era of overpaid CEOs we start to see the push for raising the minimum wage.

            C1:
            If everyone starts exploiting their workers for profit the economy will depress and everyone will suffer the consequences, but if you are the only one who can do that, you get rich. This is Uber.

            C2:
            Note though that if the system can somehow get you to work MORE without decreasing your consumption it will gladly do it. Hence the ‘unpaid overtime’ or this delightful article by the New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/07/uber-economy-requires-a-new-category-of-worker.html with the message of “pay them the same but cut the benefits”.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            The value of the marginal worker here is that 0.25 […] So that’s the wage.

            That is (assuming good faith) an accidental misrepresentation of economics.

            Wages are not set, but negotiated. If it took 9.0000001 people to serve all the customers, you wouldn’t conclude that everyone works for free.

          • Daniel Keys says:

            @Esquire, Nathan – I’ve seen the claim that people will work less if they get paid more at the lower end, and within limits they’ll work more if they get less. This would render the premise false. It would also strengthen the point about power imbalance.

          • Nathan says:

            David is of course correct (and a better economist than me). In my defense, I never claimed that the burger joint made a lot of profit – the elements needed to conclude that were, as David points out, not included in the model. But it is equally true that under standard assumptions, the effect of a minimum wage raise here might not be losing one worker, but the entire business going bust.

            But I don’t actually support minimum wages so this was the best I could manage. :p

            Okay, I’ll try again, using a more economy wide perspective.

            Suppose there is a firm making a product with a low price elasticity of demand. The economy is at full employment. The workers at this firm are paid W.

            Then there’s a recession, and people lose their jobs. But since the firm produces a low price elasticity of demand product, they don’t lose much business – the crunch is felt elsewhere.

            However, now there are a whole bunch of unemployed workers willing to work for less than W. So the firm tells its current workers to accept a pay cut or get fired. They take a pay cut.

            So we have the same workers, producing the same product with the same value for the same people but being paid less because of the changed economic conditions around them.

            I don’t *think* I’ve missed anything this time (but feel free to correct me). And I think you could argue this is in fact the best outcome from and economic perspective. But it *feels* that if W was just, then less than W must be injust.

      • Alex Richard says:

        This is an argument against the minimum wage, not against the regulations in question.

      • Deiseach says:

        AOL took advantage of a sense of community. If the expectation was “We’re all members of this chat room (or whatever), we all have common interests, for the sake of making the experience more enjoyable or run more smoothly, those of us who have more knowledge or experience will act as guides and support for the newbies”, and they were doing it in their free time for a few hours or whenever and however long they liked, and AOL was happy to have unpaid labour in exchange for free internet access, and they were happy with that, then that was fine.

        But when it turns from “volunteer part-time with my peers” to “full-time working to keep things functional, where the company would have to employ, train and pay people otherwise”, then it’s not so fine. Personally, I think taking away the free access was the last straw – not only were they now supposed to be working for nothing, they were to pay (even on a reduced rate) the company for the privilege!

        People on here offer to give Scott assistance with various bugs and glitches for the site, because we’re all One Big Happy Family, and this is Scott’s unpaid voluntary contribution to keeping us off the streets annoying normal people by ranting at them, because instead we’re all inside hunched over our keyboards ranting on here.

        But suppose Scott developed this into a big commercial operation, and used those volunteers’ work and advice to keep the site up and running, and then expected them to maintain the site for him free, gratis and for nothing – wouldn’t they feel like they weren’t members of a community of equals anymore, but more like – employees?

        • Matt M says:

          The second they feel like the value proposition is no longer worth it for them – they should quit. They should quit right then.

          What they should not do is keep working in conditions they deem “unfair” and then, years later, when the political environment has shifted a bit in their favor, sue Scott and claim he somehow cheated them that whole time they chose to keep working in “unfair” conditions.

          Retroactive laws are not only immoral, they completely undermine the principles of consistent government. They create regime uncertainty, which has the potential to paralyze an economy. What’s the point of trusting your neighbor, even if you have a written contract, if the contract doesn’t matter because years later, a new judge will take office and decide your contract was actually unfair?

          • wysinwyg says:

            The second they feel like the value proposition is no longer worth it for them – they should quit. They should quit right then.

            “Should,” so this is a moral assertion.

            Human brains are squishy and have trouble holding to thresholds. Hence the sunk-cost fallacy. If you very gradually increase a person’s responsibilities, they probably won’t realize it’s happening until months or years later when the workload simply outpaces their ability to keep up with it.

            For me, biological facts trump morals every time (since biological facts can be demonstrated using evidence but morals can only be justified axiomatically). I’m not sure this (the lawsuit and settlement) is the correct solution, but if a moral system is difficult for human beings to abide by for biological reasons, then the moral system is not suited for human beings.

            Also apropos: Press and Dyson’s paper on iterated prisoner’s dilemma. You can beat tit-for-tat if you have a much larger working memory than your opponent by identifying your opponent’s strategy and employing it. In this case, the entity with the longer working memory is the corporation, which can potentially exploit the squishiness of its employees’ brains via the frog-in-the-pan effect.

          • Neurno says:

            Except that there was an additional consideration of AOL holding the social capital of the chatroom community that the volunteers were supporting “hostage”. The volunteers likely would not have started in the first place if they didn’t have an emotional commitment. AOL increasing the work, up to a point, likely led to the volunteers justifying their staying to themselves via loss aversion and cognitive dissonance reduction. Not that this changes the legal situation, or the economically rational option, but maybe it makes AOL’s behavior a bit more morally questionable?

    • Houshalter says:

      This is concerning for reddit. Mods are sometimes compensated with reddit Gold giving them access to additional site features that normally cost money. They might probably have to stop doing that.

  8. Setsize says:

    I don’t like that flags article — it’s even worse than another state-flag-ranking blog post that was being shared last month. Not because state/regional flags aren’t mostly bad, as they are, but the author of that piece doesn’t exhibit enough of a design sense to explain why, and misses some essential points about flag design. (The purpose of a flag is to be visually identified from far away; most elements of good flag design flow from that. The mistake is not in what a state seal depicts, it’s that the State Seal Flags are all just indistinguishable yellowish circles on bluish backgrounds when viewed from afar.)

    This list of US and Canadian flags as ranked by members of a flag-designing association seems a lot more coherent — especially when you scroll to the bottom: http://vexillology.wikia.com/wiki/2001_NAVA_survey

    Their report on principles of flag design: https://nava.org/flag-design/

    This site is just one guy’s opinion, but his critiques are principled: http://www.otago.ac.nz/philosophy/Staff/JoshParsons/flags/meth.html

    One of the few TED talks I will recommend is on this topic: http://99percentinvisible.org/news/99-invisible-at-ted/

    • Alraune says:

      The mistake is not in what a state seal depicts, it’s that the State Seal Flags are all just indistinguishable yellowish circles on bluish backgrounds when viewed from afar.

      Also, sometimes they claim your state motto is BEFORE EQUALITY THE LAW.

      The Josh Parsons list is pretty entertaining, people should read it.

    • Adam says:

      I really have to pay more attention to flags. I had no idea before right now that Virginia’s was Cassius standing over Caesar holding a spear and a 24″ dildo. That’s awesome.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I think it was mostly meant to be humorous and not intended as a serious critique.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Oh no, flag Nazis!

      When I did micronations, the hobby used to be *infested* with them. I guess you don’t get new political units that need flags too often, so they all sort of came out of the woodwork. They all seemed to share the opinion of the guys you linked to – never met a tricolor they didn’t like, bicolor even better, even Libya’s entirely green flag is pretty good, but *hate* anything creative.

      I mean, I agree, some of those state seal flags are a little much, but do we *really* need thousand word rants about how terrible flags with pictures or words or anything other than two or three colors in boring rectangular patterns are?

      Now, to be fair, micronations had some terrible flags (Gralus, FR Cyberia, Shireroth – you can also see a big gallery here). But darnit, the solution isn’t to make everyone have the world’s most boring tricolor and lecture people a lot about the totally irrelevant difference between colors and metals.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        The best rule I’ve seen for flags is “a child should be able to draw it with crayons”. Functions as a decent proxy for other desirable features of a flag, such as “recognisable” and “can be made out of cloth, ideally without printing”. Of course, that’s not *sufficient* for a not-terrible flag, but it should be necessary.

        Rule of Tincture probably shouldn’t apply to flags anyway, given that there are at least two current European national flags that deliberately break it.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Okay, but justify yourself. Albania’s flag is pretty awesome, and I don’t see why the fact that a child couldn’t draw it means they have to switch to, like, a blue square on a white background or something.

          (also, I have always liked Brazil’s. Sue me.)

          • Alraune says:

            The design principle that’s being grasped at for flags is the one cartoonists and character designers use: the design must look distinct and striking at the silhouette level.

            Most vexillologists are even stricter than that and want the flag’s design to just plain be its silhouette. That’s not truly necessary, and Albania is a good example there: Albania’s flag works despite having a good bit of detail because the detail is all discardable, so the silhouette is still distinct. Most of the ones they’re complaining about, though, are legitimate messes.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            A child could draw a recognisable Albanian flag- which is what I think matters. After all, it’s not exactly easy to draw an accurate US flag.

            In fact, that’s largely the point of blazon- “gules, a double-headed eagle sable” can be drawn in many different ways. The precise number and shape of feathers is immaterial, and in fact has varied across different Albanian flags.

            I also like the Brazilian flag, but think it could possibly do without the motto and maybe the stars- they often get omitted in people’s drawings of it.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        It’s been driving me up the wall, ever since I noticed it, that the Cross of St. Patrick on the Union Jack is offset. It’s a beautiful flag though.

        • Nicole says:

          This is deliberate; if it were centered, it would completely overlap the Cross of St. Andrew, and thus reduce Scotland’s representation on the flag even moreso than putting St. George’s Cross on top already does.

          Britain!

      • Douglas Knight says:

        But micronations does not use flags. It is just icons on a computer. If you want fancy designs that are useless as flags, maybe you shouldn’t call them flags. If you aren’t interested in flags, in fabric flapping in the wind, visible from miles away, don’t bother filling in that detail and instead represent nations by seals, or something. Even if you switch from flags to icons that are guaranteed never to be folded, you still want it to be visible from far away. Look at the wikipedia infobox about a battle: lots of tiny flags conveying information.

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        I rather liked the “one guy’s opinion” link; he’s a flag nazi who dislikes tricolors

      • Deiseach says:

        You got something against tricolours, Scott? I am feeling personally offended and attacked right now 🙂

        The only problem with our flag is that I’m forever confusing it with that of the Ivory Coast when I catch a quick glimpse of either at football tournaments and the likes. The flag of India is at least more easily distinguishable.

        Apparently the Westboro Baptist Church have the same problem.

      • zippy says:

        Psh. Tricolors. You’re just hanging out with the wrong flag nerds vexillologists.

    • Brian Donohue says:

      Chicago has a flag. I have no idea why. Maybe they plan to invade Rockford.

      Anyway, it’s tasteful, and a popular tattoo choice for locals.

    • DrBeat says:

      Did this motherfucker just give Mexico’s flag a C-?

      Mexico’s flag gets to use a coat-of-arms design, because Mexico’s coat of arms is metal as all hell.

      Also, how is the USA’s flag “Too Busy”? The patterns are very simple and easy to grasp, there’s not a lot competing for your attention there.

      edit: and China’s flag has TOO MANY STARS WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU DO YOU JUST HATE THE CONCEPT OF PATTERNS?

      • Nornagest says:

        If there’s anything wrong with the Mexican flag, it’s that the coat of arms is too small and too complex to contribute to the design at a distance. If there’s anything wrong with the American flag, it’s that it’s too rectilinear to be visually interesting in schematic depiction, though that’s not an issue with actual flags flying on an actual flagpole. I think the Betsy Ross flag is narrowly superior to the current one.

        Most state flags suck. Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Rhode Island have pretty good ones, though. Hawaii, Maryland, and Wyoming are okay, and California’s would be good if the colors were a little more concordant.

        • John Schilling says:

          If you’ve got a coat of arms on your flag, you should be required to specify the RGB color value of the fuzzy round blotch that will be used in place of your coat of arms when your flag is rendered as a digital icon or otherwise instantiated by anyone who isn’t in such awe of your graphic awesomeness to bother with the details.

          If you’re cool with that, fine. Mexico’s flag is a boring European-ish tricolor with a brown blotch. Unexceptional, but it works. Albania’s black blotch on a red field, works pretty well. Most US states, as noted, fail.

        • Cat Typist says:

          I think the Arizona state flag is good, but it’s even better if you put the slogan “FREE TIBET :-p” under it.

    • PDV says:

      I love Nova Scotia’s flag. It’s like some Scots got together over whiskey in Halifax and said:

      S1: “We need a flag. You know what’s a good flag? St. Andrew’s Cross.”

      S2: “Nah.”

      S1: “Why not?”

      S2: “Not Scottish enough.”

      S1: “How can we make it more Scottish? It’s already the Scots national flag!”

      S3: “How about this: we take the other Scots flag, the Royal Standard, and we stick it on the middle in a little shield badge thingy.”

      S1 & S2: “BRILLIANT!”

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      The purpose of a flag is to be visually identified from far away

      So that your companions in arms know which hill to join you on? Not very relevant to states, unless someone is planning another civil war. Do any ships use them?

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I have been on a ship that flew state flags in addition to the Stars and Stripes.

        IIRC we flew the flags of Maine (the state the ship’s home port was in) at the starboard main crosstrees, Virginia (the captain’s home state) at the port fore crosstrees, and whichever state we were in the waters of at the starboard fore crosstrees as a courtesy flag.

  9. jjbees says:

    The problem with anki is that it is really annoying/boring and hard to do every day. And yeah it works, which is super super super annoying.

    I’ve found the best way for me to learn medicine is to simply follow my curiosity, look up things you find interesting, and cram before the test. Although I could be wrong, I haven’t taken Step 1 yet.

    • haishan says:

      Really? I spend like five minutes a day on it, and while I don’t have that big of a deck (heh), my understanding is that if you stagger it right you don’t ever have to do more that 80 or so cards/day, which is pretty easy to do while eating lunch or commuting (if you’re not driving) or something.

    • Emile says:

      I’ve been doing Anki pretty much daily for the past couple years, and usually review during my commute, or when waiting in line, so I don’t feel it takes much of my day.

      I don’t find reviewing very annoying – you’re supposed to make the cards as easy as possible, and liberally delete those that seem boring or useless or too difficult.

    • tanagrabeast says:

      Whenever I’m tempted to not use spaced repetition I say to myself, “Oh? Did you have something else you were doing to remember this? No? You’re ok with forgetting it then?”

      Of course, I’m not jumping through academic hoops right now, so my incentives may be different.

  10. Douglas Knight says:

    V90.23 is not so specific as hovercraft. It is submersion due to jumping from any burning watercraft, including ordinary burning boats, burning hovercrafts, and burning jet skis.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      No, I was wrong. V90.2 is submersion from jumping from burning watercraft. V90.23 is other powered watercraft. It is not as narrow as just hovercraft, but it really is restricted to only weird ones, like hovercraft and jet skis. Also, 28 is for other unpowered watercraft, such as burning surfboards. But not water skis. They get their own number 27, I guess because it’s ambiguous whether they are powered.

  11. Alex says:

    I am skeptical of the flyby anomaly being related to new gravitational physics. People looked at the data on it prior to the 2009 Rosetta flyby and tried to do some extrapolations to see what sort of anomaly would happen in that flyby if the pattern held. No anomaly was found in that event, despite considerable advance effort to monitor for an effect. It is almost certainly some mundane effect that hasn’t yet been properly accounted for, much like the Pioneer anomaly.

    Also, the only mention of dark matter in the wiki article that Scott linked references an article whose abstract is not all that favorable to the dark matter explanation.

    • haishan says:

      By the way, if anyone is curious what happened with the Pioneer anomaly, this is a pretty excellent account of the research that eventually explained it. Well worth the three bucks, IMHO.

  12. maxikov says:

    Russian schools are seriously and universally teaching War and Peace in tenth grade (not even in AP or optional classes). I have no idea what on earth they’re expecting to be learned from that (aside from dirty jokes”).

    • Vamair says:

      As for me, I’ve learned that a) I disagree with his philosophy. A lot. On both micro and macro levels. b) His calculus is wrong. c) I’m now able to brag that I’ve read “War and Peace”. d) I like Dostoevsky much more.

  13. William O. B'Livion says:

    RE: “A very comprehensive meta-analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation”

    http://www.city-journal.org/printable.php?id=6114

  14. Sniffnoy says:

    The “comprehensive meta-analysis” link appears to be missing?

  15. BBA says:

    If it is possible to touch a problem without solving it,, then it must also be possible to cause a problem without touching it. That’s logic, as I see and understand it.

  16. anon85 says:

    Isn’t it obvious that African immigrants to the US have high intelligence, since they succeeded in the difficult task of immigrating to the US from Africa? The fact that their children are also intelligent just follows from the heritability of intelligence (whether genetic or cultural heritability; this doesn’t distinguish between the two).

    That is, this story is entirely consistent with a race IQ gap, so long as *some* Africans are highly intelligent (and those are the ones who make it to the US by immigration). It’s even consistent with a large amount of discrimination in the US, as long as we assume that African immigrants are so highly skilled that they succeed despite the discrimination.

    In other words, it seems to give us almost no new information. What am I missing?

    • Adam says:

      Evidence for all of the things you just posited is information.

      • anon85 says:

        Okay, but it’s relatively boring information. On the important questions (e.g. what causes the race IQ gap?), the observation about immigrants is consistent with many different positions (cultural reasons, genetic reasons, discrimination reasons, etc.)

        In particular, all of Scott’s questions of the form “Does it argue against genetic explanations?”, “Does this argue against discrimination-based explanations?” etc., seem to have the answer “not really”.

    • ryan says:

      Also, Africa is a very large place and most people have little to no shared ancestry unless you go waaay back. Koreans and Frenchmen both have white skin, little to no relation genetically. So to with various subsets of people with black skin?

      • Emile says:

        (going purely off memory of various stuff I read; epistemic status: some details probably wrong)

        As far as I know, most African-Americans are descended from Bantu people, and so are most recent immigrants from Africa to the US; and the Bantu are probably related to each other about as much as Europeans are related to each other.

        It’s true that there are *some* groups in Africa who split off from the rest of mankind a long time ago (Bushmen, Pygmies…), but as far as I know those contributed very little to the migration to America.

        • ryan says:

          La Wik says Bantu means people or human and that there are 300-600 ethnic groups with over 500 different dialects of a language with a common root. That seems rife for non-representative sample problems.

          Regardless, thank you for the reply, I learned a bit today, always good.

          • Nick T says:

            La Wik says Bantu means people or human

            This is extremely common for endonyms of groups of all sizes.

    • wysinwyg says:

      The fact that their children are also intelligent just follows from the heritability of intelligence (whether genetic or cultural heritability; this doesn’t distinguish between the two).

      The argument employed by the paper (if I understand it correctly) is that we should expect regression to the mean for the children of particularly high-IQ black African immigrants, but their children actually seem to do as well or better.

      See the discussion above about eugenics in black US slaves. To prevent regression to the mean in animal husbandry, most males must be culled and the remainders need to be bred with close relatives to fix the traits we’re interested in. Otherwise, the children will have a high probability of not retaining the trait that is intended to be bred in. Similar to growing an apple tree from seed — it is vanishingly unlikely that the result will be a tree that bears a strain of apples that would be suitable for eating.

      I agree, though, that the author really seems to overstate her case. The phrasing is pretty adversarial rather than “new data casts doubt on previous conclusions”, and there’s some editorializing in the form of saying these data caused “consternation” in the HBD blogosphere or whatever terms she used .

      Still, I favor a largely environmental explanation. The longitudinal data that is usually cited for largely genetic explanations is, I think, actually consistent with either explanation — just as you say about the high-achieving African immigrants.

  17. Chris H says:

    On the African immigrants, wouldn’t that simply be selection bias happening? The American immigration system is a lot more welcoming to high skill immigrants than to low skill and the high skill will be heavily correlated with high IQ. If a system exists for picking out the top end of a lower average scoring group you can still wind up with pretty high IQ folks.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Possibly, yes. Read the article for more information.

    • brad says:

      The American immigration system is not *a lot* more welcoming to high skill immigrants than low skill ones. In 2012 about a million people received green cards. Of that about 14% were employment based. More than 40% were immediate relatives of US citizens.

    • ryan says:

      Another possible problem:

      Why do we assume African immigrants and descendents of slaves have significant shared ancestry and genes? Because they all are black? Seems, well, kind of racist.

  18. Jiro says:

    Jai on the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics, ie “people are punished for touching a problem without solving it.”

    If you do *not* believe in Copenhagen ethics, wouldn’t that justify most of the Tuskegee experiment? After all, telling them only vaguely that they have an illness is better than telling them nothing; giving them medical care that doesn’t include the known cure is better than giving them no medical care, etc. It might not justify actively keeping them away from syphilis treatment programs, but it would justify pretty much all the rest.

    • James Picone says:

      Telling people that they’re receiving medical care while not providing them with the medical care that you know they need is actively harmful, because if you hadn’t interfered they might go for the medical care they actually need.

      • Matt M says:

        Would they have though? I’ve actually always thought there was something to this, and that the Tuskegee experiment, while unethical, wasn’t NEARLY as bad as it is made out to be.

        Keep in mind that the participants were very poor, and many of them would have been unable to seek out medical care in any case, even if they didn’t believe they were already getting it.

        Personally I think it’s blown up and is well known/reviled to the extent that it is primarily for the racial element. If the exact same experiment had been performed on poor whites, I doubt anyone would remember it today…

    • Zakharov says:

      For some reason I had the impression that the Tuskegee test subjects were deliberately infected with syphilis, though looking it up this isn’t the case. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those outraged over the experiment have the same misconception I had.

  19. I loved some of the reviews on Amazon about the $100,000 Go table! “Totally worth it!” says one. Sound like the Pearl of great price of Go tables! But as some reviewers pointed out, the stones are not included, so once you sell everything you own to buy it, you still might not get to play in style!

  20. latest_pseudonym says:

    Robin Hanson pans the Dale & Kreuger college study here.

    • Some commenters in the Marginal Revolution thread disagree with him, though. I haven’t read the paper (and my knowledge of statistics is weak anyway), so I’m not sure who is right.

      • Stezinech says:

        The comments by Half Sigma in Hanson’s post confuse me.

        I went to the 1999 version of the Dale & Krueger paper, and I think that Half Sigma misinterpreted Table 9. See here for the paper: http://www.nber.org/papers/w7322.pdf

        He refers to column 1, but that is the basic model with no selection controls. Sure, if you don’t control for the selection effect, then higher tuition schools give a 23% internal rate of return, but doing the proper controls was the point of the paper!

        The real value should be something like 16-18%, which Dale & Krueger talk about on page 26. But, as pointed out in the final 2002 version of the paper, college tuition may be confounded with family income. They tried to control for family income, but their measure may not have been perfect.

        In any case, the more egregious error seems to be Half Sigma’s confusion about Barron’s prestige rankings. Those were not significantly associated with earnings in the 2002 version of the paper, and there is no real information on that in the 1999 paper.

        Edit: I’ve noticed that Half Sigma was working off an even earlier version from 1998. Perhaps I’m wrong in my interpretation.

  21. jeff says:

    Is there anybody out there studying whether you can get smart people to have more kids by giving them money or offering them free childcare? Whether that’s based on IQ, graduate school, or other, it seems like a workable idea.

    • Alraune says:

      “Free intelligence-based childcare” sounds like the nightmarish bureaucratic version of “hire a nanny.”

    • AbuDhabi says:

      Examples of Singapore and the Nordic countries suggest that you can’t solve the problem with economic incentives.

      These people just don’t *want* kids. If they really wanted kids, they could have ten each. But that is incompatible with high status (you don’t want to look like a fundamentalist prole, do you?), Brahmin values (overpopulation! sustainability!) and having lots of leisure time (nannies help, but childlessness really gives you all the time you could want).

      • Richard says:

        A side effect of the Scandinavian policy:
        I just talked to a young Iranian lady who told me:
        “I am looking for a Norwegian or Finnish husband because I want to have lots of children and those countries are the best to have children in”

        I hadn’t considered that the reason immigrants have many children in those countries may be that there is an explicit selection for immigrants who want lots of children

    • Slow Learner says:

      The UK has tried a variety of things, including Child Tax Credits (in addition to the long-established Child Benefit), paid parental leave (now shared between both parents) and vouchers towards childcare.

      Some of those initiatives are recent enough that their full effects on the birth rate probably haven’t shown up yet, but the TFR for British women has been rising since it bottomed out sometime in the last decade.
      I believe it’s now ~1.8, having been as low as 1.6 in the early 2000s. Whether it will keep rising, or get to the magic 2.1, is an open question, but the fact of policy having affected birth rates on some level seems pretty clear.

      (Both 1.6 and 1.8 are for UK-born women. Given that UK-born women are overwhelmingly* “White – British” as the census calls it, this is a reasonable proxy for the fertility of “White – British” people. Where separate figures exist by ethnicity they show that UK-born women of minority ethnicities have fertility closer to the UK norm than that of the non-UK born. IIRC the highest figure for any group of UK-born women is 2.2 for Pakistanis. I will see if I can find the paper I got this data from if anyone is interested).

      *90%ish.

    • Oliver Cromwell says:

      I suspect the answer is no because the real problem is life-disruption, not money as such. High IQ people want status which generally means following some kind of education-work training program into one’s 30s or even 40s. The cost of taking 5 years off is not really the 5 years’ lost income or even the 5 years’ lost seniority but that realistically you probably won’t get back on the train.

      What would work is providing high status government jobs based on an exam taken in the late teens, from which people could never be fired. But that would cause other problems.

      Alternatively it could be made mandatory to have children at an early age, which would disrupt everyone equally and have no net effect on the status zero sum game.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Me and my wife might have had one more kid if it had been easier. If the state had sent someone to our house every week to help clean up and give good advice for dealing with temper tantrums and melt-downs after personally observing them and helping to start it itself (no, it’s not enough to look this up on the internet) it would reduce my wife’s stress significantly.

        • Oliver Cromwell says:

          What I am observing is that people I know are realising time is running out and having kids while it is still possible. Money is not actually a barrier – they can just hire maids and instructors themselves – but the physical time window doesn’t permit more than two or three kids even if the mother doesn’t do anything else for a few years.

          The way to solve the problem is to time-shift the rewards they didn’t get until their 30s into their early 20s. Those rewards are not primarily money but secure access to high status, self-actualising jobs.

          • Randy M says:

            All these people that don’t realize they won’t have the physical aspects of their 20’s when they are 36, can’t figure out how to network and solve basic child rearing concerns, etc…. are these the high IQ people we need to have children? Those who claim IQ is not so important are starting to make more sense now, at least evolutionarily speaking.

          • Nicholas says:

            It’s not that they didn’t know. It’s that the cost was higher then, they had to give up more. More than a child was worth to them. And now they have the thing, the job, the status, the house, and want to have their child and eat it to. But it takes too long to get enough of the thing, too long to do both well.
            But if we could lower the cost from the rough $1 million that it is today…

          • FJ says:

            I suspect Randy is also overlooking the coordination problem inherent in reproduction. Specifically, both my wife and I wanted kids. We might have been willing to do so in our mid-20s. But it would have been very difficult for us to coordinate our desires back then, because we had never met. There’s a strong positive correlation between IQ and age of first marriage. This is due to a variety of factors. But to the extent that high-IQ people have relatively exacting requirements for their mates and take a relatively long time to evaluate potential mates for compatibility, we should expect them to take much longer to select their mates.

          • Randy M says:

            Free nannies aren’t going to help you if you haven’teven found a mate yet.

            And I maintain that if High IQ People are unable to prioritize children over status, perfect compatibility etc., etc. they ain’t as smart as the tests tell us, evolutionarily (and practically) speaking.

            Of course, I say this as a moderately bright person (judge for youself) who has taken the status and income hit to have three children before 35. Maybe I’m trying to regain some of that status by showing off that I have what many come later to desire–or maybe I’m trying to shame those more similar to myself to examine their priorities earlier. Not sure.

          • brad says:

            What in the heck is smart … evolutionarily speaking?

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Being successful at passing on your genes, presumably.

          • brad says:

            It is bad enough that this entire response thread is riddled with the naturalism fallacy, now we actually have measurable characteristics being subsumed into the all consuming maw of teleological pop Darwinism. I eagerly await the definition of “fat … evolutionarily speaking”

          • Randy M says:

            In terms of evolution, passing on one’s genes should at least be a priority. If you have mistaken social status for something of permanence, you’ve gotten snookered.
            I think even the non-pop Darwinism does require that you actually find a way to pass on genes, and number of off-spring is in fact a measureable characteristic, believe it or not.
            I know is=/= ought, but what amuses me is posters lamenting the low fecundity of smart westerners because in the long run their culture will be better off with more intelligent citizens, but it is the very high intelligence that is limiting their birthrates because they get hung up on “Can I afford to give each kid their own bedroom without higher child tax credits” or whatever, especially when a hallmark of high IQ is the ability to care about the future.

          • Agronomous says:

            @Randy M:

            I know is=/= ought, but what amuses me is posters lamenting the low fecundity of smart westerners because in the long run their culture will be better off with more intelligent citizens, but it is the very high intelligence that is limiting their birthrates….

            You talk like a fag and your shit’s all retarded.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRQijskAMp4

          • brad says:

            In terms of evolution, passing on one’s genes should at least be a priority.

            That’s a meaningless sentence. People have priorities, evolution doesn’t. Nor does it tell you what your priorities ought to be.

            If you have mistaken social status for something of permanence, you’ve gotten snookered.

            Likewise if you’ve taken reproduction to be something of permanence. You will still die, in no more than three generation no one will remember you, and eventually your decedents will become extinct.

            I think even the non-pop Darwinism does require that you actually find a way to pass on genes

            It doesn’t require you to do anything.

            I know is=/= ought

            Hmm.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          It seems very strange for us to pay for the state to pay to send a stranger to your house to advise on tantrums and child-rearing. The traditional model of “ask grandma what she used to do” still works pretty well, costs a lot less, and preserves the family’s values (whichever way they might trend) a lot better than a social services worker does.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I’d say it doesn’t work so well now that Grandma probably lives halfway across the country, and (due to people having children later) is probably ten or twenty years older than she was in the past. Having someone on-site actually observing the child over time really helps.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            The traditional model of “ask grandma what she used to do” still works pretty well, costs a lot less….

            [ note: sexist terms used for convenience ]

            In cases where Grandma or Great-aunt or Aunt or Older Sister can’t afford to come over, a UBI * could solve the problem, if she is not prevented by some sort of WorkFare or busywork requirement. Spending time with her family might take care of ‘dole-caused depression’, too.

            * at less cost than the salary and overhead of a social worker

          • John Schilling says:

            In the 21st century, Grandma is increasingly likely to live hundreds or thousands of kilometers away.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            A neighbor or friend might be quite helpful, given free time. A social worker, however well-credentialed, cannot visit as long or as often, or take the kids out for an afternoon. Someone with open-ended time to hang out, have unpressured conversations with first one family member and another, may be much more valuable than a hurried professional.

        • Jaskologist says:

          In a sane society, we wouldn’t be so segregated from other age groups that “kids throwing tantrums” would be a mysterious new situation requiring state guidance to navigate.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s not that it needs state intervention.

            It’s that the limiting factor in my family’s children count is my wife’s sanity, and I was proposing ways of alleviating the burden.

          • onyomi says:

            I’ve long thought this was a big problem with our current education system.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Our education system is definitely to blame. I often hear people argue against home schooling on the grounds of “socialization,” but think about the environment that public school socializes kids into. There, you learn to interact solely with people within one year of your age plus a single old person who has dictatorial control over your day. This is not good preparation for life.

            I’m involved with planning what is essentially sunday school for adults at my local church, and this causes a real problem for us. People in the 20-30 age bracket don’t want to interact with anybody outside that bracket, but they really need to. We deal with it by allowing a young adults class, but also making sure to shut it down periodically so they have to go somewhere else.

            I understand that other volunteer organizations have similar problems. When all your formative years have been spent being railroaded, you don’t really know how to strike out on your own once you reach the end of the tracks.

    • NZ says:

      Another strong incentive would be “For every kid you have, here are 5 more smart kids from stable, married 2-parent households who live nearby and are approximately the same age, for your kids to have as a core peer group and go through school with.”

      I think subconsciously a lot of people may feel pessimistic about bringing kids into this Idiocracy we’ve got going here.

    • Troy says:

      Denmark seems to have had some success with raising birth rates among native Danes by offering incentives like generous maternity leave: https://jaymans.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/a-success-story/

    • Linch says:

      I feel like the default assumption should be that very smart people who want money are already able to get enough money to raise a family comfortably, so additional bonuses from the state (on the order of magnitude that is realistic for familial bonueses in the US)are unlikely to be applicable to most of them.

      If you’re very smart and care enough about money that an additional bonus of several thousand dollars per year can change your mind about whether or not to have a child, I feel like there’s a nontrivial chance that you have socially suboptimal traits that mitigates your higher intelligence.

      • Jiro says:

        Decisions are made on the margin. A few thousand dollars won’t compensate you for having a child if having a child otherwise brings you no benefits, but it might compensate you for having a child if the benefits are only outweighed a tiny bit by the costs and a few thousand dollars tips the balance.

  22. bean says:

    I’m very skeptical of the dark matter halo explanation. The problem is that this anomaly only shows up in spacecraft doing flybys, and not in all of the other spacecraft that are constantly orbiting the Earth, and which give us really good data on the Earth’s gravitational field. Dark matter should affect them as well, and that would show up in the data we have from experiments like GRACE. We know quite accurately what Earth’s gravity field looks like, and it doesn’t look like there’s a halo of dark matter out there.

    Also, what about V97.33XD: Sucked Into Jet Engine (Subsequent Encounter)?

  23. Jiro says:

    As foir Copenhagen ethics, many of the examples can be explained as taking advantage of people in desperation. If someone is not desperate, there are things which he will either completely refuse to sell, or will only sell at a price much higher than the thing would bring if actually sold on the market. Offering a much lower price to the person when they will, because of desperation, sell at a much lower price than they normally would be willing to, is bad.

    Of course, there are degrees of desperation and degrees of willingness to sell things–if you had absolutely no need for money you probably wouldn’t hold any job for any pay rate–but the curve of willingness to sell versus degree of desperation is much steeper for some things than for others. The things for which it is exceptionally steep include selling organs, prostitution, selling your personal habits (such as selling your meat eating to PETA), selling you and your children’s religion (an example brought up in the comments to that article), and working in a job with really terrible working conditions.

    • DanielLC says:

      I can see the problem if you replace “desperate” with “stupid”, but “desperate” just means they really want the thing in question. Is it wrong to sell gold for the price of gold, since people are desperate for it because it’s worth its weight in gold?

      If people only sell kidneys because they’re stupid, then I can see the problem with legalizing the kidney trade. But if they’re selling them because it’s that or starve, then the kidney trade is a net gain.

      • Alraune says:

        The problem seems to be one part letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, one part getting empathy backwards and projecting your own mind into a voluntary “victim” who is in too unlike of circumstances from you for your judgment of whether they were acting rationally to be sound, and one part an inability to dissociate the feeling “I should dislike this person” from “I should pass laws against this person.”

        The question of whether that instinct to dislike them is (or historically was) valid independently of the goodness of their specific actions is interesting though. What if we live in a world in which sociopathic cleverness can accomplish great aggregate good but “avoid personal connections with sociopathic clever people” is also good advice?

      • Deiseach says:

        You sell one kidney to pay off debts or not starve. After that money is gone, and you’re still left with the prospect of starvation (because there’s going to be a limit on how much a potential buyer can pay, unless they’re a billionaire, so the price you get for your kidney is probably not going to be “enough money to live on for the rest of my life”) ,what can you do?

        What do you sell next? Your second kidney? That will kill you as well, and maybe even faster than starvation. So we can (a) permit conditions to continue where (relatively) rich people benefit from the desperation of poorer people, and we do nothing to improve those conditions because unless the poor are desperate, they’re not going to sell organs to the rich(er) who need them, and the poor have a choice of dying from starvation now or dying from lack of organs/organ failure later (b) we change conditions so that no matter how desperate a person gets, the only option is not “sell your kidney”.

        • Wes says:

          This is exactly what is meant by the phrase “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

        • Jai says:

          One time I was hiking up a mountain when I saw a fellow traveler trip and fall over the ledge. Luckily, she managed to grab hold of a root that had grown out of the ledge. She was clearly in pain and struggling to hold on when I got to her, and I had to act fast.

          I got out my knife and proceeded to start cutting off the root.

          “What are you doing?” she asked.

          “Look, I can either permit conditions where hikers can fall off ledges and barely hold on for dear life, or I can work to change conditions on the trail so that no one falls off this ledge ever again.”

          “Oh, well in that case I -”

          snap

        • DanielLC says:

          Either the person is better off keeping the kidney, in which case they’re only selling it due to stupidity and you shouldn’t allow it, or they’re desperate enough that they’re better off selling it, in which case you should probably try to help keep people from getting that desperate, but you need to keep the kidney sales around for when they get that desperate anyway.

          • Nicholas says:

            The historically-minded worry is that if you allow a person to profit off the actions of another person’s desperation, you create an incentive landscape in which it’s never rational to help that person. For example: The primary opposition to a Minimum Income is that people wouldn’t do work they hated if they had MI, and we are too heavily incentivised by the hated work to keep them there. So there will never be Minimum Income, because no one would put up with waiting tables on a volunteer basis.
            If you want to avoid this particular incentive landscape, where people specifically don’t help people so that those people will keep acting desperately, then you need a Schelling point for when it’s not okay to maintain Desperate Incentive Landscapes. The answer we’re currently using is “When the connection to desperation and profit is only one step removed.”

          • CJB says:

            “you create an incentive landscape in which it’s never rational to help that person. ”

            This reminds me of a line I heard somewhere about homo ecinomicus being the “sort of being that could walk through an orgy thinking about marginal rates of return.”

            I gave a dollar to a beggar the other day. Irrational, unhelpful. If I’d made a 50 cent donation to XYZ shelter….blah blah blah.

            Still gave him the dollar.

            humans don’t help other humans because logic. We help other humans because walking past a beggar feels bad. Even with all the rationality in the world.

            “So there will never be Minimum Income, because no one would put up with waiting tables on a volunteer basis.”

            “Waiting tables” is a terrible example. Cafeteria style works pretty well with 1/10th the staff. I can’t say that my dining experience would be tragically broken by having to collect plate.s

            Also, you could make minimum income only payable after a certain point, so teenagers still look for low quality jobs.

            But lets be blunt here-

            We aren’t talking about waiters. We’re talking about the hardest working person I’ve ever personally met- the guy running a jackhammer doing road repair in the Florida august noontime sun.

            We need roads repaired.

            We need roads.

            We can’t afford to pay a whole ton.

            Even if we diverted massive amounts of resources to road repair costs, that’s still a tough sell- I currently make the household median wage, and you’d have to pay me more than twice that to get my ass out there.

            And yes, to some degree you can mitigate that- work at night and so on.

            But in the US, it’s going to be necessary to have some poor fucker running a jackhammer and we can offer him 18 an hour. He might be running it to fix a road, repair a sewer or water line, whatever.

            How, precisely, do you get people to sit on a jackhammer all day, everyday, eight hours a day, during the day, when you can go get 50K per household just by existing?

          • stillnotking says:

            Most people seem to want to work, even if they don’t absolutely have to. For all the stereotypes of the “idle rich”, almost all rich people do have job-like things to fill their time — even if it’s pseudo-work like pretending to run nonprofits or sitting on corporate boards. Then again, the guy flagging cars on the road isn’t exactly busting his ass, either.

            Through some combination of social pressure, desire to contribute, and simple boredom, very few of us would sit home all day watching Gilligan’s Island reruns, even if the option were available. I think a GBI would change surprisingly little compared to our current system of targeted welfare. The very laziest among us might opt out, and there might be a little more trouble filling the most thankless jobs, but that’s it. Hell, I’m remarkably lazy myself, but I wouldn’t quit to go on the dole.

          • Zykrom says:

            Probably not many people would just up and quit their jobs to go on the dole, but there would be a lot of people who never got jobs in the first place, and people who were removed from the workforce by circumstances out of their control and never got around to rejoining it.

      • stillnotking says:

        Many people on the left (which, I assume, is where the criticisms came from) see the desperation of the poor not as a brute fact, but as a consequence of society’s callousness and greed. From that point of view, it’s rather like pushing someone over the side of the ship and then offering to sell him a life preserver.

        • DanielLC says:

          But it’s not from any one individual’s callousness and greed. If one person pushes someone off a ship and then offers to sell them a life preserver, there’s some definite conflict of interest going on. If they just get pushed off and someone else offers to sell them a life preserver, and nobody’s going to give them one for free, then you should let them sell the life preserver. And maybe try to get people to push other people off the ship less.

          • stillnotking says:

            I agree. I’m just pointing out why this type of scenario trips certain people’s unfairness alarms.

            If I had to sum up my problems with the modern left in a single sentence, it would be this: “Society” is not a person.

      • ento says:

        Numbers are made up because they don’t particularly matter.

        Poor people selling their kidneys to get by have very inelastic curves of supply for kidneys – if I need $3000 right now or, I dunno, the mob is going to kill me for not paying back my loan, I’ll definitely take $3000 even if my kidney is worth $20k. (Recall that the numbers are made up.)

        (Elasticity of kidneys supplied isn’t really.the right word – the quantity supplied will always be 0 or 1. But the point is that I as a desperate person will respond in the same way to any offer that meets my current needs, at least in the absence of other offers. Partly this is because of other desperate poor people driving the price down; the ban on sales of kidneys in certain ranges is equivalent to a credible precommitment made by all poor people that significantly increased their bargaining power. Like a union, I guess. More on why this is good later.)

        If sales of kidneys for below-real-value-price are outlawed, you can still get off at least neutral by being forced to buy my kidney for sticker price, and I will presumably be on my way out of whatever desperate conditions led me to have a supply.curve that was so inelastic. This is a net gain of utility, in that your marginal n dollars (probably) make me happier than they made you, and we expect that the number of actual transactions prohibited this way (not just renegotiated at a higher price) is fairly small. Think of it as similar to a progressive tax whose proceeds go mainly to help the poor.

        This has to be done with a gentle hand – ABC offering poor families $100,000 to be on a cruel reality TV show, or PETA offering to pay water bills for families who go vegan, for instance. It seems like neither ABC nor PETA was likely to make the offer in the first place without something like the actual conditions imposed; also, having people on the internet talk about you for a few weeks before everyone forgets about you, or having to not eat animal products for a month, are relatively minor consequences, especially compared to being murdered. So I think the losses inherent in establishing the price floor in those cases are more than it’s worth.

        The utility gain has to be calculated on a case-by-case basis: what do the people whom we think are being exploited stand to lose as a result of their supposed exploitation? What’s the elasticity of demand in the region from the current price to the sticker price.

        There’s also something to be said for, as another commenter put it, disincentivizing people from throwing others overboard and then selling them life preservers.

        • Matt M says:

          If your kidney is “worth” 20k, then how come 3k is the best offer you can get? Why aren’t various rich dialysis patients bidding up the price of your kidney until it reaches equilibrium? If the problem is urgency (“I need to sell my kidney today and can’t wait for the bidding process to complete!) then we’re dealing with a different good. It makes sense that the price for selling your kidney immediately with zero notice would be less than the price of selling your kidney in two months and seeking out the highest bidder. In any other context, this would be totally non-controversial and would be commonly accepted as a simple and obvious liquidity premium.

          Value is subjective. Things are “worth” the price you can get for them. No more, no less. Of course prices change based on the circumstances of the parties involved. That’s simple supply and demand.

          • ento says:

            Basically yes, I have a very time-sensitive need because I am poor and I need to feed my kids. Any individual buyer has time to go around to other desperate poor people and give them the same deal, but I don’t have time to communicate with all the potential buyers who would jump at the chance to get a “steal” price of even $15k, or higher.

            *Your* inelastic demand from 3k to 20k is inherent to the good being sold; *my* inelastic supply in that range is a product of my desperation. (Or it’s a product of me wanting to sell my kidney straight away instead of waiting two months to get a high bid which, wait, I just checked, is a product of my desperation.) I view only one of these as a problem that needs fixing.

            Prices change based on circumstances, but in this case there is an uncomfortable feedback loop where allowing my circumstances to dictate pricing on my kidney perpetuates those circumstances.

            I’m totally on board with you for Uber’s surge (aka demand-based) pricing, lowball offers to divorced couples trying to sell their house and split, selling a painting for more than someone could get back for it because they really want to complete some collection, etc. The difference in those cases is that having to take a lowball offer to get away from your ex-wife isn’t going to make all your future transactions suck for you, because the underlying circumstances that make you want to sell your house for that price (“I need to get away from my crazy ex-wife”) don’t generalize. But “I am poor, and therefore willing to accept offers that richer people wouldn’t” follows you around, and as a society we can decide that this is undesirable, particularly if we think the underlying problem is reinforced by it.

          • Matt M says:

            “and as a society we can decide that this is undesirable”

            Maybe we shouldn’t be able to decide this. Maybe having rich people enforce rules on poor people that forbid them from engaging in certain voluntary economic transactions “for their own good” is, itself, a form of unjustified oppression.

            Wasn’t a similar argument made in the antebellum south? That we can’t just free all of these slaves, because without us, they’d surely just starve to death?

          • ento says:

            I agree that markets are usually best for everyone when allowed to roam free, and that in any specific case where you disagree with that the burden of proof is on you to make your case, and not to expect the people you’re talking to teach you Econ 101. I have tried to do this for my argument, in the process pointing out numerous places where (by my own admission) the argument should fall apart because of Econ 101 if not for features of this special case.

            Your argument is a big too broad. A government that forbids people to hunt rabbits in a stag hunt is doing no wrong; my general philosophy of government is that it exists to enforce the coordination solution on problems with non-coordination Nash equilibria. (At the very least, government should stop the world from falling into Nash equilibria that are strongly dominated by others.)

            While those individual poor people seem willing to participate in these transactions, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t also be in favor of (i.e. vote for politicians who propose) enforcing a precommitment on all poor people, and not just because politicians tell attractive lies.

            I think it’s rather disingenuous to compare me to people with an obvious incentive to maintain the status quo of the people they were “helping” by maintaining the status quo.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            my general philosophy of government is that it exists to enforce the coordination solution on problems with non-coordination Nash equilibria.

            It might be nice to have a government which does this, but very little that governments do in the real world can be described in this way. Government is not some unincentivised incentiviser run by a philosopher king. Instead, government is run by ordinary people who are just as prone to defecting in the prisoner’s dilemma as the rest of us. And generally the incentives in politics are far more perverse than in the market economy.

          • Randy M says:

            Aren’t buyers of kidneys in a rather time-sensitive situation as well? Isn’t that the whole reason that they would sell for so much? Considering seller’s poverty, and buyer’s immanent lack of functioning kidneys, it isn’t clear who is being taken advantage of more.

          • Matt M says:

            Of course, if we legalized the trading of kidneys, it would take a matter of days before some corporation set up a “Kidney exchange” designed to fix this exact sort of problem.

            The poor could sell their kidneys to the exchange whenever they wanted to. The exchange could preserve them, and sell the kidney to a rich person in need. There would be enough buyers and sellers to eliminate any huge desperation-based price differences, and a going rate would emerge.

            Note that this is exactly why we don’t have a “people wait until they are about to starve, and then go to a farmer, who demands a million dollars in exchange for some corn” scenario on a daily basis.

          • Ano says:

            “Wasn’t a similar argument made in the antebellum south? That we can’t just free all of these slaves, because without us, they’d surely just starve to death?”

            The operative case is not slavery but Lochner v New York, where the Supreme Court ruled that to forbid people from signing contracts to work fourteen hour shifts would deny their right to due process.

          • ento says:

            It might be nice to have a government which does this, but very little that governments do in the real world can be described in this way.

            This is why I described it as “my philosophy of government” and not “my theory of how all governments secretly work”. I’m not making a claim about what governments do, just about a broad category of things that I think they should do, and a justification for why they should exist.

            Aren’t buyers of kidneys in a rather time-sensitive situation as well? Isn’t that the whole reason that they would sell for so much? Considering seller’s poverty, and buyer’s immanent lack of functioning kidneys, it isn’t clear who is being taken advantage of more.

            Rich people have dialysis in hospitals paid for by health insurance. Kidneys sell so much not because their buyers are under time pressure but because they don’t enjoy sitting in a hospital on dialysis. I’m sure you could get people who aren’t paying their own hospital bills to pay more.

            Of course, if we legalized the trading of kidneys, it would take a matter of days before some corporation set up a “Kidney exchange” designed to fix this exact sort of problem.

            The poor could sell their kidneys to the exchange whenever they wanted to. The exchange could preserve them, and sell the kidney to a rich person in need. There would be enough buyers and sellers to eliminate any huge desperation-based price differences, and a going rate would emerge.l

            Forgive me, but I’m not sure what you’re getting at. This seems to describe setting up two markets, one where the exchange has a monopsony on buying organs from donors and the other where it has a monopoly on selling them to people who need the transplants. This doesn’t sound like the sort of thing you would suggest, so I assume I’ve misunderstood. Are you saying many corporations will set up their own exchanges? Or what?

          • Matt M says:

            There would probably be multiple companies, but I imagine the first mover would have a fairly dominant market share.

            Or maybe there’s a peer-to-peer model ala eBay. You’ll notice that things on ebay roughly reach a “market price” without much variation, despite the sure fact that individual buyers and sellers face a wide variety of different time/money/value pressures.

            My overall point is that having food is just as important as having a kidney, and yet, we don’t seem to have a problem with farmers charging poor people 20x what food is “actually worth” because food marketplaces have solved this problem.

            The reason it’s still a problem with kidneys is that kidney marketplaces are illegal, so you have to work through the ridiculously inefficient black market. And since the black market is the example that exists today, we automatically envision a similar model being in use if kidney selling was legalized… as if nothing would change.

          • Jiro says:

            The curve of desperation versus price willing to pay is not as steep for food.

            I think the precommitment model is a good point. Poor people would be better off in the instant situation if they took a job with bad working conditions, low wages, etc., but if they can precommit to not taking such jobs, they’ll end up being offered jobs with better working conditions instead. They have to precommit as a group, and can’t be permitted to change their mind (or it wouldn’t be a precommitment), so you need a law for it.

            (Kidneys and prostitution are a different case because non-desperate people don’t want to sell them at all, rather than sell them at a good price. Perhaps poor people realize that they use inconsistent discounting, and want to prevent themselves from doing so.)

          • Neurno says:

            Oh man, this has some great possibilities for dystopian sci-fi. If organs are market-legal commodities, do creditors get to demand the organs of debtors if loans are defaulted on? Can the losers of lawsuits be forced to pay in organs? If you are convicted of white collar crime, and cannot afford to return the money you embezzled, does the state get to remove and sell your organs while you are imprisoned to repay the wronged parties?
            Most debts can be escaped by declaring bankruptcy, but not financial aid debt. Does the government get to harvest your organs if you default on your student loan repayments?
            I can imagine people objecting, “It’s not fair for you to claim one of my kidneys, part of my liver, one of my lungs, one third of my intestines. I didn’t get the job my college said I would get! This is unfair use of force!”
            The state replies, “There was no policeman holding a gun to your head when you signed those financial aid papers. You made these decisions as a fully informed legally responsible adult. If you didn’t like the fine print, you shouldn’t have signed.”
            This merges so well with the other topic about over-priced, deceptively useless degrees…

            Just think of the marvelous technological revolution in tranquilizer dart technology when the market forces of the Guild of Long Range Anesthesiologists are brought to bear. Truly, it shall be a new era for debt collection agencies.

          • CatCube says:

            @Neurno

            You can certainly write a story like that, but I don’t know what it would illuminate. Your labor is already has a market, and we don’t allow a bankruptcy court to order you to be a slave. I’m not sure why there’d be an expectation that the court could order you to sell a kidney.

          • Brett says:

            Of course, if we legalized the trading of kidneys, it would take a matter of days before some corporation set up a “Kidney exchange” designed to fix this exact sort of problem.

            The poor could sell their kidneys to the exchange whenever they wanted to. The exchange could preserve them, and sell the kidney to a rich person in need. There would be enough buyers and sellers to eliminate any huge desperation-based price differences, and a going rate would emerge.

            No, there wouldn’t, because storing kidneys long term is not fucking possible. (And by long term, I mean longer than a day and a half.) I feel like it’s incumbent on people who propose twee libertarian-utopia ideas like this to know something about the actual topic they are discussing rather than some vague feelings that markets make everything better.

            What’s next, are you going to propose that markets for pediatric lung transplants will fix the shortage problems there?

          • Mary says:

            ” storing kidneys long term is not fucking possible. ”

            Nonsense. You can store kidneys for over a century.

            We use this mechanism called a human body.

            That is, you sell your kidney to the exchange, the exchange sells it again, then you have it chopped out of you.

          • cthulhu delenda est says:

            Brett,

            Organ preservation is moving far beyond ice boxes. I think you will find Is this the next big leap for organ transplants? very interesting.

          • Nita says:

            @ Matt M

            I’m really enjoying the combination of your comments here and upthread, about the Tuskegee study.

            If I may paraphrase: “We should free poor people from the oppression of laws, and then lie to them so we can watch them suffer (for Science) — after all, they probably couldn’t afford treatment anyway.”

            You’re like the Evil Straw Libertarian leftists love to hate, only real. It’s fantastic.

        • DanielLC says:

          Poor people selling their kidneys to get by have very inelastic curves of supply for kidneys – if I need $3000 right now or, I dunno, the mob is going to kill me for not paying back my loan, I’ll definitely take $3000 even if my kidney is worth $20k.

          Wikipedia says kidneys sell for $2000 to $4000. Any chance I can get you to make up some lottery numbers?

          Seriously though, if that were the case you wouldn’t sell for anything less than $3000. I don’t think it’s that inelastic. Certainly not as inelastic as demand. If you need money, there’s other ways to get it. Maybe not good ways, but ways. If you need a kidney, you need a kidney.

          There’s also something to be said for, as another commenter put it, disincentivizing people from throwing others overboard and then selling them life preservers.

          How is that supposed to work? You have a bad kidney, so you fire a worker, and then buy their kidney? Except that they won’t sell it to you below market price, and if you can afford market price you don’t need them. Or are you powerful enough to alter the economy to the point where the market price of kidneys drops significantly? If you’re powerful enough to do that, then why would you waste it on a $4,000 kidney?

          • Jiro says:

            Except that they won’t sell it to you below market price, and if you can afford market price you don’t need them.

            It’s not just a question of being able to afford market price. If you can afford market price, but none are on sale at market price, you still won’t be able to buy one–and things which have the steep curve I described will have none on sale if there are no desperate people. You could indeed fire someone and then buy a kidney that you could otherwise not get.

            (Of course a more realistic scenario is one where there is more than one mean employer, more than one desperate person, the employers have collectively “fired” the desperate people (that is, they made them desperate), and the employers collectively benefit from the resulting kidney availability, without being able to trace a specific kidney to a specific act by a specific employer. And that in turn is just a specific case of “upper class collectively treats the lower class poorly and benefits from the kidneys that are only on the market because the lower class is treated poorly.”)

          • ento says:

            Jiro does a good job explaining what I had in my head in his comment here.

            (No comment on whether or not we are both Eliezer Yudkowsky.)

            Seriously though, if that were the case you wouldn’t sell for anything less than $3000. I don’t think it’s that inelastic. Certainly not as inelastic as demand. If you need money, there’s other ways to get it. Maybe not good ways, but ways. If you need a kidney, you need a kidney.

            Since the numbers don’t matter, assume the mega-millions lottery has a 1/1000 chance of a payoff…*ahem*

            I do kind of regret picking numbers where the “unreasonable” price corresponds to the reasonable price in the real world, but I’m too old to change my ways now.

            It’s inelastic in the range between the amount of money I need and the market price of the kidney. Obviously we can’t say the supply is inelastic between $2500 and $3000 if for $2500 I’ll sell no kidneys and for $3000 I’ll sell one.

            What else am I going to do to find $3000? Go to the other mob? Get a payday loan? Rob a bank? If I’m desperate enough to sell my kidney, I doubt there are short-term money-making schemes that don’t turn out poorly for me in the long run. (If there are, why isn’t anyone else doing them?)

      • Zakharov says:

        I think the liberal argument against kidney-selling is the risk that the government will cut welfare on the grounds of “you don’t need welfare, you’ve still got a kidney to sell”.

        • wysinwyg says:

          People who lose limbs or digits tend to go into shock and try to put them back. When a friend of mine got his leg pulled into a motorcycle wheel, he just remembers holding his hand to the wound terrified that unspecified stuff might fall out.

          I suspect “no body part removal” is hardwired into the mammalian brain as a sacred value, so selling organs probably triggers the sacred/profane thing in a lot of people.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            There’s also the reaction that some people have to allowing assisted suicide; if it were allowed, some people might be pressured into it by family, social workers, etc. If body parts could be sold for cash, and the seller had hospital bills unpaid from the past, the hospital would have incentive for pressure also.

            Hm. And would it be legal and enforceable, for a borrower who still has both kidneys, to put up one as security for a debt? “Put your spare body parts to work!”

          • Zakharov says:

            Adding to what houseboatonstyx said, poor people often wind up having to sell everything they own. In that case, not being able to sell their kidneys is an advantage. Generalizing further, being unable to make a tradeoff means being unable to make a sacrifice to Moloch.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            With or without bankruptcy, there are exemptions to what a person can be forced to sell or have taken away: such as homestead, one car under $X,000, etc. I assume that at least one kidney would be exempt.
            /Swiftian

    • Tracy W says:

      Firstly, surely this is person-dependent? Some people donate their kidneys, which sounds the opposite of steep. And lots of people change their habits for a job, eg get up early, wear steel-capped boots, change religion at the drop of a hat, and reportedly street prostitutes’ prices have been falling with more relaxed sexual mores. The final one about working conditions strikes me as circular.

      • Matt M says:

        My guess is that the overwhelming majority of people who donate kidneys/become vegan/etc are rich or at least middle class.

        And that’s why it’s okay to encourage uncompensated kidney donation and why it would be okay for PETA to launch a promotion that went something like “we’ll pay for a month of spinning classes and hot yoga for anyone who goes vegan.” Because rich people would do those things anyway and it isn’t a huge behavior modification.

        The fact that being vegan is not associated with being poor makes it seem icky to us, and makes it seem like they’re “only” doing it because they’re desperate for the money – even if, overall, we think it’s a cool thing that is worth doing.

        • Deiseach says:

          The problem with “Why don’t we make it legal to sell your kidney? Then poor people could have access to ready cash when they need it!”

          There was a scandal about haemophiliacs in Ireland becoming infected with Hepatitis C and HIV from contaminated blood products used to treat them. These were commercially produced products from blood obtained from paid donors. Much of this was from Irish donors, but some was from American companies; part of the problem was that such American companies used donations from prisoners and drug addicts. There was a similar problem with the Irish donors, not to be picking on America, though so far as I know we don’t let prisoners sell their blood.

          The infections were due to the fact that at the time (the mid 80s) these blood batches were not routinely (or at all) screened for HIV and were not heat-treated. From the report issued by the tribunal of enquiry:

          It is probable that all of the 95 persons with haemophilia A infected with HIV were treated with commercial concentrates during the period 1980 to 1984. The Tribunal heard evidence that the following commercial concentrates were supplied to persons with haemophilia A in this country between 1980 and the end of 1984, namely:-
          Hemofil, supplied by Travenol/Baxter
          Kryobulin, supplied by Immuno
          Factorate, supplied by Armour
          Koate, supplied by Cutter/Miles
          These commercial concentrates would have been fractionated from large pools of plasma obtained from paid donors and would not have been subjected to any form of viral inactivation. Some of the persons infected would also have received treatment with cryoprecipitate prepared by the BTSB from plasma from Irish voluntary donors. Cryoprecipitate was made from pools of only 5 donors. Where infected persons had received treatment with both BTSB cryoprecipitate and unheated commercial concentrates, the Tribunal believes the unheated commercial concentrates to be the probable source of infection. While the case of “Fionn” is a demonstration that the possibility of HIV infection from BTSB cryoprecipitate cannot be excluded, the risk of infection from commercial concentrates was significantly greater. Since it is probable that HIV infection did not enter the Irish blood supply until 1983 at the earliest, it also follows that cryoprecipitate prepared from donations received prior to that date were unlikely to have caused infection.

          There was a similar scandal in Scotland, again about infections during the mid-80s from contaminated commercial blood products, though apparently the Scottish Blood Transfusion Services took donations from prisoners. Again, some of the contaminated products came from American commercial companies which used paid donors and prisoners.

          So what happens in one country may have a global effect. And if you are letting the poor and desperate sell body parts, then you are going to get what you pay for.

      • Jiro says:

        The idea is that desperate people would sell their kidneys to relieve their desperation for sharply less money than they would be willing to sell them in the absence of desperation.

        This idea doesn’t apply if the sale price is zero, since a price of zero can’t relieve desperation.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      Why is it bad to “take advantage of” (aka trade with) desperate people? Sure, it’d be nice if someone else had offered the things deperate people need at a lower price, but no one has. That’s why they are desperate to begin with. But how does chastising the one person or organisation willing to trade with the desperate help them?

      • suntzuanime says:

        There is an implicit assumption that your response to being discouraged from offering trade at a high price will be to offer it at a lower price, rather than refrain from trade altogether. It’s not obvious that this is never the case.

        In the case where you really are “taking advantage” of someone, what this means is that you are capturing a large amount of surplus value from the transaction. If you were discouraged from taking as much surplus value, there would still be some left for you to take and the transaction would still be worth making for you. I think the real problem arises when onlookers do not see the costs you’ve incurred to be able to make the transaction or ignore the risks involved in making the transaction, and they think you have more surplus value to spare than you do. One example is people who accuse lenders of “taking advantage” of people with poor credit, because it’s not polite to dwell on the fact that people with poor credit often don’t pay back their loans.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Classic Paul Krugman has the same argument:

          The main answer, I think, is a sort of fastidiousness. Unlike the starving subsistence farmer, the women and children in the sneaker factory are working at slave wages for our benefit–and this makes us feel unclean

          but he says we should get over that. And I agree, because the empirical data is that it works.

          http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/1997/03/in_praise_of_cheap_labor.2.html

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          The fact that no one else is willing to offer a better deal is pretty strong evidence that there isn’t a large amount of “surplus value”. Certainly there are some transactions where producer surplus is much larger than consumer surplus or vice versa and a societal norm against such arrangements would produce a more equitable exchange, but the number of such cases would likely be very small compared to the cases where this societal norm prevents mutually beneficial exchanges. As you said yourself, it’s very difficult to determine other people’s values.

          • drethelin says:

            Markets are imperfect. There are a lot of situations where no one is in a position to undercut the person we view as exploitative. The only grocer in a radius of 4 miles has a lot power over his customers that don’t own cars. Sometimes people deliberately ACT to have a captive market, like Movie Theaters selling popcorn. Sometimes there’s a cultural trait that all but forces people to participate in a certain system if they want any number of privileges, and then the people in charge of that system can extract arbitrary amounts of value.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            I’m aware that markets are imperfect. However, they are a thousand times better at creating efficient outcomes than people’s moral intuitions about what is and isn’t fair. The vast majority of people lack both the economic knowledge to make reasonable judgements about the fairness of economic transactions and the humility to recognise their own ignorance.

            Both of the examples you’ve provided do not show any exploitation. The only grocer in a small town is in no position to charge obscene prices. Even though there are people who don’t have a car, most people in such towns do have a car and will drive the four miles if the grocer’s prices are too high. And since he can’t control resale, he isn’t in a good position to engage in price discrimination. Besides, if his prices are too high, that leaves the market open for a competing shop charging more reasonable prices. Which is why small town grocers don’t charge exorbitant prices. True, their prices are somewhat higher than in big supermarkets, but that’s only reasonable since they are further away from most suppliers and small grocers just can’t be as efficient as large supermarkets.

            Cinemas do not have a captive market. If popcorn is too expensive, people can just not go to the cinema or go to a competitor with cheaper popcorn. So monopoly pricing is not a good explanation for why popcorn is so expensive. Under that model, cinemas might just as well have higher ticket prices and charge normal prices for popcorn. David Friedman has offered a more convincing explanation (not sure if the argument is original to him): expensive popcorn and drinks are a way of engaging in price discrimination. People who are very price sensitive (e.g. low income people and families with lots of kids) will still go to the cinema (because tickets are relatively cheap) and not buy any popcorn, while people who aren’t very price sensitive (e.g. people with high incomes and couples on a date) will spend lots of money on popcorn and drinks.

      • Matt M says:

        It isn’t bad. At all. The people who say it is bad are socialists with no understanding of economics.

        If I am in the desert and about to die of thirst, and all I have on me is a giant diamond, I hope to God I encounter a greedy caravan trader who is willing to give me a flask of water in exchange for my diamond – even though I would never ever make this trade from the comfort of my home.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          You’ve made things awfully easy for yourself by picking a good with no intrinsic value as the barter. The gouger’s terms could be a lot worse– what if, instead of a diamond, the price he demands for the water flask is that you spend the rest of your natural life as his sex slave? That you work in a mine where you will very shortly come down with black lung? Custody of your firstborn child? The lobes of your brain which govern olfaction and taste?

          I think that pretty much everyone, at least if they’re being honest with themselves, can find some scenario where the deal being offered is strictly better than dying but still triggers a strong, visceral sense of exploitation. And this response serves a valuable social purpose: we want people who trade with the needy to feel obliged by conscience and social pressure not to take advantage of them. The world is generally better for having a norm of non-exploitation. I agree that it’s misfiring in the examples given in the link, but we shouldn’t leap from there to the conclusion that all constraints on price-gouging whatsoever are misconceived.

          • Matt M says:

            What if the diamond represents 100% of my material wealth, and my hungry children are waiting for me at the other end of the desert?

            In any case, in your scenario, I’m STILL better off than I am if I didn’t meet the merchant. Even if the pain and desperation from thirst makes it too difficult for me to refuse his offer – I still come out a winner. The logical thing to do in this scenario is to accept his offer, try out the life of a sex slave, and see how things go. If it turns out to be intolerable to the extent where I prefer death, I can probably find the opportunity to end my own life in a quicker and more painless method than dying of thirst.

            And in reality, none of the examples given so far are anywhere near as extreme as your hypothetical. Having someone voluntarily go vegan for a month is not even remotely comparable to having them be your sex slave for life.

          • onyomi says:

            I think you’re making things too hard by suggesting things which many people would say it is not okay to exchange for anything under any circumstances. The complaint about gouging is not usually that gougers demand something evil and crazy, but that they demand much more of the same thing (usually money) than the good would command under ordinary circumstances.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            “The logical thing to do in this scenario is to accept his offer, try out the life of a sex slave, and see how things go.”

            I agree, but this is totally compatible with the fact that the gouger is doing something heinous that we should discourage if we wish to make the world a better place.

            “I think you’re making things too hard by suggesting things which many people would say it is not okay to exchange for anything under any circumstances”

            It’s funny that you say that– I chose the examples to correspond (very roughly) to prostitution, coal mining, child surrogacy, and playing football, respectively.

          • Randy M says:

            “The logical thing to do in this scenario is to accept his offer, try out the life of a sex slave, and see how things go.”

            Reminds me of the Count of Monte Cristo (movie). Main Character escapes from prison and washes ashore next to priates, who offer him a chance to join, if he kills a mutineer in a pit fight. “And if I refuse?” “Death.” “In that case, I find that I would be glad to kill your friend the worm and that piracy is the life for me.”
            Maybe not relevant, but the attitude seemed similar.

          • onyomi says:

            “It’s funny that you say that– I chose the examples to correspond (very roughly) to prostitution, coal mining, child surrogacy, and playing football, respectively.”

            Except most of your examples imply some kind of slavery: being a sex slave for life is very different from being a prostitute, as is being a slave in a coal mine very different from working for a coal mine voluntarily. And do I even need to point out the differences between playing in the NFL and getting a lobotomy?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            The idea is that the gouger comes up to you in the desert and offers you a flask of water in exchange for your signature on the dotted line. Whether you regard this as an enforceable contract or a form of slavery is up to you, but people in the real world do indeed routinely make contracts that damage or imperil their sexual and reproductive autonomy, or their respiratory and brain health.

            But that’s not really the point I’m interested in making here. The point I am interested in making is that all of us have a limit to the amount of exploitation we find tolerable, and the “Copenhagen interpretation” link merely lists a selection of incidents where people’s exploitation-detectors are too sensitive. This does not show, as some of the commenters here have suggested, that exploitation is never wrong, nor it does excuse us from the difficult business of looking carefully at each case and calculating the harms and benefits on either side of the balance. Anti-exploitation norms can be given too much weight, but they are fundamentally sound norms.

          • onyomi says:

            We all have our limits about what sort of bargain we might morally condemn as unkind. I don’t have limits about what sort of voluntary bargain I would legally allow (assuming people are well-informed consenting adults, etc. etc.).

          • Zykrom says:

            It seems to me that while I would want the merchant to show up, I wouldn’t want to have the right to bargain freely with him.

            If people had the right to sign away their rights, this would be no problem. Since we can’t do this in real life, though, it seems like a good idea to deny that right to anyone.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            The logical thing to do in this scenario is to accept his offer, try out the life of a sex slave, and see how things go. If it turns out to be intolerable to the extent where I prefer death, I can probably find the opportunity to end my own life

            Or, better, to escape, as doing either would be equally unethical, depriving the buyer of what zie has paid for. Escape might be slightly more ethical, since the buyer has the chance of recapturing you later, thus salvaging part of zis investment.

            (How necessary is it, to put a /sarcasm tag on this sort of thing?)

        • Ano says:

          “If I am in the desert and about to die of thirst, and all I have on me is a giant diamond, I hope to God I encounter a greedy caravan trader who is willing to give me a flask of water in exchange for my diamond – even though I would never ever make this trade from the comfort of my home.”

          What if instead of offering water in the desert, the caravan trader is pointing a gun at you on a deserted highway? Would you congratulate him on his shrewd entrepreneurial spirit?

          • Nornagest says:

            Funny to see this in the very links post that introduced the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics, because I can only make sense of the example by adopting it.

          • Matt M says:

            That is an act of aggression, not a legitimate offer of trade, and thus, bears zero resemblance to the examples given in the post.

          • Ano says:

            > That is an act of aggression, not a legitimate offer of trade, and thus, bears zero resemblance to the examples given in the post.

            Either I take the merchant’s offer, or I die of thirst. Either I take the highwayman’s offer, or I die of lead poisoning. So there is no difference from my point of view. I am no less dead by way of dying of thirst than by any other way, nor am I any less robbed by the merchant because he didn’t point a gun at me. There are many ways to describe it, some euphemistic (“an offer he can’t refuse”), some less so (“your money or your life”). At the end of the day, it’s choosing between life and death. It doesn’t matter who’s finger is on the trigger to anyone except God.

          • Nornagest says:

            So, by that reasoning, a truck stop in the middle of the desert selling bottled water for a buck a pop is no less blameworthy than a highwayman demanding a dollar “toll” from passersby on pain of death?

            Somehow I think there’s a gap here.

          • John Schilling says:

            The merchant offers a choice between the status qu, and a situation which may, by his intervention, be better than the status quo. The highwayman offers a choice between the status quo and a situation which will, by his intervention, be worse than the status quo. The merchant accepts “no” as an answer and does no harm. The highwayman punishes an answer of “no” with great harm.

            Some people see these distinctions as being morally significant, even if the delta-util score is identical.

          • Ano says:

            “So, by that reasoning, a truck stop in the middle of the desert selling bottled water for a buck a pop is no less blameworthy than a highwayman demanding a dollar “toll” from passersby on pain of death?”

            If you are dying of thirst, and you come to a truck stop, and they tell you that they will only give you a bottle of water in exchange for a dollar, they are demanding a dollar from you on pain of death, exactly as the highwayman is.

            “Blameworthiness” has nothing to do with it. Even if the truck stop was replaced by an inanimate vending machine, it would still be the same situation and the same choice. What I’m not looking for is an explanation of why the merchant is “innocent” or “guilty”, but why an encounter with the merchant isn’t indistinguishable from an encounter with a highwayman. And if they are, for all intents and purposes, the same, why do we act as though they aren’t? Why do we call one theft and the other trade, when you had just as much ability to choose in both situations?

            “The merchant offers a choice between the status qu, and a situation which may, by his intervention, be better than the status quo. The highwayman offers a choice between the status quo and a situation which will, by his intervention, be worse than the status quo. The merchant accepts “no” as an answer and does no harm. The highwayman punishes an answer of “no” with great harm.”

            Which is a whole lot of words to explain why being threatened with death is totally different from being threatened with death. I don’t see any reason to privilege inaction here. We can easily suppose a situation where the merchant can kill me through action instead of inaction (such as by destroying water supplies), or the highwayman can kill me though inaction rather than action (such as by leaving me in a trap to die).

          • Nornagest says:

            Traps and vending machines don’t grow on trees. Both people are acting; the difference is that the highwayman is acting (or, by setting a trap, has acted) to create a situation where death is possible for the traveler, and the merchant is acting (or, by setting up a vending machine, has acted) to create a situation where life is possible.

            By equating the two actions, we are either disincentivizing merchants going into the desert with enough water to sell to travelers, or we’re incentivizing highway robbery. Neither one sounds like a good idea to me.

          • Alraune says:

            if they are, for all intents and purposes, the same, why do we act as though they aren’t?

            Because they aren’t the same, merely convergent at a boundary. The world’s least generous merchant might be of less utility than the world’s most generous highwayman, but we still want more merchants and less highwaymen. This is sophomoric category-wangsting.

          • Ever An Anon says:

            @Ano,

            Except correctly determining bameworthiness is key to it actually working in practice.

            For example, if I go out in the desert completely unprepared a la Bear Man, and I’m dying of thirst as a result of that choice then I am 100% on the hook. Saying that Abdul the amoral arbitrageur is exploiting me by not giving me free water is just subsidizing my lethal idiocy. If blame is not correctly apportioned then that creates a classic moral hazard.

            But if it was Robin the Highwayman and his gang holding me up on a forest road, then obviously blame for the situation lies with them. Failing to call that exploitation gives them license to continue waylaying rich travelers and tax collectors just trying to free the King from an Austrian dungeon.

            Obviously those are both extreme cases, but the point is that generally speaking blame is a useful concept because it helps us set up incentives properly. Responsibility, for both blame and praise, is vital for civilization to work.

          • Ano says:

            > The world’s least generous merchant might be of less utility than the world’s most generous highwayman, but we still want more merchants and less highwaymen. This is sophomoric category-wangsting.

            I don’t think it’s category-wangsting, in a subthread about the possibility of some trade to be exploitative, to ask for a clear definition of what exactly is the line between theft and trade. Matt M makes it very clear that what the merchant is doing is trade and what the highwayman is doing is theft, but from the perspective of the traveller they’re indistinguishable. If the highwayman is violating his rights in some way, then logically, the merchant is also violating his rights in some way. Yes, everyone is better off for the merchant having been there, but that shouldn’t impact our judgement of whether he’s a thief or not. If he is, then that means stealing and violation of property rights is sometimes permissible and even a good thing that we want more of. If he’s not, then it remains to be articulated what makes his actions “trade” and the actions of the highwayman “theft” in a way that isn’t utterly facile. This isn’t sophistry; every year, every person has money taken from them with the implication of state force behind it, and we call it taxes, and some people call it theft. Is the difference purely a matter of whether we think Her Majesty’s Government is working for the betterment of the universe?

          • Lupis42 says:

            but from the perspective of the traveller they’re indistinguishable.

            They are certainly not indistinguishable:
            The traveller wants the highwayman not to be there, and wants the merchant to be there. That is because the presence of the highwayman creates the problem.

            Injecting people with malaria is not morally equivalent to failing to supply mosquito nets to the limits of one’s ability.

          • Alraune says:

            Trade is centrally good, theft is centrally bad. The optimal level of theft in the world is probably still non-zero.

            Particularism is centrally good, universalism is centrally bad. The optimal level of universalism in the world is definitely still non-zero.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            but from the perspective of the traveller they’re indistinguishable

            They are about as far from indistinguishable as two things can be: the traveler in the desert desperately hopes he runs into the merchant; the traveler on the highway desperately hopes to never see the highwayman.

            It takes that certain sort of physical and metaphorical remove blessed on academics, late-night dorm-room bonghitters, and internet commenters* to fail to see the difference.

            *I do not mean to imply that you smoke out or, worse, work in academia. 🙂

          • wysinwyg says:

            Somehow I think there’s a gap here.

            It’s a reductio ad absurdum. The whole point of the exercise is to point out that there’s a gap somewhere.

            This is an interesting discussion and I’m sorry to see the libertarian types, as usual, giving it short shrift. It’s the point where pretty much all discussion between liberals and libertarians founders.

            I think in this case, people are getting too caught up on the specifics of the particular thought experiment to see the point at the center of it. Let’s change the parameters slightly:

            Instead of a highwayman, it is a fur trapper. He has set a trap and our unfortunate desert traveler has fallen into it. The trapper checks his trap, finds the wrong sort of quarry, and decides to charge the traveler for assistance in removing himself from the trap.

            In this case, the traveler does want to see the trapper and the trapper is to blame for the traveler’s situation by commission.

            However, one can argue that the trapper might fairly charge the opportunity cost of having a non-fur-bearing large mammal fall into his trap, preventing its intended use. However, one can also imagine that the trapper would charge a lot more than the opportunity cost, given the presumed desperation of the traveler.

            The general point is that humans are squishy — they are made of meat, they require non-trivial resource inputs to maintain even sub-optimal function, they have a variety of cognitive biases that can be exploited by people with more time to think and plan. This means that situations that look like a mutually agreed upon trade can actually be, in some sense, an instance of force.

            Force might be the wrong word. One can imagine a farmer deep in debt who agrees to sell his farm to get out of debt. But now he’s homeless, so he agrees to pay rent for a crummy apartment. But now he’s going back into debt, and his skills don’t transfer well to wage labor, so he agrees to take a low-paying, soul-crushing job that leaves him no time to improve his prospects. In each case, the person wouldn’t have agreed to the transaction if it weren’t for the incentives from other transactions. Whether this is “fair” depends on whether we think it’s “fair” to construct a system in which people must choose between drudgery and homelessness.

            If we were all robots with the ability to suspend operation for essentially arbitrary periods of time, then I would say sure, laissez-faire economics is the best possible system. When it comes to actual human beings, I’m not so sure.

            There’s also the fact of limited liability corporations. Agents of such corporations can take actions without having a moral valence attached to it, because it’s just profit motive, right? If humans have to abide by fair play (no threats of force), then it seems to me limited liability creates a moral hazard for people acting on behalf of corporations, who are free to make implied threats of force, e.g. “try to organize and we will fire and blackball you, forcing you into penury”.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s a reductio ad absurdum. The whole point of the exercise is to point out that there’s a gap somewhere.

            Not the kind of gap I mean. It’s a reductio, but I fail to see the implied level of absurdum.

            The trapper bears some level of responsibility for his past actions as well as his present ones. As long as he’s done his due diligence to keep his traps off the legs of feckless travelers (whatever this entails), I don’t think he should be held responsible for e.g. paying the traveler’s medical expenses, but neither can he reasonably charge for the trap’s removal — otherwise we get a perverse incentive for fur trappers to plant their traps under bushes frequented as urinals near tourist trails, and the whole deal just becomes highway robbery at one remove. Whereas in the desert scenario, we’d merely be encouraging other merchants to head through that desert in hopes of rescuing rich travelers — which gives us more living travelers and a slightly depressed diamond market.

            I’m not thinking about this in libertarian terms, by the way. My default lens for policy issues is what I’ve learned by managing people and moderating discussions, and that can be summed up in one sentence: you get what you incentivize. It’s perversely easy for policy decisions to end up incentivizing horrible things, so I tend to prefer a hands-off approach, but I don’t think of it as a deontological imperative.

          • wysinwyg says:

            but neither can he reasonably charge for the trap’s removal — otherwise we get a perverse incentive for fur trappers to plant their traps under bushes frequented as urinals near tourist trails, and the whole deal just becomes highway robbery at one remove.

            Right; my argument is essentially that if you can have cases of “highway robbery at one remove” then presumable you can have it at two removes, or three. Where is the magic point at which we have enough intermediaries to cease calling it “highway robbery”? Or do we need a Schelling Point?

            This is also why (I think) I considered the limited liability part relevant. Are there actual instances of limited liability being used to present the image of an uncoerced agreement when it is actually an instance of highway robbery at one or more removes?

            Sorry to ascribe to you an ideology you do not hold to. But it seems like your position does land pretty close to the libertarian cluster in thought-space, so not that sorry.

          • Nornagest says:

            Where is the magic point at which we have enough intermediaries to cease calling it “highway robbery”? Or do we need a Schelling Point?

            Nothing magic about it; we stop assigning responsibility where the causality gets too noisy to figure out without degenerating into just-so stories, or when the plan you’d need to exploit it gets too elaborate to reliably execute. This is usually at step 2 or 3, because reality is complicated.

            But I don’t think the desert example is highway robbery at any remove, because the entity responsible for the traveler’s predicament is either the traveler (for not preparing properly) or the desert (which is not an agent at all). There is no way, short of a Bond-villain geoengineering scheme, to maliciously generate more desert travelers dying of thirst and subsequently “save” them, and that’s what it would take for the consequential analysis to come out net-negative here.

            (Well, I guess you could do it by having your friends kidnap rich people and dump them in the desert. But I don’t think I need to go into detail about the ethics of that.)

          • wysinwyg says:

            Nothing magic about it; we stop assigning responsibility where the causality gets too noisy to figure out without degenerating into just-so stories, or when the plan you’d need to exploit it gets too elaborate to reliably execute. This is usually at step 2 or 3, because reality is complicated.

            Would it be fair to sum this up as: “exploitation is fair as long as the exploiter is sufficiently sneaky”?

          • Nornagest says:

            Would it be fair to sum this up as: “exploitation is fair as long as the exploiter is sufficiently sneaky”?

            Try again.

            …okay, that’s probably too snarky. But I’m really starting to doubt how seriously you’re engaging with this.

          • wysinwyg says:

            I’m interested in understanding your point of view, but the work/reward ratio of playing this guessing game seems really high. I’d appreciate if you would just explain what’s wrong with my summary. In fact, I made it a little bit tongue-in-cheek so you’d see what mistakes I might have made in interpreting it and respond accordingly.

            Or maybe you’re just fucking with me at this point; in which case, have a blessed day.

            Edit: Yes, too snarky. What gives you the impression I’m not taking it seriously?

          • Nornagest says:

            What gives you the impression I’m not taking it seriously? That I’m not simply agreeing with your opinion?

            Calling anything “exploitation” means you’ve already made up your mind about who’s doing wrong to whom and why. When we’re talking about how we should make that decision — which is at least what I think we were talking about — it’s strongly indicative of optimizing for rhetorical effect.

            But fine, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt for now. Reality is messy; planning is hard. There are sharp limits on what can and can’t be done with elaborate manipulative schemes. After a certain point, it becomes far more likely that an outcome is due to happenstance than to deliberate planning, or that you’re privileging a certain possible sequence of events due to one bias or another, so it makes sense to discount our estimates of responsibility accordingly.

            This has nothing to do with sneakiness; it’s about recognizing when deliberate manipulation is implausible. Which really isn’t an especially profound idea.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Calling anything “exploitation” means you’ve already made up your mind about who’s doing wrong to whom and why. When we’re talking about how we should make that decision — which is at least what I think we were talking about — it’s strongly indicative of optimizing for rhetorical effect.

            Actually, I was trying to present an abstract scenario where the “actual exploitation” part was a given so that we could focus on the “perception of exploitation” variable.

            I made it jokey to try to more sharply delineate where my interpretation of your comments might have gone wrong.

            But fine, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt for now.

            I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re having a bad day. I think I’ve been pretty civil and engaged for most of this discussion, and I think your assumptions about my intentions are unwarranted.

            Reality is messy; planning is hard. There are sharp limits on what can and can’t be done with elaborate manipulative schemes. After a certain point, it becomes far more likely that an outcome is due to happenstance than to deliberate planning, so it makes sense to discount our estimates of responsibility accordingly.

            Presumably our estimates of responsibility should be discounted according to our actual experience with elaborate manipulative schemes rather than some a priori assumption about how sharp the limits are.

            Frankly, my fur trapper example wasn’t especially elaborate, or a scheme, and the opportunity for exploitation was fairly happenstance. Which shows we can have “highway robbery at one remove” in your characterization completely by accident. I’m not sure the limits are quite so sharp as you imply.

            But tempers are flaring and we seem to be coming to a detente, so I’ll leave it there if you want the last word.

          • Nornagest says:

            an abstract scenario where the “actual exploitation” part was a given … wasn’t especially elaborate, or a scheme, and the opportunity for exploitation was fairly happenstance. Which shows we can have “highway robbery at one remove” in your characterization completely by accident.

            Thinking back on it, I probably shouldn’t even have said “at one remove”. A fur trapper setting traps for tourists is exactly as culpable as a highway robber doing the same; he just has a different job title. Highway robbery at one remove would be… I don’t know, directing cars down a dangerous road so that you can loot the wrecks later, or something.

            If the trap wasn’t set by an inviting-looking bush and baited with an iPhone, then the trapper hasn’t deliberately injured anyone or threatened to. But he’s still responsible for the foreseeable consequences of his actions (so could reasonably be condemned for setting a trap along the only trail from the alpine hut to the lake) and for minimizing their accidental consequences after the fact.

            If you let fly with a baseball and accidentally break a passerby’s nose, you’re not on the hook as if you’d punched him in the face — but I think most of us would agree that you should call him a ride and maybe get him some ice, without first demanding the contents of his wallet.

          • CJB says:

            Is it just me, or did this entire comment thread sum up to-

            “Tort law is a pretty good idea, in general.”

      • Deiseach says:

        If Midas Moneybags can buy a replacement kidney from Dan Desperate, and take advantage of the fact that Dan has no option to raise money any other way, and Midas is either indifferent to or actively hostile to attempts to improve social conditions so that Dan can get a job, or a better-paying job, or social welfare instead of selling his kidneys…

        … then I submit it should equally be acceptable for Dan Desperate to ask Midas Moneybags to pay over every last cent in all his bank accounts. If Midas can exploit Dan, I think Dan should have equal opportunity to exploit Midas. If we cry aloud in shock at the notion of oh no sacred private property should never be touched with rude hands! – what is more private a property than your own internal organs, and why should it be acceptable to “trade” where one party holds the advantage over another?

        Midas is gambling that Dan’s desperation will cause him to crack and sell his kidney before Midas’ dialysis fails and he is on the point of death. Since Midas possesses more resources, he may well be in a position to outwait Dan, or to gamble that amongst the 7 billion inhabitants of Earth, there are several potential donors, one of whom will be brought to the utmost pitch of desperation in a short time.

        If you want to live in a world where the poor are literally resources to be harvested by the rich, that’s your prerogative – but remember, you’re one of “the poor” to some much better-off person, and that makes you one of the ones to be used as a convenience.

        • PSJ says:

          There are two actions in your argument:
          -Midas actively opposes efforts to improve social conditions. THIS is the morally evil act.
          -Midas purchases the kidney. This is at worst neutral, but likely good.

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          I don’t understand this objection. Of course Dan has a property right in his kidney, just like Midas has a right to his money. That’s the whole point. It’s you who seem to want to deny Dan part of the rights which typically come with property, namely the right to sale.

          So of course Dan can demand any price, however high, for his kidney. Whether Midas accepts that offer is of course a different question.

          • PGD says:

            The classic retort to this kind of argument, dating back to the 19th century, is that line that “law, in its majestic impartiality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges”. The entire point here is that Dan is desparate and Midas is not, which you conveniently overlook in saying that they are in an equal position with respect to property rights. Wealth endowment is the most important factor in determining whether your property rights actually really enhance your freedom or not.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            Again, I do not undestand this objection. That Anatole France quote, as far as I understand it, says that formal equality is not a sufficient condition for justice or equity. I agree, but don’t see how that’s relevant here.

            You say that I overlook the fact that Dan is desperate and Midas is not. How is that relevant? As far as I can see, both Midas and Dan will be better off if organ trade is legal. It is theoretically possible that having a right makes one worse off, so a priori it might be bad for Dan to be allowed to sell his kidney. But if you want to claim that, the burden of proof is on you to provide arguments for that. The default assumption must be that having a right makes one better off, or at least not worse off.

    • Matt says:

      >Offering a much lower price to the person when they will, because of desperation, sell at a much lower price than they normally would be willing to, is bad.

      It is not at all clear to me why this is bad. This is one of those things that I see a lot, people making a claim that something is obviously bad without a clear reason as to why it is, and every subsequent post basically agrees on the assumption.

      • Zykrom says:

        Wouldn’t be surprised if it’s at the level of instinct.

        Might also be a modern western thing though. Everyone knows you wouldn’t jack up the price to take advantage of someone in the ingroup/tribe/ someone you like. Everyone is supposed to be in the same tribe now, therefore it’s universally wrong.

        Wouldn’t be surprised if you have the feeling of wrongness too, but are labeling it as more of an aesthetic preference than a moral one.

  24. latest_pseudonym says:

    An interesting thing to note re: African immigrants is that Obama isn’t “black” in the sense Americans typically use the word. He’s half-Kenyan. His last name “Obama” screams “African”, not “African-American”. He doesn’t even look that much like other US blacks, IMO.

    This makes me think that the EA movement should make a stronger effort to reach out to African immigrants in particular. They’re smart, they’ll increase our SJ cred, and their direct experience living in Africa should be useful for poverty alleviation efforts there. What’s not to like?

    • Kolya says:

      “This makes me think that the EA movement should make a stronger effort to reach out to African immigrants in particular.”

      The EA movement may have competition – non-African-American Africans in America are a highly valued and fought-over resource. A huge percentage of the Afr-American slots at elite American universities and elite jobs are occupied by African Americans descended from recent immigrants from Africa (Obama) or the Caribbean (Eric Holder, Colin Powell). There aren’t enough to go round.

      • Adam says:

        Plenty of colleges and universities outright recruit African Africans in Africa, not just the kids of ones who already arrived.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      they’ll increase our SJ cred

      To the extent that any group goes around specifically targeting blacks, but not the blacks who are African-American, no, they won’t. Not unless you are specifically trying to target something that they have a specific knowledge about (for example, “How does EA affect outcomes in [African country you are from]?”)

      Targeting [only the good blacks] in a specific way is not going to win you any points. And it shouldn’t.

  25. Michael Watts says:

    since the same effect is found on self-report of crime, it’s not just “stupid people get caught”

    It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to think “maybe smarter people are also less likely to admit to being criminals when surveyed by people they don’t know”.

  26. Douglas Knight says:

    As far as I can tell, there is no code “fall from nonmillitary spacecraft.” The real code is nowhere that specific. It is E843.0 “Fall in, on, or from aircraft injuring occupant of spacecraft” (I think that the spacecraft is supposed to be the same as the aircraft). It provides for three kinds of aircraft: military, civilian, and spacecraft. Also, the code is not “fall from” but includes also “fall in.”

    Language Log implies that ICD-10 is more specific than ICD-9, indeed, absurdly specific. But I think most of these examples already exist in ICD-9. In fact, the fall from spacecraft example is in ICD-9 but is eliminated in ICD-10, subsumed into V97.0 “Occupant of aircraft injured in other specified air transport accidents” (while neither boarding nor alighting). So in ICD-10, neither falls nor spacecraft are distinguished. (But in a collision, spacecraft are still distinguished.)

  27. Xaverius says:

    Is it a problem of my computer or has no one noticed that there is no link to the “meta-analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation” about giving poor people money?

  28. Rick G says:

    Scott, the “using short words” explanation of the “Excess success for three related papers on racial bias” paper is this:

    Every study has a certain amount of statistical power, based on the number of subjects, and the expected effect size. The more power, the more likely you will be able to detect an effect (i.e. evidence against the null hypothesis). When a small, noisy study is designed, it is very unlikely to turn out to produce an effect. If it does, it was probably random chance that it did so (i.e. you just happened to get the right samples from the noise) or alternatively there was some bias or worse fraud in the data collection and analysis. You may know that funding agencies, reviewers, IRB’s, etc. will sometimes criticize a study *ahead of time* for being underpowered (meaning not enough subjects, usually). But you can do the same thing *after the study* and say, “What were the odds that you would have gotten an effect that big, given the power of the study, and some other prior information about effect sizes in that field?” And when you do this you find that a lot of studies have implausibly large effect sizes, or implausibly small p-values (combination of large effect sizes and small uncertainties). So this guy found that those 3 studies fall into this category, suggesting publication bias or fraud. Publication bias — where e.g. 20 people try to find evidence of an effect with true size 0, and then 1 of them “finds it” with p<0.05 and publishes it, while the other 19 bury their results — is the most likely explanation.

    • PGD says:

      But he says that there is ‘excess success’ even *accepting* the effect size estimated in the papers, which I find a little counter intuitive. Is the excess success then just due to running lots of different tests on that effect size?

      • PSJ says:

        Imagine we have eleven studies on the same effect. One study has an n of 1000, a truly incredible study, and finds the effect size to be some value.

        The other ten studies are replications, but with only 2 subjects each, so even when we include their estimates of the effect size, it barely moves.

        We use this effect size to determine how may of these studies should have found a significant effect at p=0.05 or whatever and it turns out that there is only a 1 in 10 chance that any of the studies with two subjects should have found a positive result!

        Thus, we can conclude that either many failed replications are not shown, or the data have been biased during the experiment.

        To generalize to a single study, replace “study” with “measurement” or “comparison” and become much better at stats than me.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      So this requires an assumption that we know the real effect size from other studies, and it’s much smaller than this study says it is?

      • PSJ says:

        Full disclosure: I am a psychology undergraduate, and as thus, should never be trusted with or near statistics. Nevertheless…

        Not quite! In the first Eberhardt study, there are 6 conditions, and the conclusion of the study relies on finding differences (or lack of difference) in the means of each condition. In fact, there are 7 (actually 8 but nevermind that) comparisons that must all work for their theory to stand as stated.

        Each of the six groups have reported means and standard deviations, and within-subject correlations are found.

        These summary statistics are taken from the experimental data and really do support the original hypothesis, but here’s the trick:

        Let’s assume these summary statistics are the ground truth. We know that when there are small sample sizes, we shouldn’t be able to recreate the ground truth perfectly. Thus, “new” studies taken from the same underlying statistics should suggest slightly different underlying distributions that don’t necessarily fulfill all 7 requirements for this study to succeed.

        100,000 “new” experiments are generated, and the number that perform “as well as” the original study turns out to be very low, even though the chance of matching any single hypothesis was always greater than 0.5

        It’s a bit like using multiple studies, but instead, the fact that multiple comparisons must ALL be significant for the theoretical assumptions to be valid is leveraged to show the implausibility of generating these data EVEN IF your effect sizes are all perfectly accurate.

        TL;DR: It’s not about saying your conclusions are wrong; it’s about saying you shouldn’t have been able to find them even if they were right.

      • PSJ says:

        Another important note: the selection of studies to check is by no means a mistake.

        Each of the questioned studies involves five or six separate experiments. Francis assumes that the studies were proposed with all hypotheses made pre hoc and run without editing. In a perfect world, this is how science would be done. We do not live in a perfect world.

        What probably happened is that a bunch of “pilot” studies were done by separate teams under the PI, those that already passed significance were taken as they were to publications. Others were adjusted (any post doc can give you ten reasons why their study failed) and run with slightly different methodology. Those that didn’t seem to work at all were abandoned. (Hint: this is where the bias actually is)

        The fact that there are five studies per study allows Francis to say that they have measures of excess success at levels of “.003, .048, and .07”

        However the true probabilities of reported success are:
        .163
        .38
        .575
        .45
        .212
        .507
        .879
        .5
        .99 (approx)
        .381
        .565
        .579
        .496
        .99 (approx)
        .367
        .661

        Remember that they are suspect below 0.1

        This seems to suggest that the average experiment run by this lab is pretty much completely free from bias as measured this way. It is only because they are bundled in the papers that the claims of bias have any grounds.

        The studies should have been reported separately.

        This is not good evidence that they are incorrect.

        Pre-registration would fix this, but it will never happen 🙂

        • Noah Motion says:

          The point of the test of excess success is to probe the full set of results in a given article, not any individual result. If you buy into Francis’ approach, the fact that each individual hypothesis test has > 0.1 probability of success is irrelevant. As he describes in detail in the linked paper, the issue is that, given the reported samples sizes, effect sizes, and tests, the probability of obtaining all of the reported successes is < 0.1.

          Reporting the studies separately wouldn’t change the fact that the set of successful tests is relatively improbable (though it would have prevented Francis from performing his test, based on his criterion of only testing articles with four or more studies).

          And Francis didn’t claim that his test provides evidence that these studies are incorrect. He claims that his test provides evidence of bias.

          It’s important to keep in mind that Francis’ notion of bias here is not a property of any individual study or hypothesis test. Each of the reported (successful) studies/tests could have been carried out in a reasonable way, but if, for example, some unsuccessful tests were not reported, then the full set of results would be biased with respect to the theory in question and, it seems reasonable to suppose, reality.

          • PSJ says:

            The thing is, regardless pf supposedly perfect procedure, labs (and journals) do prevent failed studies from being published.

            Of course the set of published papers from the lab are biased from the perspective of perfect science. So is literally every lab’s (seriously ask me to look at 15 studies from any lab and I will lambast them in the exact same way) are flawed.

            This is a problem of science, not of these particular remarks.

          • PSJ says:

            Ok, that comment is pretty unclear, let me try again.

            Every lab in the country is guilty of the type of bias that caused these studies to fail the test.
            By singling out these particular results, they are brought into question more than other studies. Because they have to do with discrimination, I don’t want the average commenter on this site to come away from this thinking “those discrimination studies were faked, right?” which could happen.

            I’m just pointing out that this test could be used as a tool to discredit anyone you don’t like.

            So yes, as I explained in my first reply to Scott, the studies were unlikely to have been performed in a row with no selection between running the study and publication. On the other hand, nobody actually believes there is no selection mechanism between running a study and publication.

  29. Oliver Cromwell says:

    “Using Jensen’s own empirical framework, the racial genetic hypothesis can be tested by comparing black African immigrants with native blacks, intellectually. If the genetic hypothesis is correct, children of elite African blacks will tend to have lower IQs than children of native black Americans, and perhaps even lower than children of low IQ blacks, the same phenomenon observed between American blacks and whites since native blacks are basically “more white” than African (or Caribbean) immigrants.”

    That doesn’t make sense to me. If we already know that these black African immigrants are a highly selected high IQ population (which I think we do since the author doesn’t dispute that measured IQ in African countries is lower than both US whites and US blacks among the general population) mean reversion should operate toward the ancestral mean of those highly selected people, not the general population mean of their countries. Genetically the fact that they lie within some political border is irrelevant; their genes only feel the influence of their own ancestors, not an extended community. Reversion to a national or racial mean is only ever a (crude) proxy for reversion toward that ancestral mean.

    Now one can make a similar but much weaker argument: mean IQs of large populations are strongly hereditary, but individual IQs see a lot of scatter. Someone with an ancestral mean IQ of 110 might well be born with an IQ of 130. If your chances of emigrating to the US spike above an IQ barrier of 120 (it’s not like it’s just a matter of choice!), then we would expect to see quite a lot of high IQ Africans being boiled off who will mean revert downwards more strongly than the native population, since 110 ancestral IQs are much more common than, say, 150 ancestral IQs, whose 130 IQ descendants would mean revert upwards.

    This argument however doesn’t justify the very strong claim the author has made. The African IQ is currently about 70. It seems to rise 10-15 points due to shared environment. Let us suppose that the most intelligent Africans are ‘middle class’ and get this for free. There are 800m Sub-Saharan Africans. 2.5% of them have an IQ 2 standard deviations above the mean, which roughly corresponds to a 110 IQ, almost a standard deviation higher than the average US white. That is 20 million people. According to wikipedia, fewer than 1 million Africans immigrated to the US in total between 1965 and 2007; it is not clear if some major fraction of that is North Africans or white South Africans. So the observations are entirely consistent with the immigration of black families who have real ancestral IQs above the average of US blacks and even above that of US whites. The hereditarian case would only be threatened if the numbers were made much larger without affecting the trends.

    [btw – a few weeks ago I was warned for referencing some of this data in a post that was then edit-deleted. I take it that in replying directly to your own comments, I am on solid ground.]

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, this is the argument I linked to as “the article misunderstands regression to the mean”.

      I’m not sure why your comment was deleted. I don’t remember doing it.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      ” Let us suppose that the most intelligent Africans are ‘middle class’ and get this for free.”

      Does the actual distribution of intelligence measured in Africa let you do this? If it did, their distribution curve wouldn’t look normal would it? It would look bi-modal, wouldn’t it?

      It seems like you are double counting something.

      And then there is the matter of not dealing with the the issue of subgroups she is raising. Why do the Igbo outperform every single other group of immigrants and the British people overall if “Blacks” write large have lower IQs? That population of 181,000 (in the UK) is simply somehow very, very lucky in having had only the super, super intelligent ones emigrate from Nigeria?

      You have data that says the smartest group of students in the UK, by ethnicity, are black, but somehow this is still consistent with the idea that blacks are lower-IQ across the board?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I think Oliver is suggesting that there is a strong correlation between genetic potential for IQ and being “middle class.” I am skeptical. Even if it were true, I doubt it would be so strong as to produce a bimodal distribution.

        Environment contributing to IQ should increase the variance. Correlation between genes and environment would increase it further. But I’d guess this “middle class” is only about 10% and wouldn’t affect the variance very much.

        People just don’t know what the distribution of IQ is in Africa because getting a representative sample from a third world country is difficult. People just don’t do it. Usually multiple IQ studies of a single third world country give numbers all over the map. Probably a lot of that is because the different tests sampled from populations that really have different IQs, though some of it is that different tests give different results. If you want to know what this kind of data really looks like, try the human varieties blog.

        Where do you get that 180k number for Igbo in UK? That’s 10% of UK blacks, right?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Douglas Knight:
          “Where do you get that 180k number”

          I pulled the number of British Nigerians and now that I am looking again, Igbo is probably only a fifth of that. Although the largest group in Nigeria, the Yoruba, are not doing badly either (if I am reading this chart correctly).

          I’d like to know why the Hausa don’t show up in that chart though. The specified subgroups who are of Nigerian origin seem to be doing well, and the author seems to be talking about Nigerians broadly as doing very well.

          Obviously, I don’t know enough about the various subgroups in Africa to speak knowledgeably about it. I’m just trying to follow the argument of the author of the article in question.

      • Oliver Cromwell says:

        “Does the actual distribution of intelligence measured in Africa let you do this? If it did, their distribution curve wouldn’t look normal would it? It would look bi-modal, wouldn’t it?

        “It seems like you are double counting something.”

        Not necessarily bi-modal if improved nutrition has a continuous rather than discrete effect on IQ. However you are right that the distribution would be asymmetric. I haven’t seen any study that’s tried to look for this effect, so I don’t know if it exists or not.

        “And then there is the matter of not dealing with the the issue of subgroups she is raising. Why do the Igbo outperform every single other group of immigrants and the British people overall if “Blacks” write large have lower IQs? That population of 181,000 (in the UK) is simply somehow very, very lucky in having had only the super, super intelligent ones emigrate from Nigeria?

        “You have data that says the smartest group of students in the UK, by ethnicity, are black, but somehow this is still consistent with the idea that blacks are lower-IQ across the board?”

        Yes, it is possible for Igbo to outperform all other ethnic groups, for blacks to underperform all other ethnic groups, and for igbo to be a sub-set of blacks. All that is required is for Igbo to have a much higher average IQ than other blacks. Jews, for example, are known to outperform Chinese even though whites as a whole underperform Chinese.

        Now are the Igbo actually as good as is being claimed? I have to admit I doubt it. They’re a relatively large group – about a fifth of the total population of Nigeria – so the author is presenting a single relatively weak data point (the GCSE is an academic exam and 5 A*-C is a politicised measure) and putting it against a whole lot of other, higher quality IQ research. Admittedly research that doesn’t specifically speak to the question of Igbo IQ, but a >100 Igbo average would seriously skew any pan-Nigeria research.

        It is perhaps possible that British Igbo are a doubly selected population: that Igbo are an above average group in Nigeria, and that British Igbo are an above average group of Igbo. But I’d put the chances at less than 25%.

        Note that if your intention is not to talk about the Igbo specifically but the total black average IQ, the author of the same article present high quality direct IQ data showing that blacks underperform whites by about 5 points on the tests that don’t require a knowledge of English. That’s actually really good – they underperform by about 15 points in the US – but it is a long way from outperforming whites and Chinese.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “Now are the Igbo actually as good as is being claimed? I have to admit I doubt it.”

          Well, there is the rubber meeting the road. You go a long way to try and explain the data, and then dismiss it. The fact that you feel the need to dismiss it shows that it is inconsistent with what you believe to be true, as you show in a later sentence:
          “Admittedly research that doesn’t specifically speak to the question of Igbo IQ, but a >100 Igbo average would seriously skew any pan-Nigeria research.”

          What the author has done is highlight that the conditions under which immigration occur do a great deal to affect academic performance: Somalian refugees do poorly, but Caribbeans, and African subgroups that don’t come from war-torn areas like the Congo and Somalia do as well as the British in general and better than some other national sub-groups including the Portuguese.

          • Oliver Cromwell says:

            “Well, there is the rubber meeting the road. You go a long way to try and explain the data, and then dismiss it. The fact that you feel the need to dismiss it shows that it is inconsistent with what you believe to be true, as you show in a later sentence:”

            There’s a lot of data showing that black IQ is lower than white IQ and that sub-saharan African IQ is lower than Western IQ (even among blacks alone). I am not dismissing data, I am saying that where I see a contradiction between large amounts of high quality data and a small amount of low quality data I pick the large amount of high quality data, unless there is specific evidence that they can be reconciled.

            There is one such possibility: Igbo have a >100 IQ while the rest of Nigeria has an <70 IQ. This seems unlikely to me (do you believe it?) but I don't rule it out completely, just consider it unlikely.

            Your position seems to be that I should favour the PC/SJW conclusion even in the face of overwhelming evidence, so long as it isn’t demonstrably impossible. I completely reject this standard of evidence.

            "What the author has done is highlight that the conditions under which immigration occur do a great deal to affect academic performance: Somalian refugees do poorly, but Caribbeans, and African subgroups that don’t come from war-torn areas like the Congo and Somalia do as well as the British in general and better than some other national sub-groups including the Portuguese."

            Which can have either a hereditarian (selection) or environmental origin. So this alone doesn't tell us anything among whether IQ is hereditary or environmental. Not that there's really any debate, in light of the huge number of controlled micro-level studies that show it is almost entirely hereditary mixed with non-shared environment.

  30. Richard says:

    I did not read the drone strikes thing, but it surely must rely on not counting drone strikes?

    Terrorism:
    the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

    Drone strikes seems to me to be the absolute epitome of terrorism, it even makes children fear the blue sky because clouds makes it harder for drones to see things on the ground.
    So a fairer conclusion would be something like “Drone strikes reduces the kind of terrorism that we don’t like by increasing the kind of terrorism we do like”

    • Alraune says:

      Dangit. I was going to say that, proposing a “conservation of terror”, but I forgot all about it by the time I finished reading the rest of the links.

    • Deiseach says:

      Looking at that study, it admits that it was short-term: they only measured the effect in weeks.

      I imagine that killing a large number of people/bombing flat buildings and houses would reduce the ability of terrorists to mount attacks in the short-term, since they’d have to rebuild and recruit new members.

      What long-term effects might be – well, the surge in recruitment for the IRA in the 70s (after the IRA had become pretty much an irrelevant fringe movement during the 50s) was put down to the introduction of things like internment without trial in Northern Ireland, and particularly in the wake of things like Bloody Sunday which caused such outrage that ordinary Catholics who wouldn’t have been particularly inclined to political, much less paramilitary, activism went out and joined local brigades in the spirit of “The only people protecting us are the men with the guns and bombs, not the state; the state is the one killing us”.

      How good an idea in the long-term is it to carry out bombing raids in the territory of a nation supposedly your ally?

    • John Schilling says:

      Terrorism:
      the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

      Drone strikes seems to me to be the absolute epitome of terrorism…

      You seem to me to be using an unusually bad definition of “terrorism”.

      Mind you, there aren’t any good definitions. Or at least not universally agreed ones. But a silly little one-liner that almost exactly overlaps the definition of “war”, when we’ve already got a perfectly good word for “war”, is not helpful.

      By any definition of “terrorism” that recognizes there is already a sort of violence that we call “war”, and there’s also a sort of violence that we want to distinguish from war in general (even if just as a subset of war), then drone strikes are not intrinsically terrorist acts.

      Whether they are an effective means of warfighting and/or counterterrorism, is a more interesting question. It’s looking pretty good for Team Drone in the short term, at least, but Deiseach is right that we really need the long-term results.

      • DrBeat says:

        Yeah, terrorism does not mean “all things that are scary,” “all things that are violent”, or “all things I find morally wrong” and it pisses me off when people pretend it does.

        If we had said “We will kill people at random with our drones of evil, until you stop doing things we don’t like,” that would be terrorism. Then we would be attempting to maximize danger and fear to innocent people.

        “We think this guy we don’t like is here, so we are using our drones of evil to kill him” is not terrorism. Our purpose there is not to maximize danger and fear in innocent people, our actions are not aimed at maximizing the danger and fear of innocent people, we are not incentivized to maximize danger and fear of innocent people.

        And I seem to have noticed that claims like “Children in these countries are afraid of the clear blue sky!” come from a political-ideological bloc that never ever ever stops lying ever under any circumstances for any length of time. These people ARE incentivized to maximize fear in innocent people, and to lie about the actions of others maximizing danger for innocent people.

  31. Erebus says:

    That celastrol article is extremely uninformed. Celastrol is a dirty compound, and side effects in humans are likely to be extreme. This is because celastrol is, unfortunately, a general-purpose steroid receptor antagonist. It destabilizes the critically-necessary HSP90 chaperone protein, and is thus an extremely potent inhibitor of androgen receptor signalling. It also inhibits estrogen, glucocorticoid, and progesterone receptor signalling — and negatively impacts every other protein and receptor which requires functional HSP90 as a cofactor. It’s irresponsible to push such a dirty and dangerous drug as an obesity cure without safety data, and without paying attention to the other well-known effects of the substance.

    I’d add that in traditional Chinese medicine, the Thunder God Vine is used primarily as a cancer treatment. (Where it may, in fact, actually help with many different endocrine-mediated cancers.)

    See for example: “Gene expression signature-based chemical genomic prediction identifies a novel class of HSP90 pathway modulators”, PMID: 17010675

    • Deiseach says:

      So would it be safer to take a traditional preparation of Thunder God Vine rather than wait for somebody to synthesise celastrol, or should people stay away from the whole thing altogether?

      As an aside, I’m amused that “traditional folk medicine” has some recognised beneficial properties rather than being dismissed as “equal parts superstition and luck, unlike Truly Scientific Made In The Lab drugs”.

      • Erebus says:

        I’d avoid it entirely. The thing is that celastrol isn’t just an anti-obesity agent — it is also a potent steroid hormone antagonist at physiological concentrations, and almost certainly has other pharmacological effects which we are not aware of at the moment. HSP90 is an ubiquitous chaperone protein which interacts with a number of receptors and other targets — destabilizing it is not something to be taken lightly. Mice can’t complain about side effects like sexual dysfunction or hot-flashes, and the Chinese who take Thunder God Vine preparations as part of a TCM regimen are, as far as I’m aware, typically very ill & likely on other drugs.

        Interestingly, if you’re intent on taking it, it might be significantly more effective if you take the traditional Chinese decoction as opposed to synthetic celastrol. (See: “Oral bioavailability and gender-related pharmacokinetics of celastrol following administration of pure celastrol and its related tablets in rats”, PMID 22982018)

        I am certain that there are better tools than celastrol, in any case. Natural molecules like fucoxanthin are extremely interesting & seem potentially useful. Beloranib, a synthetic drug which was based on the natural molecule fumagillin, looks safe and effective for the treatment of obesity. It has been performing well in its clinical trials, and I think that a Phase III trial is recruiting right now.

        …The last thing anybody wants is a treatment for obesity that does more harm than good, and it’s very likely that celastrol would do just that…

      • onyomi says:

        It is interesting to think about folk medicine in relation to what has been said about cultural evolution in the past two threads.

        • nydwracu says:

          As I think I said in one of the past two threads, a good example of this is ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is made from one plant containing DMT and another plant containing MAOIs. Without the MAOIs, the DMT doesn’t do anything (it can’t cross the blood-brain barrier when taken orally?), and without the DMT, the MAOIs are not terribly interesting.

          Somehow, they figured out that, if you combine the two otherwise uninteresting plants, you get ayahuasca.

          Also, there’s a post about cultural evolution on The View from Hell that mentions nixtamalization:

          Food processing is one of the easiest parts of transmissible, reproducing culture for us to observe. The nixtamalization process, an ancient American method of processing corn, increases the availability of another B vitamin (niacin). Like the shellfish and nardoo of the Outback, corn without its associated cultural processing cannot form the basis of a human diet; where corn traveled without nixtamalization, malnutrition followed.

          As Hood notes, above, the people using these cultural food processing methods – and these methods, by the way, are memes – did not need to understand their utility in providing essential vitamins, or even need to understand what a vitamin is. Despite a complete lack of modern chemical knowledge, around the world in vastly different environments with different nutritional challenges, people found diets that supplied all the nutrients they needed in a safe way.

          The Aztecs didn’t know about niacin and its role in preventing pellagra, and the inhabitants of Peru didn’t know about MAOIs or the blood-brain barrier. And yet.

      • Jaskologist says:

        It makes sense that a lot of folk medicine would actually work; aspirin famously originated from willow-bark preparations.

        The trouble is that what people call “folk medicine” falls prey to the same thing you’ve noticed where people declare every saint to have been some stolen pagan goddess; pretty soon every weed in the garden gets claimed as some sort of folk remedy. Poor documentation bedevils us.

        • Mary says:

          On top of the placebo effect, most diseases are self-limiting. If you keep on trying herbs, the patient will recover on one of them.

  32. Winter Shaker says:

    Regarding the book about learning medicine: I am not, nor ever likely to become, a medic, but purely on aesthetic grounds, if we’re going to be using cards to help memorise medical facts, I am glad to see that efforts are being made to get a version of Healing Blade back into publication.

  33. suntzuanime says:

    The relative success of immigrant Africans does not necessarily mean the relative lack of success of African Americans does not stem from discrimination. It just means that the discrimination is specifically against African Americans, not against immigrant Africans. Race is more complicated than skin color; many immigrant Indians are darker than many African Americans, but surely everyone would agree that they don’t suffer the same level of racial discrimination.

    • Alraune says:

      The Remarkably Precise Racism theory is so epicycle-heavy it’s not even wrong.

      • suntzuanime says:

        You wanna see Remarkably Precise Racism, talk to an Eastern European some time. American ideas of race are adorably vague by world standards. But I think even we can manage to distinguish between recent black African immigrants and the children of the slave trade. Just last names and accents get you pretty far.

        • Oliver Cromwell says:

          1. Why do “we” want to? Isn’t it kind of a coincidence that “we” want to bully people with low IQs and not people with high IQs? And what additional explanatory power does the unfalsifiable bullying hypothesis add to the hypothesis that the original IQ differences are causal of both the bullying and the achievement gap? Saying that people are racist against unpleasant people and not racist against nice people blows the whole theory out of the water because the claim is that it is the racism (or lack thereof) that is causing people to be nice or not nice.

          2. Does “we” include people who shoot up Sikh temples because they assume brownish turbaned people must be muslims? Is it probable that racists can precisely distinguish between various non-white groups or would even care to do so?

        • Publius Varinius says:

          You wanna see Remarkably Precise Racism, talk to an Eastern European some time.

          I emigrated from Eastern Europe (Jewish descent), and I can’t imagine what you mean by this.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Serbians, Croats and Bosniaks are highly genetically similar, but what goes on there makes US racism seem like child’s play at times.

        • onyomi says:

          I think there is very little overlap in the Venn diagram of Americans who strongly discriminate against African Americans and Americans who are sensitive to nuances of appearance and accent among black people.

          • NZ says:

            I disagree. I think there’s a lot of overlap.

            But the popular narrative goes that the only Americans who strongly discriminate against black people are half-wit hillbillies leaning against their rusting pickup trucks in overalls and camo baseball caps, and that only NPR-listening Prius-driving college degree-holders eating at Panera are capable of differentiating how various black people dress and talk.

            Those two stereotypes are much less accurate than most because they are backed not by common observation (the two groups mostly avoid each other and stick to their bubbles–HT Charles Murray), but by a specific political motive.

      • Anonymous says:

        The Remarkably Precise Racism theory is so epicycle-heavy it’s not even wrong.

        I don’t even know who I’m supposed to subconsciously hate anymore!

    • Richard says:

      Two anecdotes:

      A friend of mine is of Indian stock and grew up in the reddest part of red tribe America. She once told me that until she moved to NY to attend college, “I thought I was a white girl with a really good tan”. What she was saying was that growing up in the reportedly most racist part of the US, she didn’t even know that she was different, or that “race” was even a thing. Of course she got it intellectually, but on a gut level it didn’t register.

      When I lived in Idaho, a neighbour yelled at me because I and everyone in the neighbourhood hated her because she was black. The odd thing about that was that she was a mulatto and whiter than some Scandinavians I know and I had no idea she identified as black. When I asked around, the usual reaction was “Wait, what? she’s black?” It was true that nobody liked her much, but since nobody knew she was black, I suspect this was because she was loud, obnoxious, somewhat stupid and very bitchy.

      Thus my new theory of discrimination is:
      If you are quiet, polite and intelligent you will not be discriminated against.
      If you are loud, annoying and stupid, you will be discriminated against.

      This is more a cultural discrimination than actual racism.

      If the black immigrants are less loud and annoying than american blacks, this would explain the lack of discrimination against immigrant blacks.

      • Alraune says:

        That’s definitely half the picture, but you’re missing the element that racism-qua-racism contributes.

        Your observation of discrimination against “loud, annoying, and stupid” people certainly generalizes. In peacetime, successful communities of all stripes must sort out, keep out, and tamp down antisocially aggressive personalities. (If they don’t, it pretty quickly stops being peacetime.) And we’re pretty well sorted at this point. For people who can hack it in polite society, racism has a negligible impact on success, a fact of which our Nigerian immigrants are a prime example.

        Racism, however, is not evenly distributed through the population. Instead, it’s a huge attractive nuisance for exactly those antisocially aggressive personalities we mentioned. So we’re taking the people most prone towards violence, who are also the people most prone towards racism, and cordoning them off into an underclass where they then reinforce each other’s racism through violence. (Unclear whether they are then even more violent because of the racial conflict, or if it just influences target selection.) Either way, if you are unable to hack it in polite society, racism is probably a significant factor in your life, just not the one that’s stopping you from succeeding.

        Oh, and then various opportunists start exploiting underclass race resentment, because what good is a lever if you don’t pull it?

        Long story short, I believe racism makes life worse in an absolute sense, but not a relative sense. If every person on the continent woke up purple, America would be better, but almost nobody would change social classes as a result.

      • Troy says:

        Thus my new theory of discrimination is:
        If you are quiet, polite and intelligent you will not be discriminated against.
        If you are loud, annoying and stupid, you will be discriminated against.

        This is more a cultural discrimination than actual racism.

        If the black immigrants are less loud and annoying than american blacks, this would explain the lack of discrimination against immigrant blacks.

        The empirical evidence (by such researchers as Lee Jussim) suggests that stereotypes are, in general, accurate, and it’s plausible that the negative stereotypes about groups like African-Americans that contribute to the negative attitudes many Americans implicitly have towards them are, by and large, statistically accurate.

        Still, there’s a difference between disliking a person because of their own past behavior and disliking a person because of the behavior of others in their group. Even if the latter is good statistical evidence about that person in some contexts, it’s not surprising that the person will resent being treated poorly on the basis of it, especially if they do not personally conform to the negative stereotypes.

        • CJB says:

          This is a point that doesn’t get raised enough in these discussions.

          Statistics can tell you some awesome things that are very useful…..to basically the Department of Health and human services, Congress, and a few other extremely high level entities charged with the management of populations.

          Everyone else had to deal with Johnny, and Jane, and Jimmy, and Jennifer.

          The only impact you see from all my reading of crimes stats, IQ data, etc etc. Is that I might be somewhat more nervous at seeing a group of 15-25 year old black than white men.

          But A. this effect is easily washed out by secondary effects (A group of young black men with suits and hymnals will make me feel safer than a mixed group of white people, for example) and B- has relatively little real world effect. What, precise actions can I take to actually impact the situation that would differ if the group is black or white.

          From experience, I don’t really behave differently in a ghetto than a nasty trailer park.

          Where does this leave me? Stuck opposing affirmative action while treating individuals as decent until proven otherwise.

          • Brian Donohue says:

            Great comments by CJB and Troy.

            As an average-sized adult male, I almost never have to rely on some stereotype heuristic to make a pre-judgment about anybody. Giving everyone you come across who doesn’t pose a direct and immediate physical threat to you the benefit of the doubt is basically costless. And simple human decency. And easy.

            I’d like to think that by acting this way, I am not a racist or sexist, regardless of any thoughtcrimes that might flit across my brain from time to time.

        • US says:

          Just a short side-note: I was not familiar with Jussim’s work, and from a brief look some of it looks interesting – so thanks for mentioning his name and letting me have an easier time knowing where to look to have a go at this literature. (If you know of some specific good papers on these topics and you care to share them, I’m all ears).

          • Troy says:

            Here’s a good chapter-length outline of stereotype accuracy: http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~jussim/unbearable%20accuracy%20of%20stereotypes.pdf

            Jussim’s fullest exposition of this topic seems to be in his book, Social Perception and Social Reality. I haven’t read it, but it looks very good. I also enjoy Jussim’s blog on Psychology Today.

            By the way, thanks to both US and the two commenters above for the kind words and further thoughts. I’m in broad agreement with what has been said above.

          • US says:

            Heh, I had already had a look at his webpage and bookmarked the chapter to which you link, but thanks anyway. I’m considering reading the book as well at some point.

    • Tarrou says:

      I agree, but it’s what I’ve been saying for years. Racism is almost nonexistent as a relevant force in the US. Discrimination isn’t.

      Cultural discrimination is real, present, multidirectional and in some cases both justified and useful (just as in others it is retrograde and unjustified).

      Blacks aren’t discriminated against because of their skin tone. They are discriminated against because of their behavioral stereotype of stupid, criminal lazy people. Hence the best movements to improve the lot of black Americans mostly involved middle class blacks suiting up in their sunday best and marching peacefully (while stacking guns at home). The less successful method involves suiting up in no shirts and setting fire to the local liquor store/nail salon/gas station.

      To the degree that an individual black person can separate themselves from this stereotype, the discrimination tends to evaporate. Even the extreme racist murderer in SC had a good friend who was black.

      • stillnotking says:

        Thinking of “stupid, lazy criminal” as a central example of “black person” is what makes someone racist. Even the most die-hard racists will admit “there are some good ones”.

        I don’t understand your comment about skin tone. Racists don’t hate melanin.

        • Alraune says:

          Thinking of “stupid, lazy criminal” as a central example of “black person” is what makes someone racist.

          That’s actually a really insightful comment: If having stupid lazy criminal as a central example is sufficient to be called racist, then it is a necessary condition for non-racism that you be not merely at least two jumps higher-class, but the cloistered sort of higher-class who can have nothing to do with the stupid-lazy-criminal parts of town.

          • Tarrou says:

            Hence why the silly meme that “racism is ignorance” is so wildly off base.

            Poor whites tend to be more “racist” (or culturalist) than rich whites because they have more contact with poor blacks, and poor hispanics. In addition, their own cultural pathologies are so analogous that it serves an ego protection role in addition to the resource competition role. “White Trash” is the cultural equivalent of “Ghetto Black”.

            Rich people get to be less overtly discriminatory because their black neighbor (let’s be honest, there’s unlikely to be two) is a really good dude who went to Dartmouth and joins them for golf twice a week.

          • PSJ says:

            @Alraune
            No, I came from the “stupid-lazy-criminal parts of town” and I realize that most people are not criminals even in places where crime is high and everyone isn’t white.

            You’re distracted by emotionally salient examples of a race (i.e. people who are scary or on the news for having committed a crime) which is preventing you from taking a good expectation over the population as a whole.

          • stillnotking says:

            I’d say the necessary condition for non-racism is conscious correction of bias. I grew up in a very poor part of Appalachia; I could easily have formed “fat, ignorant religious fanatic” as my stereotype of “white person”, but I was smart enough (and, eventually, well-traveled enough) to realize I wasn’t looking at a representative sample — and also not to assume that any given poor Appalachian is a fat, ignorant religious fanatic, absent other information.

          • Oliver Cromwell says:

            The problem is that the negative stereotypes of blacks have a basis in reality, just like the positive stereotypes of asians. Since both are condemned as racist, the only sensible conclusion is that racism is willful replacement of empirical reality by an imagined reality.

            You can make a much weaker claim, like just because a random black person is much more likely to be a criminal than a random white person, doesn’t mean this particular black person is certain to be a criminal. Problem is no one thinks he is and you can’t derive the SJW policy agenda from that sort of platitude.

          • PSJ says:

            @Oliver Cromwell
            Having a basis in reality and being accurate are not the same.

          • Alraune says:

            I realize that most people are not criminals even in places where crime is high and everyone isn’t white.

            “X is a central example of category Y, but most members of category Y are not Xs” is not an unusual state of affairs.

        • Tarrou says:

          At what point of stupid criminality does thinking of a black person as a threat go from being a useful if often incorrect heuristic to being an immoral fallacy?

          If racism means racial supremacy, this doesn’t work.

          If racism means noticing the most obvious characteristics of a group of people and not thinking too hard about whether that applies to every member of the group or not, it might.

          Devil’s always in the definitions.

          • stillnotking says:

            I long ago gave up the fight to retain the original sense of the word “racism” (e.g. what the Nazis believed) against its modern identification with “bigotry”. But bigotry is what I meant, not racial supremacy.

            Bigotry precisely does mean treating individual people as avatars of a group stereotype. It may well be useful, to the extent the stereotype is accurate. Many immoral behaviors are useful.

          • PSJ says:

            Even if we accept racism as a “useful but often incorrect” heuristic from the viewpoint of a selfish actor (and I don’t), it’s certainly a net negative to society as a whole. Think prisoner’s dilemma.

            People are racist because it’s in their own self interest. We’ve decided as a society to solve this coordination problem and you’re defecting.

            Furthermore, taking “most obvious characteristics” and “not thinking too hard” about applying it to every member might be easy, but it won’t lead you to the truth. And I assume you’d, as a rationalist, be more interested in the latter.

          • ryan says:

            @PSJ

            I’m curious what you mean by “we as a society have decided to solve this coordination problem.”

          • Tarrou says:

            I’m not here to defend the generalization fallacy.

            I’m here to attempt to convince people on the internet that the issue we have with cultural discrimination, or racism, or bigotry, or whatever you want to call it is not solely that we haven’t berated poor whites enough.

            First and foremost, those stereotypes exist for a reason. It’s a tough sell to convince those born on the left side of the intel distribution graph that those folks who don’t look like them aren’t stupid criminals when their primary means of protesting being treated like stupid criminals is to burn their own shops and houses….like stupid criminals. There’s been movement here, and it is positive. After the first weekend in Baltimore, you saw the black community start to police its own protests. Too late to stop the optics of the thing, but encouraging for the future.

            The issue should be tackled from all sides. And I think we’re just about at diminishing returns for white guilt.

          • stillnotking says:

            @Tarrou: You’re not here to defend the generalization fallacy, but this sentence points explicitly to the generalization fallacy:

            “It’s a tough sell to convince those born on the left side of the intel distribution graph that those folks who don’t look like them aren’t stupid criminals when their primary means of protesting being treated like stupid criminals is to burn their own shops and houses….like stupid criminals.”

            One could just as easily say, “It’s a tough sell to convince blacks on the left side of the intel curve that whites aren’t racist maniacs after the Charleston shooting.” Are you saying bigotry is ineluctable as long as high-profile negative examples are available? In that case, no anti-racism campaign can work. I’m not quite so pessimistic.

          • Nornagest says:

            One could just as easily say, “It’s a tough sell to convince blacks on the left side of the intel curve that whites aren’t racist maniacs after the Charleston shooting.”

            I’m pretty sure that is also… maybe not true, as such, but at least doing some work. The main difference is that your average poor inner-city protester probably sees more of white culture outside sensationalist race-baiting news stories than your average redneck sees of black culture.

            If we were talking about e.g. police after the Traymon Martin case rather than whites in general after Charleston, I wouldn’t even bother to make that qualification.

          • Alraune says:

            Are you saying bigotry is ineluctable as long as high-profile negative examples are available?

            Bigotry is ineluctable, the goal is at best bigotry discoordination.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >If we were talking about e.g. police after the Traymon Martin case rather than whites in general after Charleston, I wouldn’t even bother to make that qualification.

            Minor nitpick, you’re thinking of the Mike Brown case. Trayvon Martin was about a white cop wannabe with anger issues, or a an esteemed hispanic member of the community who made a bad decision.

            Depending on who you ask, of course.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think I was actually thinking of the Oscar Grant case. But yes, you’re right, my mistake.

            (And I seem to have got Martin’s name wrong. Go me, I guess.)

          • Matthew says:

            @Tarrou

            when their primary means of protesting being treated like stupid criminals is to burn their own shops and houses

            The fact that you propose this as anything close to the primary means, as opposed to a particularly visible and extreme but far from modal means, is strong evidence that you are not actually approaching the question from a position of clear-eyed empiricism.

          • Troy says:

            Although it’s implicit in some comments above, it’s worth explicitly noting the difference between the following:

            P(criminal | black) > P(criminal | ~black)

            and

            P(criminal | black) > .5.

            The first inequality is true — if all you know about someone you encounter on the street is their race, they’re more likely to be a criminal if they’re black than non-black.

            However, the second inequality is false — a random member of the black population is not more likely than not to be a criminal.

            Similar remarks go for other traits. If one race is more likely to have trait X than other races, it’s natural for having trait X to become a stereotype of that race, because often (e.g., when choosing what part of town to walk home through) what’s relevant for us is how different races compare with respect to the trait. But it’s important to keep in mind that this is different from it being more likely than not, or even likely at all, that a particular member of that race has trait X.

        • Mary says:

          In which case the talk about blacks being overrepresented among convicts is — misguided at best.

    • alexp says:

      Just wanted to say that I love this comment thread:

      People claim racial discrimination is no longer a real concern in America. Proceed to justify why they racially discriminate.

      • Alraune says:

        Infanticide is bad.

        Widespread high-intensity infanticide is a civilizational failure mode.

        Infanticide is not an especially pressing threat at the moment.

        Your overinvestment in infanticide as a mode of evil is distracting from larger concerns, causing you to see infanticide as a singular phenomena, causing you to spuriously attribute all problems to infanticide, and making you unable to engage productively with the infanticide-prone.

        Here are a set of cases and justifications in which someone might reasonably commit infanticide.

      • Tarrou says:

        If aimed my way, do please reread.

        Not here to justify bigotry, whether race-based or culture-based. I’m here trying to point out the problem with thinking that bigotry is a problem, and saying we aren’t bigoted enough against the wrong sort of people to fix it.

    • ryan says:

      Level 2 analysis: The genetic/epigenetic factors related to lower success of African Americans are not found in African immigrants.

      Level 3 analysis: Genetic/epigenetic factors not found in African immigrants are what trigger discriminatory behavior against African Americans.

    • James Picone says:

      A question, put here because this appears to be the Race Thread.

      So, one position on why we see more male geniuses than women is that men have a higher standard deviation on pretty much everything because XY. Fair enough.

      Isn’t there more genetic variability in black populations in Africa than populations anywhere else, because of the whole out-of-Africa bottleneck? Wouldn’t that imply we should see more African geniuses than geniuses of other ethnicities?

      • Alraune says:

        You might be confusing within-population variance and between-population variance here?

        The short answer is yes though, and the challenge is disaggregating them from the rest of the population.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I am not convinced that males have higher standard deviations on IQ tests at all. If that were true, it would probably because of a direct mechanism that testosterone causes the developmental process to take risks, not because of Mendelian effects on a single chromosome. There are evolutionary pressures for males to take risks, but males are not all heterozygotes. Here is a test distinguishing the two hypotheses. Avian males are ZZ homozygotes, while avian females are ZW heterozygotes. Pick some trait (1) that makes sense across both mammals and birds and (2) for which male mammals have higher variance, across many species. Do male birds have higher or lower variance than female birds? (Picking number of offspring is cheating.)

        Africans have higher neutral diversity. That is not relevant to most traits. Maybe a bottleneck would temporarily raise mutational load, but it would be purged by subsequent purifying selection. Inbreeding is an even shorter phase after a bottleneck. Under equal selection pressure, a population with greater seemingly neutral diversity might reach a higher plateau.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          I don’t know which authorities you will trust on this, but I thought it was entirely uncontroversial that male IQ variance was significantly larger.

          There is some debate, as to whether the male skew in the top percentiles are caused by differences in variance alone, or whether there is also a difference in mean. The first explanation is generally preferred, but perhaps only because it is much more palatable.

          [I do agree that sex chromosomes do not explain this difference.]

          • Douglas Knight says:

            You thought wrong.

            A difference in mean is a lot easier to measure than a difference in standard deviation. That should convince you that your second paragraph is nonsense.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Differences in mean are non-trivial, for instance because there is a larger proportion of males who literally cannot take an IQ test, and you need to decide whether to assign them some fiat IQ score or exclude them or what. This obviously affects the mean. Severe cases of autism are a good illustration.

            More fundamentally, when the male and female intelligence distributions differ across the range, the difference in mean depend on how you stretch or compress the scale. Poor resolution in the high-end on IQ tests, for instance, generally serve to compress male scores on the high end and penalize the male mean relative to the female.

            Do we at least agree that M/F ratio in the 50th percentile is roughly 1, and in the 99th percentile larger than 2, or do we have completely different data?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Tails are difficult to measure. Most studies of them are subject to selection bias. I just grabbed the NLSY79 data, N=12686, although 808 did not take the IQ test. It has three IQ columns, I think alternative weightings of the same administration. Among the 1.26% of people who hit the ceiling (“99%”) on AFQT-1, the sex ratio is 1.13. Among the 1.30% of people who hit the ceiling on AFQT-2, the sex ratio is 1.84. Among the 1.02% of people who exceed “98.5%” on AFQT-3, the sex ratio is 1.36. Even among the 0.43% of people who exceed “99.5%,” the sex ratio is 1.89. (All those percentages of people include non-takers in the denominator.)

            1.13-1.84 is a pretty wide range, but it does not contain 2.

          • Emily says:

            Being willing to download and play with NSLY79 data in furtherance of internet discussion represents some real dedication. That stuff is annoying in every way. Anyway, this discusses the procedures for calculating the different scores. AFQT-1 vs. AFQT-2 is just reweighting, AFQT-3 is also age-norming. https://www.nlsinfo.org/content/cohorts/nlsy79/topical-guide/education/aptitude-achievement-intelligence-scores

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Thanks, Emily. I thought that the renorming would be reweighting every question (via IRT), but it’s just reweighting the sections. It looks like AFQT-2 is designed to normalize math and verbal to have equal standard deviations before adding them, while AFQT-1 sounds like it adds raw scores (plus they switched out one math test for another).

            Age adjustment sounds like a good idea. There shouldn’t be any systematic bias in the ages of the subjects, but at the tail, there aren’t many of them, so there’s room for noise. But it turns out to give numbers in between AFQT-1 and AFQT-2, so it didn’t make much of a difference.

          • “or whether there is also a difference in mean”

            I’m not sure what difference in mean means in the case of IQ tests. My understanding is that there are some sorts of questions which females on average do better on, some which males do. If so, one can always get the means equal by a suitable selection of questions—and I thought at some point that was part of how the tests were designed.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Another good study was the testing of every 11 year old (at least those in school?) in Scotland in 1932 and 1947. I think that the graphs here are from that. They show a sex ratio of 3:2 at IQ 130 and 2:1 at 140.

      • Unique Identifier says:

        Only in the sense that, there being more ants than people, we should have more ant geniuses. There are crucial differences in mean values in both cases.

        Male variability is explained by mating strategies and parental investment. The sex chromosomes are mostly incidental.

      • gwern says:

        Isn’t there more genetic variability in black populations in Africa than populations anywhere else, because of the whole out-of-Africa bottleneck? Wouldn’t that imply we should see more African geniuses than geniuses of other ethnicities?

        I think so: if intelligence genes were neutral and randomly distributed, so each subpopulation draws a different fraction of beneficial variants, then you would expect to find the luckiest subpopulation where there are the most subpopulations like Africa or Papua New Guinea. You would not necessarily see more African or New Guinean geniuses because their environments are often so terrible that they may be losing as much as an SD off their mean phenotypic IQ to iodine deficiency, parasites, etc. (For example, the single most extreme iodine RCT is one done in an African country.) Because of the normal distribution, this majorly reduces how many will be far enough out on the tail to count as ‘genius’.

        That said, it’s not clear that the assumption here of random distribution is correct. This leads into the whole question of whether some groups are more heavily selected for intelligence (in which case the selection can easily overpower that diversity effect; imagine a binomial on 10,000 variants vs the breeder’s equation over a few generations…), what role latitude plays, and how much you buy into Piffer’s finding that the current 7 IQ SNPs differ by race across the world in a pattern suggestive of selection. (I’ll believe that more if the results hold up when the next set of 72 IQ SNPs comes out; 7 just doesn’t feel like enough.)

      • nydwracu says:

        Isn’t there more genetic variability in black populations in Africa than populations anywhere else, because of the whole out-of-Africa bottleneck? Wouldn’t that imply we should see more red-haired Africans than red-haired people of other ethnicities?

  34. Gram Stone says:

    The blue tarantula reminded me of nudibranches, which are a clade of badass-looking mollusks. This one’s my favorite.

  35. Stuart Armstrong says:

    >I would have also included “people only worry about AI risk because they think superintelligent AI is very near”.

    Included now. I don’t know why I missed it, as I’ve ranted on that often; I can only plead extreme toddler-induced tiredness.

  36. Viliam Búr says:

    since the same effect is found on self-report of crime, it’s not just “stupid people get caught”

    Are you saying it is also “stupid people confess their crimes (when they are told it’s only for a study)”? 😀

  37. On the Forbes link: I do not really know Greece very well, but am well familiar with both the country in second place on “longest hours worked” (Portugal) and the second from the bottom (Germany), having lived in both (currently in Germany).

    I have no problem believing that the Greeks (like the Portuguese) spend an incredible amount of time at work. In Portugal, the work culture (particularly in the private sector) involves signalling your commitment with long hours. Unfortunately, much of this time is spent in very unproductive ways (things “I’m at work posting on a slatestarcodex thread” or long coffee breaks to office gossip and politics, or handling personal matters). There is a lot of social pressure to stay long hours at work and also participate in the work social activities [the long breaks]. This pressure often comes from co-workers as well as management (in fact, managers are sometimes happy with an employee who gets their stuff done and leaves at 5pm to pick up her kids from school, but co-workers will gossip about her). Multinationals are better at this than the small local companies (on average).

    In Germany, the culture is somewhat at the other end of the spectrum: “work is work, Cognac is Cognac” is the saying. People work shorter hours, but long breaks or personal matters are frowned upon.

    Thus, Portugal is simultaneously lazier than Germany (German-to-Portuguese worker: do you really need so many coffee breaks?! You’ve been here since nine and I have barely seen you do anything!) and harder working (Portuguese-to-German worker: seriously, you’re leaving work just after lunch because it’s Friday?! And if the customers asks, I bet you’re not even going to check email on the week-end, are you?)

    *

    My experience in the US is that it tends to be somewhat closer to the Portuguese end of the spectrum, albeit with shorter work hours. But I remember it being seen as OK to show up at work with a doughnut and a large coffee from Starbucks in the morning and proceeding to eating breakfast at your desk. I remember a Dutch woman who worked in NYC telling me that at first, when she moved to NYC, she’d ask her boss every time she had to take an hour in the middle of the day to go do something personal before she realised nobody cares (whilst in the Netherlands, you filed for personal time if you need to, for example, go see a doctor at 2pm or meet your daughter’s teacher during the day—she was doing the same exact job in the same company, so it’s not a “hourly employee vs salaried employee” distinction).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Personal anecdote: due to scheduling issues I was given zero patients to see today, so I plan to just sort through this links thread and maybe hang out on Tumblr until I can leave at 5.

    • BennyJenny says:

      Figuring out who actually works the hardest is hard to untangle, but perceptions matter too. Quartz has a nice chart here on what various European countries think of each other in terms of laziness (and trustworthiness); basically every country except Greece thinks that Greeks are the laziest, and Germans the most hard-working.

      • Creutzer says:

        I love how the Italians think of themselves as the least trustworthy.

        • Anonymous says:

          Northern Italians think that Southern Italians are the least trustworthy.

          • Italian says:

            That is probably true, but not necessarily the explanation.

            Italians have a national inferiority complex. Most of them (us) have no problem saying “Italians are the worst at X”. Meaning Italians as a whole, not southerners.

            For many Italians on the left, Berlusconi epitomizes all that is wrong about Italy, including dishonesty. He is a northerner.

          • nydwracu says:

            Are you sure that’s not just the leftist inferiority complex? That happens in just about every Western country.

          • Creutzer says:

            It may happen to convinced leftists in every country, but certainly not on the level of the general population.

          • Tibor says:

            Italian: This is interesting. I see the same where I come from (Bohemia…i.e. Czech republic). People say things like “this and that could only happen in this state!” and there is even a pejorative term in Czech for Czechs themselves (usually, you only have those terms for neighbouring countries :)) ).

            This is stronger for leftists than for rightists, but I would say this sentiment is quite general. Some people can also be pretty delusional with this. For example I talked to someone recently who was talking about how bad things are and how all the other countries are doing better, he mentioned Poland as an example. I pointed out to him, that at least according to the IMF and the World Bank, the Czech republic both has the highest purchasing power per capita and the lowest Gini coefficient of all of the former communist block countries (except for most parts of Eastern Germany which has benefited from better “know-how of capitalism” and market stability of the former West Germany and also heavy subsidies from the federal taxes that continue until today). The Gini coefficient is actually the fourth lowest in the world, which actually surprised even me, as there is not nearly as much state redistribution going on as in Norway or Denmark that have a similar income inequalities. I also mentioned it to him that, in fact, Poland is doing much worse. He did not reply to that (it was an online discussion) but in any case this is not the first time I have seen such opinions expressed. The problem with that is that even if the country is doing relatively well, the people think it is doing horrible even when that feeling is not based on reality. Well, I think there are big enough problems with voting (rational ignorance etc.), that this does not make things that much worse anymore, but at least it is annoying having to listen to stuff like this all the time 🙂

            I suppose it “we are doing so bad” might be coming from people looking at the neighbouring Bavaria, the richest Bundesland in Germany, or Austria…but one can not fix 40 years of communism in 25. It also does not explain why someone would believe that Poland is doing better.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Tibor:
            “We were doing so much better back then” and “Our [city/town/state/country] are going to hell in a hand-basket” seems like pretty universal sentiments applied across all human civilizations. I’m pretty sure I would be surprised if you couldn’t find some contingent of folks saying this in every country that had a media well developed enough (and free enough) to broadcast those who say it.

            When things get actually bad (Europe has not been so rosy since 2008) I think the “hand wringing” contingent gets amplified.

      • AlexanderRM says:

        I’ve seen that before and am still interested that Poles consider Germans both most trustworthy and least trustworthy.
        Obviously, what’s actually happening is that large numbers of Poles rate Germans that in both categories- basically the Polish opinion on German trustworthiness is polarized.
        What I’d really like to see is the results on a map of Poland, and see if it correlates with the 1914 border and 2015 election results:
        http://walpurgisnacht-nightly.tumblr.com/post/118700293487/mapsontheweb-poland-a-and-poland-b-might-be
        (as a note- nearly everyone who was German in East Prussia was forcibly evicted by the Soviets, so it’s not a “lots of German people here” difference. I honestly don’t know *which* side I would expect to be more pro-German, in fact.)

    • Matt M says:

      This doesn’t surprise me at all.

      I’ve recently made the transition from blue-collar to white-collar worlds and I’ve noticed this exact thing. In the white-collar world, people “work” long hours, much longer than typical blue-collar folks do, but “work” can consist of browsing random websites. Nobody is over your shoulder watching you every second. You don’t have to clock in or clock out. All that really matters is that your project is done (and done well) by its due date, how you spend your time doesn’t really matter… EXCEPT for signaling/perception purposes, in which case “people see you around the office a lot” counts for quite a bit when you’re up for your next promotion.

      • Randy M says:

        I wonder how much that relates to more training at school, where attendence matters, final grades matter, but what you actually do at your desk only matters if it effects your grades (which will vary considerably from person to person and instructor to instructor).

        • Adam says:

          I do find a lot of white collar work I’ve done far too similar to school in that respect. Back in school, I’d just sit around dazing through lectures, waiting to get home so I could do the actual homework. In my last job, I spent 80% of the workday answering e-mail or going to meetings, then the last part of the day plus staying late actually doing work once all the people e-mailing me went home and the meetings were done.

          • Matt M says:

            But I’m not even talking about answering email or going to meetings. I’m talking about commenting on SSC posts and reading sports blogs and stuff that is completely and entirely unrelated to work.

            But so long as the ultimate deliverable is done with sufficient competence, nobody seems to care.

            BUT that being said, they have to pretend to care, so you at least have to show up, and you get credit for being “at” work. Because it is assumed that if you are physically at work, you are doing something work related, even when that is absolutely not the case.

          • Adam says:

            Oh, yeah, well sometimes we had a free minute or two to blow on Facebook, but we were actually kept ridiculously busy, the office being only half-staffed. I’m on SSC all the time now because I’m not actually working right now. I’m just waiting on a few surgeries and rehabs and relying on the good graces of a generous wife.

      • Tibor says:

        Well, I don’t know how similar this is, but I am doing a maths PhD in Germany (which is a paid position with a work contract here) right now. There is also a “deadline” for finishing your thesis (of course, the deadline is not as strict as it tends to be in business) or for finishing something so that you don’t look like you did nothing at the next consultation with your advisor. And people’s attitude varies. Some, I never see at the office at all (although they have progress on their work) or very rarely. Some go basically 9 to 5, some come at 10:30, stay till 8pm, but make a couple of breaks in the middle. In (theoretical) maths you have to come up with new ideas and that turns out to be rather hard. That also makes the working hours rather erratic. Sometimes you have a lot of good ideas (or at least some ideas) and therefore a lot to work on, sometimes you just have nothing after trying desperately for hours and then you just get frustrated and call it a day. And sometimes, later that day, whey you want to go to bed already, you get an idea that will make you work from home till 3 am or something.

        I doubt anyone stays at the office for any signaling purposes, but obviously, a university is not quite the same as a company. If you have tenure, you don’t have to care about anything, if you don’t, you want to publish well-received papers above all else, because those will be the most important thing that assures that you get one. If you are a PhD student, you don’t care, because even if you stay in academia, you won’t get a PostDoc at the same institute where you are doing your PhD anyway (at least that tends to be the rule).

    • ” In Portugal, the work culture (particularly in the private sector) involves signalling your commitment with long hours. Unfortunately, much of this time is spent in very unproductive ways ”

      Its called presenteeism.

    • MichaelT says:

      There might be another factor at work as well. It is notoriously hard to do business in countries like Greece, specifically when it comes to firing workers. So wouldn’t that create an incentive to hire the fewest amount of workers and make them work the longest possible hours?

      • Matt M says:

        Or perhaps, if you have someone you’d like to fire (but legally can’t), the solution is to work them to the death in the hopes that they’ll get sick of it and quit?

  38. Anon. says:

    The bit about the fireworks reminded me of Cioran:

    We say of space, of time, and of suffering that they are infinite; but infinite has no more bearing than beautiful, sublime, harmonious, ugly. . . . Suppose we force ourselves to see to the bottom of words? We see nothing—each of them, detached from the expansive and fertile soul, being null and void. The power of the intelligence functions by projecting a certain luster upon them, by polishing them and making them glitter; this power, erected into a system, is called culture—pyrotechnics against a night sky of nothingness.

  39. ivvenalis says:

    “46% of Americans support genetic engineering to reduce disease risk, and only 15% of Americans support genetic engineering to make kids more intelligent.”

    How many Americans supported gay marriage at any point in the past before, say, 2005? And there’s not even any evidence that being gay married will make you smarter or more resistant to disease.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Only 0.0001% of people support making me dictator of Earth right now…but only 0.0001% of people supported gay marriage in 1950, so all I have to do is wait!

      • Richard says:

        You also need to tell people you want the job. Only reason I haven’t been all for it until now is I didn’t know you wanted that particular headache.

      • stillnotking says:

        Eight thousand people support making you dictator of Earth?!

        Now I’m envisioning hundreds of covert Scottite cells in a distributed global network, carrying out the inscrutable commands of Dear Leader…

      • Ano says:

        Well, if you had a majority of the voting population behind you, you’d hardly be much of a dictator, would you?

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        In a mad world, all kings are md kings.

  40. Ever An Anon says:

    With the Pew genetic engineering poll (link is broken btw), it seems like a more useful question to ask would be how people feel about IVF with prescreening.

    Practically speaking, we can’t really do genetic engineering on people and won’t be able to for some time even if we keep finding new techniques like Cas/CRISPR every few years. Hell, we can barely do genetic engineering with animals and lower organisms: right now we rely on being able to throw out all of the many many failures until we get it right. And by failures I mean like “oops this mouse doesn’t have eyes in its sockets, back to the drawing board.” I suspect that that really won’t fly with parents.

    But fertilizing a ton of embryos, checking them for potential problems in copy number and alleles, and then letting the freezing / thawing process further select for general health is something we can do today. You’re not going to get Khan out of it but slightly increasing the mean and ruling out truly awful results is already a significant advantage. Not to mention the PR advantage since in theory it’s entirely a case of disease prevention and offers the biggest benefits to sympathetic minorities like Ashkenazi Jews and the Amish (who are crazy enthusiastic about genetic medicine last I heard).

    • For something a little further along that still doesn’t require genetic engineering, consider the technology Heinlein describes in _Beyond This Horizon_. You separately select on egg and sperm, thus letting parents choose, among the children they could have, which ones they do have.

      • Ever An Anon says:

        I haven’t read much Heinlein, but unless I’m missing something that method seems like a more technically challenging and potentially risky way to get to the same result.

        You can do a polar body biopsy to do chromosomal analysis and even sort-of sequencing on an egg without destroying it, but the equivalent for sperm would probably require making them in vitro from the man’s spermatogonia which sounds fairly annoying. Not to mention that you have to either cross your fingers and hope nothing weird happens during fertilization or do prescreening on the resulting embryos anyway (thus obviating the need for the whole process).

        The only benefit I can see is if you were very squeamish about destroying embryos, since this would minimize the number you’ll need to use.

        • Heinlein’s solution is to do the final stage of producing egg and sperm in vitro, thus making it possible to capture and destructively analyze the bodies containing the complements of the genes in egg and sperm. Do a full genotyping on a random cell, subtract the complements, and you have a full genetic description of egg or sperm without ever touching it.

          The approach is much more powerful than fertilize and cull. Suppose you start with a hundred eggs and a hundred sperm. With fertilize and cull, you get to select the best fertilized egg out of a hundred. With Heinlein’s approach you get to produce the best fertilized egg out of ten thousand.

          • Ever An Anon says:

            Right, ok, so it works about the same way I figured then. I’m curious when he thought of the polar body trick: researchers only recently managed to get that working.

            As for the difference in efficiency, I think it probably wouldn’t be as big a difference as that. Polar body biopsies are already used for IVF in some cases (though currently only looking at copy number, like Downs Syndrome, afaik) but as I said before growing and testing the sperm sounds like a lot of work especially since you’ll be testing every embryo again later on either way. It might turn out not to be worth testing 100 sperm and 10 embryos instead of 0 sperm and 100 embryos. Then again it’s entirely possible it’s the other way around.

  41. Employment Lawyer says:

    “Am I misunderstanding the legalities here, or has volunteering just been made illegal?”

    You’re partially correct (some volunteering is illegal) and partially incorrect (it was already illegal, so this is not a change.)

    -You can volunteer for a non-profit or charity.
    -You can volunteer for a public entity (government, etc.)

    But…

    -You cannot volunteer for a for-profit entity. Especially if it provides them any benefits at all, even ancillary ones. Those people require minimum wage.
    -You cannot waive any rights to minimum wage; any rights to be paid a wage at all; any rights to be properly classified as an employee; and so on.

    Employment laws are complex and so are the bases for such laws, but here’s one of the many justifications which is simple: if you permit such waivers and volunteering, you will functionally remove any ability to enforce minimum wage laws (since people can be cajoled into “volunteering” as a means of getting employment; and since employers can claim that any unpaid employees were “volunteers.”)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      So what about eg Reddit moderators?

      Heck, what about me? A friend has volunteered to do some coding work for SSC. But I make a little bit of money off ads. Do I have to pay him?

      • Alraune says:

        So what about e.g. Reddit moderators?

        The ones who are currently in a labor dispute, rooted in grievances that their hobby has become progressively more joblike and less hobbylike over time?

      • Deiseach says:

        I think the point here is that AOL was not a charity or a not-for-profit organisation, so it couldn’t very well argue that it relied on unpaid volunteers to do its work in order not to divert money donated for charitable purposes. Otherwise every business in the country could say “Oh, we can’t afford to hire people and pay wages, we need unpaid interns to do the work for us” – oh, wait…

        Since you’re not making enough money off this blog (unless you’re using us as a huge long-running social sciences experiment, the final results of which you will sell to a pharmaceutical company for $$$$$$ in order for them to market their new “tranquiliser which also makes you focused which also helps you sleep better which also gives you energy for long periods of work and study which also makes you socially confident and increases intelligence, attractiveness and possibility of getting a pay raise”) for anyone to claim this is your main or a major source of income, you should be okay, Scott. If the person volunteered on the understanding that this is a temporary, unpaid, work-of-charity gig and they’re doing a limited amount of work in free/spare time, and you’re not relying on their unpaid labour to keep your commercial operation going, then you can always slip them a box of meal squares as a quid pro quo and that should be enough recompense without requiring you to formally set them up as an independent contractor 🙂

      • Richard says:

        Independent contractors should be safe. I work as an independent Software Quality consultant and when I test stuff (like personal web sites for friends) that I don’t expect to get paid for, I just file my hourly rate as zero which is perfectly legal.

      • Employment Lawyer says:

        I don’t know about Reddit.

        I suspect you are probably safe, as the basis of SSC is to provide you with a voice and blog, and not to sell ads. Can’t guarantee it, though, so if you start really running SSC as a business you should talk to someone. Other relevant factors include things like “how much direction do you give them;” “how much discretion do they have;” “do they get in trouble when they decide not to show up;” and so on.

    • keranih says:

      You cannot volunteer for a for-profit entity.

      However, you *can* establish a non-profit entity, set a wage for yourself and ‘hire’ volunteers, and then compete with for-profit local businesses, without having to pay certain state and local taxes (or pay them on a lesser rate.)

      This is (currently) mostly limited to ‘traditional’ charity functions like health services (including animal health) and political action. Most people who are getting products or services at a reduced rate like it, most for-profit businesses who are competing with the charities, don’t.

    • Jos says:

      Amazon reviewers? Pornhub contributors?

    • Deiseach says:

      since people can be cajoled into “volunteering” as a means of getting employment; and since employers can claim that any unpaid employees were “volunteers.”

      Indeed, that’s one rationale for opposition to work-fare schemes and the like: that if people need to ‘work in return for social welfare payment’, then (a) businesses are getting free labour paid for by the public purse (b) part-time or full-time jobs will not be created, instead the work-fare clients and/or unpaid interns will be doing the work instead.

      There are conditions to such Community Employment and replacement schemes operating in Ireland, but it’s undeniable that as part of the recession, hiring has been sluggish, and companies have taken on people from such schemes (which are supposed to give training/work experience leading to full time employment) as short-term labour instead of hiring people, and with no intention of offering the intern a full-time job after they’ve been trained in.

      Even government departments have used these, and basically most people regard these schemes not as leading to real jobs, but merely as a means of fiddling the unemployment figures (if you’re on a work-fare scheme, you’re taken off the Live Register and so aren’t classified as “unemployed”, which means the government can say “Unemployment fell by X amount last month”).

    • DanielLC says:

      Can’t they just require that volunteers can’t get paid at all, and can’t be paid at all, and you can’t work and volunteer at the same company?

  42. Deiseach says:

    Well, I never expected to see the Wall Street Journal referencing a papal encyclical, but here you go 🙂

  43. Blakes7th says:

    This is the first time in the history of Links posts that Scott has linked to something I’d already seen. Don’t know how to feel about that.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I’m sure there have been links I’ve seen already but only because I read them somewhere I’d not have come across if I wasn’t reading this first, so no genuine one-step-aheadness yet.

  44. Arthur B. says:

    Regarding the brain being a computer, there is a floating fallacy that this is just the comparaison du jour by pointing out previous, naive, attempts to describe the human mind. This isn’t unlike the description of the singularity as an eschatological myth. Gary Marcus writes against that fallacy: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/opinion/sunday/face-it-your-brain-is-a-computer.html?_r=0

    • PSJ says:

      I haven’t read the article yet, but I generally hate the metaphor of brain-as-computer. It leads people to think that the brain is doing symbolic logic rather than the distributed, probabilistic calculations it actually does

      EDIT: After reading the article, I still hate it. The author dismisses the difference of parallelism by saying “the trend…has been to make computers more and more parallel” which ignores that the distribution of computation in the brain is fundamental to the way it does computation where parallelism in computers is doing computation the same way all at the same time.

      His other arguments also fail to touch on the differences in the way brains and computers actually compute, which is the motivation for neuroscientists to protest the comparison.

      I think I’m going to take this as more evidence that the metaphor tends to give people WORSE, not better intuitions about neural computation. I mean, obviously the brain does computing, but it’s misleading to call it a computer.

      • Arthur B. says:

        “..which ignores that the distribution of computation in the brain is fundamental to the way it does computation …”

        That which does computation is a computer. Q.E.D

        • PSJ says:

          Words mean how they’re used.

          Abacuses do computation, but they are not what people think of when we say computer. And the TYPE of computation that is brought to mind by the phrase “computer” leads people to incorrect conclusions about the brain.

          I mean, it that sense we could claim that cancer growths are computers or that the earth as a whole is a computer, but those certainly would not be good metaphors (yeah, a bit facetious, I know)

          • Nicholas says:

            On this topic, computer and calculator were both originally job titles for mathematical assistants to accountants, engineers, and etc. Both fell out of use when the mechanical calculator was invented, and originally both words were synonyms, until certain kinds of calculators became more complex, and the two words were once again split up.

        • Peter says:

          You can dodge that one fairly easy by introducing the term “non-brain computer” or “thing that is uncontroversially known as a computer”.

          Of course, way back in the way back when, “computer” referred to a person – a person doing specific well-defined tasks in a well-defined manner…

        • Urstoff says:

          Now define “computation”.

      • Peter says:

        I didn’t like the article either.

        I’ve done a fair bit of machine learning and a tiny little bit of neural networks; from my point of view the parallelism is in some sense a red herring, especially the parallelism mentioned in the article. In another sense it’s all-important. Basically, the parallelism means that some things are ridiculously cheap and easy to implement (things that look a lot like matrix multiplication, for example), some things are ridiculously hard, expensive and slow to implement.

        I’m not sure how much the differences between ANNs and “wet” neural networks are important; I’m not 100% sure how different ANNs are from the rest of machine learning, but I can fairly safely say that machine learning is quite different from the rest of our experiences with computers and a lot of the intuitions that those experiences build turn out to be invalid.

      • J. Quinton says:

        “I haven’t read the article yet, but I generally hate the metaphor of brain-as-computer. It leads people to think that the brain is doing symbolic logic rather than the distributed, probabilistic calculations it actually does”

        I don’t think the average person thinks “does symbolic logic” when they think of a computer. They probably think more like “my computer can do math, play music, and remember phone numbers”. Which is something that brains can do, too.

        • PSJ says:

          But that’s not how brains work!!! We can’t do math, play music, or even remember phone numbers that well!

  45. Brock says:

    According to Wikipedia, go boards made from the kaya tree “can cost over $19,000”. So that $100K go board is not *that* wildly mispriced.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torreya_nucifera

  46. Shenpen says:

    On Italy: Italy is a bit of a special case. The reunification / risorgimento was basically about the north looting the south hard. Have you heard a saying “to see Naples and die” ? (Because it is so beautiful you don’t want to see anything else afterward.) Naples was an awesome place before the risorgimento and afterwards quickly deteriorated into a shithole.

    The weird thing is… how silent are South Italians about this crime. There is no Italian equivalent of confederate flag-waving, there is no southern secessionism, while there is a northern one (Lega Nord) it is really weird, they don’t seem to be aware of their own victimhood.

    • Anthony says:

      Naples was an awesome place before the risorgimento[citation needed]

      Naples was probably an awesome place to visit or to be rich before the risorgimento, but I don’t recall ever hearing that it was particularly great for the ordinary people.

      • Anonymous says:

        Moldbug quotes extensively from Desmond Seward praising Naples. Was it productive or just rich? Macaulay says “far less beggary than in Rome, and far more industry.” (Searching for that quote I found a contemporary Englishman saying that Tuscany was the best.) Seward vaguely praises Naples as “economically and industrially creative,” but also gives the concrete example of the shipyard.

    • AlexanderRM says:

      Do you have any further sources on this? I’ve never heard it suggested before (although I haven’t read much on Italian reunification) and am rather curious about it.
      Obviously, if southern Italians have no cultural memory of this happening, one explanation is that they didn’t notice it at the time and there wasn’t actually a major drop in living standards.
      More notably, the fact that north rich/south poor dynamics (or more technically far from equator/near equator) tend to show up in quite a few places- obviously in Europe with Spain and Portugal, also the fact that going further south from Italy you get even poorer places; you also have the southern United States being poorer than the north- makes me strongly suspect that geographic factors are at work, rather than political or cultural ones.

      One thing that would be very useful would be to get a detailed map of wealth levels in Italy and check the north/south border against 1. climate and other geographical factors and 2. political and cultural factors, like the borders of Naples and the border of the Papal States, check what the conditions in Sardinia are like, etc. If there’s a sudden drop in wealth at the northern border of Naples or the northern border of the Papal States, that would tell us that historical or cultural factors were at play- although not necessarily which ones, it could be discriminatory practices by the north or mismanagement by some Spanish or Neapolitan government.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        The North/South divide is opposite in the UK. From a brief look at a map of Italy, my hypothesis is that the side with more urban people is richer – Italy has most cities in the North, and London contains far more people than any other UK cities.

    • vV_Vv says:

      I know I’m going to social justice hell for posting this, but since this post already mentioned genetics:

      Italy’s GDP and PISA scores by administrative region (source).

      Predominant Y-DNA haplogroups in Europe.

      Hair and eye color in Europe (warning: old).

      Topography of Italy (note the mountain ranges in the southern regions that could have acted as migration barriers).

      • Nornagest says:

        Hair and eye color in Europe (warning: old).

        Well, that explains how Catherine Zeta-Jones looks Iberian (to American eyes, at least) despite being Welsh.

      • Shenpen says:

        But Weak Galt Hypothesis would suggest a small elite – the horizontal purple lines – are enough. In Courland it was enough, look up their history on Wiki.

  47. There is this pair of comments in the “Customer Questions & Answers” section of the Kaya Go Board Game page:

    //Q: How does one “forge” wood?

    A: Well you see, for this specific board, the maker had to take a piece of Kaya wood and take it into the fires of Mount Doom where he imbued it with the very essence of his power. He then used this master board to establish dominion over the Free Kingdoms of Middle Earth. But there were some who resisted. A last Alliance of Men and Elves marched against him and fought his forces at the bottom of Mount Doom. When they were at the cusp of victory, the sound of a go stone hitting a perfect board reverberated through the air and sent many of the allied warriors flying into the air and to their deaths. One of those who died was Elendil, High King of Arnor. It was then that Isildur, Son of Elendil, took up his fathers sword and smote the Board Maker. The elf prince, Elrond, took Isildur up to the fires of Mt. Doom to destroy the board from whence it came. But Isildur was swayed by the board’s power. “No. The board is mine”, he said. But the board was eager to return to its maker. ‘Twas the board that caused Isildur to die at the hands of Lee Sedol, who also craved the powers of the board. But it was lost to Lee Sedol. Many years later, an unknowing buyer discovered the board on sale at Amazon.com where it awaits to be bought by its next victim.//

    Don’t fail to check out the reviews, either.

    “It’s perfect, except that unfortunately it’s not Prime eligible. The shipping cost of $54.30 really stung. It’s a decent cutting board.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Don’t count your tears before they fall.

    • Murphy says:

      I have mixed feelings about unions. They can be very worthwhile and useful but left unchecked they just become another group of rent seekers and particularly useless managers.

      In ireland I occasionally heard tales of union corruption but never to the level that I’ve seen elsewhere and I think I know why.

      In ireland we have a constitutional right to join a union without reprisal or penalty and it applies to private employers, not just the government.

      Interestingly the courts interpreted this to mean that we also have a constitutional right to *not* join a union without suffering reprisal or penalties.

      Both membership and non-membership of a union are protected characteristics.

      As such employers aren’t legally allowed to prevent employees from joining a union and they also aren’t legally allowed to *refuse* on the basis of not being in a union.

      When I worked in places with unions as a student I got the same wage whether I joined or not. I still joined because the union fees were very cheap and in the case of a dispute you can get a union rep to attend with you. Plus mild social pressure and vague feeling of thankfulness since they got us a good wage. Not everyone joined but most did.

      I think this system is good. Treating membership/non-membership as a protected characteristic is an effective approach that other countries would benefit from.

      neither the unions nor the employers like it, the unions would prefer only membership were protected while the employers would prefer only non-membership were protected but screw them both.

      If your union pisses you off, fails to protect you or just charges too-high union dues you’re free to leave or switch to another union without fear so they have to remain reasonable and useful to you. Mostly they just provided professional negotiators etc.
      Worked pretty well.

      • onyomi says:

        The system you describe would be considered radically anti-union in the United States. It basically sounds like a national right-to-work law, albeit with perhaps more protection of the right to unionize as well.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Except, I think that guarantees union representation for some workers at pretty much every decent sized company, for most jobs.

          Basically, it puts unions at that table all the time.

          Not sure how it works out practically, but I’m not sure it amounts to being anti-union. It does have a free-rider issue, and if there is one thing America hates, it’s free riders.

          • onyomi says:

            It sounds more anti-union in some respects and more pro-union in other respects, as compared to the status quo in the US, but I think it would rightly be perceived as net anti-union in the US, especially if adopted nationally (that is, it might strengthen unions a bit in right-to-work states but weaken them quite a bit in closed shop states).

            Overall, I believe in freedom of association, so I think people do have a right to bargain collectively if they want to, though I think employers should also have a right not to bargain with those people bargaining collectively if they don’t want to. But if I understand it correctly, the Irish system sounds like a net improvement over the US national status quo.

            Though the reason I added the original link was not so much to celebrate the downfall of unions, but to call attention to how transparently cronyish and hypocritical it is to first fight to pass a law and then lobby for a special dispensation from its requirements. It seemed sort of like an Onion story about unions, but it’s harder and harder to tell real life from the Onion as time goes on.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Forcing management to deal with a union when only small fraction of the employees voted to be in the union seems like it could be fairly pro-union. Right now in the U.S., 49% is the same as 0%. Whereas, in Ireland 49% is just that.

            Right to work states impose the 50% requirement and say people can opt-out if the vote passes. I want to say that is quite a bit different.

      • Anthony says:

        Does the employer have the option to pay non-union workers differently from union workers? In U.S. civil service positions where people are allowed to opt out of the union, the government agency generally pays non-union employees the same scale as the union ones, which significantly undercuts the case for joining. But I don’t know if that’s some sort of legal requirement, or just laziness on the part of the employers.

        • Alraune says:

          The amount you could not pay the non-unioners is less than the amount the lawsuits would cost you.

  48. onyomi says:

    Re. successful African immigrants: I think there are average IQ differences among groups, but what I think this proves is something that I thought was pretty obvious: the smart, hard-working, rich people of a poor country are going to be smarter and more hard-working than the poor people and, probably, the average people, of a rich country. The only countries from which we get a large number of average or below-average immigrants are in Central America. For everywhere else, the resources necessary to get here and stay here set a pretty high bar.

    • Tarrou says:

      Perhaps, and I think this is part of it, but it seems glib. If it is genetics, you’d expect regression to the mean in the second generation, which doesn’t seem to be happening. Same thing if it is a vague sense of drive or ambition. And the social connections that can get you to the States won’t necessarily get you in good once you’re here, although they might. You can say “culture”, and I do, with great regularity, but that’s a big catchall term.

      I’m tempted to go all Foucault and lean a bit on narrative strength. The immigrant has a better delusion.

      • onyomi says:

        Firstly, I think the culture of most black immigrants is very different from that of most African Americans, and remains so for their children. As to whether they’ll regress to the mean genetically and/or culturally, we don’t really have the 3-4+ generations of such immigrants we’d need to see whether that happens.

        One generation is surely not enough, as smart people tend to have smart kids and children absorb a great deal of their attitudes about work, study, etc. from their parents, if not so much their grandparents or great-grandparents.

        • Tarrou says:

          Just a question, but how do you tell a third- or fourth-generation descendant of african immigrants who doesn’t do that well from an african-american? Upper class folks spend a lot more time curating their family history.

          • John Schilling says:

            A third- or fourth-generation descendant of African immigrants[*], is and African-American. That’s the definition of the term.

            [*] to the United States

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @onyomi:
          But these immigrants’ children (and the article leans heavily on UK data) are continuing to perform exceptionally.

          The article is responding to these kinds of quotes, highlighted at the beginning of the article:

          “If only environmental factors were responsible for the different IQs of different populations, we should expect to find some countries where Africans had higher IQs than Europeans. The failure to find a single country where this is the case points to the presence of a strong genetic factor.” Richard Lynn.

          “Regression would explain why Black children born to high IQ, wealthy Black parents have test scores 2 to 4 points lower than do White children born to low IQ, poor White parents.” Arthur Jensen.

          Those who make the case that Black people, in general, are less intelligent have been making predictions about what you wouldn’t find in Africa and what you do find in countries where Blacks immigrate. And this data seems to hang those quotes by their toes and gives them a good thrashing.

          To the extent that people have been depending on research by Jensen and Lynn to make their case about the genetic inferiority of Blacks, you need to deal with these results.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t know why I need to deal with these results, as I am not arguing for genetic inferiority. And I also said the immigrants’ children *would* continue to perform better than average.

            What I’m saying is that if you take the smartest, hardest-working, richest people from any population and move them to another country, you can expect them and their near descendants to do better than people of similar racial background who were not subject to those selection pressures. As to whether those black immigrants got smarter, harder-working, and richer than average due to 60% genetic factors and 40% cultural factors or 60% cultural factors and 40% genetic factors, I am agnostic.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            Sorry, that was a generic “you”.

            But if you aren’t arguing for genetic inferiority of blacks, and don’t view those who do as having made a good case, then the article isn’t aimed at your ideas.

            Again, the article is aimed against the idea that you will see children of the smartest Blacks under-perform the average white person due to genetic regression to the mean. To the extent that you think it would be necessary for 3 or 4 generations to show the effect means you already reject the hypothesis of a mean genetic foundation of black IQ that is two SDs below white IQ.

            The idea that it’s genetic or “cultural” factors either lumps a bunch of things under culture that aren’t typically under culture or ignores a bunch of other things that are environmental. i’m not sure which you mean.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m interested in how they carried out these tests, because in one summary paper by Rushton and Jensen, there’s an example of testing done on children (no ages given, but presumably in the 9-13 age range) which goes predictably East Asian smarter than British and Irish White smarter than South African Black:

            For details, see Shigehisa and
            Lynn (1991) for Japan; Chan and Lynn (1989) for Hong Kong and Britain; Lynn
            (1991) for Ireland; and Lynn and Holmshaw (1990) for South Africa.

            Now, the intriguing thing here is that the British kids get a mean IQ score of 100 while the Irish get a mean IQ score of 89 (and corresponding down the line longer reaction times etc.)

            That’s an 11 point difference, which seems hefty enough. So can anyone tell me the huge genetic diversity between White British and White Irish that makes this possible? Unless we’re going the route of “Yes, the Anglo-Saxons are superior to the dreamy, impractical Celts”, I’m quite curious (as you may imagine) to find out what that basis could be.

            Because if you’re able to find that big of a difference between Irish and English/Scots/Welsh, or Northern Irish and Southern Irish, no wonder you’re finding big differences between Asians, Africans and Europeans! I’m fascinated because, as I said, 11 points of a difference does seem like a big gap amongst what you would assume to be a fairly homogenous population (you can’t really tell the difference between an Irish and an English person just by looking at them – or can you? Scott, did the Irish people in Cork and Kerry look noticeably different to you from Americans?)

            Or maybe it’s down to methodology – this Lynn bloke seems to have previous when it comes to where he gets his results:

            The datum that Lynn and Vanhanen used for the lowest IQ estimate, Equatorial Guinea, was taken from a group of children in a home for the developmentally disabled in Spain.

            I am prepared to accept that I am indeed stupider than a comparable English person, but it’d be nice to know what the magic gene is that makes that so.

            And speaking of the traditional Paddy the Irishman, Paddy the Englishman and Paddy the Scotsman jokes, here’s one:

            An English foreman was interviewing workers for jobs on a building site. He sorted them out by asking them “What’s the difference between a joist and a girder?”

            Paddy the Irishman comes in and the foreman asks him “What’s the difference between a joist and a girder?”

            “Oh, dat’s easy,” says Paddy. “Joist wrote “Ulysses” and Girder wrote “Faust”.

            🙂

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The Jensen quote is a fabrication. I think that it originates here which does not claim that it is a quotation, but an interpretation of the graph on p358 of The g Factor. But (1) it has false precision; and (2) the graph is about SES of the parents, no direct measures of IQ of the parents.

            The Lynn quote is here.

          • NN says:

            @Deiseach: To add on to what you’ve said, I’ve read that at least one study found that Northern Irish Catholics were an average 15 IQ points lower than Northern Irish Protestants.

  49. haishan says:

    Obvious potential confounder in the black children of white mothers study: assortative mating. If white mothers with black children are genetically indistinguishable as a population from white mothers with white children — and this is, admittedly, a big if — then the black fathers are likely to have higher IQ, higher conscientiousness, etc. on average than the average for blacks.

    (I don’t actually believe it’s all genetics, and maybe there’s a real effect here — after all, you can find lots of smart black people who say the problem is culture, and not all of them are rapists. But if I did believe it was all genetics, that would be my first argument.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The study actually did a lot of work to investigate assortative mating. They find that it’s there, but the effect remains once you control for it.

      • NZ says:

        There’s also the fact that white women having kids with black men is much more common than black women having kids with white men, and the assortative mating patterns in these two scenarios are very different.

        Steve Sailer’s “Is Love Colorblind” article is still relevant.

        • Randy M says:

          I hear that it is more common that way, though in my personal life I can give three examples of white male-black female and none vice versa.
          I don’t offer this as evidence for anything.

          • NZ says:

            It would be evidence of something if these examples come from places that are demographically atypical.

            For example, I went to high school in one of the few suburban areas I’ve seen that’s both very diverse racially/economically/religiously, and also very liberal. We had lots of white male/black female couples.

            But now that I live in a more normal suburban area where racial and economic groups do a better job of getting away from each other, I see way fewer couples like that, and in the few I do see, the male usually looks like a wankster and the female looks pretty ghetto.

      • haishan says:

        Oh nice. That makes me a lot more confident that this is a study worth looking into.

  50. onyomi says:

    Can’t we just do a study of genetically 100% (or close enough) white children adopted by black people versus genetically 100% (or close enough) black people adopted by white people?

    • Matt M says:

      “Can’t we just do a study of genetically 100% (or close enough) white children raised by black people…”

      I feel like there probably aren’t enough of these that exist in order for you to get a statistically relevant N…

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, I kind of figured that… especially white people adopted by black people. White people are probably the only people who have started adopting other races in order to signal tolerance (or because it’s easier than adopting a white kid).

        • Matt M says:

          Right. Although they’d never admit it – I assume most adoption agencies do their best to match children to a same-race home whenever possible. And there’s such a high demand for white babies that I have a tough time imagining there will be many cases where you couldn’t find white parents for one…

    • tautology says:

      Already done . Google: transracial adoption study iq

  51. MichaelT says:

    In regards to the private healthcare in the US vs. public healthcare in Europe, it always bothers me that left leaning people immediately assume that certain health statistics that are better in Europe are only due to the public healthcare system. The fact that the US population have higher rates of obesity, drive much more (more car deaths), walk less, etc than Europeans is never discussed in healthcare related statistics.

    The same fallacy applies when they discuss the “good ole days” of the 1950’s and 1960’s when taxes on the rich were extremely high. They never mention that a.) no one paid those rates because the loopholes were much larger than the are today (see http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324705104578151601554982808) and b.) there were many other policies that were different back then, such as not EPA, no Clean Water or Air Act, payroll taxes were lower, the economy was much less regulated, middle class and above married women tended not to work which increased demand and wages for workers, and the rest of the world was either undeveloped or still recovering from the destruction of World War II.

    • Anthony says:

      This comment occurs below a comment thread about racial confounding, but doesn’t mention racial confounding. The health outcomes of blacks in the U.S. is significantly different from the outcomes of whites (except in the sense that in the long run, we are all dead), yet nobody compares U.S. whites to native-born Europeans.

    • Jon H says:

      ” They never mention that a.) no one paid those rates because the loopholes were much larger than the are today”

      Then why did they work so hard to lower the tax rates?

      If this were really the case, surely rich people would have preferred to keep the high rates and the loopholes, while claiming to be virtuous citizens, pretending to be paying loads of taxes while actually not paying much at all. Rich folks telling poor people to suck it up and accept benefit cuts goes over rather better if they appear to be paying huge tax rates.

      • Alraune says:

        It’s rare, but we do sometimes manage to walk back regulatory capture.

        Usually because the market moved on and the previous capturers are now relatively powerless, but hey.

      • cassander says:

        >Then why did they work so hard to lower the tax rates?

        because a tax code with lower rates and fewer exemptions is fairer and economically more efficient, though special interests prefer a more complicated system and fought to preserve it. here’s the premier book on the subject: http://www.amazon.com/Showdown-Gucci-Gulch-Alan-Murray/dp/0394758110

  52. onyomi says:

    I am very disturbed by the lack of value people seem to attach to their own word when it comes to both the AOL cases and the Greek case. Since when were “you should have known better than to loan money to me on such terms” and “I agreed to do it for free but you should have realized that wasn’t fair” good excuses for going back on your word. This may be overdramatic, but it seems like this sort of attitude undermines the foundations of capitalism, free enterprise, property rights, freedom of contract, etc.

    • Peter J. says:

      In the Greek case, the people suffering have very little to do with the people who made the deal, though.

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, democratic governments (and all governments) are actually evil, parasitic ruling classes which use their own tax base as collateral to enrich themselves. But if we admitted that then we’d have to rethink government more generally.

        As it is, if the voters in a democracy (especially the people who voted for current policy, and especially government workers, who seem to be quite numerous in Greece, and probably suffering the most under austerity) are not responsible for the debts incurred by their own governments, then who is?

        • Matt M says:

          When it comes to collecting welfare, “we are the government” therefore those dumb conservatives should shut up and take it.

          When it comes to repaying debt, well, we had nothing to do with those people and can’t be held responsible for their terrible decisionmaking!

          • PSJ says:

            Ok, I appreciate the biting sarcasm, but the Greek government around the time of the lending binge was a corrupt, nepotistic, thoroughly undemocratic system that everybody tried to pretend was a real democracy so we could feel good about how perfect the unity of Europe was or whatever.

            The creditors should be responsible and Greece should default, BUT the european agencies absorbed private debt so it became even more of a political issue. The North encouraged interest rates that obviously only benefited the countries that were already out of the depression and they left Greece to die, so I don’t know how to solve it “fairly,” but it’s a bit more complex than “Those dumb greeks elected terrible people and are probably all individually bad at decisionmaking so deserve no help from the european community that helped create their crisis”

          • John Schilling says:

            Corrupt and nepotistic, perhaps. But the regime of the colonels ended in 1974. After a term under a caretaker regime, 1980-1981 saw the emergence of a functional multiparty democracy with the opposing parties in fact handing the government back and forth on a regular basis, and Greece becoming a member in good standing of both NATO and the proto-EU. I am going to ask you to defend the “thoroughly undemocratic” claim.

            And by my count, 97% of Greece’s current debt was incurred after 1980. The Greek electorate cannot absolve itself of responsibility for this one.

          • Jaskologist says:

            One of the primary functions of bureaucracy (and Europe’s government is much more bureaucratic than democratic) is the spreading around/away of blame. They may be bad at most things, but when a crisis comes, they are excellent at coming up with other people, or even depersonalized processes, to point at and say “but he’s at fault, too!”

            They are not even lying when they do this. Responsibility really was successfully spread out so thinly so that no one party is all that at fault.

            If only innocence actually were a defense against bad consequences.

          • PSJ says:

            @John Schilling
            “thoroughly undemocratic” was a poor choice of words, and definitely incorrect.

            I’m not sure to what extent the voters had a “real” choice in the sense of having a candidate that wouldn’t have sold out his country in the same way. And I’m certainly not saying the debt should disappear entirely, but it also doesn’t make sense to put the entirety of the blame on the average greek citizen.

            Also, by “lending binge” I was thinking 2000-2007ish

          • Matt M says:

            PSJ,

            Would it somehow make MORE sense to put the blame for it on the average GERMAN citizen?

            As onyomi originally said, if the Greek voters aren’t to blame, then who is?

          • AlphaGamma says:

            a functional multiparty democracy with the opposing parties in fact handing the government back and forth on a regular basis

            Are you familiar with the system of El Turno Pacifico ?
            Having two parties which are both regularly in government is not sufficient for democracy.

          • PSJ says:

            @Matt M
            No, but the average German citizen paying some small amount on behalf of their government’s pressure on European fiscal policies that aggravated Greece’s crisis would make some sense, yes?

            If the EU wants to be a fiscal union, there should be some sense of money flowing from the richer to the poorer states. South Carolina receives over 5x the amount of federal tax dollars as it spends, and this enables the US as a whole to have a more stable shared economy (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/05/which-states-are-givers-and-which-are-takers/361668/)

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure to what extent the voters had a “real” choice in the sense of having a candidate that wouldn’t have sold out his country in the same way.

            Greece appears to have free elections and a functional multiparty democracy. Where “multi” doesn’t mean just “two”. The current government, for that matter, is run by a party that was only created ten years ago, and created pretty specifically to meet a Greek popular demand for a party that would tell the rest of the EU to fuck off and leave them alone (but keep sending the money, “leave alone” the unlimited limit with the 2.9% APR on the national credit card). I haven’t checked to see if there is a “live within our means and stop borrowing money” minor party, but the Greek political system seems to be up to creating new parties to meet any significant voter demand.

            If the Greek people didn’t have a “real” choice but to borrow themselves into insolvency, then democracy is a farce and we should just let the Neoreactionaries take over.

            Which, if I understand the history, the Greek people had a real choice about doing in 1975.

          • Matt M says:

            It would appear that the average German citizen (as represented by the political leaders) IS in fact willing to pay some small amount of the cost, provided that the Greeks agree to pay most of it.

            Which they don’t seem to be willing to do.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          I’m never sure of what to think of cases like these, but I will say that I am surprised there aren’t more lynchings of people running countries into the ground in modern times.

          • Matt M says:

            Thank “common sense” restrictions on firearms.

            Hard to lynch someone when they’re surrounded with bodyguards who are significantly better armed than you are.

            Once you disarm the common people, you can pretty much avoid “death by violence” so long as you continue to keep your soldiers well paid. Which is exactly why Greek police are willing to bust out the tear gas and night sticks against their fellow citizens to protect the property of banks that helped drive the country into the ground.

          • Randy M says:

            And once the country is in fiscal ruins, the definition of “well-paid” probably drops for body guards along with everyone else. Win-wi… well, win, anyway.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The head of the Syriza party supposedly lives in an apartment building with a bunch of other normal people. I wonder if he really spends time there, and/or what happens if/when the mob suddenly decides he is to blame and try to hang him.

    • walpolo says:

      Yes, it is an overly dramatic way of looking at things, at least insofar as it stakes too much on the sacred value of promises and contracts.

      If you make a promise, and things shake out in such a way that keeping your promise would make the world a much worse place on the whole, you should break your promise. If you sign a contract and then discover that holding to the terms of the contract would be very harmful on the whole, you should break the contract.

      Hopefully the outcome in Greece will be as positive as possible. If that involves some people going back on their word, that’s a shame, but hardly unacceptable in the big scheme of things.

      • Matt M says:

        This may apply to Greece, but I don’t see how it applies to the AOL people.

        If they found that the terms of their employment no longer suited them, they could have immediately quit. Continuing to do the work is an implicit acceptance of the terms. To go back, after the fact, and demand additional money for work already done, seems ridiculous – regardless of what labor law has to say about it.

        • walpolo says:

          I agree, it only really applies in the Greek case.

          • Matt M says:

            In that case, I think I also agree with your general premise.

            Recall during the housing collapse, the number of people out there who were actively encouraging distressed homeowners to “walk away” and the moral outrage this precipitated from the social conservatives of the world.

            Personally, I think it’s very immoral to enter into an agreement where you don’t have the intention (or the likely ability) to honor it. But if unforseen circumstances change things, it might be acceptable for you to break the agreement, provided you are prepared to pay some sort of penalty.

            The question with Greece is – was their borrowing done in good faith? Did they have the intention and likely ability to repay? Are the events that occurred here truly unforseen?

          • Randy M says:

            I’ve been hearing about inevitable Greek bankruptcy for five years or so, iirc. While the borrowing may have begun in good faith, I can’t imagine the most recent few rounds were anything other than can-kicking and/or pocket lining on the way out of power.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Greek government had to outright lie on its credit-card, er, Eurozone admission application fifteen years ago. That’s not good faith, and it seems most unlikely that good faith suddenly entered the picture in some subsequent round of loan financing.

            Everyone knew the Greek government was lying, but assumed the intent was to make reality match the fudged statistics ASAP once the cheap capital and stable currency was actually available. Because the alternative was, well, check your news feed, and who would be silly enough to sign up for that?

            “You knew we were damn liars when I signed the loan application, so it’s all your fault and we don’t have to pay” is, well, about the only argument Greece has left with any moral authority.

          • Ano says:

            Well, the fact is that Greece can’t pay and there’s no coherent plan for how they can pay that doesn’t involve sending in tanks and repossessing half the country.

          • John Schilling says:

            That argument has practical, rather than moral, authority.

          • onyomi says:

            “I’ve been hearing about inevitable Greek bankruptcy for five years or so, iirc. While the borrowing may have begun in good faith, I can’t imagine the most recent few rounds were anything other than can-kicking and/or pocket lining on the way out of power.”

            It seems stupid, but this is actually one of the most frustrating realities of politics for me: constant delaying of the inevitable. We’ve known this was coming for years. It does nobody (except politicians and a few vested interests, maybe) any good to just keep kicking the can down the road.

            It’s so frustrating because I feel like the default state of politics is always a kind of limbo in which inevitable bad consequences are never dealt with until they absolutely must be.

            I’m reminded of Churchill’s quip to the effect of “the Americans will do the right thing after they have exhausted all possible alternatives.” I think this applies more generally to politicians (and maybe, most people), though I have less confidence that whatever is done once decisive action is finally unavoidable will be “right.”

      • onyomi says:

        “If you make a promise, and things shake out in such a way that keeping your promise would make the world a much worse place on the whole, you should break your promise. If you sign a contract and then discover that holding to the terms of the contract would be very harmful on the whole, you should break the contract.”

        This seems like a very dangerous precedent to accept, especially if you get to decide how bad the consequences will be.

        • walpolo says:

          I feel like I’m missing your point. Who is it who’s getting to decide the consequences, in this case?

          • onyomi says:

            Well, if it were truly better for all concerned for you not to keep your word, then the person to whom you made the promise would probably absolve you of it. But if it is just you and Paul Krugman who thinks it’s better for you not to keep your word, even if you think it’s better for everyone and not just yourself, the probability is too high that you are engaged in motivated reasoning.

          • walpolo says:

            It might be worse for your creditors, but better for other people not involved in the deal.

        • brad says:

          US contract law has the concept of efficient breach. What it means is that if you find that it is advantageous to break a contract even after compensating the other side for that breach (typically the measure of damages is expectancy, that is paying enough money to make the non-breaching party as well off as if the breaching party hadn’t breached) then you can go ahead and do that.

          This concept is embodied, among other ways, in a reluctance to order specific performance and in a prohibition against penalty clauses (i.e. an amount to be paid for breaching a contract that bears no relation to actual damages).

          • FJ says:

            What would proper compensation for breach look like in the Greek and AOL cases? In neither case is anyone discussing specific performance — nobody, not even Wolfgang Schlaube, is asking Greece to pay back its creditors exactly as originally agreed. Nor did AOL expect its “volunteers” to eternally continue volunteering without compensation.

            Efficient breach is a thing, but it’s different from just refusing to acknowledge any obligation under the contract at all.

          • David says:

            If you really want to take the moralizing approach to this – which macroeconomics tends to regard as wholly inappropriate anyway – we also have the concept of bankruptcy for situations like this. The Interfluidity post makes the analogy in detail.

          • brad says:

            I was making a point that we have at least one principled way to determine which promises ought not to be kept, so that the choice needn’t be between always keeping promises no matter what and pure anarchy.

        • Jon H says:

          “This seems like a very dangerous precedent to accept, especially if you get to decide how bad the consequences will be.”

          Donald Trump has had his company declare bankruptcy four times. Seems to be working for him.

      • Schmendrick says:

        fiat iusticia ruat caelum.

        • A doctrine confidently asserted by people who are certain the sky will not fall.

          In the Greek case, I think one can make at least as good an argument for the claim that continued bailouts will result in the sky slowly falling as the claim that the end of bailouts will.

          • Schmendrick says:

            Or by moral absolutists. Or by nihilists. Which often turns out to be the same things.

        • vV_Vv says:

          This only works if before the contract is made you can credibly commit to do whatever it takes to enforce it, even at a great cost to you. It doesn’t work post hoc.

    • vV_Vv says:

      This may be overdramatic, but it seems like this sort of attitude undermines the foundations of capitalism, free enterprise, property rights, freedom of contract, etc.

      Capitalism only works as long as there is an incentive to keep their promises. Property rights and contracts don’t enforce themselves on their own, you need a government to enforce them.

      In the case of Greece, there is no government that can make it more costly for Greece not to pay their debts rather than pay them. The EU institutions, as a form of federal government, are extremely weak.

      • Alraune says:

        there is no government that can make it more costly for Greece not to pay their debts rather than pay them.

        I think you’re overestimating the difficulty of conquering Greece.

        Yeah, conquering Greece would probably be even more unprofitable than letting them default, but if the goal is punishing the defector…

        • vV_Vv says:

          But modern politicians can’t credibly commit to do such things, and anyway Russia would be more than willing to offer military assistence to “defend Greece’s freedom”.

          • John Schilling says:

            And the United States would be legally obligated to defend Greece as well, under Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Along with Turkey, Canada, Norway, Iceland, and Albania. Wouldn’t that be fun?

            Albania doesn’t have much of an army, true, but that really is kind of a neat flag for marching off to war under. And Iceland can contribute the alliance’s naval flagship, the ICGS Thor. This war will not be short of inspirational symbolism 🙂

          • CJB says:

            For those who know more about NATO than me-

            What happens if one member of NATO attacks another? Like, what if France invades greece?

          • vV_Vv says:

            What happens if one member of NATO attacks another? Like, what if France invades greece?

            All the other NATO members will be legally mandated to defend the attacked party.

          • FJ says:

            @vV_Vv: Conflicts between NATO members that did not quite rise to the level of war have happened before. Spain and the United Kingdom have experienced a lot of tension over Gibraltar; Greek military units shot at Turkish military units during the 1974 Cyprus invasion. NATO has consistently refused to get involved in these conflicts.

          • Anonymous says:

            Britain and Iceland fought three wars in the 70s.

          • John Schilling says:

            NATO members are not explicitly mandated to wage war in defense of other NATO members, only to treat an attack on another NATO member as if it were an attack on themselves. For a minor “attack” on the level of the Cod Wars (IIRC, exactly one warshot fired over three “wars”), that would plausibly just be diplomats using harsh language. At the level of an armed invasion aimed at carting off 300 billion euros worth of loot, I don’t think it would be plausibly deniable that it’s time to call out the army and repel the invaders, and it would utterly destroy the credibility of the alliance to do anything less.

            But then, if the EU or ECB declares war on a NATO member, at least one of those entities is going to lose all credibility and be disbanded or abandoned. As noted upthread, if NATO decides to mortally wound itself by not defending Greece, Russia would almost certainly exploit the opportunity.

    • Jon H says:

      ““you should have known better than to loan money to me on such terms” ”

      How is this any different from “you should have known better than to borrow money from me on such terms” that is regularly argued by creditors?

      • Non-yomi says:

        The difference is that the former is an excuse for breach of contract, while the latter is a justification for upholding the contract. In the way onyomi was using it, the debtor is trying to escape repayment by arguing that the creditor should have known that the debtor would not have been able to pay (which would require in this case that the creditors had judged Greece in a way that Greece, at the time, would have likely objected to, despite now invoking the rationality of such a judgment). The debtor is essentially arguing that although the debtor agreed to the contract with no intent or ability to honor it, it was the creditor’s responsibility to determine that about the debtor, rather than the debtor’s responsibility to know that about themselves.

        Your statement on behalf of the creditor is very different. For one, it is correct. The creditor is saying that both parties need to uphold the contract, and that if one of them knew at the time they made the agreement that they could not fulfill it, it was that party’s responsibility to not make the agreement. For the creditor, both parties are responsible for knowing about themselves and about their own intent and ability to uphold the contract, whereas the debtor’s excuse puts the onus on the creditor to be responsible for both parties’ ends of the bargain. Ultimately, “You should have known better” is rarely invoked by creditors as an excuse to not deliver the loan in the first place, or to violate the explicit contract in some other way that would be analogous to Greece’s role here, but as a justification for the agreed-upon contract.

  53. onyomi says:

    Surveys show that public opinion is stupider than you thought:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIlJwW4311Q

    This is encouraging, however, in the sense that it seems to imply that maybe improving policy in a democracy really is as simple as just changing peoples’ minds, rather than somehow rooting out the intractable influence of special interests.

    A huge percentage of the public supports farm subsidies basically because “well, we don’t want to run out of food,” for example, and I don’t recall big agra corporations spending millions on advertising to get them to think that.

    • onyomi says:

      What is very depressing re. cultural evolution, however, is that growing up in East Germany makes you much more likely to support socialist policies. So the idea that people learn from bad policies may be pretty weak.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        For a large amount of East Germans, socialism didn’t affect their quality of life too negatively, and the East German economy hasn’t caught up with the Western one very well at all over the past 25 years. While a lot of this hinges on East Germany having developed a ton of debt over the course of its existence, this is less a case of ‘people don’t learn from bad policies’ and more of one ‘people don’t see the bigger picture very well.’

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          The very fact that the West German economy was far superior to the East German economy in 1990 is pretty strong evidence that socialism did indeed substantially reduce the quality of life of East Germans.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Reduce over what? A shot to all hell post-war Germany? Not so much reduce as much as not improve at quite as good a rate.

          • PGD says:

            Isn’t the question not whether the West German economy was ‘superior’ (whatever that means) to the East German economy, but whether West Germans were happier than East Germans? And what is your expertise in that question, as compared to an East German who lived through the transition?

          • vV_Vv says:

            Isn’t the question not whether the West German economy was ‘superior’ (whatever that means) to the East German economy, but whether West Germans were happier than East Germans?

            Given that the East German government had to build a big wall to prevent its citizens from moving to West Germany, and that nevertheless many East Germans risked their lives to illegally cross the border, it can be safely claimed that the quality of life in East Germany was inferior to the quality of life in West Germany.

      • PGD says:

        Why are you so quick to conclude that people who actually lived under a system drew the wrong conclusions from their daily experience over their entire lives, while you who have done nothing but read about the system (likely mostly in books written by people who hated it) must have drawn the right conclusions?

      • Lesser Bull says:

        Why would joining up with a much richer country suddenly make you averse to sharing other people’s money?

    • DanielLC says:

      That’s over an hour long. Do you have a summary? Or at least a transcript?

      • onyomi says:

        Well he describes a whole bunch of statistics basically proving that the median voter has stupider (as defined by economists) opinions on all kinds of issues than one might expect, and that policy is actually *better* than one might expect. That is, policy is far from what it would be if it were designed by economists, but it’s actually closer to that than would be expected based on public opinion polls on issues like free trade, immigration, etc.

        He further describes how many obviously stupid laws often perceived as only existing due to lobbying and the like, such as farm subsidies, actually enjoy widespread public support. That is, to the extent that current policy is any good at all, it’s often because of the public *not* really getting what they claim to want.

        The bad thing about this is that, if Caplan is basically correct, we can’t make policy a lot better just by fighting against the power of special interest groups getting in the way of what people really want.

        The good news is that our government may not actually be as hopelessly beholden to special interests as we think. People are actually getting the government they deserve, or maybe even a better government than they deserve.

        • stillnotking says:

          “Special interests” are less often shadowy cabals of corporate lobbyists than quite public cabals of single-issue voters. When I lived in Oregon, I constantly heard it claimed that “special interests” were blocking environmental legislation (with the former connotation), from people who had obviously never visited Tillamook or any other logging town, to see the dozens of handmade anti-environmentalist banners in shop windows. Same thing with the coal industry in West Virginia, corn subsidies in Iowa, etc. Corporations are certainly not above fanning the flames, but they rarely have to start the fire.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, I’d agree. Perhaps to summarize the point: there is more widespread, real support for whatever awful position you think only exists as “astroturf” or as the result of the influence of shadowy cabals, big corporate interests, etc.

            The same probably applies to candidates. I don’t know anyone (and I know a lot of Republicans) who thinks nominating Jeb Bush is a good idea, for example, and yet…

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Someone long ago said to me:

            “A ‘special interest’ is an interest I don’t like.”

          • Alraune says:

            I don’t know anyone (and I know a lot of Republicans) who thinks nominating Jeb Bush is a good idea, for example, and yet…

            That’s not surprising. Give people a list and they’ll check a name, ask them in person and they just throw up their hands (unless they’re a Paul groupie). Support’s a probabilistic thing at this point, ~12% or whatever it is pick Jeb each time, but they aren’t the same 12%.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            “Special interests” are less often shadowy cabals of corporate lobbyists than quite public cabals of single-issue voters.

            I suspect this is more common than most of us want to admit. Maybe it’s more psychologically satisfying to think that your Good and Honest political desires are opposed by Big Evil than it is to come to terms with the idea that there might just be millions of citizens out there who have a good faith disagreement with you.

            And, of course, there are single-issue voters. The example that springs to mind is gun control: I often meet progressive friends who can’t figure out how it is that the United States won’t implement firearm restrictions that seem so self-evidently correct to them. So naturally they gin up a Big Evil to attribute this to (usually the NRA). Leaving aside the wisdom or unwisdom of such policies, it seems to me it’s a lot simpler than that. Progressives usually have a whole raft of policy issues on which they evaluate candidates, and if candidates vary across those issues one will be selected on her aggregate stance on all of them. But there’s a swathe of the country that selects a candidate based on one issue–gun rights–and assumes (probably correctly) that if the candidate lines up with them on that issue, the rest of the candidate’s views are probably acceptable.

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          People are actually getting the government they deserve, or maybe even a better government than they deserve.

          I don’t think this is at all the case. To use Caplan’s terminology, voters are rationally irrational. Under democracy, it simply doesn’t pay for voters to be well-informed and ration about politics, so most of them aren’t. The fault lies with the perverse inventives created by the system, not the individual vice of voters.

          • onyomi says:

            I would say that if you believe that democracy, which, even on the interpretation of its most staunch defenders requires a somewhat informed populace, is a good form of government, and yet remain a rationally ignorant voter, then you kind of deserve the bad government that results.

          • John Schilling says:

            It seems strange to suggest that people deserve punishment, in the form of bad government, for being rational. Rational ignorance really is rational. And in this case, rational ignorance includes not just the details of the political issues du jour, but also of the failings and general non-goodness of democracy and the existence and merits of alternative forms of government.

            If you live in a western nation, you’re going to live in a democracy no matter what. Why waste your time learning about trivia that will never be of practical importance in your life? Believe what the people around you believe; this will make it easier to get along with them, and otherwise makes no difference at all.

            This is rational behavior for anyone who doesn’t like playing politics-geek trivia games. And if you are a politics geek, you get extra bonus points when your preferred system of government can be expected to deliver good results even when populated by the rationally ignorant.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            I don’t believe that democracy is a good system of government. You presumably don’t either. So no, people do not deserve the bad governments they vote for.

            But even an unabashed supporter of democracy could easily argue that democracy is the best form of government, despite having these major flaws. Something like Churchill’s line about democracy being the worst form of government, except for all the others that had been tried.

          • stillnotking says:

            I do believe democracy is a good system of government, but not because it expresses the will of the people. Its main virtue is periodic, orderly transfers of power; this works about equally well whether the election is a national plebiscite or a dozen guys in a smoke-filled room. The most important thing is that aspiring leaders have a plausible avenue to power which doesn’t involve armies or coups.

          • FJ says:

            @John Schilling: “It seems strange to suggest that people deserve punishment, in the form of bad government, for being rational.”

            Really? Let’s say I see a feeble old man holding a large wad of cash. I could knock him down and steal the money. If there’s no one else around and the wad of cash is large enough, my expected utility for stealing the money would be positive. Stealing the money would be entirely rational. Is it really that strange that some moral philosophies would say that I deserve to be punished for acting rationally?

          • onyomi says:

            People who don’t believe in democracy deserve better. People who believe in democracy and do their part to be really well informed deserve better. People who believe in democracy, which implies the need for at least some of the populous to be informed, and which is also a claim on the right to control some aspects of other people’s lives, and yet who remain ignorant anyway, do not deserve a better government, especially if they do actually vote.

            An ignorant vote is not an innocent act. It has consequences and people deserve those consequences so long as they support the system and participate in it.

            Otherwise, government is just like some kind of hurricane or earthquake that descends on us from outer space and which is none of our faults. Fighting Moloch begins by taking responsibility for Moloch, even if each person only deserves one tiny share of it. “Societal trust won’t collapse if I personally lie and deceive all the time,” would not be a good excuse for the small damage to societal trust my personal lying and deceiving does. If I lie and deceive all the time but enjoy the benefits of a high trust society, then I am getting a better society than I deserve, even if there’s no rational, selfish reason for me to be honest.

            The quote about special interests is clever, but I think the phrase has real meaning on Caplan’s interpretation here: it just means a much smaller group than the great majority of voters. I don’t like farm subsidies, but if 80% of the American public genuinely supports them, I can’t honestly say that farm subsidization is just a special interest issue.