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

Skin In The Game

I.

One of the most interesting responses I got to my post supporting the junior doctors strike was by Salem, who said that this situation was (ethically) little different than that around adjunct professors, who also become overworked and miserable trying to break into a high-status profession. Salem very kindly didn’t directly accuse me of hypocrisy, but maybe he should have.

While I sympathize with adjuncts’ terrible conditions, my natural instinct is to say feedback mechanisms should keep doing their work. You can probably trace the argument- imagine a simplified toy model where the only two jobs are professor and salesperson, and being a professor is fun and high-status but being a salesperson is boring and low-status. Everyone will become a professor, and this will decrease the demand for professors and increase the demand for salespeople until the employers involved change their policies accordingly. Eventually it will stabilize where the nonmonetary advantages of being a professor are perfectly compensated by the monetary advantages of being a salesperson. If professors are getting paid shockingly little, it means the system is sending a signal that the nonmonetary advantages of being a professor are shockingly high, or else why would people keep trying? If we demand that professors get paid more, then we’re letting them keep all their nonmonetary advantages over salespeople but demanding they have monetary advantages as well. It destroys the system’s incentives to have people go into less fun but nevertheless necessary fields.

All of this makes perfect sense in the adjunct case. So why do I feel so differently in the doctor case?

Maybe for personal reasons. When I was in college, my two dueling career plans were doctor and philosophy professor. I brought this up with my professors, who universally told me not to go into academia. They told me that it was grueling, thankless, and for the vast majority of people involved doomed to failure, and that they couldn’t in good conscience advise me to try it. I listened to their advice and became a doctor instead. It might not have quite the I-can’t-believe-they’re-paying-me-to-do-this amazingness of debating metaethics all day, but I still love it and it has much better career prospects.

So I guess you could argue that one reason I have less sympathy for adjuncts is that letting them achieve their goal would be a kick in the face to Past-Scott, who made what he considered the sober choice and went into a better-paying profession. If it turns out all I had to do was hang on a few years, and then the government would decree that people who got paid to argue about metaethics had to have career prospects as good as doctors’, then I was a huge chump to try to do things the hard way. Maybe it’s that fear of chumpness that makes it harder to sympathize.

And maybe the reason I feel such solidarity with doctors is that it’s not supposed to be a profession you go into knowing you have no hope. Healing the sick is a lot more practical and socially-subsidizable an activity than pondering Truth; it seems like the sort of thing it should be easy to get paid for. Here in America, this is the conventional wisdom: make it into medicine, and you’re promised a pretty good career. So maybe my solidarity with British doctors is a big cultural misunderstanding. Maybe, coming from America, I’ve absorbed a social promise that doctors will be treated well (which is true in America), but in Britain those doctors go into medical school knowing 100% that their lives will be unbearable and their compensation miniscule. Maybe they do it anyway because for them medicine is as much of an I-can’t-believe-they’re-paying-me-to-do-this as philosophy is to me.

Suppose somebody tells me that before going to medical school, every doctor in the British Isles has to sign a Waiver Of Appreciation Of Consequences, which spells out in excruciating detail all of the horrible things about a medical career. It says exactly how many 100 hour weeks they’ll be expected to work, exactly how many 36-hour shifts they’ll take, does its best to give them an idea how much senior doctors will abuse them. Maybe there’s even a video portion that has interviews with disgruntled current doctors describing in explicit detail all the worst things that have happened to them. Maybe they even have to shadow current junior doctors, work 36 hour shifts themselves even though they can’t do any procedures yet, just so that they can never claim that they didn’t understand on an experiential level what a 36-hour shift means. Suppose the government (unlike in the real world) does this 100% fairly and accurately, and then they stick to it – ie as bad as things are, they never get any worse than the video promised. And suppose that after all of this, representatives from Private Industry come in to discuss their options for non-medical jobs, and explain how conditions in these jobs will probably be much better. If a medical student signs this waiver, completes their training, graduates, hates their job, and demands better pay and conditions, can we have any sympathy for them?

(I’m talking about a hypothetical world here. In the real world, we have to consider that lots of people didn’t know what they were going into, and the thing they were going into keeps getting worse than they were led to expect. This is purely a Least Convenient Possible World argument here.)

The first argument we might use is that instead of focusing on the virtue of the employee, we should focus on the problems with society. That is, who cares whether the doctor made a good choice or not? Society still owes people decent jobs and working conditions. I think I reject this argument. There are some decent jobs attainable by the sorts of people who could become doctors (this is not true for everyone, but it’s pretty true of the people who could become doctors), and not every alternative has to be great for everybody. Suppose there are many entry-level gardening jobs available, but I become a skyscraper-window-washer. Then I complain because I am afraid of heights, and I want special accomodations for this. When you say “maybe you should try a different line of work”, I say “stop making this about my virtue and start focusing on the problems with society such that it can’t give everyone decent conditions.” It’s not a very sympathetic argument. Society is totally allowed to have jobs that not everybody would enjoy as long as it gives everybody a wide range of options.

(one might argue that nobody could possibly enjoy being a junior doctor, but weirdly enough this is false. There are some people who love it. I usually assume these people are on cocaine, but maybe some of them aren’t.)

The second argument we might use is that instead of focusing on the virtue of the employee, we should focus on distortions in the economy. Who decided to have a medical career consist of ten to twenty years of misery followed by an elusive opportunity to get a really nice job with great pay and hours? Isn’t part of the problem that hospitals aren’t competing for junior doctors? Can we oppose dualization of the labor force as just a generally bad idea? I think this argument is right, but I also think there’s still a lingering question of “Okay, but since we do have this terrible industry with bad incentives, should we feel sympathy for people who voluntarily place themselves right in the middle of it?”

The third argument we might use is that we sometimes need to save people from their terrible decisions. Just as we ban people from permanently selling themselves into slavery, no matter how aware they are of the consequences when they make the deal, so maybe we should assume that signing the Waiver Of Appreciation of Consequences is an irrational decision motivated by time discounting and that people’s future selves ought to be freed from the tyranny of their past selves’ poor judgment. There’s definitely some truth to this, but it’s also a little too close to the policies of the BETA-MEALR Party for comfort. And doesn’t this ignore that doctors aren’t slaves, and can leave the medical profession any time they want? Even if there are some reasons they can’t (difficulty finding other jobs, sunk cost effects) wouldn’t it be less distortionary to smooth their path to non-medical careers than to try to reform medicine?

All of this makes sense. And yet as a psychiatrist, I constantly have people come into my office saying their jobs are making them suicidal. You would think somebody would leave a job before it makes them suicidal, but this doesn’t always happen (the same is true of relationships, by the way). My suggestions that maybe they find a different job or boyfriend tend to fall on deaf ears.

I think one big reason I am so much more sympathetic to doctors than adjuncts is that I know them and have worked with them and I can see a reality – both a real reality and an emotional reality – that makes the model look kind of weak and threadbare.

II.

A few years ago I rented a house. In the rental contract, it said “tenant must have their own rental insurance to cover damages to the property”. I reminded my landlord that rental insurance mostly just covers damages to the renter’s stuff, and that the landlord usually has a separate property insurance to cover damages to the property, and that the way he was doing it might not even be legal. He just said yes it was and I had better get the rental insurance. I made a mental note to get the rental insurance and then got distracted by everything else in life and never got around to it.

A few years later, a pipe burst and the house flooded. The damage was assessed at way more than I had the ability to pay. I told the landlord he had better fix it, and the landlord told me I had better get my rental insurance to fix it for me – ie, the rental insurance I had forgotten to get.

There followed a gigantic disaster. I asked some lawyers whether the landlord was legally required to insure his own property, and they gave me vague and conflicting answers, then all agreed that even if he was it would cost more money than I had to fight the case in court. I ended up on the verge of breakdown. The landlord was clearly deliberately stonewalling me, trying to make it as hard as possible for me to figure out what was going on in the hopes that I gave in and gave him the money I didn’t have. Eventually, after several months’ of living out of a friend’s spare room while I tried to get the fate of the house sorted out, we settled out of court for a big fraction of my life’s savings.

(I later got some evidence that the landlord did have the property insured and was running some kind of insurance scam trying to get the money out of both me and his insurance, but that’s a different story and I’m still not sure either way)

The reason I bring this up was that for the duration of the crisis, and to a lesser degree even to the present, I was utterly convinced that the government had an obligation to make sure landlords insure their properties. Offering a contract where the tenant was responsible for insuring the property? Totally unacceptable. Maybe even a human rights violation. What’s the new phrase people are using these days? “A denial of your right to exist”? Even so.

It’s easy to craft the argument where I’m in the wrong. Different landlords should be allowed to experiment with different arrangements as long as their terms are clearly listed in their contracts and the other contracting party agrees to them. I signed the contract then failed to do what the contract said, and clearly I needed to pay the penalty. We can imagine some nanny-state laws that might ameliorate that – for example, if a contract says a tenant must purchase insurance, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to make sure the insurance was actually purchased – but the arguments for implementing these laws are on really shaky ground.

And all I’m saying is that in the middle of this crisis, I had no sympathy for any of this. In the middle of this crisis, my thought was that I had worked really hard for years to get a little bit of money saved up, I was going to lose all of it for some burst pipe that wasn’t my fault, this was cosmically unfair, somebody needed to do something about it, the landlord was a big company that probably had millions of dollars, and somebody needed to do something about this right now.

III.

An article by Freddie deBoer in this month’s Current Affairs proposes “Journalistic Self-Outsourcing”. DeBoer notes that lots of journalists and intellectuals suggest that protectionism and other anti-globalization policies are immoral. For example, Zack Beauchamp of Vox calls Bernie Sanders’ skepticism of free trade “screwing the global poor”; Brad deLong calls the same “a call to keep China a society of poor subsistence rice farmers as long as possible – keep them poor, barefoot, uneducated, and by no means allow them to work at any of the high-value manufacturing occupations we want to keep in the United States.”

DeBoer has a few things to say about how we should take money away from the rich in a way that can help both poor Americans and poor Chinese, but he quickly transitions into the barb he clearly relishes: if Beauchamp and DeLong are so in favor of poor Chinese people, how come they haven’t outsourced their jobs? They both earn quite a bit of money, and China must have some decent journalists and economists who would love to telecommute to well-paid American positions. Are DeLong and Beauchamp hypocrites for not arranging to expedite the transition of their jobs to Chinese people?

One argument in their favor: they’re currently living in a relatively globalized world, their employers must have the option of replacing them with Chinese people, but both of them still have jobs. This suggests that maybe journalism and economics aren’t as replaceable as deBoer thinks. Beauchamp might be able to retort “As soon as Vox finds a Chinese journalist who’s as good as I am they’re welcome to hire him/her, but until then I can stay on, secure in the consistency of my principles.” Presumably he can say this without fear, since the subtleties of being in touch with the pulse of the American people and writing English-language articles would elude most lower-class Chinese.

But this lets them off too easily for purely contingent reasons. Even granting that they can’t be replaced with Chinese people right away, are they forced to will their replacement with Chinese people, deep in their hearts? Should Beauchamp go into work every morning asking his boss whether he’s found a suitable Chinese person to replace him with yet, and be disappointed every time his boss says no?

Again, there’s a contingent argument otherwise. If you’re really pro-globalization, you might believe that it’s impossible for the Chinese to take all our jobs, in the same way that the Luddite Fallacy says it’s impossible for robots to take all our jobs. The more Chinese take manufacturing jobs, the more Americans will have lots of money which will encourage new service jobs that the Chinese can’t easily take. If this is Beauchamp’s argument, he could say that we should globalize all the jobs that can be globalized, including his if possible, and then he will just move to an unglobalizable job. Since his job hasn’t been globalized yet, maybe he’s already in an unglobalizable job, so people should just stop bothering him.

But this is still too contingent. Let’s least convenient possible world again, and suppose that economists determine that there are permanent negative effects on American jobs from Chinese globalization, those effects disproportionately go to the poorest Americans, and no new unglobalizable jobs arise to restore cosmic balance. Now does Beauchamp have to will his own replacement?

Okay, argument from the other side: suppose a 1980s version of Beauchamp is writing an article against apartheid in South Africa. The South African whites argue that if apartheid ends, they’ll be competing for jobs against much poorer blacks and so their quality of life will go way down. They say that if Beauchamp really wants to end apartheid, he himself should give up his journalist position to a South African black who will take it for a few dollars a day.

I’m both very convinced that the right thing to do in that situation would be to fight apartheid, and also convinced that the South Africans would be right about the personal jab – the median American journalist who pushed the fight wouldn’t want his job taken over by Zulus willing to work for lower wages. When I put myself in that situation, and imagine myself being undercut by foreigners willing to practice medicine for almost nothing, I’m pretty pissed off about the idea too.

So maybe we should just let the journalist keep being a hypocrite. Journalists are pretty privileged people, and if we call journalists hypocrites every time they stand up for the less privileged without giving up all their own privilege, we’ll probably just end up with journalists who stop standing up for the less privileged.

IV.

Consider two contradictory arguments.

The first says that people who experience a problem have unique insight into it, and people who don’t experience it debate it from a position of ignorance or callousness. Thus a rich person can say “The poor don’t need help because they can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”, but a poor person knows this is harder than it sounds. There’s a really boring sense of this in which the poor person may know specific facts the rich person is missing – for example, the rich person might falsely think welfare is much more generous than it is. But then a rich person who’s read a lot of books on poverty might claim to have a better perspective than the poor person, since she would likely know more about the welfare system. The more interesting claim is that there’s a sort of near-mode-vs-far-mode thing going on here, where things that are easy to dismiss in the abstract become a lot more relevant in the concrete. A really good example of this is Hitchens’ waterboarding – he said he thought it was an acceptable interrogation technique, some people offered to waterboard him to see if he changed his mind, and he quickly did. I’m fascinated by this incident because it’s hard for me to understand, in a Mary’s Room style sense, what he learned from the experience. He must have already known it was very unpleasant – otherwise why would you even support it as useful for interrogation? But somehow there’s a difference between having someone explain to you that waterboarding is horrible, and undergoing it yourself. Just so with everything else. Under this view, the only people we should trust to tell us whether junior doctors get treated fairly are junior doctors; the only people we should trust to tell us whether globalization is acceptable are people whose own jobs are on the line.

The second says that people with skin in the game are the last people we should be trusting. Who do you trust to tell you how many subsidies the government should give the oil companies? Some economist in the budget watchdog organization who calculates exactly what the costs and benefits are? Or an oil company CEO who says “Trust me, we need lots and lots of money”? Under this argument, everyone has access to logic and reason, people detached from the situation are able to use it, and people within the situation are (perhaps excusably) motivated by self-interest. We can perhaps understand the fears of the white South African who thinks he’ll lose his job and end up bankrupt, but it’s our job as dispassionate external observers to notice that his concerns are outweighed by the concerns of other people whom his self-interest makes him unable to understand. And the last person you want giving you a sober cost-benefit analysis of torture is the person who is being waterboarded – everyone knows a waterboarding victim will say anything at all to make it stop!

The second argument obviously has its uses, but I’m fascinated by the first. In the few cases where I have direct experience with it, it seems to bring knowledge beyond just “this is really bad”. In fact, the anti-junior-doctor argument seems resistant to just learning medicine is worse than you thought – if anything, medicine being very bad makes the argument stronger, since it means the doctor should be extra quick to listen to feedback and go into a different career. But somehow experience with doctors has made me much more reluctant to believe that argument. In the same way, one could imagine Hitchens saying “Yes, this waterboarding is really unpleasant – good thing that means it’ll be really easy to make the terrorists want to talk” – but that wasn’t the conclusion he drew from it.

I guess the thing I’m not sure about is – does personal experience/”skin in the game” reduce fully to factual propositions? Does a factory worker have an advantage over a journalist in understanding globalization just because he knows that being laid off is really bad, and that it’s harder to get a new job than a journalist thinks – two things we would expect any journalist worth their salt to already know about? Or is there some hard-to-communicate knowledge that’s neither factual nor just a cover for “the secret hard-to-communicate knowledge that I am selfish and want a system that benefits me rather than other people”?

Awkwardly, my far mode says that there isn’t and my near mode says that there is.

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574 Responses to Skin In The Game

  1. c0rw1n says:

    “Or is there some hard-to-communicate knowledge that’s neither factual nor just a cover for “the secret hard-to-communicate knowledge that I am selfish and want a system that benefits me rather than other people”.”

    You count the cost/gains in happiness, qalys, ihdi, whichever other relevant measures, of unemployement/job displacement, overwork, income gain/loss, and multiply by the amount of people concerned. That’s what censuses are for. Shut up and multiply, utilitarian :p

    • Yes – but doesn’t this style of reasoning assuming the “far-mode”? In other words, utilitarianism makes dispassion be the default perspective. I think this same conundrum could be phrased as:

      How does one go about including non-quantifiable experiential data in calculating the utilitarian good?

      I myself am in an academic setting, and so resonate more with adjuncts as compared to junior doctors. But because I care about adjuncts, I can care about junior doctors through metaphor. In order to really get a handle on the ethics of this case, I think it’s worthwhile to consider the rate of change: is the career field still majorly akin to how it was discussed when you made your choice? In both of these cases, the answer seems to be “no”. Adjunct professors are paid less than they used to be, and junior doctors are worked harder than they used to be. Communication of the expectations matter in capitalism. Even if the system doesn’t change, the communication of expectations should, so that people can make informed choices.

      • Teal says:

        If the rate of change is steady and the absolute change isn’t that large, does that make a difference?

        In the specific case of adjuncting / academia, I already saw professors warning students away from it 20 years ago when I was in college. Certainly there are some adjuncts out there that decided to go to graduate school 30 years ago (i.e. in their 50s) when I don’t know know what the message was, but I think the central example of a bitter adjunct is in his or her mid to late 30s.

        • ascientificchristian says:

          Yes, I think the rate of change does matter. As for me, the adjuncts I know who are in their 30’s knew what they signed up for and were willing to do it anyway for flexibility, etc. They might still complain, but just as everyone complains about their jobs. The really bitter folks seem to be older. But this is just from my personal experience, which of course may not be representative.

    • Frog Do says:

      The existence of relevant/useful/computable measures is exactly the problem.

      • Paolo Giarrusso says:

        Yes. In far mode, how do we
        – measure emotional pain sensibly enough, and
        – model actual irrational humans rather than rational agents? Say, beyond the sunken cost fallacy, your job is often part of your identity.

        Once we figure that near mode and the associated empathy is needed to measure emotional pain, it’s clear that “I don’t trust oil companies to know about oil companies” is not (by itself) a good argument for far mode—unless we assume that oil companies themselves have feelings.

        • Ken Arromdee says:

          Oil companies are made up of people who feel emotions.

        • Loah says:

          Hey Paolo, I’ve been thinking about your comment since yesterday and I’ve yet to make sense of that last paragraph. Specifically “unless we assume that oil companies themselves have feelings”; and since I can’t make sense of that sentence, I presume my understanding of the rest must be faulty. Could you explain a bit further?

    • Anonymous says:

      “Or is there some hard-to-communicate knowledge that’s neither factual nor just a cover for “the secret hard-to-communicate knowledge that I am selfish and want a system that benefits me rather than other people”

      Magic: The Gathering is a trading card game I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with, so I’m going to use it for a metaphor.

      First some wiki copy paste for the uninitiated:

      White is the color of order, equality, righteousness, healing, law, community, peace, absolutism/totalitarianism, and light.

      Blue is the color of intellect, reason, illusion, logic, knowledge, manipulation, and trickery.

      Black is the color of power, ambition, greed, death, illness, corruption, selfishness, amorality, and sacrifice; it is not necessarily evil.

      Red is the color of freedom, chaos, passion, creativity, impulse, fury, warfare, lightning, the classical element of fire, and the non-living geological aspects of the classical element earth.

      Green is the color of life, nature, reality, evolution/adaptability, ecology, interdependence, instinct, and indulgence.

      Right now, the vast majority of people can be placed somewhere on the color pie. Systems and ideologies certainly can. Of course it is always complex, colors mix and interact with each other. All combinations exist. Colors almost never manifest pure, and when they do they form things really weird and inhuman.

      I would say SSC is predominatly Blue-White, occasionally flirting with Red.

      There is penta-color too, trying to mix everything to win the game… People try all kinds of things and miss the real point; That we should strive to be great players of Magic: The Gathering and have lots of fun instead of being played ourselves.

      • rhaps0dy says:

        Could you explain the metaphor please? I don’t see a link of the game of Magic: The Gathering (which we should strive to be great players of) and the matter at hand.

      • Anonymous Planeswalker says:

        Oh man, I love Magic but what the fuck are you even talking about?

      • Anonymous says:

        “the secret hard-to-communicate knowledge that I am selfish and want a system that benefits me rather than other people”

        “the secret hard-to-communicate knowledge that I’m not necessarily selfish but I don’t feel an aesthetic obligation to play the system-making/enforcing game by the same rules and values you are, or with the same colors, or to play that much.”

        Maybe something like that? It really is hard to communicate if the other person is not playing by same rules (Blue-White in this case) or “meta-rules” (“Mastery” of Magic: The Gathering).

        I got the impression Scott was trying to see the world from a Blue-White perspective and judge people from a Blue-White morality without acknowledging this, thus feelings of hypocrisy and so on. Argument 1 vs Argument 2 is essentially an Azorius thing, applied to the kind of stuff Blue-White sucks at.

        I apologize if this sounds too convoluted…

      • Sniffnoy says:

        The MTG color pie is really nice structurally — in particular, I really like Taymon Beal’s point 11 here, that it emphasizes that differing philosophies don’t fall neatly onto axes, but rather see each other at an angle. But it’s a poor fit for real life. In particular, tribalism, despite being really common and I’d say fundamental to understanding humanity, doesn’t fit neatly into the color pie. It often gets classed as W/B, or sometimes R or W/R, but none of those really fit it properly.

        • Anonymous says:

          Hmmm.

          Tribalism is complex, I wouldn’t try to fit it to or define it by one color or combination. “Manifestations” of most kinds can show it.

          If I had to fit it somehow…

          Green: Blood-related tribalism, “natural” “genetic” etc. The base of the tribal tingles.

          White: Hierarchy, culture, coerced tribalism, larger than the animalistic tribe in scope.

          Red: Non-hierarchy alliances, ideological or born from shared “unnatural” impulses, more defined by their current common enemies/obstacles than any Green-White sense of unity.

          Green-White are the most common. Black and Blue obviously appear in the same “manifestations” (As do the other colors in non-tribal ways) but should be understood as separate from tribalism for this purpose.

    • charcoalhibiscus says:

      My recent understanding is that the answer is “there’s some hard-to-communicate knowledge [about situations like this] that’s some combination of factual (just non-intuitive) and emotional impact-related.”

      An example: two years ago I suddenly developed a medical condition that caused a good deal of pain when I tried to do things like “sit” or “walk for more than a couple blocks”, and I was facing down the possibility of it being permanent. Previous to this I had sympathy for the fact that situations like that suck a lot. But turns out there were a *lot* of unpredictably very sucky things like “waking up every morning with a flash of hope that maybe today will be better, and then it turns out not to be” which made it much worse than anticipated.

      Those things were harder to communicate to other people, and some of them would have been hard to notice from the inside if it hadn’t been so sudden that I could see the contrast (and again the contrast when I did eventually get it fixed) but were very very relevant. I’ve since been paying more attention, and I’ve seen this model validated in many other contexts as well.

  2. Jacobian says:

    OK, here’s the model I’m beginning to form: all these dilemmas (doctors, adjuncts, apartheid, waterboarding) involve making a trade-off between the welfare / suffering of different groups. The problem is, no human is dispassionate enough to weigh the people in each group equally, and sharing the experience of one group makes you identify with them more and give them more weight.

    For example, Hitchens definitely gave more weight to the “westerners” group than the “terrorist” group at first, but after being drowned felt himself closer to the “people being interrogated” group and farther from the “soldiers” group. The same way the journalist may be far enough away from both the Chinese and the factory workers to give them equal weight, but if her job was under threat suddenly “Americans with globalizable jobs” becomes the much more salient community and the one she wants to help. She hasn’t learned a lot of information, but her ethical weights have shifted.

    On one hand, this implies that the highest-utility decision would be made by someone removed and disinterested. On the other hand, no person alive is a perfect utilitarian, we all draw our circles and make our unprincipled exceptions. I would say that “British doctors” are a much closer group to you than “British adjuncts”, let alone “British government officials”. Then again, I can’t really judge you for that.

    • Dennis Ochei says:

      This is pretty cogent. You can’t really get your skin out of the game, if you could you probably wouldn’t care what happens. The intermediary zone between the amount of detachment required to be impartial and the amount of detachment to required to realize that it’s all arbitrary patterns of matter and energy in a void so idgaf is pretty slim.

      I reach enlightenment on the regular, and it goes like this:

      1. Social acceptable rational self-Interest –> 2. I remember for the n-th time how physics, philosophy, and neuroscience basically all converge on the conclusion that the self is an illusion (or that the boundaries that delimit self from non-self lack ontological weight) –> 3. If Mirrors Aren’t Real, How Can My Anticipation Of Future Subjective Utility Be Real? –> 4. I should do all the things Peter Singer yammers on about, clothing and classes be damned –> 5. Wait, I can’t adopt a universalizable normative system by myself, and the vast majority couldn’t grasp the reasoning that the self is a fiction constructed from autobiographical memory and the fact that they view and interact with the universe from a place and time within it (and not from nowhere and nowhen). It’s not like we’re all jumping on the bandwagon of universal love together. And I don’t even like most people (so what had happened was… I was gonna love my neighbor as myself, but then he turned out to be a colossal prick). If enough of our properties line up maybe we can be friends, but that’s pretty rare. At any rate, humans are basically apes that learned some cool party tricks like speaking and if I was really concerned with minimizing suffering I’d direct all my effort to non-human animal suffering, and on that note, humans pretty much have to go, like all of them, and maybe a lot of other animals too, as Nature is basically one big blender of suffering (“Organisms go in, meat comes out”). And how far does this go, what’s the smallest system that can suffer? Can an energetically trapped electron be said to be unhappy? I’m feeling sympathetic to presentism today, but if only the infinitesimal time slice that comprises the present exists then things that are extended in time, such as feelings (like suffering) aren’t even real. Anyway, it’s all meaningless points in the state space of the universe…. –> 6. Misanthropic, socially unacceptable rational self interest –> aaaaannnd back to #1.

      It’s a fun ride, and my mind apparently will punch my ticket an unlimited number of times.

      I find it rather impossible to sit at just detached enough

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        The Buddhists seem to have a way out of that.

      • chaosbunt says:

        it may be that only the present exists, but it still is causally chained to past and future. a feeling as a specific state of your brain is still real, as it was caused by something and its extension in time depends on the continuation of its causes. presentism only conflicts extended phenomena if you give up causality for some weird came-from-randomness-going-to-randomness chaos.

        • Dennis Ochei says:

          I mentioned it as an example of abstract reasoning that terminates at a metaphysical thesis that is capable of coloring your value judgements about concrete cases…

          I didn’t really intend it as a jumping off point on the metaphysics of time…but since we’re here…

          I do think the Presentist does have some recourse to retrieve everyday concepts of temporally extended objects, but ultimately the theory cashes out at the unreality of things that the naive conception takes for granted and that other conceptions are capable of retaining. For instance, if 4 times I make a tire and then dismantle it, make an engine and dismantle it, make a rear suspension and dismantle it, etc, at no point in time will anyone say I have made a car. This only matters practically when the composite has significance over and above its parts (you can’t drive car parts downtown). I think it’s a more basic intuition that the the components of a composite must be simultaneously actualized for the composite to be actualized. I think the Presentist either has to reject this notion outright, or deny the reality of temporally extended objects while explaining the illusion of their reality.

          Returning to the significance of the composite, I don’t really care if my brain is in such and such state at such and such time, instead I care if the succession of states my brain goes through composes a positive or negative experience. It is only this capacity of brain states to form subjective experiences that gives them any salience. It might be the case that any one brain state by itself might be benign, and only taken together with other brain states does it have meaning. A C# is only out of tune in a melody of the key of C. If no such composition goes through, due to the components never being simultaneously actual, then it seems I should not care what state my brain is in.

          Ultimately, most days I think Presentism falls flat on its face, due to a large extent to its apparent conflict with Special Relativity. But even more damning is that the Eternalist perspective readily reconstructs itself out of a Presentist’s attempt to banish it. If we talk of the present at different times or the present transforming (the present was one way and now it is another), an eternal temporal axis springs forth and we become Eternalists merely wearing a mangled language. I don’t think any philosopher is so radical in their Presentism that they would abandon talk of change.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        I think part of the problem is that the whole “self is an illusion, therefore helping others is the same as helping yourself” thing isn’t really a very good argument at all. I consider it a total dead end in terms of convincing people to be more altruistic. People who are completely ignorant of all that research in physics, philosophy, and neuroscience often manage to be altruistic and dedicated to making the world a better place. And I think that in a Least Convenient Possible World where the boundaries of selfhood possess tons of ontological weight, helping others, reducing suffering, and so on would all still be good things.

        Making people better off, reducing suffering, etc. are just good, period. You don’t need to make them good by using some kind of verbal sleight-of-hand and clever rationalizations to pretend that helping others is somehow exactly the same as helping yourself.

        On top of all that, I think we probably actually live in somewhere close to that Least Convenient Possible world where the self isn’t a fiction or an illusion. Most of the arguments I’ve seen against the idea of selfhood are extraordinarily bad. They are usually based around the idea that since there are some instances where we can disrupt our intuitive “sense of self,” the self must not be real, or that if the boundaries of selfhood can sometimes be fuzzy, it must not be real. These arguments are, respectively, like assuming momentum isn’t real because we can disrupt our intuitive sense of motion, and assuming that we can’t tell if Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man or a woman because trans and intersex people exist.

        I think part of the problem is that some people tend to view the intuitive sense of selfhood as the very essence of self and personhood. I never have, and that view has only strengthened after I was introduced to preference utilitarianism. I think it makes more sense to view people as collections of preferences vaguely approximating a VNM utility function, and that a more robust sense of selfhood consists of the preferences one has about changes to the substrate that function runs on, and what conscious experiences the substrate the preferences are linked to has.

        I think this view makes much more intuitive sense. For example, I once came across people arguing about the ethics of killing sleeping people. They all seemed totally insane to me, because they seemed to assume that a person stopped existing when they went to sleep and started existing again when they woke up. That seems obviously nuts to me, your preferences don’t stop being stored in your brain just because you’re unconscious. They mistakenly thought that the sense of self that only waking people felt was somehow the essence of personhood, and that if it was gone the person was too. That’s just silly.

    • LPSP says:

      “She hasn’t learned a lot of information, but her ethical weights have shifted.”

      Or to be ultra-glib, she’s gained new feelings. I can’t decide whether this is the perfect answer to Scott’s “secret knowledge” question, or if it’s a textbook Mysterious Answer.

  3. Mary says:

    One notes that criminals describe the crimes they have committed as bad — in the abstract, or when discussing other people’s committing them.

  4. James Babcock says:

    The situation the striking doctors were in pattern matches very closely to Issendai’s “Sick Systems: How to Keep Someone With You Forever”. And I think this invalidates a few foundational premises from the usual microeconomics: in particular, if the conditions got better, this would cause more people to leave. In econ-jargon the elasticity of supply is negative, and this causes much of the usual economics reasoning to collapse.

    • I don’t think it’s that good a match for Sick Systems– part of what makes Sick Systems so sticky is that people are told both that they’re essential and that they’re too awful to be welcome anywhere else.

      My impression is that the overworked doctors aren’t being told the latter.

    • I haven’t read the source you cite. What’s the mechanism that produces a supply curve that slopes in the wrong direction?

        • After a quick skim, I don’t see how that reverses the slope of the supply curve. You have to get people to choose to come to work for you, and making things obviously miserable doesn’t appear likely to do so.

          I’m not sure how one would get evidence for the theory, but at the moment it looks to me more like rhetoric than economics.

          • If I understand your objection correctly, you’re underestimating how much sick systems misinform people.

            A lot of people don’t have information about what they’re getting into, either because it gets worse gradually or because they don’t take warning signs seriously.

            Once they’re in or the system becomes really sick, they’re given the impression that things will get better once the current emergency is dealt with– but that never happens. They’re also told that they’re not good enough to be welcome in a better situation. Both of these are happening while the person is exhausted, so their judgement isn’t as good as it would otherwise be.

            When I see a bunch of people saying that something is a description of their life, I’m inclined to think that it’s something which really happens, especially if it’s something happening rather than a fear of something that might happen.

  5. The Do-Operator says:

    As a junior academic who was a junior doctor in a former life, I’ve seen this situation from both perspectives. I tend to agree with Salem’s criticism.

    I believe that nobody in their right mind would become a doctor in the UK or Ireland unless they were willing to forego a substantial part of their potential life’s earnings in order to obtain the prestige of being a doctor. From an ethical perspective, the situation is isomorphic to the adjunct faculty crisis.

    I do however think one can argue that there is a key difference: Working in academia is intrinsically rewarding, whereas working in medicine is only rewarding because society assigns high status to the job. I think there is much more of a risk of medicine as a profession losing its status once people become aware of the working conditions, and that nobody will want to go into medicine anymore. Doctors therefore have a better negotiating position than adjunct faculty. This may have implications for the optimal utilitarian solution.

    • From my observations, academics get paid twice: once in money, and then again by being allowed to do their research during work hours rather than having to spend all their time doing more useful stuff like teaching those pesky students. So relatively low pay isn’t in and of itself a problem.

      From the sounds of it (well, I think I found the right post, and skimmed it briefly) adjunct professors in the US are indeed being treated improperly by my standards. (Compare to New Zealand.) But that’s because the US generally considers it perfectly OK for employers to treat employees as improperly as they can get away with – employment at-will, and so on – from my limited perspective, at least, it doesn’t really seem to be something specific to academia, so I’m not sure why any more attention should be focused there than anywhere else.

      • LTP says:

        I think the adjunct issue receives a lot of attention in the media for a number of reasons:

        -Academia very much did not used to be this way, but has drifted in this direction. Compare with, say, retail jobs, which never had good conditions to begin with.

        – Relatedly, the average person has very outdated ideas about the academic labor market. Most people I know think most PhDs get comfy tenure-track research jobs, or else well-paid and still tenured lecturing positions, and see academia as a way of avoiding “the real world job market”. Most still think every Professor they have/had in college was making $80k a year with full benefits, summers off, and a low teaching load. As such, raising awareness is much more important on this issue than with McDonald’s workers, for example, where the issue is more political persuasion and action.

        – A large number of people, even those outside academia, think it *should* be somewhat insulated from normal market forces, for various reasons.

        – Academics sink in much more in terms of money, time, and opportunity cost than your average high-school dropout, so it feels more unjust when they’re treated shittily.

        – Academics are overrepresented in the sorts of communities I, and I assume you, as a reader here, frequent, so it seems like it’s talked about more than it is.

        – Many if not most people entering academia don’t realize what they’re getting into, at least not at a gut level, until it’s too late.

        EDIT: – It’s not just that there is a gap between comparable well-educated and self-motivated peers, e.g. those that go into finance, but the gap is enormous. It’s being apart of the 5% or the 1% versus surviving on food stamps while working 60 hours a week.

        • Julie K says:

          There’s also Alinsky’s line, “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
          The adjunct’s employer is probably more left-wing than the retail worker’s.

          • onyomi says:

            Very much agree with this, and LTP’s comment as well.

            It’s important to know that the academic job market has gotten much worse in the past ten years, which is approximately how long it takes to get the qualifications necessary for a good professor job.

            Also, part of it is that lots of academics feel the world should accommodate by making more good academic jobs rather than that they should accommodate by getting out of academia. This is not just because of the sunk costs and the desire to have a job researching something they love, but also because I think they genuinely, dispassionately desire a world in which academia gets more funding, one way or another, than it currently does.

            Considering the strange funding priorities of universities today (billions spent on making college more and more like a country club for young people funded by government-subsidized loans, as well as on highly paid administrators whose primary job seems to be figuring out how to pay the actual professors less or get by with fewer of them), it’s hard not to sympathize.

            This topic came up repeatedly on Bleeding Heart Libertarians recently, with tenure-track Georgetown professor Jason Brennan repeatedly making the unavoidably douchey-sounding argument that adjuncts basically don’t know how good they have it and that they knew what they were getting into.

            As Scott is biased about being a doctor so I am here biased by being a professor, but no amount of facts Brennan could marshal to his side would convince me he wasn’t being a douche. Because no matter how you look at it, it sounds like a lottery winner arguing against abolishing or changing the lottery to be a less regressive force, since, after all, all the poor lottery losers knew how bad the odds were.

          • “Because no matter how you look at it, it sounds like a lottery winner arguing against abolishing or changing the lottery to be a less regressive force, since, after all, all the poor lottery losers knew how bad the odds were.”

            Unaccustomed as I am to defending Jason Brennan, that’s a poor argument. Abolishing the lottery means preventing people from making a gamble they enjoy making. Do you have any evidence that people who buy lottery tickets have been persuaded that their odds are much better than they actually are?

            The appropriate change isn’t abolishing the lottery, it’s abolishing the government monopoly on lotteries, and thus driving the house cut down to a competitive level.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It appears to me that there is a lot of room for improvement within the existing budget. Universities could hire one-year or three-year lecturers for the same per-course price as one-course adjuncts. This would reduce the time spent on job searches by both sides. It would save the adjuncts time driving from school to school.

            My impression is that the main reason they don’t do this is that the teacher wants to lie to himself and the school to the students that the teacher is still on the research track.

            And maybe the school values the flexibility of hiring per-course. Science departments hire lots of full-time lecturers and only hire part-time adjuncts because they really only want a few more courses taught. But in the humanities, my impression is that they hire tons of adjuncts. Part of that is that they want the teacher to fit the class: intro science classes are commodities, while intro humanities classes are diverse. But even this is, I think, mainly in the service of favoring the lie.

          • onyomi says:

            I’ll agree that making the lottery odds better, or reducing the gap between winners and losers (maybe more $100 jackpots but the top jackpot gets reduced from $100 million to $50 million, say), i. e., making it more “nondual” in Scott’s sense.

            But the big problem with Jason’s argument is that the probability of him making it if he himself were an adjunct seem vanishingly low.

            Of course, this is a big problem in politics generally, one on which I sometimes take the other side: arguments of the form “you only think that because you’re white, cis man!” usually seem uniquely bad.

            I don’t have an easy solution, as I agree with Scott it’s hard to pick either “the people with direct experience are MOST credible” or “the people directly affected are LEAST credible.”

            Maybe it only bothers me because I disagree with Brennan on the object level–I don’t think the current use of adjuncts is moral–and am only looking for a personal reason to dismiss him.

            Yet I don’t think it’s always true one’s views align with one’s interests, either. I can think abolishing federal subsidies for student loans is a good idea even though actually doing so would be disastrous for my own career prospects in the short-run. So maybe Brennan’s just wrong and also a douche.

            A heuristic then, might be, if 100% of people who have ever been waterboarded think waterboarding is a bad idea then maybe we should listen to them. But if some reasonable percentage of people who have been waterboarded still think it would be a useful tool to extract info from our enemies then we can also reasonably consider arguments from those non-experienced.

            I think there are some issues where you can find people arguing against their own immediate self interests because they know what is actually best. And there are others where, for example, 0% of adjuncts think the current adjuncting system is good, where we should probably listen to them, because, if you can find 0% of those actually intimately familiar with the situation to defend it then there’s a very good chance it’s not defensible.

          • The adjunct’s employer is probably more left-wing than the retail worker’s.

            Interesting. The VCs at my workplace have tended to be noticeably right-ring. (Relative to NZ standards rather than US standards, of course. And perhaps I’m judging them relative to other academics rather than to society as a whole.)

            Also: I only just realized that it sounds like adjunct professors don’t get to do research, is that true? I think we had some trouble with that over here a decade or so back, which the Government mostly squashed by requiring all lecturers to be included in the research statistics. Hire someone to give lectures who doesn’t do research, and your stats go down, and you lose funding. [In reality, it’s more complicated than that, and I don’t understand the details. But you get the general idea.]

            So, if I’ve understood that rightly, I definitely think that needs to be squashed. Not so much for the benefit of the academic staff, but as a matter of principle – the whole point of going to a University rather than a Polytech or similar is that you’ll be taught by people who are actually active in the relevant field of research.

            (OK, it probably isn’t really necessary at the first year level. But even so.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Interesting. The VCs at my workplace have tended to be noticeably right-ring.

            What does “VC” mean in this context?

            In the US, except among older veterans, it generally means “Venture Capitalist”, a group which has almost nothing to do with the employment of either adjunct professors or retail workers. And is not particularly representative of any larger group, e.g. capitalists generally.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            > Do you have any evidence that people who buy lottery tickets have been persuaded that their odds are much better than they actually are?

            Considering we named a fallacy after them, I would have thought that the whole Monte Carlo example was pretty good evidence that (a non trivial portion of) gamblers don’t understand probability so it kind of doesn’t matter *what* you tell them the odds are.

            Also, I am under the impression that the recent lottery ticket price rise was undertaken specifically to change the *perception* of the odds and increase participation.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Who wouldn’t want to be anonymous

            gamblers don’t understand probability so it kind of doesn’t matter *what* you tell them the odds are.

            If you mean ordinary people who grab a lottery ticket while picking up a sixpack and putting the rest of their change in whatever donation box is on the counter, the odds they may be thinking of are:

            1. unnoticeable tiny amount, vs
            2. enough money to make some fantastic change in their life

            So what weighs is not the price of the ticket compared with the prize, but the prize compared with how much difference it could make in life. IE, the more stories one sees about lifestyles of the rich and famous, the higher a prize needs to be to sound worth bothering with.

          • onyomi says:

            “it sounds like adjunct professors don’t get to do research, is that true? I think we had some trouble with that over here a decade or so back, which the Government mostly squashed by requiring all lecturers to be included in the research statistics. Hire someone to give lectures who doesn’t do research, and your stats go down, and you lose funding.”

            I don’t know the specific system your talking about, but if American academia is serious about fixing what most people in it concede are among its most severe problems (all evidence right now points to them not being serious about it), then I think they will need to change they way they target and measure things.

            Right now, for example, you get a boost in the rankings if you can take on a bunch of students to work on PhDs. But do you get penalized if you don’t correspondingly offer a lot of good academic jobs to compensate for your department’s contribution to the glut of PhDs? I don’t think so. But I think you should.

          • What does “VC” mean in this context?

            Vice-chancellor, the academic equivalent to a CEO. In other words, The Boss.

            I think in the US they’re called “presidents”, though I’m not sure how closely the two positions match up.

          • Nicholas says:

            Adjuncts in the United States do not do research. The general function of the position (in my experience as one) is that either A. An asymmetry between teaching work and research work such that there is not currently enough labor to do all the teaching work, but not enough research funding to employ new research labor, or B. A situation where a research-qualified employee would command more salary than the institution is interested in paying.

          • Any idea why doing this doesn’t adversely affect the institution’s rankings, the way it would in New Zealand?

          • brad says:

            It sounds like there’s some sort of official government ranking in NZ that impacts funding. Nothing like that in the US. For most schools in the US (non-flagship public) rankings don’t matter much at all.

            For top level private schools and state flagships, where rankings do matter somewhat, the most influential ranking is USN&WR and the percent adjuncts represent relatively small percent of the total score. Reputation is the top input.

        • Deiseach says:

          Academics sink in much more in terms of money, time, and opportunity cost than your average high-school dropout, so it feels more unjust when they’re treated shittily.

          And this is the attitude that loses academics sympathy. Some of them may prate about treating people as persons, as individuals with worth – then it comes down to “you are a dumbo who couldn’t even finish high school but my Big Brain makes me worth much more and makes me higher status than you so I should be treated better”.

          When you get the class consciousness to realise that universities and large corporations that employ junior labour to be exploited (be that an adjunct struggling to pay off loans as they sink yet more money into a career or someone with no choice but to take menial or low-level jobs that have poor pay and conditions) regard both you and the high school drop-out as on the same plane, then solidarity means you stop sneering at the lower-class stupid people and realise that they are your allies against the rich and powerful.

          Universities may like to think of themselves as the groves and temples of pure disinterested knowledge for its own sake, but the hustling and huckstering they do to squeeze donations out of alumini/alumnae, suck up to businessmen to get them to endow chairs and new buildings, and entice students to come to their college in preference to another (see the University of Missouri and its woes about the potential loss of enrolments which could be a “potential loss of tuition was $20 million to $25 million”) and you see that the administrative side is run like a business.

          So start thinking like the employee of a business: are you exploitable labour? are you outsourceable or otherwise replaceable? who are your allies against the power of large corporate bodies? This is the kind of false opposition they use to drive a wedge between people in order to keep them divided and ineffectual in opposition: “I am in a high-status profession that requires intelligence and effort and time and money, unlike that loser who was too lazy/stupid to finish high school and works in a low-status, low-class job”. No. You are both workers and they regard you as such, even if they hold out the carrot of one day ascending to the boss class.

          After that, I somehow feel as if I should end on a chorus of the Red Flag 🙂

          • @Deiseach:

            You use the term “exploit.” What does it mean? If a firm offers me a job that is more attractive than any of the other options I have, in what sense is it exploiting me?

            Does it only mean “benefit by my existence?” If so, I am simultaneously exploiting the firm, which isn’t consistent with the emotional impact of the word.

            If it means “paying me less than it should,” how do you figure out what people should be paid?

          • Bryan Hann says:

            ‘Exploit’ seems to me to be one of those terms whose connotations make their denotations problematic.

          • James Kabala says:

            Don’t assume that the well-meaning-but-perhaps-poorly-phrased comments by LTP represent the attitudes of average or typical adjuncts. That said, I think it would (and should?) perhaps strike most people as strange that you might have two people with very similar trainings and very similar jobs, yet one makes $100,000 on the tenure track and the other makes $25,000 on the adjunct track.

          • Nathan says:

            @ David

            Let’s say we have a situation where I am offered an internship. I don’t want to work for free, so on its own terms the job is a bad deal and I should refuse it.

            However, lets also say that I have the impression that this internship will look good on my resume. That will increase my odds of getting a job I do want, and the perceived improvements in my career prospects are good enough to make the internship a good deal.

            Except it turns out that my perceptions were wrong. No one actually lied to me, but they perhaps-deliberately created an impression that it would help a lot more than it did. Now the internship is a bad deal again. But they already got their free labour out of me.

            I see this sort of thing a lot with, for example, companies offering commission-based sales jobs, where they talk up how much money you can make if you get a lot of sales, and mislead you about how easy it will be to actually get those sales. No one actually guarantees anything, but they exploit perceptions and expectation to get you to trade off your now for a later that doesn’t come.

            That’s not the only kind of exploitation, but it’s one that exists clearly in my view.

            Edit: A harassing lawsuit that gets settled to make it go away might be another example – the harasser exploits the large transaction costs of court action to get paid for creating negative value.

          • wysinwyg says:

            @David Friedman:

            You use the term “exploit.” What does it mean?

            In context? Obviously:

            ex·ploi·ta·tion
            ˌekˌsploiˈtāSH(ə)n/
            noun
            1.
            the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.

            If a firm offers me a job that is more attractive than any of the other options I have, in what sense is it exploiting me?

            Huh, a loaded question. Almost as if you’re trying to find reasons to dismiss the concept instead of trying to find ways that it might be applicable.

            Suppose you have no options available except one possible job. They provide room and board. Room is one of a dozen cots in a tiny uninsulated shed, and board is one thin bowl of gruel a day that contains somewhat fewer calories than are consumed in the course of a day of your job responsibilities.

            The only alternative is building your own shelter and hunting/foraging your own food.

            Could such a situation reasonably be described as: “the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work”? If so, you’ve acknowledged the possibility of exploitation. The rest, as the saying goes, is haggling.

            If it means “paying me less than it should,” how do you figure out what people should be paid?

            That’s where the haggling comes in. “Fair” is a moral term, and in my opinion it is pretty much purely subjective. One person may consider a job to be exploitation while another person regards it as a great opportunity.

            If you want to have a productive discussion with Deiseach, you should lead with this last question instead of burying it under a bunch of condescending rubbish where you pretend “exploitation” is a silly concept.

            This is of a piece with your dismissal of the concept of sick systems above. People experience sick systems first-hand — if you want evidence, observe the number of people who stay in abusive relationships or dysfunctional work environments. If the only way your worldview can handle these experiences is by insisting that people do not have them, then your worldview is missing crucial aspects of how the world works and you should revisit it.

            (In this case, the concept of transaction costs might help you. People can be in a shitty situation but can’t transition out of it because the cost of doing so is too high.)

          • @Nathan:

            So you are using “exploit” to mean deliberately benefiting by an interaction with someone else that makes him worse off than if he had not interacted with you. That would cover not only the cases you mention, which amount to fraud, but also cases of force–the pickpocket, burglar or mugger. Also some political interactions—taxing the rich to help the poor, assuming the rich in question don’t value the welfare of the poor enough to make the transfer in their interest.

            A reasonable definition but not, I think, the way the term is usually used.

          • @wysinwyg:

            So you use “exploit” to mean “benefit from an interaction with someone else that gives him a smaller benefit than he ought to get,” leaving open how you figure out how large a benefit someone should get from an interaction.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            I don’t think trying to argue that “exploitation” is a completely meaningless concept is the right tack to take here. I’ve said the same in previous threads.

            I think that, when they use it, people are often thinking of situations where the seller is able to capture nearly all the surplus from the transaction due to having greater bargaining power. The classic example being the proposition to sell a guy water in the desert, at the cost of his entire net worth (let alone his agreeing to become a slave for life).

            It’s hard to dispute that he gains from the transaction. But it’s also pretty damn tendentious to say that this is not “exploitation”, or that he is acting entirely properly.

          • A reasonable definition but not, I think, the way the term is usually used.

            It sounds to me to be exactly the way the term is usually used.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            It sounds to me to be exactly the way the term is usually used.

            That may be so, but then making a deal to sell a cup of water to a dying man in the desert in return for his entire net worth would not be an instance of exploitation. Yet people generally group that sort of thing under “exploitation” (or “gouging”, or the equivalent).

          • @Harry:

            I think the impact of “exploitation” comes from the idea that that is what it means, but the actual uses rarely are limited to such situations. It’s a rhetorical bait and switch.

          • @Vox, well, OK, I guess technically that doesn’t meet the criteria as described. I’d sort of thought that “… and any similar behaviour that is as bad or worse” was an implicit part of the definition, but maybe not.

            Actually, I think that in the “man in the desert” scenario I’m implicitly comparing the water seller with “what a reasonable person would do” or something like that. So “worse off than if he had interacted with you” becomes “worse off than if he had the choice of someone else to interact with” which seems to me like a reasonable extrapolation from David’s wording. Hmmm. And now I’m not sure whether David would consider it reasonable.

            @David, is this what you were getting at? It may have gone over my head.

          • “And now I’m not sure whether David would consider it reasonable.”

            In the imagined situation, there isn’t another and more reasonable water seller, so if the one water seller doesn’t provide water the would be purchaser dies. Hence even with an extortionate price, the water seller is making the buyer better off than if the seller and the transaction did not exist.

            Your version just throws the issue back to what is reasonable behavior and provides no way of answering the question. Suppose the water seller offered water at very moderate terms. I am still worse off than if there were another water seller offering it at still more moderate terms. So how do you decide what the terms ought to be?

            What I find interesting about the man in the desert case is that it provides an exception to the normal conclusion that freedom of contract benefits both parties.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            A problem with ‘exploitation’ being used to denoting a moral judgement is that it dichotomizes what might be a gradual change. There is a continuum between being a good employer and being an asshole employer.

            Unless all parties agree that the situation is not at all near the borderline, ‘this is exploitation’ is a value judgement expressed in the form of a factual judgement.

            (Now if you will excuse me, I need to hire a nurse for my mother. Since this will be a rather intimate relationship, I will take her personal feelings into account when I *discriminate* among the applicants.

            (Yes Virginia: ‘discrimination’ does have a morally neutral denotation. Alas it is getting harder and harder to use the word in a morally neutral denotative way.))

          • Your version just throws the issue back to what is reasonable behavior and provides no way of answering the question.

            Well, of course. You can hardly expect any definition of the word “exploitation” to explicitly incorporate a comprehensive description of a specific ethical system – well, not unless it were a ridiculously simple one.

            Unless all parties agree that the situation is not at all near the borderline, ‘this is exploitation’ is a value judgement expressed in the form of a factual judgement.

            I’m not sure what the form of a factual judgement means here. Isn’t it kind of obvious that “exploitation” is a value judgement? Apart from being a little more specific, how does “this is exploitation” differ from “this is wrong”?

            (I really think this stuff is going over my head.)

          • Adam says:

            Well, it’s at least more specific than ‘wrong’ and it seems to refer to something other than the fact that an action description just makes you feel bad. I think Vox pretty much caught the essence of common usage with one party to a transaction capturing all of the welfare surplus due to asymmetric bargaining power. There’s more to it than that, though. That’s arguably the case right now with something like retail gasoline. I don’t know much about the finances of filling station franchise owners, but I’d guess they don’t enjoy much of a profit margin, certainly not economic profit given the amount of competition they face, and history has shown consumer demand curves are not very elastic and they’re willing to pay much more than they currently have to, at least in much of the U.S. It’s possible consumers are capturing roughly all of the surplus every time they fill up, but no one calls that exploitation.

            What exactly the additional factor is, I have no idea. It’s like porn. We’ve been talking about superheroes here lately. Let’s say the Soviet Union was about to launch all of their ICBMs and Dr. Manhattan shows up saying he’ll stop it, but every citizen of a North American nation needs to pay him a one-time 99% wealth tax. Certainly we’re all better off for it. Financial ruin and poverty beat nuclear holocaust. But that feels exploitative to me. Maybe the element is that you’re specifically using the other party’s vulnerability to extract a price you’d never get if they weren’t in a state like on the brink of death. If the gas station owner folds, he just has to get a real job or more likely go into fast food or temperature-controlled storage units or whatever the latest franchising trend is. If a billion people die and Dr. Manhattan had the power to stop it but didn’t, that intuitively feels a lot worse even though zero of those billion people had a positive right to Dr. Manhattan’s labor. Maybe it’s irrational and runs counter to economic analysis, but it seems like a nearly universal thing that human communities rely at some level upon the ‘help a brotha out’ principle. Maybe a Randian paradise of every man for himself would actually be an improvement rather than the collapse of all norms that make community possible, but we don’t know because we’ve never really seen communities like that. What we actually have is a history of making heroes of people like Oskar Schindler, who continued saving people even when it became unprofitable and even when it bankrupted him.

            Edit: I’m not a history buff at all, so if the pop cultural portrayal of Schindler is way off, I don’t care. The mythology suffices to make the point.

          • It’s possible consumers are capturing roughly all of the surplus every time they fill up, but no one calls that exploitation.

            Presumably because it isn’t consumers that are setting the rules that led to that result?

          • Bryan Hann says:

            @Harry

            ‘Isn’t it kind of obvious that “exploitation” is a value judgement?’

            Well, it is now obvious to me that your use of the word will imply a value judgement, and I agree that that is becoming the predominant sense in which the word is being used. This is precisely my lament. It becomes one less word that can be used to discuss gradation rather than dichotomy.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            @Harry

            I will go back to ‘discrimination’ which might me a cleaner example. (If you agree with me on ‘discrimination’ but not on ‘exploitation’ then we disagree on details but not in principle.)

            Suppose someone claims that my hiring a private nurse for my grandfather was an act of sexual discrimination (I hired a man rather than a woman) or racial discrimination (because of my grandfather’s background and my desire to not make him uncomfortable regarding who is changing his diapers).

            How do I respond to this? Do I say ‘Yes, you are right. What’s your point?’ That is what I would *like* to say, because
            (i) that is an exact example of what the word ‘to discriminate’ always meant,
            (ii) and the common use of ‘discriminate’ is essentially that same original sense, just with moral opprobrium attached. (It is not a novel sense).

            Because of this, how can I deny the claim? But at the same time

            (iii) there is nothing immoral about my discriminating in this way,

            hence I ask “what’s your point” — putting the issue of (and the case for) opprobrium back on the person making the claim to raise and to make.

            You may disagree with (iii). If so, I may want to argue that this is near the boundary; it is in the grey zone. In which case our conversation is really going to need an adequate vocabulary. We can explore whether this is a discrimination that is warranted. Whether it is morally dubious. When and if such discrimination can be justified.

            I know of no better word than ‘discrimination’ to use in this exploration. I find it not only natural, but practically irreplaceable — that is I know of no near substitute for the word.

            The availability of a substitute depends on the case. Perhaps you can propose a good substitute for ‘discrimination’. (For ‘exploitation’ we have ‘use’ which makes the case of ‘exploitation’ less troublesome.) But the loss of these words in their morally neutral sense is a significant loss.

            It is particuarly acute when a situation that *is* grey (like my hiring the nurse) is expressed in terms that suggest dichotomy. It invites begging the question. [And for that reason it is not only an invitation to sophistry in arguing against others, it is unhygenic to our own internal conceptualization.]

          • @Bryan, that’s what the word has meant, at least in my part of the world and in this context, for as long as I can remember. I’m 47.

            Perhaps this is a geographical thing.

            (But I don’t see why you think it means that we can’t discuss gradations. A situation can be a little exploitative or somewhat exploitative or very exploitative. There isn’t a dichotomy here.)

            the common use of ‘discriminate’ is essentially that same original sense

            I don’t think I agree with this. The two meanings are historically connected, but they seem very different to me.

          • Adam says:

            I wasn’t puzzling over the reason. It’s just intended to be what I figure is an uncontroversial example of surplus capture that no one would find exploitative to show that surplus capture isn’t sufficient to make a transaction exploitative.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            @Harry

            “that’s what the word has meant, at least in my part of the world and in this context, for as long as I can remember. I’m 47.

            Perhaps this is a geographical thing.”

            Good call about geography. I think it is perhaps temporal. I am 51, but born a few centuries too late. :p

            I agree that it is still *possible* to talk about gradations, but frankly I find it hard to do that without some of the words that have been ‘lost’. I hope that others have charity to allow be to say ‘Yes I discrimination (or yes I had prejudged [prejudice] qualifications for my father’s nurse); so what?” (Or al least to say “Yes I discriminated, but not in the sense of having done a wrong”. But today, among uncharitable people, saying “Yes I discriminated…” is to accept defeat. 🙁

        • Paolo Giarrusso says:

          Both academics and doctors have social responsibilities, so mistreating them is bad for others. Say, mistreating academics means producing worse research which leads to worse decisions. I could elaborate on how publish-or-perish has been often linked to the reproducibility crisis and outright fraud.
          (I’m mostly harping on academia resembling a Ponzi scheme, not just on US adjunct professors, but I hope I’m not going OT).
          EDIT: Disclaimer: I am a PhD student, so I do have skin in the game here.

          • Viliam says:

            The society that mistreats academics and doctors is holding students and patients as hostages.

            Just imagine what would happen if all academics and all doctors would say “fuck this, I quit”. The system would collapse. But that’s actually not the worst case.

            Not all academics and not all doctors have the same quality. Now imagine what would happen if all the good academics and good doctors would say “fuck this, I quit”, while all the bad ones would say “I don’t really have much chance on the job market; I guess I will stay”. Now the system would not collapse. Only the students and patients would be getting worse service.

            When I think about myself: I am a former teacher, and I am also a parent. As a former teacher, I can say “the system is broken, good riddance” and find a different job, as I already did. But as a parent, I know that my child will be required by government to attend a system that people like me avoid. So, I can quit, but my child remains a hostage. There is no alternative system where I could take my child with me. (Depends on local laws, of course.)

            Analogically with medicine: if Scott decides that the system is evil, he can quit. But when he, or someone he cares about, will need medical help, the system has a monopoly on providing it. Thus everyone Scott cares about becomes a hostage.

            An analogy with relationships would be a relationship with an abusive partner, where you can leave them, but you know they will gain the custody of your child. So you stay. And everyone says it’s your free decision so why should they care.

          • John Schilling says:

            But as a parent, I know that my child will be required by government to attend a system that people like me avoid

            Out of curiosity, where do you live? Here in the United States, not only does the government levy no such requirement, but alternatives are common and socially respectable. And I’m not aware of anyplace in the free world where the government really says, “No private schools for you, no homeschooling for you, your children must go to our state schools”.

            Admittedly, the alternatives tend to require more time and/or money from the parents, but if you’re the type of person who opts out of default career paths on account of their demanding too much time and paying too little money, that’s not necessarily a problem.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Couldn’t you make the opposite argument? People mostly believe that treating soldiers really mean makes them better soldiers. If an administrator argued they were exploiting junior doctors to squeeze every last drop of medical ability out of them (which a lot of people do argue), this argument becomes pretty awkward.

          • Viliam says:

            @John Schilling:

            Out of curiosity, where do you live?

            Slovakia. We have the second-lowest teacher salaries in Europe (if two teachers marry, one of them must change a job otherwise no bank would give them mortgage), no free market for textbooks, the private schools must be run exactly the same way as public schools (except that the owner can charge some extra money in exchange for e.g. slightly higher teacher salaries, or smaller classroom size, or newer computers), alternative schools (such as Montessori) are very rare, and homeschooling is legal only assuming that you or your babysitter are university-educated pedagogues.

            Actually, smart people can creatively abuse the last option by paying a retired teacher for babysitting their homeschooled child, when the teacher really only spends a few hours in a year with the child, and most actual education is done by parents. I wonder whether our government will fix this loophole, or whether it’s intentional.

            And I’m not aware of anyplace in the free world where the government really says, “No private schools for you, no homeschooling for you, your children must go to our state schools”.

            You see, it’s technically perfectly legal here.

          • Anonymous says:

            Here in the U.S., while it may not be a legal requirement, it is a de facto requirement if your parents are too poor for private school and/or incapable of homeschooling you.

    • Alex says:

      Working in academia is intrinsically rewarding, whereas working in medicine is only rewarding because society assigns high status to the job.

      I’m sure some people must feel this way, but it’s hard for me to believe that it is universally true. Surely many people must feel saving lives, etc. is more rewarding than publishing papers.

      • Deiseach says:

        Working in academia is intrinsically rewarding

        I had the misfortune, some years back, to purchase a book which I thought was going to be on the topic of the Uncanny, but turned out to be mainly an English department academic moaning about the horrors of having to teach and – gasp! – write papers to be published!

        So plainly it’s not the case for everyone 🙂

        • Like teaching, writing papers is work. Ideally, I think, you’d get to do the fun part – the research – but not have to bother with writing papers about it. Or at least not until you’re actually done and have something really interesting to write about. [Disclaimer: I work with academics, but I’m not one. I may be misrepresenting them.]

          • brad says:

            I have a vague recollection that this is why Erdős famously had so many co-authored papers, he didn’t like to write up his research. Could be totally off though.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Saving sick people’s lives is intrinsically rewarding for almost all people I know (admittedly a heavily filtered sample), independently on how much you’re praised for it. There is much more to medicine than saving lives, though, like hopeless patients that can’t be saved anyway, patients who are hard to deal with (this is part of any job that talks to the public) or patients with trivial complaints who you might feel like wasting your time (the complaints are obviously important to the patient, or he wouldn’t have asked for an appointment). On the other hand, academia has grant applications, on which your research and livelihood are often dependent. Also, teaching (an intrinsic reward for some, a nightmare for others), dealing with annoying students, grading assignments, et.

      I don’t really think of one of the jobs as more “intrinsically rewarding” than the other.

      • FJ says:

        I always remind myself that astronauts (who have the coolest job by my lights) spend 99% of their time on the ground doing drudgery rather than flying through space and shouting “ZOOOOOM!”

        Ultimately, if the job were *that* much fun, they wouldn’t have to pay you to get you to get out on bed on Monday morning.

    • nydwracu says:

      There’s a very large and very obvious difference between doctors and adjuncts: if doctors make mistakes, it matters.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I really need to start a thread next OT on how many people here plan on not teaching their children to do anything past reading and just letting them figure the rest out for themselves.

        • I doubt anyone plans on that. Those of us who support unschooling expect to help our kids figure things out–but things the kids want to figure out, not things we have told them to learn.

          My wife taught our daughter to read–it took a few weeks. Our son observed the process and taught himself.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Which means at some point people think teaching people things is a necessity. And yet the default mode at SSC seems to be to mock teachers and teaching as completely unnecessary wastes.

            I just want to know how deep down the rabbit hole goes, and whether this is well thought out, or just attempts at social signaling of some sort.

          • onyomi says:

            I think we do go overboard here sometimes in mocking how useless formal education seems to be. But I think this is because we haven’t yet, in some sense, found out how deep the rabbit hole really does go, by which I mean, we don’t know exactly how much of the time, money, and energy spent on education is actually useless. I share many peoples’ sense that it is a lot.

            It’s sort of like saying “right now we give every diabetic 1000 units of insulin every day, but when we give them 900 they seem to have significantly fewer fainting spells and when we give them 800 they do better still.” Let’s say, theoretically, the actual healthy dosage for a diabetic is 100 units but that that is still deemed an unconscionably low dosage by all medical professionals, who are continually shocked when it turns out 700 seems to work even better than 800 and 600 better than 700.

            In such an environment some people might start talking about how insulin is awful and sucks and everybody is way overdoing it. You might never hear a good thing about insulin. Because everyone is massively overdosing. Some might go so far as to believe diabetics actually don’t need insulin at all, which, of course, is not true. But in such a context, one can understand the vociferous insulin critics possibly going overboard.

            And this is another reason I’m a libertarian: government intervention in things obscures how much and of what kind and in what way society is actually wanting thing x. Combined with the social signaling function, programs like public schooling and subsidized higher education loans massively obscure how much education and of what kind the public actually wants or needs. It’s not even strictly correct just to say “government subsidies inflate the demand for formal education.” I think they do, but it’s more than that. It distorts it. It makes it so you can’t even guess where it would be in its absence.

            I do think people here are too flippant sometimes about the value of formal education, but I also firmly believe that right now, we have no idea how much education and of what kind the public actually wants or needs, so all such discussion must proceed with that huge asterisk. (Note this all applies to a significant extent to healthcare as well).

          • On the question of formal education …

            I expect it is useful to some people, but I think it is clear that it is not necessary for some, and even counterproductive.

            I went to a very good private school, learned some things, but spent most of my time being bored. My wife went to a good suburban public school and had a similar experience. Our children were unschooled, first in a small and unconventional private school and then at home. We are happy with how they turned out, and I think they are at least as well educated as most of their age peers. Both eventually went to college, but it isn’t clear to what degree that was a correct decision.

            I have taught at the graduate level at good schools in two fields in neither of which I have ever taken a course for credit.

            The first great economic theorist, David Ricardo, had no formal training in economics.

            For my views on unschooling see my blog posts on the subject.

          • onyomi says:

            @David Friedman,

            I do think part of why unschooling works for your children is your children are probably much smarter than average. I have somewhat jokingly, somewhat seriously said of my best students that they “teach themselves.” In other words, no matter how you teach them, they learn. If you do a lot of lecture they learn. If you do a lot of discussion they learn. If they weren’t taking your class they’d probably be learning something else. Because they are smart and love learning.

            But most people are neither especially smart nor especially love learning (though the latter sounds like it might be more amenable to parental influence). How much and what kind of education should they receive? (not a rhetorical question, I honestly don’t know).

          • My children are smarter than average. But Sudbury Valley School had a wide range of kids, as did the tiny school modeled on it that our kids initially went to. The material I have seen on the Sudbury model was written by partisans of it, so I don’t know how trustworthy it is, but they at least claim reasonably good results for a lot of different kids.

            My guess is that unschooling works for some kids and not for others, but I doubt that intelligence is the main factor.

          • onyomi says:

            It’s interesting: I can definitely think of cases where formal education may be much more suited to the naturally smart and motivated, where the less naturally gifted and motivated might learn well hands-on, yet not by studying something in a classroom in the abstract.

            The education style you mention sounds more like “hands-on” learning of some kind, as opposed to my understanding of “unschooling,” which was that you basically let kids do what they want. I can imagine “hands-on” learning of the kind described on the Sudbury page to be very appropriate, maybe even more appropriate for less intelligent, less motivated kids.

            But unschooling as I understand it seems not so appropriate for less intelligent, less motivated kids, because I’d expect those kids to just play video games all day (not that some things can’t be learned by video games, but it depends on what and how you play).

          • Anonymous says:

            I think the comments here by David Friedman and Onyomi (and I don’t necessarily disagree with them) are a good example of what is meant by not having skin in the game. OF COURSE if your education wouldn’t be impeded by eliminating compulsory schooling, you won’t see the value of compulsory schooling.

            I have parents with very little formal education (non-English-speakers, no books in the home, no magnetic alphabet letters on the fridge). I’m ever grateful to my grade 1 teacher* who taught me to read (the effective way, using phonics). Not that public school was a picnic, but it definitely had value.

            *Not the teacher personally, but the fact that a system existed to transmit knowledge as it did.

  6. suntzuanime says:

    I think that emotionally, it is very hard to permit horrible things to happen to people, and intellectually, it is very easy to permit horrible things to happen to people. Personal experience tends to take things from the realm of the intellectual to the realm of the emotional.

    Which is “correct”? That’s an ethical question, those are only solvable by a quest to visit a wise man who lives on a mountain.

    I guess this is just a restatement of near-far? But it’s not clear why you think there’s anything else going on.

  7. Jill says:

    Interesting question. I think that it takes a village to understand a question– that personal experience has its benefits and its limits (self interest being a limit, as you mention). And looking at the question from afar has both benefits and limits. I think it would be good to get really specific about what the benefits and limits of each approach are– both in general, and in the specific case.

    So, for that reason, I think it’s important to listen to people doing both the Near method and the Far method. And then to look at how they each seem to be coming up with their solution to the problem. In the Near method person, are they just doing a “Me first” program? If so, maybe that is that reasonable, given that a nation ought to protect its own citizens’ jobs first, before trying to help everyone in the entire world. A nation giving its own citizens no more consideration than anyone else in the world, would not last long.

    What about the journalist doing the Far method? Is the journalist leaving out important parts of the problem, in looking at it? Is the journalist rigidly ideological, where, regardless of the situation, their answer can always be predicted by ideology alone?– even though they always come up with rational sounding reasons, facts, data etc. about why their ideologically “correct” interpretation of events is the true one.

    How do people’s emotional needs affect all this? Is the richer person tired and frustrated, doing a job they hate just for the money? Are they jealous of poor people, who in their fantasies are all lazy freeloaders? So that any poor person in this equation is immediately harshly judged, long before the judger knows the facts? Or is the poorer person imagining that all people with money as greedy and unethical, even before looking at the facts?

    So, in both the Near and the Far methods, part of the objectivity or lack thereof can be due to the emotional needs and frustrations of the individual judger. And part will be due to the amount of, and limitations of, the information available to that person.

    • od says:

      > If so, maybe that is that reasonable, given that a nation ought to protect its own citizens’ jobs first, before trying to help everyone in the entire world. A nation giving its own citizens no more consideration than anyone else in the world, would not last long.

      The nation-actually let’s just say government- when it is being protectionist, isn’t actually trying to help everyone in the entire world. It is protecting a section of the suppliers in the nation from all the consumers in the same nation who presumably wouldn’t want to do business with said suppliers unless the government forced them to. (The government can’t really force people in other countries to buy the goods/services from a specific provider. The only power they have is over their own people and who they are allowed to buy from/sell to.)

      Now in some cases, the ‘suppliers’ in question are individual labourers and the ‘consumers’ are businesses/employers, some of whom tend to be large corporations. This tends to mask what is actually going on, because people’s anti-corporation and pro-individual sympathies come into play. But remember, in some cases, the ‘suppliers’ could be producers of fairly important goods – like food, for eg. And the ‘consumers’ will be everyone who consumes food, including the poor people in the nation. When you think about it this way, the benefits of protectionism become less clear. Why force every consumer in your country to buy more expensive products, either by forcing him to buy from a specific provider, or by forcing that provider to buy more expensive local labour than cheaper labour some other country?

      Does the nation have to protect it’s citizens jobs at the cost of their welfare? Because being able to consume more products for less is increasing welfare.

      • vV_Vv says:

        It could be argued that the government primary responsibility is towards its citizens, and when the interests of different individual citizens or groups of citizens are in conflict the government has a responsibility to mediate between them.

        Therefore, whether a government adopts protectionism versus open trade depends on how much the government weights the interests of those of its citizens who are suppliers replaceable with foreign competitors against the interests of those of its citizens who are consumers who would prefer to do business with the foreign suppliers.

        But it could be argued that the government has no (strong) responsibility to take into account the interests of foreigners when making such decisions, except as part of a quid pro quo agreement with a foreign government that will provide something in return.

      • “It is protecting a section of the suppliers in the nation from all the consumers in the same nation who presumably wouldn’t want to do business with said suppliers unless the government forced them to. ”

        It’s also protecting them from the producers of the export goods that would be exchanged for the import goods the tariff is keeping out.

        We have two technologies for producing automobiles. We can build them in Detroit or grow them in Iowa. Everyone is familiar with the former technology. To grow automobiles, you grow the raw material they are made from, called “wheat,” put it on a ship, and send the ship into the Pacific. It comes back with Hondas on it.

        Foreign trade is a technology for producing things. An auto tariff isn’t protecting American auto workers from the competition of Japanese autoworkers but from the competition of American farmers, forcing us to use the more expensive technology instead of the less expensive.

      • Publius Varinius says:

        @David Friedman:

        Your car-growing analogy does not seem to fit this context. we’re talking Near/Far, and since local optima are often not global, it’s not hard to imagine legitimate reasons for introducing, say, auto tariffs.

        The following would be an example of this situation:

        – there is demand for 1 unit of cars each year

        – your car manufacturers can produce 1 unit of cars for 2 units of wheat every year.

        – Poseidon gives 1 unit of cars for 1 unit of wheat every year.

        Ten years pass, and one day the god of the sea announces that he cannot provide his conversion service any longer. However, at this point, reinstating car manufacturing costs 100 units of wheat. The population saved 10 units of wheat locally, and lost 90 units of wheat globally.

        As Jill said, a nation ought to protect its own citizens’ welfare. If the government has foreseen the demise of Poseidon, and the farmers don’t care due to, say, hyperbolic discounting, then an auto tariff isn’t just protecting American auto workers from the competition of American farmers: it’s protecting the welfare of all citizens from the harmful consequences of short-term thinking.

        • Tracy W says:

          But one should compare this to the possibility that Vulcan announces he doesn’t want to provide his local conversion process anymore. At that point, reinstating wheat growing might cost $100 units of cars.

          There’s nothing stopping car manufacturers from deciding to shut up shop.

        • Do you have any reason to expect foreign countries to stop offering cars in exchange for agricultural products?

          If you did, and it was predictable, it would be in the interest of the auto industry to mothball their facilities so that when imports stopped being available they could reopen. if it isn’t predictable, how is the government to know that this is a special case where tariffs are justified?

          • Publius Varinius says:

            > Do you have any reason to expect foreign countries to stop offering cars in exchange for agricultural products?

            Japanese super-hydroponics chamber makes demand for wheat collapse. Bonus points for super-hydroponics invented as a side effect of car manufacturing R&D 🙂

            Slightly more realistically, Siberia becomes available for agriculture due to climate change, pushing down wheat prices.

            But if these are too unrealistic for you, replace wheat with bananas – banana plantations may become nonviable in the near future for biological reasons, for example if Panama disease destroys the Cavendish, and the cultivar that replaces them does not grow on your banana republic’s climate.

            > If you did, and it was predictable, it would be in the interest of the auto industry to mothball their facilities so that when imports stopped being available they could reopen.

            Mothballing is not a realistic solution, but even if it was,

            a.) you would have to demonstrate that it is always preferable solution to tariffs

            b.) one could just replace 10 years with 50 years, and then repeat the same argument

          • “Mothballing is not a realistic solution, but even if it was,

            a.) you would have to demonstrate that it is always preferable solution to tariffs ”

            Mothballing means paying whatever the costs are of keeping the factory in functional condition.

            Tariffs mean paying the costs of keeping the factory in functional condition plus producing cars at a loss (in terms of total cost vs the cost of growing cars instead) for N years. Isn’t it obvious that the latter will be more expensive?

            So far as your various scenarios for the loss of an export market, as long as there is any export market for goods in which we have comparative advantage, and any auto producer that has comparative advantage, the argument goes through. If that ceases to be the case, it will become profitable to reopen car factories.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Do you have any reason to believe that a megolomaniac, dictatorial leader would cut if fuel supplies to exert political pressure? Cos that pretty nearly happenef,

    • Immortal Lurker says:

      I think that it takes a village to understand a question

      Could you expand on this a bit more? I come from a very individualistic subculture, so this isn’t an idea I have encountered before.

      When I think about it… (Thinks for three minutes) … I think that this will be useful from a truth seeking perspective, but not useful from a policy implementation perspective.

      The “truth seeking” case is trivial to prove, because that is what I am doing right now. I am asking someone with a different map to show me what they think the territory looks like, and using that to calibrate my own map.

      But the “policy implementation” case seems more complicated. I keep thinking of cases where the “village” has answered the “question” of “should we hurt the people who look different than us?” with a resounding “Yes!” Asking the village policy questions seems like it would be very similar in principle to asking the people with the most political power what they want.

      Now, I can think of cases where the village answers questions acceptably well (or better). These are usually times when the village communicates via prices, or times when the village is an actual village, or a hunter gatherer tribe.

      The times when the “villagers” communicate via prices can be similar to asking the richest people in the village what they want. Now, this isn’t as bad as it would naively seem, because in a “village” with rule of law, the invisible hand can align the desires of the rich with the desires of everyone else. Although this doesn’t always work (see moloch post).

      Is your analysis different than mine?

      • Jill says:

        One assumption that some people make with a village is that it contains a diverse assortment of people. It’s not actually a vote by the whole village.

        It came from an African saying about it taking a village to raise a child. A child won’t necessarily get as much from one adult in their village as from another. And the child, then adolescent, then young adult has to weigh what they need, or their parents do when they are younger. If the child is a budding engineer, they will maybe learn more from an engineer in their village than a philosopher. So, depending on the nature of the problem, you look for various people with expertise in the areas you think you need to know about to solve it. And yet some people may surprise you, in that their approach is unique and adds something innovative, precisely because they are not thinking along the well worn track.

        In this question, there is at least the diversity of the Near person who has skin in the game vs. the person studying the game from far away. Maybe the far away person sees and studies more aspects and people involved in the situation, whereas the Near person knows what it’s like to experience the situation personally, which can bring its own forms of knowledge.

        But there is other diversity in personality style, focus, hobbies, interests, habits etc. Like Steve Jobs learning calligraphy and it coming in handy eventually.

        It can be hard to know what facets of knowledge or style may contribute the most. And hard to know how to weigh them and what to give the most attention to.

        An example of this situation where you collect info from people who are different from you and each other, is the theory of the strength of weak ties. The theorist has written both the first and the third most cited sociology articles of all time. Here:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Granovetter

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpersonal_ties

  8. electrace says:

    “Should Beauchamp go into work every morning asking his boss whether he’s found a suitable Chinese person to replace him with yet, and be disappointed every time his boss says no?”

    Well… no. But not for the reasons brought up.

    The pro-globalization argument relies on it happening at an economy wide level.

    Suppose Beauchamp goes into work, and his boss informs him that, indeed, he has found a suitable Chinese person to replace him. In addition, his boss tells him, the aggregate demand of the services the company provides has increased due to globilization, and because of that, the boss has a new job for Beauchamp.

    • JBeshir says:

      It’s about the experience of the people who lose their job at the individual-level, in the process of what happens at the economy-level. The pro-globalisation argument isn’t that the individual-level will behave the same as the economy-level, it’s that the economy-level experience is worth it, and the displaced will likely be able to get another job of some sort.

      The argument is that he should be willing to lose his own job, then; the individual-level experience he’s asking others to go through more often, he should be willing to go through it.

      It’s not a good argument, because there’s a difference between “willing to run the same risk of job loss” and “willing to run a certain risk of losing my job”, as well as the criticisms Scott made.

      I’m sympathetic to “if you want to ask others to sacrifice for your cause, you need to pay a price yourself” for incentive reasons myself, but this isn’t a good scenario for that and it needs to be a reasonable price and it shouldn’t apply to trying to reduce restrictions on people.

    • Ninmesara says:

      the aggregate demand of the services the company provides has increased due to globilization, and because of that, the boss has a new job for Beauchamp

      Aren’t you being unreasonably optimistic here? Journalists are very scalable. I doubt there would be a new jobe for Beauchamp if an equally qualified chinese journalist were to be found…

      • electrace says:

        It wasn’t meant to be realistic. It was meant to bring the economy-wide logic down to the individual level.

        The main point is that as China industrializes, they will add to demand for services, which will create jobs.

        The argument is an economy-wide argument, and so there is no reason to expect that proponents should be hoping for their own job to be outsourced.

        • Corey says:

          The job-creation assumption assumes we don’t maintain a persistent deficiency in aggregate demand. Remember – microeconomics needs macrofoundations (much micro assumes full employment).

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s one thing for economics journalists and opinion-columnists to write about globalisation and outsourcing means that it will be good for the American economy, it will be good for raising the standard of living in China, but it may not be good for you as an individual.

      It’s quite another thing to tell people who are suffering the hardships of having their job gone that their objections are based on racism. It’s a terribly convenient excuse that allows the person making the accusation to enjoy the glow of superior virtue – they are not a horrible racist, they are happy for poor Chinese rice farmers to get a (slightly) better job! And it certainly doesn’t hurt that their job is not one that is going to be outsourced to a poor Chinese rice farmer, even if a quarter of their salary would be huge wealth by the same measure. It does particularly leave them open to charges of hypocrisy when they spend a lot of time calling out politicians and other authority figures for hypocrisy but remain silent when it comes to their own profession.

      This is along the same lines as the editor of the Huffington Post UK who brags about getting contributors to write for nothing (except, I suppose, the prestige of having your work published in the HuffPo). Does anyone here imagine Mr Hull goes in to work every day and does his job for nothing more than the glow of “it’s real… It’s not been forced or paid for”?

      Given that pressures on traditional media (and even online media) mean that jobs are being cut and unpaid interns are becoming the rule rather than the exception – I wonder how the same journalists/columnists will react to those market pressures? Probably they are in sufficiently senior positions to be able to say “Hump you, Jack, I’m all right” but when it comes to their children (journalism, at least in UK papers, seems to be remarkably incestuous about employing spouses, in-laws, children and other relations of columnists and journalists and editors), will they be so complacent?

      • “It’s quite another thing to tell people who are suffering the hardships of having their job gone that their objections are based on racism.”

        They are not based on racism. They are based on some combination of nationalism—the interests of foreigners don’t really count—and the usual human bias in favor of oneself.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Rational self interest is rational. Every individual is an individual, no individual is a statistical conglomerate.

          It is the economists who are running if a mixture if unrealistic psychology and bizarre ontology.

  9. A brief note on my “skin in the game” when it comes to competition from foreigners: When the Soviet Union collapsed, lots of mathematicians came to the US, making it much harder for my fellow mathematicians (which is why I’m working as an expert on TeX and MathML instead of grading papers). I am still in favor of open borders.

    Trump supporters don’t believe me.

    • Frog Do says:

      I expect Trump supporters are willing to believe “those people will believe anything just to say they’re not Trump supporters, especially when they can bring it up as often as possible.”

      The brief high of taking a shot at the other side is resistable.

    • JDG1980 says:

      I think things might be different for intellectuals, because many of them think of other intellectuals in their field as their peer group. You were in favor of letting in people like you.

      On the other hand, while many blue-collar workers find pride in working hard and providing for themselves and their families, they usually don’t self-actualize through their work like white-collar professionals do. Rather, they think of themselves in terms of family, nation, and religion. Immigrants brought in to do factory jobs are seen as alien competition, not peers. (“Workers of the world, unite” was never more than a fever dream, as the World Wars demonstrated.)

    • chaosmage says:

      I believe you. Couldn’t mathematicians be special in that regard, though? Mathematicians cooperated even through the Iron Curtain. As a non-mathematician, I like to imagine mathematicians have a special bond. After all, that trick you guys have, where two mathematicians reasoning about the same problem entirely independently can expect to reach exactly the same conclusion, might be the closest thing to telepathy that actually exists.

      Would you, with your skin in the game, say your absence of sour grapes is due to the values and culture of your field?

  10. Sniffnoy says:

    The adjunct case is a bit weird because, as I understand, being an adjunct isn’t the bad stage of a dualized field. It’s just a terrible job that goes nowhere and that you should never take. The bad stage of academia is, like, being stuck in endless postdocs or something. That’s the path that can actually lead somewhere. Taking an adjunct job, OTOH, is more or less leaving actual academia in order to just do low-paid teaching, even if you happen to be doing it at an academic institution. You’re not getting a real academic job out of there. So I don’t really understand what the appeal is even supposed to be there. Am I just very mistaken?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Yeah, pretty much. In particular, adjuncts don’t have time for research, so their CVs don’t look any better the next year. It could be a way of treading water for year as you recalibrate your ambitions or try again after bad luck. I do know a guy who got a teaching-heavy job after a year as an adjunct in math. But all quotes I’ve seen from multi-year adjuncts appear deluded.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Yeah. I didn’t manage to get a postdoc, so I took a programming job. Hard to do research in your free time while also working a full-time job, but I am getting old stuff slowly written up still, and on rare occasion actually doing small amounts of new stuff (I guess that’s harder if you’re not in math). While trying to break back into academia seems unlikely to go well, this still seems pretty much than taking an adjunct job in pretty much every way, and in some ways by a lot.

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, while I am very sympathetic, having experienced it first-hand, to anyone struggling to find a good academic job, I do think part of the solution to the adjunct problem is that people simply have to stop taking the jobs. I mean, these are objectively terrible, terrible jobs by American standards. Like, when you factor in time spent prepping and grading, you are being paid less than minimum wage.

        The only sense in which these jobs are better than, say, wrapping burritos at Chipotle, is if you derive some fulfillment/status out of teaching hoardes of students whom the university didn’t care about enough to have them taught by a non-miserable, desperate teacher. Some PhDs might find it humiliating to wrap burritos, but I’d personally find it more humiliating to work a job which requires a PhD and get paid less than I would to wrap burritos. Wrapping burritos is good, honest work.

        And as Sniffnoy and Douglas indicate, these adjunct jobs are not like VAPs and postdocs which might conceivably lead to a good academic job since you have no time and resources to do the research which improve your chances. You’d probably get more research done after your burrito wrapping than after commuting to four different colleges and grading 1000 papers.

        I know I’m vulnerable for “easy for you to say” arguments in suggesting people not take these jobs, but these jobs are so terrible that almost anyone qualified to get them can get a better (not saying much) job, even if just wrapping burritos. So, although this rarely seems to actually happen, I think adjuncts should really all just refuse to do these jobs; either holding out for real academic jobs (not necessarily tenure track, etc., but not so objectively horrible) or pursuing something else. These jobs aren’t like “the bad job you work while you try to break into academia”; they’re like telling a doctor who didn’t quite make the grade: you can take peoples’ blood pressure, height and weight for 12 hours a day for $2,000 a month?

        • A couple of comments:

          1. There are at least two kinds of adjuncts. The adjuncts who teach at a law school are typically judges or lawyers who are doing it part time, not mainly as a source of income but for some mix of enjoying it and feeling it is part of their professional responsibility. I expect there are some similar adjuncts in other fields. I plan to retire soon, after which I expect to continue to teach an occasional course for nominal pay, either as an adjunct or an emeritus.

          2. So far as people making their living as adjuncts, it looks like a pretty poor job, but it would be worth asking them why they choose to do it. One possibility is that they think demonstrating their ability as teachers will eventually lead to a better job. Another is that it’s a way of supporting themselves while waiting for an opening they hope to appear in their field. A third is that they are marking time while trying to decide whether or not to leave the academic world.

          • onyomi says:

            Obviously the first kind of adjunct are not being treated unfairly.

            As for the second, of those whom I know who do it, it seems to be largely aspirational. They think of themselves as academics and want to feel a part of the academic world. I would say this is fine if they didn’t entertain fantasies of eventually having better academic jobs. But they do. And some faculty and administrators actively foster those fantasies, or at least don’t at all discourage them. It strikes me as humiliating: it feels like saying “okay, we’ll pay you a nominal amount to let you have your professor fantasy.”

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: #1
            At my law school (NYLS) that type of adjunct represented less than a third of the student-class-hours. Probably less than a fifth. A 3L class in trial advocacy, with 15 students, sure that might be a judge with senior status. But the two 1L torts sections that they never bothered hiring anyone with tenure to fill after the professor that taught them retired 10 years ago, that’s a guy that also teaches at two other law schools to make ends meet.

            Don’t even get me started on who teaches the mandatory 1L writing classes.

            Maybe Santa Clara University is different, but unless there’s a survey or something, I’m skeptical that the less exploitative model is actually widespread in law schools.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            1/5 of student-class-hours? That is way, way higher than I expected, although more plausible in law school than elsewhere.

            But I am suspicious of your numbers because it does not seem to match your words. If type 1 adjuncts do not teach 1Ls or 2Ls then the 3Ls would have to average 1/2 of their classes from type 1 adjuncts to reach a total of 1/6 of student-class-hours. Is it really that high? What was your 3L like? (But maybe they teach a few 2Ls.) It is more plausible that type 2 adjuncts reach 1/6 of student-class hours by teaching 1/2 of student-class-hours in 1L, say, 1 year of writing and 1 year of torts. Maybe they teach other classes, too, but you implied that not every torts section is a type 2 adjunct.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Douglas Knight
            There’s also tenured professors which wouldn’t be in the numerator or the denominator.

            Anyway, if the objection is that hobbyist adjuncts shouldn’t even make up 20% of adjunct taught student-class-hours, you may well be right. But since I was arguing against DF’s claim that law schools adjuncts are “typically” of the hobbyist type, it seemed sufficient to say definitely less than 33% and probably less than 20%.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Sorry, I misunderstood. I was putting non-adjuncts in the denominator. Your original numbers make a lot more sense now.

        • Saul Degraw says:

          I get into this debate with a lot of people but mainly on the side of artists because I am a former theatre director.

          I’m generally sympathetic to the idea that artists (like everyone else) should be paid for their labour. I find it generally sad that theatres can raise money to build fancy new buildings but have a hard time getting people to donate money for artist salaries.

          Yet there is still economics and maybe fields like art and academics are always going to have more supply than demand.

          The problem goes beyond not-taking adjunct jobs though. I think that problem might involve encouraging people to abandon graduate school. In my darker moments, I wonder if we need to encourage people to abandon the arts and humanities as courses of study overall. As a arts and humanities lover, I find this depressing.

          The question is why do people go to higher education. I am not really fond of the libertarian signaling argument but most people probably go to achieve middle-class or upper-middle class status and many to most tend to pick more practical majors. Not necessarily STEM but more business fields. I went to a SLAC where the most practical majors were “economics”, “computer science”, and the pre-Med course which ended with most majors taking Bio or Chem degrees. There is a part of me that gets perplexed at 18 year olds who go to major in stuff like “Supply Chain Management” and “Entrueprenurship”. It depresses my inner-romantic.

          So people who go unto graduate schools tend to be people who really like school. I am no longer doing theatre because I realized the fucked up economics of the art world but I loved my Masters program. Why? Because it was an opportunity to discuss and do theatre everyday for most of the day.

          We are not at Star Trek yet and the schools are pumping out more people who want to study History or Literature or Art all day than can make a living from doing so. So is the real solution to suppress this instinct?

          • Eggoeggo says:

            My career has nothing to do with art, but I love it enough that I make time for it outside of work. This comes at a significant cost to my other non-work commitments, but so does dumpster diving to eat because of a dearth of rhythmic interpretative dance grants.

            Firmly suppress the instinct that people deserve an upper-midde class income to bring their lifestyles in line with their high-culture interests.
            Firmly encourage people to make time for those interests outside of what they do to earn a living.

          • LCL says:

            I’d speculate there’s some influence from inertia too; for a lot of people continuing in school is the default option. Something they’ve been doing for 16 years already and feel familiar with. Whereas searching for, taking, and working a job is out of the comfort zone.

            Add the factors that our society still gives a lot of respect to advanced education, that in most cases the life of a grad student is relatively enjoyable, and that universities and governments encourage it, and we end up with far too many grad students.

            I think you’re right, that’s really where the reduction has to happen. The oversupply of adjuncts is just a result of the oversupply of grad students plus some further inertia (stay in academia!) and the sunk cost fallacy.

          • Saul Degraw says:

            @Eggoeggo

            I think it is a bit of a sneer to say that artists think they deserve an upper-middle class lifestyle. Many of the artists I know would be happy with a stipend or minimum wage over being told that they will get “great exposure.”

            What upsets artists is that they get constantly asked to work for free from musicians to writers (even copywriters producing advertisements and websites) to actors to designers, etc. Do people ask accountants to work for free for exposure?

          • Julie K says:

            > for a lot of people continuing in school is the default option.

            I think the availability of student loans is also a factor, since a) you can get a loan to cover your living expenses in grad school and b) you can push off repaying your undergrad loans.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think you are correct. I doubt it is common that someone takes the adjunct job thinking it’s likely to lead to a tenure track research position.

      What’s weird is that this is happening at the same time that universities are theoretically awash with government loan money from students and more and more people are going to college. Econ-101 says this should put upwards pressure on wages and benefits, and yet …

      • Pku says:

        Universities tend to spend extra money on building projects and making the campus look nice, because that affects the appeal to students a lot more than the professor/student ratio. I’m guessing what this says about the incentives is that colleges are primarily places for teenagers to have fun and get status while occasionally learning.

        • onyomi says:

          Yes, yes, yes.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            If you look one comment down, you can see that Eggoeggo posted a similar comment. My thought is the same, that you would not be predisposed to this argument if it were made in other labor markets.

            It seems to me the sword has two edges and you have to pick which one you would like to be cut by.

          • onyomi says:

            Though I’ll admit to bias about my own profession, how do you see this contradicting anything I’ve previously said?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “The problem of poor working conditions is because management and customers are awful” does not seem to comport with other statements you have made.

            Although, I admit “college is for fun” isn’t quite along these lines. Perhaps I drew too straight a line between the parent comment and Eggoeggo’s.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            Well that’s… possibly the worst kind of drive-by non-argument I’ve ever seen on here. You can’t even be bothered to insinuate what us evil baby-eaters would argue in other situations?

            See my direct reply below for an actual substantive response. Until then: shame on you.

        • “I’m guessing what this says about the incentives is that colleges are primarily places for teenagers to have fun and get status while occasionally learning.”

          My daughter commented on the fact that, when a class was cancelled, her fellow students (at Oberlin) were happy.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            At least for my friends-circle in university, that was a hold-over from dreading public education classes.

            We were happy for the first two days class was cancelled for weather. Then the novelty wore off, and we wanted to get back to learning.

          • tcheasdfjkl says:

            I like learning, but I can’t imagine not being happy when one of my obligations gets cancelled. College was hard! Each of my courses was interesting, but put together they added up to so much work that I was too stressed and sleep-deprived to enjoy any of them. (Granted I was also doing extracurriculars, but so was everyone else at my university, and they were just as important to me as classes. Also part of it is my poor time-management/concentration skills, but still, that’s not an issue of undervaluing learning.)

      • Eggoeggo says:

        http://uscforward.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/AdminBloatGraphic-copy.jpg

        Who has power over the incoming government money? Students? Faculty? …or administrators?
        What do you think is paying for all the Title IX lawsuits and Unconscious Bias Training Facilitators?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Eggoeggo:
          Based on what I have seen you post before, I don’t think you would be particularly disposed to think of this as a valid argument when applied in other labor markets besides higher education.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            Who has power over how military research grants are spent?

            Who has power over how space shuttles are designed? (Did the engineers really think it was important to build it in as many congressional districts as possible?)

            Is that corporate jet with the built-in champagne fountain really being bought on behalf of the shareholders?

            Have you ever heard of the principal–agent problem?

            I’m not even sure what your comment is saying, other than a not-so-subtle jab at someone you think is… what, libertarian or something?
            It’s an excellent dodge to avoid addressing the argument though, congratulations.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “I’m not even sure what your comment is saying”

            Well, you could, you know, ask. Or try and steelman. Getting huffy isn’t particularly helpful, and doesn’t really motivate me to answer. Certainly not at length.

            I’ll note that the principal-agent problem does not actually address the issue of working conditions, not directly. Poor working conditions can and do occur under individual private ownership.

      • Julie K says:

        Perhaps more and more people are likewise getting PhDs.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think this, coupled with the 2008 recession, surely is part of it.

          Edit: and yet, it’s odd to think that a market awash in labor would also have people complaining about the long hours they have to work.

          I mean there are reasons for this having to with a) the death spiral nature of low remuneration, wherein even part time employees need more than 40 hours to make ends meet, further increasing the pool of labor, and b) the fact that ALL employees have associated fixed costs, which creates a kind of death spiral on the employers side, wherein each marginal hour of labor from an existing employee is cheaper than one from a new employee.

          • Saul Degraw says:

            Adjunctification started way before the 2008 recession. I briefly toyed with getting a PhD around 2005-2006 and saw the adjunct thing on the wall.

            I still have romantic daydreams about being a university professor. Unsurprisingly it involves teaching at a pictureesque town in the Northeast or Northwest, it is always October, and I am always leading an advanced seminar or at least a good intermediate level class. I am also usually teaching at a selective liberal arts college and have a charming/cozy home. But I was able to see this as the fantasy that it is.

          • Mary says:

            Notice one effect of steadily mounting regulation is increased fixed costs.

          • Randy M says:

            Working long hours is what you expect when the employer has a file drawer stuffed with resumes.

          • Saul Degraw says:

            @randym

            Not necessarily. There are plenty of jobs that also go to the elite of the elite that have long hours. Working at a Big Law firm (which generally only goes to grads from top 10 or top 14 law schools), Investment banking/consulting (which might be more prestigious and generally only goes to the HYPS level of graduates) all have long hours but also offer generally higher salaries than most people in their 20s get.

          • Randy M says:

            Okay, let me add: “…compared to those same jobs when there is less competition for the positions.”

      • Chrysophylax says:

        Another factor is that increasing the number of students increases the number of potential adjunct professors. It seems plausible that the problem is an oversupply of people willing to do awful jobs as long as they’re on campuses relative to the demand for adjuncts, causing adjuncts’ jobs to be awful.

        For most students, a degree is a costly signal of being able to get a degree, a socially-apporoved way to have fun and gain status, and a thing their parents expect of them. Very few are actually interested in the material or competent enough to understand it (instead of merely memorising it).

        Also, consumer irrationality applies here. Looking nice on open days probably matters more than teaching the students well (as opposed to teaching them in a way they like).

    • LTP says:

      I might be wrong about this, I have not looked deeply into the issue, but in the humanities it isn’t necessarily a death-sentence, as the post-doc/lecturer/adjunct distinction is much much blurrier than in the sciences (for instance, there’s a “post-doc” in my school’s philosophy department who taught 4 classes this past semester). However, apparently PhDs go “stale” after 4-5 years in the humanities, and you either leave or stay in adjunct hell.

      I have my suspicions about why people stay in such jobs for non-monetary reasons, but I think for humanities professors there’s another factor, namely that there really aren’t high-paying industry jobs to flee to.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Oh, interesting.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        Eh. I have friends with Science PhDs and Humanities/Arts PhDs and all are stuck in Adjunct Hell. One friend with a science PhD left a good industry job because she wanted to teach and ended up adjuncting and teaching for Kaplan.

        The people I know who got tenure positions did so through luck and a wilingness to move to whereever they could get one.

  11. JBeshir says:

    I wonder if choosing bad conditions is well-explained by discounting effects applying differently to income and experience.

    Alternatively, I can imagine my forward looking self now saying “I’d tolerate almost arbitrary unpleasantness for an hour if I was given £10,000 for it”, but then me inside that hour may not give a damn about all the nice things, mere things, I’d be able to buy with the money and really care much more about not wanting whatever it is to continue. And this leads me to wonder if we systematically undervalue experience looking forwards.

    In the general sense, for the general point, those kind of places are where I’d suspect systematic gaps between a human and an optimal economic actor which cause it, or gaps between a merely economic impact and social impact as a result of damage to community/social structures that isn’t recognised and compensated for (could you even compensate for it?).

    And maybe those kind of things are easier to appreciate in the situation, and easy to ignore in favour of pointing at statements from economic models.

  12. M says:

    “Does a factory worker have an advantage over a journalist in understanding globalization just because he knows that being laid off is really bad, and that it’s harder to get a new job than a journalist thinks – two things we would expect any journalist worth their salt to already know about? ”

    No? That doesn’t mean that the factory worker has to be pro-globalization though…

    If you’re faced with a trolley problem, you probably pull the lever and kill 1 person instead of 5. But if you’re the single person on the upper tracks, and you don’t want to die, even if it means 5 other people will die instead, are you a hypocrite for wanting the lever operator not to pull the lever? Yes, I guess so.

    Or, to put it more simply, would you sacrifice your own life to save five nameless poor foreigners? (In the least convenient possible world where you can’t just donate $15,000 to charity instead. Maybe you’re also a poor foreigner.) Even if it’s the morally correct decision, I still wouldn’t blame someone for not being able to go through with that. I would blame a disinterested trolley lever operator for not pulling the lever, though.

    Is it fair that some people get to be the lever operator, some people are on the top track, and some people might even be both? No. No one should be on the top track, of course, and it’s ok to feel sympathetic for and try to help them. But I’m still going to pull the lever, and be glad the lever is there to be pulled.

    • Pku says:

      Yeah. This is tsar-mode v. citizen-mode debate. If you’re the tsar, you have a responsibility to make judgement calls that you don’t if you’re a citizen. So the junior doctors, or Scott in the house thing, have a right to be outraged even if they’re in the wrong. If they are, it’s the government/judge’s job to be impartial and decide that. And you can’t use this to justify being irrational all the time, but you also don’t have to be fully objective about things you have a personal involvement in, so long as you’re not all-powerful. (e.g., if you’re Hamilton you’re allowed to be a federalist, but if you’re Washington you do have a duty to be more impartial).

      • keranih says:

        This is tsar-mode v. citizen-mode debate. If you’re the tsar, you have a responsibility to make judgement calls that you don’t if you’re a citizen.

        My view of democracy, though, is that we are all mini-tsars – we are each of us contributing to the process of making imperial edicts, and with that power comes the responsibility to make good, considered judgments at all times.

        (We’re not going to do so, because we are not, after all, angels, but as descendants of Angles, we have a long cultural history of doing Society by Law, and IMO we should strive to live up to our cultural potential, as much as the environment will allow.)

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          An awful lot of the complaints we hear about politics seem to boil down to “If the mini-tsars only knew!”

          • keranih says:

            Heh. *hattip*

            And of course, the answer is now as it was then:

            “Silly peasant, of course the (mini)Tsar knows. He/she just doesn’t care. Because the Tsar, in the Tsar’s benevolent, Heaven-granted wisdom, has other priorities.”

    • Deiseach says:

      But the journalists and columnists saying “Hey, blue-collar white guy who lost his job, can’t easily find another, and now the bank is breathing down your neck about your mortgage repayments, you are a nasty horrible racist if you are not weeping tears of joy about the poor Chinese rice farmers!” are not on the tracks themselves and are not in a position to pull the lever themselves.

      They’re bystanders chanting “Pull the lever, pull the lever” at the lever operator and then patting themselves on the back for being so humane and ethically superior to the poor schlub tied to the tracks screaming “Don’t pull it, don’t pull it!”

      • Chrysophylax says:

        The problem is, if you’re a typical H. sapiens and you *don’t* have a large crowd of people telling you to do ethical things, you’ll probably do wildly unethical things for reasons like “someone in a labcoat told me to continue the torture”.

        People are really, really, *really* bad at making socially awkward decisions. It is therefore morally good to increase the social pressure to make utility-positive decisions. This pretty much sums up the civil rights movement, for example – it made the Jim Crow laws sufficiently socially awkward for the non-Southern voters that the federal government intervened. The tone of your comment shows that you appreciate how *insanely powerful* this strategy is.

        Or in short, eloquent high-status people publically declaring that all lever-non-pullers are bad people *are pulling the lever*.

        • FooQuuxman says:

          There is a difference between “Pull the lever because it is the best thing to do and not pulling the lever can only be done by putting a gun to someone’s head” and “Pull the lever because I’m going to call you an EEEVVIIILLL RACIST for the 5,104,587,298,742th time”

          • Chrysophylax says:

            I’m not saying that the “loudly shout about how evil your political opponents are” strategy is flawless. Our host has amply demonstrated that it’s got more flaws than the Burj Khalifa. I’m merely saying that, in the journalists’ eyes, putting on social pressure is pulling the lever; and that to a large extent, they’re not wrong.

            It’s easy to see the counterproductive tribal-politics excesses of people with too much social power and forget the relatively greater importance of the good they (or people “on their team”) have achieved. I’m not happy with blindly blaming everything on racism (for one thing, it seems fairly likely to lead to President Trump; for another, it’s not accurate), but I’d rather have that than no social justice movement. At least for now, I think it’s a lesser evil.

            I also think that many people reading SSC are probably likely to overestimate how MsScribish (or at least Hansonian) the average social justice supporter is. I have caught myself making the mistake of assuming that the median activist is unconsciously selfish instead of honestly incompetent. I tend to forget that people aren’t naturally strategic and don’t think of things like “I should check which strategies worked well for previous activists”.

    • TD says:

      “are you a hypocrite for wanting the lever operator not to pull the lever? Yes, I guess so.”

      Does hypocrisy require that you were lying about your preferences? What if you just damned believed that other people were worth less than you and stated it openly. Then, when you got on the tracks and made the exception for yourself, wouldn’t that be entirely consistent with your stated value system, and not hypocritical at all?

      EDIT:

      I though hypocrisy was something like:
      Mr.B: “All people’s lives are equal in moral value!”
      *makes an exception for himself*
      Mr.A: “Hah! You’re a hypocrite!”

      Whereas this should be non-hypocritical:
      Mr.B: “All people’s lives are unequal in moral value.”
      *makes an exception for himself*
      Mr.A: “Hah! You’re a… hypocrite?”

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Not necessarily a hypocrite, but almost assuredly wrong, unless you live in Lake Wobegon where “all of the children are above average”.

        • TD says:

          I love my self, my friends, and family way more than I love strangers, and I like strangers who are statistically likely to share my terminal values way more than ones that aren’t (example: groups of people who believe in liberalism vs groups of people who want to burn witches at the stake)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Well, you have changed the terms now.

            You stated original stated that other people were worth less than you, full stop.

            In any case, I believe the classic trolley problem posits that everyone is a stranger to the causative agent, so I’m really not sure it’s actually designed to even address the question, although I am sure the many variants have all been explored.

            I happen to think the classic trolley problem is ridiculous though.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            It is meaningless to speak of people (or anything else) being “worth” something without speaking of them being worth something to someone.

            I say that people have unequal moral value. What this means is that people have unequal moral value to me.

            No change in terms is taking place. I (and, I suspect, many other commenters) simply reject as absurd any notion of an “impersonal”, “abstracted” notion of the “value” of people (or of anything else).

            So no, I’m not “wrong” when I say people have unequal moral worth, and in fact I cannot, in principle, be wrong about this (except in a sense where I don’t know my own mind, and would change my mind if I thought the matter through more fully — but I do not think that is what you meant; and if you did, well, it would certainly be quite presumptuous of you to claim this of me).

      • Mary says:

        A hypocrite is someone whose professed beliefs are different from his actual beliefs. Failing to live up to your beliefs is not hypocrisy, however foolish.

        • CatCube says:

          That was one of my favorite sermons from our pastor. “If you believe that you should quit smoking, but light up anyway, that’s not hypocrisy. That’s failure.”

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Mary, CatCube

            But is ‘failure’ the best word to use for it, in this kind of discussion? ‘Failure’ is binary, and a single once and for all occurrence (though you may try many times, and fail each time).

            I think what we often talk about in this forum is not ‘try and fail’, but ‘don’t even try to try’ because it looks like something is wrong with the whole equation; so keep poking at the equation till something loosens up.

  13. Yakimi says:

    Moldbug had a funny description of the skin-in-the-game effect.

    For the obligatory evolutionary remark, humans clearly have an inherent sense of right and wrong. They also clearly have a mechanism which makes this moral sense almost always correspond to their interests. The mental ballet that implements this mechanism can be quite remarkable.

    For example, when I was a renter living in San Francisco, the hypocrisy of the “open space” movement used to fill me with righteous rage. Yeah, sure, I thought, you care about the environment. What’s the environment in San Francisco? Pigeons? How many zillion hectares of rainforest could you save if you sold Golden Gate Park to developers, and used the profits to buy, like, all of Borneo, or something? How many people do I hear proposing this? I know what this is about. It’s about your inflated property values. More supply = less demand. Just the usual moralistic hypocrisy.

    But after I cashed in my backdated, wildly inflated options, reducing some poor Holocaust survivor in Florida, whose only sin was believing in the Promise of the Wireless Internet, to a cold grey future of Social Security and cat food, and exchanged the result for a condo in the Castro, I saw the light. You see, real estate in a city is like a kind of currency – its value is defined by its scarcity. This makes developers the equivalent of counterfeiters. Through their shady political deals, they’re debasing the savings I worked those 100-hour weeks for. Now I fume with indignation every time I see a new building going up.

    What’s worse, San Francisco is currently building boatloads of new condos, as the result of electing its green, neo-Maoist “Bay Guardian” faction. When our present supervisors were out of power, they would never have endorsed this kind of Earthrape. But now that they’re in power, they’ve realized that developers aren’t so bad at all. They care about social justice, too. Not only do they generate substantial fees that can be used for good works, but they’re happy to allocate a substantial fraction of their units at below-market rates to be distributed to needy individuals. In addition, the new buildings are often “green” – which is good for local sustainable industries. Etc, etc. So just as I’ve cured myself of envy and greed, others have succumbed. It’s terrible how these things work…

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Sad that so much of his best (shortest, and most quotable) writing is scattered in comment sections on random pages all over the internet.

    • Anatoly says:

      The switch is fully automatic, can happen pretty much instantaneously and may be difficult to notice.

      Once a week I drive my kid to a private teacher who has an office in a large apartment building with very scarce public parking. Occasionally when we’re almost late I drive into the backyard and park at someone’s empty private spot just for a minute or two that it takes to bring the kid in and run back to the car.

      Incidentally, I live in a large apartment building with very scarce public parking. My private parking spot is right by one of the entrances. Occasionally as I drive into the backyard I find my spot occupied by someone who needed to run in for just a minute or two. I haven’t made a huge deal out of it yet, but I judge them pretty harshly as I wait, and I told them off in a peeved voice a few times. Don’t they realize how inconsiderate that is? OK, so the impact isn’t huge if it really is 1-2 minutes, but it’s still… just… *wrong*.

      I noticed the switch the other day when the second thing happened 10 minutes after the first.

      • Alex says:

        The Fundamental Attribution error! When *I* park illegally, it’s because I’m only going to be a minute and I’m running late. When *someone else* parks illegally, it’s because they’re an asshole.

        • Anatoly says:

          I wish it was “just” the FAE, but I don’t think so. As the owner, I didn’t think of the driver as an asshole; I thought of them as too easily corrupted by convenience.

          As the owner, I genuinely think I wouldn’t do that, even for one minute, as the driver.
          As the driver, I genuinely think I’d be OK with it, if it’s just for one minute, as the owner.
          And I switch between the two sides seamlessly and without noticing.
          It’s kind of unsettling.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            As the driver, you ‘know’ that you will only be a minute. As the owner, you don’t know that; your expectation can only come from averaging your experience of seeing other cars parked illegally for various durations (and seeing other people behave rudely in various situations).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            As the driver, you rarely if ever do it. And your uses are spread out over many spaces.

            As the owner, it happens to you far, far more as there are hundreds or even thousands of drivers who may need that parking space “just for a minute”. Their use is concentrated on your space.

            It’s not quite tragedy-of-the-commons, but it is akin to it.

          • I think this is related to another pattern I’ve observed in myself–entirely inappropriate anger. I bump my head against something. Insofar as anyone is at fault, it’s me. But I still feel anger, react as if someone has attacked me.

            Someone is parked in your space. That means you can’t park there, which is a nuisance, so your reaction is anger. It’s easier to have that reaction because he is breaking the rules. But I observe a mild form of the same reaction in myself when someone else pulls into the space in the parking lot that I was planning to pull into–even though he has as much right to it as I do.

          • onyomi says:

            The furniture in my house is unjustly attacking me all the time. I feel particularly aggrieved toward certain kitchen cabinet nobs always grabbing my headphones.

          • Simon says:

            The one good thing about aging,-each stubbing of my toe is one less to look forward to as I race toward the grave

  14. Christopher T Hallquist says:

    I’ve never lived in Michigan, but based on my experience with landlord-tenant law in other states, and some cursory Googling, I think your landlord got away with murder grand larceny:

    http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(yx2jmxkft30443dg1v3ibjpc))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-554-139
    http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(yx2jmxkft30443dg1v3ibjpc))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-554-633

    • Deiseach says:

      Definitely a scammer. It’s maybe not unreasonable to ask a tenant to have insurance for property damage (suppose you-not-Scott got drunk/high, decided a bonfire in the middle of the living room was just the thing to provide festive atmosphere, and caused enough fire and smoke and other damage that the room was a write-off? Hard to ask the landlord to eat that kind of loss all by themselves).

      But damage such as Scott described, to water pipes? Definitely the landlord’s baby. And those kind of legal threats and delaying actions are how they pressure people into giving up their rights. Scott is educated, smart, and in a socially high-status (if not yet raking in huge bucks) profession, with family and friends at his back, yet he was stressed out and buffaloed into going along with an out-of-court settlement that screwed him over. Imagine a poorer, less educated, or more vulnerable individual in the same or similar situations.

      That’s why I tend to roll my eyes at the comments on here about “why on earth do people want to own their own homes, that’s totally unnecessary” and “the market will set reasonable rents” and “all disputes can be settled by recourse to law, we don’t need no stinkin’ government interventions and regulations”.

      Yeah, sure – if everyone was reasonable, logical and honest. But this is the planet Earth, and you get people on both sides of the fence who are out to screw you over, whether tenant, landlord or large property management company.

      “Oh no, why would a businessman do that? A landlord who gets a bad name won’t get new tenants!”

      What’s the betting that the landlord has already let the house to a new tenant? Who is going to warn the new tenant that this guy is dodgy – not Scott, as saying anything would leave him open to charges of slander or libel, and he’s had enough bad news with going to law with this guy not to want to get burned any more. Happens all the time – guys who are rip-off merchants and con artists but manage to replace their old victim with a new pigeon and keep the money flowing – it may only be for a short while until their misdeeds catch up with them, but they don’t care about the long term, just squeezing as much money out of it as they can.

      • Christopher T Hallquist says:

        I agree with some of the points you make, but my impression is that the small-time landlords are the main offenders here. Whether it’s due to more concern for reputation, or greater fear of lawsuits due to deeper pockets, large landlords seem anecdotally to be better behaved. I’m optimistic enough about my ability to find well-behaved landlords in the future that I don’t see much benefit in owning, aside from the tax benefits. Is there some reason I should rethink that?

        • Wency says:

          Agree anecdotally that small-time landlords tend to be bigger offenders. For example, large landlords tend to be much more diligent about returning security deposits.

          The law in the U.S. favors apartment tenants. For example, many provisions that landlords put into leases are unenforceable in court. This is in contrast to commercial leases, where caveat emptor is the rule. I think it is for this reason that corporate owners of apartments generally feel it isn’t worthwhile to battle their tenants.

          Corporate owners of real estate tend to be more systematic in screening residential tenants. There are private suppliers of databases on tenants. This can be a problem if you’re in the database unfairly. In the chaos of moving out, I was perhaps a week late in making my final rent payment to an apartment complex several years ago. Somehow this was entered into a database as me still owing them money (even though they agree I don’t owe them money), and I can’t seem to get it out of the database, so it becomes a fight every time I try to rent a new apartment.

          God help you if you ever sue a landlord — no corporate landlord will ever rent to you again, if they can help it. A smaller landlord might not pick it up.

          • Ƭ̵̬̊ says:

            Suggestion: if landlords weren’t subject to so many onerous regulations, they would be more willing to rent to people.

          • neonwattagelimit says:

            Landlord-tenant relations are an odd duck in which, while the law itself is heavily favorable to tenants (in most circumstances), practical considerations still usually work out in the landlord’s favor.

            Basically, if you are a tenant who takes on a landlord, you stand a pretty good chance of victory if you are able to endure lots of unpleasantness, uncertainty and possibly a significant monetary loss. If Scott had sued the landlord, he probably would have won – but that involves suing the landlord, which is very costly and very unpleasant.

            Most people do not want to do this. Oddly, I think very often the tenants who who are most apt to battle with landlords are the worst tenants, because they have the most to lose. I once got screwed over by a roommate for precisely this reason – I was in the right, but he was willing to endure a lot more unpleasantness than I was because he had more to lose.

  15. Newbie says:

    A couple thoughts. The situation in Britain might not be one which a feedback mechanism could self correct. If you have a monopolistic employer who’s your only option for a profession and no competition, that employer can set wages arbitrarily and increase hours in defiance of what the other parties expected when they signed up for the career path. If someone is in a field where wages are low because labor is over supplied, society might be better off if they switch. If wages are low because there’s no competition and a monopolist is manipulating prices, the problem could be with the system.

    I feel strongly that the far view should be correct, a person with skin in the game doesn’t have unique moral authority over the cost/benefits of their situation, they just have unique data about how their situation makes them feel. With a richer vocabulary that could encode the complete human experience, Hitchens might have learned nothing new from waterboarding and reached the same conclusion before and after. The outside view of what policies make everyone happier over the long run seems superior than the inside view of making decisions based upon who’s perspective is more relatable. People with skin in the game may have more data, but that’s information that the outside view could ideally incorporate. The outside view needs to avoid the hubris of overestimating their understanding of how people are feeling, but the inside view needs to appreciate that the policies that lead to a better world may not be the ones that lead to a better world for them.

    • LCL says:

      I agree. I think this is a key distinction that hasn’t been emphasized enough.

      The market for academics in the U.S. has a lot more competition among firms, so the signals from wages and working conditions are much more reliable. The signal is that academics are oversupplied and an exodus from the industry is indicated; that should be clear.

      The market for doctors in the U.K., as detailed in the post, is basically a monopsony (one employer only). So there’s some likelihood that poor wages and conditions there reflect mismanagement of the single employer, rather than a market signal about relative supply and demand of doctors, and that an exodus of doctors would be a net negative for society overall.

      That likelihood makes me more sympathetic to the junior doctors than to the adjuncts.

      • Murphy says:

        There are private hospitals in the UK and they apparently pay quite decently, they do however tend to not invest as much in training staff.

        The best guess is that the current government wants to screw up the system (The Tory modus operandi is to chop up public institutions then sell them to themselves and their families at a knock down price ) so they can turn around and say “well, it looks like the NHS is a failure, guess our only option is privatizing it” then watch as the total cost quadruples.

  16. Said Achmiz says:

    So, Scott… why did you sign that rental contract?

    I ask only because: a) I really don’t understand (as opposed to “I understand that the reason is ‘because you’re stupid'”), and b) it seems to me like your answer should be an important missing piece of this puzzle.

    • JBeshir says:

      How much a month would you pay extra, in how much worse a location, in order to avoid it?

      The rental market isn’t exactly replete with a hundred near-identical identically priced options, to let you be picky on one thing without compromising everything else badly, in many (most? all the ones I’ve ever rented in) cities.

      • Devilbunny says:

        I had horrible things happen in my apartment (bathtub overflow destroys downstairs ceiling) and I had renter’s insurance. Which promptly told me that anything involving the hardware was up to the landlord. My insurance covered me and my stuff, not the place.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        @JBeshir:

        This is the diametrical opposite of my experience.

      • Adam says:

        Yeah, same as Said for me. I don’t know if too many people that post here live in San Francisco and New York or what it is, but this has not been my experience at all. There literally are hundreds of roughly identical options available for about the same price in the same place that I’ve been able to move into within a few weeks any time I wanted to move. The reason I live where I live right now is a construction project went up across the street from our last building and my wife and I got tired of the noise. It took us four days to find this place and we were able to choose from five vacancies that are all within walking distance of this place. This building was a smidgen cheaper with fewer amenities, but we don’t use amenities anyway so that was fine.

    • Deiseach says:

      So, Scott… why did you sign that rental contract?

      Moved to a new strange place for a job, a place where he doesn’t know anyone or have any local connections. Needed someplace to live now that was reasonably close to his place of work (given whatever travel constraints, e.g. I don’t know if he has/had a car or was relying on public transport, which limits where he can live) and reasonably priced and not a complete slum.

      Going on the ads for accommodation. Didn’t know anybody to ask word-of-mouth about the landlord. I’m pretty sure any former tenants with beefs were, like Scott, so fed-up and stressed they don’t want to talk about the guy for fear of retaliation so nothing online or written down to say “don’t trust this guy”.

      Fundamental honesty* – ‘if the landlord asks this, then it must be necessary’ and that, combined with the pressure of ‘I need a place to stay, I’m starting my new job, I have to take this, I have other stuff to worry about” – you sign the contract, you don’t expect any property damage to happen (nobody thinks their house will burn down, etc.) and just wanted to get it done and over with.

      Coming from a different climatic environment had no experience with weather conditions of new location and probable problems. Nobody to advise him about such. As such, did not foresee likelihood of things like “if the pipes freeze and burst, who is liable?” as he assumed the landlord’s insurance covered things like that.

      Assumption that the landlord was reasonable, responsible businessman acting according to best market dictates and so would not be an asshole trying to screw over his tenant in an insurance scam.

      *I’m not blaming Scott here, I was raised honest myself and this has meant I got screwed over by people whose word was not their bond and that unless you had everything written down in a water-tight contract you should not believe them if they said grass was green. Life, time, experience and growing cynicism has cured me of that to an extent, but unfortunately it’s true- experience is the best teacher. Now that Scott has been burned once, he’ll be a lot tougher about contracts etc. in future.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Moved to a new strange place for a job, a place where he doesn’t know anyone or have any local connections. Needed someplace to live now that was reasonably close to his place of work (given whatever travel constraints, e.g. I don’t know if he has/had a car or was relying on public transport, which limits where he can live) and reasonably priced and not a complete slum.

        Scott said he rented a house. Not an apartment or a room or a unit, but a whole house! That doesn’t sound like “need a residence that satisfies minimum requirements, ASAP”. That sounds like “was looking for a good place to live for the medium or long term”.

        The idea of relying on public transport in suburban Michigan sounds extremely unlikely.

        Going on the ads for accommodation. Didn’t know anybody to ask word-of-mouth about the landlord.

        There are websites with reviews of housing complexes, management companies, etc. I made use of such things when I needed to find a place to live in Indianapolis. (My time frame for the search was one week.)

        ***

        The answers I’ve gotten so far strike me as quite unconvincing. I hope Scott will take time to weigh in.

        • Alexp says:

          I don’t know about the other stuff, but it was probably a small house far from pristine condition.

          And a lot of landlords may be too small to find too many reviews online. And even you were talking about a major apartment management company, online reviews rarely mention anything about the holding company, and given the rate at which those places change owners, it can be difficult to get a bead on if one company is truly shadier than other companies through online reviews alone.

          That in addition to the fact that online apartment reviews aren’t a very useful resource. They’re unreliable, often poisoned by astroturfing from both their employees and employees of rivals and almost invariably lean negative. And I have yet to read a review that had anything positive to say about the management and administrative staff. At some point after reading dozens of scathing reviews for every property( even the expensive ones) you’re considering it gets exhausting trying separate the signal from the noise, and in my experience, the inclination is to throw in the towel and just pick one.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            That in addition to the fact that online apartment reviews aren’t a very useful resource.

            This, too, is the diametrical opposite of my experience.

        • SJ says:

          I’m not Scott, but I’ve rented lodgings in Michigan. (In a different college town in Michigan.)

          The dynamics of landlord and tenant in a college town are different.

          The properties are a mix of big-apartment-building, small-apartment-building, former-residential-house-divided-into-apartments, and former-residential-house-with-shared-common-space.

          Landlords are a mix of professionals (a chartered corporation, or an LLC operation), semi-professionals, someone who owns an extra house in the area, amateurs who hope to cash in on a predictable flow of tenants, and financially-savvy-parents-of-college-students.

          Each type of landlord has its “good apples” and “bad apples”…er, people who deal honestly vs. people who deal less-than-honestly.

          There is less churn on the landlord side than on the tenant side. But there is churn in both markets. Which makes it hard for tenants or landlords to have a “market history” on their potential business partner.

          There are typically online locations where potential tenants can learn about various landlords…but these are often incomplete. And potentially full of old data, or inaccurate reviews.

          I’m surprised that the rental market in those towns more-or-less works for most customers. But I’m not surprised that those rental markets have such horror-stories, from both tenants and landlords.

  17. Dormin111 says:

    It’s crazy to me that this sort of analysis isn’t applied to social justice arguments more often.

    The hallmark of SJWism is “privilege,” which is essentially a hardcore preference for “near mode” thinking. For instance, “white people can’t possibly understand structural racism in America because they are not subject to it.” Yet how often do we hear the counterargument: “black people will tend to overestimate the scope and severity of racism in America precisely because they are subject to it.”

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      There are is a polar opposite to SJ which is as resolutely far mode: “as a white male, I understand your best interests far better than you could”

      • Dormin111 says:

        But I have never in my entire life heard a white male say such a thing. I routinely hear the opposite.

    • Alexp says:

      This reminds me of a Doug Stanhope joke:

      “People tell me I can’t understand racism because I’m white.

      I say, ‘No you can’t understand racism because you’re not white. I hear what they say when you leave the room.'”

      (Paraphrased)

    • tcheasdfjkl says:

      Yet how often do we hear the counterargument: “black people will tend to overestimate the scope and severity of racism in America precisely because they are subject to it.”

      It’s less of a developed political position, but there is sort of a trope that women can’t be objective about sexism, black people can’t be objective about racism, etc., because their personal experience makes them subjective. I’ve seen pro-social-justice arguments against this trope that basically argued that no, *everyone’s* experience is affected by their gender, race, etc., so nobody is objective, but the nature of privilege is that it hides itself from you so you can’t see how you’re not objective, whereas if you’re on the oppressed side it’s more obvious (plus if you’re a literal minority, then you probably know more about the majority than the majority knows about you).

  18. I think you missed one really important thing: From my perspective, as a potential hospital patient (and even doctors and adjuncts are potential hospital patients,) I really, really, REALLY want my doctors to be well-rested and happy (or at least not distressed out of their gourds.) Exhausted doctors kill patients. Period. Anyone who schedules doctors to work for more than 10 hours straight is setting up the system to kill patients, and should therefore go to prison.

    I have tons of sympathy for adjuncts and mistreated folks in any profession, but I at least do not have to fear that they’ll kill me.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Scott cites some (probably flawed) research that concludes the length of shifts doesn’t increase bad outcomes.
      You’ll have to address it first in order to use your argument.
      Personally I think there is a catch in the research, as it sounds really wrong to me.

      • Jiro says:

        Everyone’s first thought for that was that when comparing the longer shifts to the shorter shifts, the shorter shifts were simply lies and they weren’t actually shorter. How do you determine that shorter shifts actually are shorter? By looking at timeclocks and similar things which are the first measures to be faked if anyone would want to fake a shorter shift?

    • Steven says:

      The intern working the maximum 10-hour shift saw you when you were admitted at 4 pm and saw how sick you were then, and left at his end-of-shift at 6 pm. The new intern comes around at 7 pm and sees how sick you are now. And then you die at 8 pm because your rapid deterioration in subjective condition between 4 pm and 7 pm was a big medical clue that was missed because nobody had the observation baseline to notice it. Congratulations, your prison-term-enforced shift law just killed you.

      Information is lost in every shift hand-off, and that loss of information verifiably results in increased patient mortality and morbidity. Tired doctors do kill some patients, yes; but so does bringing in a shift of fresh doctors who have to try to reconstruct patient history from a chart. The current system in the US (whether you mean the traditional system, the system that was nominally imposed in 2003, or the stricter one one nominally imposed in 2011) may not make the tradeoff in the right place, but a shift length chosen without keeping the tradeoff in mind is unlikely to hit the right place either.

      • Ninmesara says:

        loss of information verifiably results in increased patient mortality and morbidity

        This is extremely obvious, but I’ve never seen any hard data on how these kinds of errors compare with errors made from tired doctors. Do you have any data on this?

        • Steven says:

          No, I don’t.

          I last looked at the numbers a long time ago, when I had access to jJSTOR, and what I mostly remember is that the comparative numbers are damned hard to extract from all the other possible sources of variability in the studies. Shift changes kill, and tiredness kills, but where the tradeoff is I couldn’t tell you.

      • Noumenon72 says:

        This particular thing would be well addressed by the 2-2-3 schedule at my last factory job: 12-hour shifts, 4 times per week. In the overlap between Doctor 2 arriving and Doctor 1 leaving, all sorts of critical information gets passed along. One of the things dragging me out of bed every morning is that I knew my job would be much harder that day if I didn’t get there in time to talk to the guy before.

        • Alexp says:

          isn’t that basically how nurses are scheduled?

          • Cyansky says:

            It’s how nurses should be scheduled. Often or not I’ve seen them overworked and underpaid meaning that they fail to do the handover properly.

            That, or they don’t know how to do a proper handover anyway so it’s a moot point.

          • Corey says:

            Anecdata: The NICU my daughter was in in 2006 had the nurses scheduled this way. 13-hour shifts overlapped between 6-7 AM and PM. During those two hours, no parents or visitors, because HIPAA (those hours were dedicated to discussing the cases in detail).

      • Error says:

        Perhaps hospitals already do something like this, but it seems to me this sort of damage could be minimized by careful assignment of patients to doctors — the most obvious algorithm would be “stagger everyone’s shifts, always give new patients to whoever has the most hours left in their shift.” There are probably better ones.

        • We are looking at two different issues and treating them as one. One issue is how long the shift is. A different and independent issue is how many hours a week a doctor works.

          You could have a system where each doctor works two twenty hour shifts a week, for a total of forty hours. You could have a system where each doctor works ten eight hour shifts for a total of eighty hours. The former greatly reduces the handoff problem, with some but not enormous cost in tired doctors–plenty of time to catch up on sleep between shifts. The latter has both the tired doctor problem and the handoff problem.

          The handoff problem explain long shifts, but it doesn’t explain working eighty or a hundred hours a week.

      • John Schilling says:

        The intern working the maximum 10-hour shift saw you when you were admitted at 4 pm and saw how sick you were then, and left at his end-of-shift at 6 pm.

        But the doctor is still going to go home eventually. And most patients are going to be in the hospital for longer than any one doctor can remain awake and functional.

        If the medical community doesn’t know how to do shift handoffs right, people are going to die. Making the doctors work a hundred hours at a stretch isn’t going to stop that, it’s just going to add fatigued doctors to the list of problems.

        Lots of people know how to do shift handoffs right. I work space missions where critical events occur over a hundred or so hours, with trend monitoring being necessary to anticipate problems. Nobody ever thought it was a good idea to have me work a single, hundred-hour shift. Taking time at the end of my shift to brief my replacement, that was necessary and formally structured.

        As with Hitchins and waterboarding, any senior doctor or hospital administrator who can’t figure this out, needs to be working hundred-hour shifts themselves.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        Excerpt from my top-level comment below:

        “There seems to be room for improving the fundamental tradeoff of tired doctors versus information loss on shift changes. For a start, we could make doctors all wear Google Glass while at work, so that the next shift can see for themselves what the patient looked like two hours ago.”

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Chrysophylax

          Good idea. But rather than each doctor (and nurse) wearing recording instruments, better to have a security type camera running constantly in each room. At handoff time, run the tape at high speed to see if anything odd or important has happened.

      • Skivverus says:

        I take it overlapping shifts are out of the question, then?

        e.g.: six eight-hour shifts, with each shift only taking on new patients in their first four hours. Patients who need more extended attention can be handed off in the four hours of overlap with the next shift, or, if it’s a simple-but-lengthy problem, to the one after.

  19. BugTug says:

    I think their are broader social issues at stake when it comes to junior doctor/adjunct professor working conditions. It is not just a matter of what is best for junior doctors/adjuncts themselves. For example, I’d suspect that there are a lot of avoidable mistakes made by overworked junior doctors. Those mistakes result is lost money, pain, injury, and maybe even death. Poor working conditions are bad for doctors, but also harm every patient that doctor sees. The UK should ensure that junior doctors have minimally acceptable work conditions not just for the doctors themselves, but the

    The same goes for adjunct professors. Even though people probably don’t die from bad teaching, the US should be interested in ensuring the quality of higher education. At a time when college costs more than ever, sending kids to college to be taught by an overworked, underpaid teacher with no job security or ability to conduct research seems unnecessary. Replacing tenured faculty with adjuncts undermines the long term stability of the university. The country as a whole benefits from having professors with job security and the ability to conduct their own research. It also benefits from having a college-educated workforce taught by such professors.

  20. JRM says:

    Not legal advice. I am not a civil attorney, and not a Michigan attorney. I get distracted by shiny legal questions.

    (JRM: I started writing this and fell in a hole. Edited down, but not into a particularly coherent whole.)

    My expectation is that carrying property insurance by the tenant would be unenforceable in most jurisdictions. I’d be surprised if any state required home damage insurance to bought by the landlord; liability, maybe, but if the house burns down, the landlord generally has to eat that. To Michigan we go:

    First, MCL 554.139 requires the landlord to keep the house in good repair, EXCEPT that she can negotiate that away if the lease is for more than a year. If it’s a month-to-month, I think the plain language wins out.

    But wait, there’s more! Michigan’s Truth-in-renting law (specifically Michigan Compiled Law 554.633(1)(e) (Side note: I could make anything I want up now; enough numbers and parentheses and a “Compiled,” and a state which I believe is without water, power, or computers):

    [Things you can’t have] (e) Exculpates the lessor from liability for the lessor’s failure to perform, or negligent performance of, a
    duty imposed by law. This subdivision does not apply to a provision that releases a party from liability arising
    from loss, damage, or injury caused by fire or other casualty for which insurance is carried by the other party,
    under a policy that permits waiver of liability and waives the insurer’s rights of subrogation, to the extent of
    any recovery by the insured party under the policy

    JRM: This pretty clearly anticipates the the tenant could have insurance by contract.

    But wait! Calef v. West (2002) 252 Mich. App. 443 has renter falling in a big hole after the snow melts (note: “Snow” is a thing from movies.) and this is considered a latent defect. In that case, the landlord cannot burden-shift. Case law beats words-in-statute, but this is not what we’d call a four corners case. (We wouldn’t call it a “dead on point” case either, because people sometimes like to say “four corners” to prove they went to law school at a place that said things like that to mean the case is dead on point.)

    So, this is actually a hard question. I think you would be a winner under the first code section way up there if you fought it. Fortunately, the real winners in any such disputes are the lawyers, whose fees would likely exceed your total savings by a bunch. (There are landlord-tenant clinics all over the place. They are usually very good at easy questions and not as good at hard ones. I worked at such a clinic for three months as a not-yet-lawyer, and I enjoyed it.)

    On the main point: Need more time to articulate clearly. (It’s late. Enough rambling for the night.)

    • CatCube says:

      In Oregon, I had to carry property insurance to rent my apartment. You had to provide proof of insurance prior to signing the lease–if I didn’t have that piece of paper, I would have been turned away from my appointment to sign for the apartment.

      This was different than I had done in either Missouri or Kentucky (and Michigan, though I was renting from the University there), and I had never heard of such a thing. However, when I went to the webpage for my renters insurance–which I had to cover my personal property–sure enough, I could purchase $100,000 of liability coverage.

      The purpose wasn’t to fix stuff that was due to, say, wearing out. It was to fix damage that was my fault. That is, if I left a window open and a pipe froze and split, it’s on me and not my landlord. The property manager was very clear on that–I have a responsibility to make sure that I keep the place heated, and if a problem develops, to tell them so it can be fixed and not let, say, a roof leak progress to major structural damage. Which actually makes sense, when you think about it. If I’m a dumbass and destroy my apartment, why should that be the fault of my landlord?

      • keranih says:

        This is also my experience and what I think was going on with Scott. The landlord is within his/her rights to put as a condition of the lease that the renter get coverage to repay the landlord for damages due to neglect or intentional actions of the renter.

        I also think it’s within the rights of the tenant to attempt to negotiate different terms (ie, higher rent, show evidence of being able to live in a house and not ruin it, self-insured, etc).

        Having said that, I don’t think its unreasonable for Scott to suspect his landlord of nefarious actions.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’ve had a landlord require renters insurance also. The reason they gave is they’d had situations where there was damage to the renter’s property that the landlord was not liable for, but resulted in lawsuits and unhappy tenants.

        • Anonymous says:

          I rented out a condo for two years when I was in another city for work. I put that renters insurance was required in the contract, as required by the condo association, but stupidly didn’t check to make sure. A pipe burst in another apartment. Between my homeowners, the other apartment’s homeowners, and the condo’s insurance all the damage to the apartment was fixed at no cost to me. However, my tenants had no coverage for their damaged stuff and no money for alternate housing arrangements while repairs were being made — both of which renter’s insurance covers. They tried to get me or the other condo owner to pay for their stuff, then they tried to break the lease. Had some lawyer relative write a nasty letter.

          Eventually the whole thing got settled in my favor (I kept the security deposit in exchange for allowing them to terminate) but it was a serious PITA.

    • Deiseach says:

      Fortunately, the real winners in any such disputes are the lawyers, whose fees would likely exceed your total savings by a bunch.

      I can see the argument about “Did Scott take enough reasonable precautions setting the thermostat and was he negligent in not checking the weather forecast” versus “Did the landlord have the pipes sufficiently insulated and maintained” to make lawyers in a case very happy to fight it out.

      Does the fact that (if I’m remembering right) Scott paid for a company to come clear up the water damage in the basement affect this at all? I can’t see that he should be held responsible for structural damage (if any) as that surely goes on the landlord’s insurance?

      From working in social housing provision, where we administer schemes that involve private landlords providing rental properties under rent supplement, I’ve seen both sides: tenants who were nothing but trouble, trashed a place, and left the landlord with huge expenses and landlords who were weaselling out of everything they could, the property was barely habitable, and they still wanted full market rates.

      REMEMBER, KIDS: ALWAYS ASSUME THE OTHER GUY IS A LYING LIAR OUT TO SCREW YOU OVER BEFORE YOU SIGN ANY CONTRACT

      • CatCube says:

        My apartment has guidelines about temperatures. If the outside air temperature is below freezing, for example, you’re expected to leave the cabinet doors open. If it’s below something like 20°, you’re supposed to leave a faucet running. They post signs when they expect temperatures to drop (it’s near Portland, so there aren’t all that many freezing days a year). This is weird to me, being from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where we regularly have -20° days and we don’t bother to crack a faucet or open cabinet doors. I chalk it up to differing insulation standards.

        But they were very clear, both verbally and in the lease, that frozen pipes are the responsibility of the renter. I don’t know how far you’d get complaining to a lawyer about insulation on the pipes.

  21. Sniffnoy says:

    Personally, I’m wondering just to what extent all sorts of contracts might actually be determined by social expectations rather than supply and demand. It seems to be easy to get people to accept things if you can make them “standard”. Even to make people feel that they are required to take them. And then, of course, they seek to get only the upsides, because, well, they felt forced into it.

    Civilis, in reply to Salem, mentions how he knows some people who would prefer to work longer hours for longer pay, but they can’t (that one’s actually a legal restriction, I guess). Meanwhile, back on OT47, James mentions how he’d prefer to work shorter hours for lower pay — but it seems to be hard to find a part-time job that pays decently (you can’t just work half the hours for half the pay). Why is it so hard to interpolate and extrapolate? And then there’s things like the expectation of an employer providing health insurance (now also something of a legal restriction)…

    Basically, people’s wants grade continuously, but due to a combination of coordination requirements and social expectation, things are lumpy instead. And the former is hard to avoid but the latter worries me.

    Basically I’m worried that this effect of social expectations:
    1. Makes things lumpier, as mentioned.
    2. Allows what the Commies/Marxists would call the “capitalist class” to more effectively cooperate against everyone else. Not “cooperate” in the sense of discuss with each other and deliberately collude, but in the sense of just hit the cooperate button and trust that it’ll work out for them, that their competitors won’t really compete against them as hard as they can.

    (And it’s also just kind of obviously generally bad for fairly obvious reasons, but I’m focusing on what seems relevant to the original post.)

    I don’t really have any way of assessing to what extent it is true. But I think that it might explain a bit — people aren’t doing these things because they actually think that they’re good deals, but because that’s how things are done and people tend to follow social expectations a lot rather than ruthlessly maximizing their self-interest. (They also make sticky “identities” for themselves, reducing their flexibility; I expect this has a lot to do with people not just quitting jobs they don’t like.) And then like I said, they feel like they were forced into it by such social and identity considerations, so we get the phenomenon you see here, with the complaints that it’s unfair.

    (Possibly also relevant: Eliezer Yudkowsky on standard marriages. Not sure it exactly fits, but there’s a similarity.)

    • David W says:

      It seems to depend a lot on context. In chemical engineering, it’s easy to explain why you can’t work half the hours for half the pay, though. The first 10 hours each week seem to always go toward upkeep.

      I need to know what everyone else on the project is doing, at least for those portions that affect me. What temperature steam are we using? How much design margin are we using for pumps, pipes, vessels – and is that margin already built into the numbers for the material balance or do I add it myself? What format do I put my calculations and conclusions into so that everyone else can use *my* work. What’s already been done and in progress so I don’t duplicate someone else’s work? No single piece takes very long, but it does add up.

      On top – this generally requires me to be in the office at the same time as everyone else. I can get an answer in 30 seconds, and go back to work, or I can send an e-mail and work for several hours possibly down a wrong path, which may all turn into wasted time. Similar effect in reverse if I’m working part time instead of overtime – someone else may waste hours or days before I return and get them an answer.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar effect happens in most fields where you’re on a project bigger than one person; coordination takes a certain amount right off the top, and you’re only productive after you’ve gotten that accomplished.

      I also need to take care of basic self-maintenance: keep my computer up to date on software, fill out my timesheet, keep up with training.

      In half the time, I produce a third as much. To be fair to my employer, I should get a third of the pay for half the work, which is much less appealing than half for half. Then, go to his perspective: I cost a certain amount in accounting staff, HR, office space, computer/IT, before I work my first hour. So if he spends a third as much on me, my take home will be even less than a third, for half the work.

      This is all short term. Long term – I’ll gain skill and perspective and knowledge more or less proportional to how much I work. After 10 years of 40 hour weeks, I’m quite a bit more effective per hour than someone with 10 years of 20-hour weeks. That’ll skew the ratios even further.

      Of course…the other effect here is that it’s a lot more straightforward to get overtime if I want it, than many other jobs. Even at time and a half (which is not guaranteed, some engineers get straight time), the extra productivity outweighs the extra cost and everyone leaves happy – so long as we stay within reasonable bounds, of course. Push too far above 60 hr weeks and I may be producing negative work, once you account for the time to fix my errors.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Allows what the Commies/Marxists would call the “capitalist class” to more effectively cooperate against everyone else.

      Er, I should really say, lumpiness and going along with what’s “standard” in general hurts everyone

  22. Shion Arita says:

    Let me say that from my experience the academic side of things isn’t the greatest either. I don’t know what they do over in the philosophy department, but here in the physical sciences the work conditions and hours can be just as bad as you describe, and mistakes can be disastrous here too since we often work with heavy machinery and very dangerous chemicals. I can tell you from experience that it’s no fun to be handling liquid fire or death in screw-cap bottles when you’re on 3 hours of sleep and you’ve skipped meals.

    And note, I’m not trying to pull a ‘my pain is greater than yours’ thing here. What I’m trying to illustrate is that ‘good’ working conditions are probably very few and far between across the board, and since its so pervasive, dealing with it is going to be a really hard global problem.

    I still like what I do, since I like what it’s all about, I like the science. And if I were to quit I’d end up doing something just as grueling and not as interesting.

    • Noumenon72 says:

      One thing about Reddit and the Internet in general is that there don’t seem to be any good jobs. I can’t think “Oh, my job sucks, maybe I should quit and get a different one” because when you actually talk to someone with any job, from porn star to programmer, it turns out to have the good parts overwhelmed by painful parts and competition among people who want it. Perhaps I’m under-adjusting for the fact that unhappy people vent more and it’s more interesting to read, but I’m convinced that having a child who is going to have to get a job is cruel.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m convinced that having a child who is going to have to get a job is cruel.

        I’ve worked jobs I really liked, such that I was interested in going to work each day to see what would happen. I’ve worked jobs that were okay. And I’ve worked jobs I hated and that made me sick, which was retail work.

        So I would definitely say, of all the work experience I’ve had, the most hellish was retail. Bad pay, dealing with the public is an unmitigated pain in the ass, you have no power over policies yet people expect you to be able to give them discounts, returns, etc and the management treats you like an inconvenience. No status (think of all the dismissive jokes about gum-chewing morons at the check-out that you’ve heard in your time, I’m sure you’ve heard or read something about that, people complaining the person ringing up their items couldn’t read or count or make change or didn’t smile and talk to them or conversely was too smiley and chatty), everyone thinks it’s a lowest-common-denominator job that any idiot without ambition or drive can get just by walking in the door.

        And I suppose a lot of service-industry jobs go here as well, I’ve never worked in the hotel industry but I have an example of a family-run business where my sister got a job (that turned out to be temporary as it was such bad conditions my father told her “To hell with this, quit it, I’d rather see you unemployed than like this”) in this particular hotel and some *mumblemumble* years later, the daughter of a work colleague got a temporary job there.

        Same bad conditions, same screwing people over, same “coming home crying from work, not getting paid when and the amount due”, finally her mother told her quit it and find something else for summer work (this was to fund college and she really needed work).

        So unless your child is going to be the owner of a service industry business, yeah – stay away from them unless absolutely desperate.

        Of course, the problem here is that with manufacturing jobs being automated, outsourced or both, service industry jobs are the ones that people are having to take as an alternative. While Bob the assembly line worker or Jane the receptionist at the box factory may have had decent jobs and status, Bob the shelf stacker and Jane the waitress don’t get the same status.

        • “think of all the dismissive jokes about gum-chewing morons at the check-out that you’ve heard in your time”

          I cannot remember having ever heard such a joke.

        • Tracy W says:

          Huh, I’ve worked retail and receptionist and I prefer retail. Reception is excruciatingly boring. Though I once did have a summer job as a nurse’s aid at a secure rehab unit for people with behavioural issues so my bar for bad behaviour by the public is probably warped.

          And, while I haven’t worked manufacturing, from other people’s description, assembly line work was even more boring than reception. How much status would pay you for tightening a bolt again and again for 8 hours, 5 days a week, 48+ weeks a year?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            How much status would pay you for tightening a bolt again and again for 8 hours, 5 days a week, 48+ weeks a year?

            Yeah, but think about how good you’d get at tightening that bolt! You’d be tightening that bolt gracefully. You’d be tightening it with panache, in a state of flow! You’d master a range of bolt-tightening-related ninja warrior moves without even knowing it!

            “Your cricket-style kung fu no match for my wrench-style!”

      • “One thing about Reddit and the Internet in general is that there don’t seem to be any good jobs.”

        I’ve had almost entirely good jobs.

        • Phil says:

          I’d be legit curious as to why you think that’s been the case, (that you seem to have had a better than normal outcome at finding engaging work)

          Can I throw out a few hypotheses, and you can comment on which of these ring true to you?

          1) you’ve worked jobs that are roughly average in pleasantness, but you have a better than average outlook in how fulfilling you find them (good attitude)

          2) you’ve done a good job of selecting work you’re interested and will be engaged in, (selection effect)

          3) (i intend no disrespect by this, I hope you don’t take any, it’s just an idea that occurred to me) famous dad, famous dad gave you early credibility in certain professional circle, saving you some of the early career ‘prove yourself’ unpleasant work, that some other people have to go through before they have a reputation that can give them some negotiating leverage to make their working conditions pleasant

          4) something else that I haven’t thought about

          ——

          Again, I’m legitimately curious what your thoughts about this are

          I hope you took no disrespect to how I phrased any of that

          • “4) something else that I haven’t thought about”

            I am unusually good at what I do, which is basically coming up with ideas and working them out, and I enjoy doing it.

            My first economics journal article, published in a top journal and written when I was in the process of switching from physics to economics, was an economic theory of the size and shape of nations. A while back I came across an article surveying the literature on that subject. The first article in the literature was mine. The next, some ten years later, was by Jim Buchanan. Much more has been written on the subject since. My article has been cited 135 times.

            Total citations of my books and articles (from ResearchGate, a web site that keeps track of citations) are just under a thousand.

            There are, of course, academics with much higher citation counts than mine and academics who have published much more. They tend to be tenured professors at Harvard or Yale or Chicago or Stanford, which I am not.

          • Phil says:

            Fair enough, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts

            Cal Newport has a theory that engaging work is something you earn with your career capital

            http://calnewport.com/books/so-good/

            Sounds like you’d buy that general idea

        • Shion Arita says:

          To clarify, I’d still consider my job a good job. I often do find myself wanting to go in to see what the results of my experiments are. I think it’s very engaging and rewarding, but it’s certainly not free of substantial aggravations.

      • LCL says:

        My personal experience is that not having a job is worse than even some of the lousy jobs I’ve worked. Income is only part of that; there’s a structure and direction to life provided by employment – even fairly bad employment – and a lack of structure and direction causes compounding problems.

      • Tracy W says:

        I enjoy most of my jobs, intersection of economics and energy. Stressful at times but stressful in the way that working through hard problems under time pressure is stressful.

  23. With the thoughts you'd be thinkin says:

    Slightly related but based on your mention of Australia’s healthcare system there are many discussions that you might find interesting as it is election season here.

    http://www.afr.com/business/health/hospitals-and-gps/debate-is-the-turnbull-government-or-the-ama-to-blame-for-public-health-mess-20160502-gok2mq

  24. Alex Zavoluk says:

    Whenever I’ve heard “skin in the game,” it specifically means something like “the benefit accrued to the person making decisions depends on the project’s success.” I have invested money into a project; I prosper if it succeeds and I fail if it fails. It’s not a general, “only ever listen to people with personal experience.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skin_in_the_game_(phrase)

    edit:

    If anything, putting MW workers in charge of setting the MW is the opposite of skin in the game. If a particular company does poorly, the MW workers don’t lose out, except losing their job if the company collapses, but that will be unlikely to affect the overall job market. Or, at the very least, you would have to have all stakeholders involved–but I think really it would mean “tie the compensation of whoever sets the MW to relevant factors about the overall economy and poverty rate” or something like that.

    “I guess the thing I’m not sure about is – does personal experience/”skin in the game” reduce fully to factual propositions?”

    I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. Personal experience might help you to interpret/critique an empirical study, generating hypotheses or providing an alternative explanation to data, or pointing out some factor that was missed. But I would still expect the factual questions to be resolved by experts doing larger-scale studies–on the question of if MW reduces employment, for example, I would expect the best (general) answer to come from economists rather than business owners or low-wage workers.

    The ethical questions are more subjective, and authority is even less relevant (if it even exists).

    I think the contradiction you’re running into is a likely outcome of trying to be overly paternalistic (also government-enforced monopolies), but don’t seem to want to take the last logical step of letting markets actually work.

    edit 2–having well-meaning politicians and bureaucrats swoop in to protect people from their own decisions is another example of lack of “skin in the game” causing negative results.

    edit 3 (a clear sign I shouldn’t have tried writing this at 2 AM)–skin in the game is about incentives, not information.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Yeah, this is worth pointing out. The title made me think this was going to be something N. N. Taleb-related or something.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      The term you need here is “moral hazard”. If my effort is unobservable (or at least unverifiable by a court) and my output is a stochastic function of my effort (or a deterministic function of a group’s unobservable efforts), my effort can’t be directly contracted for and I have an incentive to do what’s best for me instead of what maximises expected output.

      If what’s best for me happens to also be best for my employer, there’s no efficiency loss. If not, there’s an efficiency loss unless my wage can be made to capture all the variance in output I control. One way to do this is to make me the residual claimant – that is, my employer takes a flat amount and I get whatever’s left. (This may require unlimited liability and no minimum wage.) It’s not actually necessary to give me all the randomness, only that part of the randomness that I control, so that I have good incentives. This is important because risk-averse workers need higher average wages to tolerate the extra risk.

      Applying this, a decision-maker who doesn’t share proportionately in the full social costs and benefits has a strong incentive to make decisions that don’t maximise social welfare. For example, Jeremy Hunt has no incentive to make the NHS work as well as possible because he’s not the one with cancer.

      There’s also adverse selection, where one party knows something relevant that the other doesn’t before they make a contract (e.g. “your job will involve hundred-hour weeks, even though that’s illegal and not in the contract”).

      • Tracy W says:

        But how can any decision-maker share proportionately in the full social costs? Men don’t need maternity services, women don’t need prostrate exams, the elderly don’t need childhood vaccines, etc.

        A continual frustration amongst the NZ health economists I know is that they think that based on cost-benefit analysis the government should be putting more money into treating glue ear in poor kids, but politicians prefer to reduce waiting lists for things like hip operations for the elderly because guess who votes?

        • “But how can any decision-maker share proportionately in the full social costs?”

          One of the lovely things about price theory is that it turns out that, at least in the simplified model of perfect competition, every decision maker receives the net benefit produced by his decisions. That’s a slight oversimplification, but essentially correct.

          I produce a widget for someone else to consume. He gets the pleasure. I get what he pays for the widget. Price equals marginal value in equilibrium, so what I get paid is precisely the increase in human welfare due to there being one more widget.

          A more realistic model complicates the situation, but it’s still the right first approximation. Political decision making has no such feature.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            I don’t think it is the right approximation because I don’t think the necessary assumptions hold even approximately in the medical market. I think it’s the last place on Earth where prices would work well.

            We have layers of oligopoly causing double marginalisation, increasing returns to scale, externalities from drug research (plus appropriability problems and business-stealing problems), a very uncontestable labour market, a ridiculously uncontestable drugs market, very little ability for consumers to assess the quality of products because the product on sale (healthcare) is incredibly complex, moral hazard and adverse selection everywhere you look, strong social and legal pressures to consume and produce inefficient amounts of healthcare…

  25. stargirlprincesss says:

    The idea that “X has it harder so why help Y” just destroys compassion. There is always some X who has it harder! And the most common response after accepting “X has it worse so why help Y before X” is not to help X, its to help no one. Adjuncts may or may not be screwed more than doctors. But imo adjuncts are pretty screwed over and the academic system should really change. However even if we can’t reform academia we should still support decent conditions for doctors if possible.

    Of course a counterpoint is effective altruism. But effective altruism is not a common philosophy.

    (disclaimer: I am sympathetic to the idea that the medical profession is a cartel whose power must be broken. This probably cannot be done in a way that is kind to doctors. But perhaps it must be done. My comment was written assuming we are not overhauling the medical system anytime soon).

    • multiheaded says:

      I feel like this is so morally obvious…

    • The Nybbler says:

      Since we love named fallacies here, this one is the “Fallacy of Relative Privation”. That’s when the 3rd-most-miserable inmate at the nastiest North Korean prison camp tells the 2nd-most-miserable inmate at the same camp to stop whining, at least he doesn’t have it as bad as the most-miserable inmate.

  26. Seth says:

    I’m fascinated by this incident because it’s hard for me to understand, … what he learned from the experience. He must have already known it was very unpleasant – … But somehow there’s a difference between having someone explain to you that waterboarding is horrible, and undergoing it yourself.

    You have outlined here what I think of as a key Failure Of Rationality. What does it mean to have “known [waterboarding] was very unpleasant”? It’s an abstract, theoretical sense of “known”. Once he had actually been waterboarded, it was empirical, personal experience. That’s a difference sense of “known”. Critically (and laudably), he then revised his theoretical model of the effect of waterboarding on a person, in view of the empirical data he had now obtained. But had he not put his – plausible to him, but wrong – original theory to experimental test, he would likely have continued to insist, mockingly, snidely, and with all his considerably rhetorical skill, that the wrong theory was correct, reasoning from his inadequate abstract understanding.

    But of course, and you then examine at length, people with the most experience in a situation also have incentives that may create non-optimal outcomes. So one can’t solve the problem of bad theoretical models by simply making a rule to take personal experience as dispositive.

    To me, this issue is a core philosophical problem of reasoning, and I’ve found very little that seems to engage with it in a way focused on improvement for real-life situations (rather than artificial Trolley Problems or Killer-AI estimations).

    Does a factory worker have an advantage over a journalist in understanding globalization just because he knows that being laid off is really bad, and that it’s harder to get a new job than a journalist thinks – two things we would expect any journalist worth their salt to already know about?

    There’s several things going on in this sentence, with the words “advantage” and “know”. The factory worker has an advantage in better knowing the correct values of key parameters involved in “understanding globalization”. And hence any result which contradicts these is likely wrong (not certainly, as the factory worker could conceivably be overestimating). The journalist should know this in a perfect world, but likely will not, since they are embedded in a system design to promote those who reach conclusions pleasing to the factory owners.

    Awkwardly, my far mode says that there isn’t and my near mode says that there is.

    Ha! That’s basically having a beautiful theory slain by an ugly fact.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m fascinated by this incident because it’s hard for me to understand, … what he learned from the experience.

      A certain amount of mental shuffling going on. “If this is as bad as people say, then it’s torture. And torture is Bad. Only the Bad Guys do it. But we’re the Good Guys. We don’t torture. So it can’t be as bad as they say”.

      Being unwilling to recognise that yes it’s torture, or being unwiling to accept that yes it’s torture and we need to use torture to win.

      Then undergoing the experience and not being able to deny to yourself that yes, it’s torture.

      • On the subject of torture …

        I just read an interesting old article in part on the medieval law of torture. It was, by the author’s account, an unintended result of the attempt to never convict the innocent.

        At some point, I think the end of the 12th century, the Catholic church abolished ordeal as a form of trial. The theory of ordeal was that it produced a certain verdict, since God was controlling the outcome. For whatever reason that theory was abandoned, but they still wanted certain verdicts.

        To get them, they imposed a simple rule. Conviction of a serious crime required either two eye witnesses to the crime or a voluntary confession. The result, of course, was that many guilty of serious crimes could not be convicted, which they were not willing to put up with.

        The solution eventually found was that, once they were pretty sure someone was guilty (“half proof,” such as one eye witness or a comparable amount of other evidence), he could be tortured to make him confess. Confession under torture was obviously not voluntary. So after he confesses you stop torturing him and the next day ask him if he is still willing to confess–this time voluntarily, since you are not at the moment torturing him. If he isn’t, you torture him again. Repeat until he “voluntarily” confesses. By the author’s account, contemporaries recognized the obvious dishonesty of the approach but they were unable to change the underlying rule, unwilling to let many guilty criminals go unpunished.

        He goes on to argue that the logic of the present U.S. pleas bargaining system is very similar. You start with a legal system where trials are very fast–five or ten in a single day by one jury in the 18th century. You respond to the obvious problems by adding more and more restrictions, lengthening the process to the point where a single trial can take a month or more. You can’t resolve every criminal case by such a trial, even though the Constitution says you have to, because there are not nearly enough judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, … . So, just as with the law of torture, you replace trial with confession–obtained not by torture but by the threat of a much more severe punishment if the defendant insists on his right to a trial and gets convicted. There are obviously very serious problems with the approach, but, given the difficulty of changing trial rules (the author is in favor of something more like the European system), you are stuck.

        • Anonymous says:

          you replace trial with confession–obtained not by torture but by the threat of a much more severe punishment if the defendant insists on his right to a trial and gets convicted

          This is a bit problematic, because at any particular time, a plea bargain gets you a reduction in sentence, which is not the same as saying that not bargaining gets you an increased sentence. The difference is crucial unless you can actually link the prevalence of plea bargaining with a rise in sentence lengths provided by statute causally, which I think would be ahistorical. The two things have followed very different dynamics and can’t be linked so directly as your simple story of medieval confession requirements -> low conviction rate -> torture.

          • Mary says:

            No, because it doesn’t matter what the statute provides, but what the prosecutors ask for.

            Especially given that they notoriously overcharge defendants to give themselves space to plea down.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s going to make your task to show causality more difficult. There are factors that can drive charging decisions other than posturing for pleas. Even if you can get a good, measurable definition for ‘overcharging’ (this is not trivial), you’ll have to tease out the particular type of overcharging… and then causally link it to trends in workloads and plea bargaining. Good luck.

            (Honestly, at this point, I’m just stupidly skeptical of vaguely conspiracy-sounding theories concerning the criminal justice system. Most of them tend to be of the sort of, “There is something that seems bad in the world,” rather than based on convincing history/data. It’s all too easy to make bald assertions about how “notorious” such behavior is without data.)

          • “but by the threat of a much more severe punishment if the defendant insists on his right to a trial and gets convicted”

            You seem to be interpreting my “much more severe sentence” as relative to an alternate world without plea bargaining. I was referring to the sentence if convicted relative to the sentence offered in the plea bargaining agreement. The issue of plea bargaining only arises when there is some significant evidence of guilt, since otherwise the defendant wouldn’t have been arrested in the first place–just as torture only is applied if there is significant evidence of guilt.

            In a world in which courts sometimes make errors, there will always be some offered bargain whose expected cost, for an innocent defendant, is less than the expected cost of going to trial.

            You might want to read the article I linked to, whose argument I was summarizing–the author goes into considerably more detail than I did.

            I should probably add that an actual alternative world without plea bargaining is Europe, and sentences there are much milder than sentences in the U.S. for the same crime.

          • Anonymous says:

            I was referring to the sentence if convicted relative to the sentence offered in the plea bargaining agreement.

            Fine, but then the structure of the claim is very different from the story of medieval torture. One is a story of bog-standard bargaining (which is likely a KH improvement); the other is a story of an exploitative system that was created to correct flaws created by a system that tried to be compassionate.

            The issue of plea bargaining only arises when there is some significant evidence of guilt, since otherwise the defendant wouldn’t have been arrested in the first place–just as torture only is applied if there is significant evidence of guilt.

            Not necessarily. There is a wide gap between probable cause and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This allows for plenty of regular error in charging as well as the potential for overcharging for the purposes of bargaining… to the point of merely charging everything that even has the faintest possibility of producing a conviction.

            In a world in which courts sometimes make errors, there will always be some offered bargain whose expected cost, for an innocent defendant, is less than the expected cost of going to trial.

            And in the counterfactual world, there will always be some innocent defendants who will simply get convicted and subjected to the maximum punishment. “The criminal justice system might be less optimal than if we had a sage telling us what the perfect solution is,” doesn’t get much play.

            You might want to read the article I linked to, whose argument I was summarizing–the author goes into considerably more detail than I did.

            It’s a fine article, and I appreciate the history. However, he gives only ipse dixit that it is inherently coercion, and this argument is in serious need of exposure to the literature.

            Oh, I’ll also note that he’s factually wrong concerning giving the prosecutor the functions of investigation, determination, and sentencing. To some extent, they perform the first two, but judges still perform sentencing (and juries are still constitutionally required to confirm capital sentencing, even when the defendant has plead, merely hoping for leniency in exchange for expressed remorse).

            I should probably add that an actual alternative world without plea bargaining is Europe, and sentences there are much milder than sentences in the U.S. for the same crime.

            At the end, we’re right back to where we started. Where is your causal link?! Do a timeseries analysis. Show that statutory sentences were increased because plea bargaining reduced the effective sentences delivered. Or show that governments here would reduce sentences in response to a corresponding decrease in plea bargaining. I’d be willing to bet that these things are only weakly coupled, at best… but I’m very open to being shown wrong from data.

            Or, if you prefer to talk about overcharging, show a causal link there! This is going to be hard to accomplish, because of the nature of prosecutorial discretion. Here is a good reference that engages with the fact that this problem is hard. You can’t just assert it away.

          • Frank McPike says:

            William Stuntz made the argument you’re looking for, in particular see his article “The Pathological Politics of Criminal Law.” He doesn’t allege a conspiracy, only (to summarize a 100-page article in a sentence) that prosecutors have outsized influence on how criminal laws are drafted and thus the criminal law reflects their interests.

            You have also missed Langbein’s point on sentencing: he is not saying that the prosecutor is the one who formally enters the sentence. Rather he is arguing that the prosecutor is the one who effectively determines the sentence through the mechanism of plea bargaining.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’ll drop the article in my (admittedly, very long) reading list. However, your summary isn’t really encouraging for the idea that it’s relevant for this specific question (nor is the table of contents). I’m completely sure that prosecutors have great influence on how criminal laws are drafted and thus the criminal law reflects their interests (…ignoring the much more difficult question of what qualifies as “outsized”). But that’s not the question we were talking about. We were talking about whether there is a causal link between plea bargaining and the threat of large sentences (…and then, whether it’s coercive).

            You have also missed Langbein’s point on sentencing: he is not saying that the prosecutor is the one who formally enters the sentence.

            Good thing that’s not what I said, so this doesn’t counter my statement in the slightest!

            Rather he is arguing that the prosecutor is the one who effectively determines the sentence through the mechanism of plea bargaining.

            What do you mean “effectively”? The judge still has a range of discretion in many cases (exempting some with mandatory minimums). Sure, they play a role in what charges are the basis for your sentence, but… uh, they play a role in that regardless of plea bargaining.

            I suppose I should also place my cards on the table. I’m not a lawyer, and I have no actual dog in this fight (just a nerdy personal interest in law). One of my best friends is a criminal defense attorney. Through our conversations, I’ve come to the belief that prosecutorial discretion is an important thing, and it generally makes the criminal justice system better. The vast majority of cases have two chances for leniency – the prosecutor or the judge/jury. Some laws remove some discretion from the judge, and it’s really nice to have the prosecutor’s role. Obviously, injustice is still possible (because it’s literally impossible to make a system where it isn’t), and these cases often involve bad judgment by a prosecutor combined with either a hamstrung judge or the bad judgment of a judge/jury. I’ve discussed more than one such actual case with my buddy over beers.

            However, a whole lot of critiques are aimless and/or unsupported by data. The original critique clearly had nothing approaching data for the thesis that the introduction of plea bargaining drove increases in statutory sentence allowances. Follow-on critiques are grasping further for straws. And I’ve yet to see a single proposal of what anyone could actually do to make the system better (here, the table of contents of the article you mentioned does indicate some proposals, but they’re definitely for a different question than was at the root of this engagement). Are you proposing that legislatures stop talking to prosecutors when they consider new laws or revisions of old ones? Are you proposing removing plea bargaining? Are you proposing removing all prosecutorial discretion entirely just to reduce their power? What do you replace it with? Do we try literally every possible charge supportable by probable cause? Who makes that determination?

          • Frank McPike says:

            “We were talking about whether there is a causal link between plea bargaining and the threat of large sentences (…and then, whether it’s coercive).”

            If you agree that the criminal law primarily reflects prosecutors’ interests then the link should be straightforward: The fact that prosecutors operate primarily by obtaining plea bargains shapes what sorts of laws are in their interest. When plea bargaining is the primary way of getting convictions, then even the most lenient prosecutor will find it in their interest to have a bunch of broad or redundant crimes with heavy sentences attached. Even if they think that anything more than a year in prison would be overly harsh, the easiest way to get a conviction of one year is to credibly threaten thirty. A criminal law designed by prosecutors who had to litigate every case in front of a jury would look different (not necessarily better in all respects, but different). There’s no point in being able to threaten someone with thirty years in prison if the threat can’t get you anything (just as there’s no reason to torture someone if the confession is useless to you). Stuntz makes this argument in more detail (the article I mentioned focuses on the political economy of crime legislation, he has a book on this history of this development, if that’s more to your liking).

            Being threatened with a large sentence if you don’t accept a deal is unquestionably coercive. It would be uncontroversially coercive in every other contractual context. The question is whether this use of coercion is a good thing.

            “What do you mean “effectively”? The judge still has a range of discretion in many cases (exempting some with mandatory minimums). Sure, they play a role in what charges are the basis for your sentence, but… uh, they play a role in that regardless of plea bargaining.”

            I think you misunderstand how plea bargaining works. The defendant and the prosecutor reach an agreement that the defendant will plead guilty on certain counts and receive a specified sentence (or something similar, like a sentence in a given range or a sentencing recommendation from the prosecutor). A sentence is generally part of the agreement. The judge is not a party to this negotiation. If the sentence the prosecutor able to threaten is high enough, they can effectively determine the sentence that the defendant receives. Judges can decide to throw out a plea bargain, but this is not an especially common occurrence (in some jurisdictions they can make minor adjustments to the deal while still accepting it). If a case goes to trial, sentencing is left to the judge as you describe, but only a small proportion of cases go to trial.

            “And I’ve yet to see a single proposal of what anyone could actually do to make the system better”

            Langbein does have a policy prescription: shift toward being more similar to Germany. Stuntz has more modest proposals that would reduce prosecutorial discretion in charging: eliminate redundant and overlapping laws, reduce the number of overbroad laws, and push judges to interfere more with overcharging and plea bargains. More broadly, it should be fairly easy to think of ways to reduce prosecutors’ discretion without eliminating it entirely. I know David Friedman has thought about this a fair bit too: http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2013/01/overcharging-aaron-swartz-case.html

          • Anonymous says:

            If you agree that the criminal law primarily reflects prosecutors’ interests then the link should be straightforward

            No no no. This is very much an, “I can imagine it,” argument. These tend to be wrong. Data please.

            The fact that prosecutors operate primarily by obtaining plea bargains shapes what sorts of laws are in their interest.

            What’s their interest?

            When plea bargaining is the primary way of getting convictions, then even the most lenient prosecutor will find it in their interest to have a bunch of broad or redundant crimes with heavy sentences attached.

            No. You’re assuming prior to this that it is in their interest to be able to acquire a guilty plea from literally anyone for anything they see fit. If that’s the case, then this follows. If it’s not, then this doesn’t follow. If we start from the perspective that the role of the prosecutor is to pursue justice in accordance with the law enacted by the legislature on behalf of the public, then their interest is something else entirely.

            Even if they think that anything more than a year in prison would be overly harsh, the easiest way to get a conviction of one year is to credibly threaten thirty.

            …and even if they think that anything less than thirty years would be overly lenient, the only thing they may be able to credibly bargain is one year. At the end of the day, you have to dive back down to the legitimacy of the underlying charges.

            There’s no point in being able to threaten someone with thirty years in prison if the threat can’t get you anything

            Sure there is. You think they’re guilty of a crime that comes with a penalty of thirty years. I mean, how far do you have to contort yourself into thinking that there is literally no other reason for charging crimes than to coerce confessions?!

            Being threatened with a large sentence if you don’t accept a deal is unquestionably coercive.

            Still pure ipse dixit. Read Wertheimer’s book.

            It would be uncontroversially coercive in every other contractual context.

            Let’s consider civil litigation. Suppose a bunch of poor, sympathetic individuals got together and brought a class action suit against a faceless organization that you think is horrible. Like Wal-Mart or Halliburton or the NRA or whoever pushes your particular button. Or, hell, maybe you’re Hulk Hogan going after Gawker. Either way, you think they have a really legitimate complaint, and you think the faceless org should have to pay up. The lawyers say, “If we push for the maximum compensatory damages, maybe treble statutory damages, and perhaps punitive damages to boot, you could be on the hook for X million dollars. Wouldn’t that be awful? Maybe we could come to an agreement that satisfies both parties.” Is that “uncontroversially coercive”?

            A sentence is generally part of the agreement.

            To further quote you, “I think you misunderstand how plea bargaining works.” There are two relevant portions of the rules of procedure. An 11(c)(1)(C) agreement binds the court if the judge accepts the bargain. The fact that rejecting it is not common is a Rorschach test for your prior beliefs. If you think courts are little fiefdoms for prosecutors and judges to put the metaphorical screws to modern day torturees, then this means that prosecutors singlehandedly determined your sentence (ignore the fact that you agreed to it). If you think that courts are generally composed of somewhat decent people, then judges accept a lot of plea agreements because they’re (gasp) reasonable. Regardless, none of this matters for an 11(c)(1)(B) agreement, which still leaves sentencing up to judges.

            Langbein does have a policy prescription: shift toward being more similar to Germany.

            The bad news for Langbein in the twilight of his career? Germany now has statutes governing plea bargaining.

            Stuntz has more modest proposals that would reduce prosecutorial discretion in charging

            And here is the real complaint – people think prosecutors just have too much power. It has vanishingly little to do with plea bargaining, itself. It comes down to priors. If you think prosecutors are trying to accomplish just results, discretion gives them the ability to show lenience. If you think prosecutors are just abusing citizens in their little fiefdom, then discretion is as bad as the whim of Nero.

            David Friedman

            His idea of using the Athenian rule for sentencing is interesting, but it doesn’t really cut to plea bargaining. As I pointed out above, a lot of plea bargaining already works under rule 11(c)(1)(B), which gives the judge the ability to sentence. It’s not uncommon for a guilty plea to be exchanged for the prosecution recommending a lesser sentence (even if the defense asks for a further lesser sentence).

          • “If we start from the perspective that the role of the prosecutor is to pursue justice in accordance with the law enacted by the legislature on behalf of the public, then their interest is something else entirely.”

            I’m not sure how you get from “role” to “interest.” What defines the role of the prosecutor (or anyone else), and why is it in his interest to act in that role?

            One might say that the role of a business is to produce good products at the lowest possible price, but that doesn’t tell us whether businesses will find it in their interest to do so.

          • Anonymous says:

            So, I didn’t spell out what their interest would be. I merely said that it’s possibly not the thing Mr. McPike claimed. He didn’t really justify why the alternate view of their interest is more correct (or provide data that this particular interest manifested because of plea bargaining or that it then caused broad statutes with bigger penalties rather than other considerations of the legislature).

            One might say that the role of a business is to produce good products at the lowest possible price, but that doesn’t tell us whether businesses will find it in their interest to do so.

            I think the traditional answer is to say that the role of a business is to make money. Then, using some assumptions about markets and competition, we can show that it is in their interest to produce good products at the lowest possible price (and where these assumptions fail, the conclusions may not hold).

            Anyway, I’m open to arguments about the role/interest of prosecutors, but they haven’t really been made (and as I’ve pointed out, most declarations on these matters tend to carry a lot of worldview baggage with them).

        • Bryan Hann says:

          “By the author’s account, contemporaries recognized the obvious dishonesty of the approach”

          Was there any indication of how critique of this dishonesty was handled? Was it an elephant in the room than none dared speak forthrightly about lest they be put in a situation of having to “voluntarily confess” themselves?

          • It sounded from the Langbein article as though lots of people commented on it, and that’s my only source. I did provide a link to the article.

  27. LTP says:

    I feel like this may be restating what Scott said at the end, but I wonder if part of what is learned by experiencing these things is human psychology is much more complicated than any idealized economic or social scientific model can show (at least at present). However, it does seem somewhat ineffable in the details.

    But, I can relate. I am somebody who feels very strongly I should go on to graduate school in [humanities discipline] (I am a senior in undergrad now), despite knowing how unlikely the good outcomes are. And yet, despite knowing full well what the situation is like, and despite nothing bad happening to me yet, I still feel that it is very unjust and somebody should do something about it. I think what I’ve learned in experiencing this and talking to others in a similar boat as me is that the way our minds work is not at all what an economist would think in this situation, and that means that we are justified in complaining while not making another choice. It seems weird written out like that, but it feels true, and I’m inclined to trust those feelings to at least some degree.

    EDIT: Also, if it’s true that people do learn something ineffable in such situations, then it seems to be an argument against at least certain common kinds of utilitarianism. That is, maybe it would be an argument for ethical specialization, whereby it really is better to be an activist on issues you have a particularlistic experience with and attachment to, rather than directing all philanthropy to malaria nets in Africa, even if they don’t maximize utility in the conventional sense. We do see this specialization in the real world: Christopher Reeve was an advocate for stem-cell research rather than AMF because he experienced a crippling injury with no cure.

    Of course, this specialization has issues even from a non-utilitarian point of view. Problems that are experienced by privileged people more often (being a junior doctor or an adjunct professor) will get more attention than those that are more necessarily experienced by non-privileged people (being a poor African suffering from malaria). So, for example, we hear much more about ending the oppression of LGBT people (mostly from the whiter, wealthier sections of the LGBT community), than we do about the economic plight of Appalachia. LGBT issues do matter, but is the balance right?

    I feel like I’m just restating Scott’s article, but there it is. Fascinating and complicated issue here.

    • Shion Arita says:

      I think it makes total sense, to complain about being forced to choose the least of several evils. Sure, it’s the best option available but there’s enough wrong with it to warrant complaint.

  28. Steve Sailer says:

    Chinese journalists aren’t a threat to American journalists, but Indian journalists are.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Argument 2 is a huge fallacy at its core. The supposedly detached logician is doing all that to optimize for its own damn subjective values. Even if you can put yourself in the place of others for an Argument 1 perspective, like Scott tries:

    the only people we should trust to tell us whether globalization is acceptable are people whose own jobs are on the line.

    You end up using your own values to judge what is important and what is not. (Jobs, in this case)

    Argument 2 is Argument 1 from someone with “Skin in the game” in the game of intellectualized and detached aesthetics.

    I suspect there is no one solution, at all. Trolley problems framed as objective morality are unrealistic and irrational. Please don’t confuse this with an advocacy for absolute relativism.

    Argument 2 done from the mature perspective of understanding this limitation and trying to work against it instead of doing the opposite (Pretending your values are absolute and people who disagree are wrong, ignorant and so on) could be a step in the right direction.

    A mature transhumanist worries about luddites and how to incorporate them and their values in the coming Singularity, or thinks about how to build this utopia without destroying the luddite dream. An immature transhumanist thinks luddites are all kinds of wrong.

    A mature luddite worries about transhumanists and how to incorporate them and technological progress in a world that is generally kept in a primeval state, or considers how to build a wilderness that does not destroys the technological world. An immature luddite hates “brainwashed sheep” and would destroy all technology if possible.

    You can change “transhumanist” and “luddite” with a lot of things. At that point the conflict becomes a bit clearer, between people who think we should respect (Even if we have to act against) different subjective values and people who say we should pretty much optimize them away as a matter of responsibility, even for the benfit of the people holding those values and even if we aknowledge our own values are subjective.

    Another, even better possibility is trying to synthesize “A” and “B” into something else that recognizes both are different “tastes” on the “same axis” and tries to optimize for “Mobility along this axis, control and understanding over it” instead of either extreme. But this is starting to sound make-common-sense-common kind of impossible, and puts you at odds with both sides.

    There is something ultra-queer liberated genderfluid types have in common with sexists, traditionalists, spiritual masculine/feminine types and so on. Something they don’t share exactly with other “Pairs of Enemies”. Maybe they could become allies if they focused on that thing in common? Masters of their former battlefield instead of pawns.

    So we just need Universal Love.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ black Anonymous May 15, 2016 at 2:50 am

      +, until you got to Another, even better possibility is trying to synthesize “A” and “B” into something else [….].

      Consider orbiting space colonies: the anti-nature people get all the nice clean lebensraum they want, and the pro-nature people have a lot of dirty natural land for nature preserves and Pastoralism.

      How does this fit into your system? “We both want more room, so let’s make some more”?

      • Anonymous says:

        Its a decent midway solution, still has problems though. Some antinature people are going to want the Earth too. They are going to want to release nanobots in the atmosphere to make carnivores forever sated and so on. Some pronature people are going to worry about the children up there in the colonies, missing all that is Good and so on…

        The trick about this system and what makes it a really hard sell is that people are no longer “antinature” or “pronature” once they master that divide, just like the sexual deviant and the sexist traditionalist are no longer either if they master theirs. It is like asking a transwoman to smile every time she gets called a man or denied from some religious ceremony because she understand, respects and is above where that comes from. Or asking a puritan celibate to smile every time he sees a poly genderfluid group rising little deviants next door, because he understands, respects ands is above where that comes from. They are no longer what they were before if they do that, imho. They are better.

        Sadly I can’t edit my original post, so I’m clarifying here:

        optimize for “Mobility along this axis, control and understanding over it” instead of either extreme.

        Should read instead:

        optimize for “Mobility along this axis, control and understanding over it” instead of either extreme or any other isolated position. I personally dislike absolute centrism and consider it as radical as absolute extremism, it is bland and unsuccessful and makes us think we are making real progress when we aren’t.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      You’re making a false equivalence. Luddites are in fact wrong about a hell of a lot of stuff because they are not superintelligences. It is perfectly reasonable to say “actually, a giant mountain of evidence shows that your wrong on most of your empirical claims and those aren’t even your real preferences” when said mountain of evidence exists. Exactly the same argument applies to people building Houyhnhnm utopias. The *correct* answer is always going to be “work out what people really value and then create lots of it, preferably deputising something a lot more creative than us for the design process”. Saying that people who think their opponents are wrong are immature is just, AFAICT, Pretending to be Wise.

      • Psmith says:

        I, too, support the forced or at the very least strongly encouraged conversion of atheists, segregation of diverse communities, and prohibition of divorce. Deus vult!

        • Chrysophylax says:

          Thereby ensuring the collapse of the civilisation that produced our material wealth, destroying huge amounts of happiness, without producing many genuine conversions. You can’t say “religious people are happy than atheists” and conclude “we should forcibly convert all atheists”. This not only ignores the costs of forced conversions, it also ignores the possibility of making people feel like part of a non-religious community. What part of “preferably deputising something a lot more creative than us for the design process” is hard to understand?

        • Bryan Hann says:

          There is a *huge* gulf between ‘forced’ and ‘strongly encouraged’.

      • Anonymous says:

        Perfect example of a violent lack of Wisdom™

        Intelligence has absolutely 0 relevance when it comes to “Right” and “Wrong” on the value level. All they can do is optimize better, in a utilitarian way, for subjective values. Even “The most common values should be optimized” is a subjective value!

        “actually, a giant mountain of evidence shows that your wrong on most of your empirical claims and those aren’t even your real preferences”

        Pure immaturity right there. If I say I like suffering and everybody should suffer more (They will understand why after the fact), appreciate people dying quickly to reduce the load on our world instead of saving lives for the sake of it, love opression and hierarchy because I want for the world to have one Mind and a P-Zombified body made of leftover races and cultures… What mountain of evidence could you possibly produce to show me that I am wrong, and that those aren’t even my real preferences? Just an example btw.

        “work out what people really value and then create lots of it,

        There is no “What people really value”. There are useful generalizations but this is a very, very important distinction.

        I’m no luddite, but just for fun and to try explaining this to you, what are luddites wrong about, at the base level?

        I’ll give you a head start: “Existence is desirable, even in the worst case scenario where technology brings nothing but suffering and atrophy, it is necessary to safeguard from cosmic x-risks and to escape the death of our sun”

        Still not base level, presupposing “Existence is desirable” and implying “Even if its not great or could be great in the future but we don’t know.”

        I fear the day the Unwise build an equally Unwise superintelligence and the world gets optimized from their myopic lack of understanding.

        • Chrysophylax says:

          “What mountain of evidence could you possibly produce to show me that I am wrong, and that those aren’t even my real preferences?”

          If I understood neuroscience well enough, I could take a detailed scan of your brain and point out the exact process causing you to to claim preferences you don’t really have. Your preferences are encoded in your brain. Your brain obeys the laws of physics. There is some lawful process producing the feelings we vaguely describe as “valuing stuff”, and it is lawfully possible to work out how they work. “What people really value” is just as much an empirical fact as what the speed of light is. It’s just bigger and more complex, so that it feels unknowable to humans who don’t understand how to build a brain in a lab.

          You can’t just proceed from “there is no universal morality” to “all moralities are equal and you can’t defend any of them”. One of the obvious reasons for this is that the vast majority of possible moralities have exactly zero minds implementing them.

          “I’m no luddite, but just for fun and to try explaining this to you, what are luddites wrong about, at the base level?”

          An awful lot of propositional beliefs like “technology is inevitably bad for human welfare”, plus an awful lot of not understanding the idea that the best utopia you can produce is unimaginably better than the best one a contemporary human can imagine. I suspect that actual Luddites mostly aren’t motivated by careful analysis of the costs and benefits. If they were, they wouldn’t be so utterly, drastically wrong from a utilitarian POV. Note, for example, the billions of people currently living who couldn’t survive without modern crops.

          • Anonymous says:

            If I understood neuroscience well enough, I could take a detailed scan of your brain and point out the exact process causing you to to claim preferences you don’t really have.

            Yes, but lets assume I do have those preferences for real. I mean you can tell those are not my real preferences because I said so, no need to read my brain…

            The problem with this approach is that, at this level, my preferences are some chemicals and electrical impulses. The easiest way to satisfy that, thousands of times better than any reality, would be to wirehead me to some kind of Heaven (for me) and make me forget that happened, or something like that. People can’t even deal with sugar in an optimal way relating to health. Additionally, preferences and values change all the time, according to situation and personal experience. I mean, at this point, why not just rewrite the preferences to something more useful or less disruptive?

            “Freedom” is literally made of ignorance, about oneself and one’s future. Sacrificing this ignorance would be a really bad idea imho.

            You can’t just proceed from “there is no universal morality” to “all moralities are equal and you can’t defend any of them”.

            I never said you can’t defend them. I said you have to do it by force, diplomacy, trickery, compassion, art and so on, instead of claiming them as absolute or objective, which is irrational and causes all kinds of problems.

            Note, for example, the billions of people currently living who couldn’t survive without modern crops.

            I am absolutely not a luddist, however, this is one point I can argue against in good conscience: Why the fuck do utilitarians insist on believing that more people = Good? I would really love a world with say half the population. Not saying we should kill them or anything but why would you be happy that technology has increased the load on our world so much? A lot of people are livings shitty lives, the relationship between quality and quantity is really complicated.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            You’re just repeating the meta-ethics and Fun Theory sequences, but not nearly as well.

            >Additionally, preferences and values change all the time, according to situation and personal experience.

            And they do so by a lawful causal process that can be worked out.

            >I mean, at this point, why not just rewrite the preferences to something more useful or less disruptive?

            Because we have meta-preferences against doing that. Yes, human values don’t compress neatly to anything other than “things it was adaptive to prefer in the EEA”. No, that doesn’t mean we should cut out complexity willy-nilly. Simplifying the preferences to make them easier to satisfy is incredibly dangerous and not to be undertaken without a heck of a lot more thought.

            >I never said you can’t defend them. I said you have to do it by force, diplomacy, trickery, compassion, art and so on, instead of claiming them as absolute or objective, which is irrational and causes all kinds of problems.

            I think we’re talking at cross purposes here. Obviously there is no universal morality. That doesn’t mean that actual human preferences aren’t objective, discoverable facts about reality, and I see no reason to care much about preferences I don’t expect are instantiated anywhere in the Local Group.

            >A lot of people are livings shitty lives, the relationship between quality and quantity is really complicated.

            Agreed, but most of them would object vigorously if you suggested putting them into comas or even wireheading them, and they don’t seem to feel that creating new humans is a guilty pleasure. I don’t think you understand hedonics and neurology well enough to justifiably be confident they’re wrong. I certainly don’t! In the mean time, we sure are creating a lot of humans, and I think we have to judge that a net good. Moreover, the number of potential happy minds a future civilisation could contain dwarfs any unhappiness now, even if there’s only the tiniest chance of said utopia being created. (Go read Bostrom’s _Astronomical Waste_.)

        • Bryan Hann says:

          Anonymous:

          Might it be, though, that (e.g.) the Luddites’ *subjective preferences* could be highly enmeshed in, and in a reasonable sense be considered the outcome of, an objectively wrong ontology? (Not reducing ought to is, but explaining their subjective ought in terms of misunderstanding what objectively is.)

          Chrysophylax:

          Might this be a fair first order approximate of what you are getting at?

          • Anonymous says:

            How would you define objective?

          • Bryan Hann says:

            Anonymous: The word (‘objective’) has been bandied about in this conversation, but my understanding of it is hazy. Steel it for me if you can, my good man.

            (I grant that ‘objective/subjective’ distinction is a bit hazy for me in both ontology and preferences — but it seems to me that the haze clears a *little bit* on the ontic side. If you think there is nothing in ‘objective’ that can be steeled, perhaps I am misunderstanding what you mean by ‘subjective’. If this is so, I would wish to ask you ‘subjective’ as compared to *what*?)

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @Bryan: Yes.

            I define “objective” the same way I define “true”. There is something that produces my anticipations and something that produces my experimental results, and I call the former my beliefs and the latter reality. A claim is true if it is an accurate description of reality. The difference between objective and subjective is that the former is about how reality really is, and the latter about how some mind represents reality.

            For the long form of this, you want the first book of Rationality: AI to Zombies.

          • Anonymous says:

            All right, so we are more or less talking about the same thing…

            Yes, subjective preferences occur according to law. You could build something that knows them all objectively (Sacrifice freedom) then what? Build a system that gets them all what they want? (Constrained by what they wanted in the past so they don’t get addicted to God) Perfect entertainment. But this is already a subjective valorical thing, and impossible… Why not optimize for my crazy dog’s preferences instead? Is this what you call meta-ethics? Do people believe “post-scarcity” means somehow systems can be made to enable every impulse without bothering someone else? What of those who genuinely wish to destroy or change others? Its not that they have wrong values, they could have the best grasp on Objective Ontology in the universe and still have those different subjective preferences, even if the preferences themselves (electrochemistry) are obviously lawful. Why would you even suspect otherwise?

            Oviously what you mention (people having “wrong” values on account of bad ontology) is something that does happen, but even solving this (Teaching everyone better ontology) leaves you with all kinds of stuff, luddites and worse. I think it could even exacerbate the differences. People have wildly different subjective values according to stuff besides faulty ontology: Personal life, experiences, phenotype, what they had for breakfast and so on. All the lawful stuff.

            Do you honestly believe people would coalesce by law to the same values (meta-values?) on account of perfect ontology? Why would this even be a good idea in the first place? It sounds like a good argument for people with certain values to fight against better ontology.

            So many words to say “I feel this is the right way.”

          • Chrysophylax says:

            >So many words to say “I feel this is the right way.”

            No. You’ve entirely missed the point and are totally straw-manning me.

            >Is this what you call meta-ethics?

            No, it’s a ridiculous charicature of meta-ethics. You should probably read the things I suggest you read if you want to understand the positions I’m defending.

            >You could build something that knows them all objectively (Sacrifice freedom) then what? Build a system that gets them all what they want? (Constrained by what they wanted in the past so they don’t get addicted to God) Perfect entertainment.

            If your attempt to maximally satisfy human values leads to you removing all freedom of choice, *you’re doing it wrong*. If your argument is “people working on FAI will create standard dystopia X”, please do bear in mind that *they’ve also read those sci-fi stories*. If you have thought of an obvious flaw, the people who think about this stuff *for a living* thought of it years ago.

            > But this is already a subjective valorical thing, and impossible…

            I’d like to see a tiny shred of evidence for that claim before I believe that “design a world that seems fun to live in” is an impossible problem.

            > Why not optimize for my crazy dog’s preferences instead?

            Because I don’t *want* to optimise for your crazy dog’s preferences, any more than I want to maximise paperclips. (I don’t think your dog has anything I would consider a preference.)

            > Why would you even suspect otherwise?

            This is literally just the orthogonality thesis. Yes, we know that, it’s metaethics 101.

            > Do you honestly believe people would coalesce by law to the same values (meta-values?) on account of perfect ontology?

            No. That’s obviously silly.

            The best guess at what a proper thing-to-optimise-for that’s currently available online is Coherent Extrapolated Volition: “our wish if we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished we were, had grown up farther together; where the extrapolation converges rather than diverges, where our wishes cohere rather than interfere; extrapolated as we wish that extrapolated, interpreted as we wish that interpreted”. This has a much longer explanation but you really need to read the basic stuff (the Sequences) first.

          • Anonymous says:

            Could we please stop with the “Read the Sequences!” thing? I’m trying to write in the simplest possible form so that every commenter can understand, have 0 interest in reading Yudkowsky and being bombarded by opinions presented as facts just so I can talk that lingo. I could tell you to read the stuff I have read too, or even better, go outside and practice some basic human empathy and imagination. If you think my dog has no preferences you obviously should work the basics before the more complex stuff.

            I’ve read CEV though, and plenty of stuff like it, pretty kawaii. Its all endless rationalizations for “I feel this is the right way.”

            CEV or whatever are great if this is aknowledged, I think it is by most people but you said some people have wrong values because they are not superintelligences.

            With all due respect, the “People who work on it for a living” have no idea what they are talking about, they represent an extremely narrow set of aesthetics, values, sensibilities, cognitive abilities and so on. I’m not worried about FAI turning like a standard dystopia, I’m worried it turns into the standard “utopia”, or worse, into lame stuff like The Culture.

  30. Ghatanathoah says:

    I’m confused about why Scott thinks he’s a hypocrite. Did he write a post about how important it is to make adjunct professors work harder that I missed reading or forgot about?

    I have no skin in the game, I do not intend to become an adjunct professor or a junior doctor. I read about the working conditions of junior doctors and adjunct professors a couple months before Scott started writing about it. My response after I was done reading was to spend a few minutes fantasizing about finding whoever was in charge of scheduling those people’s hours and slowly pulling out each of their fingernails, one by one. And then moving on to their toenails and teeth. These both sound like crappy jobs, and it would be good if they were less arduous.

    I don’t see anything unreasonable expecting a 1980s South African journalist to oppose apartheid, but also wish they could keep their job. I think this follows logically with other views Scott has espoused. I think most people accept that there are some limits on what we can expect from people in regards of altruism. I think there are good rule/two-level utilitarian justifications for this position, and probably some good non-consequentialist justifications as well.

    If we accept this, we should conclude that we should judge people more harshly when they fail to be altruistic in situations where being altruistic is easy. We should be more understanding in situations where being an altruist is hard and people are likely to run up against those “limits to altruism.” It is a simple fact of human psychology that it is easier for (most) people to be altruists in “far mode” situations like politics, and harder for people to be altruists in “near” mode situations like careers. So we should expect white journalists to oppose Apartheid, but not expect them to be delighted if they lose their job to a black person.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I never actually wrote the post about adjunct professors, but if you had asked me to I probably would have, and believed it.

    • Kyle Strand says:

      Same here–I would have thought the natural conclusion to draw from the dualism post was “this sort of thing is bad in any profession.”

  31. CatCube says:

    The OP is really just a longer observation on the bureaucratic maxim of “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” People will always have different views based on how painful a course of action will be for them personally. It’s easy to say that something is stupid or unimportant, until you’re the guy getting kicked in the face for something stupid or unimportant not being done right.

  32. Sam Elder says:

    On the one hand, both the adjunct professor and junior doctor situations are very unfortunate. On the other hand, it’s exactly what we deserve as a society.

    We have to take a long hard look at education, and the ideas it plants into people’s heads about what they want to do. In The Old Days, sons worked in whatever industry their father did and the overall workforce stayed roughly balanced. Now, we teach students they can do “anything they want to do” but give them very few actual concrete ideas of jobs, so the ideas that get stuck in their mind are the most cognitively available:
    – Everyone sees a doctor at some point in childhood, and you know they help people, so that’s what you plan to be if you’re empathetic.
    – We all go to school, so we all get plenty of exposure to our teachers and professors. Some are inspiring, and make us want to do what they do.
    And that leads us to a world where we have way more wannabe doctors and professors than society actually needs. Should we really be surprised?

    What we need is an actual attempt to communicate in schools what the biggest sectors of employment in the city are, and what those jobs actually entail. Instead, we teach people how to persevere and keep trying to achieve these availability-biased dreams until they reach a bottleneck and sadly literally kill themselves.

    • Deiseach says:

      What we need is an actual attempt to communicate in schools what the biggest sectors of employment in the city are, and what those jobs actually entail.

      Governments in my country, which suffers from chronic inability for some reason to be able to set up and maintain native industries and is heavily dependent on foreign investment are always trying to do this: identify what business and industry need and then slant the curriculum towards that. Currently they’re trying to get more STEM students. The trouble is, as you say, they don’t exactly identify jobs: it’s more a case of “do science! do higher-level maths! then go to university and get a degree in those fields to work in industry!”

      We’re putting an awful lot of eggs in the IT basket at the moment and that doesn’t always work. Dell had a plant in Limerick but closed that down to move to cheaper labour in Poland.

      So there are two problems: (1) by the time the kids are educated and graduated, having been steered into a certain field (I remember when biotechnology was being pushed as the Next Big Employer in my time at school), it’s always a few years at the least behind the times and the circumstances may have changed: now employers can’t get enough accountants, so they don’t want engineers (or vice versa) (2) when a major employer pulls out and leaves town, having steered all the locals into training for skills for that particular employer’s needs may leave them not alone with no alternative employment but with redundant skills, and there’s only so many times you can retrain and switch to another field of work, if the work is even there.

      • I suspect a further problem is that what students are being steered into depends more on what industries are seen as high status than on how many people are employed in them. Even if biotech is the coming thing, it is unlikely to employ as many people as the restaurant and bar industry. But a government policymaker is unlikely to make that point to students.

    • onyomi says:

      I do think this is a very big problem. I think we need less education and more child labor (not sarcasm).

      • Chrysophylax says:

        I recommend this essay: http://paulgraham.com/nerds.html

        He says a lot of stuff, but the relevant idea is that schools are mostly holding pens for people not yet old enough to have jobs. A fifteen-year-old used to be a (new and junior) *adult* working for a living and treated with some respect. A fifteen-year-old is now, on average, a well-treated prisoner learning useless not-actually-facts in order to prove he’s able to learn.

        • Saul Degraw says:

          Some thoughts:

          1. We used to live in a world where it was necessary for 15 year olds to be cast out of their families generally because it meant one less mouth to feed.

          2. The world was a lot less complex then.

          3. There was less automation. Now people are talking about how automation and advanced AI are going to come after really highly-educated professions like lawyers, doctors, etc. The jobs that 15 year olds did have been replaced by technology. We don’t need office boys who just do errands or work in the mail room anymore or be low-level clerks. I just read an article about Jack Lemmon’s character from the Apartment. The article said that the character was basically a small piece of an excell spreadsheet constantly doing calculations. If you combined him with all of his clerk colleagues, they were all an excel spreadsheet.

          I am not a libertarian or right-leaning person and just trying to square the circle here. If we are heading to a world with more and more automation, why is it good to put fifteen year olds into the job market again?

          This is an area where I doing get right-libertarian thought. There is a lot of sneering about too much school/education but also a lot of cheering for technological advancement and automation. This just seems to be a recipe for havoc if you combine them together.

          • Tracy W says:

            1. When was this world where it was necessary to cast 15 year olds out of their family? From what I know of European history, a 15 year old was great, they could go work as a maid or a farm hand and actually start bringing in an income. Babies were exposed, or abandoned at orphanages, 15 year olds were not (I speak in general, of course, there may have well been cases where say the new stepfather threw out a 15 year old boy.)
            Of course many 15 year olds moved away from home to work, eg as maids, or even emigrated, but they weren’t generally abandoned by their family.

            2. Why do you think the world was less complex then? Bear in mind that until later on in the 19th century most people were farmers which is not an intellectually easy job.

            3. Who wants to live in a world where we only do the things that we need to do? As we automate more, we can fulfill more of our wants.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            If my political positions were to be classified, they’d be left-libertarian, but they’re actually mostly “stop doing stupid things we’ve known for years are stupid, you idiots!” plus a hefty dose of utilitarianism.

            >I am not a libertarian or right-leaning person and just trying to square the circle here. If we are heading to a world with more and more automation, why is it good to put fifteen year olds into the job market again?

            I quite agree with you! I also think we’re going to have a lot of unemployable adults on our hands pretty soon. I therefore think that we should start planning *now* how we’re going to handle that, because the first few suggestions will probably be totally unworkable.

            I’m not personally in favour of abolishing schools. I think that holding pens for children are better than no holding pens. I’d also like it if we made the schools teach useful things effectively rather more than they do.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            It might not be good to think that we can turn back the clock to get what was once employment at the age if fifteen.

            But we can critique forcing them into pens for which there is little objective advantage to them.

            Let then play ball in the park.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            And if the high unemployment rate extends to adults, and *if* a good number of these adults are finding some meaning in recreation, then allow young people to become apprentices in these recreations. (Less hours of schooling; more time to learn how to play bridge, to paint, to hike, … even perhaps for some to find philosopher/mentors to guide through the humanities?)

            (If the day came when *all* ‘nonrecreational economic activity* was automated, are we going to put *adults* into pens? If not, then why children?)

            I want to steel your thinking. I don’t want to see gangs of thugs roaming the streets. But there seems something deeply off in what you say.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @Bryan: I’m making a ceteris paribus argument. The current school systems are obviously not optimal. I agree that for the average child, schools are primarily holding pens.

            I think “abolish schooling” is an utterly insane idea. I don’t think that “abolish schooling for most children” is even remotely a good idea *unless* we also make other policy changes first. I think that “make the schools better” is probably a better option than “abolish schooling for most children” and a lot easier to implement.

      • Julie K says:

        The problem is that we no longer have a lot of jobs that we want 15-year-olds to do. (Compare the world of Anne of Green Gables, in which it makes sense to take in an 11-year-old orphan to help you with the farm labor or the housework.)

        • onyomi says:

          I don’t think that’s true. Jobs, off the top of my head, I think an average 15-year-old can do: cashier, greeter, reshelver, busboy, dishwasher, assistant cabinet maker, assistant plumber, mechanic’s assistant, assistant to (insert most professions)…

          • Teacher of younger kids. Babysitter. House cleaner. Mower of lawns. Pair of hands for elderly people whose bodies don’t work very well any more. Translator/assistant for older people who speak only a foreign language, if the 15 year old grew up speaking both his family’s language and the local language, a pattern I see pretty commonly around here (Spanish/English).

          • The Nybbler says:

            Sure, but the objection isn’t about “jobs a 15-year-old can do”, but “jobs we want 15-year-olds to do”. Where I take “we” to mean “society” (whatever that means).

            So teacher of younger kids is mostly out. Babysitter is still OK but has started to be pushed out.

            House cleaner… no way; 15-year-olds are tolerated in informal employment in family housecleaning businesses, but working directly for non-family in such a capacity, no.

            Translator/assistant… again, no.

            Mower of lawns… you want children operating heavy machinery for a living? You MONSTER <swoons>. No, I don’t believe that, but it’s the response you get if you proposed it in many places.

          • onyomi says:

            Why don’t “we” wan’t older kids teaching younger kids? Teaching is one of the best ways to learn.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            It’s also an easy excuse for the teacher who doesn’t want to do his job. “Teach those children, it’s for your own good and the fact that it means I don’t have to is pure coincidence. Ignore any conflict of interest I have in suggesting this to you.”

          • Adam says:

            How do we not already live in this world? I had a neighborhood teenager mowing my lawn the entire time I lived in a place that had a lawn. When I was in 8th grade, they let me teach a remedial math class to 6th graders. Both my sister and I babysat from the time we were 12. These are all somewhat informal-economy activities, but people certainly do them. Even with these holding pens, a school day is only six hours for 2/3 of the days in a year.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            I have my students teaching each other as much as I can. They love it!

        • keranih says:

          I disagree. If we really would rather not hire 15 year olds to do some jobs, then we would not have so many rules (minimum wage, child labor laws, union shops, credentialism, etc) artificially keeping the labor market on the straight and narrow.

          • Jiro says:

            “We” don’t want to have slavery either, but there are laws against slavery.

            The problem here is that “we” refers to different sets of people. We as a society have decided that we don’t want to hire 15 year olds, but there are individual employers who don’t agree.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I tend to agree, but the fact that I’m not sure if there is even a way for children to produce wealth in our hyper-efficient, hyper-competitive economy gives me pause. Is the average 15 year old any more capable of creating value than Keisha? It’s not obvious to me. See also Gwern on Neo-Luddism and AI unemployment.

    • LCL says:

      Some evidence in favor of your point.

      A project I worked on 15 years or so ago involved, among other things, surveying a lot of low-income schoolchildren, and one of the survey questions was some variant of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

      I did the data entry for those surveys and so read hundreds of replies. Easily 95% of them could be categorized as one of the following:
      – Athlete/Musician
      – Doctor
      – Lawyer
      – Beautician/Hairdresser (the age of the sample was just about when the girls were starting to pay major attention to makeup etc.)

      • Ninmesara says:

        I certainly didn’t expect this and I am surprised…

        • The Nybbler says:

          I’d expect other trades to have significant representation, certainly, unless this survey was girls only.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ LCL
        Easily 95% of them could be categorized as one of the following:
        – Athlete/Musician
        – Doctor
        – Lawyer
        – Beautician/Hairdresser (the age of the sample was just about when the girls were starting to pay major attention to makeup etc.)

        Beautician/Hairdresser is certainly the most realistic.

      • Bryan Hann says:

        I wonder if there would be much difference in response to the following questions:

        (1) What do you want to be when you grow up?
        (2) What do you want to do when you grow up?

        I worry that (1) might bias the child to think in terms of titles and stereotypes. Question (2) might be harder to answer, but leads to what they can do *now* that relates to it.

        E.g. ‘I want to be a scientist’ (ok kid, in twenty years you might be) versus ‘I want to study how the world works’ (great! lets get some springs and weights to play with.)

    • Tracy W says:

      In The Old Days, sons worked in whatever industry their father did and the overall workforce stayed roughly balanced.

      Which days were that? Because I read a history like this and I doubt if, once you control for the “90% of the population is engaged in farming” phenomenon, this was ever true. There’s not much economic history data, but old accounts do mention things like flocks of beggars from changes in land use (eg Highland clearances) or England importing weavers from Flanders and the like.

      Or for that matter, all those monks and clergymen who weren’t meant to have kids.

    • Saul Degraw says:

      @lcl

      Re: Working in your parents field.

      This still happens a lot and it happens at a lot of education levels. A lot of people who go to law school have one or two parents that are lawyers. A lot of people that go to medical school have one or two parents that are doctors. There is also this favorite Onion headline of mine:

      http://www.theonion.com/video/ceo-worked-way-up-from-son-of-ceo-34331

      I’ve noticed that people who get into the skilled or semi-skilled trades (including being a cop or a firefighter) have parents/uncles/relatives that were in the same trade/union. I had a client that was an HVAC guy. His sons became HVAC guys themselves. Guys who worked at refineries as steamfitters or pipefitters had dads who did the same thing. Etc, etc, etc.

      What I think you are advocating for is a return to a more unfair and a poorer world. There is still lots of nepotism. There will always be neoptism. But at least with law school and med school, there is a chance that someone whose parents were not in those fields can join them.

      • BBA says:

        My parents are both doctors. A childhood spent listening to them complain about their jobs convinced me never to go into medicine.

        • Saul Degraw says:

          Well that happens as well. My estimate is that half my law schools had at least one lawyer parent.

      • Civilis says:

        A couple of thoughts that occurred to me:

        1) Your parents job has status just because its your parents. ‘If it’s good enough for dad or mom, it’s good enough for me’ might be enough for an unambitious person that is looking for a career to accept a lower status job.

        2) Knowing someone in the field makes the necessary networking to land a job a lot easier, and between your parents and their coworkers, you tend to know a lot of people in your parents fields. I know a lot of people who got their foot in the door because they knew someone at the right place and time, and it wasn’t always as bad as outright nepotism. Sometimes it’s just being in the right place to know of a poorly advertised job opening or internship.

        3) Likewise, having family in a profession that requires a lot of credentials or for which there’s a lot of competition means knowing someone that knows the shortcuts and tricks behind building a successful resume for a competitive entry-level position.

        The big problem for those seeking work is often landing that entry-level job because you have no real experience, for which points 2 and 3 go hand in hand at landing that first position. “I know your dad, and I know he’s told me a lot about how hard a worker you are. Normally, I wouldn’t hire someone without proven work experience, but I’ll make an exception in your case.”

        • Saul Degraw says:

          @Civilis

          Is being a steamfitter or a pipefitter a lower status job? Those are some of the few good union jobs remaining. Same with being a plumber/electrician/cop/firefighter/even UPS driver. These guys get pensions in their 50s and often quite good ones. Or they can start their own companies and make good money. A UPS driver pension might not let someone live in San Francisco but it can let you live in Sonoma and Sonoma is quite nice.

          Good Union/Blue Collar jobs might require just as much family networking/nepotism as white collar jobs. Perhaps more so.

          • Civilis says:

            As the grandson of a plumber in a family-owned company, I understand this line of reasoning. My grandfather was, in the small town where he lived, someone of status. He was also the sort to think ‘skilled blue-collar worker’ higher in status than some unskilled white-collar workers (think office drones). Both of his children were daughters, so I don’t know what he would have done if he had sons, but his siblings (and their sons and grandsons) still own and operate the small business.

            As someone who grew up in the suburbs, I’m always tempted to place mental labor ahead of physical labor in terms of status, and I suspect the only reason I don’t automatically do so is lingering memories of my grandfather. One of the reasons he had status was it was a small town; there were few distinct jobs. You worked in the factory, worked in one of the small stores, bars or restaurants, had one of the few civic positions, and there may have been a lawyer, doctor, or accountant; though I would bet against all three being in town.

            At some level, there’s a difference between money and status. I don’t think many parents want their kids to have a physically demanding job if there’s another option, even if that’s the best shot they have at money. One of the challenges I think we face is persuading teenagers that a path in the technical trades is valid; instead, kids that have their best shot at a future being someone in a skilled trade end up getting passed to college where they get debt and a likely useless degree.

            There are always exceptions. I’m biased by my solidly upper-middle class white-collar suburban upbringing to a degree, but, perhaps because of the strong federal government presence, the military officer career path (often ending in federal law enforcement, civilian government, or government contracting) was always considered acceptable, despite requiring a degree of hard work.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think people are totally irrational in wanting to be doctors and academics. There aren’t a lot of high status and fulfilling jobs around.

      • onyomi says:

        This is very true, and it’s why Jason Brennan’s lack of sympathy for the adjunct makes me angry. They tried really hard (usually 10+ years, often a lot of loans) and failed to snag one of the few high status and fulfilling jobs our society offers (and it’s not like they were expecting to be millionaire movie or sports stars, they were just expecting steady employment and maybe 80k/year) and we shouldn’t feel bad for them? I mean, we shouldn’t feel as bad for them as malaria victims, but that kind of thinking which says you can’t call a transgender person “brave” because veterans are the really brave ones, is stupid.

        • keranih says:

          they were just expecting steady employment and maybe 80k/year

          …they were expecting a salary more than 150% of the national average, lower than average hours work, nearly all inside work with minimal physical demands, and (with tenure) never really facing the threat of being fired, ever.

          I get that people who shoot for the moon are deeply disappointed that they only got to black-sky orbit. I feel in my soul that without people being discontent with their present circumstances, we all would be significantly less healthy, more poor, and in general more miserable. I am perfectly willing to wish for a world where everyone succeeds at what they work hard to do – excepting, of course, those people who are only miserable when they get what they want, and are only happy when they are struggling.

          But I am really, really not seeing how I should feel bad for someone who didn’t make out that exceptionally well.

          • onyomi says:

            80k/year and steady employment is a nice deal, but it’s not sports star nice. I’m just saying I don’t think they think of it as “shooting for the moon,” nor should they. 80k/year is not glamorous. It’s just nice. And there are a lot more professor positions than NBA positions, albeit still a lot fewer than aspirants, of course.

            And again, it’s a very dualistic outcome. It’s not like the successful ones get 80k/year, cushy research positions and guaranteed employment, but the others get 50k/year and slightly more demanding teaching loads. Full-time adjuncts often make <30k/year for working very, very hard.

            Also, what does it say about "the American dream" that we don't feel bad for really smart people who tried really hard to get a middle class income doing something they enjoyed, but failed?

          • keranih says:

            “the American dream” that we don’t feel bad for really smart people who tried really hard to get a middle class income doing something they enjoyed, but failed?

            That we have an expectation of the right to pursue happiness, but none to actually catch it?

            More seriously – because it is the American dream to not assume a single – or even a series of – failures is life-defining. (see: Abraham Lincoln) One instead operates from a perspective of constant hustle and looking for the next thing, the next weather disaster, the next docking ship, the next gold rush.

            If you work hard all your life, you will find something to succeed at. However, this requires that you work hard all your life.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            >If you work hard all your life, you will find something to succeed at. However, this requires that you work hard all your life.

            If you work hard all your life, you will, in theory, find something to succeed at. Actually, most of you will work hard and never succeed because you don’t have the spare resources to take risks and finding something you’re good at is very difficult.

  33. blacktrance says:

    DeBoer has a few things to say about how we should take money away from the rich in a way that can help both poor Americans and poor Chinese, but he quickly transitions into the barb he clearly relishes: if Beauchamp and DeLong are so in favor of poor Chinese people, how come they haven’t outsourced their jobs?

    I haven’t read the original article, so maybe DeBoer’s argument is better than this, but as stated this is fallacious. There’s no necessary contradiction between wanting to help the poor and not wanting to lose one’s job. One may want several goods and have many goals in life, and helping the poor would be just one of them. For example, you could want to earn enough money to live comfortably, and give the rest to the poor – then, if you lose your job, you don’t get as much of what you want even if the poor are ultimately better off. There’s no hypocrisy unless helping the poor is the only thing the journalist claims to care about, but has anyone said that?
    There are two main pro-outsourcing arguments. The consequentialist one is that if you’re a neutral third party who wants to help the poor, you’d do better by letting companies outsource to enrich the global poor instead of protecting the relatively wealthy locals. The libertarian one is that using trade barriers to protect the local poor is analogous to a job applicant slashing their rivals’ tires to prevent them from getting to an interview, and wrong for the same reasons. Neither of these arguments requires anyone to want their own job to be outsourced.

    As for the pain of outsourcing, it’s conceivable that it’s worse than we think because we’re in no danger of experiencing it ourselves. But on the other hand, there’s the pain of being stuck in an even more terrible job in the third world, which is emotionally even further from us. If two people on opposite sides of a policy debate come to you and say “You don’t understand how badly I’ll be hurt if the other guy wins”, what do you do? Going back to dispassionate analysis is the only way to go then. Besides, the principle of “if you incentivize something, you’ll get more of it” applies to displays of suffering as well – debates coming down to who can wail and gnash their teeth louder is bad for public discourse.

    • Deiseach says:

      There’s no hypocrisy unless helping the poor is the only thing the journalist claims to care about, but has anyone said that?

      But what the journalists are doing is blaming the unhappiness and complaints of people whose jobs have been outsourced on racism: that they are motivated solely and mainly by dislike and hatred of foreigners, of black and brown and yellow skins that are not White Christian Cis Het Males.

      They don’t acknowledge that people are suffering, except in a hand-waving “you can always find another job” way. They are telling people that they should be glad poor people in China are now getting more opportunities, even if it is at their expense. They are heavily hinting, at the very least, that their own loss of income is negligible, that compared to a poor Chinese rice farmer, they are millionaires, and that they should be delighted that global economic inequality is being addressed, and if they are not so delighted, the only reason is that they are racists. The hypocrisy is that they themselves are in jobs that are not (currently) in danger of being outsourced, that compared to poor Chinese rice farmers they too are millionaires, that they can lecture others about taking the hit for the greater good but show no sign of volunteering to do the same themselves.

      If they really think giving up your job to a poor Chinese rice farmer is the greatest thing in the world, why aren’t they giving their jobs up? In fact, their job might even employ two or three poor Chinese rice farmers! Even better than the guy on the assembly line! Why aren’t they job-sharing with up and coming ethnic minorities in their own professions and helping an African-American or other deprived minority get a better standard of living by splitting their salaries and benefits and work with them?

      “It’s easy to sleep on another man’s wound”, the proverb says, and it’s easy to call someone else a racist when you are not at risk yourself.

      • “But what the journalists are doing is blaming the unhappiness and complaints of people whose jobs have been outsourced on racism: that they are motivated solely and mainly by dislike and hatred of foreigners, of black and brown and yellow skins that are not White Christian Cis Het Males.”

        Could you point at examples of journalists saying this? It sounds like a considerable exaggeration, but maybe I just haven’t seen the articles you are referring to. You recently mentioned the case of an industry moving from Ireland to Poland. The Polish employees are white Christians, even the same kind of Christian as the Irish, presumably mostly cis het and many if not all male.

        Does that prevent Irish workers from complaining?

      • blacktrance says:

        Here‘s the original Beauchamp article, and it makes no accusations of racism at all. Nor does it say that poor Americans should be happy to lose their jobs to poorer Chinese. In fact, it acknowledges that free trade hurts some people and some of them have difficulties finding another job.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        If Chinese rice farmers could be journalists for American news outlets, they would be. Chinese rice farmers have a strange tendency to be better at manual labour in Chinese factories than at writing witty articles in English about American culture.

        >Why aren’t they job-sharing with up and coming ethnic minorities in their own professions and helping an African-American or other deprived minority get a better standard of living by splitting their salaries and benefits and work with them?

        Because anyone capable of proving to an American news outlet that he’s qualified to be a journalist is also a privileged elite on the global scale. If he wanted to be maximally altruistic, the journalist should be insisting on having a high-paid job he’s bvery good at, then donating all he can spare to AMF.

        • Deiseach says:

          Chinese rice farmers have a strange tendency to be better at manual labour in Chinese factories than at writing witty articles in English about American culture.

          And yet Chinese rice farmers can quickly learn to solder electronic parts on an assembly line?

          I remember reading something about early outsourcing of customer services to overseas call centres in India, where the locals employed were encouraged to use Western names and learn about baseball teams and the like in order to be better able to provide the American users of the service with something that seemed familiar. I see no reason why a Chinese rice farmer couldn’t learn to churn out witty articles about the Kardashians or the latest John Oliver show.

          If he wanted to be maximally altruistic, the journalist should be insisting on having a high-paid job he’s very good at, then donating all he can spare to AMF.

          That’s not the argument these journalists are making, e.g. that the American workers earning $30 an hour should be allowed keep those jobs so they can donate to worthy causes. They’re saying “Sure the Chinese guy who gets your job is being paid peanuts, but it’s more peanuts than he could get in a job from his own country, so you should be glad about it!” There is nothing about the company making a saving on the labour costs transferring a chunk of that monetary savings to donating to AMF, they get to keep the profitability.

          And since the journalists themselves will not realistically face the possibility of outsourcing, it’s smugness for them to blame the people who are losing their jobs for being racists if they’re not thrilled about a Chinese guy getting their job.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            Most people do not have the ability to be journalists if they tried. You may have forgotten just how abysmal the average person’s writing is. I invite you to try looking over some final-year university coursework from top students, for example. I do it fairly often and it is literally painful to me to see the errors made.

            There’s a reason John Oliver has a TV show. It’s because he’s John Oliver. Most people could not do his job as well as he does.

            Are you seriously proposing that learning to tell original jokes in a foreign language and make up-to-date observations on life in a foreign country is no harder than working on a production line? If that’s true, why is John Oliver paid more, when there are literally millions of people able to do his job equally well for a pittance? Can you seriously not see that churning out soldered parts is a lot easier than “churning out” witty articles?

            The fact that “the journalists themselves will not realistically face the possibility of outsourcing” is itself proof that journalism cannot be outsourced to Chinese ex-peasants.

          • Viliam says:

            I remember reading something about early outsourcing of customer services to overseas call centres in India, where the locals employed were encouraged to use Western names and learn about baseball teams and the like in order to be better able to provide the American users of the service with something that seemed familiar.

            This reminds me of a great film and TV series called “Outsourced”. (I recommend watching the film first and the series later; both are comedies, but the film is half-serious, and the series is just pure laughs.)

      • Mary says:

        so what’s the trade-off?

        I have heard complaints that American workers will — not lose jobs — but get lower wages because of the competition. Still much higher than, say, the Filipinos would get. At what point do you say, “No, people do not have to starve if that’s the price of keeping you in the style to which you are accustomed.”

    • Wrong Species says:

      I read his article and his argument is that bad. The guy doesn’t get the difference between wanting a job and sabatoging another persons attempt to get that job.

  34. It isn’t clear to me why you reject the obvious explanation for your feelings–that you, like everyone else, are biased in your own interest and the bias carries over to people you identify with. The argument that the person directly affected sometimes has information the outsider does not, such as how difficult it is to find another job, is a legitimate one, but the other half of the argument doesn’t seem to be.

    • Saul Degraw says:

      On the other hand, most people can usually tell when they are being concern trolled or condescended to.

      There might be very good arguments for free trade but it is still kind of rich to get a lecture from someone making six figures about why you should be happy or fine with going from a 25 dollar per an hour factor job to an 8 dollar an hour service job. This is a rather pure form of FYIGM.

      • Bryan Hann says:

        In my experience, people can be very quick to jump to conclusions about the motives a person might have for choosing the words that they do, and for interpreting a neutral tone as snark.

  35. od says:

    Focusing just on section III:
    > I’m both very convinced that the right thing to do in that situation would be to fight apartheid, and also convinced that the South Africans would be right about the personal jab – the median American journalist who pushed the fight wouldn’t want his job taken over by Zulus willing to work for lower wages.

    I disagree that the journalists are being hypocrites in what they advocate.

    These journalists are not asking the white South African to *want* their jobs to be taken by others willing to work for lower wages. They are asking the white South African to stop using force/laws to prevent a whole community of people from competing for their jobs. There *is* a difference, and it’s one you’re missing in several places in this section.

    Honestly, if I were to lose my job, I’d be pretty pissed, but should I be more pissed if I lost it to someone of a different skin colour/nationality than me? I don’t see why I should care. Your argument presumably is not that employers can not hire better people than you (where better could be any combination of cheaper/more productive). That once hired, your employer is stuck with you in a weird long-term economic commitment till death do you part. So your employer can hire others, and if it turns out that hiring them causes you to be redundant, they can let you go. But once these replacement-employees vary along a completely arbitrary dimension of skin colour/nationality, then does the employee suddenly have a moral case for using government laws to prevent the replacement?

    Between lower wages and higher productivity, the employer doesn’t care about just one. He’s not going to hire a doctor who’s willing to work for half your wage if they only meet half the number of patients as you. So let’s say there’s a doctor who’s somehow so much better than you that he manages to successfully treat 50% more patients than you during the regular workday. Or I don’t know, he cares so much for treating people, and is so passionate about it that he doesn’t end his workday without seeing at least 50% more patients than you. If your employer decides to replace you with this guy, who’s clearly better for both them and their customers, you certainly have a right to be pissed, but do you have the right to prevent this replacement with the help of your government?

    Note, I’m not saying that once you find yourself out of your job, you deserve to be left to starve. A society should make measures to take care of those in distress (although they probably should ensure that the measures don’t destroy incentives among the recipients to attain some degree of self-sufficiency). But that really is a separate question from the one you addressed in section III.

    • Swami says:

      Good comment, od

      This dilemma over wanting a job and equal opportunity doesn’t seem so confusing to me either.

      Let us do a sports analogy. I want the other team to NOT score, but that does not imply I want to cheat or privilege the competition unfairly in my favor.

      I want a fair and impartial game where the rules apply equally to all. Those are the types of games I would logically join, and everyone with a lick of sense avoids games where the real competition is over controlling the refs.

      I have never wanted an unfair privilege to a job due to my race, gender or nationality. And anyone who does is kind of a jerk.

      The benefit of globalism comes from creating larger networks of cooperation and constructive competition. Our lives have been unimaginably improved due to this logic. To desire to privilege oneself above the competition is similar to cheating or defecting.

      To be succinct… There is a great reason to pursue impartial rules. Once the game gets started we all become partial. We should beware this tendency.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      This is a good comment.

  36. Jiro says:

    magine a simplified toy model where the only two jobs are professor and salesperson, and being a professor is fun and high-status but being a salesperson is boring and low-status.

    Status enables people to gain other things. A fun job pays less than a boring job, but a high status job doesn’t pay less than a low status job.

    Suppose somebody tells me that before going to medical school, every doctor in the British Isles has to sign a Waiver Of Appreciation Of Consequences… This is purely a Least Convenient Possible World argument here.)

    You need to be careful that your least convenient possible world argument doesn’t abstract away aspects of the problem which change the answer to the question. If you’re claiming that the decision has counterintuitive consequences, you also have to be careful that you’re not creating a situation so contrived that intuition will no longer work.

    My answer would be that if you really did get prospective doctors to sign and understand such a thing, then there wouldn’t be doctors complaining (at least not in the amounts seen now). Your stipulation would cause the problem to vanish.

    Even if there are some reasons they can’t (difficulty finding other jobs, sunk cost effects) wouldn’t it be less distortionary to smooth their path to non-medical careers than to try to reform medicine?

    Suppose the answer to this is “yes”. So what? It may be true that reform A is better than reform B, but everyone other than us who opposes the doctors thinks that no reform is preferable to reform A. Pointing out that reform B is better has no bearing on that question.

    They say that if Beauchamp really wants to end apartheid, he himself should give up his journalist position to a South African black who will take it for a few dollars a day.

    Most people are not EAs and don’t value everyone equally. A non-EA answer here is “I believe we have more obligations to our fellow citizens than to foreigners. For instance, if the US still had slavery, I would indeed be obliged to make sure our country doesn’t enslave them, and then let them compete for my job. Because the South African blacks are foreigners, my obligation towards them is more limited; I am only obligated to ensure they are not enslaved (or oppressed).”

    Also, all that you’re saying only applies to a free market anyway. The government has a monopoly over licensing doctors and over nationalized health insurance. It doesn’t have a monopoly over professors. (It does do some things that as we know result in high college costs and a bunch of other problems, and to the extent that these affect the working conditions for professors, are an argument that something should be done about professors too.)

  37. Alex Godofsky says:

    If we really believed in the first argument, we would let the victims sit on juries.

  38. Steve Sailer says:

    I have a couple of general views:

    1. It’s natural and reasonable for people to have fairly concentric systems of loyalty. The world tends to work better that way.

    2. Debate is a good thing. Demonizing the other side, as globalist journalists tend to do when it comes to immigration policy, tends to make everybody stupider.

  39. Peter Gerdes says:

    Much of this post seems to be a search for a simple heuristic that looks at just a few factors (the freedom people had to enter into an arrangement, the existence of alternatives etc..) that will tell us if the government should intervene to stop a practice. There are tons of reasons that such a heuristic would be desierable but why should we be confident it should exist?

    Maybe the best we can do is take a detailed look at the costs and benefits of any particular fix and see if the costs exceed the benefits. Maybe the doctor and professor situations are quite similar but, since medicine is so heavily regulated as it is, the costs of extra government intervention are lower so we should intervene in one but not the other. Maybe we resolve landlord responsibilities just by comparing the likely harms of forgetful tenants and the benefits of freedom to innovate on that point.

    Of course this is tough because there is a hug salience bias towards concrete harms we can see now and against possible future benefits from innovative arrangements and the additive effect of compliance costs. However, we have some best guess as to the extent of this bias so we just need to factor that into our estimates. We can’t coherently believe that our best estimate of something (taking everything into account) is biased in one direction.

  40. Salem says:

    Thanks for picking out my comment, and I admit I have some sympathy for your view. Sure, junior doctors freely chose what they got into, and sure, they could leave at any time, but dammit, no one should be treated like that. This is the pure “hardship” argument.

    But the other parallel with adjuncts is that junior doctors in the UK are at the back of the line for hardship. It’s not that we are resistant to learning that the NHS is worse than we thought, it’s that we are well aware that there are other people whose lives are far worse, and this is not random whataboutery – junior doctors are state employees, so any pay rise for them necessarily has to come at the expense of some other public good. The median UK salary is around £27k. Most of the junior doctors on strike are making between £35k and £55k. No, I am not willing to raise taxes on much poorer people to fund a pay rise for richer people on the grounds that the rich aren’t paid enough.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m actually not sure that’s true. Who else are we talking about who works hundred hour weeks and 36 hour shifts without sleep? Maybe this is just ignorance, but I’d rather be a fast food worker or a janitor or any of those people who have “real hardship” than a British junior doctor.

      • Richard says:

        How about entrepreneurs? They seem to work steady 100 hour weeks for extended periods of time for a 10% chance of breaking even and a 0.01% chance of getting reasonably well off. (and a ~90% chance of going spectacularly bust)

        These are also people who could usually get a decent job with good pay and reasonable hours, and yet they don’t.

        My point is just that long hours in itself does not constitute hardship. At least you don’t hear many entrepreneurs complaining.

        • Saul Degraw says:

          What does going bust mean though? There was an interesting article in Wired about failure in Silicon Valley from a year or two ago. The article mentioned that most start-ups do fail but failure often means “Become a product manager at Oracle or Google for 300K a year.”

          I know people who founded and folded their own start-ups but they all managed to find really good gigs afterwards.

          • Adam says:

            Even if not, I don’t think people appreciate the benefits of debt-financing and limited liability. Who here has actually known any serial entrepreneurs? I’ve never known a single one that truly went bust. Their businesses went bust while they kept their Teslas and downtown condos and company-financed business class trips to every major city in the world for industry conferences, and when the business went bust, they just started a new one and maintained exactly the same lifestyle. I don’t doubt it’s stressful, but it’s clearly rewarding.

      • glorkvorn says:

        So maybe this is just because I have no “skin in the game” as someone who’s never been a British junior doctor, but even after reading your posts about the situation I would still choose to be a British junior doctor over being a fast food worker. First of all, they make more money. Admittedly the fast food worker might make more on an hourly basis and so they could theoretically get a second job to make more, although in practice that’s not an easy thing to do in shift work.

        But more importantly the junior doctors have a reasonable hope that their job will get better as they gain seniority, and could eventually lead to a very good job indeed. The fast food workers are just stuck in a completely dead-end job. If they want any hope of a better job they’ll have to hustle for it in their off-hours, completely unpaid.

        • “The fast food workers are just stuck in a completely dead-end job.”

          You don’t expect that if they do a strikingly good job as fast food workers, the company that they work for is likely to promote them to something better such as managing fast food workers?

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            They can only be promoted to manager if there is a vacant managerial position. Managerial positions are fewer than low level positions so most man-hours of fast food workers will not be spent in managerial positions. (Whether that means most don’t get promoted at all, or most get promoted but the they are in the promoted position for only a small percentage of their career depends on how the positions are distributed).

            Also, fast food “managers” are called that because a loophole to avoid overtime pay. The number of actual managers is much lower than the number of on-paper managers.

          • glorkvorn says:

            “Manager” in most fast food joints just means the chance to work a whole lot more hours for only a little extra pay (because now they’re salaried instead of paid hourly). It’s probably better than being a regular employee, but not much better. And I think there’s a lot of fast food workers with very little chance of moving up to manager.

          • “Managerial positions are fewer than low level positions”

            I wrote “if they do a strikingly good job.” I assume most workers don’t.

          • John Schilling says:

            I would assume most workers don’t even try, considering the job to be either a dead end or temporary expedient. But I’d be interested in knowing the odds faced by someone who takes a burger-flipping job with the specific intent of eventually owning the franchise (and maybe a few others) and a fair degree of hustle.

            Traditionally, I believe this was a viable career plan. Today, I don’t know.

          • keranih says:

            completely dead-end job

            McD’s promotes largely from within. While there is a hierarchy in work positions, it’s more like 3-5 crew with a leader, 3-5 crew with a shift leader, 3-5 shift leaders with a store manager/owner, rather than a sea of workers and one manager.

            Small family owned momnpop stores are more likely to have staff that will never (or, more rarely) advance.

      • Salem says:

        1. British junior doctors are not on strike for shorter hours. They are on strike for more pay. Given that they themselves are saying they’re happy to work those hours for more pay, shouldn’t you take them at their word about the hours, and think about the pay?

        2. British junior doctors can very easily quit and become fast food workers. They don’t. Fast-food workers aren’t allowed to become doctors. I know revealed preference isn’t everything, but c’mon now.

        3. The only reason this is even an issue is because junior doctors are well-off, not badly off. If being a junior doctor was a genuinely hard life that most people didn’t want to do, the bien-pensant left would pay no attention to them at all – in the same way that when low-ranking civil servants making £22k went on strike, we heard nary a peep. Junior doctors are well-educated, fairly affluent professionals with excellent career prospects, whose voices are massively over-represented in the political and regulatory process. The very reasons why they are able to push themselves to the front of the line with their complaints are the same reasons why they deserve to be at the back of the line.

        • Simon says:

          Low ranking civil servants on strike prompts the same response as Deep Thought gives when threatened with a national philosophers strike. “Who would notice”?

        • Andrew says:

          Are they on strike for more money rather than shorter hours because that’s what they really want or because they think they’re more likely to get money than time?

          It sounds like the current reality is the entire medical system in the UK will go down in flames if all the doctors started refusing to work beyond 40 hours per week, which makes that a totally unrealistic demand that they can’t possibly get in the short term.

          Money, by comparison, is easy to come by, especially as it sounds like they’re facing their net pay being substantially cut.

          • More likely still, they’re confident that if the administration actually had to pay them based on the number of hours they actually work, those hours would pretty quickly go down.

            Also, quoting from the linked article:

            “For the sake of clarity, we must, once again, reject your assertion that the only outstanding issue in dispute relates to Saturday pay. Your own letter recognises a number of critical issues concerning work-life balance, excessive working hours, improvements in training and crucially, workforce and funding implications for seven-day services.”

            Perhaps they’re just trying to mislead the public. But then, perhaps the government is just trying to mislead the public by focusing on Saturday pay. I wouldn’t care to bet on the former.

    • Bryan Hann says:

      Salem: “no one should be treated like that.”

      Even the ones (whom Scott suspects have coke habits) that *do* like it?

      • Ken Arromdee says:

        “No one” doesn’t literally mean “no one”. People on the Internet are so literal these days always.

        • Bryan Hann says:

          Yes. That’s my weakness I’m afraid (though my aspergyness does predate the Internet* by a few years.)

          It does allude to the difficulties faced in accommodating or refusing to accommodate those few though.


          *As in arpanet, not the world wide web. 🙂

  41. Ornithopter says:

    I’m a professor in the humanities. I tell my prospective students that they shouldn’t do a PhD – the odds of getting a job are just too bad. This has no effect on them – they’re not worried that the odds are bad in the abstract. Maybe it would help to give this to them in a more brutal and personal form, something like this: “The odds are bad – but this mostly isn’t a lottery. A handful of extremely brilliant and productive people get the good jobs. I estimate that you, personally, are not brilliant and productive enough to make it. Look at the guy over there who got two peer-reviewed articles published before even starting his PhD. Yeah.” But this would probably be uncoordinated meanness.

    When I was still a PhD student I was given the “opportunity” to teach a course for no pay or other useful payoff apart from the experience. I decided my time was better spent on research and I think that was the right call. But I did seriously consider it. They pawned this off on another PhD student. He still doesn’t have a job.

    • chaosmage says:

      What one of my professors did was assign Max Weber’s Science as a Vocation for reading and extensive discussion, and in that discussion, emphasize at length that even at Weber’s superlative level of ability and success in the humanities, it was very much work for fairly little money.

      I don’t know if it helped much, but it was a lot better than other professors, who – by not disabusing their students from romantic notions – basically con students into doing PhD’s.

    • Watercressed says:

      I think you’re misapplying the uncoordinated meanness test. It’s not “don’t try to forcefully convince people of things”, it’s “don’t shame people for perceived violations of social norms”.

      • Ornithopter says:

        I think the same principle applies. Telling a prospective PhD student that they are not brilliant is a mean thing to do – likely to send them to bed in tears. I don’t want to be mean to people except in socially sanctioned and coordinated ways. Or, more generally, where it is very clear that it does more good than harm. Sending someone to bed in tears would be acceptable if it meant saving them 10 years of disappointment and failure. But it’s extremely unclear that this is the real trade-off. Maybe they don’t follow my advice and then the mean act has accomplished nothing useful. Or maybe they do listen to me and then always feel regretful and bitter about not having given it a shot. Maybe they would have made it in academia after all. Or at least had a good time making the attempt and felt that it enriched their lives. So I’ll probably stick with the abstract warning and skip the step where I try to break their spirit for their own good.

        On this view, the morally correct action is also the most personally convenient to me. That is, of course, always a little suspicious.

        • “Telling a prospective PhD student that they are not brilliant is a mean thing to do – likely to send them to bed in tears.”

          I think you exaggerate. Telling a prospective PhD student that he is not brilliant enough, that an academic career makes sense for the top two percent of students in his field and he’s only in the top ten percent, is not a mean thing to do. If true, it’s useful information.

          • Simon says:

            I am reminded of a quote from Vonnegut which I always bore in mind since I found it in my teens. Forget which book I’m afraid but good advice for almost everyone.

            “at some point in your life you will meet someone who will tear you a new asshole so to speak, take pride in your abilities but be humble and conscious of your own limitations”

    • “This has no effect on them – they’re not worried that the odds are bad in the abstract.”

      Adam Smith argued that jobs with highly variable outcomes—his example was lawyers—had low average pay, because young people at the point when they were choosing a job were optimists, assumed that of course they would be among the minority of winners.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        Professional athlete is an obvious example.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        There is a good deal of truth in the fact that young people might be extremely optimistic. Law is also an interesting example because it is a bit of a long game career wise or mixed up.

        The classic joke about law school is that the “A students become professors. B students become judges, and C students become really, rich lawyers.”

        The C students are not getting Big Law jobs. However, the richest lawyers I’ve known were not Big Law Partners or even on the defense side or the best students at Law School. The most successful and richest lawyers were C students, they did not go to the best law schools, etc. They did become really successful plaintiff’s lawyers though.

        Even quite a few Big Law partners jump ship and start their own plaintiff’s firms because they think that is where the real money is.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        So… is there anything known about ways to possibly “correct” for this?

    • glorkvorn says:

      Are they all secretly convinced that they are the extremely brilliant and productive ones who are guaranteed a job? Most of them probably were compared to their undergrad peers.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        From what I’ve heard and noticed (anecdote, not data, etc.) is that a lot of people need until grad school/law school/medical school before they realize that their might be people who are much more brilliant than them.

  42. chaosmage says:

    Yes,

    some hard-to-communicate knowledge that’s neither factual nor just a cover for “the secret hard-to-communicate knowledge that I am selfish and want a system that benefits me rather than other people”

    does exist. It is awareness of the consequences and implications of what it means to be in a particular situation. There’s a difference between near mode and far mode in how aware you can be of these consequences and implications, due to limited cognitive capacity.

    Modeling/understanding a hypothetical situation takes more cognitive capacity than experiencing it first-hand, because some cognitive capacity is allocated to keeping the hypothetical and the actual separated.

    When thinking about a “far mode”, hypothetical situation, this separation leaves less remaining cognitive capacity to do the actual modeling/understanding. So a hypothetical situation gets modelled/understood in less detail than a first-hand one. (Example: You’d surely see even in far mode that “losing a job” means having less money. You could visualize that and infer your family would have to go down from two cars to one. But maybe you wouldn’t get far enough to understand what that implies for the education prospects of your children. Or maybe your capacity doesn’t reach into anticipating constant fear of what happens when that remaining car breaks down.) In a first-hand situation, you can think it through more thoroughly and map the possibilities and eventualities of where life goes from there. You spend much more time living and reasoning inside the first-hand situation than almost anybody (even the person with extensive book knowledge) invests into creating a model/understanding of a hypothetical situation. (In the example: By the time you actually sell the second car, you’re probably well aware of the more glaring consequences of this step.)

    So does that mean you should trust the person with skin in the game more? Not necessarily. Lying takes cognitive capacity as well. Because here again you distinguish two models: One of actual reality, one of what you want to convey. So it is easier to lie (meaning you can lie in more detail, meaning you can lie more convincingly) about a first-hand situation than about a hypothetical. So what skin in the game does to the trustworthiness of an opinion about it is that it makes it more dependent on whether the giver of the opinion shares the values of the receiver of the opinion. (Example: So the oil company CEO who has had years to think about what to write in their quarterly reports should be a less trustworthy witness than the outsider economist.) If both want both to actually know what’s the case, first hand experience is better because it permits more inferences, even compared to someone with excellent book knowledge of the subject.

    Object level details:

    1. Hitch’s story was believable precisely because he was hawkish about the use of waterboarding before – if someone who was already outspoken against it had done the same and come to the same conclusion, that person wouldn’t have been nearly as trustworthy.

    2. Individual doctors and adjunct professors shouldn’t be more trustworthy than individual oil company CEOs. I trust the former because they’re too numerous to effectively coordinate the stories they tell.

  43. petey says:

    Hi Scott —

    Longtime reader / lurker. As I read this post, and the set of questions you raise in the penultimate graf, it kept bringing me back to the epistemological concept of situated knowledges, which seems like maybe it offers a way forward for you.

    I encountered situated knowledges in an essay of that name written by Donna Haraway. In the last 80s, feminist critics launched an initial attack on scientific positivism that was the vanguard of the subsequent science wars. The intellectual platform of this assault was the development of standpoint theory, which is a formulation of your first argument: to quote the SEP entry I just linked, “standpoint theories claim to represent the world from a particular socially situated perspective that can lay a claim to epistemic privilege or authority.” Sandra Harding, one of the principal authors of standpoint theory, wrote that it developed to question where “science, steeped in Western, masculine, bourgeois endeavors, [can] nevertheless be used for emancipatory ends.”

    Haraway wrote her essay as a response to Harding. Although Haraway is also identified as (and AFAIK identifies as) a feminist critic of science and technology, she argued that standpoint theory, while true, was also inadequate inasmuch as it theorized all of science as simply a set of power moves with no ‘objective’ truth. As an ecofeminist who cared about the world, and animals, and forests, and other projects that science has helped usefully describe, she thought it was important that we be able to describe some things as being more true than others while simultaneously recognizing that the position of the subject (i.e., the individual researcher, or in your case journalist / doctor / factory worker / etc) will change what they can see. As she wrote (in 1988!):

    So, I think my problem, and “our” problem, is how to have simultaneously an account of radical historical contingency for all knowledge claims and knowing subjects, a critical practice for recognizing our own “semiotic technologies” for making meaning, and a no-nonsense commitment to faithful accounts of a “real” world, one that can be partially shared and that is friendly to earthwide projects of finite freedom, adequate material abundance, modest meaning in suffering, and limited silliness.

    Toward this goal Haraway develops the concept of situated knowledges and partial perspectives which I interpret, basically, as the idea that everyone knows something and no one knows anything. Like most big ideas, this one sounds so-simple-as-to-be-obvious that it’s easy to escape how foundational and mind-fucking it really is. What I think it basically boils down to (and I hedge this with “I” partially as a performance of the the principle I’m explaining and partially because of sheer infinite-are-the-arguments-of-the-mages multiplicity of interpretations here) is the idea that the contradiction between near-you and far-you (as a metaphor for the contradiction between self/other) is as necessary as is it awkward, i.e., that neither account is or can be complete, but you get closer to the right answer by doing what you’re doing in this post, which is contesting the two against each other and trying to ‘network’ (in the sense of filaments of knowledge-web rather than, like, ethernet cables) different ‘partial perspectives’ together to achieve some more comprehensive account of the world. Since I know you’re not the biggest fan of ~*~Feminism~*~, I’ll also point out that Haraway is quite specifically trying to move beyond the intersectional olympics “the woman knows more than the man, and the black woman than the woman, and the queer black woman than the black woman”, but rather that they know differently, which is a distinction I think matters. Her theory also allows for a broader ontological scope of actors with knowledge about the world, including laborers, journalists, cyborgs, artificial intelligences, and Nature Itself.

    To which you might respond: sure, okay, near-me and far-me both have points, but the distance between the two is still (to use your word) awkward from a rational(ist) perspective. What Haraway argues is that preserving the split (not only between-selves, but within-selves) is actually the more rational account; she defines rationality as the “ongoing conversation” among a field of observers (again, what you’re doing in this post by performing the ongoing conversation between both of you). Although she doesn’t use this specific term, this is also a more democratic view of how knowledge is constructed, because, following Habermas, it requires people who disagree to voice those disagreements and talk them out, as opposed to some Master Theorist performing what Haraway calls “the god trick” to listen to all of these voices and decide which are Right and which are Wrong.

    (That said, it’s not clear to me that Haraway really ‘cares’ so much about the instrumentality of resolving disputes like this in a way that Habermas obviously does; indeed, she seems to want to preserve the disputes as a way of protecting individual identity and agency as against Habermas’ goal of ultimately arriving at some mutually-negotiated universal consensus. Infinite are the arguments of the mages).

    Anyway: I mostly wanted to post this because a) I think you might actually really like this Haraway essay and because b) I wanted to make the point that the split-between-yous is perhaps more rational than any resolution would have been.

    • null says:

      Well obviously if Haraway’s going to define ‘rationality’ as performing her system, then she can argue that her system is more ‘rational’. I am not sure of the connection to rationalist practices.

    • “everyone knows something and no one knows anything.”

      I’m hoping that’s a typo for “no one knows everything.”

    • H.E. Pennypacker says:

      I didn’t expect to see Donna Haraway cited approvingly on SSC but it’s nice to see*. I think she’s a perfect eample of how there were actually some really sensible and coherent arguments on that side of the Science Wars, but if you’re a physicist and someone else is telling you that E = MC2 is a sexist equation you don’t normally take the time to see if someone else is making a much more reasonable critique of placing too much faith in the objectivity of science. And if our hypothetical physicist does end up reading one of these more reasonable critiques she/he’s probably not going to come to it with an open mind because it will already be heavily associated with large volumes of pretentious nonsense.

      I think someone like Bruno Latour** sums up the problem by having a pretty coherent platform that’s not anti-science and doesnt deny the usefulness of the scientific method but written in a deliberately provocative way.

      For me the real question behind the questions and difficulties presented in the OP is not about having skin in the game per se but about what knowledge is and how it might onstructively be used to make sense of the world.

      I think a good way to explain this is to use a rather old-fashioned distinction between idiographic and nomothetic forms of enquiry, the former being descriptive and the latter theoretical. As a simplification of how things work in science these two forms of enquiry represent two stages of the process. First is the collection of empirical data, desciptions of what happened in experiment (in a nice passive construction which removes the scientist from the picture “the subject was observed to…”) and then the creation of theoretical generalisations from the facts. Ideally this theory will lead to new experiments aiming to get new data which could either strengthen or weaken the theory and by repeating this process again and again our descriptions and theories improve.

      Now clearly this method (which I’ve grossly simplified) is a useful way for gaining greater knowledge of the reality in which we live. I think the problem comes when we place to much faith in this way of working and give too little credit to other ways of understanding the world.

      In the context of science, idiographic enquiry is the collection of data or fact, but description can also be done in a way that recognises that to describe is always to interpret. In this sense, description and theory are not separated as neatly delineated stages but are combined; rather than seeking to isolate discrete facts and render them coherent through theoretical generalisations it would seek to describe a world that already coheres.

      What I’m trying to get at here can be illustrated with the anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s notion of thick description. He gives us the example of a boy opening and closing his eye. This is a fact, a neutral description of what happened. But what is the boy doing? Is he blinking, or is he winking at his friend to indicate that he is being mischievous? Or is he perhaps winking in an overly exagerated way to mock a third friend who had tried to indicate a mischievous conspiracy with a wink but did it in an obvious and clumsy way? It seems nigh on impossible find out which of these he is doing by reconstructing from purely objective facts (the speed at which his eye-lids closed, how long his eye was completely shut, the angle of his head as he did it etc.). To understand this simple opening and closing of the boys eye we need interpretation and once we have this we need to know something about the person doing the interpreting. If it is someone from a foreign country who has never met these boys before we might question their ability to read the subtle cues that are necessary to interpret the action. We have to know the motives and position of the describer if we want to be able to judge the validity of their descriptions.

      Of course, this is true with science but jsut to a lesser extent. Scott has pointed out before, often, even in seemingly good, well-designed studies, two researchers with opposing opinions of a phenomenon will each obtain results that vindicate their own point of view***.

      Having “skin in the game” and having a “near” perspective may bias a person, but it also gives them access to a wealth of information which cannot be reduced to objective facts or even reconstructed from these facts with theoretical generalisations, which would be available to someone looking at it from a “far” persepctive.

      * I was reading her essay Teddy Bear Patriarchy the other day and thought it was a great example of what “intersectionality” could have been.

      ** A pattern I’ve noticed is that most of the more coherent critiques of over-reliance on science and overconfidence in its achievement of objectivity normally comes from those drawing on the process ontology of people like Alfred North Whitehead, Henri Bergson, Baruch Spinoza, or, if we want to take it back to the Ancient Greeks, Heraclitus.

      *** One of the great things about this blog is that, whilst coming from the side of science it actually deals with the extreme difficulties of trying to answer certain questions with the scientific method – it seems there’s much more cause for common ground between science and the humanities as long as you don’t focus on the angry people who shout the loudest that their tribe is great and the other lot are all bastards.

      • petey says:

        Yes! As someone who comes from ‘that’ side of the science wars but nonetheless reads every post on SSC, it sometimes puzzles me that there isn’t more crossover; I read Haraway/Latour especially as being allies in the larger project of “how do we know what we know, and how can we make better accounts of the world while simultaneously acknowledging the ‘human’ error in what we do?” But then, to invoke another SSC metaphor, maybe that’s just how tribes work.

        Geertz’ essay is another foundational one in STS for the reasons you describe; inasmuch as the instrument of observation (human or nonhuman) is never neutral, foregrounding (rather than concealing) that uncertainty is, in my view, key to the project of doing good science. Which, as you say: I don’t think most ‘science-types’ would actually disagree with! Again, tribes.

  44. Orwell's Ghost says:

    I think you’re too quick to dismiss the view that we ought to care about giving everyone decent working conditions and quality of life tied to their jobs. Your analogy: ‘Suppose there are many entry-level gardening jobs available, but I become a skyscraper-window-washer. Then I complain because I am afraid of heights, and I want special accomodations for this. When you say “maybe you should try a different line of work”, I say “stop making this about my virtue and start focusing on the problems with society such that it can’t give everyone decent conditions.”’

    This strikes me as not analogous to the overworked, somewhat structurally tyrannical, conditions of junior doctors or academics at all. The analogous junior doctor here would be the one who faints at the sight of blood or passes out when they have to look at or think about the body too much. *That* person, like the skyscraper-window-washer here, I agree doesn’t have much of a claim — what they’re objecting to is just part of being a doctor or a skyscraper window washer. But the working conditions and prospects that junior doctors aren’t necessary parts of being doctors, as being up high is a necessary part of being a skyscraper window washer. On the contrary, as many have pointed out, it’s at least in tension with it. The analogous case with the window washer would be the one who had terrible working conditions and little hope for advancement, and rectifying that in the name of universal decency for all strikes me as very different from just letting people who faint at the sight of blood or have vertigo game the system by taking jobs they can’t do.

    It seems to me that both junior doctors and junior academics have very good grounds to stand on, both for their own sakes and for society’s. (Regarding society’s stake, in addition to what others have already mentioned about how non-suicidally-exhausted-or-depressed people tend to be much better at their jobs, we only have to think about the person with amazing medical aptitude (and joy in medicine!) who would be out saving lots of lives, except that they can’t deal with 80-hour work weeks etc. Do we really want to say that whatever reasons we have for the current system are sufficient to keep this person out of medicine?!)

    (Full disclosure: I faint at the sight of blood and am currently a humanities grad student — so I have skin in the game.)

    • Sounds about right. My only quibble is that it isn’t really practicable for everybody to have great long-term career prospects; in any given field there can only be so many high-status/high-paying jobs available. I’d rather society accepted that many people will remain in the same job (or similar jobs) their entire lives.

      Mind you, I’m biased; my current job was my first permanent position, and I’ve been in it for nearly 20 years and (fate permitting) fully intend to stay until I retire. It would be nice for me if that weren’t seen as odd. 🙂

  45. Leonard says:

    I’d suggest that Hitchens didn’t really learn anything. What he had was a PR problem: in his zeal to pursue war against Islam, he supported waterboarding (though opposing other torture). This drew a lot of criticism, particularly from the left. He wanted to regain popularity, and so needed to change his public position. But he did not want to be seen as doing so purely for popularity. Yet what principle could he base a change of mind on? Solution? Get himself waterboarded and then claim that the experience itself changed his mind. Who could argue with that?

    • Ninmesara says:

      This seems like an extremely likely explanation. I’m ashamed of not having thought of it myself when I noticed I was confused with the sequence of events.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        I feel that this is actually a very silly explanation. yes, Hitchens *could* be that Machiavellian, but he probably isn’t. Hansonian explanations work well when they involve *unconscious* selfish reasons for doing things. Extrapolating to “everybody is a sociopath” loses the key point that neurotypical humans are very bad at lying when they don’t sincerely believe their own lies. The whole point of Hanson’s ideas is that you can believe you are doing something for a respectable reason when the real cause – the thing that is a necessary condition for the observed behaviour – is that it benefits you to do it.

        Hitchens was almost certainly much more motivated by things like intellectual honesty and not wanting to back down from a challenge.

        Seriously, does *drowning* not seem like something that might give you a visceral impression that *drowning is really unpleasant*?

        • Ninmesara says:

          Maybe I shouldn’t have said “extremely likely”… I don’t think it is quite silly, though.

          Hitchens was almost certainly much more motivated by things like intellectual honesty and not wanting to back down from a challenge.

          I’ve been slowly adjusting my priors from “people you read about on the news are basically honest” to “people you read about on the news lie”. I don’t know the guy, so I’m just working from my cynical prior.

          Seriously, does *drowning* not seem like something that might give you a visceral impression that *drowning is really unpleasant*?

          Of course it’s really unpleasant! Why would the army use it if it weren’t? Would it be because it had magical confession inducing properties? It’s hard for me to picture someone who favours waterboarding (which is merely enhanced interrogation) but not electric shocks (which would be torture), and then discovers that waterboarding is really bad and as such shouldn’t be used (this is blatant typical mind fallacy, of course)… Scott also seems similarly confused. This explanation offers a plausible way out of this conundrum, and that’s why I said I found it likely.

          (I don’t support waterboarding, torture or any kind of enhanced interrogation; I guess I would support drugs IF they were proved to be effective [a big if!] and not damaging to the prisoner)

          • Chrysophylax says:

            Half of the OP was about the difference between how bad you think something is from the outside and how bad it feels from the inside. Even if Hitchens didn’t change his beliefs there at all, there’s still trauma to take into account. When you have yourself been waterboarded, your subconscious has a very strong WATERBOARDING IS BAD reaction that you don’t get from merely contemplating it. Relatedly, the way a *strict* ethical injunction feels from the inside is anger and disgust at the mere suggestion off doing the forbidden thing.

            >I’ve been slowly adjusting my priors from “people you read about on the news are basically honest” to “people you read about on the news lie”. I don’t know the guy, so I’m just working from my cynical prior.

            There’s a difference between being dishonest and knowingly, deliberately lying. People lie outright a lot less than they lie implicitly. I think you should probably ask yourself whether someone would have reason to *lie*, or whether ordinary human subconscious dishonesty would suffice.

    • Wrong Species says:

      This is one of the most ridiculous things anyone has ever said on here. Do you really think people will literally torture themselves just to potentially save themselves from a little embarrassment?

      • Leonard says:

        Yes. The exchange is rarely on offer, or we’d see it all the time.

      • keranih says:

        people will literally torture themselves just to potentially save themselves from a little embarrassment

        As a woman who wears heels, I am a little confused about this not being more common knowledge.

        • Chrysophylax says:

          I think there’s a difference between wearing heels and something that is legally considered torture. Wearing heels does not break your will to resist through the unbearable pain; instead, you do it voluntarily. It also doesn’t cause crippling lung injuries or death from mere hours of exposure.

          That said, I do find looking at people wearing heels more unpleasant than looking at roadkill. I have to restrain myself from wincing. On the plus side, I know a short woman who wears Oxfords to work and nobody cares.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            “I think there’s a difference between wearing heels and something that is legally considered torture. ”

            Yes… but remember that keranih was not speaking to the ethics of torture but rather to the possible motivation of Hitchens.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Without any direct knowledge, I must still jump to Hitchens’s defense here. His whole career was one of putting himself in scary or unpleasant situations purely in order to have the first-hand experience needed in order to write about it persuasively or entertainingly. Though it’s a trivial example, I was struck by the anecdote told by one of his editors in the preface of one of his last books: Hitch was to write about undergoing a Brazilian wax. After he had accepted the assignment he was given the details, which included the daunting phrase “back, crack, and sack”. Hitch did a double take, grinned crookedly, and said, “Well, in for a penny…”

      It is totally believable to me that he would undergo a waterboarding entirely in the expectation that it would give him the authority to say, “I’ve done this, and yes, it’s scary, but so is a roller coaster. I suffered no lasting harm, and deny that this rises to the level of ‘torture’.” That he did not in the end make that sort of statement tells me much — but that may have more to do with the principle of “testimony contrary to interest” than about near-far issues.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ Doctor Mist
        Without any direct knowledge, I must still jump to Hitchens’s defense here. His whole career was one of putting himself in scary or unpleasant situations purely in order to have the first-hand experience needed in order to write about it persuasively or entertainingly.

        Yet another non-Machiavellian motive for him to take the test. And, what about the common sense view, that when he took it, he honestly changed his mind?

        I say ‘common sense view’, because no special charity is needed to entertain it.

        (Not a Hitchens fan, myself.)

  46. Fazathra says:

    The trouble with part IV is that it assumes the impartial ‘far mode’ of pure utilitarian reason actually exists. It doesn’t. Everyone has skin in some game, it’s just that those games mostly only marginally intersect. Beauchamp isn’t motivated by an abstract utilitarian consideration of welfare of American vs Chinese workers, no matter how much he thinks he is. He wants his articles to be accepted by Vox, which means he has to write a view that agrees with the editorial line and ultimately supports the biases of his readers. He wants to be seen as a good, caring, just person in the way they are defined in his peer group. He wants to attack his enemies and support and be supported by his friends.

    He cares about the global poor. That’s not surprising. You will always get plaudits from Vox readers and writers if you are seen to care about the global poor. He doesn’t care about American factory workers. They’re the type of uneducated unenlightened hicks who have the wrong opinion about transgender people in bathrooms and might even vote for Donald Trump. His peers don’t like them at all, so neither does he.

    The same with the journalist writing about apartheid. If the end of apartheid leads to a wonderful reign of multicultural prosperity, or if it collapses and becomes the next Zimbabwe, he doesn’t care. It has practically no effect on him. Instead he cares to be seen to anti-apartheid because his near mode game isn’t that of an oppressed south African black, or a worried south African white, but an American journalist who gets money and plaudits if he is against apartheid and will face stigma and attack if he supports it. Vox (or NYT or wherever) won’t publish pro-apartheid articles, so he won’t write them. If upper middle class urban intellectual types who form his peer group were staunchly pro-apartheid for whatever reason, he likely would be too and would be coming up with just as plausible utilitarian moral arguments in favor of apartheid as he does against now.

    My beef with utilitarianism is that it’s the philosophy we use to make decisions about people we don’t care about. It’s the cloak people use to hide their self interest behind a pretense of moral objectivity. Nobody is utilitarian about their family, or their friends, or their life. It’s like if the government suddenly decided that eating food was bad and immoral and hurt the environment and that instead everyone should eat pills which contain all the calories and taste the same as a normal meal. They have hundreds of studies and countless eminent professors talking about the ethical and nutritional superiority of the pills. And sure enough you go along with it. But then you start to notice that all the professors and government officials and the scientists who invented the pills are still going out and eating steak every night. Wouldn’t you become a bit suspicious of the pills, even if the evidence for them seems overwhelming?

    Also, I never knew Christopher Hitchens voluntarily got waterboarded. I didn’t agree with him about anything really, but I have massive respect for him doing that. It’s easy to argue for suffering in the abstract, much harder to keep arguing for it after having experienced it in the flash.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      >Nobody is utilitarian about their family, or their friends, or their life.

      Except, say, Lucius Junius Brutus, famous for creating the Roman republic and for sentencing his sons to death for plotting to restore the monarchy. Or any of millions of other people who suffered or died for others’ sakes, e.g. an awful lot of firemen. There are *a heck of a lot* of counterexamples.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Those are counter examples to people putting their family and friends above everything else. That doesn’t mean they were thinking of it in a utilitarian way. Abraham nearly killed his son as a sacrifice to God, not because he was doing some utilitarian calculations.

        • Chrysophylax says:

          You can’t sensibly apply a universal quantifier to a set of a hundred billion without a lot more evidence than that. “It feels like this to me” is not sufficient evidence.

          When you say “thinking of it in a utilitarian way”, what exactly do you mean? Do you mean “explicitly trying to maximise utility”? Or are you merely making a distinction between thinking about general wellbeing, about personal virtue and about duties? If so, “utilitarian” includes feeling compassion. Or are you trying to say something like “nobody tries to use numbers when they feel strong emotions”? I present half the SSC readership as counterexamples.

    • Massimo Heitor says:

      Bravo! Excellent post and points.

  47. Mr. Breakfast says:

    The assumption never defended:

    That there exists some “We” who will rightfully architect the world of human interactions to produce “optimal” outcomes.

  48. JoyCS says:

    The first argument seems to be of calculating (anti-)utilons, and whether it is possible to do reliably without experiencing the relevant piece of happiness/suffering for yourself. It’s not about skin in the game, it’s about failure of imagination.

    Having done a fair bit of support for people who have been abused in all kinds of horrible ways, I am pretty convinced that, for most people, suffering and happiness are evaluated at the subconscious level. Logical arguments can only go so far, including this one.

    This “hard-to-communicate knowledge” is a real thing: It’s what you internalize as a level of happiness and suffering after experiencing it first-hand, bypassing your logical reasoning. If you want to communicate it, don’t just talk about it, make them feel it.

    How do you communicate to the subconscious mind? Well, direct experience is one, of course. There are various proxies for it: fiction books, movies, persuasive speeches and other tools that are designed to access your emotions more directly. Another one is hypnosis, but hypnotically simulated suffering would be rather unethical, if likely very effective in communicating what it’s like to, say, get waterboarded, or feel hopeless or abused. Analogies work sometimes, when you have a comparable experience. The locally famous dust specks vs. torture mental exercise seems to be one of those: almost all of us can reach into our own highly unpleasant experiences and have the subconscious scream “no! just no!”

    • Jiro says:

      The problem with that is that it’s not clear that “communication at the unconscious level” can be characterized as “information” instead of “bias”.

      I’m sure that there are people who would have a more personal and visceral negative reaction to abortion or gay sex were they required to watch it (or in the case of gay sex, maybe even participate in it). If someone claims to support gay rights, but has never experienced gay sex, is that because he doesn’t have the personal experience to understand how disgusting it is? If someone refuses to watch a video of a fetus twitching and dying, does he just not understand, because he has not seen, that a fetus is something worth saving?

      • Simon says:

        It seems to me that in order to make someone participate in “gay sex”, or sex as it’s more generally known, you’d need a way to make them gay for the duration. Otherwise it’s going to feel like abuse and rape and you’ve pretty much guaranteed your “visceral negative reaction”. Some pretty tendentious stuff here; “to understand how disgusting it is” and “twitching and dying”. Nice.

        For the first one, for a large number of people it’s not disgusting at all, for the second, does it twitch? I doubt it would trouble me as an inexperienced observer more than being in an operating theatre for any of the messier procedures. (Which, I admit, might trouble me. Not even that happy with someone vomiting.)

        • null says:

          Do you believe Jiro actually holds the views he expresses in the last two sentences? It is certainly true that someone does, and Jiro is using this to argue against the contention that how something feels should be the final arbiter of moral concerns, independent of whether Jiro actually holds these views.

          • Simon says:

            The reason I answered as I did was because I could not say for sure either way as written, and as written it reads very unpleasantly. If it was only a device for argumentation a disavowal for clarity’s sake would have been kinder.

            It’s nice to be nice.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Jiro has a regular pattern of saying things in unpleasant ways. In this case, I think it also makes his point less clear, as in, I’m not sure what his point is.

            It seems fair for people to call him on it.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            Jiro’s last two sentences are questions. I have near-knowledge of being scorned as holding certain beliefs on account of my having asked questions.

            (And some questions are unpleasant in themselves regardless of phrasing (‘specks of dust’?) Is there moral benefit in deliberately biasing one’s priors to assume good will?)

      • Deiseach says:

        If someone refuses to watch a video of a fetus twitching and dying, does he just not understand, because he has not seen, that a fetus is something worth saving?

        Jiro, I’m not entirely sure how seriously you mean that, but I do remember reading an online article a few years back about how hard it was to persuade doctors to become abortion providers, and one of the anecdotes was from a doctor who, while herself around sixteen weeks pregnant (I’m going on memory here, don’t hold me to that exact date) performed an abortion on a sixteen weeks’ pregnant woman.

        And she talked about how she felt her own foetus kicking, and how she had a little weep and kind of felt bad because she identified it with the aborted foetus, but then she sorted herself out and realised it was only hormones making her so emotional and that she had committed to being someone who carried out abortions because it was right and good and choice.

        So really, the people who are convinced abortion is a right are not going to be persuaded by any emotional appeals about “but the foetus is alive!”

        • Ken Arromdee says:

          That’s *a* person who is convinced that abortion is a right and is not persuaded by an emotional appeal. I would be very surprised if nobody is. They may be 80% convinced anyway and the emotional appeal just pushes them over the margin to be convinced, but that’s true of most cases where human beings are convinced of something.

      • Tracy W says:

        The problem with that is that it’s not clear that “communication at the unconscious level” can be characterized as “information” instead of “bias”.

        A notorious example: pregnancy sucks. Child birth sucks. Women, including me, in the moment swear never again. Then, odten, including me, a few months later, deliberately set about arranging doing it again.

    • “The locally famous dust specks vs. torture mental exercise seems to be one of those: almost all of us can reach into our own highly unpleasant experiences and have the subconscious scream “no! just no!””

      But is the subconscious correct, or merely reflecting our inability to intuit large numbers?

      One approach is to replace “remove a minor cost for a hundred million people while creating a big cost for one person” with “Remove a hundred small costs for yourself, while creating a one in a million chance of a big cost for yourself.” The answer we get to that is a lot less clear, and observed behavior (crossing the street to chat with a friend, at some tiny risk of being run down) suggests the opposite to the answer you get from your subconscious.

      • Anonymous says:

        I wonder why people never consider the opinion and preferences of those 3^^^3 people, by simply simulating them in their minds. Its not hard to hear what they have to say about torture vs dust specks. Do they believe they have a duty to ignore what people “mistakenly” believe they would prefer?

        For example, if some God offered me two choices:

        – Torture my dear friend for 10 minutes and then erase this experience from his being, so no lasting consequences.

        – Torture my dear friend’s little kid for 8 minutes and then erase the experience.

        I would pick number 1 because I know that is what my dear friend would prefer, out of respect. And I would tell the little voice telling me to pick 2 and keep quiet to shut up and learn its place.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s not about skin in the game, it’s about failure of imagination.

      This right here is the key. We are just discovering there might be aphantasiac people with no ability to really imagine, and others who can imagine but not overlay-visualize, and that is just on the visual side. Consider sapience, setience, personality, mood. All imaginable, simulatable. Highly systemizing people come as very aphantasic about those things to me. They can think about them with the meaning they derived from associations but this is not the same thing.

      There is a thread on reddit where I made a small questionnaire and its pretty interesting, some people seem unable to imagine pain, or several different pains at once. I personally can imagine physical pain so well that my eyes twitch involuntarily.

      fiction books, movies

      Yes, art is really fucking important. Sadly nowadays art is more like decoration, having more in common with a peacock’s tail and advertising than with genuine art. Some people are unable to make the distinction or even angry at it.

      • Anonymous says:

        Highly systemizing people come as very aphantasic about those things to me. They can think about them with the meaning they derived from associations but this is not the same thing.

        Highly systematizing person here and, um, . . .

  49. Dave Baker says:

    Scott, it’s a tragedy for the field of philosophy that you took your mentors’ advice and didn’t become a philosophy professor. You would’ve been an excellent one.

    • He would have been an excellent philosophy professor, but it isn’t clear that one more excellent philosophy professor would be as valuable as one more excellent psychiatrist.

      I suspect that philosophy has the same problem I perceived in physics at the point when I left the field–more very smart people doing it than important work to be done that requires very smart people. With the result that the marginal very smart physicist or philosopher would produce more of value doing something else.

      • Dave Baker says:

        Well, I just said it was bad for philosophy, not for the world as a whole.

        That said, I don’t think there are many philosophy professors who focus on the issues that Scott A is most interested in, and who also possess his particular combination of skills and knowledge. So I think he in particular would have added a lot to our field beyond what the many very smart faculty in the field bring to the table.

        Fortunately, he has a non-negligible impact on us anyway, since quite a few philosophers seem to read this blog.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      You don’t need to be an academic to make a contribution to philosophy. Spiniza was a lens grinder. Wittgenstein wrote the Tractats while a soldier, Etc.

      • John Nerst says:

        I wonder to what extent this is true today. Are there any more recent examples?

        • Bryan Hann says:

          I would suspect that if one cannot *contribute* to philosophy today, it has less to do with being incapable of *producing* good philosophy that it is of people being biased towards academics for philosophical consumption.

          Now it may be that *producing* good philosophy requires being in communication with the philosophic community of the day (was that so for most past philosophers?), and that academic philosophy makes it harder to communicate with the full timers.

          But I like what Scott is doing here. Working towards a kind of self-sustainable mass outside of academia which might foster *and* promote philosophical progress outside of the academies.

          • John Nerst says:

            Precisely what I thought. My very weakly supported impression of academic philosophy is that it’s bogged down by its history and messiness. I’d agree with Paul Graham’s essay that philosophy seems to continue its pre-modern, failed trajectory of thought when what it should be doing is take a proper step into the cognitive, post-Wittgensteinian paradigm.

        • Bryan Hann says:

          @John Nerst:

          Thank you.

          Do you mean ‘post-Wittgenstein’ as in after the man, but in the way of thinking he opened for us? Or do you mean “post-Wittgensteinian paradigm” as in a cognitive paradigm that has displaced or replaced [or extended?] it?

          (I have been steeping for such a while in Wittgenstein that I might benefit from some more recent critique. I do remember once when I recommended Wittgenstein to someone, someone else suggested the Sequences as a shorter path to the same end.)

          • John Nerst says:

            I mean “post-Wittgenstein” as in having internalized the ideas he presented in Philosophical Investigations (which I have not read in its entirety, only a section-by-section summary that nonetheless made a lot of sense and contains a lot of ideas also present in the LW sequence) and stopped doing the things he criticized – like arguing with ordinary words as if they were formal logic and expecting our abstract concepts to refer to something unambigous and real in the world that we can isolate and percieve – like we’ve been doing unsuccessfully since Plato.

  50. HeelBearCub says:

    Is Scott recreating the theory of “lived experience”?

    I’m not at all sure this conversation will go well.

  51. Eli says:

    I don’t get it. Can’t they all just unionize and fight for better conditions? Why should any job necessary for society to function be a miserable shitpile of overwork and low pay? We don’t need sophisticated philosophizing for this one: we just need worker power.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The British junior doctors did, in fact, strike. But there is a general problem that unions are generally run by senior people who have no incentive to reduce hazing of junior people.

      • onyomi says:

        This is a big problem in academia: all the people with any power are already “winners” within the system and usually didn’t even have to “win” under the current circumstances. They got their jobs at a time when it was much easier to get a good academic job. Of course, they will redress the historical injustice of the fact that everyone with power in their institution is an old white man not by replacing powerful old white men with old black women, but by hiring young black women, who weren’t nearly so subject to the biases old black women experienced, in preference to young white men who never enjoyed the privileges they enjoyed.

        • A couple of further comments on the academic marketplace:

          1. University departments are to a considerable extent worker run firms, with many (but not all) decisions made by the faculty, in some cases all of it, in some cases only the tenured.

          2. I am in a law school which, like a lot of law schools at present, is facing serious budgetary problems due to declining enrollment. One response is to hire fewer adjuncts, on the grounds that while they are cheap they are not free. Tenured professors, on the other hand, while very expensive on average may be very inexpensive on the margin, since if you persuade them to teach three classes a semester instead of two you don’t have to pay them any more, and you don’t have the option of saving money by laying some of them off.

    • James Kabala says:

      Many adjuncts do belong to unions.

  52. Briefling says:

    DeBoer has a few things to say about how we should take money away from the rich in a way that can help both poor Americans and poor Chinese, but he quickly transitions into the barb he clearly relishes: if Beauchamp and DeLong are so in favor of poor Chinese people, how come they haven’t outsourced their jobs?

    This is fallacious. [1]

    Here’s the abstract moral situation:

    – Free trade causes X net harm to N Americans, including Beauchamp and DeLong. It also does cX net good for Chinese, for some constant c > 1. For simplicity we assume these effects are distributed evenly.
    – Outsourcing Brad DeLong’s job does Y net harm to Brad DeLong. It also does ~cY net good for a few Chinese individuals. Obviously Y << X.

    So when DeLong supports free trade, he is supporting a policy that does X/N net harm to him, in exchange for (c – 1)X net good to the human population.

    When he supports outsourcing his own job, he is supporting a policy that does Y net harm to him, in exchange for (c – 1)Y net good to the human population.

    If he cares about the well-being of other people, the first scenario is far more favorable to him than the second. So there is nothing illogical about him supporting free trade but not supporting outsourcing his own job.

    [1] In fact, it's isomorphic to the ultra-stupid right wing argument that rich people in favor of taxing the rich ought to donate their money to the government.

    • I realize you are giving a simplified picture, but I’m not sure if you realize that the simplification radically alters the relevant facts. Those of us who support free trade believe one of its benefits is to make things better for foreigners who trade with us. But another benefit it to make things better for Americans.

      The appropriate model, from the standpoint of almost any economist since Ricardo, is one in which Americans lose X, Americans gain Y>X, and foreigners gain some amount unrelated to X and Y. There are still American losers but also American gainers.

      • Corey says:

        The model is actually “Affected Americans lose X, the American economy gains Y>X, and foreigners gain Z”. A very low proportion of gains in the American economy go to the affected, for various reasons, so free trade really is asking people to personally sacrifice for the greater good, and we should expect people to sometimes get huffy about it.

    • “In fact, it’s isomorphic to the ultra-stupid right wing argument that rich people in favor of taxing the rich ought to donate their money to the government.”

      Whether it’s stupid depends on why the rich people are in favor of taxing the rich. If they believe it is in their own self interest, broadly defined, that the rich be taxed, because the benefit they will get from the resulting spending will be larger than the cost, then they have no good reason to voluntarily donate the money–the cost to them is the same as with taxation and the benefit from on rich person’s money much smaller than from many rich people’s money.

      But if they believe it because they believe additional dollars in the hands of the government do more things they value than the same dollars in their own hands, then the argument is correct, since they can move the dollars from themselves to the government without any change in the tax laws. That is the obvious argument for charity, and lots of people act on it.

      • terete says:

        Apologies to David Friedman if I’m just overfilling your implied punchline but….

        If I were to hear someone arguing that “rich people in favor of taxing the rich ought to donate their money to the government *and therefore they’re wrong/should shut up*” I’d guess I would be unlikely to have a sensible conversation with them.

        But saying without the starred section that “rich people in favor of taxing the rich ought to donate their money to the government” seems a much more interestingly arguable position than Briefling implied by “ultra-stupid” or (by positional association) “fallacious”.

      • Corey says:

        Taxes exist to solve coordination problems.

        • You are assuming a philosopher king government, where government actions only exist for good reasons. One reason to have taxes is to transfer money from some people to other people, which is not what we usually describe as a coordination problem. The same reason burglary exists.

          The farm program has existed for most of a century with the purpose of making farmers richer, in order to buy their votes, at the cost of making almost everyone else poorer.

      • Viliam says:

        Sometimes rich people support taxes that harm less-rich people.

        For example, if I make a profit 100 millions a year, and there is a new company that currently makes a profit 1 million a year, but could become a serious threat in the following years by taking over my part of the market, I would support an additional flat tax of 1 million per year per company for both of us. In exchange for losing 1% of my income, now the government protects me from competition (and I can probably get the 1% back by increasing my costs, now that I have no competitors).

  53. Quite Likely says:

    Maybe this is going off in the wrong direction from the point the article was trying to make, but it seems clear that the junior doctor and adjunct professor situations are connected by the generally bad labor market in most of the developed world. It’s totally reasonable to consider the non-monetary benefits of a job as a form of compensation that can make it worth while to accept a lower salary, but the issue is that we are taking jobs that used to have both nice non-monetary compensation and a decent salary, and saying that these days you can only really expect one or the other. We need economic policies that produce more good jobs, which basically means we have to do some combination of increasing the demand for labor and decreasing the supply of labor. One way to get at the supply part of that equation for a country like the United States is to increase barriers to trade. There are other ways to deal with the problem that may involve less of a cost to others, but we really need to be discussing all this as “we need to solve this problem one way or another”. Somebody who is against reducing trade flows needs to have some alternative suggestions for producing decent jobs if they want to be taken seriously.

    • onyomi says:

      Bryan Caplan points out the irony that, right now, American professors are often hurt more than American blue collar workers, because it’s much easier to get a working visa for a professor from India or China than for an auto mechanic. Of course, much work in certain industries like construction is simply done by illegal immigrants, but that is, after all, illegal, if not very thoroughly enforced right now.

  54. charles europa cheese: where a king can be a king says:

    You’re motivated by your own self-interest with a sprinkling of compassion for others. This is okay, dude, it’s how people are and you don’t need to go into conniptions over it. The problem is democracy, not you. You’re OK and it’s OK to stop feeling like a hypocrite. Nobody has it in them to be a part-time king.

    • Psmith says:

      With a little fuzzing around the edges, this post is accurately generalizable to most of Scott’s output–hell, most of this community’s output.

  55. BBA says:

    Nobody has any sympathy for entry-level investment bankers, despite their 100+-hour work weeks and their extremely high-stress working environments, because in a few years they’re going to get paid obscene amounts of money for doing far less work. Even within the financial industry there’s very little concern about how shitty they have it and more a sense of perverse pride in surviving all that.

    • Saul Degraw says:

      Junior Investment bankers already make more than most people ever will. They start with low six figure base and easily make four or five times that in bonuses. This is at 24 or 25.

      • John Schilling says:

        I think “usually” or perhaps “reliably” would be more appropriate than “easily” in that middle sentence.

  56. Becky H. says:

    As someone who hired and supervised adjuncts for years, I find that the market is working efficiently. The best adjuncts do great work without putting in much time and have very high hourly earnings. The least effective ones invest a lot of time without much to show for it.

    • LTP says:

      What world do you live in? Maybe your institution is an outlier, but the stats paint a grim picture of adjunct life. Adjuncts make an average salary of $2700 per class, which means to make more than $25k a year you would have to teach 5 classes a semester, which does not seem to add up to “high hourly earnings”. Oh, and this with no benefits, no job security, and usually having to work at multiple institutions each semester. Even an adjunct working hyper efficiently, say having the fortune to teach multiple sections of the same class, would still be putting in way more than 40 hours a week for less than $30k a year. I don’t know how it is a market efficiency for highly intelligent people doing work valued by society who had to sink in a lot of time and effort to be qualified for the position.

      • “Even an adjunct working hyper efficiently, say having the fortune to teach multiple sections of the same class, would still be putting in way more than 40 hours a week for less than $30k a year.”

        Five classes a semester adds up to fifteen hours of actual teaching a week during the semester. If they are all the same class and you have taught it before and are good at it, preparation time can be very little. The only other major time cost is grading. If it’s a field where you can use multiple choice exams that are machine gradable that’s negligible (although there may still be homework to grade, or papers). If it isn’t, it depends on class size and how difficult the things are to grade–can take a long time but might not.

        Checking my school’s schedule, classes meet for about fifteen weeks per semester, so two semesters are thirty weeks of teaching. To get to 40 hours/week over the year you have to assume that each hour of class time requires an additional three and a half hours of other work, which isn’t impossible but is not what I would expect.

        And your figure was “way more than 40 hours a week.”

        • HeelBearCub says:

          How much time do you put into preparing a lecture? How much time would you have needed to put into it when you were 25?

          How much time do you out into preparing a test or other assignment for your classes? Do you give the same tests semester after semester? Or do write new ones?

          You make it seem as if you can do 30 hours of lecture a week and it would be easy, no need to work more than 40 hours.

        • onyomi says:

          “To get to 40 hours/week over the year you have to assume that each hour of class time requires an additional three and a half hours of other work, which isn’t impossible but is not what I would expect.”

          You are a much more experienced teacher than I am, but I easily spend three hours planning, prepping, and grading for every one hour I spend in the classroom.

          • The previous commenter assumed someone who was teaching multiple classes of the same course. In that scenario he only has one preparation for five classes (ten if the second semester is the same course again). If he has done the same course for several years, that preparation shouldn’t take very long.

            Grading can take a lot of time, depending on the sort of exam you are giving–but not for people who give machine graded multiple choice exams.

          • LTP says:

            Fine then. Ignore that one sentence of my comment, as it was a rhetorical exaggeration. *The overall point I was trying to make is that being an adjunct is usually terrible, with shitty pay and work conditions*. You focused in and nitpicked one specific claim and missed the point.

            Suffice it to say, normal adjuncts do not get to teach multiple sections of one class in their AoS or AoC. Most teach a mishmash of classes, often not in their AoC, often ones they’ve never taught before, where they have little to no control over which classes they teach. Often, they have to commute between multiple institutions, and move out-of-state every year or two to find work. Most are in a position similar to onyomi, of putting in many hours for every hour of lecture (also keep in mind that most adjuncts are young and inexperienced, as experienced teachers either have tenure or drop out of academia for the most part).

            And, this isn’t also factoring in job insecurity, lack of advancement or raises, that the pay is very low relative to the opportunity cost of getting a PhD, etc.

          • I can well believe that being an adjunct is an unattractive job for many, perhaps most, adjuncts. I was responding to a specific claim about what it was like under even the best circumstances.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        Have you considered the possibility that most adjuncts are bad and, from a certain view, weeding out the bad ones is good for the profession?

        I mean, they may be subject matter experts in so far as they have a piece of paper of dubious value proclaiming them so, but perhaps the piece of paper is a very crude measure of expertness and furthermore it says nothing about the *actual* core competency they are being hired for. Which is teaching.

        • LTP says:

          Even if this is true, it’s not like adjuncts who are amazing teachers are signed to longer term contracts with better pay very often.

  57. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    I don’t think the equilibrium argument even applies to adjuncts. It would be a lot more convincing if we had good evidence that people actually changed their minds about the jobs they want after learning more about what they have to go through to get them, but my current model is that people pick a thing to try after college and then keep trying until they literally can’t anymore, as opposed to reevaluating their plans regularly (the “abusive relationship” model).

    For example, I know people who know people who’ve dropped out of my grad program, but I don’t personally know anyone who dropped out of my grad program, and my impression is that even the unhappiest people in my program are not seriously thinking about leaving (in the sense that they aren’t seriously looking at their best alternative). I genuinely do not think this is because they want to be professors so bad that they’ve made a deliberate decision to put up with crap; I think they’re just on autopilot and thinking about doing something else is painful.

    I also genuinely do not think anyone in my grad program wants to become a professor for the prestige, at least not directly; for me, the prestige is more of a social excuse I can use to justify my career choices to e.g. my family, as opposed to something I directly want.

    • “but my current model is that people pick a thing to try after college and then keep trying until they literally can’t anymore”

      A few years back, evidence started appearing that going to law school was not such a good deal as people had assumed. Applications have dropped sharply since. The mechanism giving equilibrium doesn’t have to be “choose and then change your mind.” It can be “change your mind about what you were going to choose.”

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I mean, that may be the case, but it would still be better, I think, if we could somehow get people to change their mind. More fluid, less lumpy. Get to that equilibrium faster, I would expect.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Yes, this is sort of what I was trying to get at with my comment earlier; this “autopilot” — which sometimes is just autopilot, and sometimes is not fully autopilot but a combination of autopilot and it feeling like no other decision is socially acceptable, or acceptable to their “identity” — is what makes things “lumpy”.

      And then people complain and try to get out of the downsides because they feel like they were forced into it. (Which I am realizing now, Scott made an earlier post about that I totally forgot: Setting the Default.)

  58. Mary says:

    Hmmm. . . .

    One thing that doctors in NHS and academia — and Hollywood actors and drug dealers — have in common is that they are glamor professions, and the structure is a tiny handful are very well-off and the rest of them are paid a pittance in real money and mostly in hope — usually false hope and delusion.

    (Note that since American doctors can pretty well be assured of getting past junior doctor, it doesn’t apply the same way to them; and adjuncts are heavily people who have faced that it was a delusion and are trying to cope.)

    The problem with ameliorating the conditions for the junior members is that they apparently already draw lots of aspirants. Bad conditions may scare some of them off before they waste too much of their lives; better ones will mean more wasted lives.

    • “One thing that doctors in NHS and academia — and Hollywood actors and drug dealers — have in common is that they are glamor professions, and the structure is a tiny handful are very well-off and the rest of them are paid a pittance in real money and mostly in hope”

      I don’t think that has described the academic professions in the past. A sizable fraction of academics make a reasonable income, although less than they could make elsewhere in some fields, and have pleasanter work and more leisure than they would have elsewhere.

      • Mary says:

        Are you including graduate students as part of the population to be a “sizable fraction” of?

        • No. I was not including graduate students, many of whom will, many of whom intend to, make a career outside of academia, at least in those fields where there are such careers.

          My guess is that only a minority of physics or chemistry or economics PhD’s expect to end up in academia.

          • Mary says:

            Yes, but how many graduate students are in those, and not in programs where academia is your only hope?

            Not to mention that given they are teaching the classes, they are obviously part of academia.

  59. Sigmundur Hakkarainen says:

    Where I live, tenants buy a “home insurance” that covers the apartment (same as a homeowner would buy). In a block, the walls and floors and structures are owned and insured by the condo; a house would be owned by the landlord and insured as s/he pleases.

    Why do you even care if the house floods if you were just a tenant? Find another house.

  60. Chrysophylax says:

    AFAICT, a lot of people are gesturing at the following, but nobody’s said it outright: you’re making a false dichotomy. It’s not about personal expereince versus factual knowledge. You need to experience both sides and then use the detached viewpoint.

    The problem is that the detached view makes the correct prescription but it doesn’t fit with the lived experience (assuming we have some way of approximating utilities, which we do, and that it’s used honestly and well, which is generally false because it’s being used by politicians). The explanation is that *both* sides of the tradeoff are worse than you can imagine without actually experiencing them.

    Observing that being a junior doctor really sucks just tells us that reality is Not Your Friend. To conclude that we need to change policy, we need to observe that being a junior doctor sucks more than the social planner realised, or that whatever better conditions funge against isn’t as bad as we thought, or that there’s some clever thing that lets us make doctors better off without paying a commensurate cost.

    In reality, most things suck more than we thought, but the proportions are often wrong, so we can make improvements by getting better data on how bad things really are; there are always problems nobody thinks of until they encounter them personally; and there is often a good solution that won’t be used due to monkey politics. I suspect that most problems could be solved if we implemented a few of the best policies, since we would then have twice as much stuff to throw at the remaining problems.

    The current situation with NHS junior doctors is inefficient. We’re trading off good medical care against the ideology of the Conservative government, who are at best Men of One Study (not that their competitors are much better). Besides the obvious stuff like “government debt isn’t like household debt, stop pretending it is” and “this system is horribly designed”, there seems to be room for improving the fundamental tradeoff of tired doctors versus information loss on shift changes. For a start, we could make doctors all wear Google Glass while at work, so that the next shift can see for themselves what the patients looked like two hours ago.

  61. Tseeteli says:

    Strikes are part of how the market works things out. Recognize this and I feel like the issue gets a lot simpler.

    The NHS and the Junior Doctors need to make a deal. We can imagine them sending out their respective negotiators. Each negotiator starts with an idea of the worst deal that their side could possibly accept. By cooperating, they generate a surplus. And the negotiation is about how to divide the surplus.

    It sounds like the Junior Doctors did a really horrible job of negotiating last round. So, encouraging their strike amounts to, “Your deal is just barely better than your BATNA. AND there’s a ton of value being created! Go re-negotiate!”

    Adjuncts are in a different situation. Unlike the NHS & Junior Doctors, Universities could continue without adjuncts. They’d just move to massive online courses.

    So, while adjuncts are also getting a deal that’s just barely better than their BATNA, they don’t have a lot of room to negotiate. And a widespread adjunct strike could just end in universities moving to well-produced video lectures instead of in-person presentations.

    And these are all market actions. So there’s no inconsistency in believing in both strikes and markets that work things out. The difference is that (because of facts on the ground) one group has room to improve its lot by striking and the other one doesn’t.

  62. Skivverus says:

    This strikes me as condensable to “is there an empathy version of the Local Knowledge Problem? Yes, here’s an example.”

    Disclaimer: this is not intended as an attack on the post, which I found insightful.

  63. Tracy W says:

    You miss another complexity. Far-and-near mode operates differently over time.
    This shows up in having babies and in mountaineering. Painful miserable experiences mostly and in the middle you’re swearing to never ever do this again. And for a while afterwards. Then you do them again.

  64. Anthony says:

    As regards the labor dispute:

    The principle I’ve internalized says that society has decided that every job should conform to certain work standards, except where the job is necessary and those standards interfere with the essential nature of the job — that is, it’s impossible for the job to get done without the standards getting breached.

    A good example is hiring standards based on appearance. It’s illegal to hire Megan over Tim just because Megan is hot and Tim is lumpy. That is, unless the job in question is modeling, where the product depends upon the employee’s appearance. We as a society understand that there’s no way to structure modeling contracts in such a manner that employee attractiveness is made irrelevant, so we make an exception.

    Lots of lower and lower-middle class women work in jobs where they are subjected to workplace sexual harassment. (I’m not saying this does not happen to middle or upper-middle class women, but it’s my anecdotal experience that pay and sexual harassment are inversely proportional.) We as a society have two options: 1) enforce sexual harassment law, 2) “Well, you knew what you were signing up for. Now dry those tears and put on that smile that makes you look so cute and get those tips, honey-buns. Table 3 needs refills.”

    It seems like ruling out the “social good” argument necessarily prevents us from writing a lot of the regulations we want to write. Bosses will now hire on the basis of whose ass they want to grab, and they’ll write nipple-tweaking rights in the contract. “You don’t like it? Work across the street. Mo expects more.”

    Is working 80 hours a week somehow an essential part of being a doctor? Or is the system just stretching human misery like silly putty?

    This came up when you visited Google: one (I think) good reason to support the arts is that you think that artists should be paid more, regardless of whether we can get their work for free without paying them. A society cultivates virtue by treating people fairly.

    • “one (I think) good reason to support the arts is that you think that artists should be paid more, regardless of whether we can get their work for free without paying them. A society cultivates virtue by treating people fairly.”

      The fact that you can get their work for free without paying them is evidence that they enjoy their work more than people who will only work if you pay them. Is it fair for some people to get paid for work they very much enjoy doing while other people get similar pay for work they would much rather not do? You didn’t specify how much artists should be paid, but I assume you didn’t mean “at least a penny an hour.”

      • Anthony says:

        “Is it fair?” you ask. Well, that’s in the eye of the beholder, and the society’s attitude towards the question is worked out communally via processes which are partly democratic, partly charitable, and so on. I don’t want this conversation to get bogged down in the object-level details of whether you or another person thinks that musicians in particular are deserving of money. My point is more broad: that we as a society have conventions which impose restrictions on the ability of employers and employees to bargain freely, and we impose these conventions through both legal and extra-legal means. I think Scott is rejecting the “social virtue” argument without considering the consequences of its rejection: namely, that we’d have to throw out all sorts of labor (and, generally, contract) laws that exist precisely to uphold a principle of social virtue.

    • Mary says:

      “It seems like ruling out the “social good” argument necessarily prevents us from writing a lot of the regulations we want to write.”

      Like, say, regulations that forbade a woman working in a bar unless she was the wife or daughter of the owner? Or after certain hours? Or at all if she had a small child?

      • Anthony says:

        Yes. The two hypothetical (historical?) regulations you listed are ethically dependent on legislating to uphold social virtue.

        So are minimum wage laws, workplace safety and compensation laws. So are laws preventing employers for firing pregnant employees. Et cetera.

        You can disagree with individual laws, and that is right and good — especially in a democratic system! What I’m pointing out is that our society has already decided that social virtue laws are acceptable, and that even though some of them are bad, I think that on the whole they are good. Anyways, if you want to argue against them, you have to realize that you’re arguing against a whole lot of law.

    • JDG1980 says:

      A good example is hiring standards based on appearance. It’s illegal to hire Megan over Tim just because Megan is hot and Tim is lumpy. That is, unless the job in question is modeling, where the product depends upon the employee’s appearance. We as a society understand that there’s no way to structure modeling contracts in such a manner that employee attractiveness is made irrelevant, so we make an exception.

      Is it in fact illegal to hire based on appearance? I’m not aware of any statute or case law covering that in the United States. The applicant might be able to claim that physical appearance was a proxy for a protected class (age, gender), but that could be very difficult to prove.

      Lots of lower and lower-middle class women work in jobs where they are subjected to workplace sexual harassment. (I’m not saying this does not happen to middle or upper-middle class women, but it’s my anecdotal experience that pay and sexual harassment are inversely proportional.) We as a society have two options: 1) enforce sexual harassment law, 2) “Well, you knew what you were signing up for. Now dry those tears and put on that smile that makes you look so cute and get those tips, honey-buns. Table 3 needs refills.”

      Answer #2 might seem unreasonable for a waitress at, say, Applebee’s. But what about a waitress at Hooters or Twin Peaks? A plausible argument could be made that this really is what they were signing up for. It’s harder to argue coercion when there are 50 restaurants in town that don’t explicitly present their waitresses as sex objects, and only two or three that do.

      Bosses will now hire on the basis of whose ass they want to grab, and they’ll write nipple-tweaking rights in the contract. “You don’t like it? Work across the street. Mo expects more.”

      The problem with this argument is that it assumes the “bosses” who do the hiring and firing (line managers) are the same as the “bosses” who write policy for the company. That’s only true for mom-and-pop operations.

      If Coca-Cola could legally get away with making its workers do unpaid overtime, they would. In that instance, the corporation as a whole gains a benefit (more work for less pay) at the expense of workers. But why would Coca-Cola want to allow line managers to play grab-ass with their subordinates when they’re supposed to be working? That would hurt workplace productivity for no good reason, and risk boycotts.

      • Ken Arromdee says:

        But why would Coca-Cola want to allow line managers to play grab-ass with their subordinates when they’re supposed to be working?

        If a mom-and-pop store boss would allow it, that means that the value the mom-and-pop boss gets from harassment is greater than the monetary loss from the harassment. It follows that a similar local manager at Coca-Cola would gain more than the harassment costs the company. It then follows that he could be paid correspondingly less, thus allowing the company to reap the benefit as well as the cost.

        Of course, there wouldn’t be a line item on the budget “pay sexually harassing managers less”; it would manifest as being able to hire managers at an overall lesser pay or benefits level without tracing it to an individual manager.

        Think of it as a perk. Giving a manager a perk costs Coca-Cola money just like letting managers harass costs Coca-Cola money. But perks funge with compensation.

        • John Schilling says:

          But they’d have to pay the subordinates more to keep them on the job under those conditions. Worse, they’d have to go out of their way to hire employees with the extra qualifications, “is aesthetically appealing to ass-grabbing middle-aged men”, and “is willing to have their ass grabbed for not terribly much money”. Both of which have broad enough demand to charge a premium in any market which allows such a trade.

          I don’t think there is any way this works out as a net win to Coca-Cola. They only way it could is if the benefit perceived by the ass-grabbing managers is smaller than the combined harm and lost opportunities perceived by the employees on the receiving end.

          • But surely the same argument applies to the mom-and-pop stores? Ken’s first sentence starts with an “if” which you haven’t addressed.

          • JDG1980 says:

            Large corporations are a lot more likely to be rational profit-maximizers than small businesses. A lot of people run their own “lifestyle” businesses for reasons unrelated to profit maximization: wanting to be one’s own boss is a common motive.

            If Coca-Cola does something evil, it’s probably because they are financially incentivized to do evil. If Joe’s Diner does something evil, there’s a much higher probability it’s just because Joe is a jerk.

          • John Schilling says:

            What JDG said. Individual variation means there will always be some people who value the ability to sexually harass their employees, highly enough to pay the price – whether that be in higher wages, higher turnover, or reduced productivity. If they happen to own a small business, that will be how it is run (into the ground).

            A corporate employer who provides such a “perk” to their middle management, will pay the full price, but won’t claim the full benefit. And they’ll pay the full price for every middle manager who takes advantage, even the ones for whom harassable secretaries are a minor pleasure when they are available but not a necessary requirement for job satisfaction. Again, I strongly disbelieve that this works out as a net win for a corporate employer.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            A corporate employer who provides such a “perk” to their middle management, will pay the full price, but won’t claim the full benefit. And they’ll pay the full price for every middle manager who takes advantage,

            If only a few middle managers take advantage of the perk, the rate of sexual harassment will be lower than if a lot of middle managers take advantage of the perk, so the small number of harassing managers will reduce the negative effect when it reduces the positive effect. It is possible that sexual harassment has a steep damage curve where having a low rate of harassment does 95% of the damage of having a high rate, in which case you would be right, but this is not guaranteed.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the perk of allowable sexual harassment is offered, it will be exploited by every manager who finds even a small personal benefit in doing so. And the benefit to the manager’s employer will be even smaller still, because the zone of negotiable agreement starts with the company claiming all of the manager’s benefit less transaction costs and ends with the manger claiming the benefit and giving nothing back.

            Regardless of whether sexual harassment is common or rare in this scenario, the corporation’s average benefit is a fraction, less than 1.0, of the value perceived by the marginal, not extreme, sexual harasser. But the company pays the full price, or more, for every harassed employee. Reducing the benefit to the harasser may reduce the amount of harassment, but it doesn’t transform a net loss to a net benefit to the company.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            If the perk of allowable sexual harassment is offered, it will be exploited by every manager who finds even a small personal benefit in doing so.

            The same can be said of any perk.

            If the company offers free donuts, anyone who wants a free donut will take one–even if the benefit to them of a free donut is smaller to them than the cost to the company of providing the donut.

            If the company offers perk X, anyone who wants it will take advantage of it, even if they value the perk at less than the cost to the company of the perk. Since they value the perk at less than the cost to the company of the perk, the company’s gain (from being able to reduce their pay) is less than the company loses from buying the perk. The more people who take the perk but don’t value it at more than the company’s cost, the more the company loses.

            By this reasoning no companies would ever provide perks.

          • John Schilling says:

            You don’t think the cost difference between donuts and de facto sex workers might be a factor?

            If the cost is trivial, the net benefit may outweigh it even when the cost basis is expanded by indifferent users. If the cost is substantial, the benefit will be offered only if the demand is both broad and deep, e.g. free health care, such that essentially the entire labor force will value the benefit at least at the level the company pays for it.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            I would expect that although the cost of donuts is much smaller than the cost of harassing workers, the benefit is likewise smaller.

            And even though a high enough relative cost weould prevent it from working, that’s not an inherent feature of the situation. You need to separately argue that the cost compared to the benefit of allowing harassment is high enough to discourage large companies from providing harassment as a perk. You can’t just assume it as a given.

          • On second thoughts, perhaps we can resolve the paradox this way: consider those managers who are willing to take a sufficiently steep pay cut for such a perk to cover the costs to the company. Are they likely to be competent enough to be worth hiring in the first place? Well, maybe yes, maybe no, but you can’t use mom-and-pop stores as evidence either way because this consideration doesn’t apply to them.

            (I think that’s basically the point JDG1980 made, just expressed differently?)

      • Anthony says:

        Is it in fact illegal to hire based on appearance? I’m not aware of any statute or case law covering that in the United States.

        Apparently I spoke too soon! An intensive Google-based legal survey informs me that it’s legal (though risky) to hire/fire based on attractiveness. As you noted, though, you gotta apply those standards across the board — if only the hot women get through, then only hot men should get through. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I invite you to judge the relative hotness of the male and female staff.”

        But what about a waitress at Hooters or Twin Peaks? A plausible argument could be made that this really is what they were signing up for.

        I agree, and as I noted in my original post, we sometimes forego regulations when “it’s impossible for the job to get done without the standards getting breached.” This all depends, however, on whether we, as a society, decide the job should exist in the first place. In the case of Hooters, apparently, we’re all for it. In the event that we legalized prostitution, it would of course be absurd for a gigolo to sue a client for groping him.

        BUT! you’ve missed the point of my argument! I was presenting a situation wherein an employee was being verbally or physically abused by her manager. Such abuse is not required to run a business — it’s just a result of the power imbalance between a boss and his or her subordinate. So we make it illegal, because we as a society think it’s degrading and destructive to the employees, and we’re not interested in the “race to the bottom” of dignity that unimpeded market bargaining will induce.

        (By the way: I wouldn’t try to logic away this sort of harassment. You might construct a model that convinces you it won’t happen, but empirically, it does. Frequently. Google will aid you in finding what you seek.)

  65. Joscha Bach says:

    When I was in college, my two dueling career plans were doctor and philosophy professor. I brought this up with my professors, who universally told me not to go into academia. They told me that it was grueling, thankless, and for the vast majority of people involved doomed to failure, and that they couldn’t in good conscience advise me to try it. I listened to their advice and became a doctor instead.

    Fuck!!! I am sure you are a great doctor and your patients can be thankful. But the current generation of philosophers seriously lacks a Dennett or Chomksy, and you totally could have been it. Or rather, you would have been S.A.N.

    Academia and the world are missing out, and many of your readers here will agree with me.

    • Tracy W says:

      That the current generation lacks a Chomsky strikes me as a major argument in favour of the current generation. Chomsky lies by ommission.

      • Joscha Bach says:

        Don’t be ridiculous. If a generation does not have a thinker you don’t like does not make it good; it obviously has many political writers you will admit to be worse.

        Chomsky invented much of linguistics, came up with the theories we use to describe formal grammars and contributed to AI (despite not being generally associated with the field), and inspired much of Cognitive Science. Chomsky is also arguably the most important American intellectual outside of the political mainstream. Manufacturing Consent is a classic, and his books and articles are well-sourced. If you compare his style with practically anyone writing about politics these days (Harris, Kristol, Kagan, …), it seems disingenuous to me to hold him responsible for covering all perspectives, not just his own.

        I do not need to agree with Chomsky’s perspective on linguistics, his view on the Middle East conflict or the Vietnam war to acknowledge that he is one of the greatest minds of our time. Don’t forget that his contributions did not happen by swimming along with public opinion, neither in science nor in politics, and he got his influence despite being studiously ignored. Also, he is personally very kind and approachable.

        It seems wrong to me to accuse an intellectual for the things they did not get right, especially if they are not in the business of programming people with deliberate ingroup/outgroup manipulation. I don’t think Minsky is to blame for putting half a generation on the symbolic AI track, or that Chomsky is blame for creating a field that failing to see the relevance of understanding mental representation before studying language, or that Butler is to blame for making part of a generation of social scientists believe in social constructionism of gender. This is not the problem of great minds, but the problem of lack of opposition.

        I think it is a disaster that someone like Scott goes to waste as a psychiatrist. Psychiatry is a worthy and important profession, but IMHO, Scott chose it for the wrong reasons. His professors were wrong: while life in academia is stressful and unrewarding for most, it is extremely meaningful and rewarding for folks like Pinker, Dennett, Aaronson (fill in your heroes). I think this is where Scott belongs, and I am pretty sure some of us could help to get him set up and funded if he was willing to go for it.

        • “and his books and articles are well-sourced”

          You may well be correct that Chomsky was an important and valuable intellectual–I don’t know enough about his field to judge. But his coauthored chapter on Cambodia is not merely badly sourced, it is dishonestly sourced. He treats as a respectable, objective source of information a book that any reader, certainly one of the Chomsky’s abilities, could see was KR propaganda, giving most of its facts on the authority of the KR and treating Pol Pot as a saintly character.

          Whether similar faults apply to his professional work I have no idea.

  66. Pete says:

    Are you so sure (and why?) that (most of) the junior doctor issue cannot be solved by your first argument, that is “Society still owes people decent jobs and working conditions” ?

    I mean, sure, there are better jobs and worse jobs; someone can (or needs to) debate metaethics, someone else has to fix sewage spills and clean up roadkill – but we can definitely argue that, for example, none of those jobs can require 36 hour shifts and legally mandate minimum resting periods between shifts that allow proper sleep and possibly even a meal and shower. No 36 hour shifts shoveling shit, no 36 hour shifts thinking about philosophy, and no 36 hour shifts for junior doctors in hospital – no matter what the other factors are about the profession.

    If we’d just enforce some reasonable minimum standard for working conditions (that would be above the described situation of junior doctors), then it seems to me that most of the problem would go away. The basic needs of all people are quite similar, so single criteria can be met.

    Why don’t we treat hospitals who would, as you say, “carefully schedule a 48 hour shift in big bold letters, assign 100 hours worth of work, and then get angry if anyone goes home before their work is done” in the exact same manner as we would a coal mine owner who’d let miners out of their shift only after they’ve brought 100 hours worth of coal? It seems to be an enforcement problem, not a policy or legislation issue. You could take a single hospital, audit them properly and order them to retroactively pay for the actual hours worked for the past year (including overtime rates for all the hours exceeding the legal limits) and suddenly all the hospital managers would somehow magically find ways to fix their scheduling – or renumeration and hiring policies.

    • “If we’d just enforce some reasonable minimum standard for working conditions (that would be above the described situation of junior doctors), then it seems to me that most of the problem would go away.”

      A possibly relevant story … . There is a famous old case, Lochner v. N.Y., whose outcome most modern legal scholars disapprove of. It was one in which the verdict was that a law limiting how long a baker could work violated the rights of bakers.

      The part of the story that usually gets left out is that the law was part of a conflict between large bakeries and small, largely ethnic ones. The process of baking bread required someone to monitor it over a long period of time. A big bakery could do it with a staff of workers, each of whom only worked for (say) eight hours. A small bakery had only a few workers, so sometimes needed to have one worker deal with the bread for a long period of time.

      The big bakeries supported the law.

      That’s relevant because you are, I think, implicitly using a philosopher king model of regulation in which the rules that are made are the optimal ones. Giving government the power to control people in various ways looks less attractive if you substitute a model in which government actions are the outcome of a political market on which, as on the private market, individuals are acting in their own interest.

      • Civilis says:

        That the rules made can’t be optimal for everyone is one part of the problem. Another part is that the basic needs of all people aren’t quite similar on the scale we are talking about with labor laws, or specifically what basic needs people expect to get from working aren’t similar at all.

        Yes, people need food, shelter, etc. However, a high school student doesn’t get those from his minimum-wage burger flipping job. They are looking for after-school spending money and resume experience.

        What ends up from assuming your regulation is addressed to the basic needs of all the workers based on a subset of the labor market is regulatory capture by that subset of labor. Lochner vs N.Y. is a good example, as are the current cases involving the regulation of hairdressers. Specifically for hairdressers, as small businesses there’s not much of a line between labor and management; the owner or owners are likely workers as well.

    • You could take a single hospital, audit them properly and order them to retroactively pay for the actual hours worked for the past year

      Who is the “you” in that sentence? Keep in mind that the hospitals in question are government owned-and-operated. The only people with the authority to do the audit are the same people that would have to pay the bill.

      • CatCube says:

        Most governments aren’t a monolith. I work for the Corps of Engineers (a US Government organization under the Department of Defense). The National Marine Fisheries Service (another government organization under the Commerce Department) has precisely zero problems with throwing us under the bus–or us them, but we’re in less of a position to do so.

        • I’m not sure that’s quite as true in the UK. At any rate, I don’t suppose they have a Ministry of Looking After Healthcare Workers, or anyone else with a vested interest in throwing public hospitals under the bus, so to speak.

          Mind you, I was assuming that the conditions in question aren’t actually illegal under UK law, and now that I’ve looked at the Telegraph article it seems there is indeed a legal challenge underway.

    • CatCube says:

      The rule for train crews is that they can work for 12 hours. No more. If their clock expires while they’re running a train down the main line, well, they stop and get off and the railroad needs to get another crew out there. Listening to railroad radio transmissions leads me to believe that everybody is really concerned about not violating this law. The crew will be careful to tell the dispatcher when their hours are getting close so they don’t have to do the stopping on the main thing, and the dispatcher apparently pays close attention. I don’t know how much of it is the union backstopping crews vs. FRA inspectors checking things out.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        While I don’t have first hand knowledge, my impression is that truck drivers are heading to the same place. I’ve had delivery trucks parked in my driveway. They apparently have a clock in the truck, and a GPS. When the clock says it’s time for you to rest, you God damn pull over wherever you are at because doing otherwise is a firing affair.

        • Simon says:

          Certainly in the U.K, which probably means across the E.U, all the big trucks are fitted with tachometers to record hours in motion and to ensure mandated rest breaks are taken. Legal penalties exist for infractions but somone better informed might explain what they are as I don’t know.

      • Civilis says:

        The problem with the comparison is that we can realistically say to a train crew or truck driver “you can’t keep working; pull onto a spur / pull off the road” without running into problems. Delaying the cargo isn’t going to directly put anyone’s life in danger. There is a financial incentive to run as much as possible; I know some long-haul truckers work in teams with one getting the required rest in back to keep the asset (the truck) in use as long as possible.

        On the other hand, you can’t realistically say to a doctor “you can’t keep working; stop everything and leave” when it’s the end of shift, all the other doctors are busy, and an emergency patient comes into the ER. Likewise, you can’t say to a nurse “you can’t keep working; stop everything and leave” when there’s no replacement nurse to take over their duties. Rules for doctors that say “you can work your shift and no longer” are unfeasible not because they generate financial issues but because they generate patient care issues. Giving a doctor a choice between facing a fine for working too long and letting a patient go without needed care is a bad idea.

        • Jiro says:

          You need to say it to the hospital, not to the doctor. The hospital is then obliged to arrange things (perhaps by hiring more doctors) so that there are usually enough staff around to handle emergencies.

          If someone else is paying the hospital, as when there is a national health program, you need to say it to the one doing the paying.

          (Also, you need to treat falsification of time clock records as fraud and prosecute.)

          • Civilis says:

            Saying it to the hospital assumes some pool of additional medical personnel that can take over the shift hours currently overbooked for the existing medical staff, which does not seem to exist. The original article cited the large number of foreign doctors the NHS has brought in to fill out their staff. You could generate it by increasing the number of medical students (bottlenecked by the current medical practitioners) or by increasing wages to lower loss from doctors going elsewhere and bring in more foreigners (but that requires taxpayer cooperation). Taxpayers are really good at saying ‘just fix it, but do it without spending any more of my money’, which is especially bad where the whole selling point of your government program is how cheap you can make health care.

            Even with a lot more medical staff, you’re still only going to reduce but not eliminate the number of cases where the needs of medical staff don’t line up with arbitrary shift schedules. From a lawmaking perspective, you’re still stuck with edge cases where you’re forcing a doctor to choose between following the law and letting people potentially die.

            Even worse, you’re now planning on fining the hospital administration for the doctors, putting the responsibility for keeping doctors following the law on those that don’t necessarily understand medical decisions (one of the complaints about the insurance industry). Further, you’re making decisions about the medical profession subordinate to the financial decisions of the hospital; “can we afford the fine?” becomes more important than “what’s best for the patients?”

          • What you need to say to the hospital, if the objective is to avoid bad treatment due to exhausted doctors, is something like “for every hour over eighty hours a week that one of your doctors works, you owe a fifty dollar fine.” If pulling a doctor at eighty hours is going to kill the patient, the doctor works ninety hours and the hospital pays the fine. But the hospital then has a pretty strong incentive to minimize such situations.

            As I commented before, you ought to distinguish the issue of how long a doctor works in one stretch from the issue of how many hours a week the doctor works. The latter is a tradeoff between the cost of hiring more doctors and the cost to the doctor of working more hours, with only a minor effect of uncertain sign on medical errors. The former is a tradeoff between two sources of medical error.

        • Titanium Dragon says:

          Having exhausted doctors practicing medicine puts patients at risk as well.

          The hospitals will do whatever they can get away with.

          If you start putting people in jail for violating the law, the problem will rather rapidly go away.

          Being a hardass about enforcement is the only way to get people like that to change.

          If you need more medical staff, you need more medical staff. Frankly, there are lots of things which don’t require doctors to do them.

  67. Squirrel of Doom says:

    You see this argument sometimes:

    Person X wants to abolish policy Y, but X has himself benefitted from Y. What a disgusting hypocrite!

    A strong counterargument is to ask if they also think a white South African who wanted to abolish apartheid back in the day was wrong?

    I just wanted to donate this argument to the gang. You’re welcome 🙂

    • The Nybbler says:

      The fun thing is you see both arguments. The one you said and

      “Person X wants to abolish policy Y only because person X has not himself benefitted from Y. What a selfish bastard!”

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        And also

        Person X doesn’t support policy Y that would benefit him! What an idiot!

  68. anonymous says:

    >my natural instinct is to say feedback mechanisms should keep doing their work.

    Feedback mechanisms are operated by primates living in Near Mode, who might not appreciate the technological advances that come about when professorial types spend time “Pondering Truth”.

    Research (which is what most professors do – stop thinking Medicine vs Philosophy Professor, and start thinking Medicine vs Biology Professor) has a pretty high ROI – we’re just biased against investing because 1) open research benefits everyone so no individual is especially driven to invest 2) the practical relevance is often too distant to accurately predict.

    I’m not sure the same can be said for doctors. If anything, we’re probably biased to give medicine *too much* importance – acute medical problems are very Near Mode (see benefits within a single lifespan!), and we’re afraid so we pull out all the stops to be treated by someone who allegedly is a Very Important Person who Knows What They Are Doing.

  69. Bill Walker says:

    we should take money away from the rich in a way that can help both poor Americans and poor Chinese,

    What “we” actually do, is take money away from the productive people in rich countries, and give it to kleptocrats in both rich and poor countries. It is disingenous to talk about “helping the poor through redistribution”… what the poor need is an end to all the “help” we have given to Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Julius Nyerere, Goldman Sachs, whoever is pretending to run Detroit, etc.

    • John Schilling says:

      The total number of people who have lived under the economic dominion of Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Julius Nyerere, Goldman Sachs, and pretty much everyone hiding behind your “etc”, is smaller than the number of people living under the economic dominion of the Chinese Communist Party.

      And since the CCP decided to start taking our money, the standard of living of ordinary Chinese people has increased immensely. As in, if you reduced the entire population of the United States to abject not-quite-literally-starving-to-death poverty, and balanced that out against the benefit experienced by the Chinese people, the result would be a net win.

      The United States of America is not morally obligated to impoverish, or even inconvenience, its people to help even a larger number of people who aren’t Americans. That’s sort of the point of having a “United States of America”. But if you’re trying to rationalize this by saying that other people aren’t really being helped, well, they really are.

      • I am guessing that the “take money away/give it” that Bill was thinking of was taxing rich Americans to give foreign aid to poor countries–which in practice is likely to go rich people in those countries. I don’t think his objection would apply to making foreigners richer by trading with them, which is what you are describing.

        But I may be misreading him.

        • John Schilling says:

          If that’s the case, then we just have to note that explicit foreign aid is such a tiny fraction of the US economy – less than a quarter of a percent by the most generous definition – as to be essentially irrelevant. Particularly if we further restrict it with the “rich Americans” and “poor countries” qualifiers; an awful lot of foreign aid consists of e.g. taxing middle-class Americans to support Israel.

  70. Sean says:

    “…does personal experience/’skin in the game’ reduce fully to factual propositions?”

    I think the answer has to be ‘yes’, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also very hard (impossible?) to communicate. This reduces essentially to Polanyi’s paradox, i.e. we know more than we can tell. There is a wonderful example of this — not too dissimilar from the topic at hand, central regulation of a sector of the economy — from George McGovern, which I first read on SSC superfan Scott Sumner’s blog http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=30639

  71. Bram Cohen says:

    One argument specific to doctors is that when doctors are abused they accidentally kill people, which is a risk those people never signed up for.

  72. Carson says:

    Or is there some hard-to-communicate knowledge that’s neither factual nor just a cover for “the secret hard-to-communicate knowledge that I am selfish and want a system that benefits me rather than other people”?

    This is a post where I feel like slate star codex drifted a bit further into idealistic spherical cow land than it usually does. Of course the vast majority of people are mostly selfish, and build post-hoc justification for their selfish actions. In my experience, a genuine dedication to principles that harm onesself is pretty unheard of. The vast majority of people who say they are utilitarian are not actually utilitarian. They are approximately utilitarian with exceptions for themselves and their friends, whom they give a much higher utility weight.

    Personally, I think weighting your own monkeysphere’s utility higher is meta-ethically fine, and pretty universalizeable. I wish we didn’t play these games where everyone pretends to be a genuine utilitarian in an attempt to convince others of their agenda though…

  73. Nestor says:

    I’m confused by the fact that this debate is about whether we should sympathize or not with the junior doctors, it seems like a clear untenable situation to burn out all your medical personnel. Obviously this situation has come about by a ratcheting “efficiency drive” mandated by administration, and has been tolerated by the victims in a “boil the frog” process where they gradually took on more and more burden.

    But, as the burden is now untenable, the camel’s back is broken, the frog is boiled, the rules need to be rewritten otherwise the system breaks down and that is to no one’s benefit.

  74. Boba says:

    A rich person can take 6 Heart transplantations and more as 2 x renal transplantations
    matematically must 6 people die with compatible tissue transplant ( + probably 4 rens )
    I am selfish and want a system that benefits me rather than other people”?

  75. John Ohno says:

    If your near and far mode tell you different things systematically, can’t you apply that bias in a systematic way to make a tool out of it? For instance, if your goal is greater social equality, you could trust the near mode judgments of people who are doing poorly by some measures and hold the self-interest of those who are already doing well at a distance (trust the welfare recipient when she says she’s struggling, but expect the oil company president to prove that he needs a raise).

  76. JohnMcG says:

    I’ve kind of thought that people like Hitchens (and other stories like people who came so support Same Sex Marriage because they got to know gay people) at best deserve only a silver medal for empathy.

    Is it good that they were willing to abandon a position that was based on ignorance once confronted with evidence to the contrary? Absolutely. Is it good that they were open to receiving evidence that would lead them to question a position they held. Sure.

    But look at what they’re admitting — that, previously, they were willing to take a public stand when they didn’t know what they were talking about. And that, furthermore, the only thing that would shake them out of it is first hand experience with the people or situation at hand. I hope this experience led them to question more than their position on this particular issue.

    “Blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe.”

    This colors my approach to Scott’s essay.

    On the one hand, I think a situation where only those who have intimate experience with something are qualified to judge it can’t work. If this were the case, only veterans and soldiers could judge war crimes, only cops and former cops could judge police brutality, etc. We have things like civilian control of the military for a reason. For sure, there is something about those experiences that an outsider could never completely understand. On the other hand, there should be some fundamental standards of morality and conduct that apply regardless. And our experience has shown that there is a tendency to want to protect one’s own.

    So, my inclination is to think that the perspective of those with “skin in the game” should be heard and given considerable weight, but not be ultimately binding.

    But then I hear stories like Hitchens’s, and I wonder if most of us are truly capable of entering into another’s shoes, and understanding the implications of a decision we do not have first-hand experience with.

    It seems the best answer would be for us to collectively get better at this, but I’m not sure that’s realistic.

  77. GregvP says:

    1. Is there unspoken knowledge which is neither factual nor a mere cover for self interest? Yes: read Karl “We know more than we can tell” Polanyi and various glosses thereon. I’m disappointed but not surprised that someone who professes an interest in social philosophy doesn’t mention Polanyi straight away when this sort of subject arises.

    2. The issue is a classic subject of political economy and the analytical tools of political economy are appropriate. The underlying problem is one of economic rent-seeking. Senior doctors want privileged lives and have political power; they therefore arrange matters so that the supply of doctors is small so they can charge high prices for their services. The demand for doctors’ services is high, but because senior doctors have political power, they can arrange that someone else supplies those services, The people that junior doctors should be mad at are senior doctors, and themselves, for unreasonable and unfair expectations of a highly privileged life. Or again: if junior doctors don’t want to work such long hours, they should be demanding that the profession accelerate the introduction of automation, so that productivity can be increased by orders of magnitude.

    3. Markets generally. There is free international movement of capital, and of many goods; but in the most important market of all, the labour market, there is hardly any international movement at all (Florida’s creative classes notwithstanding). More relevant than 1980s South Africa is the current “refugee crisis” in Europe. (The Europeans, to their credit, are making efforts to accelerate integration of immigrants into their societies — poor efforts, perhaps; efforts nonetheless.)

    4. Trade rhetoric. DeLong may be refuted by observing that the USA got rich at a time when its total international trade was a small fraction of its GDP 10% or less. This with a much smaller population than China’s – indeed, China’s population today is greater than the population of the world was when the UK got rich. DeLong has also recently coauthored a book advocating a return to the import-substitution policies of Alexander Hamilton. He seems schizophrenic. And again: why does DeLong not push for free trade in the most important market of all? If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing in the most important areas first.

    5. Ethics. The emotional impact of these issues arises from an offence against respect for sentient life in some cases (apartheid, waterboarding), and from a desire to protect social status in others (high-status jobs). It’s either extreme tiredness or disingenuity that conflates the two.

    6. Methods of rulemaking. Rawls’s veil of ignorance is a useful tool for thinking about appropriate responses.

  78. Jack V says:

    I had a different view of the adjunct position. It seemed like, being a junior academic was always _pretty_ bad, but people had some kind of idea who might have a shot at being an academic at all, and who might have a shot at being a successful academic.

    And then a global recession happened, and countries said, “ok, lets violently disembowel academic funding with a gardening trowel”.

    And all of a sudden, the career pyramid shrank abruptly. And all of the people who were brilliant, but not genius genius brilliant, working as junior academics, were told, “you’re screwed, but please continue teaching classes for free”.

    And lots of people DID give up, but people were unsure, was it worth hanging on and hope the country recovered? Was this as bad as it got, or was it only going to get worse? They knew they “wanted to be an academic”, had they worked out if they wanted to be an academic for zero pay? Given they’d wasted ten years preparing for a career which had suddenly disappeared, could they start over doing something else during a recession?

    Even if they were being driven out, was “making things systematically worse until people left” the fairest way of doing it?

    Was there actually NO money, or were universities seeing where they could get away with cutting the most without objection?

    I’m not surprised there was a backlash. Maybe “deciding it’s not worth it and getting out” was the inevitable end result, but usually the optimum amount of push-back when you’re screwed is more than zero.

    • “And then a global recession happened, and countries said, “ok, lets violently disembowel academic funding with a gardening trowel”.”

      The adjunct discussion has been mostly about the U.S. Did academic funding drop sharply? A little googling finds some figures which show, from 2007 to 2013, state general purpose expenditure falling by 14.1 billion, federal Pell grant expenditure increasing by 13 billion, federal veterans education benefits increasing by 8.4 billion. So it looks as though total state plus federal expenditures on higher education went up, not down.

      • James Kabala says:

        The job market has definitely become significantly worse since 2008. The exact reasons for this may be complex, but it happened.

      • Adam says:

        I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from that. Pell Grants and GI Bill are both entitlements. The government doesn’t set the level of spending. It goes up or down depending on how many people are eligible and apply for it. Higher unemployment drove more people to stay in school and at the same time the war in Iraq wound down and we had a whole lot of new veterans. Those are both temporary things and there is no reason to think universities would add permanent positions or increase pay levels in response to them if at the same time they’re losing longer term forms of state support.

    • SJ says:

      For what it is worth, the financial and professional prospects of adjunct professors were not very good when I attended grad school, in the years 2003-2006.

      I was studying an intellectually-challenging field, in a degree plan which would have made it possible for me to teach at the collegiate level.

      While I was in grad school, several instructors and fellow students confirmed these facts: in most degree programs, there was a glut of PhD-holding graduates relative to the number of available tenure-track positions. Some fields (like mathematics, computer-science, and certain hard-sciences) had lucrative non-academic options.

      At that time, I would have had better employment prospects if I had jumped into the Education-in-Challenging-Field degree plan, and intended to teach at the high school level.

      Since I ended up doing neither, I don’t really mind. But I feel like I dodged a bullet.

      I acquired a potentially-expensive education without much debt, due to scholarships. I acquired a Master’s degree that has little to do with my current career.

      And I escaped a career path that would have been full of part-time work at the bottom of an employment totem pole, in a field with a sharp separation between nobility (tenured or tenure-track) and commoners (adjuncts).

  79. SJ says:

    As a thought:

    Only a person who has seen a problem from the inside knows the challenges associated with that problem. The mix of psychological stress, financial problems, social problems, and sunk-costs combined with the problem.

    Conversely, a person who has seen the problem from the inside often lacks the perspective to design a solution that is good for all parties involved.

    Worse, people who see a problem from the inside often lack the social capital (or financial resources) to push people around to fix the problem.

    (Aside: if your rental contract specifies insurance, and you fail to acquire the insurance, you’ve done something…less than wise.
    But if the landlord is trying to force you or your insurance agent to pay for something that renter’s insurance typically doesn’t cover, he is mendacious.

    The distance of time probably helps with the analysis…but I have some sympathy for being blind-sided by that kind of financial sucker-punch. It’s painful, stressful, and hard to handle. Especially when the problem is that the house you called ‘yours’ is no longer habitable.

    The legal processes surrounding renting in the United States typically assume that a landlord wouldn’t require a tenant to fix, or pay for, problems related to the building/plumbing/wiring.

    But there aren’t many smooth paths in law and policy that would make it costly for a landlord to make that kind of request. Especially a landlord who sees lots of churn in the pool of likely tenants.

    Which is the kind of landlord/tenant relationship seen in a University town.)

    EDITED TO ADD: this comment begins a thread with much more detail about the law and policy, and regional variations…as well as problem-tenants and problem-landlords who have become examples of why the system works the way it does.

    I think the most-applicable part of that comment thread is the advice to assume that the other party in the rental contract may use every possible twist of the contract to extract money from you once a problem arises…

  80. sidewalkProf says:

    It seems like you’ve ultimately arrived here at the conclusion that “factual” (to use your words) models of a problem space are always incomplete – which is of course true, because all models are wrong. So the relevant question is probably not “is the far-mode model correct” and probably ought to be closer to “given that humans cannot invest infinitely on getting perfectly optimal solutions, is the far-mode model sufficiently close to optimal?” It seems your answer, or at least bias towards an answer, is that far-mode is insufficient even in this more lenient phrasing of the problem. I happen to agree with this, though less because models are hard than because rationality is hard. In the end of the day, almost all decisions come down to weighing your options heuristically, if at all – people virtually never actually do the math, and when they do they’re rarely right anyways. So, taking that into account, we should ask who is going to have the best heuristic guesses about the relative pain and value of all these subtle factors – especially those that our model fails to capture explicitly.

    The obvious answer to this appears to be “someone who has been in this position well enough to intuitively feel the pain, but who is not immediately biased towards a particular outcome due to a personal stake”. This is a relatively tall order, but I’ve seen creative attempts to fill it before – for instance, executives attempting “day-in-the-life” programs or similar efforts. (Obviously these are all imperfect, leaving some personal bias inevitably, but they seem like the most effective compromise.)

    The biggest takeaway from this all, I think, is that we should just remember that models by definition are incomplete, and so we should think about how to compensate for that rather than just accepting it as a lost cause.

    Thoughts?

  81. Garr says:

    I’m an adjunct. Adjuncts have NO status. Adjuncts are worms. I, as an adjunct, am a worm. The faculty guys either pity us or find us disgusting — same range of attitudes people have toward worms. The department secretaries pity us. The administrators find us disgusting. The students see as low-level welfare-office clerks.

    • Adam says:

      This is weird to me. My own experience of adjuncts is much like what David Friedman described above. My first time through grad school was a management program before I decided to pursue more academic things. More than half my professors were adjuncts, but they were professional experts teaching a single class part-time on the side, not a poorly paid underclass of wannabe professors. My modified accrual accounting teacher was an IRS auditor. My public finance teacher was a city manager. My HR teacher was the Director of Facility Services for the university. My ex-girlfriend’s dad used to do this. He was the CFO of the research wing of Rockefeller University with several decades experience opening diabetes treatment centers for them and he taught a single healthcare finance course to MHA students at Iona.

      • Odoacer says:

        I think there’s a difference between adjuncts in different departments. I know stories of life sciences PhDs who’s adjuncting experiences are closer to what Garr and others (outside of you and Friedman) state.

        • Garr says:

          I teach 6 philosophy classes per semester at two different 5th-rate NE BigCity schools, along with winter intersession classes and as many summer “intensive” classes as I can get, the latter often being cancelled due to low enrollment because students can’t get financial aid for summer classes; summer often puts me into overdraft on my checking account, meaning 19% interest rate on these overdrawn amounts. I’m 50. There are two kinds of philosophy-teaching adjuncts: the trust-fund kids and the autistic losers, including autistic losers with PhDs. The trust-fund kids move on in a couple of years. The autistic losers just rot. They aren’t stupider than the faculty guys; they just don’t have a feel for the Game.

  82. Inachodladh says:

    To me there is no contradiction because doctors are much more useful to society than professors in most fields. What if every doctor disappeared vs every undergrad professor? The STEM professors would obviously be a problem, but they could be replaced since there are other people in their field. The other ones, meh, I think we’d be fine. To be extra edgy I might even say that something the extinction of something like sociology would be a net benefit to society because we’d have a quantifiably destructive ideology promoted less. Long run GDP gain from less socialism.

  83. Matt says:

    The main reason I sympathize with doctors is that they produce strong positive effects on society. Dissuading smart, capable people from going into such a beneficial profession doesn’t seem like a good idea.

  84. sconzey says:

    On the subject of the tenancy, in the UK most tenancies are the legal-default ‘Assured Shorthold Tenancy‘, which offers excellent protection to tenants from potential predation by landlords, including a board of rental appeals to whom you can appeal if you think your rent is unfairly high. If anything, it is biased notably in favour of tenants. Because of the standardisation, it’s well-understood by most people and there is a wealth of free information available from various charities and government agencies.

    If your landlord offers you anything other than an AST, you read it very carefully and assume he’s trying to shaft you.

    • Adam says:

      I’m sure this varies state to state, but every place I’ve leased from in Texas uses a standard residential lease agreement written by the Texas Association of Realtors. They’re not legally required to, but it’s a de facto standard. It’s also what gets signed by the tenants of my own rental property. The rules for repair costs are the following:

      (1) Repairs that Landlord will Pay Entirely: Landlord will pay the entire cost to repair:
      (a) a condition caused by the Landlord or the negligence of the Landlord;
      (b) wastewater stoppages or backups caused by deterioration, breakage, roots, ground
      condition, faulty construction, or malfunctioning equipment;
      (c) a condition that adversely affects the health or safety of an ordinary tenant which is not
      caused by Tenant, an occupant, a member of Tenant’s family, or a guest or invitee of
      Tenant; and
      (d) a condition in the following items which is not caused by Tenant or Tenant’s negligence:
      (1) heating and air conditioning systems;
      (2) water heaters; or
      (3) water penetration from structural defects.

      (2) Repairs that Tenant will Pay Entirely: Tenant will pay Landlord or any contractor Landlord
      directs Tenant to pay the entire cost to repair:
      (a) a condition caused by Tenant, an occupant, a member of Tenant’s family, or a guest or
      invitee of Tenant (a failure to timely report an item in need of repair or the failure to
      properly maintain an item may cause damage for which Tenant may be responsible);
      (b) damage from wastewater stoppages caused by foreign or improper objects in lines that
      exclusively service the Property;
      (c) damage to doors, windows, or screens; and
      (d) damage from windows or doors left open.

      Pretty unambiguously states the landlord is liable for pipe problems unless the tenant put something in a drain that didn’t belong there and caused the damage.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        (d) damage from windows or doors left open.

        Given that a pipe burst in Michigan, that may be the reason the tenant has to pay.

  85. Robert W says:

    Maybe you just want there to be fewer adjuncts in the world, but you think the world has is the right number (or not enough) doctors?

    If so your view makes complete sense. You want to keep conditions good for doctors so their numbers don’t shrink, but you think it’s fine for unpleasant conditions to push people out of academia.

  86. mobile says:

    As if the adjunct professors at Northwestern don’t have it bad enough, the townies of Evanston, IL want to roll back the red carpet even more:

    http://evanstonnow.com/story/business/bill-smith/2014-01-30/61300/neighbors-said-to-fear-transient-academics

    The comments section is the best part of the story.

  87. RJMeyers says:

    Denial, and the ability to afford that denial.

    Hitchens knew what waterboarding was, but he could deny to himself what the torture felt like in favor of more abstract arguments for it. Then he was waterboarded and his ability to deny the emotional and physical toll of it disappeared.

    Those journalists and economists know that losing your manufacturing job and having a crap service job or being unemployed is bad. But they don’t have to care, and they can afford to ignore this knowledge in favor of their preferred ideological stances. Their necks aren’t on the line and they make their money by actively denying the real, gut feeling and experience of those who lose their jobs to outsourcing. If they were suddenly outsourced they would be screaming bloody murder.

    You knew something was fishy with your rental agreement, but it wasn’t urgent enough to take action on. You stopped thinking of it, and, for a time, could deny that you might be in a trap. Then the trap was sprung and you could no longer ignore it.

    Take another classic case: Crippling disease X exists, but I don’t do anything about it. Then I have a child that develops disease X and suddenly devote lots of time and money to find a cure. I felt I could afford to ignore the disease until someone I cared about deeply developed it.

    All these cases are instances of the following: People have more knowledge available to them than goes into their actions and thoughts, they favor knowledge that lets them take the actions they desire or keep thinking what they like and they ignore knowledge which they believe it is safe to ignore (until the cost of doing so becomes too high). And most of this is because we all have very limited cognitive bandwidths and often don’t like to focus on disharmonious information.

    • Titanium Dragon says:

      The thing is, the globalization situation is very different. It is “I created a system to create an artificial monopoly for the purpose of benefiting myself, and I am now unhappy that you are fixing the law so that I now have to compete fairly.”

      Their unhappiness is that the system is being fixed, because they personally benefit from it being broken.

      Yes, they get shafted by it getting fixed.

      But criminals get shafted by getting caught, and monopolists get shafted when their monopoly is broken up.

      We don’t feel sorry for those people because they are harming others to benefit themselves.

      So it is with the local monopolists who supported laws to benefit themselves that harm everyone else – not just the people in third world countries, but also everyone else in this country who they are jacking up prices on.

  88. Titanium Dragon says:

    I think you’re missing some fairly fundamental differences here between various situations. In two of the situations, the system benefits the person at the cost of everyone else; in two of the situations, there’s other good reasons for the people to complain.

    The people who are opposed to globalization are for screwing over literally everyone but themselves. This is, after all, what opposition to globalization is all about. Globalization not only benefits everyone in other countries, but it also benefits everyone in the country in question. The only people who don’t benefit from globalization are people who have artificial local monopolies created by regulatory capture, the purpose of which is to maintain their ability to gouge people.

    They are monopolists. Once you understand these people are monopolists – that they are no different from the cable companies which get regulations passed to prevent competition and jack up local prices – suddenly they become completely unsympathetic. As they should, frankly. In the end, these people’s jobs are entirely dependent on screwing other people over, and the only reason they exist is because they got some politicians to pass some laws to let them do it.

    People who are screwing people over will suffer when they lose the ability to do so.

    But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Really, it is the just thing to do.

    In the end, most people who lose their jobs to globalization don’t suffer anyway; really, the main ones who do are the small fraction who refuse to get other jobs and move on with their lives.

    This is quite analogous to the guy who is opposed to the end of aparthied.

    On the other hand, waterboarding people isn’t really something which is particularly helpful to begin with. Torturing prisoners creates propaganda against us. It is mostly easy for people to subject people to it because they believe they deserve it; exposure to it may change their minds because it is much worse than they really believed it to be. There’s a lot of good, reasonable reasons why you’d be opposed to torturing people. And, well, it is illegal. In fact, a war crime.

    Likewise, the junior doctors working 100 hours a week is just not right. We actually passed laws to prevent this sort of thing, and with good reason; workign so many hours is dangerous at the best of times. Working so many hours doing stuff that can result in dead people if you screw up is simply unsafe. This is bad not only for the junior doctors, but everyone else involved in the system as well. No one wants to get sick or die because of an easily preventable medical error which was a result of someone not getting enough sleep.

    The correct way is to look at the system and to think about what is really going on. There is no general rule. Sometimes people in the system will possess special knowledge; other times, they won’t.

  89. Massimo Heitor says:

    GOOD: Competition for the best work at the best price.

    BAD: Ethnic tribal competition for government and institutions.

    In the apartheid scenario, it’s not reasonable for whites to want protection from blacks who are willing to work at lower wages and out compete them.

    It is reasonable for whites to want their own governance structures and not want to give permanent voting control to a rival ethnic group, especially when that rival ethnic group is fiercely race loyal and turns the government into a racial spoils system. The fact that EFF exists and is the third largest party in South Africa, is extremely good justification for apartheid.