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

Three Great Articles On Poverty, And Why I Disagree With All Of Them

QZ: The universal basic income is an idea whose time will never come. Okay, maybe this one isn’t so great. It argues that work is ennobling (or whatever), that robots probably aren’t stealing our jobs, that even if we’re going through a period of economic disruption we’ll probably adapt, and that “if the goal is eliminating poverty, it is better to direct public funds to [failing schools and substandard public services]” then to try a guaranteed income scheme. It ends by saying that “I can’t understand why we’d consider creating and then calcifying a perpetually under-employed underclass by promoting the stagnation of their skills and severing their links to broader communities.”

(imagine a world where we had created and calcified a perpetually under-employed stagnant underclass. It sounds awful.)

More Crows Than Eagles: Unnecessariat. This one is great. A blogger from the Rust Belt reports on the increasing economic despair and frustration all around her, in the context of the recent spikes in heroin overdoses and suicides. There’s an important caveat here, in that at least national-level economic data paint a rosy picture: the unemployment rate is very low, consumer confidence is high, and the studies of technological unemployment suggest it’s not happening yet. Still, a lot of people on the ground – the anonymous blogger, the pathologists she worked with, and me from my position as a psychiatrist in the Midwest – feel like there’s a lot more misery and despair than the statistics suggest. MCTE replaces the old idea of the “precariat” – people who just barely have jobs and are worried about losing them – with her own coinage “unnecessariat” – people who don’t have jobs, are useless to the economy, and nobody cares what happens to them. It reminds me of the old argument of sweatshop-supporting economists – sure, we’re exploiting you, but you’d miss us if we left. She hates Silicon Valley for building its glittering megaplexes while ignoring everyone else, but she hates even more the people saying “Learn to code! Become part of the bright new exciting knowledge economy!” because realistically there’s no way an opioid-depended 55-year-old ex-trucker from Kentucky is going to learn to code. The only thing such people have left is a howl of impotent rage, and it has a silly hairstyle and is named Donald J. Trump.

Freddie deBoer: Our Nightmare. Also pretty great. The same things deBoer has been warning about for years, but expressed unusually clearly. By taking on the superficial mantle of center-leftism, elites sublimate the revolutionary impulse into a competition for social virtue points which ends up reinforcing and legitimizing existing power structures. Constant tally-keeping over what percent of obscenely rich exploitative Wall Street executives are people of color replaces the question of whether there should be obscenely rich exploitative Wall Street executives at all. As such tendencies completely capture the Democratic Party and the country’s mainstream left, genuine economic anger becomes more likely to be funneled into the right wing, where the elites can dismiss it as probably-racist (often with justification) and ignore it. “I cannot stress enough to you how vulnerable the case for economic justice is in this country right now. Elites agitate against it constantly…this is a movement, coordinated from above, and its intent is to solidify the already-vast control of economic elites over our political system…[Liberalism] is an attempt to ameliorate the inequality and immiseration of capitalism, when inequality and immiseration are the very purpose of capitalism.”

These articles all look at poverty in different ways, and I think that I look at poverty in a different way still. In the spirit of all the crazy political compasses out there, maybe we can learn something by categorizing them:


Including only people who think society should be in the business of collectively helping the poor at all (ie no extreme libertarians or social Darwinists) and people who are interested in something beyond deBoer’s nightmare scenario (ie not just making sure every identity group has an equal shot at the Wall Street positions).

People seem to split into a competitive versus a cooperative view of poverty. To massively oversimplify: competitives agree with deBoer that “inequality and immiseration are the very purpose of capitalism” and conceive of ending poverty in terms of stopping exploitation and giving the poor their “just due” that the rich have taken away from them. The cooperatives argue that everyone is working together to create a nice economy that enriches everybody who participates in it, but some people haven’t figured out exactly how to plug into the magic wealth-generating machine, and we should give them a helping hand (“here’s government-subsidized tuition to a school where you can learn to code!”). Probably nobody’s 100% competitive or 100% cooperative, but I think a lot of people have a tendency to view the problem more one way than the other.

So the northwest corner of the grid is people who think the problem is primarily one of exploitation, but it’s at least somewhat tractable to reform. No surprises here – these are the types who think that the big corporations are exploiting people, but if average citizens try hard enough they can make the Man pay a $15 minimum wage and give them free college tuition, and then with enough small victories like these they can level the balance enough to give everybody a chance.

(These are all going to be straw men, but hopefully useful straw men)

The southwest corner is people who think the problem is primarily one of exploitation, but nothing within the system will possibly help. I put “full communism” in the little box, but I guess this could also be anarcho-syndicalism, or anarcho-capitalism, or theocracy, or Trumpism, or [insert your preferred poorly-planned form of government which inevitably fails here].

The northeast corner is people who think we’re all in this together and there are lots of opportunities to help. This is the QZ writer who said we should be focusing on “education and public services”. The economy is a benevolent force that wants to help everybody, but some people through bad luck – poor educational opportunities, not enough childcare, racial prejudice – haven’t gotten the opportunity they need yet, so we should lend them a helping hand so they can get back on their feet and one day learn to code. I named this quadrant “Free School Lunches” after all those studies that show that giving poor kids free school lunches improves their grades by X percent, which changes their chances of getting into a good college by Y percent, which increases their future income by Z percent, so all we have to do is have lots of social programs like free school lunches and then poverty is solved. But aside from the lunch people people, this category must also include libertarians who think that all we need to do is remove regulations that prevent the poor from succeeding, Reaganites who think that a rising tide will lift all boats, and conservatives who think the poor just need to be taught Traditional Hard-Working Values. Actually, probably 90% of the Overton Window is in this corner.

The southeast corner is people who think that we’re all in this together, but that helping the poor is really hard. They agree with the free school lunch crowd that capitalism is more the solution than the problem, and that we should think of this in terms of complicated impersonal social and educational factors preventing poor people from fitting into the economy. But the southeasterners worry school lunches won’t be enough. Maybe even hiring great teachers, giving everybody free health care, ending racism, and giving generous vocational training to people in need wouldn’t be enough. If we held a communist revolution, it wouldn’t do a thing: you can’t hold a revolution against skill mismatch. This is a very gloomy quadrant, and I don’t blame people for not wanting to be in it. But it’s where I spend most of my time.

The exploitation narrative seems fundamentally wrong to me – I’m not saying exploitation doesn’t happen, nor even that it isn’t common, just that isn’t not the major factor causing poverty and social decay. The unnecessariat article, for all its rage against Silicon Valley hogging the wealth, half-admits this – the people profiled have become unnecessary to the functioning of the economy, no longer having a function even as exploited proletarians. Silicon Valley isn’t exploiting these people, just ignoring them. Fears of technological unemployment are also relevant here: they’re just the doomsday scenario where all of us are relegated to the unnecessariat, the economy having passed us by.

But I also can’t be optimistic about programs to end poverty. Whether it’s finding out that schools and teachers have relatively little effect on student achievement, that good parenting has even less, or that differences in income are up to fifty-eight percent heritable and a lot of what isn’t outright genetic is weird biology or noise, most of the research I read is very doubtful of easy (or even hard) solutions. Even the most extensive early interventions have underwhelming effects. We can spend the collective energy of our society beating our head against a problem for decades and make no headway. While there may still be low-hanging fruit – maybe an scaled-up Perry Preschool Project, lots of prenatal vitamins, or some scientist discovering a new version of the unleaded-gasoline movement – we don’t seem very good at finding it, and I worry it would be at most a drop in the bucket. Right now I think that a lot of variation in class and income is due to genetics and really deep cultural factors that nobody knows how to change en masse.

I can’t even really believe that a rising tide will lift all boats anymore. Not only has GDP uncoupled from median wages over the past forty years, but there seems to be a Red Queen’s Race where every time the GDP goes up the cost of living goes up the same amount. US real GDP has dectupled since 1900, yet a lot of people have no savings and are one paycheck away from the street. In theory, a 1900s poor person who suddenly got 10x his normal salary should be able to save 90% of it, build up a fund for rainy days, and end up in a much better position. In practice, even if the minimum wage in 2100 is $200 2016 dollar an hour, I expect the average 2100 poor person will be one paycheck away from the street. I can’t explain this, I just accept it at this point. And I think that aside from our superior technology, I would rather be a poor farmer in 1900 than a poor kid in the projects today. More southeast corner gloom.

The only public figure I can think of in the southeast quadrant with me is Charles Murray. Neither he nor I would dare reduce all class differences to heredity, and he in particular has some very sophisticated theories about class and culture. But he shares my skepticism that the 55 year old Kentucky trucker can be taught to code, and I don’t think he’s too sanguine about the trucker’s kids either. His solution is a basic income guarantee, and I guess that’s mine too. Not because I have great answers to all of the QZ article’s problems. But just because I don’t have any better ideas1,2.

The QZ article warns that it might create a calcified “perpetually under-employed stagnant underclass”. But of course we already have such an underclass, and it’s terrible. I can neither imagine them all learning to code, nor a sudden revival of the non-coding jobs they used to enjoy. Throwing money at them is a pretty subpar solution, but it’s better than leaving everything the way it is and not throwing money at them.

This is why I can’t entirely sympathize with any of the essays I read on poverty, eloquent though they are.

Footnotes

1. And then there’s the rest of the world. Given the success of export capitalism in Korea, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, et cetera, and the pattern where multinationals move to some undeveloped country with cheap labor, boost the local economy until the country is developed and labor there isn’t so cheap anymore, and then move on to the next beneficiary – solving international poverty seems a lot easier than solving local poverty. All we have to do is keep wanting shoes and plastic toys. And part of me wonders – if setting up a social safety net would slow domestic economic growth – or even divert money that would otherwise go to foreign aid – does that make it a net negative? Maybe we should be optimizing for maximum economic growth until we’ve maxed out the good we can do by industrializing Third World countries? My guess is that enough of the basic income debate is about how to use existing welfare payments that this wouldn’t be too big a factor. And I would hope (for complicated reasons), that basic income would be more likely to help than hurt the economy3.

2. Obviously invent genetic engineering and create a post-scarcity society, but until then we have to deal with this stuff.

3. And then there’s the whole open borders idea, which probably isn’t very compatible with basic income at all. Right now I think – I’ll explain at more length later – fully open borders is a bad idea, because the risk of it destabilizing the country and ruining the economic motor that lifts Third World countries out of poverty is too high.

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1,723 Responses to Three Great Articles On Poverty, And Why I Disagree With All Of Them

  1. Mammon says:

    s/studies of technical employment/studies of technical unemployment/

    • Scott Alexander says:

      s/studies of technical employment/studies of technical unemployment//studies of technological employment/studies of technological unemployment/

      (but thanks, fixed)

  2. Thecommexokid says:

    After all the times you’ve talked about basic income before, finally you mention the connection between a basic income policy and immigration policy….and it’s relegated to a footnote of a footnote.

    • Still Anonymous says:

      Any time you want to mention something controversial, always put it in a footnote. Nobody reads footnotes.

    • anon says:

      Well, he did say he was going to expand on it later.

      It’s definitely a topic worthy of a full post.

    • Walter says:

      The general wisdom is “entitlements/open borders pick one” right? I’m not sure that there’s much to say about that.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        There’s a third option that’s easy in theory. Just make new immigrants much, much less eligible for entitlements, at least until they have spent a good number of years paying taxes.

        I can’t think of any disadvantages to this idea that aren’t caused by people being stupid. There are lots of people who oppose this idea because it would create an underclass, but the potential immigrants are already an underclass, all that this would change is that they’re now a slightly poor underclass in this country instead of a super poor underclass in a different one. It’s Copenhagen ethics, where people view us as having a giant moral obligation to people who move here, and no moral obligation to people who don’t.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I can’t think of any disadvantages to this idea that aren’t caused by people being stupid.

          Well, there you go: real word disadvantages.

        • Aapje says:

          t’s Copenhagen ethics, where people view us as having a giant moral obligation to people who move here, and no moral obligation to people who don’t.

          And this also leads to a Motte-and-Bailey that you frequently see in debates:

          A. You don’t want to see people get murdered/tortured, right?
          B. No
          A. Great, then you agree that we need to let these people in and give them the exact same economic opportunities and benefits that citizens get.
          B. Wait, what?

        • Ryan says:

          There is an on point Supreme Court decision saying waiting periods before immigrants can receive benefits violates the 14th Amendment:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_v._Richardson

          • Steven says:

            As far as I can tell, Graham v. Richardson has been interpreted to apply to only a fairly narrow range of benefits (e.g., TANF).
            In particular, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid all have waiting periods for lawful immigrants.

            https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/spotlights/spot-non-citizens.htm
            https://www.medicareresources.org/faqs/can-recent-immigrants-to-the-united-states-get-health-coverage-if-theyre-over-65/

          • Cadie says:

            Would having a waiting period for everyone, immigrant or not, be a solution? Like, to have benefits paid to you in your own name, one of the criteria for eligibility would be living in the USA and/or being a citizen of the USA for 5 years or longer. This would have no or negligible effect on people born as citizens, as they don’t receive benefits at age 5 anyway; their parents/guardians receive the payments. (School lunch programs may need some tweaking to be paid to the child’s guardian(s), at least on paper, but should still work.) Immigrants without prior citizenship status here would need to be residents for five years after moving before they can receive most forms of financial assistance. Since the restriction is technically on everyone – a four-year-old citizen would be ineligible for their own benefit payments on account of not being in the USA long enough, even though in practice they’d be ineligible for other reasons too so it doesn’t matter – it seems more likely to pass a Constitutionality check.

            I don’t like the idea of making immigrants’ lives harder, but it seems like having the option of being a documented immigrant with full worker protections/rights and other rights, and simply not being allowed to vote or collect financial assistance from the government for five (or four, or seven, or whatever) years, is an improvement over the current situation. Which is either don’t move to the USA or be undocumented and lacking most protections. The waiting period gives them a third option which, while not as good as being born here, is a lot better than the other two. Perfection shouldn’t be the enemy of improvement.

        • RCF says:

          Have you considered the possibility that much of so-called cognitive biases, Copenhagen Ethics included, are the result of System 1 determinations that can be communicated to System 2 only in simplified form?

          Consider a Least Convenient World in which the lives of black people as slaves in the South were better than the lives of black people in Africa. Would that make slavery moral?

          Why shouldn’t we have more responsibility towards those who are part of our society than to those who aren’t?

      • The issue is that idealists won’t allow solutions like restricting entitlements to immigrants.

  3. Andrew Hunter says:

    What do you think of this perspective on technological unemployment and basic incomes?

    It does strike me as interesting that the clearing wage for cleaning a house in Seattle is $30/hour (and even then you’re not getting particularly good applicants.) It’s hard to reconcile this with a narrative of people being unemployed unwillingly and desperate for any work.

    I also agree with the author that incentives matter, and basic income doesn’t provide great ones.

    • E. Harding says:

      I suspect the problem in Seattle is construction restrictions. Are there any $30 hour housecleaners in Dallas or Atlanta?

      • eccdogg says:

        Datapoint. I pay my house cleaners $100 for two workers for about 2 hours of work in Raleigh.

        Now that does not translate into a 40 hour/week job since there is downtime etc.

        • ConnGator says:

          Hmm, I pay $140 for 6 (wo)man hours of house cleaning in Raleigh, so that is consistent in the $23-$25 /hour wage.

        • JayT says:

          I assume they are providing the cleaning supplies though, and if you are going through a service that would be another way the income would be divided.

          • eccdogg says:

            Some but not all supplies. Not a service, owner plus one other lady most days. Sometimes owner’s daughter and one other lady. Not sure how they split the money up.

            But you are correct it is not the same as making $25/hr wage.

          • sconn says:

            I cleaned houses in Seattle a few years back, with a company. No idea what the company got paid, but I got $15/hour (and constant nagging if I spent too many hours cleaning).

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I think it’s interesting to compare what the author of this piece would say about basic income, for instance.

      • Jesse says:

        The bloomberg archives are hard to search, but she is working on a series on the broader topic, so we will probably find out soon…

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This is a really interesting post.

      But first of all, it doesn’t prove that technology isn’t involved. If there’s some floor of job people are willing to do, it’s possible that machines have taken a lot of the jobs above that floor.

      Second of all, I am really far from convinced that the safety net graphic is right. A lot of my patients with really bad financial problems don’t seem to be getting any government assistance at all. In fact, most of the things on there are subsidized health insurance programs, which don’t exactly translate to cash in hand. A lot of them are living on friends’ sofas or on the street. They’re not thinking “I won’t take a job because it might decrease my health insurance coverage”.

      The part about regulations costing jobs seems 100% true to me, although I’m not sure how much those people would make.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        The graph (and others the author of that post is fond of citing) do seem to disagree with a lot of poverty narratives, and I surely believe you have closer contact with the poor than I do in this country.

        But that said, however they’re getting the effective money to spend–government, charity, friends–it seems that the vast majority of people in this country really do have better living conditions than quite nicely employed people in India. Chris is very happy to point out that those people on friends’ sofas almost certainly have more room, technology, food, plumbing (!), access to appointments with prolix psychiatrists :), and the like than any of the people in his Indian story. Does this mean that they’re bums who should get jobs? I don’t know. But it’s unclear to me that if we haven’t made them unemployable and poor compared to the vast majority of the world that we have a unique duty to compensate this with free money, and incentives to do something useful seem, well, good.

        Several commenters have tried to tie this question into cost of housing in the bay area or other rich areas, and I see where they’re coming from [1], but I don’t think that’s the primary problem here, given that I know *plenty* of employed poor people in the Bay who travel quite some distance to find work–and yet the market for “things rich people need done” is still not close to clearing.

        A side note: other than SF rent control and tenant rights’, which only applies to one city, I start to wonder what’s stopping more people from taking jobs as live in domestic help. In a lot of these cases it’d be cheaper to provide an employee with housing than it would be to pay them enough to come up with it on their own. (Personal example: I live alone in a ~2000 square foot house. On the margin it would cost me about zero dollars, some insurance-y risk premium for untrustworthy houseguests, and moderate annoyance about not being able to wander the house naked to let someone live in the house with me for free, whereas it’d cost me a bare minimum of, what, $1600 or so ($10/hour for a fulltime employee just for that!) to let them pay for an apartment. I don’t need a full time maid, I don’t have kids to nanny, and I like to cook, so I might not use this option if it were available, but I’m still confused why it isn’t a thing other than for au pairs.)

        “Servant’s quarters” used to be quite a thing. Is it just distaste for the idea of servants that mean we don’t have them anymore?

        [1] Typically those commenters come from San Francisco, I can’t imagine why.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          You don’t want to live with Americans who can’t get better jobs than personal servant. And Americans don’t want to pay for you to import better behaved personal servants.

          Peter Schaeffer has pointed out that if you divide the total health care costs of American residents per year by the number of hours worked, it comes out to $12 per hour. So unless you can dump your personal servants back to Bangladesh after they are worn out and sickly from serving you for decades, which usually turns out to be unlikely, it’s not a good deal for taxpayers who can’t afford personal servants.

        • I’m not sure how easily you could legally fire someone if you were providing them housing as part of their compensation. Normally landlords have to jump through a number of hoops to throw someone out on the street and combining that with employment law sounds really complicated and painful.

          • Eric Rall says:

            In California at least, “lodgers” (people renting a bedroom in an owner-occupied dwelling unit) are regulated differently from “tenants” (people renting an entire dwelling unit, either separately or with co-tenants), especially if there’s only one lodger in the house. Specifically, a single lodger is not entitled to eviction procedures — if the landlord gives the legally-required notice and the lodger fails to move out, the lodger is automatically a trespasser and the landlord can call the cops to have them removed or use reasonable force to remove themselves.

            [Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, just a random blog commenter paraphrasing my understanding of part of the California Tenant Guide].

          • Loquat says:

            The California case of the live-in nanny who wouldn’t leave seems to refute that – she had 1 bedroom in their house, though technically she was trading work for room and board rather than renting, but after the family decided she had to go, the cops refused to help and said she did indeed have the right to eviction proceedings because she’d “established residency”.

      • Lesser Bull says:

        The safety net is slow. It doesn’t work well for people who live unstable lives which is, you know, most of the people who need it.

        • Anonymous says:

          There’s not much of a general safety net in the US. Food stamps are universal, housing assistance technically is but has an infinite wait list in a lot of places, and medicaid is in some states. There’s only cash programs for the old, disabled, and parents. Because people that don’t fit into those categories are the unworthy poor and we hate them.

          • MichaelT says:

            There is Medicaid in all 50 states. The only difference is some states agreed to go along with the ACA in increasing the income limit for Medicaid.

          • Anonymous says:

            No that’s incorrect. Medicaid exists in all 50 states, but prior to the expansion states were not required to cover everyone below a given poverty threshold. Some non-expansion states don’t cover childless, non-disabled, non-elderly adults regardless of income.

      • The point being made isn’t that technology isn’t involved in economic and societal change – that would be a silly point to make. The point being made is that jobs exist but people refuse to do them (sometimes for good reasons – e.g. avoiding the police, sometimes for bad reasons, e.g. disability fraud allows the enjoyment of TV time).

        As for that graph, I think it’s solid. Here’s the original post where John Cochrane produced it: http://johnhcochrane.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/taxes-and-cliffs.html

        It’s based on CBO numbers: https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/11-15-2012-MarginalTaxRates.pdf

        Somewhat before that graph was published, I also produced a similar graph based on consumption data from BLS some years ago: https://www.chrisstucchio.com/blog/2011/why_the_poor_dont_work.html

        They all paint the same picture – in the US, consumption rarely drops below $15k.

        These numbers are of course averages – it could be the case that smart poor people are consuming $30k, whereas the ones who need your psychological help are far poorer and unable to game the system in this way.

        In any case, I rather doubt that the servants in my India office have consumption anywhere near this.

        • Chris says:

          Alternatively, in many cases it’s not that jobs exist yet people refuse to do them, but that employees exist yet companies refuse to hire them. The bid-ask gap between capital and labor never gets bridged, since if you’re an employer you’d often rather let a position go unfilled for a while than lower your standards and hire whoever is available at a lower price. A few dozen retrained “programmers” (i.e. 55-year-old opioid-dependent ex-truckers) with a few month’s coding experience, even at very fractional wages, aren’t going to add up to the value you can get for holding out for one Jeff Dean or Linus Torvalds. Effects from credentialism just exacerbate the problem, since they eliminate a further portion of even genuinely qualified applicants.

          • No one ever said the truck drivers could become economically productive programmers. But why can’t they become taco walas, lawn care guys, house painters, waiters, or some similar thing?

            Again – see India. You’ll find lots of 55 year old guys with minimal skillset who are productively employed.

          • Aapje says:

            @Chris S

            Would you hire a guy with a swastika on his forehead for lawn care, painting, to be a waiter, etc, etc?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Would you hire a guy with a swastika on his forehead for lawn care

            “It’s going to be a maze.”

          • Anonymous says:

            >Would you hire a guy with a swastika on his forehead for lawn care

            Maybe in India! (Or Japan.)

          • lvlln says:

            Would you hire a guy with a swastika on his forehead for lawn care

            “It’s going to be a maze.”

            I’d probably be very careful to make sure he wasn’t enabling any unauthorized trampoline use on my grounds, but sure, I’d hire him.

          • Corey says:

            @Chris Stucchio: lack of aggregate demand. Because of that it’s possible to not have enough work to go around. The models that say there will always be another job for everyone to move into have a full-employment assumption buried in them, I think. (Or an assumption of useful macroeconomic stabilization policy, which is kind of the same thing).

        • K says:

          Being a full-time servant in a private home is not very economically productive work, since your salary will never be more than a fraction of your employer’s salary.

          In any case, I rather doubt that the servants in my India office have consumption anywhere near this.

          In a poor country such as India, middle-class families can have servants because there are plenty of people willing to work for wages that only provide a third-world standard of living. In a first-world country, not many people want a job that only provides a third-world standard of living.

          • Being a full time servant is more economically productive than watching TV all day, which is what the majority of poor adults do. http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p60-252.pdf – see table 3.

            Western society simply wastes this productive output.

            Now if you want to argue that wasting it is good because you can’t possibly imagine any wealth redistribution scheme that doesn’t have work disincentives (clearly EITC or CCC/NRA are unimaginable), go ahead.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I saw table 3 and can’t figure out what the hell you’re talking about.

          • Suntzuanime, scroll down to “Work Experience” in table 3. Then calculate “Did not work at least 1 week” / “Total, aged 18-64” for people in poverty.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Oh, so by “watching TV all day” you meant “doing literally anything other than being employed”? You can see how I might have been confused. Say what you mean, please.

          • RCF says:

            “Being a full-time servant in a private home is not very economically productive work, since your salary will never be more than a fraction of your employer’s salary.”

            The first claim includes the weasel term “very”, and isn’t really supported by the second claim. If being a servant allows your employer to be more productive, then being a servant is a productive activity.

      • Eli says:

        I want to publicly notice my confusion about technological unemployment, so here goes.

        I want another way to measure it. I think the existing ones suck. Instead of measuring technological unemployment directly, let’s at least bother with asking about how technology affects consumption. How much physical capital (ie: technology and natural resources) goes into each $UNIT worth of consumer goods that I actually buy, including the supply chains? If technological unemployment is a thing, we should see that measure anticorrelate with something like median wages or some other measure of the labor market.

        My confusion is that not only do numerous studies claim technological unemployment isn’t happening yet (some claim it won’t happen ever), but they also say that so-called technological improvements aren’t showing up in productivity numbers. I could blame neoliberalism for that and say that sufficiently cheap labor is substituting for technological R&D in capitalists’ spending, but then we’d expect to see lots and lots of jobs.

        Meanwhile, still other economic studies claim that we’re not really “losing jobs” to trade policies which systematically place the USA and EU in perpetual trade deficits as the world’s consumers, with Asia building up the world’s industrial base, but we’re instead losing them to industrial automation at home. These are the ones claiming that USAian and EUian manufacturing output are higher than ever and have grown over the decades, donchaknow, but have grown more capital-intensive rather than remaining labor-intensive.

        So: where are the jobs and/or robots that, logically, ought to lurk behind the seeming abundance of manufactured goods available for me to purchase? Does it really and actually come down to trade policy dividing the world into a pathological codependency of perpetually indebted consumer-countries and perpetually exploited worker-countries? Or, if we trace the supply chains behind actually-existing goods available for sale, can we eventually find some kind of technology that hasn’t been counted properly somewhere?

        Or has financialization converted industrial capitalism into a form of neo-feudal rentierism, as some other people claim, and most of the “economic value” created is never realized as physical goods?

        • Michael Vassar says:

          The latter.

          • Eli says:

            Given that you belong to the clique which gave us the Graeber-Thiel debate, I certainly find it plausible you should say that. I would certainly agree with the clique that we’ve under-invested in actually getting scientific advancement to happen, even though I largely agree more with Graeber as to the reasons.

            And of course, the constant real-estate bubbles are good support for your view.

            Weirdly enough, this morning I found an Economist story taking the almost Keynesian line: firms are refraining from making technological upgrades by glutting themselves on cut-price labor.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      Housing restrictions.

      Sure, you can get paid $30/hour/kid to be a nanny in the hills above the Peninsula, but then you have to live in the Peninsula, where the rent on a marginal 1 BR apartment is running about $2300. And marginal is not a place you want to be, so you’d really like to be paying $3,000 at some point.

      Whereas in Cleveland, my step-brother pays $500/month for a nicer place than I could get for $3,000. So he’s making $12, but after rent, taxes, and “The guy stocking shelves at the grocery store is spending at LEAST $1500 on rent, what does that do the price of milk”, I’m not sure he’s better off.

      /Even if you head out to the East Bay or down to the South Bay, it’s nearly as expensive and then you have commuting costs
      //Heck, once the one-time vests go away, I’m not sure he’s not better off than me.

    • qwints says:

      I pay about $25/hour for ‘high-end’ house cleaning in Dallas.

      • E. Harding says:

        If so, the problem of there being few people employed in house cleaning may be difficulty of connecting buyers and sellers.

        • qwints says:

          I should clarify that I’m a homeowner paying independent contractors who provide their own equipment and supplies, so it’s not really a wage and I don’t know what they net

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay, out of interest, looked up wages for contract cleaners in USA:

          Median pay for Cleaners in the United States lies in the neighborhood of $10.34 per hour. Compensation ranges between $8.15 per hour and $20.00. Geographic location and career duration each impact pay for this group, with the former having the largest influence.

          A high school diploma or GED is required for a cleaner’s position, and experience working as a cleaner is preferred. Cleaners must be diligent, have attention to detail, and be friendly to other employees in the company.

          I imagine the lower rates depend, as said, on geographic location and after that, people not working for companies get lower rates while contract employers charge higher rates and the business takes its bite out of that before paying the employees’ hourly rates.

          • soru says:

            > the business takes its bite out of that before paying the employees’ hourly rates.

            The numbers here provide a useful counterpoint to Scott’s idea that exploitation is not that significant. It seems like when in comes to wages, the three most important factors are exploitation, exploitation and exploitation.

            But maybe exploitation is an over-dramatic word, too loaded? What it comes down to is negotiating position. If you are poor, you need a job. If you are middle class, you don’t need to set up a cleaning company.

            So you will only do so if it is worth you while to do so, if the returns on capital are greater than that you get from leaving your money in the bank and working for someone else.

            So it’s a positive sum negotiation where one side can walk away and the other can’t. The side with the veto power is going to get 70 to 99% of that positive sum. So cleaning company owners end up as millionaires and cleaners get minimum wage.

            Relevant background:
            https://www.quora.com/Can-I-become-a-millionaire-through-a-Cleaning-Business-and-how

          • The Saddest Marmot says:

            I think the category of cleaners includes a lot of hotel maids and the like, who probably make less than high end home cleaners.

            Fwiw in nyc the independent cleaners people I know have hired charge $15-20/hr while contracting companies are closer to $25-30/hr.

            Worth noting that the $15/hr cleaners generally live within walking distance (and are probably rent controlled / stabilized).

            Although if you’re one of the people paying someone $50k to watch your kids, you probably have more expensive cleaners than a bunch of relatively price conscious 20 something white collar office grunts.

          • Cliff says:

            Soru,

            Why isn’t it supply and demand? Many people can clean houses, few people can run a cleaning business. After all we see high wages in various high-cost places as we would expect and presumably the cleaners there are still poor and “desperate.” Unemployment is low, and most poor people work very little. After tax transfers, only 5% of the U.S. population is under the poverty line. Are poor people really forced to accept the first job offered to them at any price or do many choose to sit at home and collect benefits anyway?

    • Atol says:

      Maids have a large travel cost that is not compensated for. 2-3hrs at a place, with 30m-60m of travel in between places means the real wage is $24-22.5/hr + costs of transportation and supplies vs. $30/hr. I wouldn’t be surprised that 1/3rd of the cost is business cost alone.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Shouldn’t they be able to coordinate cleaning several homes in one area each day?

        I’m not entirely rhetorical here.

        • ConnGator says:

          Yes, my maid cleans four other houses in my neighborhood. I think she has several clusters of houses due to referrals.

    • Deiseach says:

      Is that $30 an hour going directly to a charwoman, or is it going to the sub-contracted cleaning company which very probably is not paying its cleaners $30 an hour? The company is interested in getting the most work out of the least employees, because the basic rule is that labour is a cost. Reducing your costs is necessary to keep a business lean and productive and profitable, and since nowadays we seem to have swapped “pay out profits in dividends and reinvest them as capital” for “bump up the stock market price by showing quarterly growth in profits” to be the metric of success for “what is a good business to invest in? how do we measure a successful business?”, then slashing your costs is the way to go to make yourself attractive to the stock market (and labour is often quoted as being a very large cost not alone with the wages you pay but the associated taxes, benefits and the likes you have to provide for your employees) by doing things like “voluntary redundancies”, “downsizing” and outsourcing, as well as setting up new factories in overseas countries that offer you preferential tax rates and investment carrots (we here in Ireland duelled and lost with Israel over a new pharma plant), and that is what you are going to be doing.

      That, I think, is why there is a lot of anger that Trump can tap into; being told you should be delighted when poor Chinese get the jobs that were major employers in your area isn’t going to help you get a new job, when all the new jobs are in the shiny new citadels of the glittering technological future that are happy to think of you and yours as yesterday’s economy and have no place for you. Outsourcing jobs to countries that do it for less than American wages, then being told “you are too greedy, you deservedly lost your job because you made too many demands, expected too much money” (when the companies doing the outsourcing are not scraping by paying their CEOs less than the going market rate for the job) is adding insult to injury.

      And what happens when local conditions in those overseas countries that got industrialised due to overseas investment by multinationals mean that the poor Chinese now expect better wages and conditions? As with Ireland – where we are heavily dependent on such jobs still – when the big company pulls out to go to countries that are cheaper (like Poland, for one instance) and there is no domestic replacement, you have not “solved international poverty”.

      The unskilled/semi-skilled manual labour jobs such as working on assembly lines aren’t there anymore; they’ve been replaced by automation where they haven’t been outsourced to cheaper labour nations, and the Bright New Future is one where you get work writing code for the robots doing those jobs. As Scott points out, not everyone can code – and we certainly can’t run an economy where every single school child is being told “become a programmer!”

      Right now, those are desirable jobs due to scarcity. But as with the inflation in college degrees (if you want a good job, go to college instead of going down the mine or becoming a trucker like your old man), when every reasonably bright or capable kid has been steered into becoming a coder, the excess of labour will drive down wages and conditions – the same way that “become a lawyer” resulted in a decline in that labour market.

      There isn’t an easy solution. I think I’m somewhere near the vicinity of that south-west corner as well, Scott.

      As for “free school lunches” and that co-operative “let’s lift all the boats” mindset, let me remind you all about Thatcher the Milk Snatcher. To pay for the promises made to the better-off and the wanting to be better-off, the aspirant middle class, the poor always end up taking the hit. Pay for promised tax cuts by cutting school lunches – that’s how it goes.

      • Julie K says:

        The company obviously isn’t paying the cleaners $30/hour since the money they get from clients has to cover transporting the cleaners to the client’s house, supplies, advertising, office workers, etc.
        Nickel and Dimed describes one company in which the hourly wage paid to cleaners is only 1/4 of what the client pays.

      • Maware says:

        You’re generally looking at $10 or less for any kind of maid/service position. Even if it’s $15, in NYC that’s probably an effective wage of $10 or less due to price differentials. This is assuming the business is on the up and up, and not using illegals.

        Service wages across the board are generally horrid, and it’s compounded by service workers almost never being full time due to the cost of benefits.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          For the record, yes: that was $30/hour paid directly to a (independent contracting) cleaner (who did a thoroughly mediocre job, by the way), plus a small fee to the Uber-like marketplace.

    • Psmith says:

      Good link. In addition to what everyone else has said about housing/commuting and Steve’s point about live-in servants, I think it’s at least reasonable to worry that something like the fictional California scenario will be a reality within 20 years or so.

    • Hollyluja says:

      Great link. I noticed it when traveling in Turkey – every desk at every customer service station was staffed. They thew bodies at every service position and it felt like Heaven to this American. Every checkpoint, check-in, taxi, food purchase, etc was crazy fast even with big crowds.

      I don’t remember where I read it, but the theory was that around the early 1900s many middle class English and US families suddenly felt poorer even though objectively richer, due to household staff becoming too expensive to employ.

      ETA that I could get my (smallish) PNW house cleaned for $40 under the table or $75 from a service. I consider that difference the “benefit cliff” tax.

      • suntzuanime says:

        It sounds like maybe they weren’t objectively richer, and the basket of goods used to measure inflation didn’t include enough household servants.

        • Aapje says:

          One of the problems with inflation measurements is that it doesn’t measure being priced out of buying goods, where there are no replacement goods that provide the same value at reasonable cost. People may have had more money to spend on other goods once they could no longer afford servants, but none of those goods may have had anywhere near the same value to. So they could justifiably feel poorer in terms of the value/happiness that their incomes buys.

          • “One of the problems with inflation measurements is that it doesn’t measure being priced out of buying goods”

            There are two standard definitions of the inflation rate, one of which is based on what it costs in year two to buy the goods being bought in year one. That measure does include goods that some or all people are no longer buying in year two because of the higher price.

          • Aapje says:

            @David,

            The problem with that is that household servants gradually became more expensive and they were gradually abandoned. So such a yearly view would show some inflation, but every following year would ‘weigh’ the impact of that servant cost inflation less, as less and less money was spend on servants in total.

            If you would do a single inflation measurement with a huge gap, year 1800-2000, you would find a much bigger inflation rate caused by servants than if you add up all the rates of the separate years. The 1800-2000 measurement ‘locks’ the level of servant use at the level of the year 1800, while the rates for the separate years readjust every year.

          • @Aapje:

            Have you thought about which definition of inflation is correct–accurately measures how much money you need in year N+1 to be as well off as you were with a given income in year N? There is a reason why the year to year method, not the century to century method, is used.

          • Aapje says:

            Neither choice is ‘correct’ per se. The entire method is a simplistic model which highlight some parts of the truth and obscure other parts.

            The fact that an arbitrary choice, like the period over which one calculates, can drastically change the results, simply illustrates the limitations (in this case, the consequence of re-setting the baseline).

        • Corey says:

          Supposedly Emily Dickinson once said that she never thought she’d be rich enough to have a car, nor poor enough to not have servants.

          • Deiseach says:

            Bravo for this perfect example of “any old crap can be attributed to someone whose name is slapped onto the end and people reading it on the Internet will believe it”. (The following is not meant to be a personal criticism of Corey or a reflection on their character, intellect or taste, merely an annoyed observation of this old person).

            Emily Dickinson died in 1886. First patent for automobile granted to Karl Benz in Germany in 1886. (For comparison, Henry Ford didn’t start up his first automobile production company until 1901). Technically possible, I suppose, that in the last months of her life she may have said something about a car, but this simply demonstrates Chesterton’s point about the impossible versus the improbable: it’s not impossible for Dickinson to have said this, but it’s sure as hell highly improbable and so I’m calling it bollocks.

            I really am seriously becoming concerned over this phenomena; I see quotes every day attributed to people which sound completely unlike what that person would say based on their published work and opinions/beliefs, but merely stick a Vaguely Famous Name on the end and most people seem to swallow it uncritically as really truly said by that person and share it around online, without even “hey hold on: is that chronologically possible? did X live when Y was invented?”

            “Never believe unquestioningly everything you read on the Internet – Nero, Emperor of Rome”

            EDIT: The remark may indeed have been said by someone, I’m not denying that, but it very likely was not said by Emily Dickinson. Googling it I see it attributed to Agatha Christie, which is much more plausible, but unless I see a source document I’ll put it down to that most prolific of wordsmiths, “Anonymous”.

      • Julie K says:

        Servants became less necessary thanks to modern conveniences like washing machines.

    • Nicholas says:

      I think this has to do with the fact that a two bedroom apartment in the cheapest neighborhood in Seattle is still $2000 a month. The minimum cost of living is extremely high there, and there’s little point in taking a job, no matter how desperate you are, if your checks are still going to bounce because you can’t get an apartment that costs less than $500 dollars per person living in it, while also having to pay transportation costs, grocery bills and utilities.

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      Is that for an independent maid, or is it for a cleaning company that’s going to charge 30 but pay 15?

      Though it might be the same either way, charge 30 yourself, only get 2 or 3 hours a day, work for a service, get paid 15, but get 6-8 hours a day.

  4. c0rw1n says:

    Biology is mutable. And I’m a little confident that a lot of Culture would follow.

    • anonymous poster says:

      Unfortunately at our current technology level, the only biological solution to large numbers of perpetually unemployable people is sterilization.

      • Deiseach says:

        Why stop there, anonymous? 40 and 50 year olds that have been laid off, have no realistic chance of getting an equivalent job or perhaps any job at all, and that have another twenty to thirty years of life left in them leeching off the state’s welfare programmes – why not introduce humane voluntary euthanasia/”if you rationally decide to commit suicide, we will accommodate your wishes by making it easy and providing painless methods” to deal with the masses of useless and non-productive non-labour?

        • Anonymous says:

          We should offer them to have their brains frozen.

          Such act of benevolence might be so great as to justify coercion. Think about it, we would be saving their lives.

        • anonymous poster says:

          Way to muddy the waters by suggesting something I do actually agree with.

        • Anon says:

          You could incentivize this with a lottery. Take all the money you would spend on 100 such people, and offer 10% of it to the one person given a dud injection. Make it a quantum random number generator and everyone wins. Though this would select against Everttians.

      • c0rw1n says:

        Sterilization wouldn’t help much. Gene edition, on the other hand, would, and edits are heritable.

        • anonymous poster says:

          I said at our current technology level.

          • Anonymous says:

            Actually the technology is there. Well, the actual editing bit is. Effective systemic delivery in an appropriate size organism and subsequent safety refinements yet to be worked out (so, like, most of it I guess).

            MCR (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/348/6233/442) and a Cas9-deaminase based technique (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v533/n7603/full/nature17946.html) are your first steps (the Liu group paper actually scooped some of my work, super annoying but they are better at science so oh well).

            Of course, when we’re talking about neurological-associated edits, you start to run into the issue that you can’t really get the Brain to go through the whole mass growth, wiring and pruning process that it does from birth to ~age 20-23. So a lot of stuff you might want to do is out of reach if it involves anything on the gross morphological side.

            None of this invalidates your point in any way but hey, I think we’re closer than a lot realise.

    • Dahlen says:

      Biology is mutable.

      That’s… a more optimistic (and still literally true) viewpoint than I’ve seen from most people (mostly the kind of edgelords who take pride in having very pessimistic and morally appalling worldviews). Doubly so when I found out you didn’t mean eugenics, like half of the comments on this post.

      • Anonymous says:

        We have the barest experimental ability to change our biology, and no practical way, as yet, to do it at any kind of scale – unless one means eugenics, of course. Those we can, did, and do use all the time.

  5. Anonymous says:

    During a recent unprogrammed worship, an attendee testified twice.

    They first testified that “there is that of us in G*d”. Then quite a while later, they shared their joy that this day was their [NN]->th birthday — marking their first adult birthday in which more than half of their life had been spent out of prison.

    And this was no young attendee.

    For various reasons, the number of communities welcoming sharings like this, has diminished sharply in recent decades. It’s no accident — is it? … because there are no accidents! — that David Foster Wallace (among others) attended Mennonite services, perhaps with a view to personally helping to reverse this trend.

    And perhaps David attended, too, because he himself needed to be heard, in a setting more mutually empathic, and therefore less controlled, than his writings permitted, and his social standing encouraged?

    • Steve Sailer says:

      I’m no expert on DFW, but I pick up a lot of Closet Conservative vibes.

    • Michael Watts says:

      Then quite a while later, they shared their joy that this day was their [NN]->th birthday — marking their first adult birthday in which more than half of their life had been spent out of prison.

      I find it kind of hard to believe that, at 20 years old, they had already spent over ten years in prison?

      • Anonymous says:

        Probably means adult life.

      • Nicholas says:

        This is a possibility, because it seems probable to me that if you had been prison for ten years by age 20, you would probably be quite old before more than half of your life was out of prison.
        I had assumed he meant his first adult birthday since he got out of prison, and that he had been in prison when he turned 18.

      • Corey says:

        To be fair, I haven’t read the link, but if it’s a conversion story, those always exaggerate how “bad” the person was before seeing the light.

        Remember Ben Carson having to defend against accusations he didn’t stab a guy? That’s related. The stabbing/belt-buckle story was part of his conversion “testimony”, and the secular media called bullshit, without realizing that was equivalent to saying “the Grand Canyon was not actually dug by Paul Bunyan lassoing a tornado”.

        • “without realizing that was equivalent to saying “the Grand Canyon was not actually dug by Paul Bunyan lassoing a tornado”.”

          Of course it wasn’t.

          It was the result of someone attaching Babe the blue ox to a plow.

    • Anonymous says:

      The above empathy-free/snark-heavy/ultra-rational responses contrast sharply with the moral tenets and social practices of anabaptism/Spinozism and their modern descendants.

      It makes a person wonder whether rationalists too are included among the “unnecessariat”?

      Embracing and extending Anne Amnesia’s essay “Unnecessariat” (of the original post) yields: “Nobody has an economic plan for us [rationalists]. There is no economic plan for us, ever. We keep driving trucks around [writing blog-comments] and keep the margins above gas money and maybe take an odd [freelance coding] job here or there, but essentially, we [rationalists] are history and nobody seems to mind saying so.”

      So what are the appropriate rationalist expressions of unnecessarian grief and rage?

      Do movements like the Sad/Rabid Puppies reflecting the growing Trumpian rage of a rationalist unnecessariat?

      Is “unnecessarian rationalist grief and rage” becoming a thing?

      • So what are the appropriate rationalist expressions of unnecessarian grief and rage?

        Wring out those last few drops of economic vitality, strip your lifestyle to the bone, move to someplace cheap (in terms of both low total costs, high benefits from social services, friends, and community), and shepherd those few drops into careful investments.

        Buy boots, in the Vimesian sense. Ruthlessly strip out of your life things which will bring cost-spirals. Grow your skills, so that when changing economic winds spill a brief shower of economic vitality, you can capture as much of it as possible.

        Eventually reach the point where the point where you can pay for your own abbreviated lifestyle on the strength of your investments alone.

        Retire.

        • Anonymous says:

          Robert Liguori, that is a very nice comment.

          Yet a Ferengi might skeptically ask, whence does the hoped-for/planned-for “strength of investments” originate?

          After all, human history provides no shortage of sobering examples in which putatively “strong” investments of various forms — moral, social, monetary, and capitalist — proved sadly insufficient to support hoped-for/planned-for peaceful, rationalistic, disengaged retirements.

          For which reason, perhaps social and empathic disengagement is (in the long run) not a viably rational option?

          And this is true in Discworld too! 🙂

          • Investments are manyfold. Strong community ties are investments. Education is an investment. An emergency fund of portable wealth is an investment.

            It Probably Won’t Happen Here, But It Might; part of preparing for the future when you’re someone that the people around you don’t find nice or useful to have around is preparing to not be around.

            But you don’t want to overprepare; here in 21st-century America, putting the vast bulk of your investment efforts into low-cost index funds seems to work pretty well.

            (I am not an investment professional, a historian, or a sociologist.)

        • Hollyluja says:

          Robert Liguori – I have nothing substantive to add, but yours is a great comment and a frequent daydream of mine.

          • Anonymous says:

            For me, Robert’s fine comment sounded similar notes to Peter Beagle’s celebrated preface to Lord of the Rings

            Lovers of Middle Earth want to go there.
            I would myself, like a shot.

            This was written in 1973, before LOTR even became an acronym. 🙂

            Nowadays we can only pity the hobbit community’s irrational disdain for efficient market economics, and the Shire’s concomitant poverty-level GHP (gross Hobbit product).

            The contrast between the somnolent Shire and the vigorously innovative, technology-driven, rationally incentivized economies of Isengard and Mordor is striking, to say the least. There are no “unnecessarians” in Isengard or Morder (living ones, anyway).

          • Anonymous says:

            Psmith, the link you provide to The Last Ringbearer is fascinating.

            In a similar vein, perhaps some (many?) SSC readers will enjoy the in-depth analysis provided by “Audio commentary by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, recorded summer 2002 for The Fellowship Of The Ring.”

            The Zinn/Chomsky review has two parts; both are worth hearing.

          • Thanks!

            As people may have inferred, financial improvement is a passion of mine. I strongly encourage everyone reading to go set up an account on Mint or another financial tracker, fire up Excel, and take a good look at how they are spending their money; I firmly believe that for most people, it doesn’t have to be just a daydream.

      • Anonymous says:

        There is no appropriate rationalist response to unecessarian grief and rage because it is un-rationalist to be uncessarian.

        This sort of “watch out you’re vulnerable too” stuff has a lot of surface appeal, but it isn’t terribly accurate. Freelance coding is quite lucrative and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. There’s no need to become pre-depressed, if the automation apocalypse actually happens then we can worry about it.

        • Psmith says:

          There’s no need to become pre-depressed, if the automation apocalypse actually happens then we can worry about it.

          Is this also what you think about UFAI, or…?

      • Walter says:

        *Blink*

        I don’t associate rationalists with “broke”. We’d be crummy rationalists if we couldn’t make money, which anybody can do even without overcoming their biases. We are mostly wealthy, yeah?

        • Anonymous says:

          You are poor? Then self-evidently, sir or madam, you are no true rationalist!

          • Walter says:

            Well…yeah? Like, if we are all bragging about being great chess players and I suck you should point out, at some point, that maybe I should change my self designation.

            Eliezar Yudkowski had a post about this somewhere on Lesswrong, where he was like “Rationalists should win”. And he posited a sort of respect threshold, where you can’t really be more awesome for being a rationalist than you are for successfully using your rationality. It’s like skinny cooks or broke investment gurus, barbers with rubbish hair, etc.

            “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” is a fair cap.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yudkowsky is wrong about a lot of stuff. One of the biggest problems with his work is his conflation of epistemic rationality with instrumental rationality. Epistemic rationalists should make correct predictions; it’s only instrumental rationalists who should win, and nobody likes them.

            It’s also a mistake to conflate “rationality skills” with “smart” and to conflate “being interested in learning chess” with “bragging about being a great chess player”.

          • Psmith says:

            If your criterion for rationalism excludes a substantial minority of the people in the community and includes people who have never heard of it and wouldn’t much like it if they had, it’s probably a bad criterion. Are Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope “rationalists”?
            (In any case, you can call yourself a golfer or say that you play golf even if you’re pretty bad at it. For instance.).

          • Walter says:

            @suntzuanime

            But making correct conclusions, and still being broke, is weird to me. Like, you’d kind of have to be trying. Predict what will make you the most cash. Do that. Now you’ve got money.

            I mean, one of the main obsessions of the rationalist community is what kind of charity is best. If we don’t have any money, why are we bothering with that? People on fire don’t become fire fighters.

            Maybe I’m just confused about the epistolic/instrumental rationalists. Aren’t we all instrumental? Like, why bother getting smarter if we don’t put it to use?

            This may actually explain a thing I’ve never grokked. There was a post on LW that was like “buy bitcoin”. So I researched it, made sense to me posted “ok”, and did so. I made a killing, and later on posted “thanks”.

            The thing that shocked me was the total silence on the thread. I figured maybe there was an norm against acknowledging that stuff. But maybe people just aren’t instrumental rationalists, and they saw the post, agreed that buying bitcoin made sense, and didn’t do it?

            @PSmith:

            There are definitely posers, but that’s all communities, yeah? Like, if we were a jazz musicians club you’d sort of know who couldn’t actually play. They could still call themselves jazz musicians, but their appearance is just the consequence of getting a bunch of jazz players together. I mean, no one’s gonna call you out, but if you attend a LW meetup and someone is underwater on debt you know he isn’t practicing what he’s preaching, yeah?

            Honest question here: Real rationalists win, right? So if you are a loser, you aren’t a real rationalist. Isn’t that a thing that we believe? Am I out of step with the community on this? That would be super mortifying.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Why bother with anything? Eventually you have to decide what you want, and what I want is not to believe stupid bullshit.

            IIRC the median annual donation of an EA type is $0. Yeah, it seems weird to me too. Anyway I think there’s a worthwhile distinction to be made between the rationalist community and the EA community. Rationalism may correlate with EA, polyamory, and far-right antidemocratic politics, but it shouldn’t be conflated with any of them.

            IIRC Yudkowsky’s posts on how losers should not get to call themselves rationalists were not well-received by the community at the time; I think you may be out of step with the community. We are, after all, not a cult, and most of us disagree with Yudkowsky in at least some places.

          • Jiro says:

            There was a post on LW that was like “buy bitcoin”. So I researched it, made sense to me posted “ok”, and did so. I made a killing, and later on posted “thanks”.

            Epistemic learned helplessness.

            It is entirely sensible for people to say “sounds like a good idea, I can’t see any flaw in it” and then not follow the idea. Especially where money or other significant expenses are involved.

          • youzicha says:

            @suntzuanime Mandatory Secret Identities didn’t say that losers can’t call themselves rationalists, it says they can’t call themselves rationalism instructors. That sounds like a pretty sound precaution to me, although you’re right that most people in the comments disagreed.

          • Acedia says:

            “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” is a fair cap.

            Sometimes the answer is because they don’t value riches. I’m not one of these but they really exist, I’ve met them.

          • Mmm. I don’t know too many people who don’t value anything in the set of things you can easily get with money and can’t easily get without it.

            Having 20 times your minimum necessary income in the bank (or, to be more precise, invested in a diversified index fund) is such an incredible quality-of-life improvement that I can’t imagine not wanting it.

            It puts you in the position mentioned earlier of being able to support your community rather than work for a wage.

            It lets you pursue hobbies, travel, see the world.

            It insulates you against a catastrophe like a car crash or a lesser medical expense.

            It lets you not have to stress or worry about day-to-day purchases.

            And, if you have children, it gives you the option of joining the great Signaling Olympics to level up their socioeconomic class.

            It’s not a panacea, and there are definitely some people with needs and reasons to have more, but I have trouble genuinely imagining people who want less.

          • Anonymous says:

            Its not about not wanting it, its about having different priorities. Some people just want to start living as early as possible and take advantage of youth instead of doing the hard work to get money.

          • eh says:

            The sequences are pretty thorough regarding akrasia. I don’t think Eliezer is completely rational, nor anyone else, as demonstrated by the struggle to become less biased, more rational, and to win more.

            Consider the case of a meth addict who decided to become a rationalist: there’s a lot of distance between “not smoking meth will make me more productive” and actually following through. For the addict, winning might be as simple as gradually increasing the time between use after careful study of medical literature on successful quitters, and even if the addict is dirt poor we can still say that they acted rationally. Similarly, if you go to a casino, repeatedly put your life saving on red despite a negative expected return, and come out a millionaire, then despite now being rich you haven’t acted rationally.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “But making correct conclusions, and still being broke, is weird to me. ”

            Well, there is this thing called autism…

          • Aapje says:

            @Robert Liguori

            I don’t know too many people who don’t value anything in the set of things you can easily get with money and can’t easily get without it.

            That is the wrong question. The question is: do you value the things you can easily get with money over the effort to acquire it? Most predictions actually still require quite a bit of effort to turn into money. For example, let’s say that I predict that in the next few years, technology will allow for useful robot companions for lonely people and that this will take off. There still needs to be someone to actually build these robots. If I’m the only one who believes this with enough conviction, I can only make money by making them myself or paying someone to make them (both are risky and a huge effort). Even if companies exist that do this and I invest in one of them, that company can fail at the same time that another company succeeds. So then I would be proven right and still lose my money.

            Even if everything works out, there would still be a period where I’m smart and yet not yet rich, as these things take time.

            Having 20 times your minimum necessary income in the bank (or, to be more precise, invested in a diversified index fund) is such an incredible quality-of-life improvement that I can’t imagine not wanting it.

            20 times is not sufficient for me to safely cover the period to my death, especially given my prediction that retirement funds will collapse due to mismanagement and demographic factors (and retiring early will mean that my retirement fund will be insufficient anyway). If I quit my job with such a small buffer, I run a great risk of running out of money at the exact moment that employers no longer want me.

            It lets you pursue hobbies, travel, see the world.

            I can already afford the hobbies that I have and have no particular desire for more expensive ones. I don’t really like to travel (and traveling a lot generally results in a huge carbon footprint, which harms others and is thus morally wrong in my eyes).

            It insulates you against a catastrophe like a car crash or a lesser medical expense.

            You don’t have to be rich for that, just not poor (and well insured).

            It lets you not have to stress or worry about day-to-day purchases.

            Again, nothing do to with being rich, just with being not poor.

            And, if you have children, it gives you the option of joining the great Signaling Olympics to level up their socioeconomic class.

            If I had them, I would want them to experience some deprivation (as in: not getting everything they want), as I believe that spoiled children become less happy later in life.

            It’s not a panacea, and there are definitely some people with needs and reasons to have more, but I have trouble genuinely imagining people who want less.

            It’s not about wanting less, but not wanting more or willing to accept less in return for some other benefit.

            Imagine a person who is at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At a certain point, no amount of money will make a person more happy. In fact, I would expect a truly smart person to understand that money can’t buy happiness and thus that once the basic needs are fulfilled, finding happiness is primarily a mental exercise, not a matter of buying more things.

          • Psmith says:

            once the basic needs are fulfilled, finding happiness is primarily a mental exercise

            Security is a basic need, for some of us. Liquori is talking about saving and investing, not buying a boat.

          • Aapje says:

            @Psmith

            But there can never be perfect security. If you have 1 million, you may face a situation where that is not enough. If you have 1 billion, it may still not be enough. If you have all the wealth in the world, you may still be unable to get security (huge asteroid is going to hit the earth, no time to create a viable colony with the resources that earth has).

            So at one point you simply have to accept a certain level of security.

            IMO, most people who are unhappy with the security provided by having 100k in the bank won’t feel happy with 1M in the bank, or 1 billion, or 100 billion. They are just chronically insecure. In contrast, the people who are happy with the security of having 100k in the bank won’t feel any happier for having 1M, or 1 billion.

            Basically, I just fundamentally disagree that happiness is an ever increasing function, where if having a certain amount of X makes a person happy at level Y, more X will automatically make that person more happy than Y. It may still be Y or even less than Y, if there are downsides of having more X and very little ‘real’ upside.

          • Creutzer says:

            @Aapje: I’m sure there are diminishing returns, but I don’t think they kick in nearly so soon. With 100k, you can live for a few years without working. With 1 million, you don’t ever have to work again if you live modestly. That makes a huge difference.

          • Yes. 20x your yearly income means that if you can get 4% yearly returns post-tax (which you have historically been able to do very easily) you can withdraw your salary from your returns forever.

            This is pending that the economy remains in roughly in its current status, but anything big enough to wreck retirement accounts (which are heavily index funds, meaning they’re basically the entire stock market) will be a invest-in-canned-food-and-bullets scenario.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Robert

            Yes. 20x your yearly income means that if you can get 4% yearly returns post-tax (which you have historically been able to do very easily) you can withdraw your salary from your returns forever.

            This is pending that the economy remains in roughly in its current status, but anything big enough to wreck retirement accounts (which are heavily index funds, meaning they’re basically the entire stock market) will be a invest-in-canned-food-and-bullets scenario.

            This is basically my thinking, too. I’m about halfway there to the earliest point at which retiring is conceivable. Now if only I can stomach working for 2-3 more years…

          • Anonymous says:

            Is that 4% at the time of annutization or is there an escalator for inflation? Either way I think you are overselling the safety, but dramatically so in the latter case.

          • Anonymous says:

            Either way I think you are overselling the safety, but dramatically so in the latter case.

            I think he isn’t, really, provided you properly diversify – and don’t do stupid shit like invest in a country which is long-term likely to fuck itself up economically.

          • Anonymous says:

            Easier said then done. Do you have some timestamped proof that you called Japan correctly circa in the 1984?

          • Anonymous says:

            I wasn’t even *alive* back then.

            And that’s not the point. Shit happens, of course – the Japanese scenario, should you have invested in the Nikkei index directly, rather than some subselect of companies, hardly leaves you destitute. Sure, it cuts you down to 40-50% of your top asset value, but that’s still a lot of money that you can do stuff with, 8-10 yearly incomes. Unless you achieved your rentierhood right at the peak of the bubble, you’re probably going to be okay, albeit with a substantial cut in income.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          I associate rationalist with ‘has plenty of time to post in rationalist forums’.

          • Psmith says:

            Just so. “Rationalist” as a common noun is more or less meaningless. “Rationalist” as a proper noun (not capitalized) refers to people who post here, used to post on LessWrong, are nodes in various graphs of tumblr connections, and so on. (Or Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza as opposed to the British Empiricists, but that’s a different meaning yet.).

          • Anonymous says:

            The New York Review of Books recently asserted (if memory serves) “The strongest predictor of a high score on an IQ test is the strength of the desire to achieve a high IQ test-score.”

            Which if one considers it rationally, makes perfect sense.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            I’m aware of the capital R meaning of rationalist, I just hate it..

            I actually meant somthng snarkier by my comment. Like the way the internet s full of objectivists wh ave plenty of time to lpage online because they are not exactly John Galt IRL. No, it doesn’t reflect well on me either.

        • Corey says:

          The LW crowd, when I tried to be a part of it in the mid-late 00s, skewed heavily towards college-age folks, who skew broke. How the LW crowd might have changed, or how generalized rationalists and/or the SSC commentariat differ from the LW crowd, I don’t know.

        • RCF says:

          My understanding of “Rationalist should win” is that rationalists should take the course of action with the highest expected utility among the choices available to them. Thus, a rationalist should, modulo some randomness, be doing better than a nonrationalist who was given the same choices. It does NOT mean a rationalist should do better than everyone, and it does NOT mean that if you aren’t doing as well as someone who was given different choices, you aren’t a “real” rationalist. If a lion attacks me and I lose, it would be quite ridiculous to say “Well, if you’re such a rationalist, why didn’t you find a way to win?”

          I’ve reported your post as I find it wrong and extremely unkind.

    • Psmith says:

      Welcome back, Dr. Sidles.

  6. Thursday says:

    inequality and immiseration are the very purpose of capitalism

    One of the major problems is that, due to luck, genetic and otherwise, some people just aren’t capable of ever being very productive. Some chunk of these might have made decent enough foragers or subsistence agriculturalists of some sort, so I guess capitalism is to blame for their plight in the sense of not having any useful stuff for them to do. But it hardly seems fair to blame capitalism for in some sense depending on those people being destitute. Capitalism and its supporters would prefer for them to be productive, but they’re not going to be terribly productive under any possible economic system.

    • The one sense in which capitalism is to blame is by raising expectations. The people who are productive under capitalism, most people, live at a standard far above what foragers or subsistence agriculturalists lived at. A basic income that was really equivalent to the latter would be doably small–a thousand dollars a year or so(The link goes to a blog post in which I offer some relevant calculations). But that’s more than an order of magnitude below what either payers or recipients would seriously consider.

      • Thursday says:

        All doubtless true, but I’d still rather be a tribal forager than a homeless dude in an American city, or even some of the other inner city poor.

        Foraging has a lot of non-material benefits. Scott has had similar thoughts here.

        • Swami says:

          I too would much rather be a forager, even with their double digit death from violence and fifty percent child mortality.

          However, foraging can only support tens of millions of people globally (there were less foragers in 10,000 BC globally than current residents of Tennessee.). So the full alternative is 7 billion of us agreeing to die so one tenth of one percent of us could be a thriving forager with a shirt life span and lots of future dead kids.

          That path is gone, and when fully considered, was never really all that good either.

          • Michael Vassar says:

            There were half a million people living in Hawaii when the Europeans arrived and two million in New Guinean. A hundred million ‘tribals’ live in India today. Forager propulsive could easily have been hundreds of millions and with some compatible modern tech, could probably support today’s population.

          • Nicholas says:

            That’s because the indigenous Hawaiians weren’t foragers. They had a complex system of irrigation and fish-farming.

          • NN says:

            Also, agriculture has existed in Papua New Guinea for more than 7,000 years and lots of India’s “tribals” practice slash-and-burn agriculture, so describing either of them as “foragers” is extremely inaccurate.

            There’s simply no disputing that forager lifestyles cannot support large human populations. Attempts to estimate the number of humans that have ever been born generally end up calculating the number of people born between 50,000 BC and 8,000 BC as less than 1% of the total number.

          • Michael Vassar says:

            To clarify, I am disputing the claim about forager lifestyles. Look at the size of herds, or the carrying capacity of pigs, baboons, or other organisms in similar niches to humans.

            I’m also disputing the existence of some ideal form of ‘foragers’. I don’t think the idea makes any sense. There are surely occasional cultures who in some sense don’t know about agriculture, there are Roma cultures which deny knowing about human reproduction even, but if you have lived in the tropics at all, it’s obvious that the divide between agriculture and foraging is much less sharp between that between plow and hoe based agriculture, http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/12/men-at-work-hoes-ploughs-and-steel/#.V0c2r7RViko

            I simply don’t believe that a scientific community that didn’t know that the people of New Guinea existed seventy years ago are likely to know with any confidence that the people there were *not* farming when they got there.

          • “there are Roma cultures which deny knowing about human reproduction even”

            Only one such culture (the Kaale in Finland). And it’s pretty obvious that they in fact do know about it, given the existence of customs for dealing with it while pretending not to.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Given that, as Swami points out, foragers have “double digit death from violence and fifty percent child mortality”, as well as nearly total absence of modern medical care, is there any significant difference ?

          Furthermore, if I was picking a society to be randomly born into, and I had a choice between our current society (where a minority of people are poor) and a hunter-gatherer society (where there’s no money, but everyone’s quality of life is poor), I’d still pick our current society every time.

          • Thursday says:

            Read the link I provided.

          • Bugmaster says:

            I’ve read the link, but IMO it doesn’t directly apply to my scenario. I am not picking between the life of a Comanche Indian and a the life of Pilgrim; I’m picking between 100% chance of living the life of a Comanche Indian, vs. something like a 20% chance of living the life of a modern poor person and a 80% chance of living the life of a modern middle-class person.

            The modern middle-class person has — just off the top of my head — a life expectancy of about 80 years, technologically-mediated resilience against many deadly and debilitating diseases, ability to travel hundreds of miles in a few hours, and access to a worldwide network of instant communication, entertainment and knowledge. Yes, there are costs, and they can be steep, but IMO these benefits are worth the cost (even at an 80% discount).

          • Thursday says:

            I was responding to this part of your comment:

            Given that, as Swami points out, foragers have “double digit death from violence and fifty percent child mortality”, as well as nearly total absence of modern medical care, is there any significant difference ?

            Yes, there is a significant difference, and living as a tribal forager is much preferable to life as a modern homeless person or member of the urban poor.

          • Jill says:

            Nobody really knows what society they would pick if they had full knowledge of both. But I think I’d pick the hunter gatherer. Books such as Sapiens; A Brief History of Humankind, made it sound pretty good back there at that time.

        • vjl110 says:

          This is probably true… but what you really do not want to be is among the similar bottom percentile of tribal foragers, particularly if you are afflicted with the same psychological issues that often accompany US homelessness.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ vjl11g

            US homeless (especially with psyc issues) who must live in cities for food and clothing they can scavenge, shelter by porches or under scavenged building materials, sometimes on heat from vents — may be constantly harassed by police and others.

            In a community so primitive that it doesn’t have those things either, people don’t lose as much by going far away from other people. Though they have to watch out for bears, and possibly cannibals.

          • Jill says:

            Poor people with low levels of most skills are likely even less than the rest of us to possess the skills necessary to survive in the wilderness. Who is going to train them in those skills?

            Have you met poor people who you think have the ability to survive in the wilderness?

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Jill

            Sorry my wording was unclear. We had been talking about US/modern urban homelessness vs wilderness hunter/forager life (mostly speculation about pre-historic conditions).

            I thought my “In a community so primitive” would clearly refer to the wilderness/pre-historic situation.

          • Jill says:

            Sorry, Houseboat. Sometimes there are so many posts that it’s hard to keep track of what the initial discussion topic was on a thread.

            I actually do think living in the wilderness might be good for certain homeless people though, if only someone would train them.

            Sometimes I think about things like this. Sometimes energetic volunteers do help poor people to learn skills, get education, find new ways to make money or survive. But that’s usually in other countries. In the U.S. people don’t do that as much, maybe because of particular problems in doing that here, as opposed to in other places with cultures more ready to accept it.

            We do have an issue in the U.S. with that sort of thing. Helping the poor seems to have a lot of political and public relations pitfalls and obstacles. I notice in my reading about this, that the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill Gates Foundation etc. do most of their work in other countries, probably to avoid those obstacles.

          • ” I notice in my reading about this, that the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill Gates Foundation etc. do most of their work in other countries, probably to avoid those obstacles.”

            Or because the poor in those countries are much poorer than the poor in America.

      • Julie K says:

        A family that tried to live at such a standard would probably have authorities coming to remove their children from their custody.

      • Brian Slesinsky says:

        Hmm, I’m not really getting it. It seems to me that basic income could start out at any amount. It may not pay the rent, but on the margin, a lot of people would find an extra $100 a month useful.

        • Sivaas says:

          The problem is the only way you’ll get funding for a basic income (with any sort of political backing) is to remove existing benefits. It’s not going to be an extra $100 a month, it’s going to be $100 (or whatever amount) in exchange for things you previously got.

          The hope is that 1. the ease of just giving a flat sum to anyone cuts out inefficiencies in distribution to free up more benefit going to the people, 2. by providing it to everyone we don’t distort the market as much as existing systems, and/or 3. cash in hand to everyone is more utility than intangible benefits like health care to a subset of people (as Scott mentioned upthread, many of the people he deals with don’t really seem like they’re getting money from the government)

          • TD says:

            The other important factor here is that a basic income will only really become necessary when technological unemployment becomes a major factor, and the same process of automation that causes that will make goods cheaper to produce and presumably less pricey. By the time the basic income becomes necessary, the amount you can get from it will probably go a lot further.

          • Wrong Species says:

            If basic income proponents are waiting until tech unemployment hits, they are going to be waiting a while. It’s not happening anytime soon.

      • Psmith says:

        Homesteading as such isn’t allowed anymore. I like the idea a lot, but I’m not sure how well it scales on a population level. Especially outside of North America.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Capitalism is more than one thing. The kind of people who identify as pro capitalism generally generally favour a version of capitalism with lower taxes and less welfare, a purer verssion with less of he stuff that ameliorates it, a version which adds to the misery of those whom capitalism has no use for, all other things being equal.

        Exonerating capitalism, the abstraction, doesn’t exonerate its admirers.

    • Randy M says:

      Indeed. I suppose it is another aspect of Moloch that technological progress, which is good for man by enabling providence of goods more efficiently, at the same time makes man obsolete, percentile of the IQ bell curve at a time.

      I have a feeling that at one time people unable to operate in society could at least go off into the frontier and attempt to make something of themselves in an environment they are better evolved for (no slight on them, as technology is moving faster than biology). But I don’t think this is historically true, as part of what allowed humans to thrive in the wild was social connections and being able to share the advantages of intelligence with the tribe. People moved to cities during hard times.

    • Deiseach says:

      But it hardly seems fair to blame capitalism for in some sense depending on those people being destitute.

      Capitalism is a human-made system, not some immutable law of the universe like the laws of physics. Blaming the stars (sorry you chose to be born with shitty genes or in an area of the country that was going to buckle under economic pressures! Boy, the way luck works is so mysterious and unamenable to us doing anything to affect it, isn’t it?) is no more reasonable for “why do we have a system that depends on inequality, else it will not work” than blaming black people for choosing to be born with excess melanin and suffering the consequences of such because it’s not society’s fault you people cannot be acceptable by our standards.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Capitalism may be human made but that doesn’t mean it can be fully controlled. Look at the existence of black markets when governments try to ban capitalism.

      • Thursday says:

        Capitalism does not benefit from people being incapable. The system would do better if these unproductive people could be made productive.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Is that a version of captalism where full employment doesnt lead to wage rises and inflation, or a realistic version?

          • Thursday says:

            Nice non sequitur.

          • “Is that a version of captalism where full employment doesnt lead to wage rises and inflation, or a realistic version?”

            Increased productivity under capitalism leads to wage rises, but not to inflation. There were long stretches of the 19th century in the U.S. and U.K. with negligible inflation but rising wages.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Increased wages has to lead to inflation if there is any scarcity of resources, doesn’t it?

            Perhaps in some hypothetical world where monetary supply and population are perfectly fixed, then productivity gains can’t be made real if there is scarcity. More productive widget manufacture just leads to fewer hours being worked in widget manufacturing or more hours being worked to produce raw widget material.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            Increased wages has to lead to inflation if there is any scarcity of resources, doesn’t it?

            The mistake is “any” scarcity. Increased production is still scarcity, it’s just not as much scarcity. I would assume that wage rises without inflation tend to occur during economic growth, where part of the growth goes to the workers. Who themselves are consumers, and therefor their economic well-being is an integral part of paying for all that new stuff that’s being made.

      • Chalid says:

        Even a post post post singularity integrated array of matrioshka brains is/are going to run internal markets for decision making,

        Could you explain this?

        • pneumatik says:

          Investing limited resources based on expected future events is best way anyone has found to measure people’s actual beliefs about the future. If those people are competing to buy limited assets with prices that respond naturally to demand, then they will collectively provide the best available estimate of the actual value of those assets. (I’m enormously simplifying; there’s lots of way to make markets not work like this)

          Variations on this idea have been almost universally successful at revealing people’s preferences. Assuming that super super super intelligent beings can’t find anything better (and I don’t mean to suggest that they can) then they’ll use a similar approach to determine what the group thinks is the thing for the group to do.

        • Chalid says:

          Right, but Mark Atwood seems very very sure that beings with brains the size of Jupiter won’t be able to come up with anything better, and I am not aware of any reason to be so sure. He alludes to information theory to support this belief, implying that there is some sort of mathematical argument that can be made.

          And now that I look at his post again, demand curves being true for “about the same reason” as the laws of thermodynamics cries out for explanation too.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Demand curves will always exist, because resources will always be “scarce” in the economic sense (ie: they will not be unlimited). As long as different things are different (which will be true until the heat-death of the universe) and come in finite quantities, their relative value will vary depending on the circumstances, and will be adjudicated via some kind of market. Even communism runs markets; they just trade in political power instead of efficient resource use.

          Laws of Computability tell us there are a lot of limits on what we can actually know for sure. If P != NP, as we strongly suspect, then there is a whole class of problems where we cannot find the best solution efficiently (ie: before the heat death of the universe) and so will have to settle for heuristics and approximations instead. Again, judgement calls, tradeoffs, and markets. And there are some problems which cannot be computed at all. Even the post-singularity AI will not be all-knowing and all-seeing.

      • Jill says:

        “Things like demand curves are as immutable and bedrock true as the laws of thermodynamics, and for about the same reason.”

        Just because one believes one’s ideology to be as immutable as the laws of physics, doesn’t mean it is. It’s just another religion that makes perfect sense to its believers, but not to others.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Demand curves show the relation between price and quantity demanded. While it isn’t the same as thermodynamics (Giffen goods), I’m having difficulty imaging a situation where a decrease in price causes the volume sold to decline.

        • Nornagest says:

          You know, conservative commentators accuse their political opponents all the time of denouncing supply and demand as mere opinion. And I guess this isn’t the first time I’ve seen an argument presupposing that — thank you, Bay Area housing wars — but I think it is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone just come out and say it.

          Nice to know that dismissing entire academic disciplines as ideologically impure isn’t purely a rightist pastime, though.

        • Dirdle says:

          This is not the correct objection. Economics is a field of study, not an ideology.

          But anything that says that a theory is as immutable as thermodynamics is to be ignored. Nothing is as immutable as thermodynamics. I can, contra Samuel Skinner, imagine sales of something falling as the price falls. Maybe some kind of signalling-good like diamonds. Probably wouldn’t actually happen. Whatever. On the other hand, imagining violation of thermodynamics is. Considerably crazier than that. To say the least.

          TD’s not even a theory, really, just a description of how large statistical ensembles tend to behave. You could say “but economics is also a description of how large statistical ensembles tend to behave” but you’re moving from ensembles of trivially-predictable actors (particles) to ensembles of only mostly-predictable actors (humans*) and far more importantly, you’re moving from an ensemble of a few billion pieces to a few 10^23 pieces. This makes behaviour contrary to the statistical expectation far less imaginable. In other understatements, the distance between the furthest stars is quite a long walk.

          * If you want to say “agents,” which don’t behave quite so erratically as humans, go for it. Just remember that no such agents exist, whereas particles of matter are abundant.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          While you can argue the specifics of economics, the basic insight of ‘people respond to incentives, in ways which are at least somewhat predictable in aggregate’ seems pretty sensible to me.

          Given the existence of human beings as they currently are, the way large numbers of them will respond, on average, to a change in their incentive structures is likely to be about as immutable as the laws of physics unless and until you can change the bedrock distribution of human psychological traits.

          You can argue that we have made mistakes in our predictions of how people-in-aggregate will respond to a change in incentive structure, and if that’s what you were doing then my comment is misdirected. But I don’t think it is reasonable to deny that there are things to be known about how humans-in-aggregate respond to economic incentives, if that is what you meant.

        • Why do you not consider that physics is an ideology? If you do not, why do you think economics is?

          There have been socialist economists, such as Abba Lerner, and they believed in supply and demand curves too.

        • Nornagest says:

          I can, contra Samuel Skinner, imagine sales of something falling as the price falls. Maybe some kind of signalling-good like diamonds.

          The phrase you’re looking for is “Veblen good”

        • Aapje says:

          In general, market curves depend on the motivations and situation of market parties. In practice that means that some markets run counter to basic supply/demand theory.

          For example, Veblen goods explain why people may be less willing to pay for a cheaper good, but there is also a uniqueness premium. So a seller may want to intentionally limit his production to preserve the willingness for buyers to pay this premium. Luxury car manufacturers like Ferrari are a good example. Ferrari could make more money in the short term by making more cars and optimizing the market curves as they are today. However, that would lead to a negative change in the demand curve in the future, once the market becomes ‘saturated’ with too many cars for the brand to still be considered exclusive.

        • Dirdle says:

          @Nornagest: Thank-you, that’s very useful to know =).

      • Nita says:

        Demand curves are capitalism in the same way as linear optimization constraints are communism. That is, not really.

        Additionally, economics is a social science. Let’s try to keep in mind the difference in complexity between human beings and molecules. Physicists haven’t fully figured out how physics works yet, and they’re centuries ahead of economists, so confident pronouncements about bedrock truths might be a little premature.

      • John Colanduoni says:

        Things like demand curves are as immutable and bedrock true as the laws of thermodynamics, and for about the same reason.

        I’m curious (coming from a physics and pure math background) what parallels you see between the laws of thermodynamics and demand curves etc. (and this comes not from the standpoint of “Physics is best and economics is silly and made up”). To me the theory behind basic economics principles is more akin to pure math knowledge in that it is not so much an incidental property of the universe we live in but of the more fundamental mathematical structures we, for whatever reason, have come to use to understand it. It’s easy to come up with a counterfactual universe where the laws of thermodynamics don’t hold (or don’t even make sense), but harder to unseat some of the more well-founded economics work which is unimpeachable within it’s domain of applicability.

        Also, it is important to note that although the fundamental reactions of our world to our actions are mediated by such immovable laws, engineering within them can make a huge difference. Sure, humans can’t fly by taping cardboard to their arms and flapping really hard, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fly. In the same way, I see no reason to assume that there is no way that we could structure our economy and society to ameliorate the some of the disadvantages of market capitalism, just because some approaches that have been tried (e.g. communism) failed.

        • William Newman says:

          I don’t completely support the argument, and maybe don’t completely understand it either, but I think I can at least make a strongman version of something vaguely like it in physics terms. Consider classical thermodynamics, where we use partial differential equations based on ideas like things having a temperature. In principle, it’s kinda a heroic assumption that anything will have a temperature, and in practice it’s easy to find situations where things have at best a really wide temperature range … but in practice, also, most things have pretty well-defined temperatures, and many that don’t have well-defined temperatures now will settle down to having reasonably clear temperatures after cavorting about doing more complicated non-classical-thermodynamic things for a finite time, and so classical thermodynamics ends up being rather broadly applicable.

          So fundamentally economic actors might not have any level of rationality, or anything like a utility function, and returns might not tend to decrease, and reliable communications not be possible, and people might spontaneously mutate into utterly different people so often that trust is impossible, and so forth. There are probably a dozen such things (not happening) that are implicitly assumed in markets working the way we usually expect. And in principle, assumptions that the population of actors has some level of rationality, etc. are heroic assumptions, but in practice those conditions apply rather often. To some extent, in fact, they can broadly resemble the laws of thermo in that some classes of screwy states where the assumptions don’t hold naturally settle down to states where the assumptions hold better. (Off the top of my head, if many of the actors are rational but some aren’t, prices can do all sorts of weird things for a while, but the weird things have a tendency to leave resources concentrated in the hands of the more rational actors, so over time the market tends to look more like a market of rational actors. Dunno how many more examples there might be.)

          Another vague analogy to thermo is that under the aforementioned arguably-heroic assumptions, it’s surprisingly hard to beat free exchange for increasing general utility, vaguely analogous to trying to overcome the tendency of energy to flow from hot to cold. In physics you do this by coupling your system to something else; the more usual thing in economics might be assuming some regularity or constraint not present the usual assumptions. (And then, to the extent that econ tends to be more agenda-driven than phys, perhaps being tempted to be coy about what you have done…) I once read a book-length treatment of arguments against free international trade, and it seemed to me that the relatively careful ones seemed to work by slipping in a truly vital assumption, usually about how the government was a privileged actor in some way that the private actors couldn’t be. (Either fundamentally couldn’t, e.g. because the government was naturally smarter and/or more rational than any of the private actors were, or politically and/or legally couldn’t, e.g. because implicit in the argument was that the government should intervene heavily to prevent private actors from being able to reap the gains from such large opportunities.) E.g., to make the “infant industry” class of arguments work, the government could be the only actor smart enough to reliably notice that the opportunity is lucrative, or we could refuse to allow the social fabric to be degraded by permitting private parties to deploy capital and capture gains on the scale that would be involved in private development of this lucrative infant industry, so we have e.g. confiscatory tax rates and various legal impediments to loans and securities, so now even individuals who are smart enough have had their capabilities and/or rational motivation removed, so million-dollar bills are naturally left lying on the sidewalk, and even if distorting import prices is pretty expensive, it’s not as expensive as leaving those million dollar bills lying around. In my grouchy libertarian biased opinion those vital assumptions generally seemed rather more unworldly or unjustifiable than the basic market ones, but I’ve noticed that not everyone agrees.)

        • Aapje says:

          The issue I have with (most) economists is not so much their beliefs in basics like market curves, but how they jump to conclusions (based on these simple concepts) that people seek or ought to seek the optimum from a short term income maximizing perspective.

          This ignores that people may have other motivations than income maximization, ignores decision making costs that people may seek to keep low, ignores irrationality, ignores that short and long term profit maximization is not the same thing. It also ignores the influence by economists themselves on the markets: the markets are set up by politicians who listen to economists to (mostly) force people into profit-maximizing, so that makes the models by economists into self-fulfilling prophecies. The models are semi-accurate because the system is set up under the assumption that the models are accurate.

        • Jill says:

          Wow, Aapje. Great point there.

        • Urstoff says:

          @Aapje

          I tend to agree with all of that, but the constant critics of economics never offer alternatives that are rooted in thinking remotely as robust as that of economists. People are irrational ergo financial regulation X is not a good argument. Economics is deeply limited by methodological issues, but it’s the only economics we’ve got. Narratives and objections don’t justify policy proposals.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:
        • Jill says:

          There is a whole field of behavioral economics that demonstrates that people do not act rationally and conducts interesting research to find out on what bases people DO act. Here’s a book on it.

          http://www.amazon.com/Predictably-Irrational-Revised-Expanded-Decisions/dp/0061353248/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464368228&sr=1-1&keywords=predictably+irrational

          Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

        • “This ignores that people may have other motivations than income maximization, ignores decision making costs that people may seek to keep low, ignores irrationality, ignores that short and long term profit maximization is not the same thing. ”

          Economics often ignores irrationality, for reasons that economists have discussed. The rest of the things in your list are all included in conventional economic analysis. I find it hard to imagine an economist assuming that income is the only thing in the utility function, given the importance in economics of the tradeoff between income and leisure.

          Can you give an example of a serious economist assuming that income maximization is all there is, or ignoring the difference between short run and long run, a subject covered in standard elementary texts?

        • Anonymous says:

          @David Friedman

          I have been wondering for a while why behavioral economics is seen as requiring an entirely different set of assumptions than regular economics. Because it seems to me that irrationalities are not fundamentally different than any other obstacles that people face when attempting to achieve their objectives.

          For example – does rational-expectations economics assume that people can travel infinitely fast, and therefore when investigating, say, where people choose to live, the distance between their house and their workplace should be assumed to be irrelevant? If not, why would it require the assumption that people are perfectly free of bias, that when someone has an objective that it would be possible to achieve as a perfectly rational actor, we should expect that they will achieve it?

          Is it just that factoring in travel times is easier than factoring in irrationality, because we understand the former better than the latter?

        • Aapje says:

          @Anonymous & Friedman

          Indeed, these things are examined…and then completely ignored when making models about the entire economy. My criticism was about macro-economists.

          There is probably a self-selection process going on, economy students with an understanding of the limitations of their models end up doing actual science, trying to prove small(er) claims with proper methodology. The ‘philosopher-economist/pseudo-religious’ then end up in macro-economics where one picks a ‘school’ to believe in.

      • eponymous says:

        “Things like demand curves are as immutable and bedrock true as the laws of thermodynamics, and for about the same reason.”

        Granted that something analogous to demand curves will exist in the any solution to a resource allocation problem (even if they give quantity as a function of shadow price rather than market price).

        But that doesn’t seem relevant to the question of whether capitalism as an institution will always exist. Demand curves existed in the Soviet Union, which was obviously not capitalist.

        You seem to be mixing up the qualities of the problem space with a particular institution designed to solve the problem. Unless your definition of capitalism is so broad as to be meaningless, then I don’t see why the regularities of the problem imply that this particular institutional arrangement will always be seen as optimal.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Look out in any bad neighborhood and you find both a lot of work to be done, and a lot of labor that is freely available.

      I want wage subsidy so that those people can find work filling those labor holes. If told that the government would pay them $4/hour if they find someone willing to pay them $3/hour, those people would find employment and conditions on the ground would improve.

      And while Scott blew off “work is ennobling,” there is a big point that communities full of men 22-26 who aren’t working tend to really really suck. People who feel unneeded by society don’t make good neighbors.

      • Julie K says:

        People like to say that low-wage employers are welfare recipients because their employees get government assistance. In your scenario that accusation would be accurate.
        Also, would someone be free to take an easy, pleasant ob that pays $1/hour, or would the gov’t basically auction off his labor to the highest bidder?

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          People say that, but they are crazy. I see no need to listen to crazy people.

          People wouldn’t need to take a higher paying job than they want. If someone is happy with $1/wage and $8/hour subsidy, okay. I’m not yet decided on whether they should get to choose the job or the job chooses them, because there are trade-offs in either method.

          My biggest worry is people being employed in things that are harmful or distracting to third-parties. This would mean you can’t hire people to go door-to-door marketing, or stand on the side of the road with an advertising sign, or be a telemarketer, or email people, or do political canvassing, or participate in a picket march. All those jobs would need to exist without subsidy.

          • Jill says:

            Makes sense. And I like the subsidies for jobs idea.

            “communities full of men 22-26 who aren’t working tend to really really suck. People who feel unneeded by society don’t make good neighbors.”

            Excellent point there.

      • keranih says:

        I like the wage subsidy idea, and think it needs more review.

        However – this notion has tremendous ability to be gamed.

        In order to get subsidized up to $X per week, I have to show that I am working for $x/hour for X hours a week. So I get a part-time job directing traffic at the local child care drop off (mornings only) for, say, $3/hour. Da gubmint kicks in another $12/hour.

        I get some money in my pocket, less traffic gets backed up at the local daycare, and more momspops make it work on time (sos they can pay their taxes). EVERYONE WINS!

        Except, this is what is actually happening –

        Me and Ivan have this deal going with the daycare manager, who issues W-2s showing that me and Ivan are working both the morning shift and the afternoon shift. Only there really isn’t enough work for both of us, and after the last drop off around 10 am, I leave my reflective vest and go work laying laminate flooring for my brother. My brother pays me $10/hour, in cash, so there’s no record of my income. And yeah, I could be getting $15 for three hours of traffic rental cop, and my brother’s work is sporadic, but when he has a job, we work until 10, 11 pm, with a radio and beer and such.

        Ivan? Oh, right, Ivan part times with a landscape crew in the mornings. He’s just a raker, but he can’t sleep at night and so he’s nearly always at the meet up on time. He works 4-5 hours, naps, gets up and takes the afternoon shift at the daycare. Then he goes home and naps until midnight or so. Ivan’s really got a better job than me, because he’s on disability.

        In order to manage fraud, we would have to eliminate cash. And while I’m perfectly okay with eliminating fraud for this, I think getting rid of cash would have other, more difficult issues.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          You can definitely have “I hire you to watch my kids for $1/ hour and you hire me to watch my kids for $1/hour and neither of us actually anything” as far as I’ve described it.

          Morgan Warstler’s Uber4Welfare has you put out your bid at $1/hour and then whomever hires you gets you. That takes care of that. I’m not sure it’s the right solution, though. What if I hire you for a job that is 2 hours away? I guess commute time could be part of it.

          A better solution might be to require everyone to swap jobs periodically. Or, as in the case of double-ended fraud, provide immunity and compensation to any party who flips on the other.

          In any case, I think it would suck less than a pure welfare state.

          I’m not sure if it’s a problem if you get a $10 off-the-books side job. 1) You would be limited in the number of hours you can get subsidized per week. 2) A whole lot of under-the-table stuff is going to be pulled above the table, because that’s how the laborer gets the subsidy.

          EDIT:

          Somewhere reading the rest of this thread, it occurred to me that we could snip out the very bottom of this market. So the bottom isn’t getting paid $1/hour by your employer with a $9/hour subsidy, but instead $5/hour from empoyer with a $5/hour subsidy. This stops the “I hire you and you hire me” scenario.

          And we aren’t going to jump into this situation all at once. We will gradually enter it, probably by first replacing the EITC with a near mathematical equivalent of my proposed scheme, and then gradually lowering the “minimum wage.” So we will have some time to analyze the real-world scenarios before this plan ever becomes profitable for fraud.

    • NN says:

      I understand why foraging is no longer viable in most of the world, but is there really anything preventing people from becoming subsistence farmers? The Amish seem to have no problems living as subsistence farmers, or carpenters, or hand shoemakers, or other low skill jobs, in the middle of the richest country in the world. If they can do it, why can’t other people?

      I think that a much more likely explanation is that nowadays most people simply desire a lifestyle beyond what life as a subsistence farmer can provide. As hard as it may be to believe, this probably applies even to the worst off. For example, many homeless people are drug addicts, and it is probably a lot easier to obtain most drugs if you live in a city rather than on a small farm in the middle of nowhere.

      • Brian says:

        If you’re willing to do the work required for subsistence farming, you’d do just fine picking grapes in California or some other form of low pay, low skill work in the modern world, and would get considerably more value for your work.

        • NN says:

          True, which makes my point even stronger. Why doesn’t the underclass that would supposedly be better off as subsistence farmers take the same jobs that illegal immigrants are doing?

          • Aapje says:

            They aren’t as productive as the illegal immigrants, so they won’t even get the job.

      • Hlynkacg says:

        is there really anything preventing people from becoming subsistence farmers?

        Land ownership, more specifically owning enough land of high enough quality to subsist on.

        • NN says:

          Again, the Amish seem to be able to acquire enough land just fine despite very high population growth.

          Also, like Bryan said, there are plenty of low-skill agricultural jobs still available. You may have heard them referred to as “the jobs that illegal immigrants are willing to do but Americans are not.” But why are illegal immigrants the only ones willing to do them?

          • Thursday says:

            The Amish can acquire land because, as a whole, they seem to have enough intelligence and conscientiousness to do well in the mainstream, if they so chose. We’re talking about the really dumb/feckless, who are not going to acquire themselves decent land anytime soon.

          • null says:

            It’s not that illegal immigrants are the only ones willing to do them, it’s that these jobs are low-skill enough that companies can pay illegal immigrants below minimum wage to do them, and they don’t have to pay payroll taxes.

          • Civilis says:

            But companies can pay citizens under the table to work the same jobs they pay illegal immigrants to work. Given the perverse incentives involved, it might be better to take the below-minimum-wage under the table job and keep all the benefits than take an on the books minimum wage job and lose some of the benefits.

            The ‘freelance recreational pharmaceutical dealer’ career path is built around just such a model. Further, unlike drug dealing or other criminal enterprises, my understanding is that paying employees under the table for manual labor is relatively safe for the worker; if you get caught, the fines and criminal sanctions almost entirely hit the employer.

          • orangecat says:

            But companies can pay citizens under the table to work the same jobs they pay illegal immigrants to work.

            Illegal immigrants can much more credibly promise to not rat you out.

          • Zakharov says:

            I don’t know, but it might be because US citizens can sue their employer for paying less than minimum wage, whereas illegal immigrants have a harder time doing so.

          • Jill says:

            American citizens also aren’t as willing to live in substandard housing conditions– living 10 people to a small room or even a tent– and to work in substandard working conditions. And most are not able to do such backbreaking manual labor out in the sun all day.

          • Civilis says:

            The ability to rat out your employer is a deterrent to the employer, not the employee. The predominant memetic description is “the jobs that illegal immigrants are willing to do but Americans are not”, but what’s now being described is “the jobs that employers are willing to hire illegal immigrants for but not Americans”. How is it we have economic circumstances where certain jobs are only viable if both sides are willing to break the law? Also, isn’t this argument directly supporting the claims by opponents that the minimum wage costs jobs?

            Most [Americans] are not able to do such backbreaking manual labor out in the sun all day” is an interesting claim as well. It changes the description to “the jobs that illegal immigrants are able to do but Americans are not”. Why aren’t (most) American workers able to do ‘backbreaking’ manual labor? Is it genetic? Cultural? Every answer I have come up with raises a lot of issues.

          • The Nybbler says:

            How is it we have economic circumstances where certain jobs are only viable if both sides are willing to break the law?

            Those aren’t economic circumstances, they’re political ones.

          • bluto says:

            One summer I worked for a farm that employed legal immigrant labor during the year, and illegal immigrant labor as well as legal immigrant and non-immigrant labor during the harvest.

            They paid by the piece and the extended family of the legal immigrant labor would come for a “visit” but work.

            Along with citizen who wished to stop for work (they had a sign advertising for short term work on a nearby highway).

            Picking paid slightly better than minimum wage pretty close to a market wage for the area and farm labor is not subject to overtime rules.

            The biggest reason the farm hired illegals was the citizen labor tended to be considerably less experienced and reliable than the immigrant labor. It was short term work, so the US workers tended toward drifters who drifted on before the work was done, while the immigrant labor wanted to maximize their earnings during the short period to take a solid income supplement back home.

      • John Schilling says:

        The Amish seem to have no problems living as subsistence farmers, or carpenters, or hand shoemakers, or other low skill jobs

        Farmers, carpenters, and shoemakers are not “low skill jobs”; to make a living in those fields requires about as much skill as making a living writing code.

        And the Amish are not subsistence farmers; they prosper by growing cash crops for sale in the market.

        The modern equivalent to foraging is, e.g. scavenging for recyclables in urban trash, which I would guess requires approximately the skill, discipline, and hours of a stone-age hunter-gatherer and provides about the same material standard of living. As you note, there’s an expectations problem. And a reception problem, because part of the paleolithic standard of living was not being surrounded by rich snobs who treat you with utter contempt for only being a forager.

    • Matt says:

      I disagree totally. The problem is that the baseline for productivity is way too high. If you’re unable to pass that bar, you’re relegated to charity in our current setup. But this is not capitalism’s fault, per se. Through our vast gains in knowledge and technology, it should be a trifling matter to make a decent living. You shouldn’t need to be very productive to make a living in our modern economy. Just a little pitch in here or there should be enough. But it isn’t. This is due to monopoly privilege. Monopoly of land, monopoly of money, monopoly of information, in that order.

    • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

      Unsurprisingly, communism was even a worse solution to the poverty of unnecessarians than First World capitalism because soviet style governments offered jobs, not welfare, but there are people who can’t hold a job so they got no support.

      • anonymous says:

        Well, this is not exactly true.

        In post-WWII Soviet Union you were required to hold a job (Joseph Brodsky, Nobel winner, was prosecuted for ‘tuneyadstvo’, which is literally translated as official joblessness), and if you were not able to hold that job, goverment paid you some money for basic neccessites and even provided a room.

        Homelessness and drug addition were rare in Soviet Union, but alcoholism was rampant, because your work made no sense most of the time, and drinking helped to numb that feeling.

        source: I’m middle-aged russian.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m from a Soviet satellite nation – over here, the way they did “welfare” was basically not enforcing that people needed to actually do the work. Whether you stand, or lie down, you’re entitled to the pay.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Homelessness and drug addition were rare in Soviet Union, but alcoholism was rampant

          I don’t follow. Alcoholism is drug addiction, albeit to a drug which is legal to use in most places. And there are plenty of other drugs that also help to numb the feeling of your work being purposeless. If it was rare for people in the USSR to be addicted to other drugs apart from alcohol, I’m skeptical that that was the reason.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Maybe drugs other than alcohol were too expensive or unavailable for most people to get?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Yes. Or the law treated users of other drugs much worse than they treated alcohol users, like in most countries today. It just struck me as odd that finding one’s work meaningless would steer people to abuse alcohol in particular rather than other drugs, if there weren’t already some other societal forces in place making alcohol the drug of choice.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Capitalsm is more than one thing How destitute the unemployed are depends on how much and what kind of redistribution is in place, which can vary a lot. It is reasonable to blame a cutthroat rather than cuddly capitalism for some degree of immiseartion,

    • JayT says:

      I would wager that the Venn diagram of “people that would fail in a capitalistic society” and “people that would fail in a hunter gatherer society” would have a LOT of overlap.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m not so sure about that, but it’s an interesting question. What are some failure modes of industrial capitalism that wouldn’t have shown up in a forager society, or vice versa?

        “Eaten by predators” is an obvious one.

        • James says:

          “Eaten by predators” is an obvious one.

          Yes, in one of those two kinds of society, you risk being ripped to shreds by those more powerful and bloodthirsty than you as they consume your hard-won energy reserves for themselves… and don’t get me started on the forager society! Ho ho ho.

        • JayT says:

          Well one obvious area is people with disabilities. They make up about 30% of the poor in America, and I would guess the vast majority of them would do very poorly in a hunter-gatherer society.
          Low IQ people would be another one that I would guess wouldn’t perform any better in hunter-gatherer societies. If you can’t figure out how to get a low end job you probably will have a hard time figuring out how to hunt.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            But you don’t have to hunt. You can be the guy who takes care of small children, gathers fruits/berries or cuts/prepares/cooks the meat.

            Physical disabilities would be much more of an issue.

          • keranih says:

            You can be the guy who takes care of small children, gathers fruits/berries or cuts/prepares/cooks the meat.

            I’m going to assume you knew that in H/G societies, this “guy” was most of the women, and that you were trying to make some sort of point.

            An inability to walk three to eight miles to the berry patch and physically skin the mammoth puts a dent in the contributions the gatherer part of the tribe can make. Oh, and no strollers.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            Of course people with physical disabilities had a hard time. Or they just died miserably. But JayT specifically mentioned people with low IQ, and they at least had it relatively better than some people with low IQ do now.

          • JayT says:

            As keranih mentioned though, in most cases the low-IQ guys weren’t the ones doing the gathering and child-rearing, it was the women. Even then though, if we just talk about low-IQ women, I think the point still stands. The smarter gatherer will almost certainly eat better and be less likely to accidentally eat the wrong berries. Surviving off the land isn’t exactly an easy task. I don’t see any reason to think that being more intelligent wouldn’t be a benefit.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          In the other direction, maybe something like “has severe dyslexia/dyscalculia” wouldn’t matter much to a hunter-gatherer.

          Scott writes about some other examples here.

        • Loquat says:

          Being genetically vulnerable to alcohol/drug addiction seems like it’d be much less of a problem in a society where addictive substances are rare and frequently subject to social controls like “this substance is sacred and only used in certain religious rituals”.

  7. E. Harding says:

    Random thoughts:

    * Just a day before this post was published, I had pointed out on my major blog that the past three jobless recoveries have mostly resulted from lack of strong manufacturing recoveries, as well as the burden of job losses in recessions being increasingly concentrated outside of manufacturing (click on the graph):

    https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=4xeC

    * The problem is not so much unemployment as high unemployment duration among the unemployed.

    https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/LNS13025703

    * The first major-party attempt at nominating a class-struggle type candidate (and, no, a rich plantation owner cannot be called a class-struggle type candidate) was in 1896 and it ended in failure. And it probably would not have been a good idea if he had won, as his major program was minting more money -something that was not correlated with strong working class success in the 1970s.

    Yes; the mystery of solving Asiatic poverty in Cambodia is a much smaller one than that of Ending Poverty In California.

    • Galton's Bulldog says:

      Inflationary monetary policy in the 70s was intended to stimulate growth and employment. Inflationary monetary policy in 1896 was supposed to transfer wealth to poor farmers from the bankers who held their mortgages, which seems much more feasible.

      • E. Harding says:

        Yes, but a key Bryan schtick is that he was going to be able to win the industrial workers in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana as well with the same advocacy for cheap money. Didn’t work out; in fact, led Kentucky to go Republican.

        • Schmendrick says:

          I mean, all the populists talked a good producerist game, and according to that ideology there should have been a natural alliance between the people who produce value from land and the people who produce value from ore and ingots. However, in a shocking turn of events, the industrial labor force actually looked at policy stances and voted accordingly.

  8. DanielLC says:

    I think we should allow free immigration, but make the immigrants second-class citizens who don’t get basic income and who can’t vote.

    • suntzuanime says:

      We tried importing a labor class with a lower tier of rights before. It led to a really bloody war and then they got those rights anyway. Not recommended.

      • E. Harding says:

        Slaves didn’t come to the U.S. voluntarily; millions of contract workers would. A bunch of contract workers did come to the American West in the 1840s-1870s; they mostly died off due to lack of women, and both parties agreed that it was not a good idea to import any more.

        • William O. B'Livion says:

          Do the children of the “voluntary” immigrants get citizenship?

          If not, are they voluntary?

          If so, do they vote benefits to their parents and grandparetns?

          • E. Harding says:

            Did you post in the wrong thread?

          • Murphy says:

            @E. Harding

            ???

            William O. B’Livion’s post was coherent and relevant to the above.

            If the plan is to import a voluntary labor class without rights what happens to their children in important.

            If they also don’t get rights then you’ve just created an involuntary slave class. If they do get rights then it’s in their interest to vote en mass to change the system such that their aging parents get benefits rather than weighing down their children.

          • “If they also don’t get rights then you’ve just created an involuntary slave class.”

            The proposal wasn’t to import people without rights, but people without two specific rights–the right to vote and the right to collect welfare. It isn’t the lack of those rights that makes someone a slave. A foreign tourist in the U.S. can’t vote or collect welfare either.

            The proposal added a right–the right to come into the U.S. (or whatever country the proposal applied to). It did not subtract rights, since it was being applied to people who didn’t have the right to vote in the U.S. or collect welfare in the U.S.

          • neurno says:

            Yes! Thank you! I posted about this as being the natural conclusion to the problem proposed in Hive Mind (Jones). I was hoping others had similar ideas but got no direct response to my comment. We want to raise the average IQ of our citizenry, have plenty of labor force, allow humanitarian immigration ( e.g. refugees), but not overburden our social net… Solution: Allow immigration, but limit citizenship (and thus voting and social services). The resulting “underclass” aren’t slaves, they are free to leave and meanwhile are beneficiaries of our infrastructure (plumbing, police, etc) and economy.
            We increase average citizen IQ (and economic and political understanding) by granting citizenship to anyone who passes a difficult test based on IQ/politics/economics.
            What are the downsides to this plan?

          • Fazathra says:

            What are the downsides to this plan?

            That it’s an unstable equilibrium. It will end the moment one faction figures out it will gain power by giving suffrage and benefits to the non-citizen underclass in return for their votes.

          • Murphy says:

            @David Friedman

            It’s not the parents I’m talking about.

            ok, lets put it more frankly.

            What happens when mom and dad get hit by a bus?

            Little timmy has no right to social welfare services in the country since we’re disallowing these migrants from accessing local services. The welfare system, the health system, the school system, the foster system, etc are not available to him.

            His “home” state (where he wasn’t born) may either not recognise him as a citizen or as a citizen with the right to support services either since his parents haven’t been resident and paying taxes there or because he wasn’t born there.

            Little Timmy now has the right to nothing, there is no supplier of care of last resort and even when he grows up he continues to have no rights, had no education and gets to live some kind of pseudo libertarian nightmare where he’s subject to all the disadvantages of the state paired with none of the advantages combined with all the disadvantages of statelessness paired with none of the advantages.

          • “by granting citizenship to anyone who passes a difficult test based on IQ/politics/economics.
            What are the downsides to this plan?”

            One downside is that the test may filter for political and economic views that the people running the system like.

          • “What happens when mom and dad get hit by a bus?”

            You are now describing a very unlikely situation. Nothing prevents private assistance to orphans.

            “Little Timmy now has the right to nothing, there is no supplier of care of last resort and even when he grows up he continues to have no rights, had no education ”

            You seem to identify “rights” with access to government assistance. He still has the right not to be murdered, robbed, enslaved–the normal set of rights that distinguish free men from slaves. And government schooling isn’t the only way of acquiring useful skills.

          • Murphy says:

            Private assistance to orphans has historically been pretty unreliable.

            People kind of assume that people wouldn’t leave toddlers to die on the street but actual history tends to contradict that.

            If he does find productive work in a child brothel does Timmy have to pay taxes to his host country for all these services that he has no access to? I get the impression that the plan above was to extract as much wealth as possible from him to fund the 1st class citizens.

            He theoretically has the right to not be robbed raped or enslaved but if he actually is robbed, raped or enslaved he’ll apparently need to be able to pay the hourly rate for police assistance if he wants anything done about it. A right that you theoretically have which nobody is enforcing isn’t much of a right.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            @David

            I don’t know why you think you can make headway by offering to swap ‘no one will prevent you from being voluntarily given X’ for ‘you have a right to X’. Would you swap a new PC with an extant warranty for a secondhand one that is advertised as ‘not prevented from working by any known force’ ?

            @Murphy

            Its rude to expect Libertarians and Marxists to put forward anything that could work in the real world.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        African slaves came here involuntarily. Second-class citizen immigrants wouldn’t.

        A much better analogy would be the white indentured servants who came to America at around the same time the African slave trade was starting up. They agreed to be slaves for a few years in return for being brought over to America.

        As far as I can tell, the majority of indentured servants completed their terms and were absorbed into the rest of the white population. No bloody war. They got rights eventually, but only after a few years of hard work. I don’t want to make it sound idyllic, some of them were abused in the same way black slaves were, and sometimes they were assigned extra-dangerous tasks since they were going to be freed soon anyway. But a modern second-class immigration system would be much more humane.

        There was no bloody war over indentured servitude. There probably wouldn’t be one for second-class immigrants either.

        • None says:

          Many, maybe most of the indentured white servants did not come voluntarily. There is a huge amount of documentation of kidnapping and auctions of “indentured” people.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Unstable.

      • E. Harding says:

        I don’t think so. If everyone agrees they’re still citizens of their home country and they have to visit it every set number of years, I think it’d work.

        • Thursday says:

          It’ll work for the first generation, but the ones born in rich countries are going to start thinking of themselves as primarily rooted in those rich countries and start agitating for equal status there. Unstable is right.

          • E. Harding says:

            Make the requirement to reside in the country of origin to be half of every three years for parents with children, then, and continue the requirement for the children.

          • Thursday says:

            I can hear the protesters now: “It is so unfair that these people who have lived half their life in our country are treated like total aliens. It’s so unfair. Besides, being shuttled back and forth between countries hurts is hurtful to the development of children. They never really become part of a community. Etc. etc. etc.”

            I have come to see people who advocate for “key hole solutions” as utopian beyond belief. The prospects for this working in the long term are not much better than the state melting away under communism.

            See also Scott’s reply below.

          • E. Harding says:

            Hopefully, they’ll be so many of them, an excessively easy pathway to citizenship for the second generation will be considered madness by most people.

            And Communism was built on the state, so it’s far less plausible that would happen than the no-vote, no-basic income rule would never be subverted in spirit.

          • Randy M says:

            Yeah, it would require some kind of either deportation when pregnant, revocation of birthright citizenship, or required (say, implantable) birth control. None remotely politically feasible, apart from the debate ending rebuttal of “second class citizen?!”

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I think that the example of Turks in Germany falsifies some of Thursday’s predictions. They kept speaking Turkish and didn’t think of themselves as German. I don’t think that they really agitated for equal rights, but I’m not sure. But if that right had been money, it might have been different.

          • The ones born in rich countries under circumstances in which their parents had to work to support themselves are going to be, on average, productive rich country people, like the children of the massive immigration at the beginning of the 20th century, such as my parents. If they end up as ordinary citizens I don’t see the problem. They can help pay the taxes to support the children of the people who lived on the basic income.

          • Thursday says:

            If there are that many of them, it’s going to be that much harder to say no to their demands for equality.

            See my remark about the state withering away.

          • Thursday says:

            The ones born in rich countries under circumstances in which their parents had to work to support themselves are going to be, on average, productive rich country people

            Mexicans and blacks have been in the US for a long, long time. How’s that actually working out?

            There’s either some deficit in average genetic potential, or some insanely intractable cultural problems, ones that aren’t going to be solved in the next few decades, if ever.

          • od says:

            Strangely enough, the middle east seems to be solving this problem much better than the countries of the west, despite caring far less about the rights of guest workers.

            The middle east manages to have a lot of guest workers whose children are aware they will never be rooted in those countries and manage their lives by either migrating back to their origin countries or to better places in the west. They’ve been doing this for generations.

            I am a child of one of these guest workers to the middle east, I know that my family has done far better for ourselves than the extended family that never went to the middle east. This despite the fact that I and my brother have had to move out of the middle east and find jobs elsewhere and my parents have had to leave the country they lived for more than 3 decades post my father’s retirement.

            This is the standard life outcome for workers from my country who emigrated to the middle east. Emigration started well before the 70s, and continues even now, so it seems to have worked out for several generations of guest workers, not just my family.

          • Some Troll's Legitimate Discussion Alt says:

            Hopefully, they’ll be so many of them, an excessively easy pathway to citizenship for the second generation will be considered madness by most people

            “You think there’s “too many” people of _____ color in the country!? Well then, tell us what, exactly, you suggest we do about it?” *waggles eyebrows in an accusing you of being hitler sort of way*

            It would be a short debate.

          • Thursday says:

            I can think of several differences between countries like Qatar and the UAE, and countries like the US and France.

          • Tibor says:

            I thin there are two important things about the Turks in Germany. First, the German government originally did not want them to stay and they were expected to be gastarbeiters only. This limits one’s willingness to assimilate.

            IMO much more importantly, Germany has an extensive welfare state which seems to be quite easy to access (although I am not sure about the situation in the 70s when most of the Turks came). Generally, the US seems to be much more successful at assimilating the immigrants than Europe. Partly, it is because multiculturalism was/is (depending on the country, although it seems to me that the popular opinion is growing against it in most places) possibly much stronger politically in Europe (at least in the former western block) than in the US, also US is less “traditional”, the US culture is more fluid and not at all ethnicity based.

            It also seems to have something to do with the culture of the immigrants. Otherwise, I cannot explain the striking pace at which the Vietnamese minority managed to integrate itself into the Czech society (despite prejudices, especially in the 90s) while the Turks struggle in Germany (on average) and the Arabs in France are doing even worse.

            I don’t think that Czechs have done something better than Germans or the French, save perhaps for the laws which make it hard for recent immigrants to access welfare (and the welfare state, even though perhaps more extensive than in the US is not nearly as big as in Germany…also taxes are lower which is at least in part a motivation to work). I am not sure how much can the difference between the Vietnamese and the Turks be explained by a different culture and how much by different laws. Both probably play a role, but generally I think that if you make the welfare state accessible for long-term residents only, most of those who will come anyway, regardless of their culture, will be people looking for work and opportunity rather than those who want to live of welfare payments.

            Also, I think that Germany’s Turks are still doing better than France’s Arabs because the labour laws in France are horribly restrictive, whereas Germany’s are much more liberal – both are way more restrictive than US labour laws. Then even those who came to France to work might have found themselves in a position where they could not get any and they they ended up in a welfare trap and in ghettos.

        • Viliam says:

          If everyone agrees they’re still citizens of their home country and they have to visit it every set number of years, I think it’d work.

          More importantly, they have to return to their home country when they are at the retirement age. We could even send them the pension there — they deserve it if they paid taxes — but after productive age, they would not be allowed to stay here anymore. So everyone will think about their home country as a place they will one day return to.

          I think Switzerland has something similar to this.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      We could make a lot of win-win deals if not for activists who would feel lots of self-righteous outrage and protest everybody involved until they were forced to change the terms. But they will so we can’t. This is the essence of n–r–ct–n. The rest is just commentary.

      • Jiro says:

        At first glance that sounds like sarcasm, but it doesn’t seem like you’re saying anything so blatantly wrong that it must be sarcastic–you’re just expressing actual agreement with the Death Eaters while laughing it off at the same time.

        And it actually is true that this is a flaw with many policy proposals. Yeah, you could avoid a lot of the problems caused by unlimited immigration by not giving the immigrants social services, except it’s politically infeasible to not give them social services and stick to that decision. Just like it’s politically infeasible to have a tax for purpose X without creating a special interest group or bureaucracy that benefits by receiving the tax money and will cause X to expand out of control.

      • anonymous poster says:

        I don’t think that’s it at all. I think a lot of it is suspicion that win-win deals are even possible, along with a commitment to ensuring at all costs that, if only one side can win, it’s going to be yours.

      • Still Anonymous says:

        Come on Scott, how are you going to ban a word to avoid further engaging with a community, and then actively engage with them through paper thin censorship?

        It’s just Si-ly.

        • Pymander says:

          I always think of the movement-that-shall-not-be-named as “Petticoat Junction.” For those of you who aren’t ancient, it was a TV show from the 60’s (I’m too much of a technophobe to attempt a link, but you can find it on youtube).

          Not only is there the pleasing metrical similarity, the show even has its own “trichotomy.” There’s the tom-boyish redhead, Betty-Jo, who enjoys driving the train (obviously a Tech-Com), the studious and book-loving brunette, Bobbie-Jo (a clear Traditionalist), and finally, the boy-crazy blonde, Billie-Jo (whose nordic appearance and obsession with who she should be dating mark her as an Eth-Nat).

          Taking it perhaps a little too far, we can assign the infamous Mr. M.M. Bug the role of the Shady Rest Hotel’s middle-aged manager, Kate, and set up Mr. Land in a rocking chair on the porch as “Uncle Joe, who is moving kind of slow.”

      • Brandon Berg says:

        The activists like feeling self-righteous rage, so it’s win-win-win.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, okay then Scott, let me be offensive here about applying a guest worker solution.

        Hey, you’re of Jewish heritage, so your natural homeland is Israel, right? Okay, let’s take E. Harding’s proposal: every three years you have to return to Israel to live there for whatever period (six months, a year) as mandated. You don’t get an American passport but you can have an Israeli one so you can fly back and forth between Israel and America for your doctor job. You pay taxes in America but you don’t qualify as an American with full rights to services like native-born citizens. And no matter how long you live in America, no matter that you were born in America, you are not nor will you ever be American.

        And okay, maybe it’s disruptive having to tell your employers every three years “Sorry, I have to leave the country now or else I’ll be permanently deported for not fulfilling my mandatory home-nation residence”. And trying to find accommodation in Israel and keeping two homes/two legal addresses. And spending time and money flying out and flying back. And always being reminded of your alien status because do the native Israelis think of you as an American or not? Where do you fit?

        That’s a win-win deal, sure?

        I’m happy to see such “win-win deals” implemented IF they get implemented equally and isn’t just for YOU PEOPLE but not us, the nice assimilated productive people who have nothing in common besides an unfortunate ancestral commonalty.

        I want the nice middle-class achievers to get it in the neck and then maybe they won’t be so utopian when it comes to “the poor” when they have personal experience of being shuttled around and told “march here, dig that hole, now fill it in”.

        • I’m at least 80% sure that Scott’s parents would, if they had Scott in a guest worker situation, then move back to their home country to ensure stability during Scott’s formative years.

          There are fairly good odds that they’d be taking careful precautions not to have any children while in a disruptable life situation, in fact.

          The problem with wanting the middle class to experience the situation of the poor is because the middle class, like the Fonz, often have habits and culture which limit their exposure to those situations in general.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          This is clearly worse than me being an American citizen, but (conditional on America being better than Israel) clearly better than me being stuck in Israel without being allowed to go to America at all. That’s what I mean by “win-win deal”.

          As far as I can tell, you’re arguing in favor of open borders. Or at least, your argument would only make sense as a response to my argument if we already had open borders.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Deiseach doesn’t appear to be arguing for open borders.

            I think the argument is for full participation rights in the community for people you let in to the community, or a plausible path thereto. This is a good Schelling point.

            Although, to be fair, the guest worker program in Switzerland works this way. It makes being a guest worker far less desirable (which I think is a feature, not a bug) and I don’t think people do it long term. I also think it involves stays in the home country every singe year.

          • Deiseach says:

            No, I’m saying it may be okay to have temporary work visas (God knows, hundreds or more of Irish students went to America for work and money on J1 visas).

            But if you’re going to implement a “you can live and work here for forty or sixty years until you die, but you’ll never have the rights of a citizen and to remind you of that, we’re going to require you to periodically uproot yourself” policy, and then shackle that upon the children born in America, brought up and educated and in every way that matters as culturally American, but never permitted to be American citizens – and their children in turn – when or where does it stop?

            There’s immigration. There’s guest workers. There’s exploitation. One subtly shading into another is not a win-win deal for anyone, host nation or guest worker.

            Mostly, though, I want the children of immigrants who managed to get up the ladder and assimilate to think about how it would be like to be treated the same way they’re proposing to treat the poor – because it’s really inconvenient for a nice, smart, middle-class boy to have his college education and early career interrupted by either having to traipse off to Old Country for six months to a year every three years, or else have the “family stay in Old Country, father goes to work in host nation” (as my grandfather and many other Irish people did – go to England to work on the building sites in the summer, come home for the three or four months of winter, leave your wife and kids to live without you and you live without them) but when it comes to the poor, it’s not inconvenient for them, they don’t have real lives like real people, they’re not doing anything important, they have lots of spare time to be forced to do bureaucratic hoop-jumping and lots of spare money to spend on plane tickets back home, right?

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Deiseach, I’m saying that right now nobody can come to the US. I’m not sure how you think it’s hurting people to give them an option to come to the US under unpleasant conditions.

            I’m proposing something that’s at least a mediocre deal for poor Third Worlders. Unless you’re supporting open borders, it sounds like you want a horrible deal for them.

          • multiheaded says:

            Deiseach: *fist bump in case you are feeling like the only person here with something approaching basic decency*

          • Anonymous says:

            I think Deiseach is talking about dignity and Scott is talking about cold analysis.

            Consider offering black people 50 dollars, a pack of booze and a rap CD if they accept sterilization. Maybe make a nice campaign.

            Obviously a great idea, you are offering something, you aren’t forcing them to pick anything. They should be grateful!

            Yet for some reason most black people wouldn’t be thrilled, I guess.

            I say kill them if it comes to that, dignity is a real thing, irrational of course but still…

          • multiheaded says:

            Scott, here’s a modest proposal: why stop at the dubious Schelling point of “no political rights”? Why not keep immigration *illegal* but make border controls deliberately poor? People would still come to the country, due to their illegality their employers would have even more leverage over them (as with Mexicans in the US now) and thus labor will be cheaper and more easily controlled, presumably increasing demand, which would let even more people work – and boost economic growth, etc? Doesn’t that sound neat? Also no need to waste basic social infrastructure-type services like legal representation or humane policing on them, just shoot to kill if they are out of line.

          • Ruprect says:

            I dunno… it’s Alan Kurdi policy making, isn’t it. (Just awful. But I don’t think the reaction helped anything, or had anything to do with the problems)

            In Japan, you had the case of Noriko Calderon, who was raised in the country by illegal immigrant parents. They had lived there for twenty-odd years, but were deported when they were discovered. Noriko (who had lived in Japan her entire life) was allowed to stay in the country, staying with friends, until she finished her education.
            Seems sensible to me. Separate from the question of whether migration is desirable, if you decide that you don’t want people to move long term to the country, make it clear that it won’t be allowed. Worst possible case is an unclear legal system with concessions made for exceptional circumstances.
            Hard cases make bad law.

          • Jiro says:

            multiheaded: If you make immigration illegal so that immigrants can’t get the benefit of the law, one problem is that not all laws are only for the personal benefit of the immigrant. For instance, if the immigrants can’t complain about being paid less than minimum wage, that also affects citizens who get their jobs taken by the cheaper illegal immigrants. And if you deny benefits to the illegal immigrants, they could just try to steal the benefits–the fact that they have to operate in the shadows and risk getting shot anyway means that it’s a much shorter jump to normal criminal activity.

            Also, this only works for low-skilled immigrants who stay poor. A small chance of being shot dead or even just deported is a bigger threat to a skilled person who wants a middle class lifestyle than it is to someone who has nothing.

          • Jiro says:

            Worst possible case is an unclear legal system with concessions made for exceptional circumstances.
            Hard cases make bad law.

            “I precommit to expelling illegal immigrants regardless of whether they’ve been raised as Americans. This precommitment will, if credible, reduce (by reducing incentives) the number of such people who have to be expelled, thus making the situation better, even though the precommitment will make things worse for any individual whom I end up applying it to.”

          • multiheaded says:

            Why not precommit to sending death squads after them? Surely an even more effective disincentive.

          • Nornagest says:

            Because you’re not a cackling pantomime villain?

          • Ruprect says:

            “Why not precommit to sending death squads after them? Surely an even more effective disincentive.”

            Why not give them 10 million dollars as well as a visa?

            It’s a balance of proportionality and fairness within the society we wish to create.
            Somebody who shoplifts doesn’t deserve to die (and such a severe punishment would itself create really bad incentives), but if we’re serious about discouraging shoplifting we have to impose some consequences.
            It should be the same if you wish to control immigration.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure how you think it’s hurting people to give them an option to come to the US under unpleasant conditions.

            I think part of Deiseach’s objection was the children of the guest workers, who are likely to be raised as culturally American but denied US citizenship. Their only options will be to live in the US under “unpleasant conditions”, or live in Ruritania where they hold citizenship but e.g. don’t speak the language.

            Depending on how unpleasant the conditions for noncitizen guest workers in the US are, that could be a worse set of options than the singular “live in Ruritania as a Ruritanian from birth”. In that IMO likely case, the children will have been done a harm. Arguing over who did that harm is secondary.

            And telegenically-sympathetic suffering children are a source of political power even if they can’t vote. So the bit where the children of guest workers don’t get to be US citizens is not going to be comfortably stable. And if the children are going to be US citizens, you might as well cut to the chase and let their parents be citizens too – or you’re going to wind up with a huge voting block whose primary motive is going to be payback for the needlessly unpleasant lives their parents endured.

          • erenold says:

            Please bear with the non-American with the stupid question, who finds this debate greatly interesting, but somewhat mystifying:

            The premise here seems to be that the foreign workers can, in fact, bring their families to America and raise them there in the first place. Is this, in fact, the law? If so, why not simply prevent that from happening?

            I.e.
            1. You can work here if you get a work permit and a local employer-sponsor. If either of these are cancelled for any reason, at any time, you leave. No exemptions. Pensions do not count. (That addresses the problem of caring for these individuals in the long term.)

            2. Your spouse can visit on a social visit pass (or its American equivalent – 30 days duration, perhaps). She can bring your children on such a social visit pass.

            3. You cannot chain social visit passes into one big long-term visitor pass. You can therefore only obtain one social visit pass a year.

            4. If you meet a nice American girl, marry, and settle roots, great. We’ll chalk that down to organic immigration.

            5. Otherwise, you simply cannot bring your family over long-term as a guest worker.

            Does that not resolve the situation? Or do I, as is probable, misunderstand the objection?

          • ii says:

            @Deiseach
            >then shackle that upon the children born in America, brought up and educated and in every way that matters as culturally American

            and this is the crux of the matter, as a non-American why the hell would this matter unless you view being American as morally righteous and denying citizens who’ve obtained enlightened Americanism as being somehow barbarous and outweighing concern for the people who live outside the border since they’ve yet to undergo the purification process

            People can work at Yale as cleaning staff and their kids can be Ivy League in every cultural sense that matters yet nobody would be seen objecting if they then failed to qualify for college themselves.

            What would that sort of objection even entail? That it’s inhuman to subject someone to the conditions where they don’t have an Ivy League diploma? That you can’t imagine a world where innocent children are subjected to the prospect of not graduating from one of the world’s top colleges and clearly the people who want to hire from the lower classes are dishing out cruel and unusual punishment thus we must continue the policy of only hiring janitors with PhDs?

          • John Schilling says:

            @erenold: Even if we could prevent guest workers from bringing their existing children to the United States, the US Constitution is quite explicit on the part where anyone who is born in the United States is a United States citizen, full stop. Children of guest workers, children of illegal immigrants, children of illegal immigrants actually in prison pending deportation, children of terrorist infiltrators who are plotting to fill the US with a new generation of terrorists, doesn’t matter – if the mother is physically located between the Rio Grande and the 49th Parallel when the baby exits the womb, that’s a United States citizen.

            Also, we can’t stop guest workers from bringing in their existing children. We can make it illegal for them to do so, but that won’t stop them. And once they’re here, they are cute sympathetic innocent children and the voters mostly won’t tolerate anything that hurts them – like tearing them away from their parents and/or sending them back to squalid third-world countries.

          • erenold says:

            @John Schilling

            Ah, thanks for your reply. You make a good point about the democratic optics of tearing children from their families and sending them back forcibly. Hmm.

            Could one possible solution be to require a hefty deposit for foreign Gastarbeiter bringing their spouses/children in, even on a social-visit pass? If their womenfolk/children do not leave on time, or commit non-immigration related offences while in America, they forfeit it.

            The real point, of course, is not the money – the real point is to discourage the poorest of the Gastarbeiter (and hence the most likely to overstay) from ever bringing their families in in the first place. Perhaps this might have bad optics as well, but necessary. As you rightly point out, the set of options for the children of Gastarbeiter raised in America are quite possibly worse than if they had stayed where they were. And yet the set of options for Gastarbeiter is expanded, and their utility therefore increased, by having at least this option than no option at all.

            Deposits – which obviously must be many times larger to take effect – could be taken from the employer-sponsor as well, requiring them to make the Gastarbeiter aware of and compliant with the relevant regulations. Employers generally seem to be far more aware of what their employees are up to, and generally are far better at controlling their employees, than the state. As the Chinese proverb has it – the emperor is powerful, and far away.

            These are things my country does regarding our transient workers, and generally it seems to work quite well, with everyone – including the transient workers – generally satisfied with working here under those stipulated terms and conditions. But, of course, I’m aware these solutions may not scale well for any number of reasons.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ multiheaded:

            Again, your point doesn’t make any sense.

            You may say that the US government has no right to deny welfare and the right to vote to people who come here. But it’s difficult to see how letting them come and denying them welfare is worse than not letting them come (and therefore also denying them welfare and the vote).

          • erenold says:

            I agree, and suddenly I remember why I find this particular conundrum so familiar:

            This debate reminds me of when PETA offered to pay for the water supplies of Flint residents so long as they disavowed the consumption of meat. In that it’s very difficult to refute the objection that the only alternative – doing nothing at all – is necessarily, and by definition, Pareto-inferior for all concerned. I’d go so far as to say it’s impossible to refute.

            That has nothing, of course, to do with the trickier question of whether a particular society at a particular time may for some reason consider it objectionable on wholly subjective, arbitrary social-norms grounds. But let’s be absolutely clear – that’s a purely cultural argument, not any kind of principled or intellectually coherent position, any more than “you must bow to your professional superior when you meet him/her.” Which, of course, is a cultural norm in several countries, but which I imagine most Americans would find shockingly repulsive.

          • Jiro says:

            Things can be Pareto improvements and still bad ideas because they create bad incentives. If you look at a specific situation, they are improvements, but they change the balance of what situations are likely to exist.

            This is also related to precommitment. If you precommit to do X, that means you do X even in a situation when X would be a Pareto negative, but the fact that you’ve made the precommitment affects your chances of getting into that situation in the first place.

          • erenold says:

            @Jiro, would I be correct in interpreting your post to say that citizenship-never-possible work permits would cause Americans to accept such a state of affairs, when without such an option, Americans would insist on a more liberal immigration policy, i.e. eventual-citizenship work permits? Thus, the balance of possible future situations being made worse despite apparent Pareto-efficiency?

            If so, respectfully request two clarifications:

            Conceptually, my intuitive understanding of the concept of Pareto efficiency is that it should extend across both space and time at least to a reasonable degree. Otherwise, under your definition, flooding the market tomorrow with cheap, legal ketamine would be Pareto-optimal in that those who want to take it can take it, while those who don’t, don’t. Thus, the set of possible options has been expanded, notwithstanding that one tick later, the balance of possible situations is worse by any reasonable measure. To the contrary, I understand something to be Pareto-optimal iff the short to medium term is accounted for. If my understanding is wrong, please correct me.

            Substantively, I take your point and I think it is a good one. Still, request clarification as to the American psyche and mindset. As I am not American and know very few Americans, my confidence in my ability to read your country is virtually nil. Would Americans really pressure their government to allow eventual-citizenship work permits if never-citizenship work permits were impossible?

            I can speak only of my own country and my own opinion, but if given the choice of creating a permanent underclass or no immigration at all, I would definitely prefer the latter. Moreover, it seems to me that your suggestion limits American utility by forcing the American people to artificially choose between two options by arbitrarily taking away the third.

            (Of course, as you have not actually made any of these points explicitly, I apologise if I have misunderstood and am strawmanning you!)

          • Jiro says:

            No, I was suggesting more or less the opposite. You often see people propose amnesty or some other benefit that affects immigrants who are already here, on the grounds that it helps them and doesn’t really harm anyone else–that is, because it’s a Pareto improvement. “How can you ignore those poor kids who are brought up never knowing any country except America….”

            But if you grant amnesty, or if you allow people to stay in the country because of how they were raised, or if you do any of the other things suggested for this reason, you create an environment which incentivizes more immigrants to come in to take advantage of future grants.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Jiro: But looking at that from the opposite direction, you seem to be supporting a system that punishes one group of people, some of them unambiguously innocent, in order to disincentivize the hypothetical future behavior of a different group of people.

            I agree that this is likely to work the way you want it to, though perhaps not as well as you want it to. Find another way, please.

          • Jiro says:

            I don’t consider refusal to give a non-citizen something to be punishment.

          • erenold says:

            Ah, ok – I misunderstood you to be specifically critiquing on policy grounds the never-citizenship suggestion by Scott above.

            I agree that deporting an individual who has no right to be in a country is not a punishment, but a restoration of the correct state of affairs.

            I’d go one step further and say that that individual is not “innocent”, as John Schilling puts it, in the first place. Certainly not in the legal sense of the word. There was no offence as such when the child first moved to America, as mens rea was not present. But once the undocumented immigrant reaches a sufficient age to understand the law, his own status, and the illegality of the latter vis-a-vis the former, the mens rea becomes present and the offence is perfected. Cf the concurrence doctrine at common law.

            (Just to be clear – not suggesting that that necessarily makes mass deportation either good policy or good ethics, though.)

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t consider refusal to give a non-citizen something to be punishment

            The net effect of raising a human being who speaks English but not Ruritanian, and then forcing them to live in Ruritania, is either punishment or malicious harm. If you want to but 100% of the blame on the people who did the first part and 0% for the latter, I better not find that you’ve been e.g. paying them to spend their prime child-bearing years in an English-speaking country, then taking back some of that in taxes to support English-language public schools, on account of you like having cheap labor around.

        • Anonymous says:

          Hey, you’re of Jewish heritage, so your natural homeland is Israel, right?

          No! I can’t speak for Scott, but my mother has had a genealogy hobby for the past 25 years. She’s been able to identify the names, dates of birth, marriage, and death of around 40 of my direct ancestors. Not one was born in Israel/Palestine. As far as we know not one set foot in that place until my parent’s generation. It is not in any way, shape, or form my homeland.

          • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

            “As far as we know not one set foot in that place until my parent’s generation. It is not in any way, shape, or form my homeland.”

            Oh? What about your Jewish ancestors at the time of Bar-Kokhba?

          • Anonymous says:

            I was referring to the forty identified ancestors. I have only very weak evidence as to where my ancestors were living in 100 CE. My best guess is that the group included those living more than a thousand miles from each other. If I grant for the sake of argument that some, but not all, lived in Roman Judea, so what? How does that make Israel “my natural homeland”?

          • Deiseach says:

            If we’re not giving citizenship to the immigrants, or their children (despite the children being born there) or their children’s children on down, why should it be any different retrospectively? If three generations of “born in America” still don’t give you rights to be considered American and you have to go back to “the Old Country” once every three years to comply with the scheme, why should “nobody in my family for forty generations has ever lived in Old Country” matter?

            If we’re going for “win-win plans”, let’s at least make sure the teeth bite everyone equally, otherwise we’re talking about re-introducing indentured servitude without even the possibility of attaining the right to be a citizen of the new land.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Deiseach
            Did you mean to post this in a different thread?

          • Desertopa says:

            Deiseach: If you make a set of criteria for attaining citizenship in a country, it doesn’t follow that you have to apply the same standards retroactively to every country a person’s ancestors have ever lived in. Citizenship criteria aren’t approximations of the process that imbues the Platonic quality of citizenship, they’re sets of incentives based on what the government thinks is in the country’s interests.

      • Jill says:

        This sure is a hard board to make sense of when you first arrive. Someone just give me a hint. Like what does the word rhyme with? Or maybe give me an extra letter or 2, LOL. Or a euphemism that means essentially the same thing as the word.

        n–r–ct–n? What?

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          NẸ?-rєa?tⓘ?N?r?

          • Jill says:

            Thanks much, Edward. I’ll go look that one up, along with paleoconservative.

            I didn’t know about these things before. Such an unusual board.

        • Anonymous says:

          You can find them on the blogroll/sidebar as “those who belong to the emperor”. Writing their real name causes your post to be filtered, hence Scott censoring himself on his own blog.

          • Jill says:

            Oh, what an interesting sidebar “those who belong to the emperor.” Some of the other sidebars are too. But I don’t see the list of names that cause your post to be filtered there. Or at least n___y isn’t on the list. Perhaps it was moved?

          • Anonymous says:

            There is no official list, but I think jaime posted an unofficial one a couple threads back. The filter is for posts here, not for posts in their blogs – try responding to me with NẸ?rєa?tⓘ?N?r? without the fancy symbols and see what happens.

          • Jill says:

            Anonymous. You’re right. I typed the post with that word. And then hit Post. And the post disappeared instead of getting posted.

        • Hero/main character of the matrix series + “for every action there is an equal and opposite ____” + ram shaped zodiac sign.

          Even if I disagree with you I will defend to the death your right to understand what people are talking about. =D. I also like riddles, but that should be obvious by my D&D gaming.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Or a euphemism that means essentially the same thing as the word.

          Novo-regressivism. Death Eaterism.

          • Jill says:

            Thanks. Am looking up those too.

            This environment is unusual. And yet it is a lot easier to learn to understand than new environments usually are, because there are so many people who are helpful.

            In some new environments, you are expected to not even ask questions at all. So this is good here.

      • workedness says:

        You think its hard to silence activists? Never been easier. You seem to have faint familiarity with corporate public relations.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/31/us/politics/pr-executives-western-energy-alliance-speech-taped.html?_r=0

        The company executives, Mr. Berman said in his speech, must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger and turn them against the environmental groups. And major corporations secretly financing such a campaign should not worry about offending the general public because “you can either win ugly or lose pretty,” he said.

        “Think of this as an endless war,” Mr. Berman told the crowd at the June event in Colorado Springs, sponsored by the Western Energy Alliance, a group whose members include Devon Energy, Halliburton and Anadarko Petroleum, which specialize in extracting oil and gas through hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. “And you have to budget for it.”
        Mr. Berman repeatedly boasted about how he could take checks from the oil and gas industry executives — he said he had already collected six-figure contributions from some of the executives in the room — and then hide their role in funding his campaigns.
        “People always ask me one question all the time: ‘How do I know that I won’t be found out as a supporter of what you’re doing?’ ” Mr. Berman told the crowd. “We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don’t know who supports us.”

        • Jill says:

          Thanks for the article, Workedness. I am usually the only person on any board I am on who is aware of propaganda and other covert tactics.

          Sometimes Moloch has a face, and has large organizations behind him. The types of destructiveness attributed to Moloch are not just a result of everyone’s random actions where all have benevolent intentions.

          • workedness says:

            “Sometimes Moloch has a face, and has large organizations behind him.”

            Yes. But people here don’t want to be hearing that. Not even a “sometimes” worth.

          • Jill says:

            Thanks, workedness. Have been trying to understand this board, and this helps.

    • anonymous poster says:

      Nathan Smith had an cool post on the 2000AD style setting that would result from totally open borders combined with a tiered system of rights

    • TD says:

      Why not just enforce the borders, do more to prevent visa overstay, and ban visas and emigration from places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia etc (there’s going to be leak through other countries, but it at least lessens the effect)… ?

      It’s not evil (civic nationalism =/= ethnic nationalism). I’d rather keep incompatible cultures out than allow them in and then piss them off, which is basically what happens when progressives allow everyone in, and then far-right parties get into power because of the inevitable results and then make things more unstable by banning the burqua and genuinely pushing things in oppressive directions.

      My model for the 21st Century is a liberal triad:
      1. competitive markets (classical liberalism) to remain wealthy
      2. safety net/public services (social liberalism) to cover for the useless
      3. borders (national liberalism) to keep the whole thing solvent

      • Atol says:

        You miss out on a lot of smart people if you completely cut of immigration.

        • TD says:

          Well, you don’t do that. Be very selective about who is allowed to immigrate and you are fine. (Easier said than done)

        • Some Troll's Legitimate Discussion Alt says:

          Their homelands do too. Their homelands which, almost certainly, are more in need of what economic resources they can muster than the US is. An especially clever citizen of an impovrished hell hole could be the architect of an industrializing boom. if he immigrated to the US, maybe the iPhone gets 11% cooler, but homelandivania is still poor as dirt and are out one genius, and all of their maybe-genius descendants forever.

          The first world plundering the rest of the planet, again, just with the novel twist of the loot being able to say “hey, I wanna go!”

          • Anonymous says:

            This is such a transparently hypocritical argument. It’s like when the textile unions claim to be very concerned about the welfare of sweatshop workers.

            Stick to xenophobia, don’t try to pretend to be a unilateralist humanitarian. You aren’t fooling anyone.

          • Wency says:

            For those keeping score at home, we call Anon’s response “the ad hominem fallacy”.

          • Desertopa says:

            On the other hand, the genius in the impoverished nation may not have access to infrastructure which will allow them to take full advantage of their abilities.

            Say you’ve got a modern day Edison in Sierra Leone who wants to create an industrial lab to drive technological innovation. They’ve got the tech skills and the management ability, and can prove it. A wealthy nation with reasonable immigration criteria would be happy to have them, but they probably can’t get a sufficient investment or loan in Sierra Leone to get started, nor are they likely to be able to draw in a sufficiently qualified local workforce.

          • makomk says:

            Not only that, but their impoverished homeland may well have already spent a bunch of resources on training those people up as – for example – doctors and nurses before the West swoops in and plucks them off to make use of their skills. This is already a concern even with current immigration policies. Now suppose Scott’s proposal happened and other countries didn’t have to pay the political and financial cost of giving them welfare or citizenship. Suppose countries like the US could cream off the best those countries had to offer, get them to work for a while paying US taxes, then dump them back on their homeland as soon as they’re too sick or old or unwanted to be employable, letting that country deal with all the costs.

            Individuals would obviously be better off taking that deal than not taking it, since it’d hugely improve their standard of living for a while. Of course, it’d be bad for the impoverished nation as a whole since it’d gut their medical system and industry and tax base, and sooner or later the people who took the deal would have to return home and would be harmed by this too – but it’d still be in every individual’s interest to take it nonetheless, since the net benefit to them is huge and the harm is diffuse and mostly to people they don’t even know.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            it’d be bad for the impoverished nation as a whole since it’d gut their medical system and industry and tax base

            Anecdotally this hasn’t happened in my country. Competent people leave to other countries but they don’t take their whole families with them, they send remittances(sp?) instead. Those families are using that money to send their kids to college and hopefully we are going to end up with more skilled educated professionals than before the “brain-drain”

      • safety net/public services (social liberalism) to cover for the useless

        The taboo question, whether ‘because’ of immigration or automation, is what numbers of ‘useless’ can the new elite (those with jobs and/or wealth) sustain? Because if you ask the taboo question you may be obliged to contemplate even more taboo solutions. Which is why most people just kick the problem down the road for someone else to deal with later.

        • TD says:

          If technological unemployment has made 99% of the populace unemployable, then machines are capable of doing all those jobs, including making more machines in lights out factories. The price of producing things will drop immensely because the labor cost, the cost of persuading people to work above their subsistence level will essentially disappear. It would be as if the economy was run off slave labor, only machines can replicate faster, and are hardier. Part of the welfare system could involve doling out slavebots to people for them to own, making everyone into some sort of techno-aristocrat. I also think that by the time this sort of thing becomes an issue we’ll be mining asteroids, so we’ll have more resources to apply to the problem.

          So, my super super speculative answer is: a very very large number of people, because prices would drop drastically in a heavily automated economy, and that means that most people could be made bourgeois (through the basic income), and we’ll likely have access to more resources that we don’t have access to now. At a certain point, the elites aren’t really doing much to support the masses personally, it’s just happening because you have an automatic workforce*, and in many cases automatic capitalists*. It’s possible to eventually conceive of public programs that require zero taxation to run, and under such conditions the distinction between a public program and private charity would disappear.

          *This will kill us if FAI isn’t solved.

      • multiheaded says:

        >It’s not evil

        Proof by assertion is one hell of a drug.

        • TD says:

          It’s not. It’s selfish (I don’t care about every single person in the world equally! Wow!), but if you think that’s evil you have no idea what evil can really be. Borders per se are not oppression. Hell, the wall of my house is a border. So, it’s not the borders in of themselves; you need something more to make that claim. With national borders you can say that there are people escaping hellholes, but you really have to factor in whether it is the belief systems of these people that contribute to making those places hellholes. You also have to consider the issue on the meta level of what the reaction by the locals will be.

          Europe basically has two choices; 1: either enforce the borders/control visas, preventing overwhelming levels of third world incompatibles coming in, while preserving liberal freedoms for existing minorities, or 2: keep letting them flood in, resulting in a right wing police state being voted into power as a reaction, ending with the crushing of those liberal freedoms in the name of security. The irony is that the third world is much much more right wing than us on everything to do with women’s rights, the rights of sexual minorities, and generally what is culturally permitted, and since I’m not right wing, I’d like some borders around my liberalism.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s not evil (civic nationalism =/= ethnic nationalism).

        Hey, ethnic nationalism isn’t evil!

        • TD says:

          Uprooting people from where they’ve lived and settled for a long time because of their race is pretty douchey.

          • Anonymous says:

            1. Ethnicity is more specific than race. Why bring up race?

            2. That would make the Allies pretty damn evil.

            3. If they had permission to move in the first place, sure. Which just makes the situation into a choice between two bad outcomes.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The Allies were pretty damn evil. Hell, the Allies included among them the Soviet fucking Union, come on.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes, yes, I know, you know, but not everyone does.

          • TD says:

            Why bring up race?

            Ethnic-nationalism is race based, it’s just that “ethnicity” includes other things apart from shared ancestry, such as language and culture in addition to race. Ethnic-nationalism therefore goes an extra step from civic or cultural nationalism because it adds in race (“blood”) as being a factor to define the nation that the nation-state is supposed to be for.

            “If they had permission to move in the first place, sure.”

            Illegal immigrants are one thing, but the kind of nationalism I have disdain for is the kind that wants to change the legal status of already legal and settled immigrants based off of their race. We shouldn’t even be doing that on any basis. Preventing large floods of third world illegal immigrants is a good idea for cultural and political reasons, so as to prevent liberalism collapsing due to toxic inflows. On the other hand, you have to maintain liberal rights to cultural minorities which are already established within the state, even if they are toxic, because if you don’t then you aren’t building a border around liberalism to protect it, but just throwing it straight into the bin.

            All illiberal politics are garbage since they produce winner takes all dashes for control of everything, rather than some sense of proportionality and an informal truce between different groups within society. Alt-right types should be clobbered on the head if they break that truce.

          • Anonymous says:

            Illegal immigrants are one thing, but the kind of nationalism I have disdain for is the kind that wants to change the legal status of already legal and settled immigrants based off of their race. We shouldn’t even be doing that on any basis.

            Why? Why should this particular issue be sacrosanct against legal change? It’s not like there aren’t plenty of examples of things that were legal, but later became illegal, or were illegal but then became legal. Hell, amnesties legalize illegal immigrants. Why not delegalize legal ones?

            Preventing large floods of third world illegal immigrants is a good idea for cultural and political reasons, so as to prevent liberalism collapsing due to toxic inflows.

            Liberalism is the cause of these floods. A closed-borders, our-citizens-only liberalism is at best very inconsistent in its principles, and therefore unstable.

            On the other hand, you have to maintain liberal rights to cultural minorities which are already established within the state, even if they are toxic, because if you don’t then you aren’t building a border around liberalism to protect it, but just throwing it straight into the bin.

            Just so.

            I, on the other hand, think that toxicity is grounds for expulsion.

            All illiberal politics are garbage since they produce winner takes all dashes for control of everything, rather than some sense of proportionality and an informal truce between different groups within society. Alt-right types should be clobbered on the head if they break that truce.

            I think you’re barking up the wrong tree. It’s democracy that makes power in society up for grabs – based on population, where immigration policy is of paramount importance – enabling and encouraging permanent low-level civil war.

          • TD says:

            Why? Why should this particular issue be sacrosanct against legal change?

            Because making that change means crossing a dangerous line in regards to individual rights, creating a precedent. Also, because trying to enact racial cleansing policies would produce so much opposition (I’d be among them) and of such intensity that normal politics would cease, and civil war would begin, killing millions. Then there’s the fact that I don’t want a racially pure state in the first place. Picking people out for removal based on the average traits of people who share their skin color/physical traits rather than what they believe is something I find to be unpleasant. I mean, I don’t even think Muslims (who are legal citizens) should be removed, so why would I want to go further and start removing all people with dark skin?

            Liberalism is the cause of these floods. A closed-borders, our-citizens-only liberalism is at best very inconsistent in its principles, and therefore unstable.

            That’s only inconsistent if you believe in universal natural rights. I’m a materialist and a moral nihilist (I think, I’m not educated in moral philosophy), so I don’t. Liberalism (and all political ideology) should be treat as a system designed to facilitate fundamental desires, not as an objective moral code. Liberalism is good because it is based upon proportionality and equality before the law. This is good because it means that no groups within society are afforded more legal privilege than any other, and this benefits all groups in turn, including whatever group I happen to belong to. If you choose something other than liberalism, then yes, your group might get to control everything for a while, but there’s no end of history, and when things turn around, your opponents will have no reason not to try for the same play. Liberalism is a truce, not a morality.

            It’s only by seeing liberalism from this standpoint that you can understand that it is vulnerable to those who want to defect and take everything (fascists, communists, Islamists etc), and since “rights” are derived from the state and not the magical equality fairy, it’s not inconsistent with the overall strategy of liberalism to prevent the state being swamped and taken over by illiberals. It would be quite another thing for the state to start removing rights arbitrarily from pre-existing citizens. Borders delineate the authority of the state which confers the “rights” (goodies, or whatever you want to call them).

            Yes, left-liberals/progressive liberals are the cause of those floods, but that’s only one possibility within the broad range of liberal ideology. Most modern conservatives are also liberals, only they emphasize their liberalism in support of the free market and defense of free speech. Liberalism needs reform, not destruction.

            I, on the other hand, think that toxicity is grounds for expulsion.

            But I translate this as “I think toxicity is grounds for civil war and millions of dead”. The Muslim problem isn’t big enough to justify such actions. It’s big enough to justify controlling immigration, not enough to say “fuck individual rights” and start repealing freedom of religion and so on. Carefully, carefully now.

            I think you’re barking up the wrong tree. It’s democracy that makes power in society up for grabs – based on population, where immigration policy is of paramount importance – enabling and encouraging permanent low-level civil war.

            Power is always up for grabs. Permanent low level civil war is actually preferable to the alternate, and that’s what a lot of antidemocratic ideologists get wrong. Liberalism is a truce, and democracy is just a higher level of truce. Instead of groups that hate each other bashing each others brains in to access totalitarian power, they instead agree to take part in peaceful competition and step aside gracefully if the other party wins; because they know they get a chance again in however many years between elections.

            Of course, the problem is that the one level of truce endangers the other; people can vote away liberalism with liberal (free party) democracy. So yes, there’s an unfortunateness to democracy in that any sort of prescribed rights are in conflict with the changing public whim, but on the other hand, removing democracy just means that the only option for change is a violent revolution.

            Truces also only work if both sides agree. You could hold out your hand and then the other guy puts a knife through it. Still, the alternative to trying to gain mutual agreement is no holds barred knife fights all the time every time.

            You are right that democracy incentivizes the importation of voters, but since we can’t have anything other than democracy (except the violent chaos of the pre-democratic era); we can only be left to fight mass immigration to prevent the illiberalization of the nation-state. Within the nation-state you have to maintain cultural, economic, and political liberalism, because the alternative is to defect and give in to the chaos, sending strong signals to everyone else that it’s a free for all.

            To me, an Islamic state is equivalent enough to a far-right traditionalist state. So, if my goal is to prevent the emergence of an ultra-traditionalist state, how does setting up an ultra-traditionalist state help with that? Why bother fighting it in that case? Why not just convert to Islam?

            Only liberalism gives me what I want, we just need to shave the rough edges from it.

          • Anonymous says:

            Because making that change means crossing a dangerous line in regards to individual rights, creating a precedent. Also, because trying to enact racial cleansing policies would produce so much opposition (I’d be among them) and of such intensity that normal politics would cease, and civil war would begin, killing millions.

            Ethnic cleansing can cause civil war, but only if the state actor is weak (such as in Yugoslavia). If the state is strong, such as was the case in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the Ottoman Empire, or just about any pre-modern kingdom that evicted the Jews, the ethnics get cleansed. It wasn’t civil war that brought down the Nazis, did it?

            There is no doubt in my mind that if the US government wanted to cleanse undesirable minorities from within its borders, it could do so, and would not face civil war over it.

            Liberalism is good because it is based upon proportionality and equality before the law. This is good because it means that no groups within society are afforded more legal privilege than any other, and this benefits all groups in turn, including whatever group I happen to belong to. If you choose something other than liberalism, then yes, your group might get to control everything for a while, but there’s no end of history, and when things turn around, your opponents will have no reason not to try for the same play.

            The point isn’t controlling everything, the point is exactly the opposite – leaving 99.9% of the people in peace, not involving them in politics. Not riling them up to constantly vie for power to lord it over the rest, when they are not capable of that in the democratic process, prompting them to periodically revolt. (See: Ireland under the British Empire.)

            Yes, left-liberals/progressive liberals are the cause of those floods, but that’s only one possibility within the broad range of liberal ideology. Most modern conservatives are also liberals, only they emphasize their liberalism in support of the free market and defense of free speech. Liberalism needs reform, not destruction.

            We’ll have to agree to disagree about this one.

            But I translate this as “I think toxicity is grounds for civil war and millions of dead”. The Muslim problem isn’t big enough to justify such actions. It’s big enough to justify controlling immigration, not enough to say “fuck individual rights” and start repealing freedom of religion and so on. Carefully, carefully now.

            Freedom of religion is an illusion. There is always a state religion, and the state will always want to convert its populace to it. I’d actually prefer them not to lie about it, at least.

            Power is always up for grabs.

            Except when you beat it into the potential rebels’ heads that they haven’t the slightest chance of succeeding.

            Instead of groups that hate each other bashing each others brains in to access totalitarian power

            Instead, we have groups competing by relative population sizes for access to totalitarian power.

            removing democracy just means that the only option for change is a violent revolution

            Or accepting that things won’t be changing.

            (except the violent chaos of the pre-democratic era)

            You mean the pre-mutually-assured-destruction era. You’ll also recall that it was the French Republic who resurrected the Roman Republic’s idea of human wave tactics, and begun the era of slaughter as professional soldiers got replaced by mass conscription and escalated towards total war where everyone is a target, civilian or not, over the next two centuries.

            To me, an Islamic state is equivalent enough to a far-right traditionalist state. So, if my goal is to prevent the emergence of an ultra-traditionalist state, how does setting up an ultra-traditionalist state help with that? Why bother fighting it in that case? Why not just convert to Islam?

            Because I’m not a moral nihilist like you, and don’t happen to believe in Islam. The specific features of Islam (the totalitarianism, the excessive brutality) make it inefficient compared to, well, most other traditionalist ideologies.

            Only liberalism gives me what I want, we just need to shave the rough edges from it.

            Those ‘rough edges’ are core substance of liberalism. I don’t think reform is viable. Excise the cancer, instead.

    • qwints says:

      Are you familiar with the bracero program?

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

    • Matthias says:

      That would make economic and utilitarian sense.

      But people in rich societies don’t want to have to look at poor people. See eg http://openborders.info/local-inequality-aversion/ and more directly http://openborders.info/second-class-residents/

    • Atol says:

      That second class citizenship is called a visa lol. The upgrade to 1.5 is the green card.

    • Urstoff says:

      Can I as a citizen sell my vote to these people? I’d like to sell it now, but I think these types of immigrants would pay me more.

      • Jiro says:

        Voting is based on the idea that you vote in such a way which maximizes utility for the country. The fact that this is done by letting lots of people maximize utility for themselves as individuals is simply because that’s the best way to maximize utility for the country, not because that’s a terminal goal. So it is possible that some ways people have of maximizing utility for themselves, such as selling their vote, can contradict the goal of voting.

        So no, you shouldn’t be able to sell your vote. Ideally, voting should be set up so it’s hard even to try.

        • Matthias says:

          Depends. In the kind of democracy that’s used amongst shareholders to run big companies, I think you are explicitly allowed to strip voting rights from shares? (Or in other words, sell your vote.)

          There’s nothing too magical about not being able to sell one’s vote. Forbidding the practice was a decision when designing the voting system. (The secret ballot adds an additional complication—if you can’t prove you voted a certain way, it’s hard to sell your vote.)

    • Nadja says:

      Some current visa categories for immigrants work a little like this. If you’re a foreign student or an H1B holder, you’re not eligible for government assistance, you have to be in good standing in order to maintain your legal status, you pay taxes, you pay the highest tuition, you can’t vote, and it will often take you 10-15 years to get your citizenship, if you do everything well. (Some people fail in this process, and have to leave the country.)

      Many American people don’t like the H1B program because they assume foreign workers will work for less money, complain less, and jump through more hoops, which weakens the Americans’ negotiating power. Now, the H1B program is very limited. I can’t imagine American workers would be thrilled at the proposal of allowing unlimited numbers of foreign workers into the country.

    • ii says:

      Pretty undeniably the actual solution for people whose main interest in the topic isn’t pretending to be virtuous while leaving all the kids arbitrarily living outside their borders to whatever fate. So probably nobody who actually matters.
      The whole dignity argument falls flat on account of the fact that voting rights and welfare benefits only translate to personal dignity in the world we’re living in aka where being the citizen of a wealthy nation makes you a human being and not giving everybody you meet that sort of acknowledgment is an obvious shorthand for evil. Somehow residency rights seem to still function fine as they’re currently implemented even as according to these predictions they should naturally result in bloody civil war.

    • LPSP says:

      In other words, the Roman model of slavery. Worked extremely well, was actually honest unlike our current system of slavery (which has the temerity to even pretend it’s free) and doesn’t lead to the raping of public coffers as we see in, say, modern Britain.

  9. suntzuanime says:

    Well, I’m crying. The world is a horror and it can’t be helped.

    • The Nybbler says:

      “The poor you will always have with you”

      Yeah, I know it’s out of context, but rather revealing even so.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      Life is the theatre of tragedy.

      I only feel apathy.

  10. Daniel Speyer says:

    There’s an important caveat here, in that at least national-level economic data paint a rosy picture: the unemployment rate is very low,

    That seems to have more to do with unemployed people giving up than finding jobs. The employment/population has barely recovered from the ’08 crash.

    • E. Harding says:

      Nope; discouraged workers aren’t a huge part of this, and this has been going on since the mid-1990s for men:

      https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=37TY

      I blame college.

    • Chalid says:

      Much of the reason for employment/population not rising in your plot is due to retirees. Employment in the working age population has been rising strongly and steadily:

      http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2016/02/yes-cyclicalists-really-won-bet.html

      • Miriam says:

        I followed your link, and then followed its link, and I still see what looks like a major flattening in job-growth rate if you look back a few more years (which since this particular graph doesn’t account for population growth, amounts to a decline). Admittedly the flattening seems to begin in 2001, not 2009, but I can remember people complaining that the 2001 recovery wasn’t a “real” recovery either.

        link

        • Chalid says:

          I am very specifically targeting the claim that discouraged workers are the reason employment/population has barely recovered from the 2008 crash. The second and third plots in the article I linked demonstrate that if you take out demographic effects a great deal of this goes away. (Note that those plots end pre-2016 and the economy has, as far as we know, continued to make progress.)

          On your plot, to argue for a change since 2001 you’d you need to take out the effects of the changing rate of population growth and of changes in the population age distribution.

      • eponymous says:

        This is probably the graph you want to look at (prime age men):
        https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=4xVZ

        There is a long-term downward trend, but we’re pretty clearly still below that.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      I am unimpressed.

      So the ’08 crash was part of a larger trend of dropping employment. The crash was the general trend happening faster. That’s kind of what a crash is. So what?

      And “increasing retirement” sounds like a euphemism for “technological unemployment hits the old hardest”. Are these people retiring happily on adequate savings or retiring because they don’t have another option?

      • Salem says:

        Actually, the opposite is occurring. Retirement is going up as the population as a whole ages, but employment levels are higher than ever in the oldest demographics, and disappointing in the younger ones.

      • Chalid says:

        And “increasing retirement” sounds like a euphemism for “technological unemployment hits the old hardest”

        It means that old people are a higher fraction of the population than they were before. I don’t see why you don’t think that this is an obvious and necessary thing to adjust for. Surely you would grant that, in equivalent economic conditions, 70 year olds are less likely to work than 60 year olds?

  11. meyerkev248 says:

    Let people move to places with high wages.

    Right now, what’s happening is that the top oh… 10% or so have places where rents are 5x what they should be, but that’s OK because wages are 2x what they “ought” to be. And if you’re in the top 10%, that works out very well, and if you’re not in the 10%, time to move to Vegas.

    Which means that the not-engine cities are full of desperate poor people and maybe the occasional doctor or car salesperson makes a decent income.

    And while the rich people are yakking it up in expensive cities, because they’re expensive cities, they make ridiculous sums of money and then spend it all trying to not have multi-hour commutes or get the rare apartment with working plumbing.

    So poor people are poor, and rich (er, not-quite 1%ers) people are… also poor.

    /Of course, when a vacation is $1500, and a year’s rent on an apartment within 45 minutes of work and air conditioning is an extra $15,000, yeah, I finally made it out to Zion.

    • E. Harding says:

      And then they tell those below their ability to make rent to suck it up, as people like them are ruining their view, and that it’s politically impossible to build public transportation in the most Democratic-voting city of a fully Democratic-run state. That’s the basic gist of the comments on this article:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/17/business/economy/san-francisco-housing-tech-boom-sf-barf.html

      • meyerkev248 says:

        Oh, it’s absolutely politically impossible.

        The problem is that as the wage spread grows, the housing premium is noticeably more than the rent premium.

        Or in other words, right now, you make $35,000 by moving from Dallas to SF Metro (San Jose is similar). That’s median income. Take out taxes, and throw on a slight premium for “We’re forcing people to move and inertia is really powerful”, and that’s the rough rent premium.

        The PROBLEM, and the reason why this will never get fixed ever, is that that wage premium goes up $1,000/year. It started back in the 1970’s and just opened up more and more and more.

        So the housing premium is not just “How much is an 80% payraise worth?”, it’s “How much is an 80% payraise today, and a 160% payraise in 30 years worth?”

        Or in practice, a $1.6 Million house (~$10,000/month at 4% plus 1% property taxes) rented for $5,000/month. And in my current zip code, where I’m paying $2100 and will be paying $2500 in August when my lease is up, not a single CONDO sells for less than $1.1 Million.

        Which means that a lot of people have literally millions of dollars (and keep in mind that mid-level tech makes $150K, or about $90-100K after taxes, we’re talking decades of income here) tied up in ensuring that not only does the problem not get better, but that the problem get twice as bad in the next 2 decades.

        So of course we’re not going to add mass transit, that would reduce the housing premium for living near work. (Of course, there’s 3 jobs for every house, but).

    • Matthias says:

      That’s an excellent idea. It will also drive up rents in those desirable places.

      The solution is to build higher there, and to tax away the part of the rent that’s purely due to the unimproved value of the land. (The second will drive the former.)

    • Psmith says:

      Trouble with this is that having poor people living nearby creates undesirable externalities. Hell, even growth can create substantial undesirable externalities if you happen to be a settled homeowner in the area. Zoning is one way that people who don’t want new people moving in (unless they’re sufficiently rich) respond to this, but even if you do away with zoning you’re going to have some mechanism keeping poor folks out. If nothing else, private HOAs/POAs. “Build more” is not really a viable program unless you have greenfields, in which case you need to deal with commuting.

      • Matthias says:

        > Trouble with this is that having poor people living nearby creates undesirable externalities.

        The solution is of course to offset the externalities created: you tax the poor (since they cause those undesirable externalities), and give to the rich (the people previously living there).

        Snarking aside, a land tax would make NIMBYs pay for the policies that keep housing in short supply. As opposed to rewarding them like today. (And thus would lead to less NIMBYs protesting; and more “Build more”.)

        Today:

        NIMBY sits on land with a house; lobbies to keep housing expensive, benefits from expensive (house+land).

        With land value tax:

        NIMBY sits on land with a house; lobbies to keep housing expensive, land under his house is expensive, so the NIMBY pays a lot in taxes.

        • The Nybbler says:

          A land tax gives the NIMBYs more reasons to be a NIMBY, not less. Forbidding improvements on land lowers its value.

          • Matthias says:

            I think it might depend on which government entity is getting the land tax.

            Basically, there will be a strong incentive (higher taxes) for that level of government to face down NIMBYs. (I think there are some more reasons.)

            But yes, if you get a zoning that allows only exactly your land use (eg “only Bob’s house can be build here”) the value of the land will be virtually zero.

            Don’t most NIMBYs currently like high prices? (And isn’t `this would decrease property values around here’ usually the underlying rallying call?)

          • The Nybbler says:

            NIMBYs don’t want their property (land + improvment) values to go down, but they also want to retain their current use of the land, thus they don’t want to be taxed out of it. Their land would perhaps be a lot more valuable if a 100-unit apartment building could be built on it, but that only helps them if they sell; until then, they’re paying the taxes for land beneath a potential 100-unit apartment building even though they only have a single-family home.

  12. Rafal Smigrodzki says:

    The southeast corner? Welcome to reality 🙂

    Now, I may be going out on a moral limb here, but why should we help the poor? As you note, the problem is intractable and attempts at solving it either don’t work or harm the non-poor (i.e. productive, useful) members of our society. Why not free ourselves of the stone-age desire to signal moral fibre by pretending to help the downtrodden and the useless? Why not admit the cold-hearted core of our being and devise ways to gently usher economic non-contributors and their genes out of our gene pool? A Conditional Basic Income (CBI), predicated on a willingness to forgo reproduction, would in a few scant generations work wonders.

    I don’t have much hope that this approach would gain traction in the blogosphere, since an unflinching acceptance of cold, hard truths is indeed very unpopular. On the other hand, the Age of Em is coming, so maybe the whole issue is soon going to be moot for those who ascend to the electronic realm and keep up with software updates to stay mutually useful. It will be a glorious future!

    • anonymous poster says:

      On the other hand, the Age of Em is coming, so maybe the whole issue is soon going to be moot for those who ascend to the electronic realm and keep up with software updates to stay mutually useful. It will be a glorious future!

      It will be moot for the uploaded copies of their minds. They themselves will still be poor, useless fleshbags in an era of perfect, immortal machines.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Destructive uploading more plausible.

        • anonymous poster says:

          It will be moot for the uploaded copies of their minds. They themselves will be dead.

          • Murphy says:

            But for the version of themselves pre-upload it’s win-win whether it’s destructive or not. Their future world line gets to include becoming a perfect immortal.

          • anonymous poster says:

            How is bringing a machine with vaguely humanoid characteristics that pretends to be me into the world a win from my perspective?

          • TD says:

            It’s your son! (sort of)

          • Murphy says:

            How is making sure that a vaguely humanoid chunk of flesh that pretends to be you still exists next week a win from your perspective?

            It’s brain is probably in a sort of similar state to yours but it may have some very different beliefs even though it shares many of your memories.

            It’s in your future world line but between now and then your consciousness will lose coherence multiple times.

          • anonymous poster says:

            >it’s a ‘you don’t experience continuity of consciousness from moment to moment’ thread

      • Hlynkacg says:

        Why bother uploading useless minds?

        • Rafal Smigrodzki says:

          If they pay for it, sure. Delete when they can’t pay for storage though.

          • Murphy says:

            Nah, auction off for extra dystopia.

            That way the future could include people systematically collecting ownership of all the stored minds of everyone they ever went to school with.

            Though with the way storage is going you’d have to be hella-poor to not be able to afford storage unless human minds are really really vast. It won’t be long before exabytes fit in a matchbox.

            even sticking to todays storage , using 20 dollar, 128GB microsd cards an exabyte of storage would take a little over a liter of physical space.

    • TD says:

      “Now, I may be going out on a moral limb here, but why should we help the poor?”

      Because I’m the poor. It’s in my interests to find crafty ways of making you do my bidding.

      • Rafal Smigrodzki says:

        It’s nice to have a leech admit he is just a leech, one who does not pretend there is a moral imperative for me to submit to his demands. It’s better to face an enemy in the open, rather than wage war against adversaries cloaked in hypocrisy.

        • Murphy says:

          Not going far enough. Need to extract economic value by harvesting the organs of their children. The livers from a scant half dozen poor families toddlers could keep an economically “productive” trust fund owner healthy enough to continue drinking heavily his whole life.

        • Soumynona says:

          All this talk of “leeches” sounds kind of like communist rhetoric. Perhaps there’s a certain spiritual kinship between crazy people on both sides of the political spectrum.

          • suntzuanime says:

            A centrist is defined as someone who doesn’t want to massacre the poor or the rich.

          • William Newman says:

            “A centrist is defined as someone who doesn’t want to massacre the poor or the rich.”

            Close, probably close enough for government work, since Left and Right were named after seating patterns in France, while Center was originally a reference to the power centers in The Matrix.

          • Rafal Smigrodzki says:

            Communists diagnosed opposition as a form of mental illness. Will you try to cure me of my beliefs, Soumynona?

    • GT says:

      I can’t believe I’m about to post something as saccharine as this, but anyway… Perhaps the working class and conservatives have had the solution from the start: the furthest you try to project your charity, the less you will accomplish. Instead of trying to socially enforce altruism towards strangers, with a political and economical policies that fight against our instincts, the solution could be a safety net of strong interpersonal bonds: deep friendships, nuclear families, close communities (which tended to be religious, but could be something else). Would we even need complex, badly understood economic policy (I’ve yet to be convinced that anyone understands macro-economics) to create safety nets if people had their friends and family’s backs?

      The media and modern life in general has been regularly attacking the instincts that lead to this kind of immediate community. We use social media to associate to a larger set of people in a looser way than we used to. Community pride is attacked as being non-inclusive. We shame people for wanting to prioritize their friends and family, and not helping refugees from across the world. All of these attacks are based on the idea that you could include as many people in your “protected” community bubble as you want, and get the same result, thus the only reason not to include more people is hatred or apathy. I’ve seen no proof of that, and plenty of anecdotes that hint at the opposite.

      • Hlynkacg says:

        Pretty much.

        Welcome to the party.

      • Samedi says:

        @GT

        I think what you have described is the best solution. Treat the problem as a local problem and then focus one’s effort on strengthening and empowering local institutions. Technocrats of all stripes seem to like the idea of large-scale, centralized solutions so I doubt we will see much progress on this front.

        I wish there were charitable foundations that were specifically focused on helping people in one’s own city (perhaps there are and I just don’t know of them?). It seems odd to me to donate to some distant, anonymous charity when people in your own city or community are suffering. That feels unethical to me.

        • Izaak Weiss says:

          There are and you can. Most cities have local charities, food banks, homeless shelters.

      • Randy M says:

        United Way I think uses as a promotional point that most of the money is used in the community in which it is donated.

      • nm. k.m. says:

        >family

        What if the insular community you are born in sucks? Either in general (alcoholics that are not much of help / authoritarian sociopath manages to create a living hell to other members), or specifically to you (damn you if dare to read this heathen literature written by atheists; conform or get ousted).

        >friends

        What about those that have trouble creating a community of their own? Finding friendships isn’t that easy. I hear many people build life-long friendships when in school. What about that introvert kid that’s bullied?

        In conclusion, how do you ensure that everybody has a viable community that supports them in a need? The thing is, it’s not like the government anywhere actively works on to destroy those communities. They *exist*. For some people.

        The other thing is, every day those communities *fail* some people. Some of them will take it peacefully and live (and then die) on the street when their security net fails. Someone might be more aggressive about when they end up in situation with nothing to lose. (And someone might even feel a tiny bit of guilt about the lack of altruism towards strangers, and want to introduce an universal safety net…)

        It rather seems that this is arguing for a position “fuck the unlucky strangers, and damn you if you try to make me feel bad about it”.

        • Anonymous says:

          “Sometimes fail” seems a damn sight better than “always fail”.

        • Rafal Smigrodzki says:

          “fuck the unlucky strangers, and damn you if you try to make me feel bad about it” – this is my position, succinctly expressed!

          • Nornagest says:

            Once someone gets to the point of proposing mass murder, my position is that the conversation has run its useful course.

          • Anonymous says:

            Mine is that we should exterminate all people with such a view. I don’t think they are evil or anything like that, I simply want a world where people care about unlucky strangers, it would be much more kawaii. Maybe use explosive collars to keep the lizardmen in line and harness their lizard skills.

            Have you considered that you, in fact, are the lizardman?

          • Anonymous says:

            Have you considered that you, in fact, are the lizardman?

            Of course.

          • He will be the last lizardman. Not the lizardman that we need but the lizardman we deserve.
            When all other lizardmen have been chained, he will wrap the chains around his own neck, as a single tear rolls down his face. The doors close, a switch is thrown, and the vault of the lizardmen is flooded with leeches.

        • Samedi says:

          @nm. k.m.

          I think your characterization of the position is uncharitable, at least according to my reading of it. You are, of course, correct that there are terrible families and terrible communities. If your community was decent they used to apply strong social pressure to influence badly behaved families. For example, neighbors “pot banging” the house of domestic abusers. Or nowadays the strong disapproval you will find for people hitting their children in public.

          But the best answer in a case where they are both bad is just to leave. I don’t think there is any way to “ensure that everybody has a viable community that supports them in a need”.

          • Murphy says:

            Case study:

            Amish community where it’s discovered that a girl is being raped daily by her male siblings for years.

            The Amish community requires the perpetrators to apologize to the community and spend 6 weeks in penance while they’re shunned.

            The girl is left with the people who’ve been raping her for years.

            The girl eventually goes to the external secular authorities to escape her rapists and is then utterly shunned and is utterly cut off from the family she had left by the same community because her rapists had already “served penance” and thus their actions should be forgotten and they decide that she’s done something far far worse by “failing to forgive them” and by going to the secular external authorities.

            That’s the real face of “community social pressure”

            it cannot be relied on even a little to be remotely fair.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Is that the “real face,” or is it anecdata?

            Case study:

            Underage girl is raped by multiple men, multiple times. They abuse her in a variety of ways, including pouring gasoline on her and threatening to set her on fire. They even kill her pet cats.

            Fathers in the community who got concerned about this and the many other girls being treated similarly are then arrested by the police when they try to stop it.

            If yours is the real face of community social pressure, this is the real face of the alternative.

          • Jiro says:

            Rotterham is not “the alternative to community social pressure”. It’s “a particularly bad alternative to community social pressure”.

            Pointing out that a government infested by political correctness does as bad as the Amish is a condemnation of political correctness, not an exoneration of the Amish.

          • Jaskologist says:

            They’re both bad arguments. The Amish are not a monolith, and even if they were, not the central example of community social pressure. Every system is going to have injustices that don’t get righted. The ability to point to such an anecdote means nothing.

          • Nita says:

            There’s a reason why abuse often gets ignored, hushed up or ‘handled’ as described above. It’s not an accident, but a predictable result of the needs and incentives involved. More serious measures can endanger the community (or family) itself, especially if there is any disagreement over the judgment or the facts, and most humans are quite sensitive to risks of that sort. So, everyone who could do something has a strong incentive to take the path of least wave-making, and communities tend to settle into a see-no-evil, speak-no-evil equilibrium.

          • keranih says:

            So, everyone who could do something has a strong incentive to take the path of least wave-making, and communities tend to settle into a see-no-evil, speak-no-evil equilibrium.

            And this sort of (understandable, human) see-th-right-in-both-sides, local community-based decision making is what we try to avoid by having hard hearted dispassionate outsiders with no understanding of local custom or the challenges facing the humans involved deciding our accusations of criminal activity by strict rules of evidence, prosecution, and a preponderance of previous case law.

            Rule of law sucks, just not as bad as the alternatives.

          • Samedi says:

            I am not suggesting that community social pressure is a substitute for rule of law. I think both are useful. Social pressure can act as early negative feedback to correct undesirable behavior before the police/law mechanism kicks in. Because Americans tend to be so atomized (at least in the suburban metropolitan communities I’ve always lived in) we tend to rely almost exclusively on latter and make little use of the former.

            Also, both are merely mechanisms. If the community norms or laws are “bad” then so will be the results.

    • Walter says:

      Uh, I think if you pay someone to not have kids they will take your money and have kids anyway. What are you going to do about it? Stop giving them money? Still a good idea for them to take this bargain, money for a while is better than never money. Sue for the money back ? HA!

      If you want to be all like “screw useless/jobless people”, good luck getting their votes. Your rival, who swears up and down that their troubles are not their fault and they all deserve ponies, will beat you in a landslide. He’ll get half of the productive folks, and all of the unemployed folks who can be bothered to vote.

      • Hlynkacg says:

        What are you going to do about it?

        The obvious answer would be shoot euthanize the child.

        • Walter says:

          If I’m like “your platform will make you lose elections”, and you like “nuh-uh, we can make this work by murdering people’s children” I feel like I’ve sort of won. Is that fair?

          • Rafal Smigrodzki says:

            It depends. The ancient Assyrians seem to have been quite successful running on the “we’ll murder your children” platform. History has a way of repeating itself.

          • hlynkacg says:

            See Rafal’s reply above ^

      • neurno says:

        There is, currently (but not for much longer), a simple technological solution: only women qualify, and they must exchange their uterus for the payment.

        • Randy M says:

          Swap it for ovaries, and it will work indefinitely.
          Swap it for testes, and you make the population more docile at the same time.
          /A modest proposal

          • Anonymous says:

            And the next generation will be selected primarily for non-compliance with this policy.

      • Rafal Smigrodzki says:

        Vasectomy and tubal ligation are well-established, cheap procedures.

        And yes, general suffrage is a bad idea. A properly constituted society would only enfranchise land or capital holders of some stature.

        • Matthias says:

          > And yes, general suffrage is a bad idea. A properly constituted society would only enfranchise land or capital holders of some stature.

          If you want to entertain such a proposal, I suggest making voting rights in every period proportional to actual taxes paid.

          Though, what are you trying to accomplish?

        • Anonymous says:

          @Rafal

          I would go further – suffrage is harmful and unnecessary, especially when the constituency is poor and not-very-smart. James Anthony Froude makes a pretty good case for this being so in The Bow of Ulysses.

    • Bugmaster says:

      A Conditional Basic Income (CBI), predicated on a willingness to forgo reproduction, would in a few scant generations work wonders.

      Moral (i.e., entirely subjective) considerations aside, why are you so sure of this ? As far as I understand, reproduction is a pretty basic human desire, so what is your evidence that you can easily suppress it with CBI ? Are you not risking riots and revolutions by going down that path ?

      • Rafal Smigrodzki says:

        The demographic transition implies that reproduction is not a universal human desire. There are many women proudly announcing they are “child-free”. A CBI would make it likely that this propensity in the economically uselessness would translate into actual lack of reproduction, without accidental pregnancies.

        Of course I realize that my modest proposal has no chances of being implemented but if it was, it would work.

        • Anonymous says:

          The demographic transition implies that reproduction is not a universal human desire.

          The existence of suicides and martyrs does not refute that living is a universal human desire.

          The demographic transition is temporary – the future members of society are recruited solely from those who have elected to reproduce. Whatever genetic factors that made them do it – in the presence of massive pressures against it, as there are in modern day western societies – are going to be more prevalent in their generation. In addition, much of the childlessness is the result of women failing to understand female biology – starting childbearing late does not guarantee success. They do want children, but are under the impression they can wait until their mid-thirties before starting on that project.

        • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

          “There are many women proudly announcing they are “child-free”. ”

          LOL These are the women who usually have other things in life that give their lives meaning; e.g., a ThD in Gender Studies (yes I wrote ThD on purpose) and lots of cats. There are very few poor people who proudly announce they are child free. Indeed, having children seems to be the one thing that gives their poverty-stricken lives meaning.

          But the discussion is specifically about poor people, not SWPLs.

    • Maware says:

      Because people will turn their cold hearts on you next, because you stripped the protections for everyone, not just the poor. I doubt you realize that you are probably just as much a waste and just as replaceable as the poor you want to get rid of, in the long run. The people running the show can always find someone hungrier and more productive than you, you know.

      • Rafal Smigrodzki says:

        Please note that I am not suggesting infringing on private property, just the opposite, I suggest strengthening the norms protecting it. “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s house” even if you say it’s for the poor.
        I would take issue with your claim that I am useless. When not engaging in silly debates online I do work, pay my bills, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes each year, and yes, I pull my weight.

        • Psmith says:

          I would take issue with your claim that I am useless. When not engaging in silly debates online I do work, pay my bills, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes each year, and yes, I pull my weight.

          The natural worry for many of us is that this will not be true for the rest of the foreseeable future, or even the rest of our working lives.

        • Murphy says:

          There are people with high incomes who are still approximately as useful to society as a rock.

          Take a Rock, it can be a nice shiny rock. Go get whatever pieces of paper are needed to be signed to grant it the ability to act as a legal receptacle for property rights. Then dump some money into a trust fund for it.

          The rock now “contributes” as much to the economy as some people who never work or actually contribute anything to the economy and live off investments, probably more than some since it never eats into the capital and income is reinvested.

          My proposal is to replace all such useless leeches with actual rocks thus strengthening the economy significantly. Money that would otherwise get wasted on drunken yacht parties can instead continue to flow through the stock market.

          • John Schilling says:

            The utility of trust-fund babies is as a positive motivation to people who actually create and/or direct vast fortunes. Scrooge McDuck, wanting to create the best possible future for his beloved nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, will behave very differently than Ebenezer Scrooge, who has no one to care about. And the Scrooge who wants to pass a fortune to his children but knows it will be taken from them the moment he shuffles off this mortal coil, will behave differently still. Which of the three do we think is most likely to build valuable and enduring wealth-generating enterprises that incidentally employ thousands of people in decent jobs?

            If the theory is that, denied the possibility of directly aiding their own offspring, the rich will instead devote themselves to altruistically bettering all mankind, I’d rather bet on the theory that has a few million years of evolutionary biology and a few thousand years of observed human behavior on its side.

            But this doesn’t work if you tell Scrooge McDuck that you’re planning to replace his “useless” nephews with shiny rocks. And really, you won’t be able to keep that plan secret. Because here you are, bragging about it in public.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Drunken yacht parties are an important part of the system. They rapidly take capital away from useless trust fund babies and disperse it throughout the economy. And there’s no tax shelter that will protect them, either (except responsible living, of course).

          • John Schilling says:

            Absolutely. Either the trust-fund babies learn to be productive capitalists themselves, or we distract them with the shiny while we take back the money. Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.

            If the first generation is productive enough, indulging the last is still a net bargain. And in the meantime, yachtmaking is as productive an endeavor as any, easily enough retasked towards ferryboats or Coast Guard cutters if we find we don’t need to do as much billionaire-motivating.

          • Anonymous says:

            Drunken yacht parties are an important part of the system. They rapidly take capital away from useless trust fund babies and disperse it throughout the economy.

            I think the problem with drunken yacht parties is that they waste a lot of productive capacity on things like yachts. Lots of human effort is being burned and all we get is a boat. $100 million spent on a yacht would have produced a lot more utility if it was split up into 10,000 lots of $10,000 and given to poorer people to spend.

            Now, maybe it’s a bad idea to actually do that, but let’s not pretend that drunken yacht parties have no downsides.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            While a lot of human effort might be “wasted” on the boat, I guarantee that the meddlesome busybodies would want to redirect that effort towards some more productive purpose would be an order of magnitude more wasteful.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Blue Anonymous
            That’s an argument against luxury goods, though, not trust-fund babies. Larry Ellison has yachts too.

          • John Schilling says:

            $100 million spent on a yacht would have produced a lot more utility if it was split up into 10,000 lots of $10,000 and given to poorer people to spend

            The $100 million would not have existed if the people who created it had known you were going to do that. Or it would have been created and most of it spent on lawyers, guns, and money in congressmen’s pockets to make sure you couldn’t do that.

            The choice isn’t a yacht and a bunch of profitably-employed yachtbuilders vs. handouts to 10,000 poor people. It’s the yacht and the yachtbuilders vs. the warm fuzzy you get from having reduced the yacht-owner and yacht-builder to poverty along with the rest.

            Or maybe it’s a smaller yacht, handouts to 5,000 of the most deserving poor, and genuine respect for the rich guy’s contribution. There is at least in principle room for some negotiation here. In practice, the ability of redistributionists to credibly promise real respect for capitalists has taken a rather big hit of late.

          • Dahlen says:

            @Jaskologist: It’s a point to keep in mind, but it’s not as important as you may imagine. The out-of-sight-rich take it as a point of (class) pride to buy the most expensive version of everything that is. (Except labour.) A large cut of the price that they pay for any given item is pure profit for the shareholders of the brand. So in that sense luxury brands form almost a closed circuit. As a simplified model, some rich guy buys Armani suits and Dom Perignon champagne; out of the prices of these goods, little more than the average labour cost goes to the workers who made them, and way way more than average (for that class of goods) goes into the pockets of their highest-paid businessmen, and the CEOs etc. of the brands Armani and Dom Perignon go spend their money on other luxury brands and the cycle goes on. It’s mostly the rich enriching one another. Those who self-identify as upper-class don’t behave like a rational economic agent in avoiding diminishing marginal returns in utility as the price of a good increases. They just go for rich-people brands. After all they can afford to.

            In case you don’t believe me on the profit margins, here’s a half-misremembered word-of-mouth analysis of what goes into the price of a brand-name perfume, by production cost (or profit) on each of its components:
            40% the bottle
            25% the profit margin
            25% the advertising for it
            10% the perfume itself

            I’ve recently learned that there are more expensive perfumes (by a factor of two or three) than Chanel & Dior. The fact that I had to venture into a super expensive fragrance store when I had nothing better to do instead of having it advertised to me a hundred times before means that their advertising costs are lower than shown here. The prices mean that their profit margin is higher. This is the stuff rich people buy. Draw your own conclusions.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Edward Scizorhands:

            While a lot of human effort might be “wasted” on the boat, I guarantee that the meddlesome busybodies would want to redirect that effort towards some more productive purpose would be an order of magnitude more wasteful.

            Right, which is why I imagined straight-up redistribution. That way we use the market to direct that human effort to producing whatever poor people want, instead of producing yachts. Net utility should increase because of the diminishing marginal utility of money.

            (I acknowledge that we may not want to actually do this because it will reduce the incentives to make money in the first place, as John Schilling points out.)

            @The Nybbler

            That’s an argument against luxury goods, though, not trust-fund babies. Larry Ellison has yachts too.

            Absolutely.

            @John Schilling

            Or maybe it’s a smaller yacht, handouts to 5,000 of the most deserving poor, and genuine respect for the rich guy’s contribution. There is at least in principle room for some negotiation here.

            Right. I don’t want to reduce anyone to poverty. Of course we want to preserve the useful incentives to get rich. But I think it’s hard to deny that poor people have a much higher marginal utility of money, so that from a utilitarian perspective there’s a lot of good to be done by a medium amount of redistribution.

            I confess I don’t understand your emphasis on respect. No one can promise that society will respect you.

            I guess I agree that respect is important in that we don’t want people to say “rich people are useless, let’s take ALL their money.”

          • Anonymous says:

            There are people with high incomes who are still approximately as useful to society as a rock.

            Take a Rock, it can be a nice shiny rock. Go get whatever pieces of paper are needed to be signed to grant it the ability to act as a legal receptacle for property rights. Then dump some money into a trust fund for it.

            The rock now “contributes” as much to the economy as some people who never work or actually contribute anything to the economy and live off investments, probably more than some since it never eats into the capital and income is reinvested.

            My proposal is to replace all such useless leeches with actual rocks thus strengthening the economy significantly. Money that would otherwise get wasted on drunken yacht parties can instead continue to flow through the stock market.

            I will henceforth be your number one enemy, because you a) are homicidally inclined towards me because of my retirement plan, b) apparently want to liquidate my grandparents (and shortly parents too).

          • Murphy says:

            @John

            That’s assuming that the majority of wealth is in the hands of people who actually did something positive sum to get it. Most money is old money mostly built on fortunes based on who’s great grandfather was best at murdering people and taking their stuff.

            I’m being literal with the rock example. Take the old money that hasn’t seen a productive hand in hundreds of years and drop it into lots of competing trust funds and let the money strengthen the whole economy while staying hands off.

            It should reduce the cost of capital long term since these funds don’t have the same yacht associated costs as real trust fund baby humans funds and then you leave them to stew.

            It’s essentially making it harder for pure capitalists to compete by introducing more competitive, simpler agents. Though you’d probably need something as solid as a constitutional amendment blocking politicians from asset-stripping them since they’re non voters and non lobbyists.

            It has many of the same problems as 1-off wealth taxes that occasionally get instituted in the real world but unless you do it regularly it doesn’t affect the economy much.

            In his pre-politics days even Trump proposed such a 1-off wealth tax (taking X percent of the wealth of everyone with more than Y assets) as a trade for the estate tax so even power-mad billionaires themselves can sometimes be in favor of such wealth taxes.

            Now honestly I’m not a big fan of lump-sum wealth taxes myself but they are a viable option that have historically worked without destroying economies despite the claims that nobody would ever even try to build companies if they couldn’t be sure that their great great grandchildren could still use the proceeds to live and look like jabba the hut.

          • John Schilling says:

            That’s assuming that the majority of wealth is in the hands of people who actually did something positive sum to get it

            If you were paying attention, you might have noticed that I didn’t make that assumption. Only that a majority of the wealth was in the hands of people the creators personally cared about, e.g. their children and grandchildren.

            Most money is old money mostly built on fortunes based on who’s great grandfather was best at murdering people and taking their stuff.
            I’m being literal…

            And I’m calling bullshit, or at least asking for evidence.

            The 10 richest families in America collectively control assets worth 530 billion dollars. Most of that wealth, $305 billion, is in the hands of four families where the founders’ children are still in control. Two more families, worth $67 billion, are run by the founders’ grandchildren. Fortunes in the hands of great-grandchildren and below seem to represent a distinct minority of families (40%) and money (30%).

            None of these seem to have made their money by murder or robbery, and aside from maybe the Hearsts none of them were among the great families of gilded-age robber-baron capitalism.

            Old money exists; the Rockefellers aren’t broke yet. But it is not nearly so large a segment of the economy as you imagine. Really, most of the wealth is in publicly-traded corporations that are no more than two generations old, not family fortunes of any age.

          • Salem says:

            Most money is old money mostly built on fortunes based on who’s great grandfather was best at murdering people and taking their stuff.

            Do you actually believe this, or are you just saying it for effect?

            Almost all wealth in the world has been created in the last century – the amount of “old money” is trivial. Did Bill Walton’s great-granddaddy steal everyone’s logistics operations and bequeath them to him? Even the dubious wealth has been stolen in the past century, because the stuff your great-granddaddy stole just isn’t worth much any more. Carlos Slim’s great-granddaddy didn’t murder everyone and steal their telecoms contracts, because they didn’t exist at the time, and Boss Tweed’s great-grandchildren aren’t particularly rich. Look at the wealthiest people in the UK or the US. They aren’t aristocrats, they are businessmen and financiers.

            A classic example is Fitzwilliam Darcy, the heart-throb in Pride and Prejudice – he’s an aristocrat who has presumably inherited his land over many generations (which you would describe as “his great-grandaddy stole it,” no doubt), and one of the richest men in the country, with an income of £20,000 a year from renting out farmland. If he’d kept his money in land, his income would be around £2m a year – still rich, but not even close to the richest people in the country, and not enough for the upkeep of his stately home*. The other normal investing opportunity for people of his time was to put his money in government bonds – if he’d done so, he’d still have an income of £20,000 a year, and be poor.

            The only way for Fitzwilliam Darcy to still be one of the richest people in the country would be to continually transform his capital into whatever was going to be successful at the time – sell his land and invest in railroads, then sell his rail stock and invest in electricity, and so on, while not making missteps, and not spending too much. But (1) this is really hard, which is why the old aristocrats are mostly not rich at all and (2) continually directing resources into the areas of the economy that most need them is productive work – it’s basically being a financier.

            *Reality would be even worse than that, because Death Duties and Inheritance Tax would have wiped out his holdings over the generations, and almost certainly the holdings would be dispersed over many heirs.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Salem:

            Exactly. Very well said.

          • Anonymous says:

            I will henceforth be your number one enemy, because you a) are homicidally inclined towards me because of my retirement plan, b) apparently want to liquidate my grandparents (and shortly parents too).

            Given that elsewhere in this thread you are advocating mass ethnic cleansing it’s a little hard to take your moral outrage seriously.

          • Murphy says:

            The forbes rich list and similar are lists of the wealthy who also want publicity.

            Keep in mind that just a few years ago it turned out that Qaddafi was effectively richer than the 3 top people on the Forbes rich list combined. (though they clearly state that they exclude people like dictators and kings who’s holdings blur with those of the states they control)

            http://www.businessinsider.com/qaddafi-200-billion-richest-2011-10?IR=T

            (It’s apparently lucrative to be a dictator in a country with lots of oil reserves and is pretty close to the mark of a job that tends to involve killing people and taking their stuff)

            Old money families are rarely stupid enough to make a lot of noise so it’s reasonable to expect that there’s a fair number of spectacularly wealthy families that you’ll never ever see listed on the forbes 400.

            Moving money into reasonably profitable ventures that beat inflation is pretty much what hedge funds are supposed to do.

            Lots of wealth was created in the last century but ask any startup founder and you’ll find that the lions share of the wealth (quite reasonably) tends to end up in the hands of investors rather than employees or founders. My contention is that the system still works fine if some of those VC firms are bankrolled by funds belonging to wealth-receptical-rocks.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Murphy: So, instead of evidence, what you have is a conspiracy theory in which the absence of evidence confirms that the old-money conspiracy exists because hiding evidence of its existence is what the old-money conspiracy does.

            I do not believe it is possible to hide hundred-billion-dollar accumulations of real wealth from people who are looking for them. I will require evidence if I am to take you seriously on this matter.

          • Anonymous says:

            Given that elsewhere in this thread you are advocating mass ethnic cleansing it’s a little hard to take your moral outrage seriously.

            That’s misrepresentation of my position and putting words in my mouth, and you know it.

        • Anonymous says:

          I would take issue with your claim that I am useless. When not engaging in silly debates online I do work, pay my bills, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes each year, and yes, I pull my weight.

          As I tried to explain to Hlynkacg in a prior thread, though I’m not sure he understood the point, taxes paid is only one half of the ledger. If, to take a random example, the income from which you paid those hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes came from Pratt & Whitney for service rendered in lobbying on their behalf with respect to the F-35 project than you’d not merely be useless to our society but affirmatively harmful.

          • Murphy says:

            Or more generally, if you constantly participate in negative sum transactions and/or rent seeking you can end up with a high income while still making the society around you poorer and worse off than if you’d never existed.

          • Rafal Smigrodzki says:

            No, I never lobbied for the F-35.

            As to the pulling-my-weight claim (which is indeed separate from paying taxes) I treat stroke, seizures and similar afflictions for a living.

        • anonymous says:

          >I would take issue with your claim that I am useless. When not engaging in silly debates online I do work, pay my bills, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes each year, and yes, I pull my weight.

          You’re worse than useless. You’re murderous.

          • Rafal Smigrodzki says:

            Really? Oy vey, the hyperbole, it hurts!

            Relax, Boy/Girl Anonymous.

            Be nice.

          • Anonymous says:

            Paying taxes is murder? Who would have thought!

          • The Nybbler says:

            @purplish anon
            Leftists. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that I was complicit in “Bush’s war crimes” or whatever because I was an American who supports the US Government with my taxes, I’d probably be in a higher tax bracket.

          • Corey says:

            @Anonymous: I know of a few (admittedly pretty hardcore) Iraq War protestors who switched to low-paying jobs so as to not support said war with their tax dollars.

          • Jill says:

            Anon, no paying taxes is not murder. This is a Libertarian board. Paying taxes is worse than murder, LOL.

            Corey– interesting. Yes, I’ve known people who refused to pay taxes at all for that reason. Most got in trouble with the law.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m sorry complexity is difficult for you, but there’s more the world than “Jill is totally right about everything” and “hardcore Ayn Rand libertarians LOL”.

          • Anonymous says:

            Anon, no paying taxes is not murder. This is a Libertarian board. Paying taxes is worse than murder, LOL.

            Well, jokes aside, it isn’t really a libertarian board. There are libertarians here, but the proprietor here has a big ol’ document up where he explains at length why and how he is not one.

          • TD says:

            I’m basically a libertarian, and I support welfare programs. I don’t think that taxes and business regulations are the same thing.

            There’s a lot of diversity in libertarianism, since all you have to do to be classed as a libertarian is to prioritize individualism in your politics over other concerns.

          • “all you have to do to be classed as a libertarian”

            All you have to do to call yourself a libertarian is to call yourself a libertarian. What you have to do to get other people to classify you as a libertarian depends on those other people. For many of them, it’s more than prioritizing individualism. For quite a lot, supporting welfare programs funded by taxation marks someone as not a libertarian.

            My own view is that treating “libertarian” as a binary category (you are or are not) is a mistake. Some people are more libertarian than others, or more libertarian on some dimensions and less on other.

    • jes5199 says:

      Why should the non-poor bother keeping any power? I think it would be better for the rich to engineer *ourselves* out of existence – what’s so great about being useful or producing things? The only application of technology that’s not an endless hedonistic treadmill is voluntary extinction.

      • Anonymous says:

        Not to be rude, but why aren’t you committing suicide right now? Honest question.

        • jes5199 says:

          A single person committing suicide doesn’t change anything – there would still be millions of people more or less like me and you. And I like existing. No one above is quite proposing slaughtering the living poor just because we imagine their lives are miserable – our commenter friends just want that class of existence to stop happening. I want the same thing, I just have a different judgement about what types of existence have negative ultimate utility (or whatever the pseudo-academic phrase is that people are using to justify proposals to enshrine their unreflecting narrow preferences in actual replacement to the ancient evolved machinery of the world that gave them life)

          • Immortal Lurker says:

            I also hope that my questions are respectful. People for voluntary human extinction don’t usually bring it up in casual conversation, so I just have no idea what they actually think on a couple of topics.

            You say that you like existing, but that existing is against your terminal values (I think that is the pseudo-academic phrase these days…). Is this an average vs marginal sort of thing?

            Also, what value of yours is supported by humans going extinct? My three best guesses are animal welfare, reducing human suffering, and the purity of nature.

            Do you have an idealized version of how the extinction would happen? Does everyone just stop having children, or does everyone kill themselves at some point?

            I’m not trying to convince you of anything, though I might dicker back and forth for a few posts. I’m just trying to fill in an area of my map that is currently tiled with questions marks.

          • jes5199 says:

            I’m not really quite a voluntary human extinctionist.

            If you want to hear a rational, reasonable argument in favor of non-existence, I recommend Sarah Perry’s book “Every Cradle is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide”.

            Don’t expect me to make such an argument.

            I, personally, don’t actually have terminal values. I don’t think suffering can be “reduced” – I think it will come when it comes, and that as sentient beings our only choice is whether or not to try to mitigate it somewhat, i.e., whether to be kind.

            I think that some of our friends in this forum are committing incredible hubris to think that they can change what sorts of things emerge in reality. They want to change the fundamental forces. I think they think they can replace it with software, because software works so well and never has unintended consequences? I think this is a half-assed measure that cannot work.

            It is not sufficient to eliminate the poor, because we will be unable to prevent forming another underclass.
            It would not be sufficient to eliminate humans, because there are plenty of great apes who would just evolve language in a few millennia.
            It would not be sufficient to eliminate apes because pandas already have opposable thumbs.
            It would not be sufficient to eliminate multicellular life, because microorganisms will always learn to form colonies.
            It would not be sufficient to eliminate all DNA, because matter trends towards self-organization.

            If we must intervene, we must do it the whole way, and completely stop the gears of the universe from turning. My understanding is that there are several philosophies and religions that already consider this to be moral, unlike other forms of genocide.

          • Immortal Lurker says:

            Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ve seen that one mentioned here before, but I guess I should read it to counterbalance my technophile/Whig history tendencies.

            If the big picture amount suffering can’t be reduced, do you think it can be increased, or changed at all? My understanding of history is pretty limited, but it really looks like it the amount of suffering can be changed, at least on the geographic scale of countries/regions, over the timescale of decades/centuries.

            The three examples that I am thinking of are the thirty years war, the black death, and the eradication of polio.

            The first two seem like the big picture level of suffering temporarily increasing on a regional to continental scale. The third seems like the big picture level of suffering decreasing on a global scale.

            Are certain types of suffering which can be reduced, and certain kinds which can’t? Or is something as bad as the thirty years war or the black death simply something that happens every century or so, and can’t be avoided? I can see modern examples in Syria and the Spanish influenza.

            The Spanish influenza is probably a very good equivalent, but Syria does not seem as bad as the thirty years war. Maybe I am mistaken.

            The third example though, seems to be an example of something getting permanently better. I’m guessing polio eradication is brought up to your attention approximately every time this topic comes up, so you probably have a counter argument. Do you think that if people can’t get polio, another disease which is just as bad will grow until approximately the same amount of suffering is caused?

            Or am I barking up entirely the wrong tree here, and you are referring only social suffering? Things like, inequality, loneliness, abusive relationships, etc.

  13. Jiro says:

    When you respond to three random Internet articles about subject X, how do you avoid weak-manning?

  14. Eric L says:

    “And part of me wonders – if setting up a social safety net would slow domestic economic growth – or even divert money that would otherwise go to foreign aid – does that make it a net negative?”

    Hardly any money goes to foreign aid; that’s not how successful developing countries have developed. Also, it seems likely to me that the poor will spend a larger portion of their income on cheap goods from developing countries, so it seems just as plausible to me that a basic income here would help third world countries develop.

  15. Thursday says:

    One of the things that annoys me about DeBoer is that he will rage against any hierarchy based on deserts, and then describe how he couldn’t even run a dinky peace protest without that kind of hierarchy. I hardly think that economic resources are distributed fairly in our society, but what we have is a lot more fair than the kind of non-hierarchical society DeBoer and others advocate for.

  16. J says:

    I’m starting to get fairly cranky about the “technological unemployment, basic income” meme, so I’m going to rant for a bit.

    I see techies saying “gee, I dunno if I should work on this, wouldn’t want to put someone out of a job”, which… I literally can’t. even. I mean, go back to 1807 and imagine that’s Eli Whitney going “gee, automating agriculture would put /basically everyone/ out of work, maybe I should just scrap this cotton gin thing.” And I see people arguing that economizing a task harms people that were doing it less efficiently, so they should be compensated. I’m *pretty* sure we’re smarter than that on SSC, but I see way too many smart people kind of nodding along to this without paying attention.

    Apparently we’re calling it the Luddite Fallacy when people don’t buy the technological unemployment thing, because apparently every argument we disagree with is not just unsupported, but an error of logic. (Also: “false analogy” and “false equivalency”, which… don’t even get me started on those.) And the crux of that argument is that if super AI ever comes along then we’ll be out of work, so technological unemployment must be inevitable (and thus basic income or whatever). Which, okay, sure, and a supernova would also cause sunburns but that doesn’t mean we should subsidize sunscreen companies. The existence proof isn’t enough: if there’s going to be an implied “thus basic income”, you have to show that it’s happening now or going to happen in some specific timeframe where that solution would actually help.

    As to basic income, if we can’t trust the government to even admit how many unemployed people there are, why would we trust them enough to double their budget and handle everybody’s expenses? Even if we did, as Scott points out, one of the big problems is unbounded spending (and I see that in my personal circle for both poor folks and people with six figure incomes). (I have more objections here for later).

    • anonymous poster says:

      Apparently we’re calling it the Luddite Fallacy when people don’t buy the technological unemployment thing, because apparently every argument we disagree with is not just unsupported, but an error of logic.

      No, the Luddite Fallacy is the term for when people do buy the technological employment thing.

      • J says:

        Oh neat, thanks, I looked it up before and ended up 180 degrees off; must have been skimming too fast.

        • anonymous poster says:

          The problem arises from the people who do believe it referring to the ones that don’t as the Luddite Fallacy Fallacy

    • E. Harding says:

      My problem with the basic income is that there will be immediate demands for it to be raised. And raised. And raised. And raised. And Donald Trump will promise not to touch it. And he won’t. Don’t we already have a pretty big entitlement expenses problem in America?

      • Miriam says:

        Why do you assume that?

        Alaska has had a proto-basic income for decades (the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend) and the only changes I have ever heard proposed are cutting it. I’m far more worried about the opposite problem: politicians using the threat of reducing or eliminating the UBI to keep the population in line.

        • E. Harding says:

          Is it truly universal? I’ve never heard of it.

          Social Security and Medicare, for example, are sacrosanct in America. Even Paul Ryan regards them as too important to be significantly interfered with. And when Social Security extends to every American, I expect the same instinct to continue.

          And we live in a democracy; politicians aren’t stupid enough to threaten people like that.

          • E. Harding says:

            Seems pretty universal.

            Interesting how demands for it to be cut look more like the general reaction to means-tested cash grants than non-means-tested ones.

            I wonder why isn’t there a big demand for it to be raised. People like money.

          • Miriam says:

            It’s universal, but it’s not enough to live on.

            I actually think Social Security is a pretty good analogy for this, too, albeit complicated by the elderly being a special and particularly coveted demographic due to their propensity to actually go out and vote. No one threatens to cut Social Security, but when was the last time it was raised by more than inflation? Meanwhile politicians make a lot of hay implying to younger people that it’s going to run out before they have a chance to retire and take advantage of it so they ought to support (cutting taxes for wasteful programs/raising taxes to properly fund things) depending on their particular slant.

      • Tracy W says:

        There’s the minor issue of the cost, which is a massive argument against raising it. Or introducing it in the first place.

      • Corey says:

        America’s entitlement-expense problems are pretty small, even when projected way out in the future, except for medical inflation. If we don’t fix that then we’re screwed no matter how we finance the government.

        Plus there is *always* a constituency for lower taxes, no matter how few people are subject to them. (Consider the US estate tax, for example).

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          At the Federal level, only “small changes” are needed to Social Security. (Which usually means something dramatic like removing the cap on SS wages, which puts the marginal tax rates on the rich in the US above European levels.)

          At the state level, lots of states are doomed by retirement entitlements.

      • jes5199 says:

        > My problem with the basic income is that there will be immediate demands for it to be raised. And raised. And raised. And raised

        Yes, I am in favor of that.

    • orangecat says:

      why would we trust them enough to double their budget and handle everybody’s expenses?

      I don’t trust them at all, which is one reason I only want them to cut checks rather than running dozens of programs trying to address specific symptoms of not having money.

      • E. Harding says:

        Ah, but the dozens of programs are, at least hypothetically, easier to cut, and they have a reasonable limit to how much people want them increased. Not so with universal basic income.

        BTW, means-tested cash transfer programs are extremely easy to cut, as they are not politically popular.

        • J says:

          I think basic income is getting pushed hard from the top (hard to imagine politicians not salivating at it), and the “it’ll replace the welfare bureaucracy” is a useful motte and bailey argument to appeal to the libertarians, but unlikely to survive in practice:

          – Bureaucracies are really good at self-preservation

          – Is the public really actually okay with little Timmy’s family being out on the street when dad immediately spends the basic income check on hookers and booze? Or are we going to keep Section 8 housing and food stamps, and the school lunch program, etc. for Timmy’s sake?

          – If we assume that lots of people have unbounded spending, and look at the amounts of debt they get into, why wouldn’t they spend the net present value of the basic income on more consumer goods they don’t need and be right back at square one? I’ve seen people propose that basic income be off limits as collateral, but money is pretty darn fungible and I think it’d be pretty darn hard to enforce, and we already have things like Easy Loans for People on Disability

          – Complexity is fuel for politics, and I don’t see any reason why Basic Income would be immune to that. They’d propose cost of living adjustments for all sorts of things, preserve existing welfare programs arguing that basic income just isn’t enough or doesn’t cover some special need, ad nauseum, very much like the current tax code but with trillions of dollars more at play.

          • Swami says:

            I agree. I strongly suspect that BIG is something which sounds good in the utopian abstract but which would be horrific in practice and I fear in effect.

          • Anonymous says:

            As much as I really like the idea of basic income, I share the exact same concerns and am glad to hear my thoughts coming out of someone else’s mouth. Even if UBI was eventually forced into the overton window by supporters’ efforts, I find it hard to believe that it could be put into place without running into these issues.

            I did feel similarly about problems that arise as part of the interaction between immigration and UBI, but have since heard not altogether terrible solutions for it, which gives me hope that I will eventually hear something similarly workable regarding BI as collateral and how BI interacts with children.

            Complexity and bureaucratic resilience seem more unassailable problems. I can only hope that in the process of BI being pushed into the overton window, everyone recognizes that BI is supposed to be attractive mostly because it avoids these issues and legislators somehow realize that implementing a BI that doesn’t would be missing the point. Not a likely scenario.

    • qwints says:

      Ricardo’s “On Machinery” is a better reference.

    • hypnosifl says:

      “And the crux of that argument is that if super AI ever comes along then we’ll be out of work”

      No, not super AI, just AI smart enough to do all the work that doesn’t rely on high levels of creative intelligence (which includes both things like the creation of art as well as creative problem-solving like engineering) or people skills (teaching, public relations, psychotherapy etc.), which a healthy majority of present-day jobs probably don’t.

      But I’m not too pessimistic about what will happen at this point–once AI is able to do all the relatively unskilled physical labor humans do at present, including virtually all factory work, then we will presumably have reached the point of self-replicating machines that can also replicate virtually any manufactured good given enough energy and raw materials. At that point, market competition would tend to drive down the price of the self-replicating machines, along with whatever manufactured goods they can create, to little more than the price of the energy and materials that go into making them–if you have a 3D printer which can make a copy of itself using materials and energy which which only cost say $20, anyone who tries to sell such a printer for much more than $20 would have their price undercut by other sellers. And this drastic price drop for manufactured goods should allow people to live comfortable middle-class lifestyles on a much smaller budget than would be needed today, so to fund a livable basic income for everyone you might not even need a particularly high tax rate on the remaining fraction of the population that still works at jobs which can’t yet be replaced by AI.

      • J says:

        When my grandparents eloped, they took a pot, a plate and a fork because that’s what their parents could spare. Whereas when I was in college I walked around the super walmart and realized I already had all the household goods I could possibly need. And that’s not even going to a thrift store.

        So I think we’re well past the point where stuff is ridiculously cheap to make and buy, and it’s sad to me that so many people make so much money and still manage to be in debt up to their eyeballs, drowning in crap they don’t need.

        • hypnosifl says:

          I suppose it depends on how you define “ridiculously cheap”, but I’m pretty sure the costs of most manufactured goods these days are many times greater than the raw materials and energy that went into making them (if break down a car and sell the scrap metal, how much money would you make compared to the cost of the car?) Housing also isn’t cheap, and once robots can do basically all the work of construction workers (and also more cheaply manufacture all the parts that go into a house), that should greatly drive down the price of building new housing, though land itself would be scarce.

          • Nornagest says:

            if break down a car and sell the scrap metal, how much money would you make compared to the cost of the car?

            Steel’s about $600 a ton right now, so probably about 5% of the price of the car. Potentially up to 10% or a bit more if you’re buying used and you pick something with a particularly good weight-to-cost ratio, like a beat-up old SUV.

            Cars are capital-intensive, though — you’re mostly paying for tooling, design work, and testing.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            I was thinking that you were mostly paying for your local representative’s congressional campaign and the television ads that jump up 5 levels in volume from the show you were just watching.

        • Murphy says:

          When my parents bought a house the house cost about 3.5 to 4 times the average yearly salary at the time.

          They had no furniture for a while but they did ok.

          When I bought a much much smaller house much further from work it cost approximately 12 times the average salary.

          We were able to fit the house out with cutlery/furniture and all the other household and consumable crap we need for significantly less than 1% of the cost of the house.

          More than 99% of our debt is purely having a 1 bedroom flat to live in.

          of course before we could buy we had to save up a deposit and in that time we spent about 12% of the cost of a house paying rent on a crappy single room in a shared house.

          That massive spike in house prices also massively pushed up rents because landlords expect to make x% return on the present value of a house even if they originally paid one third of the current price for the house adjusting for inflation.

          Anyone blaming cheap consumable crap for the mountain of debt many people are under is willfully ignorant.

          Who ended up with this massive pile of wealth?

          Anyone who owned a house before about 1995. Anyone who owned a house before 1995 won the lottery and got a gigantic pile of free money dumped at their feet utterly disconnected from their actions, the pile of money was funded by the massive debts of the younger generation.

          On that front I’m lucky.

          My slightly younger peers ended up with massive college debts roughly equivalent to about half a mortgage thanks to degree inflation and the generation above them who had often got free university in their own youth and who’d just received the massive piles of free money deciding that they don’t really want to pay taxes on that money to pay for young peoples education.

          So those youngens got saddled with the debt to pay for that on top.

          Much of that debt owned by those same old peoples pension funds.

          It’s entirely the older generation utterly utterly screwing the younger generation in every possible way, aided by the government because old folks are a strong voting block.

          • J says:

            Thanks for offering your viewpoint. Your input is valuable even without declaring in bold that I must be willfully ignorant or that things are entirely the way you say they are. The folks I was thinking of when I posted are indeed in debt due to spending on consumer goods, both the ones with six figure incomes and the ones at minimum wage.

            But I also agree that housing costs can be quite oppressive, and university education has also increased in cost. I don’t agree that it’s due to evil old people, since government education expenditures have risen much more than they’ve declined. But something has indeed caused costs to rise significantly, and that sucks for the college-bound.

          • Murphy says:

            @J

            Apologies, I just get sick of seemingly every entitled, detestable, arrogant pensioner in the universe declaring that because they saved 100 pounds(adjusted for inflation) per year bringing packed lunches that that entirely explains how they’re now sitting in a 1.2 million pound house and that the young people stuck with hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt brought it on themselves by buying a 2 pound can opener.

            When someone comes along parroting the same things I react less charitably than I should.

            Almost every iota of consumable crap is so cheap that unless the “consumable crap” in question is hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of diamond jewellery it’s almost certainly a tiny speck when compared to those same peoples student loans, housing costs etc. I’m sure people absolutely could ruin themselves buying overpriced vanity items such people are not the norm.

          • J says:

            I would have thought so too about consumer goods. At the low end, I watched someone blow his minimum wage paycheck on cigarettes, energy drinks, video games at the local cinema, and drinking at bars (>$100 per month in each of those categories).

            At the six-figure end, when we’d visit we’d end up watching several pay-per-view movies per night ($10 each?), seeing multiple re-furnishings of the house per year, frequent new cars, and tons of consumer electronics. Apparently it’s not at all uncommon for people to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on stuff like that when they have a spending habit.

      • John Schilling says:

        And this drastic price drop for manufactured goods should allow people to live comfortable middle-class lifestyles on a much smaller budget than would be needed today

        Manufactured goods are necessary but not sufficient for a middle-class lifestyle. Your scenario does not posit any mechanism for increasing the amount of skilled services which can be provided. I suspect that supply will contract slightly, and be significantly concentrated in the still-employed segment of the economy.

        At which point we get to find a new name for the lifestyle that is characterized by lots of stuff but almost no skilled services.

        • hypnosifl says:

          Well, the two big skilled services most middle-class people need are medical care (which is already successfully provided for with tax money in many countries, and in future can probably be automated to a significant degree though not completely) and education (also already provided for with tax money in many countries, and post-scarcity would probably lead to a larger number of people looking to get teaching jobs who wouldn’t need the money to live on, probably leading to lower costs of taking classes even if they weren’t state-funded). Aside from that, what skilled services are really necessary for a middle-class lifestyle?

    • Corey says:

      Human-level AI is *sufficient*, but not *necessary*, for technology to eliminate jobs.

      All you need is productivity increasing faster than aggregate demand. “Robots” as used in the econ-blogosphere is shorthand for this.

      Productivity increases from technology advancing hasn’t cost us jobs (long-term) historically, because demand kept up so new jobs got created. Thus the anti-Luddite argument goes: we always got new industries for people to move into before, so we expect new technology (up to and including Singularity) to follow the same pattern. It’s obvious to see how AI would break this argument; not as easy to see for other tech advances.

      But we’re already seeing persistent aggregate demand shortfalls in the US (my pet theory is that it’s largely distributional: ~all the wealth is in the hands of people who literally can’t spend it all, and because new industries are low in capital demands there’s a shortage of productive things in which they can invest).

  17. Rusty says:

    Fascinating piece. Open borders and basic income both seem to be like two cars playing chicken on a single track road. My own random thought is that with the Internet anyone has access to wonderful ideas and a free education. Maybe not rich in dollar terms but by comparison to even a few years ago it’s pretty much a miracle. But most people don’t take advantage. They eat badly, abuse substances and get fat and ill. They are thoroughly demoralised. That being so I’m not seeing how giving them a bit more money is going to turn lives around. Anyway put me in the corner that is even more pessimistic than Scott.

    • Anonymous says:

      Open borders and basic income both seem to be like two cars playing chicken on a single track road.

      Solution: World government. 😉

      • TD says:

        That isn’t a solution, because the world government would have to decide whether to allow complete free movement worldwide, or enforce some kind of restrictions (“borders”). The only thing that changes is who administrates the policies.

        • Anonymous says:

          AFAIK, none of the current large, federative polities have severe restrictions on internal movement. Might be wrong.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Have you been paying attention to the news over the last 9 months?

          • Anonymous says:

            I haven’t osmosed any particular restrictions about internal movement within Russia, the US, China or India.

            You must mean the European Union, which is the least state-like organism of the five, but even here, the restrictions are being implemented just now, in response to abuse by non-citizens. Yet still, it is still very much possible to travel and move trouble-free within there.

        • Corey says:

          As long as illegal aliens don’t migrate to Earth en masse, we’d be fine.

      • IOW, a basic income that would be regarded as pathetic in First-World nations.

        That’s not such a bad idea (we could do worse) but good luck in trying to convince either the Trump or Sanders supporters.

  18. Jugemu Chousuke says:

    >I expect the average 2100 poor person will be one paycheck away from the street. I can’t explain this, I just accept it at this point.

    I think this is just a result of expectations increasing to the level that people can (sort of) afford. Houses are bigger today, food is better (McD’s and mac’n’cheese are better than whatever canned vegetables with mercury in it the poor would have had back then), communications and home entertainment are much better. Desires are ~infinite so people with high time preference will spend all their money and more, regardless of the level of overall development. Nonetheless poor people today tend to have a much higher absolute standard of living than in 1900, overall.

    (Also with cities there’s an aspect where livable land is in finite supply).

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, it only costs one paycheck to keep you from being one paycheck away from the street for the rest of your life. It’s not a matter of how much money you have, it’s a matter of trying to fill a bucket that has a hole in it.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        Eh…

        We’re missing about 5% of the housing stock per capita that we had back in the 90’s. And we’ve basically stopped building housing period, even in the cities like Dallas and Atlanta that everyone usually uses.

        Which means that the rent used to be 24% of median income, and now it’s 30%. Which might not sound like much, but it’s a marginal 6% that matters.

        There’s definitely some “Bucket with a hole going on”, but there are also major serious expenses that just didn’t exist.

    • Viliam says:

      In 2100 all rich people will live on Mars. Poor people will be unable to buy a house on Mars, and most of their paychecks will be spent on travelling by rocket to the work and back, because all decently paying jobs will also be on Mars. The second greatest expense wil be air in bottles, necessary to staying alive.

      People on internet will write about how much the situation has improved since 2000, when no one was able to travel to Mars, and that even the most smelly air in bottles has higher quality than the air people in 2000 were breathing in some cities.

      In this scenario, “rich” refers to the top 0.01% of the human population, and “poor” refers to the top 1% of the human population. The remaining 99% of humans living on Earth and unable to buy air in bottles will be infected by various nanobots and become zombies. No one will care about the zombies; the important political topic will be whether all fifty genders are sufficiently and properly represented in the quantum video games.

    • nm. k.m. says:

      >McD’s and mac’n’cheese are better than whatever canned vegetables with mercury in it the poor would have had back then

      Do we have data on this? I had the impression that the working poor who made enough not to starve in 19th century / early 20th century ate somewhat healthier that McD’s. (Bread, eggs, fish.) Of course, that kind of comparison excludes those unfortunate who *were* malnourished. McD’s are probably better than the brink of starvation.

  19. “But aside from the lunch people, this category must also include libertarians who think that all we need to do is remove regulations that prevent the poor from succeeding”

    I’m not sure why this goes in the cooperative rather than exploitative category. Your description of the latter is put in terms of capitalism as a force for misery and inequality, but couldn’t it as easily be anti-capitalism, government interference frequently defended as helping the poor, frequently helping other people and hurting the poor? That’s clearer abroad, where countries like India have a first world elite on top of a third world population, with a good deal of the former having government jobs. Perhaps clearer still in the old USSR, with special stores and special highway lanes for the elite of a society that claimed to be socialist. I’m reminded of my father’s old point that the defenders of exchange controls argued it was important to keep India’s scarce foreign exchange from being wasted on luxuries for the wealthy–and made those arguments in conferences held in air conditioned hotels in New Delhi.

    I think your Red Queen’s race only works if you see it in terms of rising expectations. In real terms, per capita income is much higher in the U.S. than it was in 1900, when the median income was about half the current poverty line (from memory but I think correct)—your inner city poor person would not be happy living the life of the 1900’s poor farmer. He takes it for granted that his life will include a lot of things that farmer didn’t have–and should include a lot more.

    • Thursday says:

      Your description of the latter is put in terms of capitalism as a force for misery and inequality

      If I understand you both correctly, this is not what Alexander is saying. Alexander is, I believe, saying that capitalism in any form is incapable of raising some people out of poverty. That’s not the same thing as saying it is exploitative of those people, a cause of their misery. Alexander would likely agree that capitalism creates a lot of inequality, but he would also likely say that this is not the result of any exploitation.

    • Swami says:

      Agreeing and adding on… On a global level, prosperity, lifespans, reductions in extreme poverty, health, education, freedom, and so on are at unprecedented levels of improvement, with the last generation seeing greater gains than any generation ever.

      So Scott becomes a pessimist? Exactly how much do things have to improve before his pessimism is relieved? Don’t get me wrong, there are challenges, and challenges always seem hard before we solve them.

      I suggest looking at what has tended to work, what has tended not to work, and doing more of the former and less of the latter. If actual living standards stop rising then revise as appropriate.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      > I think your Red Queen’s race only works if you see it in terms of rising expectations.

      Perhaps, but this doesn’t make the problem less severe. Unless you have a good way to fight expectation inflation?

  20. TD says:

    People are just going to have to accept becoming useless. Trying to force our way back from a services heavy domestic economy to an industrial one is just trading off living standards for some nebulous concept of dignity.

    No one owes you dignity, and if you fall to pieces when you don’t have it, then tough titties I’m afraid. We can’t redistribute dignity. Politics which have some nebulous notion of “equality” as a terminal goal are ultimately about dignity. It’s not enough that the poor don’t die, aren’t sick, that they have food on their plates and good healthcare, because there are still people who have yet more amenities to enjoy, people to feel envious of. It won’t even be enough if you redistributed all their wealth, because you’d find that they mysteriously were occupying all of the bureaucratic positions, looking down on you, sneering at you. You’d be dependent on them all the same. The feeling of being useless will never go away, so making it a central part of politics just creates a perpetual conundrum.

    • qwints says:

      poor don’t die, aren’t sick, that they have food on their plates and good healthcare,

      But the poor die sooner, are more sick because they have less food and lack access to healthcare.

      • TD says:

        Yes, so solve that problem instead. That problem is solved by focusing on “bread” and not dignity, which is my entire point.

        • qwints says:

          Oh, I get you. You’re criticizing opposition to materially beneficial programs on the grounds that they have undefined emotional drawbacks. I mostly agree.

      • James Bond says:

        Well yes, but to play the devils advocate you can say that about the moderately wealthy compared to the extrememly wealthy. Im sure that with a 100 million dollars I can find ways to re-organize my life to make it a bit longer, including rreducing stress ( about doing well in school to get a job), spending all my time at the gym , and obsessively reducing any semblence of risk. As well as getting a professional chef to cook all my meals with perfect nutritional needs.

    • Viliam says:

      People are just going to have to accept becoming useless.

      Unless everone is surrounded by robotic servants, friends, and therapists, people can still be useful to each other. The problem is that without basic income, being useful to other people will not help you get food, if you are useful to the wrong (read: poor) kind of people.

      In other words, taboo “useful”. There is a difference between increasing someone’s happiness, and being able to make money by increasing someone’s happiness. Even today, there is a lot of work that needs to be done, but doesn’t get done because no one can make money doing it, so most productive people do some less meaningful but better paying stuff instead.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think part of the problem is that in the old days, you may not have been economically productive but you at least had a community that cared about you. So maybe we should focus on building communities to help ease the transition(assuming it’s going to happen).

      • MichaelT says:

        Being usefull to poor people has made the Walton family quite rich

    • Maware says:

      You can’t accept being useless. I wonder about people who post here sometimes, because they seem to say things that are incomprehensible in this way.

      Feeling needed and useful is a core concept of being a human being. If you went to your job one day, and they told you “Hey, you are useless. We don’t need you any more, you add nothing to this job now that we have this new AI.” How would you react? Picture your coworkers and boss saying this. Wouldn’t a large part of your identity be taken from you in an instant?

      What would you do? What if it just stuck, that no matter what you did you are seen as useless? What would you think of yourself then? Do you think you’d turn your emotions off and just accept it? I can tell you that people don’t generally do that.

      The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had Haruhi destroy and recreate the world just because one day, watching baseball, she realized that she was more or less useless in the great scheme of things. That there were tons of stadiums and tons of little girls watching them, and she really had no utility at all. Kind of a powerful story about what needing to be useful or wanted is for a person.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think maybe you shouldn’t speak for all of humanity.

      • suntzuanime says:

        I’d probably post on the internet.

      • Watercressed says:

        There is useless to the economy and there is useless to other humans. I feel useful when I help my soccer team score a goal, even if I’m not good enough for people to pay me for it.

      • TD says:

        “You can’t accept being useless.”

        I did. Don’t be needy. I need bread, not dignity. The problem is that we can’t give you dignity in an automated society, so if you are asking for that, then you are asking for the impossible… unless you are saying you want to prevent the possibility of an automated society, and I can’t allow that.

        “Feeling needed and useful is a core concept of being a human being.”

        Therefore I am an alien from Rigel 7, and you’ve planted a small seed of contempt in me for these “human beings”.

        “If you went to your job one day, and they told you “Hey, you are useless. We don’t need you any more, you add nothing to this job now that we have this new AI.” How would you react?”

        Job? I’m already living the frugal basic income lifestyle of utopian joy.

        “Wouldn’t a large part of your identity be taken from you in an instant?”

        What? No! Besides, if I liked my job for anything more than the money then I could keep doing it as a hobby.

        “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya had Haruhi destroy and recreate the world just because one day, watching baseball, she realized that she was more or less useless in the great scheme of things.”

        What a bitch.

        “That there were tons of stadiums and tons of little girls watching them, and she really had no utility at all. Kind of a powerful story about what needing to be useful or wanted is for a person.”

        Unperson here.

      • Acedia says:

        It’s true (despite the other replies) that most humans need to feel needed, but “needed” doesn’t have to mean “creates economic value”. Certainly that’s a common mental association in our present culture, especially for males, but I think we could transition, perhaps slowly and painfully, away from it.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      > No one owes you dignity, and if you fall to pieces when you don’t have it, then tough titties I’m afraid. We can’t redistribute dignity.

      This relies on empirical claims that I’m not certain are true. Suppose experiment after experiment showed that ~99% of humans were much happier with a $X-per-year economically-pointless job than with a $X-per-year unconditional income and no job, no matter how much economic rationality you tried to instill in them. At that point, would you suppress your contempt and support a large-scale makework-oriented public welfare system (ideally with a non-work option for Rigelians like you and probably me)?

  21. Rick G says:

    I always wonder why Morgan Warstler’s Uber4Welfare proposal hasn’t gotten more traction. Massively subsidizing (up to UBI levels) any job at any wage (all the way down to $0.01/hr) completely addresses the calcified idle people objection to UBI, and should completely address the “low wage jobs suck; why bother making people do them” objection, since there are plenty of potential $1/hr jobs (that don’t currently exist) that I would way rather do than any existing $8/hr jobs, as long as I was still getting a massive wage subsidy. The only failure mode is “the $1/hr job is a scam and you don’t actually do anything” which just makes it equivalent to UBI for some people.

    • Julie K says:

      If you get the same take-home pay no matter which job you do, people have no motivation to seek out the job that allows them to be most productive, or to improve their skills.
      (If I as the taxpayer am topping up your wage, I would rather you take the $8/hour job than the $1/hour one.)

      • Corey says:

        In a world of technological unemployment, that’s a feature, not a bug.

        • eh says:

          Let’s say I have a business selling hand-crafted artisan organic chocolates made with Genuine Love ™, and I want to hire more people, but the cutoff line for profitability is $4/hr. Unfortunately, Jim’s Alcohol Quality Testers is “hiring” people at $0.01/hr (“employees must buy their own drinks, pints of house draught are $5 during happy hour”), so everyone buggers off down to the pub. After a couple of weeks of making and selling chocolate while everyone else has fun, I go join them, and the wealthy corporate overlords have to find another brand to give their mother-in-law at Christmas.

          They and I weren’t completely useless, we just weren’t useful enough to produce work equivalent to a living wage. Now we’re all going to die of liver failure and ennui at 55.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        It’s not a 1-for-1 replacement. IIRC it drops $1 for every $2 you make. So there is still an incentive to find better paying work and for employers to pay more to get better workers.

    • Swami says:

      Agreed. Much, much better idea IMO than BIG. Details can be worked out via experimentation and feedback.

    • How about subcontracting?

      I pay you $1 for $1’s worth of work, and you get paid $8. You take those wages to start a company to subcontract two people, who you pay $1 to do half of your $1 workload, and they get subsidized up to $8. Then they start their own sub-subcontracting companies, and so on.

    • jes5199 says:

      it seems like there’s an unnecessary indirection in that scheme. In subsidized employment, person A can spend time in any way that person B thinks is valuable. In UBI, person A can spend time in any way that person A thinks is valuable. Those seem roughly equivalent to me, except in UBI we don’t have to waste time justifying our actions to other people.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ jes5199
        it seems like there’s an unnecessary indirection in that scheme. In subsidized employment, person A can spend time in any way that person B thinks is valuable. In UBI, person A can spend time in any way that person A thinks is valuable. Those seem roughly equivalent to me, except in UBI we don’t have to waste time justifying our actions to other people.

        Right. Except that B is not one person but a massive tangle of politicians, lobbyists for their particular industries to get approved for the subsidy, consultants who think they know what voters will freak out at, etc etc.

        And most A’s care about what is valuable for their family, neighbors, online friends, etc. Real help. Or about things like fixing their own roof, their own car, home cooking for their own kids. Real things.

  22. Shion Arita says:

    Well, I agree with footnotes 1 and 2. 2 is obvious so I won’t comment on it further. As for 1:

    While I think that this kind of export capitalism is somewhat responsible for the problems faced in the U.S., I think the best way to solve it is to try to ‘fill in the holes’ as fast as we can by having industiralizing nations make tons of shoes and plastic toys. And I think that once the international poverty is solved things will get better domestically as well because the field will be even again.

  23. eqdw says:

    I can’t even really believe that a rising tide will lift all boats anymore. Not only has GDP uncoupled from median wages over the past forty years, but there seems to be a Red Queen’s Race where every time the GDP goes up the cost of living goes up the same amount. US real GDP has dectupled since 1900, yet a lot of people have no savings and are one paycheck away from the street. In theory, a 1900s poor person who suddenly got 10x his normal salary should be able to save 90% of it, build up a fund for rainy days, and end up in a much better position. In practice, even if the minimum wage in 2100 is $200 2016 dollar an hour, I expect the average 2100 poor person will be one paycheck away from the street. I can’t explain this, I just accept it at this point. And I think that aside from our superior technology, I would rather be a poor farmer in 1900 than a poor kid in the projects today. More southeast corner gloom.

    Ok, so this is more of a handwavey explanation than a rigourously supported one, but bear with me.

    Just, think about this for one second: Do you really not believe we are (at least) 10x wealthier than we were in the 1900s?

    I mean, my grandma was born in the 1930s. In Canada, not exactly a 3rd world country. She didn’t have running water or electricity until she was in her 20s. She lived on a farm where if you had to go to the bathroom, you went to the outhouse. In the middle of the Canadian prairie, where it hits -40 pretty regularly in February.

    That isn’t even the 1900s. That’s the 1930s! I’d go so far as to argue that in some ways, homeless people (the ones in temperate climates like SF, anyway) have a higher quality of life in many dimensions than my grandma did. And my family was not poor. This was just the reality of farming in the early 20th century.

    Sure, you see people still just scraping by. The GDP went up 10x but we still are one paycheque away from bankruptcy. But the thing you’re ignoring is that our baseline expectation of consumption is also an order of magnitude higher than it was in the 1900s. I know this is a handwavey hypothetical but, if you actually reduced your quality of life to what was typical a century ago, you’d have no problem at all saving 90% of your income.

    The reason you see people not saving all that money, imho, is because they don’t want to. Why do they not want to, when it is “obviously” the right thing? People have many motivations. I’m sure some people are just permanent screw-ups and they will utility monster you as long as you let them. For most other people though, perhaps it is worth it to them. Perhaps it is more valuable to have a modern standard of living than it is to have a large life savings. Like, my favourite example: The poorest person today enjoys more air conditioning than the richest king of the 1800s did. If someone who lived in, say, Arizona, decided that they prefer air conditioning and no savings, to living like a 1900s man but lots of savings, I can’t say I’d do any different in their shoes.

    If you say that “GDP went up, but cost of living also went up, so we are not any wealthier”, this is not true if you don’t pin down a rigourous, unchanging definition of what ‘living’ is. The cost of living increases didn’t just happen. They happened because our idea of what a baseline life is got more expensive. Just a rough grab bag of things we consider expected these days that my grandma didn’t have growing up:

    * Electricity
    * Running water
    * Schools with a separate grade system (eg she had a one room schoolhouse, 5 yr olds and 15 yr olds in the same class)
    * A house with separate bedrooms for each resident
    * A large house (iirc houses are ~2x in per capita square footage now compared to then)
    (Once she moved to the city, where people did have modern utilities)
    * More than one car per household (2 parents 3 children only one vehicle?!??!)
    * Health care coverage (Medicare was introduced in the late 40s/early 50s)
    * Television
    * Computers and Internet
    * Public transit
    * EI and CPP
    * Affordable long distance travel (eg planes, trains, and greyhounds)
    * Year-round fresh produce
    * Furnace you didn’t need to feed manually with wood/coal

    The list can go on and on.

    I’m not trying to make an argument that the poor have it easy, and we shouldn’t care. They don’t, and we should. But it is ridiculously naieve to look at life today, look at life 100 years ago, and conclude that we are not unfathomably wealthier

      • Swami says:

        Bingo! We are unimaginably better than a century ago and the improvements are even greater for the vast majority of non Westerners.

        Scott has a distorted view of the past and it is affecting his perspective on the present and the likely or possible future. The last generation globally has seen more improvement on more dimensions than any generation in the history of the species. So we need to change course? Huh?

        • arbitrary_greay says:

          UBI is not about what you have when you have. The concern is that there is a cliff face, and that cliff is getting higher and higher all of the time because when you have, you have all of these things. But more people are getting pushed towards the edge by increased housing costs. Your elevation is still higher than sea-level right on the edge of that cliff, but that doesn’t make the edge any less undesirable a location. That the height of that edge keeps increasing means that if you fall off, it’s that much harder to make it back without people from above sending down something to climb.

          In the past, it wasn’t so much of a cliff, as a slope to the bottom, and so it was more tolerable to live at those levels of income, and much easier to start climbing back up. But now, the homeless can’t even own a shed because someone determined that these were apparently more dangerous than living out of makeshift tents???

          UBI proposes to make that cliff edge the new sea level. There definitely should also be some lifting of regulations to allow that slope to come back, and make the “required” UBI lower to begin with. But the existing elevation of the current cliff edge is not a reason to discount UBI.

          • J says:

            So housing costs are high because government, but the solution is giving government twice as much money (roughly doubling the federal budget)?

          • Y Stefanov says:

            UBI would also incentivize reckless risk-seeking. By providing a floor, there is much less incentive to save and more incentive to spend or invest frivolously.
            I disagree with the cliff metaphor. Suppose you live paycheck to paycheck but you spend a lot of your paycheck on 401k investment, mortgage, paying off student loan etc. Once you lose your job it’s not like you become destitute – you can suspend loan payoff and quit saving for retirement for a few months. Heck, you can borrow from your 401k plan or use your good credit to borrow at 0% interest for about a year or so. Even if things remain bad, you can take out equity on the house or sell and downsize it.
            Bottom line is. UBI dramatically changes incentives. Also, in a modern economy we have plenty of mechanisms to fatten the “cliff face.”

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            @ J: My last paragraph stated that there will probably need to be lifting of restrictions and regulations to lower the required UBI amount.

            The overall point of the comment was to point out that the much increased material wealth of the lowest class is not in and of itself a “disproving” of the need for UBI. That has nothing to do with government.

            @ Y Stefanov:
            I’d consider people living paycheck to paycheck due to saving for retirement to not be at the actual edge of a cliff. That still counts as a buffer. Even someone with a social community to couch-crash between jobs counts as a buffer.
            The cliff edge is homelessness and inability to get even a minimum wage job.

            In addition, some of the changed incentives due to UBI are a feature, not a bug. Employers have to offer tangible reasons to work for them, and employees have more than survival as a motivation to work, which increases both employee quality and job conditions.
            UBI theoretically provides for survival needs only. Nothing is left to frivolously invest. (Of course, practical concerns of preventing people from increasing the amount distributed past this level in democratic societies is a valid problem)

            The current lowest class is already incentivized not to save. They can’t save because it’s all going to survival needs, the amount of cash that needs to be saved is so great that the tradeoff with the decreased current standard of living isn’t worth it, in a community with lots of leeches most saved money is wasted on the leeches. UBI addresses most of these concerns, and makes saving possible in the first place.

          • Y Stefanov says:

            UBI would also incentivize reckless risk-seeking. By providing a floor, there is much less incentive to save and more incentive to spend or invest frivolously.
            I disagree with the cliff metaphor. Suppose you live paycheck to paycheck but you spend a lot of your paycheck on 401k investment, mortgage, paying off student loan etc. Once you lose your job it’s not like you become destitute – you can suspend loan payoff and quit saving for retirement for a few months. Heck, you can borrow from your 401k plan or use your good credit to borrow at 0% interest for about a year or so. Even if things remain bad, you can take out equity on the house or sell and downsize it.
            Bottom line is UBI dramatically changes incentives. Also, in a modern economy we have plenty of mechanisms to flatten the “cliff face.”

    • Thursday says:

      A lot of the issues around poverty in the West are about the social dysfunction of poor people rather than their lack of material resources. For example, starvation has virtually been eliminated in the modern West. Somebody has to make some extremely terrible decisions for it to happen.

      • Corey says:

        I know Japan isn’t “the West” but they have poor people with ~no bad behaviors.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      I’m 57 and my standard of living is almost exactly what it was when I was 7 … except for Moore’s Law stuff, where the difference is immense.

      For everything else, the quality, safety, and convenience of manufactured goods is now higher (although tools tend to be junkier), but I have pretty much exactly the same kind of appliances today as when I was young. My parents got a dryer when I was about 5, a dishwasher when I was around 8, an air conditioner when I was 10, and a microwave when I was 21. I can’t think of anything all that amazing in the way of new appliances other than (of course) electronics over the last 36 years.

      My parents and I flew to Europe in 1965 and to Mexico in 1967. The jetliner went exactly as fast a half century ago as it does now. Cars can be driven slightly faster today, although the 405 to LAX is usually a lot more crowded now than in 1965-67.

      If I were 114 years old, I no doubt could tell you about amazing changes like my first automobile ride, but I’m only 57, so not all that much has changed.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Perhaps the most unexpected difference is that San Fernando Valley real estate is immensely more expensive today relative to, say, the median worker’s income than 50 years ago.

        When I was 7, I assumed we’d have flying cars in 50 years. If we did, land would be cheaper (because more land would be within a reasonable commuting time).

        But we don’t.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          By the way, my father’s first job after he got his AA degree in aeronautical engineering from Pasadena City College in 1938 was designing one tiny piece of a flying car.

          The flying car business didn’t take off, though.

          • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

            “The flying car business didn’t take off, though”

            This pun flew right over my head

      • Gbdub says:

        Broadband internet is at least as amazing as jet travel, and affects my life more on a daily basis.

        Yeah, my washing machine isn’t vastly better than my grandparents’ – but I can order a new one and have it delivered to my house in two days or less using nothing but a device I carry in my pocket.

        Writing off “electronic stuff” as mere frivolity is ridiculous. Those advances have been hugely game changing.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Advances in information technology have been wonderful for me, because I love information. For other people …

          • eponymous says:

            Ironically, commenters here are disproportionately people whose lives have been hugely altered by the IT revolution.

        • NN says:

          Long before the internet, you could get a new washing machine delivered to your house in a few weeks using nothing but a handheld device known as a “mail order catalog.”

          One of the more annoying traits of the current generation is the tendency to assume that everything that can be done with new technology was impossible before that new technology came along. But if you take the time to talk to your parents, you’ll find that most of it did exist in some form before the internet. For example, my mother, a computer programmer, was sending emails using Telex machines for decades before the Internet became a thing.

          What the Internet has done is make all of these things significantly cheaper and more efficient. Running an online store is a lot easier and less expensive than running a mail order catalog, and publishing a blog is a lot easier and less expensive than publishing a magazine. Which is a very significant change to be sure. But thinking that before 1991 farmers in rural Montana had to drive hundreds of miles to the nearest town every time they wanted to buy a new appliance is absurd.

      • Tracy W says:

        Quality and safety are fairly big deals.

        Also the quality of medical care has gone up, eg anaesthetics strike me as having gotten much pleasanter over 20 or so years, we have things like LASIK surgery.

        And clothing: I recall raincoats before goretex. Or when synthetic fibre meant nylon and polyester.

        Blackouts are now a lot less common than when I was a child, I can’t recall the last time I dug out candles at home because the power went off and the street lights (and I grew up in a city.)

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Quality and safety of manufactured goods are great, but they don’t much affect your class status (class is basically about who and when you can marry). In contrast, cheap suburban real estate (such as the opening up of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles) that became accessible due to the spread of automobiles and freeways in the middle of the 20th Century promoted a whole lot of people from working class renters to middle class homeowners.

          California, for example, became broadly middle class in the mid-20th Century, but now it has become highly stratified by class.

          • Tracy W says:

            Your claim was about living standards, not class status.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Class status is a positional quality pretty much by definition, obviously its average can’t change over time (barring extreme scenarios such as a catastrophe that leaves every survivor a lowly scavenger).

          • Steve Sailer says:

            But the percentages of people who are middle class vary over time and space. For example, Benjamin Franklin pointed out in 1754 in a crucial essay that influenced Malthus and Darwin that Americans, due to higher wages and cheaper land prices due to lower population density, had a much higher chance of being landowners than Europeans, and consequently married earlier and more universally.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Ok. In this sense then I would say that the percentage of the world population, or even of first-world population, that is middle-class certainly increased a lot since you were born.

      • I thought I’d make a list of things I have now that I or my family didn’t have 50 years ago and include the approximate date I or we acquired them:
        1970 color television
        1976 pocket calculator
        1982 home computer
        1985 vcr (and descendants)
        1989 central air conditioning
        1991 dishwasher
        1993 answering machine
        1994 internet connection
        1996 microwave
        2002 cell phone
        2012 e-book reader
        2016 “smart” phone

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Most of those are Moore’s Law innovations, while air conditioning, dishwasher and microwave were pretty common 15-20 years earlier.

          • hlynkacg says:

            that may be, but they were fantastically expensive luxury items.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Microwave in 1976, dishwasher in 1971, and air conditioning in 1969 would have all been luxuries but not fantastically expensive. Sears was selling a microwave for less than $200 in 1975, for instance.

      • Bugmaster says:

        It sounds like you’re saying, “all the modern appliances are the same as the ones I had when I was 7, except for all the ones that are dramatically different”. That’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation.

        On top of that, I think you may be underestimating the number of modern appliances that are different from their 1960 variants. For example, while modern cars may not be dramatically faster than their predecessors, they are several times more fuel efficient; much safer (even in the case of a collision); more comfortable and convenient; and even possessed of limited autopilot capabilities (with full autopilot coming in a few years, IMO). And that’s just cars, a single example…

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Like I said, safety is great. Fuel efficiency is nice, although not as nice as 29.9 cents per gallon gasoline. The sound quality of the car’s speakers on which I listen to Vin Scully do the play-by-play for the 2016 Dodgers is better than when I was listening to Vin Scully call the Dodgers game in 1966.

          But none of this stuff is very lifechanging.

          The Moore’s Law stuff is life-changing, but it’s also pretty limited. When it leads to self-driving cars, on the other hand, that might be as life-changing as cars were.

          • Anonymous says:

            What’s utterly life-changing (by definition) is medical care.

            In relative terms, compared to pre-scientific medicine, humanity has made fantastic progress in the past two centuries.

            In absolute terms, compared to urgent human needs, humanity is still in the dark ages.

            In technological terms, continued rapid progress seems assured, albeit at a sufficiently large cost, that healthcare technologies and delivery systems are destined to compose humanity’s most extensive and sophisticated infrastructure.

            In economic terms, efficient-market postulates fail nowhere more dismally than in controlling access to medical care.

            Yet it is true too, that in the long-run medicine-as-infrastructure offers plausibly the greatest job-creating prosperity-creating happiness-creating opportunities of the 21st century.

            As footnote 2 of Scott Alexander’s OP, notes

            Obviously invent genetic engineering and create a post-scarcity society, but until then we have to deal with this stuff.

            In moral terms, at present there’s little discourse between folks who conceive pretty much nothing in moral terms — morality being for these folks a self-labeling surrogate that is chiefly predictive of self-interested action — versus folks who advocate strongly for access to medical care as a basic right that is vital to all other moral objectives.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      “I mean, my grandma was born in the 1930s. In Canada, not exactly a 3rd world country. She didn’t have running water or electricity until she was in her 20s.”

      In contrast, my father, born in 1917, tended to live in fairly futuristic places, so most of this technology was fairly old hat to him. His father had been Roentgen’s delivery boy while the physicist was inventing the x-ray machine in the 1890s, and so he became an international x-ray machine traveling salesman. My father grew up in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois on a street of Frank Lloyd Wright prairie-style houses. He got a job in the late 1930s at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank. From the late 1940s onward, my parents were eating regularly at the Googie-style steel and glass Bob’s Big Boy drive-in restaurant next to Warner Bros. movie studio.

      I grew up in the 1960s assuming the future was going to be even shinier and faster:

      http://takimag.com/article/the_future_isnt_what_it_used_to_be_steve_sailer/print#axzz49QXnFigK

      Instead, it’s been something of a disappointment.

      • LTP says:

        Yes, but clearly your family was privileged at the time. But we’re talking about the quality of life of the poor/working class, not educated professionals.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Interestingly, my grandfather didn’t go to college, while my father had a junior college degree and my mother didn’t go to college. You could have a pleasant middle class existence without investing massively in education.

          That’s another big change.

      • eqdw says:

        I think this might be the root of the difference. Perhaps many of these modern wonders have been available, in some form or other, to city people for a long time, and a large amount of the growth that happened was the existing benefits of the urbanized elites being extended to larger and larger groups of people.

        A model like this could account for a perception of stasis, and a perception of immense improvement, for different people over the same period of time

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Right. Compared to Canadian farmers, my paternal ancestors were living in a much higher tech world. On the other hand, they weren’t “urbanized elites” by Chicago or Los Angeles standards, they were middle class people. They did, however, have access to the current technology of their times.

          As an 18 year old, my paternal grandfather lucked into a ringside seat for the epochal invention that won the first Nobel Prize in Physics of all time: in the 1890s he’d deliver lenses from the factory to Dr. Roentgen for use in his first x-ray machine. From there my grandfather eventually hustled his way into a pretty lucrative salesman job in the 1920s selling hospitals in Asia and South America their first x-ray machines.

          On the other hand, keep in mind, my grandfather was just a high tech salesman. It gnawed at him that he hadn’t gotten to go to college.

          My father was less relatively prosperous than his father. He went to junior college for two years and then ended up as an engineer at Lockheed Aircraft for 40 years. He lacked my grandfather’s salesman personality and didn’t move much up into management. He wasn’t much of a designer, either, he was just a stress engineer who could be reliably assigned to worry over whether microscopic cracks meant that an airliner’s wing would someday snap off. He said his IQ had been tested at 105 (although I’d add that his 3-D cognitive abilities were far better than his verbal skills and he was a worrywart, which is what you want in an airliner stress engineer: the L1011s he worried over tended to crash much less often than their rival DC10s).

          That earned him enough money, without his wife having to work, to comfortably afford a 1600 square foot house on a 1/6th of an acre lot in the San Fernando Valley, the vast suburb you can see on a million old TV shows, and to send me to nice (but not particularly fashionable) Catholic schools in Sherman Oaks.

          It did not seem an elite existence at the time: there were 1.5 million people in the San Fernando Valley living the same kind of life. For example, the “Brady Bunch” house in ritzier Toluca Lake three miles away was vastly larger.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          On the other hand, we were living the California Dream.

          Benjamin Schwarz’s 2009 review in The Atlantic of historian Kevin Starr’s book “Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963” is the most eloquent evocation of this historical summit of the middle class:

          “IT WAS A magnificent run. … In 1959, wages paid in Los Angeles’s working-class and solidly middle-class San Fernando Valley alone were higher than the total wages of 18 states. … It was a sweet, vivacious time: California’s children, swarming on all those new playgrounds, seemed healthier, happier, taller, and—thanks to that brilliantly clean sunshine—were blonder and more tan than kids in the rest of the country. For better and mostly for worse, it’s a time irretrievably lost. …

          “… the California dream. By this he means something quite specific—and prosaic. California, as he’s argued in earlier volumes, promised “the highest possible life for the middle classes.” It wasn’t a paradise for world-beaters; rather, it offered “a better place for ordinary people.” …

          “Until the Second World War, California had proffered this Good Life only to people already in the middle class—the small proprietors, farmers, and professionals, largely transplanted midwesterners, who defined the long-underindustrialized state culturally and politically. But the war and the decades-long boom that followed extended the California dream to a previously unimaginable number of Americans of modest means. Here Starr records how that dream possessed the national imagination (and thereby helped define middle-class aspirations and an ideal of domestic life that survives to this day) and how the Golden State—fleetingly, as it turns out—accommodated Americans’ “conviction that California was the best place in the nation to seek and attain a better life.” …

          “In the brief era Starr examines, the world rushed in to grab that life: the state’s population nearly doubled between 1950 and 1970. This dolce vita was, as Starr makes clear, a democratic one: …

          “To a Californian today, much of what Starr chronicles is unrecognizable. (Astonishing fact: Ricky Nelson and the character he played in that quintessential idealization of suburbia, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, attended Hollywood High, a school that is now 75 percent Hispanic and that The New York Times accurately described in 2003 as “a typically overcrowded, vandalism-prone urban campus.”) Granted, a version of the California Good Life can still be had—by those Starr calls the “fiercely competitive.” That’s just the heartbreak: most of us are merely ordinary. For nearly a century, California offered ordinary people better lives than they could lead perhaps anywhere else in the world. Today, reflecting our intensely stratified, increasingly mobile society, California affords the Good Life only to the most gifted and ambitious, regardless of their background. That’s a deeply undemocratic betrayal of California’s dream—and of the promise of American life. As R. H. Tawney wrote, “Opportunities to rise, which can, of their very nature, be seized only by the few,” cannot “substitute for a general diffusion of the means of civilization, which are needed by all men whether they rise or not.””

    • Tracy W says:

      Also see Megan Mcardle’s article on living standards in Little House On A Prairie, hint, at one point Laura gets a cup for Christmas and she’s delighted because it means she doesn’t have to share a cup with her sister anymore. And the Ingalls were landowners and educated by the standards of their time.

      Little House on the Prairie is of course pre-1900 but presumably we all agree that the USA didn’t suddenly get massively richer to 1900 and then stop.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Here’s a fair portrait of standards of living in 1870, 1920, 1970, and 2016:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/upshot/what-was-the-greatest-era-for-american-innovation-a-brief-guided-tour.html

        Here’s the sensible conclusion:

        “In short, the sheer number of ways a person can be in touch with others, and consume information or entertainment, has exploded, and the price has collapsed.

        “This is the area in which human [American] life has changed the most in the last 46 years. We live and travel much as we did in 1970. We eat more variety of foods. Products of all types keep getting a little safer, a little more efficient, a little better designed.

        “But the real revolution of recent decades is in the supercomputer most people keep in their pocket. And how that stacks up against the advances of yesteryear is the great question of whether an era of innovation remains underway, or has slowed way down.”

      • Julie K says:

        Quote from linked article:
        “Payless will sell you a pair of child’s shoes for $15, which is two hours of work even at minimum wage.”

        In the Little House books (which I’m currently reading to my kids) Pa can earn $1/day and boots cost $3.

        • Anonymous says:

          What did Pa pay in mortgage/rent/property taxes?

        • alaska3636 says:

          What was the depreciation lifetime of the shoes then versus the Payless shoes?

          Many people today buy new shoes every year or so; older shoes needed to be re-soled a lot less often.

          • Nornagest says:

            On the other hand, people move less now, too.

            The uppers on a traditionally made pair of shoes will last many years if they’re properly taken care of, but I’d expect a 19th-century farmer or miner or cowboy to go through soles much more quickly than modern people buying shoes of a similar type.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There’s this story of the rich man who buys $50 boots that last ten years, and the poor man who buys $10 boots that last one year.

            It’s a story, though. It’s not the real world. Consumer Reports still exists and tests stuff.

          • Anonymous says:

            Just yesterday I heard someone make this argument. About how $450 shoes were really a good investment because “they will last forever and never go out of style”!

            It’s bullshit. First resoling isn’t free. Two resolings and you’ve bought a new pair of decent shoes. Second, there’s no way to know what will or won’t ever go out of style.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s not totally wrong. There is a point at which stuff is too cheaply made to be a good investment in terms of dollars-per-wear, though the worst offenders tend to be fast-fashion houses selling trendy stuff for middling prices rather than makers of basic, unpretentious staples. (I’ve bought jeans that fell apart in two months, but I still have my pair of Chuck Taylors that I bought five years ago.)

            But if you’re paying $450 for shoes, you’re probably well into diminishing-returns territory there. It might still be a good purchase, but not for those reasons.

    • anon says:

      If I wanted to go without most of those advancements, I would be either made into a criminal or a social pariah. Technological wealth isn’t something a person is capable of foregoing unless they can convince a lot of other people to forgo it too. It might not be that people are choosing a modern standard of living for themselves, but because there’s no practical choice otherwise.

    • eh says:

      The size of your house is irrelevant if you can’t afford rent because it’s illegal to build a smaller house. The location of your toilet doesn’t necessarily make you happier than having enough land to piss on a tree without being arrested for indecent exposure. Hydroponic lettuce can’t help you if the only shop within walking distance is a KFC and you don’t own a car.

      Some of the other things, like living in a room with your siblings, owning a single car, suffering through a 41c (105f?) summer day without aircon, trying to find enough candles to read by during a power outage, or feeding a wood fire by hand with logs and kindling split with an axe, are things that I grew up doing. With the exception of the hot days, I miss them. My father grew up without power, proper refrigeration, and in an area where dirt-floored huts were still around, on a farm where they still used draught horses instead of tractors and where they lived primarily on their own produce. He misses the horses, even if he doesn’t miss the backbreaking labour.

      Neither he nor I find it particularly hard to fathom how much wealthier we are because of these things. It’s really not that bad to eat dried, preserved vegetables, or stored vegetables in winter, to cut up a stack of firewood, to share a car, or to share a room. It’s not awful to have to look things up in Encyclopaedia Britannica, to call your grandmother for an explanation of pyroclastic flow, or to send checks in the mail rather than buying from Amazon. You will still be very sad if your wife leaves you, if your mother dies of alcoholism, or if someone breaks into your house, no matter how many air conditioners you have.

      Poverty might be less important than the degree to which someone’s needs are met. We’ve all got food, but housing is unaffordable in many countries, stable families are getting rarer, entry-level work is harder to find, jobs seldom last forever unless they’re awful, wages have stagnated, and so on.

  24. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    I expect the average 2100 poor person will be one paycheck away from the street. I can’t explain this, I just accept it at this point.

    Eliezer, Michael blame monopolies; Vladimir zero-sum games.

    • vV_Vv says:

      I think the straightforward argument against basic income, at least in an economy where human labor is still necessary, is that it will just inflate all the prices until it effectively neutralizes itself: if you pay people enough money that they can live without having to take the shitty jobs, then nobody will take the shitty jobs, but if there is still a demand for shitty jobs, then their wages will rise, driving up all the other wages and all the prices of all the goods, until the basic income isn’t enough to allow people to live without working and so they will have to take the shitty jobs again.

      • Teal says:

        I think that argument only works in a closed economy. With imports I don’t think it does. But I am not an economist.

        • Tracy W says:

          Imports only apply to tradeable goods (as opposed to say haircutting, or plumbing, where there’s a limit as to how far anyone will travel.)

          • Teal says:

            So what’s the equilibrium? My intuition is that the phenomenon vV_Vv discusses only happens partially. Inflation in the costs of non-tradeable goods & services eats up some of the utility improvement of the BI but not all of it.

          • vV_Vv says:

            I’m not an economist either, but my impression is that in developed countries, nearly all the minimum-wage exportable jobs (mostly low-skilled manufacturing of consumer goods) have already been exported to developing countries.

            The minimum-wage jobs that remain are things like construction worker, cleaning service worker, shop assistant, fruit picker in a farm, truck driver, and so on, all jobs that can’t be easily outsourced to China.

          • Teal says:

            If we accept that as true, I still don’t think it is sufficient to get to your claims re: all the benefits being eaten by inflation.

            Maybe we can get David Friedman to comment by invoking his name.

      • Corey says:

        I picked this up in another subthread. It doesn’t have to cause equal inflation, because prices are not determined by costs. The cost of making something provides a floor to the price, but beyond that everything’s determined by supply and demand.

        • vV_Vv says:

          But if supply decreases and demand stays the same prices will go up, right?

          • Corey says:

            Correct, but my point is that there’s no force making the amount of price increases (on individual products or in the aggregate) the same as the amount of benefits, because all that supply & demand has lots of factors going into it.

  25. Randy M says:

    It seems like technology should theoretically enable less intelligent people to hold a wider range of jobs, by filling in the gaps they lack, like a cash register for a somewhat innumerate person. I imagine that in reality this is not true for two reasons.

    One, this kind of technology would magnify the errors made, without an ability to sense check the results. The cashier presses a wrong button, sees she should give $100 change instead of $10, and there goes the value added by that employee for a week (stand in for similar technological aids).

    Second, while technology could go and aid people, it can also, and more efficiently, replace them entirely, if not just as easily then shortly after. It won’t be long between back-up cameras being on cars and fully automated cars, etc.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Some economists talk about normal jobs versus “O-ring jobs.”

      If you are in the right place, it’s hard to dig a ditch “wrong.” You might dig it slow, or inefficiently, but someone else can come by and finish up your work.

      If you are designing an O-Ring for a space shuttle booster, no one else can fix it if you screw up.

      I don’t necessarily have a conclusion here, just giving the framework.

      • Randy M says:

        Right, and technology probably can’t find a use in the O-ring jobs for people below a certain level; it can make the ditch diggers more productive, but it won’t be long before their labor is the lesser part (moving from shovels to backhoes) and eventually it actually value negative, once the technology is in place (automated backhoes or something).

    • Y Stefanov says:

      The damn jobs keep evolving and adding frills and duties though so technology never replaces people. Here’s an example – ATM proliferation actually took place while human bank tellers actually OUTPACED other employment.

      It’s just that nowadays tellers are not just cashiers – they are also required to be more friendly, cross-sell and up-sell services, get new competencies etc. etc. There’s always a friendlier, more industrious, more conscientious, more knowledgeable etc. person whom the employer wants to employ to stay abreast of his competition. Thus, a job is never “solved” by technology.

      I see this in my own job – seems like every damn month there’s something extra I have to do or be as part of my job. I wouldn’t mind if I got a raise withe very other “continuous improvement” fucking idea from management but I only get a small yearly raise. There’s definitely “mission creep” like that with a lot of jobs ….

      • Randy M says:

        You have a good counter example, but it is far from proving this: “Thus, a job is never “solved” by technology.”
        Many jobs are solved by technology. We may have more bank tellers, but do we have more gas station attendants, agricultural workers, telephone switchboard operators, etc.?

        I think there will likely be a long market for human-facing positions (sales, etc.) as most people currently will prefer personal service to a screen. I’m not sure that will hold true in a generation, though. You can observe more people who prefer a screen to the friend or date sitting next to them, and as voice recognition & other interface software improves alongside interface-aculturation, we may well see radical changes in the service industry.

        • Nornagest says:

          This is a nitpick at best, but I’m pretty sure “gas station attendant” is more a story about custom and law than about technology.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes and no. As with elevator operator, a “gas station attendant” used to have a job that required a small amount of skill (and strength); the attendant would manually pump the gas into a clear reservoir with markings showing the amount of gas. Then attach the hose to the car, open a valve, and let gravity do the rest. And collect payment of course.

        • Y Stefanov says:

          “but do we have more gas station attendants, agricultural workers, telephone switchboard operators, etc.?” – yes, it’s just that we call them different things and the jobs keep changing more or less. We have all sorts of mechanics or people who work at places life Jiffy Lube who are not quite mechanics but do a lot of things people used to do for themselves (changing oil, car clean up, wiper change etc.). We have many more people who are not agri workers but work with food sourcing/preparation in some way. I work in a call center so not quite switchboard operator but there’s even more of us despite having a “smart” system whereby virtually everything can be done online or over the automated phone line.

          tl;dr – jobs are never solved! even a particular job incarnation (gas attendant, switchboard operator)) becomes obsolete, the job of “car care” is not only never “solved,” but is expanding and branching out.

          • Artificirius says:

            I don’t think this extends into infinity.

            Technology either makes people obsolete for a given application, or makes people in said application more efficient or capable. See buggy whip makers and ditch diggers.

            So we have some jobs drying up as human labour fields. Some become reduced in terms of productivity per worker, but can certainly expand to employ as many or more workers as they have before. Ditch digging requires far few people per unit of work, but we did far bigger and longer ditches now. And new fields open up, employing more people.

            The first issue is that it is unlikely that a field, once automated, or rendered obsolescent, will make a return to human production.

            The second is that while we’ve not been able to produce something that directly replaces a human being in it’s physical capabilities in the past, I don’t think that will hold true in the future.

            Take your bank tellers. I suspect they will shrink as a source of employment as the people less comfortable with online banking being to pass away, and are increasingly replaced with people with comfortable with online banking, and generally spend very little time needing to see someone face to face for anything.

            Or truckers. The advent of self driving vehicles is going to have massive repercussions, and not simply for the people employed as drivers.

            Now, maybe we’ll find more jobs for them ( I remain unconvinced, unless we require that self driving vehicles have a competent driver behind the wheel at all times, which I also cannot see as a long term solution)

            But let’s allow that we will see a mass producible automaton that closely mimics or exceed human range of motion, with many times the strength, endurance and consistency, and it get’s introduced into our current world. (Most jobs still require human participation, mass and large 3D printing is still non existant, etc)

            What happens then?

          • NN says: