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

OT57: Chopin Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. There are hidden threads every few days here. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. One reason I love you guys is that you always know useful information about random things. Some of the comments on pharmacological tolerance really helped me understand it better; particularly comment-of-the-week-worthy were Erebus, George Dawson, and Raza. Related: r/nootropics recently had a good thread about Adderall tolerance.

2. Important Consumer Warning: I was recently on vacation and tried to get some money out of a Bank of America ATM. The ATM took my card and refused to give it back. When I called the bank’s number, they just told me that this just happened randomly sometimes, they wouldn’t help me, there was nothing anyone could do, and I’d have to get a new card from my bank. While I was on the phone, a passer-by overheard and told me that they’d had the same problem, also with a Bank of America ATM. Needless to say this seriously complicated my vacation. I wish I had known not to use Bank of America ATMs at any point when it would be inconvenient to permanently lose the card involved, so now I am telling you.

3. Worth highlighting: the last open thread’s discussion on people who willed themseves into having their first childhood memory.

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1,051 Responses to OT57: Chopin Thread

    • J says:

      I originally thought the title image was the Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz, but it’s a different piece from the same composer: String Quartet No. 556(b) for Strings In A Minor (motoring accident).

      Remarkably enough, it looks like several people have staged performances of the Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz. This page has both the Faerie’s Aire and the String Quartet, plus a link to the performance.

      While we’re on the topic of obscure compositions, what are everyone’s favorite obscure pieces?

      Here’s a particularly sexualized rendition of Chopin’s Trois Nouvelles Etudes #1, whose 4 on 3 rhythm has always entranced me.

      Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas #2 has a similar chromatic beauty which I find delightfully unsettling.

      Whitacre popularized this with his internet choir, so maybe it’s not as obscure any more, but I particularly like this rendidtion of Water Night (but for the love of God hide the visuals).

      The vocalise has long been out of fashion: vocal parts without any words, sung on a random syllable like “la”. Here’s a piece from a whole album of Rachmaninoff vocalises arranged for cello and piano.

      • komponisto says:

        While we’re on the topic of obscure compositions, what are everyone’s favorite obscure pieces?

        Sigh. I hardly want to get into a discussion about what “obscure” means and whether it’s a useful concept (since after all I suspect that the whole of the Western art music tradition — the central concern of my own life — is probably “obscure” to most readers here, or at least “exotic”).

        So instead, inspired by the image, let’s talk about extremes of musical notation! These pages are fascinating reading. They concern actual pieces of music, rather than parodies like the Fairie’s Aire and Death Waltz.

        If you want to see beautiful, complex notation in action, in real music, check out the work of contemporary composers such as Brian Ferneyhough.

        But now I suppose I’ll bite just a bit on the original question, since the IU pages I linked mention a triple-sharp in a clarinet sonata by Max Reger. This being the centennial year of Reger’s passing, I’ll mention that I’m currently taking a special interest in the work of that fascinating composer. (He might be considered “obscure” by some people, but he isn’t that marginal: the Reger section of at least one university library with which I am familiar contains over 40 books, not even counting the scores of…scores, i.e. his actual music. And recently a piece of his was the subject of a featured article on Wikipedia.) The clarinet sonatas happen to be central from my biographically-contingent vantage point, since I actually performed two movements of op. 107 as an undergraduate. (Not, alas, the one with the triple sharp, but a fine piece anyway!)

        This year I’m looking at all three clarinet sonatas, the solo string music (particularly the violin sonatas op. 91), the concertos (piano and violin), the Sinfonietta, … maybe more, and will probably, or at least hopefully, publish in-depth analyses of some subset of these works. Mostly out of sheer mischievousness, I’m largely avoiding his most “famous” music, namely the organ works and variation sets; but I will be looking at the Bach variations, op. 81, since that was the piece that Schenker (the greatest theorist ever, and another of my principal interests) lambasted as a “counterexample”.

        • J says:

          Thanks for the introduction to Reger! This cello piece is quite nice.

        • Ninmesara says:

          You’re still alive! I just wanted to thank you for you “evangelism” of Westergaard’s book back when you still posted on Lesswrong, otherwise I’d have never had any contact with the book, which is great. Will you ever blog about your extensions of Westergaardian analysis into atonal or modal music? I’d be extremely interested in that. In case you’d like to chat about it, I’ve sent you a message on lesswrong.

  1. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #20
    This week we are discussing “The Hammer of God” by Arthur C. Clarke.
    Next time we will discuss “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      A very archetypal hard science fiction story, with all that entails. The characters are flat and the dialogue is dry, but that’s alright because the real focus of the story is on ideas, both technological and social. Granted, some of these ideas are a little odd (Chrislam?) and Clarke must have been very confused about how cryonics works if he thought brains preserved in liquid nitrogen could be conscious, but the story is still a very interesting and enjoyable read.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        It’s obviously just a throw-away “did you notice this story takes place in THE FUTURE!?!” element, but evidently Chrislam is something which actually exists.

        Of course, that’s only half of the equation. If these are Chrislamic Fundamentalists, then what is the sacred text of Chrislam which is being literally interpreted? In a syncretic religion that seems like an especially touch circle to square: either you’re stuck with the Koran and lose most of the Chris- parts of Chrislam, or you need a Newer Testament of some kind to integrate the religions properly.

        • Deiseach says:

          You lot obviously missed this back in 2007, the Episcopalian-Muslim clergywoman 🙂

          (Most of the commentary at the time was of the eye-rolling “Of course she’d be an Episcopalian” variety. There was also the Druid-Episcopalian clergyman and the Buddhist-Episcopalian, that last guy was going for bishop of Northern Michigan and actually got elected but was refused consent by the other dioceses because yeah, a step too far at the time).

      • Nestor says:

        You misread, the brain is going to be thawed, then they’ll talk to it.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Yes, but the Senator wonders what the brain has been thinking about in the meantime, implying that he thinks the brain in conscious while frozen.

  2. Guy says:

    I’ve noticed that I frequently get a pain in my left arm a short time (ten seconds or so) after I sneeze, similar to the pain of striking my funnybone (so similar, in fact, I think the same nerve may be involved). Anyone have any ideas why this might be the case? It’s always more painful in the left arm, but sometimes I do get sort of a ghost of a similar pain in my right. It also reminds me of the joint pain that comes from jumping from a height such that I can’t quite efficiently absorb the kinetic energy, except that the pain radiates from the elbow up and a bit down, rather than being concentrated in the elbow and shoulder.

    • Jugemu Chousuke says:

      Could be related to pinching a nerve in your neck if you’re jolting your head too hard when sneezing. I had a similar issue once when I was sneezing a lot. Not sure how to fix it though – in my case it went away when I stopped sneezing so much.

    • ShemTealeaf says:

      Not exactly the same, but I get weird pains about 10% of the time that I have a hard sneeze, particularly in my shoulders. I’ve always attributed it to some kind of muscle tension during the sneeze, but I really have no idea.

  3. BBA says:

    On the topic of regulation and deregulation, I submit the SEC’s action on May 1, 1975 to abolish the NYSE fixed commission rule. Was this regulatory or deregulatory?

    Note that the NYSE was not and has never been a government agency – at the time it was a voluntary association of brokerages, whereas now it is a for-profit business.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      That’s a very sketchy article. I can’t even tell what the fixed-commission rule was. Do you have a better source?
      I couldn’t even tell if what was fixed was the dollar amount of commission or the percentage. I think that it was a percentage that declined with the size of the trade, the percentage over $500,000 being unfixed on 4/15/1972 and the complicated schedule on small orders being unfixed on 5/1/1975.

      Why do you care about this choice of words, “regulatory” or “deregulatory”?

      • BBA says:

        Sorry if the article is unclear. (At least you read it!) The financial press can be a bit inside-baseball.

        I believe it was a fixed percentage. The Buttonwood Agreement of 1792 set it at 0.25% and commissions were set by the Exchange for all members until 1975. Whatever it was, the likes of ETrade with its flat fees would not be possible under the old regime, even setting aside the technological advances needed to make it possible.

        My basic point was that it’s a lot more complicated than “regulation always imposes costs and makes it harder to compete with established interests” since here’s a regulation that did the opposite. Unless the “Soviet Economic Committee” was engaging in deregulation, and the private organization NYSE is considered a branch of the government, even though that’s not how the brokers felt at the time.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Exhibiting a single example of a good regulation disproves the claim that regulations are always bad, but universal statements are unlikely to be true. If the example was cherry-picked, it doesn’t shed much light on, say, whether most regulations are bad.

          I think that price-fixing cartels are pretty uniformly bad, but that doesn’t mean I trust governments to solve this problem. For example, I think that the application of antitrust law is pretty corrupt. It is pretty easy to exhibit examples of trust-busting that I think made people better in isolation, but that doesn’t mean that I think that all trust-busting was good. Moreover, giving the government this flexible power is dangerous, even if every individual application is good. (Price-fixing law is probably better than the broad antitrust law, though.)

          I don’t know the history well, but my impression is that NYSE used to have a monopoly, but NASDAQ broke that. I don’t know how they broke it, but I don’t think that this rule has much to do with it. My impression is that NYSE is still, today, an inferior product, but that it is difficult for listed companies to escape it. But if NYSE had tried to maintain high commissions in the face of NASDAQ competition, companies would have tried harder and left. So while I do think that this was a good regulation, I think that most of its value would have been accomplished anyway by competition.

  4. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Has anyone else watched Yu-Gi-Oh: Duel Monsters? I’m asking because there is a season 3 character named Noah Kaiba whose backstory involves a surprisingly decent depiction of mind uploading considering that he is a filler villain in a show about a children’s card game (watch from 3:40 to 6:08, 7:06 to 10:54, and 23:30 to 30:54 to get the backstory without the card game).

    EDIT: Oh, come on! I just posted this and the stupid video gets taken down.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I haven’t seen Yu-Gi-Oh, but coincidentally, Kaiba is also the name of a sci-fi anime about a future where memory uploading/memory transfer into artificial bodies is common practice. It’s pretty good. What I found interesting was the contrast between the quirky, cartoony, almost Dr. Seuss-like visual style and the dark and adult subject matter. Just looking at it you might think it’s a kids’ show but in like episode 2 there’s a scene where a woman double-uploads her consciousness into another body to basically have sex with herself, and somehow (not sure on the mechanics) literally explodes from pleasure and ends up splattered all over the walls.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Those anti-content ID measures make the videos almost unwatchable. Having most of the screen taken up by random snowflakes is really distracting.

      Anyway, I’m not really seeing what’s so special about Yu-Gi-Oh!’s take on it. This is a classic SF trope and they don’t seem to have gone into it any deeper than the typical genre movie.

      For example, if Noah’s brain is being simulated then how exactly is he planning to download himself into Seto’s body? Unless he’s got Kaiba wired up to that giant spherical computer like the world’s most morbid ventriloquist’s dummy there’s no way he can actually take control of the man no matter how many times he beats him in a children’s card game. It’s clearly not a surgical procedure, making a new brain and swapping it out for the old one, but something like downloading Noah’s mind into Seto’s body. But in this case the ‘hardware’ is also the ‘software’ so that makes no sense.

      Besides, Kaiba Corp’s whole shtick in the show is extremely realistic holograms. Why can’t Noah make a projection of himself with a big H on his forehead and run the company from beyond the grave? Pegasus has an evil ancient Egyptian artifact for an eye and Industrial Illusions’ shareholders don’t seem to mind. It can’t be that hard to cover up weird crap like that in the Yu-Gi-Oh! universe.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        Those anti-content ID measures make the videos almost unwatchable. Having most of the screen taken up by random snowflakes is really distracting.

        When I first opened that link I assumed the snowflake background was some strange artistic choice and it was actually part of the show. Though if I’d thought about it for another few seconds I probably would’ve realized the truth. I mean, it’s Yu-Gi-Oh, not The Pillow Book.

    • pku says:

      Dude, if you’re going to show us the plot without any card games, at least link the episode where they duel with the ancient Egyptian laser beams. (But yeah, the mind uploading was surprisingly coherent. Definitely a lot more coherent than the filler arc’s weird alternate game rules.)

  5. Random Lurker says:

    Bank of America is an abomination in every way.

    • Jill says:

      Well, it’s certainly an abomination in several ways. But I don’t know if other major banks are any better. Anyone have a major bank they are satisfied with?

      • No need to tell the internet where I keep my money says:

        USAA has never screwed me over, and in fact have been very reasonable any time something has come up. I’ve used them for ~15 years.

      • Paul Goodman says:

        I’ve been pretty satisfied with BoA to be honest. Not helping much though am I?

      • JayT says:

        I was with Washington Mutual and always wanted to leave, but never bothered to do so. Then they were bought up by Chase, and I’ve had a Chase account since ~2008 and they have somehow never managed to annoy me in any way in the last eight years. Added bonus, their iPhone app works really well.

      • Gravitas Shortfall says:

        pfff, local bank. Everyone with the option of doing so should bank through local credit unions. I’ve never been treated wrong by Sound Credit Union (PNW-based).

      • Charlie says:

        A second vote for (local) credit unions. This topic seems worthy of more digging to get everyone on board.
        I currently get 2.5% interest on my checking account up to $20K balance, from a credit union in the Pacific Northwest. Not being annoying or ripping you off is quite a low bar for good banking…

        I’ve heard great things about USAA but know that you have to be in a military family to join.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I was a loyal BoA customer, refusing to listen to the whiners about ATM fees (yes, of course they charge fees to people from other banks, their prime marketing feature is ATMs everywhere). But then they screwed up my account and told me to do all the work to fix it. So I left.

      I’ve been satisfied with Wells Fargo since then.

    • Wency says:

      I had a BOFA account that was compromised in some way and all my funds withdrawn by someone in, I believe, Romania.

      I went in to a branch and got the problem corrected, with a new account opened. The same thing happened to the new account within a week.

      I switched to another bank and have never had another such problem. Perhaps it was identity fraud that can’t be blamed on BOFA, but it was localized entirely to my BOFA accounts and the problem ended when I ended my relationship with them.

    • Andrew says:

      Agreed- switched from them three years ago to a local credit union. So very much happier! Better rates, better service, better hours, etc. Literally better in every conceivable way. Even their mobile check depositing app was better!

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s certainly very bad customer service, anyhow. If it commonly happens, do other customers know? Do other banks have the same problem?

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        I’ve never met a single customer of Bank of America who LIKED them. I’ve met many people who avoid dealing with them as much as possible. Personally, I think my account with them lasted less than a year before they annoyed me into closing it. (IIRC, they were holding all deposited checks for five days, which is the maximum allowed for non-local checks; I have no idea what shenanigans allowed them to do it with ALL checks, but it pissed me off.)

        Chase bought the bank that bought the bank that bought the bank that I used after that (there may have been a couple of other acquisitions in there, I stopped paying attention for a while). Chase has yet to be evil, but I’d describe them as competent without any inclination to exceed my basic expectations.

  6. doubleunplussed says:

    I have always read the open thread titles “OT57” etc as “Operating Thetan, level 57”.

    Scott, you’re quickly becoming an extremely high ranking Scientologist.

  7. Sandy says:

    I watched Now You See Me 2 a few days ago. I hated the original because the characters were so obnoxious and self-satisfied you wanted to punch them every time they opened their mouths, but the second one is possibly even worse because they upped the bullshit quotient and dropped all pretense of any of these tricks being believable. Hell, I don’t think they bothered revealing how the tricks worked this time around — perhaps that fits the magician’s ethos, but for a movie it means you can just pass special effects off as stage magic, at which point the main appeal of the film (“All of these are real, planned, coordinated magic tricks!) is gone.

    I also checked out Hell or High Water yesterday because I’ll watch anything with Jeff Bridges in it. It has a whopping 99% score on RT, and critics have been saying things like “This is the America Donald Trump speaks to!”, but I wasn’t feeling it. It’s fine but it’s a straightforward and predictable movie for the most part, and any deeper messages are just narrated by various characters to the audience rather than being woven into the background and themes. It’s also been compared to No Country for Old Men, another West Texas thriller, but I don’t think that comparison does this movie any favors. No Country is far superior.

  8. rubberduck says:

    Today on “Do Other People Also Have This Feeling Or Is It Just Me”:

    I have this strange aversion to modifying my appearance in any way- I would never want to dye my hair, get a tattoo, get any piercings, or any plastic surgery. Even haircuts or wearing makeup are unsettling. I don’t care about other people doing any of this to their own bodies, I don’t think it’s wrong, but the idea of having any of it done to me makes me deeply uncomfortable in a hard-to-articulate way. Has anyone else felt this?

    None of this applies to things like accidents or injuries- for instance, if I get a scar somewhere, it doesn’t bother me. It’s only for intentional modifications. I had to get braces and felt awful afterwards even though my teeth looked great.

    (Possibly related: I’m terrible with faces and have often failed to recognize people after they get a haircut or something similar, so that could be part of it, but it doesn’t explain everything.)

    • onyomi says:

      I went through a period of about six years when I never cut my hair, not so much because I thought I looked good with long hair (I mostly didn’t, unless your preferences run toward angsty goth teen), but because I had gotten one too many bad haircuts, one much shorter than I’d wanted, and it really bothered me for some reason. I think a lot of it was tactile. Having long hair is sort of like having a comforting sweater attached to your head. Feeling it suddenly gone can be slightly jarring.

      I am also mildly OCD, so make of that what you will.

      I have been tempted for a while to get some tattoos; problem is, my philosophy of tattoos is “go big or go home,” and I don’t want to wear even my favorite shirt every day.

      • Guy says:

        I also had a period where I refused to cut my hair, but it was because I had decided that I wanted long hair and my father insisted on cutting it quite short. From when I was 8 until I was 12 or 13, I refused to get a hair cut (or, in fact, manage my hair in any way at all). The result was a tangled mat that covered my eyes. Over the next two or three years, I allowed someone to cut it infrequently, allowing me to get it into its present general shape and length, minus perhaps a few inches. Since leaving high school I haven’t trimmed it more than maybe twice, but that’s laziness.

        On tattoos: I feel the need to mention a guy I met recently with quite a number of tattoos, many of which, when he was asked, turned out to be somewhat comical regrets. His knuckles were tattooed with a variety of objects, selected by the criterion that he liked them. This included a chicken wing. The back of his calf had an image of the state of Pennsylvania, turned sideways, with a grenade pin added. I think he got a lot of mileage out of having a bunch of tattoos to regret, odd as that sounds.

        • onyomi says:

          See, that’s my problem with tattoos: I hate really small, haphazard ones, but I admire big, unified, artistic ones. But the latter are a much bigger investment of time, money, pain, and skin.

          • anon says:

            I know a guy who just got a giant elaborate tattoo with a hidden message. The hidden message is subtly wrong (and the encoding is totally ambiguous without external help and not very well chosen). Broke my heart.

      • Phil says:

        ‘Hair cuts much shorter than I wanted’

        I’ve found that generic male hair cuts are easier to give yourself than you might imagine

        And you have more incentive to get it right than most professional hair cutters

        (The biggest issue is the mess of hair it makes)

    • Guy says:

      I have a similar aversion to (and inability to imagine the effects of) cutting my (rather long) hair. I always and without exception keep it tied back in a low pony tail while awake. I have a light mustache which I acquired in the usual manner at the age of 15, and have shaved only once since then. I was dared to do so while extremely drunk (actually, I was dared to shave it to the Hitlerean style, and decided later that night that shaving the whole thing off was better than leaving it like that). Since then I have surprised myself by growing a beard, but I don’t think I’ll be shaving the beard off anytime soon. Modifications to the beard are perfectly acceptable, though (for example, I trim it occasionally for length and am still adjusting how much of my face it covers and to what degree it connections to the mustache).

      It’s worth noting that the body I have is not what I see as the correct body for me. I’m not trans, but a lot of my empathy for trans people comes from what I identify as a kind of non-gender dysphoria that I experience at times. While I think this is or at least might be a relatively rare experience, it does offer some explanation to me as to why I’m unwilling to give up the parts of my appearance that feel correct.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s worth noting that the body I have is not what I see as the correct body for me. I’m not trans, but a lot of my empathy for trans people comes from what I identify as a kind of non-gender dysphoria that I experience at times.

        Same here. Except for me it is tied up with gender to an extent.

        • Guy says:

          Well, it is somewhat gender related, but it doesn’t make me want to transition. Gender dysphoria as I understand it is dysphoria that would make you transition, or wish to transition conditional on reduced costs thereof.

    • Fctho1e says:

      No. But I’d never have anything like that done, for the simple reason that there’s no point, and I’d come to regret it eventually anyway. Tattoos, piercings or plastic surgery are useless, though the latter has some utility for women.

      Do you also have an aversion to say, gaining or losing weight or muscle tone? That also modifies appearance.

      • onyomi says:

        “Tattoos, piercings or plastic surgery are useless, though the latter has some utility for women.”

        I’m pretty sure “useful” is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to altering one’s appearance.

      • rubberduck says:

        I don’t work out and my (healthy) weight has fluctuated over a range of maybe 3 pounds over the past 6 years, so it’s hard to say. Thinking it over I feel a slight aversion but not as much as for the other things listed. Changes in weight or muscle would be much more gradual than a piercing or hair dye, though, so it is not entirely comparable imo.

      • John Dougan says:

        Many piercings can have a great deal of utility. For an obvious example, genital piercings can improve sex for yourself or your partner.

      • Harambe's Ghost says:

        the latter has some utility for women.

        Men, too, presumably: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/com/108/3/233/

    • Mary says:

      I don’t even have pierced ears.

      OTOH, while I haven’t cut my hair in — twenty-seven years now — and don’t wear make-up, it’s not so much that it bothers me.

    • pku says:

      I also have that, but somewhat more mildly. I also occasionally have a hard time with faces.

    • LPSP says:

      I think I have just a normal aversion to unnecessarily warping myself. I went for a long time sans-haircuts like onyomi, albeit chiefly from laziness and a loose calculation to align with a circle of metalhead friends at the time. If I wanted to scar myself or get a piercing (no way I can picture that), I just would, and if I was all of a) old b) severely affected in the looks department by old and c) lodezmone, I would consent to cosmetic surgery. Anything that feels transformative is out.

    • Jill says:

      Regarding hair, I think of the Samson and Delilah story– with hair being/representing strength. I wonder if a lot of people feel that way. Or have other attachments to hair. I wore my hair long for a while after my grandmother’s death, to remind me of her. It was like still having some aspect of her around.

      And certainly many of us have aversions to things we have had bad experiences with e.g. awful haircuts that bothered us, or where other people made fun of us afterwards etc. If someone has a bad experience with something and they remember it, then they know why they are reacting negatively to that experience.

      But maybe if they have a bad experience with something and they don’t remember it– e.g. a bad or painful (e.g. got accidentally stabbed with scissors because they were squirming so much) haircut they got as a small child– well, maybe then the person thinks “I have this big aversion to this situation e.g. haircut and I don’t know why. I must be really weird.” But they’re not any more weird than the person who remembers the experience they got their aversion from. They just were so young that when that triggering experience happened, that they can’t remember it.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      I have something kind of similar.

      I haven’t had a haircut in years and dislike trimming my beard, though I do shave my mustache. I have no problem with make-up for a specific costume, but wouldn’t wear it regularly. No tattoos or piercings, and pretty sure I never will.

      On injuries, I have a strong urge to return to normal as quickly as possible. One time I got a very small burn on my finger than left a lump of tough scar tissue. I cut that out with a pair of toenail clippers so that it would re-heal correctly (it did). Taking clippers to my flesh was disturbing (it didn’t hurt very much — mostly inside the callus), but not as disturbing as my flesh being wrong.

    • Miriam says:

      That’s interesting, I also have both prosopagnosia and an aversion to drastically changing my appearance (I don’t like getting my hair cut, wearing makeup, don’t want any tattoos), although the latter has gotten somewhat less severe over the years. I had never thought to connect the two before, but I can see how they could be related. I once failed to recognize my roommate when she walked into our apartment after getting a haircut. Maybe I’m subconsciously afraid I will fail to recognize myself.

    • tgb says:

      Something similar: I dislike overtly changing other people’s impression of me. This includes things like changing how I look (I only wore clothes I had an excuse to wear due to being free/given to me for many years) but also things like picking up new hobbies and starting to exercise or even telling people about the fact that I’m doing these new hobbies or that I started dating someone. I finally made some useful changes in my life after moving somewhere where no one knew me, at which point I was happy to make changes. Then I just had to agonize over how to show them to my family and friends back home, even when they were all positive changes. But that didn’t have to happen until well after I’d made the changes.

      For a similar reason, I avoid using Facebook. Not because I don’t want other people to know, but I don’t want to ever announce things to them. If Facebook had a way to put things up so that it didn’t show up on people’s feeds but was there were they to, say, look for pictures of me, then I would be more active. I have this inclination towards appearing to always have been as I am now.

      • Jill says:

        Has something bad ever happened to you as a result of telling someone about a change in yourself? Or have you witnessed someone having that experience? Of course, people can have such experiences at very young ages, so they may not remember them.

      • Nyx says:

        I think what you’re trying to grasp is the existential concept of “bad faith”in which you feel pressure to conform to a particular social role with which you are comfortable with. I feel something similar, where I worry that if I pursue interests or hobbies outside of what other people expect of me, they will think I’m some kind of poseur or weirdo (not that my prescribed lifestyle is particularly mainstream, but I’m used to being seen that way). Related might be concepts like gym anxiety (which I also get).

    • Anonymous says:

      Today on “Do Other People Also Have This Feeling Or Is It Just Me”:

      I have this strange aversion to modifying my appearance in any way

      I’m the exact same way and I find all of these absolutely repugnant in a woman (for clarity, I am a straight man). This is a serious problem in getting girls, in my age cohort.

      • Jill says:

        Interesting. Do you ever get lonely enough to want to give a try to getting beyond this preference? I mean the more minor things like haircuts or women wearing makeup? Although maybe an Amish women would fit your preferences without any change.

    • Faradn says:

      “Our bodies—to every hair and bit of skin—are received by us from our parents, and we must not presume to injure or wound them. This is the beginning of filial piety.”

      -Confucius, the Classic of Filial Piety

      Maybe you just have a strong purity impulse.

  9. Sandy says:

    Anthony Weiner is apparently at it again, sexting Trump supporters while his wife tours the country with Hillary. There is something wrong with this man.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Nominative determinism strikes again…

    • Anatoly says:

      Why is this a story? Why do you care?

      On the face of it, it seems to me that the anonymized woman who sold/leaked all these messages is thereby more disgusting by far than Weiner.

      • Anonymous says:

        Because Anthony Weiner is running for husband of the First Lady.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Huma Abedin is his wife. She is going to be Clinton’s chief-of-staff.

        This is the kind of thing Clinton should have had on lockdown for years.

        • lemmy caution says:

          Memo:

          All staffers should divorce their problematic spouses before the campaign season starts.

          Thanks for your consideration.

          H.C.

      • Wency says:

        Because it’s funny.

        I can’t think about the story without laughing out loud. And it becomes funnier every time it happens. Especially because there are more consequences every time.

        At least if we pretend his marriage is real, which we kind of have to, for comedy’s sake.

        It will remain funny until he has nothing left to lose from showing off his weiner. On that sad day, the American people will have hopefully already elected a Senator Assman, with his own share of nominatively congruent fetishes.

        • Utopn Naxl says:

          A lot of marriages in the country are “quiet” open marriages, quiet in this case not so much.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            People say this a lot, or at least the bonobo crowd does, but is there actually any evidence for it?

          • Utopn Naxl says:

            People tend to not answer *yes* to those questions on door to door or phone surveys, you know.

          • Randy M says:

            That doesn’t answer the question of what prompts you to believe that a lot of marriages are open. Is there anything beyond intuition here?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            What Randy said.

            If you’re correct I would like to know, but you haven’t given me anything to work with but a bare assertion. Moreover it is highly counter-intuitive and seems to contradict the numbers I can find e.g. the finding that adultery is far and away the leading cause of divorce.

          • lemmy caution says:

            ” the finding that adultery is far and away the leading cause of divorce.”

            27%

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            That data is based on the UK. England and Wales do not allow for no fault divorce. No fault divorce is baked into the adultery number.

            One of the main reasons for adopting no fault divorce is the widespread practice of couples committing perjury about adultery that never actually happened. Or the practice of being “caught” in the act with a “mistress procured for the occasion.” The high number of uncontested adultery allegations, mentioned in the body text, supports this view.

            Hell, when I was young and naïve and living in a jurisdiction without no fault divorce, *I* was once procured for the occasion without any foreknowledge. Boy was that awkward.

            When I was older and wiser and found myself in a remarkably similar situation, I managed to recognize what was going on before things progressed to the chased out of the house naked stage.

      • SUT says:

        The timing on this publicly acknowledged separation is incredibly odd. It comes a week after Huma’s google-index literally peaks and becomes a negative distraction to her boss’s campaign.

        I haven’t studied this couple intently, but it seems like they’ve been able to get through *years* of marriage under public controversy and humiliation and were willing to keep it going. Now abruptly they are no more, in the midst of the most important two months of Huma’s life. Even far more aggrieved couples can stick it out a few months until “the IPO”, and doubly, nobody takes one for the team like high level political staffers. So why are they doing the separation now?

        I guess the stress of the campaign trail ended up triggering Weiner into old habits. Or maybe, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, Weiner literally owns the embarrassing sext the way Trump owns non-PC talk. In other words, could this have been a deliberate move to change the narrative of Huma from loyal daughter of radical muslim to strong single woman escaping un-serious husband’s antics?

        Again, it’s a kinda out there theory, but again the timing is just sooo weird.

        • Wency says:

          Well, if we take a cynical approach, he was still a useful ally to her as late as 2013, when he was running for NYC mayor. After that point, he was useless, but a divorce might have been viewed as a distraction for a woman who prefers (or who Hillary prefers) not to take the limelight. After three screw-ups — following the Rule of Three (or “three strikes and you’re out”), she starts to look stupid rather than merciful, so the marriage has negative strategic value.

          If we approach this as a funny satirical story gifted to us by God or some other benevolent being, then I think the Rule of Three is sufficient explanation. Plus, from a storytelling standpoint, it’s better if the characters are fresh in our minds, so I can see why God would want to offer us this story now, rather than at some time when we’d have to reacquaint ourselves with the characters.

          It’s time to end this chapter of the story — the Huma-Weiner marriage chapter — but hopefully Weiner can move on to a new series of phallic misadventures as a single man.

          • Deiseach says:

            when he was running for NYC mayor

            God in Heaven, and I thought Bloomberg was an interfering over-controlling busybody. At least he never showed off his half-erection in public!

          • brad says:

            Bloomberg was the best mayor we ever had. The soda thing was blown way out of proportion.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ SUT
          Again, it’s a kinda out there theory, but again the timing is just sooo weird.

          Wasn’t it the recipient of the texts who chose this time to release them? If so, we should consider her possible motives.

          If she got money for them, whether from a tabloid or from a political operative in unmarked bills, they would probably bring a higher price now than at other times.

      • Deiseach says:

        Why is this a story? Why do you care?

        Because he thinks this is the kind of appropriate behaviour to engage in when his young son is with him? (He’s a single guy with no kids and wants to be a creeper, that’s his own business. A married man who’s the father of a child should grow the hell up).

        I don’t think anybody comes out of this looking good, but if I were his missus, I’d come right home and dump a kettle of hot water on Mr Lover Boy’s parts >:-(

      • TMB says:

        It’s an interesting question.

        People have a right to a personal life, but public shaming is a good thing.

        I guess best thing to do is – make it illegal to tap calls etc, but if one party to the conversation can be persuaded to go public, it means that there is a public interest in shaming the other person for immorality?

      • Randy M says:

        “Let me be frank,” Tom said a little doggedly, “I’m mostly here for the Weiner puns.”

      • Nyx says:

        Did that anonymized woman stand up in church to take a solemn vow never to sell or leak compromising messages from congressmen with mildly amusing names?

    • cassander says:

      I can understand why he doesn’t stop sexting strangers. What I can’t understand is why he insists on doing so with an identity that can be traced back to his actual identity.

      • baconbacon says:

        Because there are apparently no consequences for him?

        • cassander says:

          It’s cost him his Congressional job, his mayoral election, and now his marriage.

          • baconbacon says:

            Eventually. Weiner was elected in 1999 and resigned in 2011, from his wikipedia

            “In July 2008, The New York Times characterized Weiner as one of the most intense and demanding of bosses, describing him as often working long hours with his staff, requiring them to be in constant contact by BlackBerry, frequently yelling at them, and occasionally throwing office furniture in anger. As a result, according to the Times, he had one of the highest staff turnover rates of any member of Congress, including, at one point, three chiefs of staff in 18 months.”

            It took (at least) three years and multiple women for his sexting to get exposed, and more than 5 years after his wife found out about it (again at least), and 3 years after it was confirmed that he didn’t stop sexting after leaving office for them to separate. The consequences were greatly delayed, and came after large numbers of instances.

  10. onyomi says:

    I’ve avoided Bank of America ever since, over a decade ago, they scammed me by rearranging the chronology of my debits to maximize overdraft fees.

    • John Schilling says:

      I have a loan and a credit card from Bank of America; the credit card I pay in full every month, and the loan I make the agreed payment every month. They made it easier than the competition to set up these arrangements, offered very competitive rates, have either accurately called out or quickly responded to fraudulent charges on the credit card, and have never given me any grief whatsoever.

      Possibly they consider me a waste of time as a customer because I don’t give them the opportunity to e.g. maximize my overdraft fees.

      • Steven says:

        “Possibly they consider me a waste of time as a customer because I don’t give them the opportunity to e.g. maximize my overdraft fees.”

        Depends on your annual spend on the card. The credit-card issuing bank gets a cut of the fee charge to the merchant on every transaction, which currently averages somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.8% in the US. If your spending is high enough, that can work out to more than they make on a customer who regularly pays interest and/or incurs late payment fees, and at lower risk.

        On the loan, the profitability story is even clearer. On installment loans, late fees tend to be very small relative to the interest.

    • anonymous says:

      Back in 2006 I bought one $1500 r/t ticket and got charged for two.

      It took over a year to get B. of A. to admit there had been a mistake.

    • Decius says:

      I had someone consistently hit my accounts with ACH charges every time I got paid. BoA couldn’t identify the recipient or block the charges and I closed the account. Late 2004.

    • Rob K says:

      Oh man, exactly this. I actually withdrew money from an ATM, looking at a positive balance, and later that day my landlady deposited a rent check I’d forgotten about; they reordered the day’s transactions so that the check went first and the ATM and two food purchases followed it, producing 3 or 4 (can’t remember exactly) overdrafts instead of 1. This was in 2010, when I’m pretty sure they were already being sued for this practice.

      I went in and argued about it, and they gave 1 of the fees back as a “courtesy”. In response to which I asked them to close out my accounts, which they managed to scare me off of by pointing out that it might screw up my direct deposit. Finally got out a few years later by joining my wife at USAA when we got married. Screw that scummy bank.

    • Cadie says:

      Wells Fargo did that to me. And I wasn’t signed up for overdraft protection aka charging you out the wazoo just because you don’t have enough money, and specifically talked about it with one of their agents. I verified that my debit card would decline, not overdraft, if there was insufficient funds. Two weeks later I’m slammed with overdrafts and when I complained, another agent told me that nobody would say it wouldn’t go into overdraft and I was either mistaken or lying. And they insisted they had no way of telling who I’d spoken to and didn’t know who was working that day – this was at the same branch and I knew the exact day and time to within an hour that I was there. They were full of baloney and after that I quickly closed my accounts and stopped banking with them.

      Funny thing is, they were fine until my financial situation went from tolerable to terrible, and that’s when the claws came out. I guess they were making enough off me before that through various fees and interest and whatnot and then they started trying to grab at what little I had left. Now I have only a pre-paid debit card. $10 monthly fee and no nonsense. It can’t overdraft and there aren’t any transaction fees because that’s what the monthly fee is for, to make the transation fees free. IMO it’s worth it not to have the risk of them doing shady stuff and suddenly charging me $100. Granted, it doesn’t help one’s credit score the way a bank account does, but since I’m not interested in anything beyond renting an apartment and can probably pay first and last month’s rent up front, I don’t think it’s a big deal.

  11. Thursday says:

    I know our host is into comfortable clothes, but rather than sweat pants that look like jeans, why not just stretchy jeans. I’m wearing a pair from Urban Star right now, and they’re great.

    • Fctho1e says:

      How can anything stretchy be truly comfortable?

      • LPSP says:

        I wondered that, but about a year back my grandfather gave me a pair of cotton-ish sweatpants he never used. They are so loungable, it isn’t even funny. You are walking around with leg-duvets.

      • Loquat says:

        I don’t know how they do it, but I’ve got some stretchy jeans that are a size or two larger than my usual, and they were super comfy until I hit the 6th month of pregnancy and got too big for them.

    • Wency says:

      Agreed. I have a pair from Kohl’s, if they’re the same thing: otherwise normal jeans with some elastic in the waist.

      I call them my “mercy” jeans. I added some weight temporarily but wasn’t ready to upgrade my waist size. They showed me some mercy while I got my act together. And they’re still quite comfortable now that the weight is gone again. Not my best-looking pair of jeans, but not my worst either.

    • Paul Goodman says:

      I bought a couple pairs of those and I really like the way they look and feel, but they have an unpleasant odor to them (some kind of mix of rubber and manure) that I can’t seem to get rid of.

    • Thursday says:

      Mine have no smell. Did you put yours in the dryer?

  12. stargirlprincesss says:

    Is the “Structure and Implementation of Computer Programs” worth reading?

    • Glenn says:

      Yes, most definitely. It is a true classic.

    • Iain says:

      It is widely considered one of the classics in the field. MIT used it for first-year CS for many years. (They’ve since moved away from Scheme to Python, for a number of reasons.) I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a place to start learning programming, but if you’ve got a bit of programming experience under your belt, then it’s absolutely worth your time. The common wisdom is that learning Lisp will make you a better programmer, even if you never end up writing any more Lisp code.

      I remember the exercises also being pretty good, although you certainly shouldn’t feel the need to do all of them.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m going to go against the tide and answer No. I think a novice would be better served by a language in more widespread use, with many libraries available: being able to write useful code will better keep them engaged.

      Some of the terminology used is so outdated as to be obscure (see “applicative-order vs normal-order”) and the chapter about recursion vs iteration is just incomprehensible unless you already know what they are talking about.

      If you already know how to program there are more succinct ways to learn scheme.

      • Iain says:

        Applicative-order vs normal-order is the fundamental difference between C and Haskell. It’s not outdated. You just have to stop thinking about SICP as a text for novices. SICP is a good book for people who already know how to program, and want to deepen their understanding of programming. There is value in a text that takes things you already mostly know, and then tears them apart and shows you all the pieces from a slightly different angle.

        Put it this way: I work at Big Tech Company X, in a technically demanding area, with lots of smart people. The people I work with who I know have worked through SICP are all above average in terms of effectiveness. That’s not necessarily an unbiased sample. Maybe reading SICP doesn’t make you a better programmer. But being the sort of programmer who finds SICP interesting and rewarding is definitely a good sign.

        • Anonymous says:

          I didn’t say the distinction between applicative order and normal order is outdated, I said “the terminology is outdated”. Nobody calls it that except SICP.

          • Iain says:

            No. Anybody talking about these ideas in a modern publication would use the same terminology. I’ll freely grant you “obscure”, if you like, but “outdated” is just wrong.

            If you’re looking for more “modern” terms like strict/lazy or call-by-value/call-by-name/call-by-need, I’ll just point out that they are thoroughly discussed in section 4.2.

    • se says:

      if you’re intending to become a computer scientist then maybe.

      if you want to be a programmer i wouldnt bother starting there.

      if you are a programmer of a few years experience and want to read something, i’d point you at the canonical agile texts. this isnt a bad list…

      http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/7859/is-there-a-canonical-book-on-agile

      tho it doesnt mention refactoring by martin fowler, or the pragmatic programmer by dave thomas

      • Anonymous says:

        Skip the agile cult unless you want to wake up in a few years to find yourself titled “Scrummaster” and attending a “stand-up” to discuss “user stories”. If this kind of thing appeals to you, may I suggest kindergarten education as more fruitful career to pursue.

        • Paul Goodman says:

          Senior engineers at tech companies tend to get paid a hell of a lot more than kindergarten teachers dude.

        • eh says:

          While agile is a cult and design patterns are the programming equivalent of AIDS, you may feel differently about standups after suffering through an hour-long “sit down and pretend to be awake while everyone spends a thousand dollars of man-hours arguing about dumb shit like capitalisation” every morning.

          • Anonymous says:

            When offered a choice between being flayed alive and being disembowled go for door number three.

      • The actual agile canon is 27 words.

        Man, Agile. The history of agile is that a while ago, some smart developers noted “Hey, we’re getting too hung up on the processes. We’re caring more about getting Subgoal 27-A in place with paperwork than figuring out how and why we’re implementing the code for 27-A. What would happen if we tried to trim out some of this process and see if we could still develop.

        These developers enjoyed modest success, and immediately an industry spawned with trained experts, fixed certifications, and people rigorously and earnestly telling you that it was vital that you follow the new process, because of course it did.

        And while I’d definitely give the prize to the kindergarden teachers in terms of doing more productive and fulfilling work, there is good money to be made in the agile cult. You just need to think of it like a cult, and remember that you’re selling a product to management, not actually helping developers, because any actual attempt to make developers more agile will not involve consultants designing processes for tracking and estimating work.

        • se says:

          >The actual agile canon is 27 words.

          true, and a very good 27 words they are too.

          >Man, Agile. The history of agile is that a while ago, some smart developers
          >noted “Hey, we’re getting too hung up on the processes. We’re caring more about
          >getting Subgoal 27-A in place with paperwork than figuring out how and why
          >we’re implementing the code for 27-A. What would happen if we tried to trim out
          >some of this process and see if we could still develop.

          true and a great insight it was.

          >These developers enjoyed modest success, and immediately an industry spawned
          >with trained experts, fixed certifications, and people rigorously and earnestly
          >telling you that it was vital that you follow the new process, because of
          >course it did.

          yes also true, so DONT DO THAT, just do what those original guys did, ie xp and/or scrum then inspect and adapt.

          >And while I’d definitely give the prize to the kindergarden teachers in terms
          >of doing more productive and fulfilling work, there is good money to be made in
          >the agile cult. You just need to think of it like a cult, and remember that
          >you’re selling a product to management, not actually helping developers,
          >because any actual attempt to make developers more agile will not involve
          >consultants designing processes for tracking and estimating work.

          true again and again DONT DO THAT, do agile.

    • Anatoly says:

      Depends on where you are in the craft, but probably no.

      SICP’s stellar reputation is due to the people who, when reading it, already understood well almost everything in it, and admired the presentation and the style. If you don’t already know its lessons, it isn’t a good text to learn from; if you do, it can function as an inspiring text but won’t teach you much new.

      More generally, in math and hard sciences, I think it’s easy to confuse between “a textbook that’s very effective for teaching X to people new to it” and “a textbook which, to a person who already knows X well, seems admirably clear and succinct in its presentation of X and therefore very effective for teaching X to people new to it”. I mistook the latter for the former quite a few times, in my later judgement.

      P.S. Same answer, though for a different reason, for reading Knuth’s volumes through and through, as opposed to peeking at a section you’re particularly interested in.

    • Mammon says:

      Absofuckinglutely. I’d even recommend it to people who have no intention of ever programming a computer.

    • Mr Mind says:

      In general, yes, but it maximizes its usefulness only for a narrow band of programmers / computer scientists.
      If you are a programmer working in the object territory, it would just make you angry (at how stupid and inefficient modern programming languages abstractions are).
      If you want to start programming with a functional language, then SICP represents an incredibly dense and steep journey, doable but not recommended (try instead the little / seasoned schemer).
      If otherwise you already know your way around Lisp / Clojure, then it becomes extremely good (on par with Let over lambda).
      My personal feeling though is that (OCA)ML / F# / Haskell have even cleaner abstractions than Lisp dialects, so you might want to progress your study further (now I get angry at how stupid languages without ADTs are, and when I’m going to study Idris / Shen, I’m going to be angry at ML for not having subtypes, and so on).

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Not to start a programming holy war, but why the hell does everybody think “cleanness” is a sign of a good language?

        I like languages with a little ugliness, particularly the verbose kind of ugliness. The ugliness is the symptom of battle-scars with implementation; it means, in the war between the ideal and the practical, the practical ultimately won.

        The purer and cleaner the language, the less useful it is.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The programming world tends to agree with you, or C++ wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is.

        • brad says:

          I think that might be too strong a statement. Sometimes the ugliness is left over from an approach that didn’t work but has to be kept around for backwards compatibility. If you can put together a new language that draws lessons from what worked and didn’t work in the older language, that can be close to a pure improvement.

          Consider java versus c# for example.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            What am I supposed to be comparing?

            Java is a great language that has a tremendous deal of issue with academics insisting on a broken combination of language purity and “features” which trade boilerplate for readability. Its major strength is its third party libraries, which cover pretty much everything you’ll ever need to do, albeit in a patchwork fashion with very inconsistent quality. Its major flaw is its terrible handling of edge cases, which you’ll be shouted at for asking about with a chorus of “You shouldn’t be doing that”.

            C# is a great language that accommodates just about anything you want to do except good exception handling. Its major strength is the Microsoft-provided libraries which cover most things you’d want to do, albeit in a patchwork fashion with somewhat inconsistent methodology. Its major flaw is the lack of meaningful contract enforcement, of which exception handling is a particularly glaring example for someone more accustomed to Java. (Also, the fact that there are usually three ways of doing anything, each of which is different from the other two in a subtle way that will bite you later if you’re unaware.)

            There’s a lot of bigotry against one or the other by the various partisans, but they both serve the same basic market, and both do a very good job of doing so. I personally prefer Java of the two, but that’s because I have significantly more experience with it, not because it’s inherently superior.

          • brad says:

            I was thinking specifically of the situation with lamdas versus anonymous inner classes, but now that I think about it, I seem to remember that java got lamdas with version 8.

            c#’s var is also very nice. Operator overloading and value types occasionally come in handy. On the other hand I miss final in c#.

            I’m not making a claim that c# is some vastly superior language, just that it is somewhat more elegant because it benefited from seeing how java evolved.

            I was focused on purely the languages themselves, not the runtimes or the ecosystem. The jvm is widely considered superior IME.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            brad –

            Yep. They added lambdas in.

            Personally I think both lambdas and anonymous inner classes are travesties that trade readability to save a few lines of boilerplate code, and that any time saved in not writing the extra code is lost with interest when you have to maintain that code later.

            But the Java code I maintain is more than a decade old, has dozens of libraries, a thousand-ish classes, and more lines of code than most IDEs are good at dealing with. So I value maintainability far more than the average developer.

        • Mr Mind says:

          Well, “ugliness”, “cleanness”, “practical”, are all words too vague to give an answer.
          My personal instinct, as a programmer, is to despise everything that forces me to repeat myself: I prefer to work as close as possible to the business logic, at a very high level of abstraction. Everything line of code that is written to manage other lines of code is a line wasted.
          This is why I prefer F# to C#, say, because in the first I can just map code collection instead of having to create an iterator class, manage its constructors, pass the collection, etc.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Everybody seems to know what you’re referring to, but for the record I think you meant “Interpretation” rather than “Implementation”.

  13. Dude Man says:

    The reason you couldn’t get your card back was probably because banks are required to destroy any cards that their ATM “eats” from another institution. I don’t know if Bank of America ATMs are more likely to eat debit cards though.

    • Alphaceph says:

      I’m surprised that BoA got away with this. I’d call the police and claim theft – because that’s what it is.

      • Diadem says:

        No it’s not. A bank card is still technically owned by the bank, it is just loaned to you. Banks have deals with each other allowing the use of a card from one bank at an ATM of another. Part of this deal is rules about when to eat cards, and what to do with them once eaten.

        It’s still shitty behaviour by Bank of America. They are basically screwing other bank’s customers. If you could show that this was deliberate, it’d be quite the scandal.

        Calling the police could be an interesting PR stunt, but practically it won’t help you much.

        • Decius says:

          In what world is the piece of plastic the property of the bank that issued it? You send me something in the mail, it’s mine unless otherwise stated, and my cardholder agreement doesn’t specify that my financial institution owns anything in my possession.

  14. bluto says:

    Related to point 2. One of the most useful tricks I’ve learned when travelling (at least in the US) is that many drug stores, grocery, and discount stores will give cash back with an ATM purchase that avoids the ATM fee. I haven’t always banked with a national bank, and especially in places where there are no local branches it’s been very useful (plus it’s been a very long time since merchants cut up cards for declines).

    • Jill says:

      Good thing to know about. Thanks, Bluto.

    • Decius says:

      Did merchants ever have a policy of cutting up cards of former customers? Poe’s law applies.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It used to be standard practice to confiscate and destroy cards which were on a list of invalid cards, or later, when demanded by the issuer during an online confirmation (usually via modem). The merchant would get a substantial bounty for the confiscated card, which they’d sometimes pass on the the cashier (IIRC I got $50 once, which was a lot for someone making $4.35).

        The place I worked for didn’t cut them up in front of the card user; we just took them and put them in the register. This is because we also had a policy that if the customer got too irate, we’d give it back rather than get into a physical confrontation. I believe the manager cut them up before mailing them back to the credit card company.

        The policy probably doesn’t exist any more; since basically all transactions need to be confirmed online, a flagged card doesn’t do any good.

  15. Dr Dealgood says:

    SSCience Thread
    ~SSCience~

    This is a spot to post and discuss any interesting scientific / mathematical research which has caught your eye recently. Especially interesting articles will be carried over to the next visible OT.

    From OT 56.X:
    1. Increased nuclear Olig1-expression in the pregenual anterior cingulate white matter of patients with major depression: A regenerative attempt to compensate oligodendrocyte loss? linked by yours truly. If you want to use Sci-Hub, Anon. suggests using the DOI link (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2013.03.018).
    2. Does Academic Research Destroy Stock Return Predictability? linked by Chalid.
    3. New evidence for grain specific C4 photosynthesis in wheat linked by caethan

    Please keep discussion civil and apolitical.

  16. Lars Doucet says:

    A friend’s recent comment on twitter made me think:

    Is SETI a greater risk than unfriendly AI? If we discover an intelligent alien race, presumably someone’s going to try to contact it. And given the apes or angels principle, if they’ve been around long enough to put out signals they’re probably way more powerful than us and could crush us like bugs so it’d be in our best interest to stay hidden. Thoughts?

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      An intelligent alien race way more powerful than us should have already colonized the universe, or at least be in the process of doing so. The fact that we don’t see any evidence of such colonization strongly implies that there are no intelligent alien races way more powerful than us. Which is troubling.

      • Fctho1e says:

        The fact that we don’t see any evidence of such colonization strongly implies that there are no intelligent alien races way more powerful than us.

        Nah, there are, they just don’t bother colonizing the universe. Probably too busy playing their own version of WoW, or too content to chill in their own system.

        Colonizing the universe rapidly seems to be the civilizational equivalent of cancer. We should be grateful universe doesn’t have cancer.

        And I would not bet there aren’t live or defunct alien probes hiding out in the solar system or spying on us.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          From “Don’t Fear the Filter”:

          The Great Filter is not transcendence. Lots of people more enthusiastically propose that the problem isn’t alien species killing themselves, it’s alien species transcending this mortal plane. Once they become sufficiently advanced, they stop being interested in expansion for expansion’s sake. Some of them hang out on their home planet, peacefully cultivating their alien gardens. Others upload themselves to computronium internets, living in virtual reality. Still others become beings of pure energy, doing whatever it is that beings of pure energy do. In any case, they don’t conquer the galaxy or build obvious visible structures.

          Which is all nice and well, except what about the Amish aliens? What about the ones who have weird religions telling them that it’s not right to upload their bodies, they have to live in the real world? What about the ones who have crusader religions telling them they have to conquer the galaxy to convert everyone else to their superior way of life? I’m not saying this has to be common. And I know there’s this argument that advanced species would be beyond this kind of thing. But man, it only takes one. I can’t believe that not even one in a billion alien civilizations would have some instinctual preference for galactic conquest for galactic conquest’s own sake. I mean, even if most humans upload themselves, there will be a couple who don’t and who want to go exploring. You’re trying to tell me this model applies to 999,999,999 out of one billion civilizations, and then the very first civilization we test it on, it fails?

          • Jiro says:

            “Doesn’t want to expand” isn’t the same thing as “isn’t going to retaliate against some other civilization that tries to expand into their territory”. The one in a billion expansionist civilizations tries to expand and quickly gets stomped on by the 999,999,999 times more numerous others.

          • Artemium says:

            Very unconvincing argument. Isn’t it just possible that Mind uploading and true VR are by order of magnitude more convenient, cheaper and accessible technology than interstellar travel?

            People seriously underestimate insane difficulties of space travel especially when it comes to transporting humans over large distances. If you had Matrix-level VR with countless hedonistic simulations and eternal life would anyone be crazy enough to reject that for incredible difficult, dangerous and potentially impossible prospect of interstellar colonization?

            Amish are quite bad analogy as they do use technology that it is quite recent compared to the long arc of human history and they enjoy protection of the most powerful military in history among other benefits of living in 21 century America. Better comparison would to find religious movement that orders their members to completely abandon all technology, build stone-age boats and then hurl themselves over Pacific ocean trying to explore the other side.

          • Simon says:

            The insane difficulty is only if you want to get there in a human lifetime or a few human lifetimes. If you have mind uploading, VR, and “eternal life” you can afford to spend 10000 years in stasis out of your billions-of-years lifetime and that makes it a heck of a lot easier.

          • Artemium says:

            @simon

            But why would you do that?

            Why would you go into stasis and risk something going wrong in the extremely complicated and dangerous trip? And what do you have to do there? You go to Proxima Centauri, and see a star system that is somewhat similar to ours ..maybe there are some interesting discoveries, possibly even some bacterial life there but it is really worth it? Is it worth it to risk something going wrong and you get stuck in interstellar space or just die and lose millions of year of potential amazing experiences.

            I do feel that people generally lack imagination regarding the true potential potential of uploading-VR combo. Basically you can create entire universes, planets, endless civilizations that would interact with. You can make yourself forget that you are in the sim and just enjoy endless experiences while you are 100% convinced this is the base reality.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I do feel that people generally lack imagination regarding the true potential potential of uploading-VR combo. Basically you can create entire universes, planets, endless civilizations that would interact with. You can make yourself forget that you are in the sim and just enjoy endless experiences while you are 100% convinced this is the base reality.

            Some people will react to the uploading-VR offer the same way Eliezer Yudkowsky reacted to the pills that simulate the joy of scientific discovery offer; they will consider it tantamount to wireheading and abstain accordingly.

          • Simon says:

            What you get is a lot more resources, that in a post-uploading world can be used for interesting things like making your mind vastly more powerful than it could be with just your portion of your home system’s resources. Or to procreate if you wish to do so – if the home system’s authorities allow unlimited procreation there will soon be a malthusian apocalypse no matter how abundant resources seem initially. Or other things that maybe we can’t even imagine yet.

            Of course it takes an investment to get there and set things up, but long-lived uploads could afford to take the long view of things.

          • Wency says:

            If we believe in anything like Moloch, then if conquering the galaxy is possible, it will be attempted.

            Of course, not everyone here is arguing against this. It may be that it’s theoretically possible but practically impossible, in that even if humans or other species have the intelligence and resources to attempt it, they don’t have the motivation. The evolved expansionistic impulses that cause a species to dominate its planet may well be insufficient to motivate it to continue that expansion into the stars.

            With enough repetitions, of course, some species would be expected to evolve that motivation. If interstellar travel is possible, there is a selection process at work for a sentient life form that dominates the galaxy in the same way humans dominate Earth.

            The fact that the galaxy does not appear to be dominated suggests either that interstellar travel is truly impossible, that there haven’t been enough repetitions for a supremely expansionistic species to evolve (though it could still be us), or that the galaxy is already dominated by something and we’re too stupid to notice it.

            While the aliens might have a UN (DOOP) that tries to prevent the rise of an expansionistic species, expect Moloch to hamper it even more than our UN, given the distances and cultural barriers involved.

          • I think one of the reasons for space colonization is the slower communication– if a bunch of people want to start a distinct society, getting away is how you do it.

            Also, uploading/VR means being limited to current inventiveness– the real world tends to have surprises. Maybe you can improve that enough with automated exploration and research.

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          Assuming that a powerful, intelligent alien race would have already colonized the universe is assuming that they have minds and behaviors similar to humans, which they might not. I mean, they might just not be particularly interested in colonizing the universe.

          That or colonizing other planets on a large scale just isn’t feasible or practical no matter how advanced your technology gets. Given that FTL travel is probably impossible and spending decades or centuries on a spaceship would probably suck, this seems more likely to me.

          • Simon says:

            It’s you who is assuming particular minds or behaviours. If there are diverse alien races out there, the claim that none of them would be interested in expansion is something that needs justification.

            As for spending decades or centuries in a spaceship, the human lifespan (and attention span) is hardly likely to be a universal constant – what’s stopping the existence of long lived, patient aliens?

          • Chris H says:

            It’s not assuming all or even most advanced civilizations could exhibit behaviors that lead to expansion, it’s that it only takes one expansionist species to take over the entire galaxy. The point is that over billions of years and hundreds of billions of stars in one galaxy alone, in order to get the result of not being a current alien colony EVERY single intelligent species is structured in a way where they don’t move much from their homeworld despite the long run survival advantages of not being tied to a single star? I can concede there may be some, maybe even a huge majority of species that just prefer to wire head and don’t have a large enough non-transcended or non-wire-headed or non-super Amish people to support a colonization effort. But just one species with one expansionist faction and in a few million years (an eye blink on galactic time) the whole galaxy is their’s.

            So no, it’s not assuming they have to be like us, it’s avoiding the assumption that potentially millions of intelligent species will all just come to the same conclusion with no exceptions.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            So no, it’s not assuming they have to be like us, it’s avoiding the assumption that potentially millions of intelligent species will all just come to the same conclusion with no exceptions.

            Why assume there are millions? There may only be a small handful.

            I was just arguing against the claim that because no one had conquered the universe yet, it meant there were no aliens more intelligent/powerful than us.

            As for spending decades or centuries in a spaceship, the human lifespan (and attention span) is hardly likely to be a universal constant – what’s stopping the existence of long lived, patient aliens?

            Valid point. There might be some species that didn’t particularly mind it. Though it still seems like it would be a deterrent, in general, given the massive amount of difficulty involved in creating a spaceship that could sustain itself and the life on board independently for that long.

          • Diadem says:

            Just because an alien race is expansionist doesn’t mean they want to expand to every single planet in the universe. The universe is a big place. Here on earth we have nature reserves where we try to keep the human footprint as small as possible. There’s no reason why an expansionist alien race wouldn’t do the same.

            Furthermore the first race to reach advanced technology obviously has a huge advance over all the others, and could enforce such rules on all other races.

            It’s possible that as soon as we reach Kardashev type 2 we get a visit by an alien race saying: “Welcome to the club. Here’s the rules”.

          • Alphaceph says:

            In This Thread: people who don’t get that arguments against expansion must apply to almost all parts of almost all civilisations in order to be relevant.

          • Diadem says:

            No they don’t.

            The United States claims a lot of land. Is every single square meter of the land spend on housing or other infrastructure? If not, why don’t Mexico or Canada invade and take the bits of land the United States isn’t using?

            Imagine a universe teeming with life, where humans happen to be the very first one to discover interstellar travel. I find it likely that we would end up quickly colonizing a lot of the galaxy. However I find it extremely unlikely that we would simply eradicate all aliens we encounter in a mad rush to colonize every single rock out there.

            Not all aliens will be like us. But do you really think it’s so unlikely that at least some aliens won’t be omnicidal maniacs?

          • Simon says:

            1. As technology advances, so does the ability to use resources that previously could not sustain intelligent life. Rocks that are uninhabitable now may be suitable for providing power and cooling for an upload-housing datacenter, and still more suitable to provide raw materials for the construction of a matrioshka brain.

            2. The earth isn’t filled with humans to the Malthusian limit due to a bug in humans’ evolutionary programming that leads to humans not reproducing rapidly at high levels of surplus resources. But make no mistake, evolutionarily speaking this is a bug and one that will eventually be purged from the gene pool given enough generations of uncontrolled breeding in conditions of abundance. Given that the Malthusian trap seems to have hampered the development of technology of human societies, it may be that advanced societies will tend to have had a similar bug, or to have some form of centralized control on breeding, but a) the control only has to break down one time to allow a hard-to-reverse expansion to start and b) unless the authorities have some other plan for expansion, they have little incentive to stop subgroups from leaving.

            3. Of course there could be omnicidal maniacs, but in order not to be detected, they would have to weaken themselves by not using all available resources in their destructive efforts, putting themselves at a disadvantage v. civilizations that make full use of resources.

          • Mary says:

            One also notes that barring FTL, the aliens will need to travel for a long time in spaceships to get to another solar system. When there — why go for the planets? Big gravity well and lots of other problems. No, raid the asteroids for metal and build more space habitats, which you can make just the way you want them.

            you can fit a lot more folks in space habitats than you can on planets.

          • pku says:

            Planets seem more fun to live on though, and presumably if they can do effective interstellar travel they can solve gravity well issues. And if they can build independent space habitats effectively they may well be able to teraform (reverse terraform?).
            I mean, it’s possible that they’d just go for the asteroids, but it seems unlikely (p<0.4, say).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Assuming no FTL travel, you have beings adapted to living in space. I don’t think our sense of what they would like is likely to be accurate.

          • Mary says:

            “Planets seem more fun to live on though,”

            it’s not like we have a standard for comparison, even for humans.

        • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

          I think there is one big incentive to “colonizing” everything they can people often miss- fortification. A civilization that doesn’t expand is going to be in trouble if a much bigger hostile civilization shows up. So most civilizations would probably choose to send out probes to “fortify” everything for them in case aliens try to attack.

        • Utopn Naxl says:

          Well, look at the trend of science/android technology. There’s nothing to go but smarter and smaller, if we humans merge with machines!

          My bet is that they don’t *look* like anything we know, and people simply convert into this hyper-intelligent algorithmic distributed space dust. Well, I guess I can imagine some other possibilities, but my point still holds that they probably won’t be humanoids, just something…strange.

      • Anonymous says:

        Lots of other possibilities. For example, as in Greg Bear’s Forge of God/Anvil of Stars, it could turn out that the advanced species maintain radio silence to protect themselves from being wiped out by other advances species, if the prevailing interstellar culture involves preemptively destroying all potential alien threats.

        • Alphaceph says:

          How would they know that other advanced species are there if they all remain silent?

          And wouldn’t stealthy expansion be the best defensive strategy in this scenario? More systems = more resources to fight a war against aggressive civilisations.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Every time I see these conversations, it seems that people are desperate to come to a conclusion (“there are lots of other civilizations out there”) and have to arrange an insane series of hoops in order for it to be true.

          • John Schilling says:

            How would they know that other advanced species are there if they all remain silent?

            Because they went and looked?

            Or stayed and looked; you can see an awful lot with a really big telescope of the sort that an advanced civilization can build within its own star system. But toss in stealthy robot probes, and there’s no excuse for any sufficiently-advanced xenophobes not keeping tabs on every potential threat within their sphere of interest.

          • Would stealthy expansion be possible? Heat signitures are the very thing you can’t hide in space.

          • One possibility that I don’t think has been mentioned …

            Suppose the first advanced interstellar civilization is a species that inhabits planets very different from Earth–much hotter, much colder, … . They expand through the galaxy, colonize all of their sort of planets, destroy any rival civilization that comes into their space, ignore planets of no use to them inhabited by species that are no threat.

          • Fctho1e says:

            How would they know that other advanced species are there if they all remain silent?

            Heh, you need to read the Three body problem book 😀

          • Lysenko says:

            Re: stealthy probes and/or hiding aliens/hiding from aliens

            The same party-pooping messengers who brought us the news that FTL is almost certainly impossible want us to know that in real life there is pretty much no such thing as stealthy spacecraft. 20th Century tech can detect a 20 watt signal from the Voyager 1 probe’s current position (100+ AU out) and sort it from the noise in about 1 second. 20th century tech can detect a thruster equivalent to the maneuvering thrusters on the space shuttle from several AU, and the equivalent of a shuttle main engine from 30+ AU. Barring “reactionless” drives (file under FTL and Time Travel), anything that is practical for making even circumstellar expansion practical is going to be visible several star systems over…with 20th century tech.

            If there are aliens that can spread into their system, we should be able to see them. If we can ever spread to the other planets, start mining asteroids, build helium mines in the upper atmospheres of our jovians, etc, we will stand out like crazy.

          • Alphaceph says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz:

            Fill the universe with Von Neumann probes programmed to all start to self-replicate at the same time. Within a few years you control every unoccupied star system.

            Launching the probes isn’t that risky since the amount of energy dissipated to launch a small probe (the size of a suitcase) is not going to be visible on interstellar distance scales.

            The only way you can be detected is if the enemy are already in your solar system monitoring you. But then that means that you were already entirely at their mercy. You could still scour your own system thoroughly using quadrillions of small ships to guard against this.

          • Alphaceph says:

            @lysenko:

            re stealthy spacecraft: I disagree. what’s relevant is seeing an engine from another star system. The other star would be behind it. I don’t think you could see an engine in that situation.

            And even if you did see it, so what? They started expanding before you. Their sphere of influence is bigger than yours. They have a 1000 year headstart because of lightspeed delay, so your only response is to start expanding yourself. But then why wait until you see them? This idea is so dumb it’s unbelievable.

          • “Fill the universe with Von Neumann probes programmed to all start to self-replicate at the same time. Within a few years you control every unoccupied star system.”

            More exactly, the folks from well in your past who programmed the probes control the star systems. This might be useful for defense, but I’m not sure it will do you any good otherwise.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            20th Century tech can detect a 20 watt signal from the Voyager 1 probe’s current position (100+ AU out) and sort it from the noise in about 1 second.

            While I agree with your larger point (“it’s hard to be stealthy”), doesn’t detecting Voyager’s signal depend on knowing exactly when and where to look and what patterns we should be finding?

            If we magically forgot where Voyager is and what direction we launched it, how long would it take to find it again?

          • John Schilling says:

            The same party-pooping messengers who brought us the news that FTL is almost certainly impossible want us to know that in real life there is pretty much no such thing as stealthy spacecraft. 20th Century tech can detect a 20 watt signal from the Voyager 1 probe’s current position (100+ AU out) and sort it from the noise in about 1 second.

            We can detect a 20-watt signal across 100+ AU iff that signal is beamed directly towards us with a high-gain antenna, and we know exactly where to look with an even higher gain antenna, and the signal is modulated in a way designed to make it as detectable as possible to someone who knows the exact modulation scheme. You really needed a better example there.

            As far as “no such thing as stealthy spacecraft”, I’m pretty sure I am the person responsible for the general understanding of that rule, and you are greatly overstating it. Stealth in space is HARD, but there are narrow applications where it can be done and is worth the bother. Remote observation platforms predeployed months – or millennia – before use, can be kept hidden in most plausible strategic contexts. Part of the reason why stealth is impractical in other contexts, like Star Fleets maneuvering for battle or Space Pirates lurking along the shipping lanes, is that the competent adversaries will have deployed stealthy observation platforms ahead of time.

            So if we are imagining ancient xenophobic Berzerkers among the stars, ready to destroy any emergent civilization, then yes, they had stealthy observation platforms in position to watch our first rocket launches, and our first campfires, sending regular reports home. Reports that the homeworld will be able to receive a hundred light-years away, but we will not be able to detect at 100 AU.

    • John Schilling says:

      There is a fundamental inconsistency between “powerful enough to crush us like bugs” and “oblivious to our existence until we contact them”.

      An implicit premise, or at least bias, of SETI as it is currently practiced, is that the hypothesized intelligence has technological and industrial capabilities not significantly greater than those of twenty-first century Earth. I can speculate as to why SETI researchers would hold this bias, but the hypothetical species that can “crush us like bugs” is the one that has had satellites watching us(*) from orbit since the stone age.

      The only question is what it is we might do to provoke them, or assuage them. It seems highly unlikely that, having left us alone until now even though they know all about the nuclear weapons and spaceships and megadeath ideologies, it will be a friendly “hello” that pushes them over the edge.

      It seems more likely, of course, that they don’t exist.

      • baconbacon says:

        It only takes a decade or two of military tech to totally overwhelm an opponent on earth. During the first gulf war US tanks could accurately hit Iraqi tanks while being out of range. Total military domination resulted from this discrepancy (among others). Any slightly more advanced society is a threat as long as they have either crossed the threshold to interstellar war already, or will do so before we can.

        • John Schilling says:

          So, if there’s an alien civilization on that newly-discovered planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, and they have right now the technology we anticipate having in 2026-2036, we should expect them to be able to launch an overwhelming war of interstellar conquest at any time?

          Perhaps consider more carefully the range of conditions under which your assertion is true, and those for which it is false, rather than putting it forth as an absolute. In particular, consider logistics.

          • baconbacon says:

            I never said it was inevitable that there would be an attack, only that the threat exists within very small temporal technological advantages. The US military has been able to destroy basically any other country on earth for decades now, but has only directly engaged in a handful of conflicts and with some level of restraint within those conflicts. The limiting factor is currently the discretion of the US military, not the technology of most countries.

          • John Schilling says:

            OK, do you believe that if there were a civilization orbiting Proxima Centauri with the technology we anticipate for Earth ca. 2026-2036, it would be possible for them to conquer and/or destroy humanity with that technology?

            And for that matter, the Vikings had technology roughly ten thousand years ahead of the Skraelings, but failed to conquer or destroy them. Your supposedly absolute rule, does not seem so absolute when applied to a broader sample set than “The USAF and its enemies from 1991-2016”.

          • hlynkacg says:

            So, if there’s an alien civilization on that newly-discovered planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, and they have right now the technology we anticipate having in 2026-2036, we should expect them to be able to launch an overwhelming war of interstellar conquest at any time?

            More like, if an alien civilization has the technology to get to here from from Proxima Centauri in a practically short timespan (say less than a few decades) it’s safe to assume that they will “outgun us” by a wide margin by simple virtue of the energies required.

          • John Schilling says:

            More like, if an alien civilization has the technology to get to here from from Proxima Centauri in a practically short timespan (say less than a few decades) it’s safe to assume that they will “outgun us” by a wide margin by simple virtue of the energies required.

            Right, but that’s a different claim – and a transient one, applicable in 2016 but not necessarily in say 2116.

          • Lysenko says:

            I don’t think “War” in the sense of invasion/territorial expansion/resource conflict/etc even comes into it when you get down to the dangers of alien intelligence. I mean, I love SF in general and Military SF in particular, but if we’re talking about trying to keep things as “realistic” as possible while positing the possible existence of extraterrestrial civilizations on par with or ahead of our own…

            The biggest “real world” problem is that any species that economically produce reasonable (dozens) of ships able to cross interstellar distances in human lifespans (i.e. make a multi- light year trip in years or decades) is by definition capable of launching a quasi-undetectable and almost-unstoppable planet-sterilizing attack on any star system it can see well enough to “target”.

            It’s like the good old days of game theoretical nuclear war, except that either side can ALWAYS launch a guaranteed-to-succeed first strike.

            As the book “The Killing Star” pointed, out, that tends to leave only two logical options:

            A) Shut up and Hide (“go dark” in the EM spectrum, minimize any signs of technological impact on your environment that might be detectable at a distance).

            B) pre-emptive strike against anything that might possibly be a threat, because if it is and you fail to wipe it out, you have a near-100% chance of species-wide extinction.

            C) Hope that there are no aliens out there, or if there are that they are illogical and irrational enough NOT to come to conclusion B.

            Best defense against B by the way is if the speed of the drive and distance between the emerging civilization and the interstellar-drive civilization combine to ensure that the lag between detection of first radio broadcasts and the delivery of your planet-killer pre-emptive strike is greater than the time between the discovery of radio and the ability of that civilization to also colonize multiple planets and develop a relativistic second strike capability.

        • bean says:

          It only takes a decade or two of military tech to totally overwhelm an opponent on earth. During the first gulf war US tanks could accurately hit Iraqi tanks while being out of range. Total military domination resulted from this discrepancy (among others).

          That’s a dramatic oversimplification. The average lifetime of military tech varies. Electronics age quickly, while the basic designs of most of our military tech date back to the 70s or earlier. And the victory in Desert Storm was based on the fact that we’d prepared to fight a really good opponent, and then ended up against a marginally competent one. There were serious fears that we’d be defeated by the Iraqis among the public.

          Any slightly more advanced society is a threat as long as they have either crossed the threshold to interstellar war already, or will do so before we can.

          This is sort of true. The level of logistics capability required to sustain an interstellar war is great enough that we’d stand no chance. But interstellar logistics are really hard, so you’re looking at an order of magnitude more than ‘slightly more advanced’ for them to be a real threat. Europe was able to colonize the rest of the world with the aid of several hundred years worth of technology, which allowed them to use vastly smaller forces than their enemies had.

          • baconbacon says:

            What the public was concerned about isn’t of any importance, relatively small technological advantages can be decisive is still the point. If my tanks can shoot 11 miles accurately, and your tanks 10 miles accurately, it is very difficult to overcome that type of edge.

            In terms of interstellar war, I put a caveat in for crossing a threshold of being able to wage war (though I bet we aren’t technologically very far away from firing nukes at extremely distant planets, though what good that does when it will take centuries to reach them is debatable), but the point still stands, if one side has a modest edge in technology they will frequently have the ability to totally wipe out their opponent, and the retractions will be on if they decided to try or not.

          • John Schilling says:

            If my tanks can shoot 11 miles accurately, and your tanks 10 miles accurately, it is very difficult to overcome that type of edge.

            Overcoming that particular type of edge, is actually rather trivial. Note that Nazi tanks could shoot accurately at ranges rather more than 10% in excess of their Russian counterparts.

          • bean says:

            What the public was concerned about isn’t of any importance, relatively small technological advantages can be decisive is still the point. If my tanks can shoot 11 miles accurately, and your tanks 10 miles accurately, it is very difficult to overcome that type of edge.

            No. Not even close. Wars aren’t fought on giant featureless plains, and weapons don’t have a single value for ‘range’. A 10% difference in ‘effective range’ is usually trivial. John points out that the German tanks had a much larger edge, and still lost. What won Desert Storm is that we were much, much better at the bits of war that don’t boil down to simple numbers in books. The difference between an army and a bunch of guys with guns is that an army works in a coordinated manner and is able to provide supplies to the guys with the guns. The air campaign in Desert Storm destroyed the Iraqi ability to do either. Our technology is important in that it allowed us to do so as cheaply as we did. But if you had given the Coalition weapons from 1970, they still would have won. It just would have been more expensive.

            In terms of interstellar war, I put a caveat in for crossing a threshold of being able to wage war (though I bet we aren’t technologically very far away from firing nukes at extremely distant planets, though what good that does when it will take centuries to reach them is debatable).

            That’s not waging war. That’s just silly. (Also, building a nuke which won’t degrade for centuries is non-trivial.)

            but the point still stands, if one side has a modest edge in technology they will frequently have the ability to totally wipe out their opponent, and the retractions will be on if they decided to try or not

            I can think of only a very few cases in the past two centuries where the technological edge that 20 years worth of equipment would give was so great that it would override gross (say 10:1) numerical disparities. Aircraft up through the early 70s and warships 1860-1920 are the only things which spring to mind. And in both cases, unit counting is deceptive, as the platforms in question got a lot more expensive during the interval in question.

          • LHN says:

            Wars aren’t fought on giant featureless plains,

            Then all my time playing Battle Zone in high school was for naught?

            (I suppose it was anyway– I never seemed to last more than a few minutes in Battle Zone.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The way to win an interstellar war is to get there first.

            If an alien civilization colonizes the moons in our outer solar system before we become multiplanet, they can (after building up for a decade or five) drop rocks on us with ease. But if we’ve colonized the gas giants, it will be hard for them to establish a base and/or drop the rocks without us noticing and being able to react.

            Crossing the inter-stellar void is still the hardest part of that invasion plan.

          • baconbacon says:

            You will note that German tanks KILLED Russian tanks, and Germany pushed deep into Russian territory, with the Russians taking the largest number of casualties in the war while fighting a major war on two other fronts. German technology (especially if you count tactics as IT) carried them for years in a war in which they were fighting against massively superior numerical forces.

          • Protagoras says:

            @John Schilling, And from what I’ve read, the Nazis destroyed about three Soviet tanks for every tank they lost, even though on average the Soviet tanks had more powerful guns and better armor. The Soviets overcame this by building many more tanks (and getting a bunch of tanks and other crucial supplies from the Americans), which while effective probably doesn’t deserve to be described as “trivial.”

          • baconbacon says:

            No. Not even close. Wars aren’t fought on giant featureless plains, and weapons don’t have a single value for ‘range’

            A war doesn’t have to be fought on a large plain, but frequently a war is fought over that large plain. Having a range advantage frequently means being able to control specific areas and force your opposition to route around them, it means being able to set up strong defensive points with fewer units and it is a significant advantage.

            What won Desert Storm is that we were much, much better at the bits of war that don’t boil down to simple numbers in books

            This is pretty ridiculous. The US won Desert Storm because they could locate and hit their opposition without ever coming into range themselves. Obviously it wasn’t as simple as a 10% range US tanks had, it was air superiority, satellites, communication etc, but that was basically all part and parcel of the US having a stronger economy and basically a 20-30 year technology edge on Iraq.

          • bean says:

            Edward Scizorhands:

            If an alien civilization colonizes the moons in our outer solar system before we become multiplanet, they can (after building up for a decade or five) drop rocks on us with ease. But if we’ve colonized the gas giants, it will be hard for them to establish a base and/or drop the rocks without us noticing and being able to react.

            Sort of true. But remember, Rocks are Not Free, Citizen!
            (Nukes are almost certain to be cheaper for a given amount of destruction.)

            baconbacon:

            You will note that German tanks KILLED Russian tanks, and Germany pushed deep into Russian territory, with the Russians taking the largest number of casualties in the war while fighting a major war on two other fronts.

            And the Soviets killed a lot of German tanks, too, and pushed relatively even deeper into German territory. The fact that the Russians suffered even more heavily has a great deal to do with the way they ran their army, and very little to do with technology.

            German technology (especially if you count tactics as IT) carried them for years in a war in which they were fighting against massively superior numerical forces.

            This ignores so much that it’s almost comical. First, I suspect you’re trying to use ‘tactics’ to define away the obvious point that the German Army did as well as they did because they were good at being an army. The reason I absolutely disagree with classifying this as ‘technology’ is because it’s not hard to duplicate in the same way that a tank is. It’s hard to duplicate, but in a way that is orthagonal to duplicating a gun or a fire control system. The problem wasn’t that the Russians didn’t have the German Army Handbook. The problem was that they didn’t have the German Army’s NCOs and junior officers.
            Second, this ignores logistics. The Germans crumbled in less than a year when the full power of the US and UK was brought to bear. But it took a long time to build enough stuff to make crossing the channel feasible. If there had been an open front for the allies to pour forces into, it would almost certainly have been over much sooner.
            Third, the Germans didn’t really have that much of a technological edge. They just chose to build their most advanced stuff immediately instead of waiting for it to be ready. And in some areas (radar springs to mind) they were way behind.
            Fourth, they were fighting on the defensive most of the time, and that helps a bunch.

            Protagoras:

            And from what I’ve read, the Nazis destroyed about three Soviet tanks for every tank they lost, even though on average the Soviet tanks had more powerful guns and better armor.

            The attacker always suffers more. And the Soviet tanks were not as good as they’re commonly made out to be.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Soviets overcame this by building many more tanks (and getting a bunch of tanks and other crucial supplies from the Americans), which while effective probably doesn’t deserve to be described as “trivial.”

            You don’t think maybe having to carry everything with you across interstellar distances might result in a 3:1 or more disparity in numbers compared to someone who can source their weapons and supplies locally?

            Compared to supporting an interstellar military force, getting your hardware shipped from America to Asia is trivial.

          • bean says:

            baconbacon:

            A war doesn’t have to be fought on a large plain, but frequently a war is fought over that large plain. Having a range advantage frequently means being able to control specific areas and force your opposition to route around them, it means being able to set up strong defensive points with fewer units and it is a significant advantage.

            How much of a range advantage are you claiming here? And how are you using your forces? Even Kansas isn’t perfectly flat, and digging in and hiding until your enemy is in range of your weapons is perfectly sound strategy. As is just charging through until you get into range of your own weapons, although combined arms helps a lot there. Being able to stand off and snipe from a distance works best when the enemy can’t meaningfully hit back because he’s paralyzed. That’s what happened during ODS.

            This is pretty ridiculous. The US won Desert Storm because they could locate and hit their opposition without ever coming into range themselves.

            No, that’s why there were so few casualties. We won because we knew where to hit them for maximum effectiveness.

            Obviously it wasn’t as simple as a 10% range US tanks had, it was air superiority, satellites, communication etc, but that was basically all part and parcel of the US having a stronger economy and basically a 20-30 year technology edge on Iraq.

            So if all you need to win a war is a technology edge and a stronger economy, how do you explain Vietnam?

          • bean says:

            I actually have surprisingly-precise numbers on how much it would cost to ship interplanetary military forces. I took a Stryker Brigade Combat Team as my basic unit, and calculated total shipping mass, including supplies for 6 months of transit, 30 days of combat, and drop pods for everything, as being about 32,000 tons. This does not include the ships necessary to carry them between the planets. To merely get that into Earth orbit, assuming we can pay energy at current electricity rates, would cost $27 million. That’s probably generous by an order of magnitude, and doesn’t include actually buying anything other than a ride to orbit. And you’ve only made it as far as low orbit. Now buy the ships to take this stuff across space and the fuel for those ships, and you’re looking at a tremendous cost for a relatively small unit (about 4,200 men).

          • baconbacon says:

            This has started to get all wonky, I’m going to consolidate my replies a little.

            1. I didn’t bring up WW2 as an example, because it is to stinking complex in a lot of ways. Boiling it down to some basics I would say this on the tank v tank and technology subject. Germany had a large tech advantage over Russia not in top end tech but in average tech. The German army entered WW2 with essentially all new equipment as they started rearming in the early 30s. The Russians on the other hand had a crazy mix of technology, a lot of it stemming from ww1 and immediately afterward. Where Russia did have new tech it was sometimes incredibly effective. This is a description of what a T-34 did in one of the first encounters with the German army from wikipedia

            In one of the first known encounters, a T-34 crushed a 37 mm PaK 36, destroyed two Panzer IIs, and left a 14 kilometres (8.7 mi)-long swathe of destruction in its wake before a howitzer destroyed it at close range.

            But the Germans ran over the Russians in the first few years of the war for a variety of reasons, but two of the largest (I would say the two largest) were air superiority and tank superiority. Eventually the Russians (I guess I should be saying Soviets, right comrade?) and Americans got production up, and the tides turned. In terms of relevance to the discussion, a gap of about 20 years of tank technology lead to a 7:1 kill ratio (per wiki) in terms of tanks early in WW2. Another example would be the Bismark sinking of the Hood (built 20 years prior) in less than 10 mins.

            2. I never intended to be taken as saying that a small technological advantage is decisive, but that a (relatively) small temporal technological advantage is. Virtually any army outfitted with 1940s tech would kill an army outfitted with tech from WW1. If we encounter alien life that is 100 years ahead of us technologically there is every chance that it could wipe us out if it so chose to. That doesn’t mean that they will automatically have an invasion force flying across the galaxy a week after contact, I would doubt that an invasion force would be used at all if they decided to annihilate us (I also doubt that they would decide to, but that is a separate discussion).

          • bean says:

            1. I didn’t bring up WW2 as an example, because it is to stinking complex in a lot of ways. Boiling it down to some basics I would say this on the tank v tank and technology subject. Germany had a large tech advantage over Russia not in top end tech but in average tech. The German army entered WW2 with essentially all new equipment as they started rearming in the early 30s. The Russians on the other hand had a crazy mix of technology, a lot of it stemming from ww1 and immediately afterward. Where Russia did have new tech it was sometimes incredibly effective. This is a description of what a T-34 did in one of the first encounters with the German army from wikipedia

            This fails a simple test. In 1942, the Soviets built 12,578 T-34s, over half of their total tank production for the year. Total German tank production in 1942? 5,530. And the majority were Panzer IIIs, which were technologically behind the T-34 by a fair margin. Sorry, try again.

            But the Germans ran over the Russians in the first few years of the war for a variety of reasons, but two of the largest (I would say the two largest) were air superiority and tank superiority. Eventually the Russians (I guess I should be saying Soviets, right comrade?) and Americans got production up, and the tides turned. In terms of relevance to the discussion, a gap of about 20 years of tank technology lead to a 7:1 kill ratio (per wiki) in terms of tanks early in WW2.

            20 years? Try 5, maybe. If that. German tanks were shockingly primitive through 1942. In a lot of ways, the Soviets were better-equipped, but shockingly poorly handled.

            Another example would be the Bismark sinking of the Hood (built 20 years prior) in less than 10 mins.

            Have you ever heard of the Battle of Jutland?

            2. I never intended to be taken as saying that a small technological advantage is decisive, but that a (relatively) small temporal technological advantage is.

            That depends on the rate of technology development, as modified by logistics. I can think of cases where wooden warships remained in front-line service for 50+ years. For that matter, Enterprise nearly managed that. And she wasn’t obsolete so much as worn out.

            Virtually any army outfitted with 1940s tech would kill an army outfitted with tech from WW1.

            At what odds? 5 to 1? 10 to 1? 20 to 1?

            If we encounter alien life that is 100 years ahead of us technologically there is every chance that it could wipe us out if it so chose to.

            If we encounter alien life that is capable of making meaningful contact other than by radio, this is the case. But that’s because the logistics demands for meaningful contact are so high, not because small technological differences are so important.

            That doesn’t mean that they will automatically have an invasion force flying across the galaxy a week after contact, I would doubt that an invasion force would be used at all if they decided to annihilate us (I also doubt that they would decide to, but that is a separate discussion).

            At last, something we can agree on.

          • baconbacon says:

            This fails a simple test. In 1942, the Soviets built 12,578 T-34s, over half of their total tank production for the year. Total German tank production in 1942? 5,530. And the majority were Panzer IIIs, which were technologically behind the T-34 by a fair margin. Sorry, try again.

            I have no idea what this test is supposed to show. I am talking about the stock of tanks, and you reply with one year’s worth of production? Besides this, late 1942/early 1943 was the time period that the Soviets were scoring victories against the Germans (Stalingrad ended in Feb 1943 iirc).

          • bean says:

            I have no idea what this test is supposed to show. I am talking about the stock of tanks, and you reply with one year’s worth of production? Besides this, late 1942/early 1943 was the time period that the Soviets were scoring victories against the Germans (Stalingrad ended in Feb 1943 iirc).

            Do you care to make a guess as to how big that stock was? I know, but it’s going to be more interesting to let you figure it out for yourself.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Isn’t it generally agreed by this point that the Pz III and IV were in most ways inferior to equivalent T-34s, the Tigers were excellent but rare fuel-guzzlers prone to breakdown, and the Panthers excellent but also prone to break down? Emphasis that “rare” is relative to the fact that in general the Allies outproduced them considerably.

            Likewise, it’s generally agreed that the German edge was largely in tactical leadership, as well as training (but to a lesser degree). There were points in the war when German tanks were notably inferior (mostly between the widespread availability of the T-34 and the availability of longer-barreled guns on Pz IVs) but they still performed favourably due to better crews and much better tactical leadership (enabled in part by wireless being available at lower levels).

            A WWI army would get crushed by a WWII army, assuming even numbers. Even a 30s army would cause trouble for an army of 1918, let alone 1914. They’d have no real answer to the far better armour or fair better aircraft, and the far more plentiful wireless of the 30s and especially the 40s would make tactical coordination far easier. Imagine Germany somehow had adequate numbers of 30s tanks, planes, and wireless in 1914 or 1918 – neither offensive would have been stopped by what the enemy had available to them.

          • bean says:

            dndnrsn:

            Isn’t it generally agreed by this point that the Pz III and IV were in most ways inferior to equivalent T-34s, the Tigers were excellent but rare fuel-guzzlers prone to breakdown, and the Panthers excellent but also prone to break down? Emphasis that “rare” is relative to the fact that in general the Allies outproduced them considerably.

            I would actually rate the Panzer IV generally about equal to the T-34. The T-34’s gun wasn’t that good (it was outperformed by the equivalent gun on the Sherman, much less dedicated AT guns) and the metallurgy was rather variable. The Tiger and Panther were much better, when they worked. Which wasn’t all that often.

            Likewise, it’s generally agreed that the German edge was largely in tactical leadership, as well as training (but to a lesser degree).

            I agree with that. I’m not sure baconbacon would.

            A WWI army would get crushed by a WWII army, assuming even numbers. Even a 30s army would cause trouble for an army of 1918, let alone 1914.

            The question isn’t so much ‘which is better’ as ‘how much better’. How big of an odds ratio, given equivalent levels of training/leadership, can the technology take? I’d guess that you’re looking at maybe a factor of 2 between 1918 and 1940. Maybe another 2 between 1939 and 1945. (Both numbers are on the ground. Air is probably 5/2, naval something like 1.5/2 depending on what navy you’re looking at.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @bean:

            I would actually rate the Panzer IV generally about equal to the T-34. The T-34’s gun wasn’t that good (it was outperformed by the equivalent gun on the Sherman, much less dedicated AT guns) and the metallurgy was rather variable. The Tiger and Panther were much better, when they worked. Which wasn’t all that often.

            The T-34 with a 76mm gun was available much earlier, though. In 1942 Shermans with 75mm guns were superior to the long 50s and short 75s the Pz IIIs and IVs had – the failure of the Western Allies was to fail to predict the retiring of the III, the up-gunning of the IV, and the heavier tanks. The metallurgy was variable but that was an industry-wide problem for the Soviets rather than anything wrong with the T-34 design. Relative disadvantages to the T-34 were the cramped compartment and 2-man turret, which were intentional choices, and the 85mm model had a 3-man turret and was equal to the Panther in firepower if not armour.

            The question isn’t so much ‘which is better’ as ‘how much better’. How big of an odds ratio, given equivalent levels of training/leadership, can the technology take? I’d guess that you’re looking at maybe a factor of 2 between 1918 and 1940. Maybe another 2 between 1939 and 1945. (Both numbers are on the ground. Air is probably 5/2, naval something like 1.5/2 depending on what navy you’re looking at.)

            But in 1914 and 1918, the question was not “how many French and British can the German army kill”, but rather “can the German army take its objectives”. It doesn’t matter whether the time-machine 1940 German army kills the enemy at 2 or 5 or 10:1 versus whatever the 1914 army accomplished, anywhere near as much as it matters that they probably would have reached Paris with 30s-40s armour, aircraft, and wireless. “Superior enough to win the war” is probably superior enough.

          • bean says:

            The T-34 with a 76mm gun was available much earlier, though. In 1942 Shermans with 75mm guns were superior to the long 50s and short 75s the Pz IIIs and IVs had – the failure of the Western Allies was to fail to predict the retiring of the III, the up-gunning of the IV, and the heavier tanks.

            It’s not even that. The first few Tigers which appeared in Tunisia were, for some reason, dealt with rather easily. Ditto in Italy. I suspect terrain had something to do with it. It wasn’t until they were encountered in France that they gained their reputation.

            The metallurgy was variable but that was an industry-wide problem for the Soviets rather than anything wrong with the T-34 design.

            True, but the implementation of a design is as important as the design itself. Otherwise, the Germans definitely would have won the war, as they had many more impressive, even grandiose, designs than their opponents did.

            Relative disadvantages to the T-34 were the cramped compartment and 2-man turret, which were intentional choices, and the 85mm model had a 3-man turret and was equal to the Panther in firepower if not armour.

            The 85mm gun was slightly worse than the HV 76mm gun we fitted to the Sherman at about that time as an AP gun. It was effective at close range against the sides and backs of German heavy tanks, and the Soviets were less reluctant than the US to trade at unfavorable ratios.

            But in 1914 and 1918, the question was not “how many French and British can the German army kill”, but rather “can the German army take its objectives”. It doesn’t matter whether the time-machine 1940 German army kills the enemy at 2 or 5 or 10:1 versus whatever the 1914 army accomplished, anywhere near as much as it matters that they probably would have reached Paris with 30s-40s armour, aircraft, and wireless. “Superior enough to win the war” is probably superior enough.

            Yes. But I’m not really interested in a counterfactual where the German Army of 1914 has 1939 weapons, or where the 1940 Germany Army replaces the 1914 version. This started as a discussion of the relative ratio you gain from small technological differences. I agree that the ratio is large enough to hand a convincing victory to forces which are numerically relatively even. But baconbacon’s original claim was that 20-30 years of imbalance was enough to make interstellar invasion possible, and dealing with potential examples of this claim requires working out (for instance) how many WWI divisions a WWII division is worth.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Were Tigers dealt with that easily in Italy? I know that heavier German tanks had problems with the terrain there (too heavy for some bridges and roads in hilly areas).

            Regardless of the exact breakdown of the arms race of tank armour and guns, though, I think it is safe to argue that the key German strength was tactical leadership over technology – even when they had superior technology, the tactical leadership would be a bigger advantage.

            If the reason for the comparison was interstellar invasion … the technology in the 30s and 40s could be seen as solving the problems of WWI: for instance, the proliferation of wireless and development of lighter batteries solved the problem of coordination (units breaking through trench lines and needing new orders just sitting there, units needing reinforcement not getting it, artillery tied to rigid fireplans, all due to there not being radios suitable to move forward with the troops and field telephone wire getting torn up).

            Would 20-30 years be enough to develop technology solving whatever problems militaries face now, to the extent of having a decisive advantage? Maybe. As you identified with your back-of-the-envelope calculations, there’s a problem that modern human militaries don’t face that would also need to be solved, namely, that interstellar war would be logistics difficulty set to Legendary. An alien military wielding the equivalent of whatever our technology is going to be in 2046 might be able to beat us, but it’s getting here would be the issue.

          • bean says:

            Were Tigers dealt with that easily in Italy? I know that heavier German tanks had problems with the terrain there (too heavy for some bridges and roads in hilly areas).

            I haven’t made a comprehensive study of the issue, but AFAIK, most of the noise about the Tiger comes from France, not the Mediterranean. It’s probably a combination of a lot of things. Fewer Tigers, better terrain for tank-hunting, more experienced people doing said hunting, and, for all I know, most of the people who fought the Tigers in North Africa getting killed before they could write memoirs.

            Regardless of the exact breakdown of the arms race of tank armour and guns, though, I think it is safe to argue that the key German strength was tactical leadership over technology – even when they had superior technology, the tactical leadership would be a bigger advantage.

            I believe this to be completely accurate, and a good summary of my position. Your summary of technological development in the 30s is likewise excellent.

            Would 20-30 years be enough to develop technology solving whatever problems militaries face now, to the extent of having a decisive advantage? Maybe.

            20-30 years at current rates? Maybe. The rate of military technical development has fallen off rather sharply over the past 20-30 years, and this pattern looks set to continue.
            This does raise another interesting question, though. How path-dependent is military technology? We can identify almost everything we use today with a system which came out of one of the world wars. But what if said wars had happened differently? Move WWI up 10 years, and tanks might not be what they are because automotive technology wasn’t up to building them then. Move WWII up 10 years, and airplanes can’t really sink battleships. For that matter, have Halsey detach TF34 at Leyte Gulf, and the battleship may have survived quite a lot longer.
            And, when dealing with aliens, what happens when two forces which took different paths meet?

            As you identified with your back-of-the-envelope calculations, there’s a problem that modern human militaries don’t face that would also need to be solved, namely, that interstellar war would be logistics difficulty set to Legendary. An alien military wielding the equivalent of whatever our technology is going to be in 2046 might be able to beat us, but it’s getting here would be the issue.

            This is why the force ratio numbers are important. An alien force with equal numbers and 2046 technology would beat what we have today. An alien force with 10% of our numbers and 2046 technology would probably not. So how much stuff do they have to bring before they can trounce us? Going forward in time makes it easier to ship forces, and makes the forces you can ship more potent.

          • baconbacon says:

            I agree with that. I’m not sure baconbacon would.

            That depends on how you draw the line between tech and tactics. The German side clearly had better tactics/leadership, but I do think this gets overstated. The Germans had more opportunities to exploit these tactics due to their relatively new military (I’m sure you know most of the basics of what follows, but for context I’m putting it here). An army has a choice, either it moves at the rate of its slowest member, or it splits into parts that move at different rates. One of the major (or the major) reasons the Mongols were able to run over Asia and Europe for a time was that their entire army went at horse speed, while European armies went at foot speed, even when they had some calvary. Similarly the Russian and French armies at the outset of WW2 couldn’t replicate German tactics. If/when the Russians tried to encircle German positions or cut their supply lines they either had to move quite slowly, or send a small force of newer tanks (which often had mechanical problems) and leave one or both halves of their army exposed. Additionally the more mobile force can recover from mistakes. If they engage an enemy after underestimating its strength there is a better chance at retreat, if an army engages them and withdraws there is a much greater chance at pursuit. In the early stages of WW2 there were simply more mistakes (or more critical mistakes) that the Russians could make. This makes judging the gaps in leadership very difficult.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I haven’t made a comprehensive study of the issue, but AFAIK, most of the noise about the Tiger comes from France, not the Mediterranean. It’s probably a combination of a lot of things. Fewer Tigers, better terrain for tank-hunting, more experienced people doing said hunting, and, for all I know, most of the people who fought the Tigers in North Africa getting killed before they could write memoirs.

            Anecdotally at least, American and Commonwealth troops in France had a tendency to see Tigers everywhere – they reported fighting and sometimes knocking out Tigers at places and times where, if there were Tigers, it was a surprise to the Germans. Similar dynamic to air crews of all nations reporting far higher rates of hitting and knocking out targets than was the case – you’ve got Soviet Sturmovik units claiming more German tanks from whatever division than the division had, Western Allied aircrews flying along shooting and seeing tanks abandoned for lack of fuel or breakdown and figuring “yeah, knocked one out”, German aces reported as killing the entire Red Army (twice), etc. You’re right that in Italy the Allied units were probably more experienced, at the beginning of the campaign, than the Allied troops going into Normandy were at the beginning of that campaign.

            I believe this to be completely accurate, and a good summary of my position. Your summary of technological development in the 30s is likewise excellent.

            Thanks. I always knew it would be on the exam!
            A broader point I’ve been thinking about for a while: I blame the “German tanks were the best” thing (and the “German soldiers were the best” thing) on tactical-level wargames. If the advantage the Germans had was better tactical leadership, tactical leadership is what the players of a game are doing, and the average German NCO or junior officer was better at commanding a squad, platoon, etc than the average gamer, there’s a problem for simulations. It’s usually dealt with by erasing other disadvantages the Germans faced (eg, once you’ve paid your 250 points or whatever for that Panther, it doesn’t break down on the way to the battlefield) or by just generally upping the quality of German troops and equipment. So there’s a lot of games where the Pz IV and StuG III end up with more oomph and durability than they really had, and the Panther and Tiger aren’t limited by their extra-combat problems.

            20-30 years at current rates? Maybe. The rate of military technical development has fallen off rather sharply over the past 20-30 years, and this pattern looks set to continue.
            This does raise another interesting question, though. How path-dependent is military technology? We can identify almost everything we use today with a system which came out of one of the world wars. But what if said wars had happened differently? Move WWI up 10 years, and tanks might not be what they are because automotive technology wasn’t up to building them then. Move WWII up 10 years, and airplanes can’t really sink battleships. For that matter, have Halsey detach TF34 at Leyte Gulf, and the battleship may have survived quite a lot longer.
            And, when dealing with aliens, what happens when two forces which took different paths meet?

            There’s the theories about what 19th century wars would have looked like with different technology – Waterloo would have been different with the rifle musket and Civil War era artillery, while the Civil War might have taken on the character of trench warfare with slightly more advanced small arms and artillery.

            It occurs to me that the current “problem” faced by modern militaries is the not-obviously-solvable-by-technology problem of how to fight local insurgencies in foreign countries, anyway. Of course, aliens coming to conquer us would probably have to solve this problem too.

            This is why the force ratio numbers are important. An alien force with equal numbers and 2046 technology would beat what we have today. An alien force with 10% of our numbers and 2046 technology would probably not. So how much stuff do they have to bring before they can trounce us? Going forward in time makes it easier to ship forces, and makes the forces you can ship more potent.

            One thing that could be vastly more important than technology is disease. If there’s some nasty bug we have that the aliens fall victim to, or vice versa, or it’s mutual, that could be the defining factor. Historically, if every person in the (soon-to-be-named-the) Americas had united to stop the Europeans in 1492, or if the Europeans had been 100% peaceful, that wouldn’t have made a difference to variola major.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @baconbacon:

            Did the Germans really have a more technologically advanced military than, say, the Brits and French in 1940, or the Soviets in 1941?

            Small arms were roughly equivalent. British and French tanks were better than German tanks in 1940, and the Soviets had some tanks that were worse than their German equivalents and some that were better – T-26s and BT-7s were I think the bulk of the Soviet armoured force during most of 1941, but when they showed up T-34s and KV-1s outperformed German tanks. I don’t know if there was any disparity in aircraft. There was a disparity in training between the Germans and Soviets, at least early on – in mid 1941, Soviet tank crews by some accounts often barely knew what they were doing, on top of tactical issues, and German pilots were definitely better, again at least early on. The German army wasn’t more motorized/mechanized than its opponents, and by the end of the war it was probably less so than the Soviets, and definitely less so than the Western Allies.

            The major technological advantage the Germans had was that they had radios available at lower levels than the Western Allies early in the war, and than the Soviets for most/all of the war. This is what enabled their tactical leadership to make such a difference. They also were able to pull things off like destroying tons of Soviet aircraft on the ground in 1941 – I believe the Germans counted aircraft knocked out on the ground as kills, which contributed to some German aces having enormous kill counts.

            I think the clincher for the argument that German tactical leadership was their key advantage is that it is an advantage they retained even during periods when opponents had equivalent or superior technology, including technology of mobility: by the end of the war the Allies were using trucks and so forth far more than the Germans, whose forces relied mostly on trains, marching, and horse-drawn stuff throughout the war.

            The German propaganda image of a high-tech army was just that – propaganda. Besides radios, the technology in the army was very unevenly distributed: Armoured, mechanized, and motorized units the spearhead, guys plodding along and horses pulling wagons far behind. As an aside, German propaganda photographers were quite good at not taking/not developing/hiding/whatever pictures including horse-drawn stuff.

          • bean says:

            @baconbacon:

            That depends on how you draw the line between tech and tactics. The German side clearly had better tactics/leadership, but I do think this gets overstated. The Germans had more opportunities to exploit these tactics due to their relatively new military.

            How was the ‘relatively new military’ supposed to help? I think you are under a serious misapprehension about the relative nature of German and Soviet tanks during Barbarossa. (As an aside, you never got back to me about the size and composition of the Soviet and German tank stockpiles in mid-1941.)

            An army has a choice, either it moves at the rate of its slowest member, or it splits into parts that move at different rates.

            Snipped for length. Question. What was the major source of motive power for the majority of German units that participated in Barbarossa?

            In the early stages of WW2 there were simply more mistakes (or more critical mistakes) that the Russians could make. This makes judging the gaps in leadership very difficult.

            An interesting theory, but one that betrays a lack of understanding of the war. The problem the Russians had was that Stalin distrusted any competent general, and removed them from command. Guess what this meant in terms of the competence of the Soviet high command?

            @dndnrsn:

            Anecdotally at least, American and Commonwealth troops in France had a tendency to see Tigers everywhere – they reported fighting and sometimes knocking out Tigers at places and times where, if there were Tigers, it was a surprise to the Germans.

            “Every tank a Tiger, every plane a Zero” is a common phenomena, but to a first order, it should work against the Tiger’s reputation, as that Panzer III you thought was a Tiger didn’t take much killing. On the other hand, if you get into a fight with an AT gun and a house you thought was a Tiger, it would tend to lead to ‘we shot at him a bunch, he killed several of us, then left. We did find an AT gun in the area later.’

            You’re right that in Italy the Allied units were probably more experienced, at the beginning of the campaign, than the Allied troops going into Normandy were at the beginning of that campaign.

            That’s not quite what I meant, although I would agree that it’s true. The Tigers initially fought in Tunisia were faced by the experienced British, as opposed to green American tankers in Normandy. I’m not sure when they appeared in Italy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d been up against veteran forces there, too.

            A broader point I’ve been thinking about for a while: I blame the “German tanks were the best” thing (and the “German soldiers were the best” thing) on tactical-level wargames.

            Snipped for length.
            A very interesting idea, although I’m not sure I agree. I know that in higher-level wargames, it’s pretty common for a German tank unit to be one tank, vs 4 tanks for the Soviets, with similar scores. I also know most of the myth of the Sherman’s inferiority can be traced to a book whose title I cannot recall offhand. That said, you’re right that most games don’t give Tigers the reliability problems they experienced. And most gamers want to do Tiger v Sherman, even though AT gun v Sherman was much more common.

            There’s the theories about what 19th century wars would have looked like with different technology – Waterloo would have been different with the rifle musket and Civil War era artillery, while the Civil War might have taken on the character of trench warfare with slightly more advanced small arms and artillery.

            Waterloo would have looked like a battle from the ACW, while the Civil War did take on the character of trench warfare in certain places.
            Even then, that doesn’t quite capture what I was getting at. The timing of a war affects the technology which comes out of it. If WWII had kicked off from, say, the bombing of the Panay in 1937 or the Anschluss in 1938, radar development might have been seriously hindered, because radar in 1937/early 1938 wasn’t nearly as useful as it was two years later, and development resources would probably have been allocated elsewhere. The same is probably true of the atomic bomb, actually.
            For that matter, what would have happened if the war had ended in 1940/1941 with a German defeat in France? Many of the same effects, although somewhat lower in magnitude.

            It occurs to me that the current “problem” faced by modern militaries is the not-obviously-solvable-by-technology problem of how to fight local insurgencies in foreign countries, anyway.

            Yep, although I would point out that there are lots of effective solutions which we don’t use for moral reasons.

            Of course, aliens coming to conquer us would probably have to solve this problem too.

            I’d guess they solved the problem by removing moral constraints. Of course, aliens may not share our psychology, which opens up a whole case of cans of worms. You could get a really interesting SF story out of that.

            One thing that could be vastly more important than technology is disease. If there’s some nasty bug we have that the aliens fall victim to, or vice versa, or it’s mutual, that could be the defining factor. Historically, if every person in the (soon-to-be-named-the) Americas had united to stop the Europeans in 1492, or if the Europeans had been 100% peaceful, that wouldn’t have made a difference to variola major.

            I think (and I’m not a biologist, so I could be very wrong) that the Germs will disappear from the Guns, Germs, and Steel of interstellar colonial wars. Alien biochemstry does not strike me as likely to produce diseases in humans. And if it does, the aliens will presumably take measures to limit contamination. Or just use bioweapons on us intentionally, if they decide to go that way.

          • baconbacon says:

            But baconbacon’s original claim was that 20-30 years of imbalance was enough to make interstellar invasion possible

            No it wasn’t. My original claim was that a “small” technological advantage could make an alien civilization a threat, I never said that threat was necessarily (or likely even) one of invasion. I never even said they were likely to exercise the threat (and have since stated that I think it highly unlikely). The point of my response was that when you do run into a more advanced civilization the choice to wipe you out or not is mostly at their discretion.

          • dndnrsn says:

            An interesting theory, but one that betrays a lack of understanding of the war. The problem the Russians had was that Stalin distrusted any competent general, and removed them from command. Guess what this meant in terms of the competence of the Soviet high command?

            The Soviets suffered from leadership deficits relative to the Germans more at the tactical leadership, though, didn’t they? The Soviets didn’t have as many competent and more-than-competent generals as the Germans, but their strategic leadership gap was probably less than the tactical leadership gap. By the end of the war, the Soviets were operationally very effective – but of course the Germans’ leadership advantage had been eroded by the loss of experienced leaders and the reduction in training as replacements had to be hustled in quicker and quicker.

            “Every tank a Tiger, every plane a Zero” is a common phenomena, but to a first order, it should work against the Tiger’s reputation, as that Panzer III you thought was a Tiger didn’t take much killing. On the other hand, if you get into a fight with an AT gun and a house you thought was a Tiger, it would tend to lead to ‘we shot at him a bunch, he killed several of us, then left. We did find an AT gun in the area.’

            The Tiger’s reputation has been inflated, as has that of the elite units of the German military, at the expense of the bread-and-butter tanks and the rank-and-file units. The reason the Germans delivered and took such a beating before being finished had more to do with relatively average gear and troops led well. It’s just that it isn’t as sexy.

            Aside: whenever I read about this sort of thing I remember a time that, I think we were in our mid teens, my brother and I were playing some shooter game or other competitively. Being mid-teens, and thus scumbags, we were watching each other’s halves of the screen to get an unfair-if-it-wasn’t-cancelled-out advantage. We each came to the conclusion that the other was at the top/bottom of a flight of stairs, spent about a minute firing wildly and tossing grenades, then realized we were mistaking one staircase for another and were in fact on opposite sides of the map.

            That’s not quite what I meant, although I would agree that it’s true. The Tigers initially fought in Tunisia were faced by the experienced British, as opposed to green American tankers in Normandy. I’m not sure when they appeared in Italy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d been up against veteran forces there, too.

            Weren’t the Allied forces in Normandy mostly composed of units that had already seen, at the very least, limited combat in North Africa?

            A very interesting idea, although I’m not sure I agree. I know that in higher-level wargames, it’s pretty common for a German tank unit to be one tank, vs 4 tanks for the Soviets, with similar scores. I also know most of the myth of the Sherman’s inferiority can be traced to a book whose title I cannot recall offhand. That said, you’re right that most games don’t give Tigers the reliability problems they experienced. And most gamers want to do Tiger v Sherman, even though AT gun v Sherman was much more common.

            Representing German units as equivalent in power to, say, Soviet units that are larger, or making German units of a given size (division, say) stronger than Soviet divisions, is probably as good a way as any to represent better tactical leadership in games where the tactical level is too low to be shown. While it does lead to the “Germans just better” notion if it isn’t explained what is meant by the better stats or whatever, it’s better than having tactical wargames where you can just ram a Pz IVH platoon into a Sherman platoon and have the former win because Germans.

            As for the myth of the Sherman’s inferiority, that’s a weird one. People describe it as catching fire easily, but this was likely due to ammo storage, not the gasoline engine that some people– the Tiger and Panther had gasoline engines too, and nobody called them “Jerry Cookers”.

            Waterloo would have looked like a battle from the ACW, while the Civil War did take on the character of trench warfare in certain places.

            Pretty much. I know there are photos from, I think, Vicksburg that look like early WWI trenches, minus barbed wire (which was post war).

            Yep, although I would point out that there are lots of effective solutions which we don’t use for moral reasons.

            If something can’t be used, is it effective?

            I’d guess they solved the problem by removing moral constraints. Of course, aliens may not share our psychology, which opens up a whole case of cans of worms. You could get a really interesting SF story out of that.

            I think (and I’m not a biologist, so I could be very wrong) that the Germs will disappear from the Guns, Germs, and Steel of interstellar colonial wars. Alien biochemstry does not strike me as likely to produce diseases in humans. And if it does, the aliens will presumably take measures to limit contamination. Or just use bioweapons on us intentionally, if they decide to go that way.

            Something that causes a lot of sci-fi to suffer is that it is extremely hard to write beings that think and act differently from humans. As for biology, me neither – but I have a general sense that if aliens show up and enslave us, it won’t happen like we expect.

          • baconbacon says:

            Did the Germans really have a more technologically advanced military than, say, the Brits and French in 1940, or the Soviets in 1941

            Its complicated, but there is a good amount of evidence if you remember a lot of what I am talking about (for WW2, which I didn’t bring up as an example) is average not top end tech (some was self inflicted as the British stuck to conditions in the Versailles treaty far longer than the Germans). The Germans started gearing up for war earlier and had several advantages due to this. The Spitfire and the Messerschmitt were fairly equal, but the Spitfire represented ~ 1/3rd of fighters in the RAF on the outset of the battle of Britain. Hurricanes represented the bulk of the air force and were shot down at high rates until upgrades allowed them to hold their own a lot better. This is similar to the example I gave above about T-34 tanks. Eventually the British and the Russians got production up, and battles started turning at these points.

          • bean says:

            @baconbacon:

            The point of my response was that when you do run into a more advanced civilization the choice to wipe you out or not is mostly at their discretion.

            This is not the same claim as that a ‘small technological advantage’ makes them a threat. At the moment, any more advanced civilization we can have meaningful contact with is a threat. But the key there is meaningful contact. A civilization 20 years ahead of us on Proxima Centauri is not a threat, and probably will never be. If they could visit us today, then they’re far enough ahead we can’t do much.

            @dndnrsn:

            The Soviets suffered from leadership deficits relative to the Germans more at the tactical leadership, though, didn’t they? The Soviets didn’t have as many competent and more-than-competent generals as the Germans, but their strategic leadership gap was probably less than the tactical leadership gap.

            Depends on when in the war we’re talking about. During the early days, I’d say they were weaker on the strategic side. Later on, their upper officer corps improved, but the commissars and general Soviet doctrine kept the competence of the low-level leadership down.

            The Tiger’s reputation has been inflated, as are the elite units of the German military, at the expense of the bread-and-butter tanks and the rank-and-file units. The reason the Germans delivered and took such a beating before being finished had more to do with relatively average gear and troops led well. It’s just that it isn’t as sexy.

            Agreed.

            Weren’t the Allied forces in Normandy mostly composed of units that had already seen, at the very least, limited combat in North Africa?

            Not really. For US forces, 2/13 Infantry, 1/4 Armored and 2/2 Airborne Divisions had previously seen combat. Even the veteran units (1st and 9th ID, 2nd AD, 82nd and 101st Abn) had gotten lots of replacements. I’m not sure what the numbers were for the British.

            While it does lead to the “Germans just better” notion if it isn’t explained what is meant by the better stats or whatever, it’s better than having tactical wargames where you can just ram a Pz IVH platoon into a Sherman platoon and have the former win because Germans.

            I admit to having not done lots of tactical wargames, so I’m not sure how bad the problem was. Another factor is the strength of the Wheraboo contingent among those who buy such things.

            As for the myth of the Sherman’s inferiority, that’s a weird one. People describe it as catching fire easily, but this was likely due to ammo storage, not the gasoline engine that some people– the Tiger and Panther had gasoline engines too, and nobody called them “Jerry Cookers”.

            My understanding is that it was mostly traceable to crews overloading their tanks with ammo, which tended to make them brew up easily. Once they gained sufficient confidence in their logistics train to stop doing that, the problem largely went away.

            If something can’t be used, is it effective?

            I take your point, although in the context of aliens, it doesn’t fit quite the same.

            I have a general sense that if aliens show up and enslave us, it won’t happen like we expect.

            Agreed. None of the ways I’ve tried to expect have made much sense.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @baconbacon:

            While the Germans had started readying for war earlier, they didn’t originally intend to have to confront the British, etc, until some time in the mid-40s.

            Additionally, the way that the Germans were balancing their various expenses, and basically doing wacky things with finance to fund a military expansion, made the military expansion less effective than it would be otherwise – for instance, steel allocations were a constant issue.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Not really. For US forces, 2/13 Infantry, 1/4 Armored and 2/2 Airborne Divisions had previously seen combat. Even the veteran units (1st and 9th ID, 2nd AD, 82nd and 101st Abn) had gotten lots of replacements. I’m not sure what the numbers were for the British.

            Aha. I guess my memory was off. Although, units that had seen combat but received replacements – the units themselves had still seen combat, which would have some benefit even though there had been heavy turnover in the actual front-line units.

            I admit to having not done lots of tactical wargames, so I’m not sure how bad the problem was. Another factor is the strength of the Wheraboo contingent among those who buy such things.

            The Wehraboo factor is strong. There’s a bit of chicken-and-egg going on: would we have people complaining about historically accurate presentations of the German military (instead of some imaginary force made entirely of elite SS panzer paratroopers) were it not for games initially jacking up German units’ effectiveness to make up for the fact that gamers are on average of middling tactical ability?

            On the other hand, you see the Wehraboo factor even when there’s no rules or stats involved – if WWII was to be re-fought by re-enactors, the Germans would win on numbers.

            My understanding is that it was mostly traceable to crews overloading their tanks with ammo, which tended to make them brew up easily. Once they gained sufficient confidence in their logistics train to stop doing that, the problem largely went away.

            Wikipedia claims that the issue was where the ammo was stored and how it was being stored – supposedly some fixes there reduced the problem.

            The whole “if you don’t have a diesel engine you’ll catch fire” thing is weird. I wonder where it came from.

          • bean says:

            @baconbacon:

            Its complicated, but there is a good amount of evidence if you remember a lot of what I am talking about (for WW2, which I didn’t bring up as an example) is average not top end tech

            This doesn’t even remotely work. Here’s my best estimates for German and Soviet tank production up through the end of 1941. No effort has been made to account for losses.
            Germans:
            Panzer I: 1893
            Panzer II: 1602
            Panzer 38(t): 1276
            Panzer III: 3522
            Panzer IV: 1090

            Soviet:
            T-26: 10300
            BT-7: 5556
            Other T-series lights: ~2000
            T-34: 2915
            KV-1: 1262

            So the Soviets built more KV-1s than the Germans built Panzer IVs, and nearly as many T-34s as Panzer IIIs. Tell me again how the Germans had the technology advantage?
            (I could do the same exercise with armored forces in the Battle of France, where the disparity was even more pronounced, but I think I’ve made my point.)

            The Spitfire and the Messerschmitt were fairly equal, but the Spitfire represented ~ 1/3rd of fighters in the RAF on the outset of the battle of Britain. Hurricanes represented the bulk of the air force and were shot down at high rates until upgrades allowed them to hold their own a lot better.

            Then why do the monthly Hurricane and Spitfire losses always have about a 2:1 ratio, exactly as we’d expect if they were about equally likely to get shot down? (Yes, the Spitfire was the better fighter, but the Hurricane was used in a way that minimized this disadvantage, and shot down more enemy airplanes during the battle.)

          • baconbacon says:

            @ bean

            To answer a few of your questions (making sure my memory isn’t off by orders of magnitue with Wiki checks) , my impression is that the majority of Russian tanks at the onset of Barbarosa were light tanks developed in the late 20s or early 30s like the T-26, and a few hundred heavy tanks like the T-28 and the T-35 that were designed during the same time frame. The Germans had produced something like 2,000 Panzer 3s and 4s to something like 500 T-34s at the outset of Barbarossa.

            the most common mode of power was still the horse, but the German spearhead was almost entirely newer tanks (post 1937) while the Soviet tanks ranged from the early 30s, many of those tanks broke down. Logistically Russian commanders would have to stop frequently and assess if those tanks could be repaired quickly, or if they had to be abandoned (and what to do with their crews etc). If a Russian column sent 100 tanks to engage the Germans perhaps 20 or 30 wouldn’t make it to the battle, and then they would either have to engage well below full strength or try to withdraw and lose another dozen or more to mechanical failures on the retreat.

            By the time the Russians got T-34 tank production up to a level that allowed them parity, and later superiority, they were already deep in the shit. Stalingrad was a major production center and at points rolled tanks right off the line into battle, which means not forming up major groups and inadequate training for the crew and testing for defects.

          • baconbacon says:

            Here’s my best estimates for German and Soviet tank production up through the end of 1941

            This is misleading by a lot. Barbarossa started in mid 1941, Soviet tank production was just beginning (in volume terms) in late mid to late 1941. 1,000 Panzers built during 1940 would be almost entirely ready for the front lines (in terms of production, movement, crew familiarity, testing etc), while they are facing up against 2,800 T-34s (just examples!) built during 1941 I would guess that given build up times (2,800 T 34s built in 1941, 12,500 built in 1942) at least 75% of those were finished after Barbarossa began and perhaps as high as 85 or 90%. Even those that had been built, a fair number of them wouldn’t have been on the front lines (or if they were had rushed through training and checks).

            Additionally the Soviets launched their major counter offensive in December of 1941, which fits the timeline of German tech superiority wearing out reasonably well by your numbers.

            If we look at stocks (numbers from wikipedia), initial frontline strength of the German army was 3,350 tanks and 11,000 for the Soviets. If we use your numbers and I am correct that a much larger portion of Soviet tanks were made in the 2nd half of 1941 than in the first half then these numbers heavily support my supposition that the German tank line was made heavily of newer tanks, while the majority of Soviet tanks on the front lines were older.

          • baconbacon says:

            Then why do the monthly Hurricane and Spitfire losses always have about a 2:1 ratio, exactly as we’d expect if they were about equally likely to get shot down? (Yes, the Spitfire was the better fighter, but the Hurricane was used in a way that minimized this disadvantage, and shot down more enemy airplanes during the battle.)

            Because (iirc) the Spitfires engaged the Messerschimtts while the Hurricanes were mostly shooting down Stukas and other bombers (frequently after their bombing loads were dropped). The basic game plan was since the Hurricanes can’t stand up to the Messerschimtts it was use the Spitfires to delay so the Hurricanes can get some kills on the bombers.

            Edit: Also the 2:1 ratio was the ratio at the begging of the Battle of Britain, I don’t recall if that was the ratio the whole way through.

          • bean says:

            @baconbacon:

            To answer a few of your questions (making sure my memory isn’t off by orders of magnitue with Wiki checks) , my impression is that the majority of Russian tanks at the onset of Barbarosa were light tanks developed in the late 20s or early 30s like the T-26, and a few hundred heavy tanks like the T-28 and the T-35 that were designed during the same time frame. The Germans had produced something like 2,000 Panzer 3s and 4s to something like 500 T-34s at the outset of Barbarossa.

            Precisely. May I direct your attention to earlier in the thread, when I gave the 1942 production figures (a year when the Soviets built more T-34s than they’d had tanks in their entire force in mid-1941) and you responded:

            I have no idea what this test is supposed to show. I am talking about the stock of tanks, and you reply with one year’s worth of production?

            The point is that the German advantage in numbers of ‘high-tech tanks’ was very transitory, and the stocks were a lot smaller than you seemed to think. I’ve shown (possibly after you wrote this response) that it was basically gone within 6 months, and overwhelmingly gone within 18. And yet the Germans battled on for quite some time.

            the most common mode of power was still the horse, but the German spearhead was almost entirely newer tanks (post 1937) while the Soviet tanks ranged from the early 30s, many of those tanks broke down.

            But I thought we cared about average tech, not peak tech, and the average German division was horse-drawn.

            Logistically Russian commanders would have to stop frequently and assess if those tanks could be repaired quickly, or if they had to be abandoned (and what to do with their crews etc)…

            So? I doubt that persisted past mid-1942.

            By the time the Russians got T-34 tank production up to a level that allowed them parity, and later superiority, they were already deep in the shit.

            But they should have gotten out equally fast if the average tech level of their tanks was better than the Germans. Because small chronological differences produce big results in terms of combat power. They didn’t.

            Stalingrad was a major production center and at points rolled tanks right off the line into battle, which means not forming up major groups and inadequate training for the crew and testing for defects.

            I’m aware of that. But Stalingrad didn’t start until August, by which point the Soviets had an overwhelming advantage in terms of modern tanks.

            Additionally the Soviets launched their major counter offensive in December of 1941, which fits the timeline of German tech superiority wearing out reasonably well by your numbers.

            It does fit well. What does not fit well are the German successes the next summer and fall, when the gap was probably even greater. The German high-water makr on the Eastern Front was November of 1942, not December of 1941. You have to account for all the data, not just point to the bits that support your theory.

            Because (iirc) the Spitfires engaged the Messerschimtts while the Hurricanes were mostly shooting down Stukas and other bombers (frequently after their bombing loads were dropped).

            I’m aware of that. You claimed that Hurricanes were being shot down in large numbers until an upgrade came along. That implies some change in relative loss rates, which we don’t really see. (I’m aware of the different roles. Attacking bombers isn’t as easy as it sounds, particularly with fighter escort.)

          • baconbacon says:

            @ bean

            You say the German tank tech lead was transitory, and I agree, but your numbers give a false illusion of how short that period was. Russia did not achieve parity the day that they had produced as many new tanks as Germany did, at the onset of Barbarossa German tanks will killing Russian tanks/planes/artillery at rates of 5-1 or 10-1 to their own losses. If 500 T34s rolled off the line in July and August (a high estimate) of 1941 and were sent to the front lines they were not joining up with the 2,000 other new tanks that had been produced in 1940/41, they were joining up with the 1,000 tanks that had survived the first 2-3 months of the invasion. Eventually the Soviets would achieve parity (though it took longer still for them to match in terms of tanks crewed with experienced/competent soldiers), but it was not in the early stages of the invasion as you would think if you took tank production to mean tanks on the front line.

            As for the average tech vs top tech quip, it is obvious that what matters is the divisions that are engaging. German mechanized divisions and air force crushed Soviet mechanized divisions, where as German infantry suffered heavier casualties when engaged against Soviet infantry (though not as much as the Soviet casualties, the gap was much smaller than in the mechanized field prior to Stalingrad).

          • dndnrsn says:

            @baconbacon:

            When comparing German armoured/mechanized vs Soviet equivalent performance to German infantry vs Soviet equivalent, are they really comparable? I imagine that the spearhead of the German forces received more air and artillery support and priority for resupply, etc.

          • baconbacon says:

            It does fit well. What does not fit well are the German successes the next summer and fall, when the gap was probably even greater. The German high-water makr on the Eastern Front was November of 1942, not December of 1941. You have to account for all the data, not just point to the bits that support your theory.

            And by the end of 1941 Russia had lost a huge percentage of its veteran infantry, its air force, support vehicles, communications, and basically every tank built prior to 1940 (which would have been still reasonably effective vs infantry). They had to train an entirely new officer corps, draw up new defensive lines, and produce enormous amounts of weapons, ammunition etc.

          • bean says:

            @baconbacon:

            You say the German tank tech lead was transitory, and I agree, but your numbers give a false illusion of how short that period was.

            I’ll grant that it usually takes time for tanks to get to the front from the factory. But you either have to claim it takes something like a year (which is absurd and is contradicted by the Red Army’s winter counteroffensive) or you have to explain why the German Army did so well in the summer and fall of 1942.

            At the onset of Barbarossa German tanks will killing Russian tanks/planes/artillery at rates of 5-1 or 10-1 to their own losses.

            I’m aware of that. But do those loss ratios apply to the modern tanks, or were they the result of modern German tanks going up against old Soviet tanks? (Which wasn’t really a thing, but I’ll pretend it was for now) And if they apply to modern tanks, why?

            As for the average tech vs top tech quip, it is obvious that what matters is the divisions that are engaging.

            And you expect me to believe that the Germans didn’t use their infantry divisions at all? That’s absurd on several levels. For that matter, at the battle of Brody, the Soviets had a distinct edge in both total tanks and modern tanks, and still lost badly.

            German mechanized divisions and air force crushed Soviet mechanized divisions, where as German infantry suffered heavier casualties when engaged against Soviet infantry (though not as much as the Soviet casualties, the gap was much smaller than in the mechanized field prior to Stalingrad).

            Sources?

            And by the end of 1941 Russia had lost a huge percentage of its veteran infantry, its air force, support vehicles, communications, and basically every tank built prior to 1940 (which would have been still reasonably effective vs infantry).

            Yes, they had. They then launched a successful counterattack. You brought that up as support for your theory. I pointed out that it didn’t explain the later bits of 1942. Pretending that they were in as bad of shape in August of 1942 as they were in August of 1941 is just silly. If you want me to believe that, you’d better provide sources.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Something that occurred to me.

            bean posted earlier:

            The problem wasn’t that the Russians didn’t have the German Army Handbook. The problem was that they didn’t have the German Army’s NCOs and junior officers.

            It goes beyond that, I realized. An example:

            It’s not that hard to know what’s being taught in the best universities, outside of science stuff where there’s some trade secret that is either super esoteric or of special interest to the military or whatever.

            And, there are lots of quality teachers and researchers out there, many of whom would be glad for a good job – there’s more people than jobs.

            And yet, founding a new university is really hard, and the established institutions have a huge advantage. There’s all sorts of institutional reasons that someone with a vast amount of money can’t just sit down and build a new Harvard.

        • Alphaceph says:

          It is hideously unlikely that an alien civilisation will be a couple of decades away from is in tech progression. There would have to be a colossal coincidence.

          More likely they got to where we are now 300 million years ago, or they will in 300 million years. Either way we are nowhere near an almost fair war.

    • Jill says:

      There are former CIA employees who claim that they know from their past work that there are alien life forms on earth living in tunnels underneath the surface, and have been for a long time. Below here is a web site for one of these guys, and his list of articles on extra-terrestrials. There are various possibilities for why former CIA employees would believe in this. Just 2 examples out of many possibilities are:

      1) Their jobs made them gullible. That is, in their jobs, they needed to believe what they were told in order to feel they had a chance of knowing what to do to staying alive. And/or the nature of their jobs made them paranoid and willing to believe in all manner of conspiracy theories– especially since
      in their work, they probably were exposed to a conspiracy theory or 2 that turned out to be actually true.

      2) They have been directly told that extra-terrestrials exist, in Top Secret documents they had access to when working for the CIA. However, even if this is so, that does not mean that extra-terrestrials really exist.

      I’m sure that just before W Bush’s Iraq War, plenty of people received Top Secret documents that said Iraq had WMD. Having extra-terrestrials living in various areas on earth would theoretically be expensive– so claims of their existence could easily be used as a false excuse for why the CIA, military etc. are spending so much money that they can not account for. Such money could really be going into the pockets of well connected people in those institutions though, rather than into funds for upkeep of alien civilizations in tunnels under the earth.

      Web site here:

      http://phibetaiota.net/2016/04/search-aliens-extraterrestial-extra-terrestial-ufo/

      • Julie K says:

        Possibility 3: they are lying about being CIA agents (and everything else).

        • Decius says:

          3.1 Telling the truth about being CIA, and creating a culture where true leaks are derided under actual orders.

      • dndnrsn says:

        My favourite (as in, most entertaining) Roswell conspiracy theory, which is like 2, is that the apparently somewhat bungled coverup of an alien spaceship crash was actually a ploy. The bungled coverup of an alien accident was actually a very successful coverup of an experimental aircraft experiment accident.

    • S_J says:

      There is also a possibility explored by Carl Sagan in the novel Contact.

      In that novel, SETI succeeds because some Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence detects a signal from Earth, and responds to it.

      Sagan assumed that the contact was benign in intent.

      He also assumed that the ETI’s in question were looking for radio signals to respond to. They detected one of the first few Television broadcasts that happened from Earth, and found a way to reply by playing that broadcast back.

      Given those assumptions, is it possible for us to remain undetected?

    • Lysenko says:

      My thoughts are that there are probably no alien civilizations within a reasonable distance of us in time and space. That is, they are either so far away or lived and died out so long ago we as a species will never know it. By the time we expanded enough to find them (or the traces of them) the timescales involved are so big that even if we’re still around, “we” won’t be humans any more than humans are the same as the Last Common Ancestor of all mammals.

      This makes me a little wistful, but on a rational level it probably shouldn’t, because I think Watts’ take in Blindsight was probably the closest to accurate:

      Once there were three tribes. The Optimists, whose patron saints were Drake and Sagan, believed in a universe crawling with gentle intelligence — spiritual brethren vaster and more enlightened than we, a great galactic siblinghood into whose ranks we would someday ascend. Surely, said the Optimists, space travel implies enlightenment, for it requires the control of great destructive energies. Any race which can’t rise above its own brutal instincts will wipe itself out long before it learns to bridge the interstellar gulf.

      Across from the Optimists sat the Pessimists, who genuflected before graven images of Saint Fermi and a host of lesser lightweights. The Pessimists envisioned a lonely universe full of dead rocks and prokaryotic slime. The odds are just too low, they insisted. Too many rogues, too much radiation, too much eccentricity in too many orbits. It is a surpassing miracle that even one Earth exists; to hope for many is to abandon reason and embrace religious mania. After all, the universe is fourteen billion years old: if the galaxy were alive with intelligence, wouldn’t it be here by now?

      Equidistant to the other two tribes sat the Historians. They didn’t have too many thoughts on the probable prevalence of intelligent, spacefaring extraterrestrials — but if there are any, they said, they’re not just going to be smart. They’re going to be mean.

      It might seem almost too obvious a conclusion. What is Human history, if not an on going succession of greater technologies grinding lesser ones beneath their boots? But the subject wasn’t merely Human history, or the unfair advantage that tools gave to any given side; the oppressed snatch up advanced weaponry as readily as the oppressor, given half a chance. No, the real issue was how those tools got there in the first place. The real issue was what tools are for.

      To the Historians, tools existed for only one reason: to force the universe into unnatural shapes. They treated nature as an enemy, they were by definition a rebellion against the way things were. Technology is a stunted thing in benign environments, it never thrived in any culture gripped by belief in natural harmony. Why invent fusion reactors if your climate is comfortable, if your food is abundant? Why build fortresses if you have no enemies? Why force change upon a world which poses no threat?

      Human civilization had a lot of branches, not so long ago. Even into the twenty-first century, a few isolated tribes had barely developed stone tools. Some settled down with agriculture. Others weren’t content until they had ended nature itself, still others until they’d built cities in space. We all rested eventually, though. Each new technology trampled lesser ones, climbed to some complacent asymptote, and stopped — until my own mother packed herself away like a larva in honeycomb, softened by machinery, robbed of incentive by her own contentment.

      But history never said that everyone had to stop where we did. It only suggested that those who had stopped no longer struggled for existence. There could be other, more hellish worlds where the best Human technology would crumble, where the environment was still the enemy, where the only survivors were those who fought back with sharper tools and stronger empires. The threats contained in those environments would not be simple ones. Harsh weather and natural disasters either kill you or they don’t, and once conquered — or adapted to — they lose their relevance. No, the only environmental factors that continued to matter were those that fought back, that countered new strategies with newer ones, that forced their enemies to scale ever-greater heights just to stay alive.

      Ultimately, the only enemy that mattered was an intelligent one.

      And if the best toys do end up in the hands of those who’ve never forgotten that life itself is an act of war against intelligent opponents, what does that say about a race whose machines travel between the stars?

      • Alphaceph says:

        > My thoughts are that there are probably no alien civilizations within a reasonable distance of us in time and space.

        yup. I completely agree.

        Most likely the entire observable universe contains only us, but perhaps elsewhere, 10^15-10^30 light years away or so, there are other intelligent species.

    • Utopn Naxl says:

      There are a lot of solutions to this, some more exotic then others.

      But rest assured, by the probabilities involved in creating intelligent life, and mankinds ability to detect signs of life tens even hundreds of light years away, we will never discover anything out there, unless its really really really technologically exotic. But nothing SETI can detect.

      It all depends on us assuming they use some type of radio and communication system similar to the type of radio invented in the early 1900’s, only really became common in the 1940’s, and started dying out in the 2000’s. Basically, only about 70ish years for a civilization to use such energy-inefficient means of communication that might might might be detectable by others.

      The probabilities in SETI detection are really really bad. As in I would rather bet on flipping 50+ coins in a row and getting all heads bad. And that’s just the type of radio communications that *can* be measured past 50 light years anyways. A lot becomes near pure background noise after less then 1 LY, and most types before 100 LY.

      http://www.bidstrup.com/seti.htm

      A cynical post worth reading.

      If I were to bet on something, it would just be NASA, or amatuers, or other world governments just noticing something out there that’s unusual and then going from there. Strange macro structure, or something like smart space dust somehow being seen traveling. AKA, just routine research that finds something interesting.

      Which is the best way science goes, anyways.

  17. Daniel Speyer says:

    Do you have genetic sequencing data you want to use irresponsibly? Do you find grep and raw VCFs unpleasant?

    Then you might want to use DNA Compass. A GUI tool one of my labmates wrote which makes it easy to look inside VCF files.

  18. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    I’ve found two more Harry Potter Methods of Rationality hateblogs. Well, actually, they are more like Let’s Read hatethreads, but the same principle applies. The first is “The Wizard of Woah and Irrational Methods of Irrationality”, which is complete (though the index only goes up to chapter 16). The second is “Estro reads: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (No Spoilers)”, which goes up to chapter 7 and appears to be dead. This is on top of the previous blogs and threads I had already documented.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Are there any reads / summaries which don’t quote massive blocks of HPMOR?

      For the same reason that I couldn’t force myself to read any of the original fic, having that there makes it very difficult to read the summaries. I know it sounds like hyperbole but the way it’s written actually feels unpleasant and slimy to the point that it’s easier for me just to close the browser tab than keep going.

      It’s weird because I read other YudFic like the Sword of Good without having a reaction like that. I don’t know exactly what it is that’s so offensive about it.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        I have the same reaction to it, I think there is something unpleasant about reading something that is transparently pandering to both me and Eliezer.

        Harry is transparently based upon a typical less wrong reader and every single reference is to a mainstream anime or science fiction story, he is also right about everything and routinely lectures adults.

        • Diadem says:

          Actually Harry is wrong about nearly everything, nearly all the time. He does love to lecture adults, but when doing so he often ends up making a fool out of himself. For most of the story he gets completely outplayed by the adults, though they often let him think he’s winning.

          The problem I suppose is that this doesn’t really become clear until chapter 10 or so. So if you’ve only read a few chapters I can see why you’d get that impression.

          Harry does get slightly less arrogant after chapter 10, but only slightly. If you found Harry’s attitude offputting, but you want to give the story another chance, I recommend reading until chapter 12 or so. If by that point you still find it offputting, then it’s probably not the story for you.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Diadem
            If you found Harry’s attitude offputting, but you want to give the story another chance, I recommend reading until chapter 12 or so.

            Has anyone done a ‘What Has Gone Before’ summary to get to Chapter 13?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Actually Harry is wrong about nearly everything, nearly all the time. He does love to lecture adults, but when doing so he often ends up making a fool out of himself.

            Ok, but does that actually make it any less irritating?

            The issue isn’t (just) that he’s a transparent author insert, but also that him and his stepdad are just absolutely insufferable to listen to. To paraphrase Charles Sonnenberg’s pithy description of Wesley Crusher, Harry Potter-Evans-Verres is “the reason toilet bowls are built to accommodate a human head.”

            There are a lot of characters who manage to be intriguing and charming while being very clever and arrogant about it. Sherlock Holmes and derived characters like Gregory House are good examples of that being done well. You can even pull it off with reasonably-plausible child characters the way Orson Scott Card did. But this story simply fails to do so and suffers because of it.

            (Also, I don’t accept “he’s meant to be an unlikable little prick, so that you can see him grow out of it later” as an explanation. The fact that you know a story element is bad doesn’t make is any better. Just lazier.)

          • Pan Narrans says:

            @houseboatonstyxb

            Without bothering to actually check, I suspect that a “What Has Gone Before” would cause you to skip some of Chekhov’s guns, much as the film adaptations of the original books managed to do.

          • Guy says:

            @Dr Dealgood:

            I find that Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell does a very good job having one unpleasant and apparently main character for a while before making him sympathetic. It manages this by almost never giving you his perspective directly, by surrounding him with substantially more likable characters, by very clearly not being on his side, and by being an absolute riot to read.

          • pku says:

            @Guy:

            I kind of agree, but I also really liked Mr. Norrell. I think they pull it off because he’s so clearly socially awkward and fearful. He’s the total opposite of HJPEV’s arrogance. (Strange is a bit more like HJPEV, but not really enough to be unlikable.)

          • Guy says:

            Huh. I just found Norrell to be a huge asshole to everyone in a very unnecessary way, right up until his speech at the end on the Raven King. (Norrell would be my favorite character in the last three or four chapters, if only several other characters weren’t also doing things that I love at the time). Whereas Strange is sometimes a bit oblivious, but has a degree of tact most of the time.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          he is also right about everything and routinely lectures adults.

          Not only is he right about everything, he’s an eleven-year-old boy who only just found out magic is real. I don’t care how intellectual he is, there’s no way he’s going to be able to just waltz in and prove his teachers wrong about everything in his first term of school.

          • Jugemu Chousuke says:

            I feel like this complaint would have more weight in an original setting, but the main reason for HJPEV’s precocious/obnoxious side is to have fun poking at the silly elements of the pre-existing setting.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            He only did that once, with the time machines. Every other time he is either proven wrong or finds out the situation is more complex than he thought.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I feel like this complaint would have more weight in an original setting, but the main reason for HJPEV’s precocious/obnoxious side is to have fun poking at the silly elements of the pre-existing setting.

            I’m all in favour of poking fun at the silly elements of the Harry Potter universe, but if the way you’re going to do it is by having a character going around outsmarting everyone, you should make sure that the character in question could credibly be able to outsmart everyone. An eleven-year-old boy who only found out about magic a few weeks ago isn’t really the right sort of character for that.

            He only did that once, with the time machines. Every other time he is either proven wrong or finds out the situation is more complex than he thought.

            There was that partial-transfiguration thing as well. I can’t recall any other specific examples, since it’s been years since I tried to read HPMOR, but I do recall getting a distinct feeling that “Harry Potter in this is such a smug, obnoxious Mary Sue, I really can’t be standing him.”

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            There was that partial-transfiguration thing as well.

            He didn’t just “waltz in” on that one. He worked very hard for months on several experiments and that was the one that succeeded.

            The time machine stuff was instantaneous and actually made him think something like “It’s official, everyone else is stupid”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Overturning a long-established magical axiom a few months after starting high school is a pretty Mary Sue-ish thing to do, even if he did loads of experiments in that time.

          • Pan Narrans says:

            @ Mr. X

            “An eleven-year-old boy who only found out about magic a few weeks ago isn’t really the right sort of character for that.”

            It’s strongly suggested in the story – and confirmed elsewhere – that the difference is that he’s an eleven-year-old who understands the scientific method in a very small country (magical Britain being assumed to only have one school) that thinks it has no need of it. It’s kind of like a superpower.

            I will say that the overall story works very well. I will also say that I got to like Harry roundabout him boarding the Hogwarts Express, and if I hadn’t there’s no way I’d have finished the story, so I find it very understandable that many people don’t enjoy it.

          • Ryan Beren says:

            “An eleven-year-old boy who only found out about magic a few weeks ago isn’t really the right sort of character for that.”

            Yeah, which is why that description turns out to be incomplete in an extremely major way. But that’s a major spoiler from near the end of the story that I don’t want to be too explicit about.

          • Guy says:

            @Ryan: can you ROT13 it? I’m curious and don’t believe in spoilers.

          • Alex says:

            I’m all in favour of poking fun at the silly elements of the Harry Potter universe, but if the way you’re going to do it is by having a character going around outsmarting everyone, you should make sure that the character in question could credibly be able to outsmart everyone. An eleven-year-old boy who only found out about magic a few weeks ago isn’t really the right sort of character for that.

            But isn’t it the other way round? The adults in canon HP universe are written so that they can be completely figured by an 11 year old because that is the target demographic of the books.

            It is not that HPMOR-Harry is unrealistically clever, it is that he resides in a universe where everyone else, with the exception of not-at-all-modelled-after-canon-Quirrel, is incredibly stupid.

            I guess this works for some audiences because that is exactly how they felt as kids: surrounded by incredibly stupid adults misusing the adult-childeren power hierarchy.

          • Pan Narrans says:

            @ Guy

            Here (everyone else, this is a massive spoiler for Methods of Rationality):

            Vg gheaf bhg gung Uneel vf rffragvnyyl Ibyqrzbeg – jub uvzfrys vf vaperqvoyl vagryyvtrag. Jura Ibyqrzbeg nggnpxrq Uneel nf n onol, ur qvqa’g pnfg gur Xvyyvat Phefr yvxr rirelbar nffhzrf, ur pnfg n zbqvsvrq Ubepehk gung jvcrq gur onol’f zvaq naq ercynprq vgf jvgu n pbcl bs Ibyqrzbeg’f jvgubhg gur zrzbevrf.

            Rot 13 looks likeably demonic, doesn’t it?

          • Deiseach says:

            the difference is that he’s an eleven-year-old who understands the scientific method in a very small country

            Which assumes that the magical world has no researchers along its own lines, that everyone is just going by “it worked for Merlin twelve hundred years ago, that’s why we do it this way” and everyone is completely ignorant of the principles of their own art. Éliphas Lévi, might have been talking through his hat, but he put a lot of work into Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie. And since magic plainly does work in the Potterverse, we can’t dismiss their theoreticians as ignoramuses (unless you’re going for “levitation spells work by harnessing the scientific principle of anti-gravity”, in which case do tell me more about your pseudo-science you just pulled out of your backside to save the appearances, dear sir).

            Which if you know anything about alchemy and the involved series of references and studies that field contains, is laughable.

            Saying “Harry P-E-V triumphs in magic because he understands SCIENCE!!!” is like saying “Harry P-E-V triumphs in law/music/investment banking/dog training because he understands SCIENCE!!!” You cannot just walk in to something you never knew of, decide “the skills I already have are better than anyone here possesses” and start making astounding discoveries and great progress.

            Now, if HPEV is meant to be like Victor Frankenstein, who headed off to university with a head stuffed full of old alchemical works and got a rude awakening to find that science marches on and his knowledge was so out of date as to be laughable, so that he dropped out in a fit of the sulks and started graverobbing and stitching corpses together, that would be a neat parallel. But I’ve seen nothing to indicate that that is the case, but rather that HPEV is meant to be the bright kid who revolutionises the magical world via Muggle principles.

            It’s a bit too reminiscent of all the American fanfiction turning the Harry Potter stories into “Hogwarts High” and using American school terminology and customs that are completely out of place in the setting for my tastes.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Saying “Harry P-E-V triumphs in magic because he understands SCIENCE!!!” is like saying “Harry P-E-V triumphs in law/music/investment banking/dog training because he understands SCIENCE!!!” You cannot just walk in to something you never knew of, decide “the skills I already have are better than anyone here possesses” and start making astounding discoveries and great progress.

            Y’know, I’ve just realised why HPMOR Harry is so insufferable. It’s because he’s essentially one of those annoying new atheist types who imagines that having a basic grasp of science somehow makes him an omnicompetent genius qualified to dismiss entire fields as wrong and to lecture people on why long-standing practitioners of said fields don’t know what they’re talking about. Basically he’s an Eliezer Yudkowsky self-insert, and about as fun to read as most authorial self-inserts.

            (Not to mention that for someone who goes on about the importance of science and re-evaluating your beliefs in the light of new evidence, he seems bizarrely dogmatic on certain points. He never wavers from his materialist atheism, despite living in a magical world full of ghosts, magical objects that can keep your soul around after the death of your body, magic stones that can bring back the souls of loved ones from the afterlife, and, in general, loads and loads of evidence that humans have souls which live on after death. The overall impression I got was that he doesn’t so much like science and rationality as the feeling of being smarter than everyone else. Re-evaluating his worldview would make him feel stupid, so he doesn’t do so, even if his professed principles would seem to require it.)

          • Re: ghosts, Harry actually does…for a chapter. The real problem is that the author can’t countenance the (frankly obvious and inescapable) in-universe proposition that in Harry Potter-verse, brains are not the actual seat of consciousness.

            There are actually more than a few cases like that, where the author really wants to poke at some kind of real-world scientific idea, but doesn’t actually engage the magical world of the books which would render it not a particularly fundamental or predictive idea.

        • Deiseach says:

          I can’t make myself read it because the extracts I have read make Harry Triple-Barrelled-Surname sound deeply unpleasant, and every other character as well. I have no idea what the Voldemort of that universe is like, but I rather fear that, should I start reading it, I might be cheering him on to win and crush them, crush them all!!!!

          I’m in agreement with Dr Dealgood; while he might be wrong about the magical word (despite thinking he’s so clever), the mundane world parts with his step/foster parents have them purring over how he’s so smart and talented and cleverer than his teachers and chortling over him being, quite frankly, an unpleasant little show-off who does need to be stuffed in a locker.

          • Alex says:

            I can’t make myself read it because the extracts I have read make Harry Triple-Barrelled-Surname sound deeply unpleasant, and every other character as well.

            HPMOR-Hermione is actually ok or even an improvement on canon-Hermione. I’ve said this before: I did really care for her and liked the arc dedicated to her best.

      • LPSP says:

        Same here doc, I read the sequences and Babyeaters just fine. They were great, but Hip-more is odious.

    • yli says:

      Just so this thread doesn’t create a false impression that everyone who comments here dislikes HPMOR… I’m a fan. Harry is an entertaining character to read about. It’s okay that he’s overpowered. This is because

      1) He’s acknowledged to be an abnormal genius, and there’s a reason why he’s that way, revealed later.
      2) He does not effortlessly get what he wants. He faces serious obstacles, problems and losses. Tension is maintained. (Things are harder for Harry than they are for Ender in *Ender’s Game* or for Paul in *Dune*).
      3) In particular, Quirrell is a major character who’s smarter and more powerful than him, and acts as a foil.

      It’s okay that he’s similar to Eliezer. Of course Eliezer thinks that everyone smart, rational and benevolent enough would share his opinions. He wouldn’t hold those opinions if he didn’t. In particular, the transhumanism is not embarassing. It’s a ray of light. There should be more writing that’s as straightforwardly transhumanist, without ever even using the word “transhumanism”.

      The mysteries and subsequent revelations are good. The worldbuilding, extending Rowling’s universe, is good. The tension of trying to figure out how he’s gonna make it out of this one is good.

      The ending is disappointing. It introduces new plot elements without enough foreshadowing and leaves questions unanswered. This is irrelevant to most posters above me though, since they didn’t read that far. I was also annoyed at Harry’s arrogance at a few points. It didn’t ruin it for me.

  19. sharad-waador says:

    Is there still a “no race or gender on the Open Thread” rule?

    A friend recently advised me that she’s realized she’s transgender and will be starting to present herself as female. She’s a good friend, and I don’t want to make her uncomfortable by asking awkward questions. But I do have awkward questions about transgendering in general. Where’s a good place to ask this sort of thing?

    I want to avoid the thing described here: “A cis person might innocently ask “Hey, isn’t using chromosomal sex as a proxy for gender a pretty elegant system which is much easier than all of this stuff about different identities?” because they really want to know and their local trans person seems like a good person to debate with. Meanwhile, the trans person might have had this exact debate two thousand times, find it personally insulting, but not know how to disengage politely…”

    But, I also want to avoid having a conversation in which I get called “privileged” ten times and get told that I should just do whatever she asks without asking questions.

    I also would strongly prefer anonymous or lightweight identities.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      But, I also want to avoid having a conversation in which I get called “privileged” ten times and get told that I should just do whatever she asks without asking questions.

      Does your friend seem like the sort of person who would do this on any topic?

      That seems like the bigger issue. Thin skin and an itchy trigger finger on the ‘shitlord’ button are not what you want in a debate partner, even a perfectly disinterested one. Frankly, they’re not very admirable traits for a friend to have in general.

      Anyway good luck with your situation.

      • Sid says:

        I think that sentence referred to the possible reaction of some third parties; the reason for avoiding asking the friend directly is the fear of making her uncomfortable.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      But I do have awkward questions about transgendering in general. Where’s a good place to ask this sort of thing?

      I hate to give cliched answers like “Wikipedia” or “just Google ‘transgender,'” but that’s probably as good a place as any to start. Though it’s tough to rely on that as well because it’s all very individualized and it sometimes feels like the rules are constantly changing. But to avoid offending anyone it seems like the main thing is just to call people whatever pronoun they’re comfortable with (which you’re already doing, it seems).

      It could help to directly ask her (if you haven’t already) how comfortable she is talking about trans issues and whether she’d find it awkward to be asked questions or if she’s okay with it.

    • doubleunplussed says:

      You could try /r/asktransgender

    • Sarah says:

      If you just have some intrusive questions and want to make sure you only ask them of knowledgeable people who are comfortable answering intrusive questions then /r/asktransgender is a good place.

      If you have some objections to the concept of someone being transgender and want to hash them out respectfully then I’ve seen productive debates on this topic on /r/changemyview.

    • Guy says:

      You could also just start with the meta question: “Is it ok if I ask you awkward questions about being trans?”

    • Diadem says:

      While people quickly get tired of explaining personal details to every random acquaintance they have, they rarely get tired of explaining things to good friends. So if you should ask questions to her kind of depends on how well you know her. Asking questions as a good friend out of true curiosity is rarely offensive.

      That being said, if you just want to know more technical, generic stuff, that applies to transgender in general and not just her in particular, asking on the internet is a good idea. Others have already listed good places where such questions could be asked.

  20. R Flaum says:

    Is there a good way for someone with awful facial recognition to train to improve it?

    • rubberduck says:

      Are you concerned strictly with facial recognition, or the more practical matter of recognizing people you’ve met? I don’t know of any ways to train straight facial recognition, but if trying to recognize people there’s a host of other traits you can try to focus on and see if you have more luck (voice, gait, build, specific facial features, etc.)

      • R Flaum says:

        Yes, people I’ve met. I do focus on other traits to some extent, especially voice. I hadn’t thought of gait, though.

    • Seb Nickel says:

      On the off chance that you’re not yet aware of the term “prosopagnosia”, you may want to use it in your google searches. (Not knowing the relevant keywords is often a big hurdle in researching a topic.)

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Once I had to learn a bunch of name/face combinations quickly, so I took pictures and made flashcards. YMMV.

    • Jill says:

      Is Face-Blindness Curable?
      https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/eyes-the-brain/201007/is-face-blindness-curable

      If the problem is just having a hard time associating names with faces, it’s a common problem. I notice that some people commenting above, solve it by associating features e.g. curvy hair or curvy body with the name e.g. Curvy Annie. I do that too. Strangely, it’s easier to remember 2 or 3 associated words than to remember one word. If the characteristic and the name begin with the same sound, then all the better e.g. brown eyed Barbara. Of course a lot of people have brown eyes. So maybe you try to notice something more rare that the person has– a sharp or soothing or shrill voice, a serious or jovial demeanor, unusually excellent posture, huge or tiny arms etc.

      Anyway, this often works for me.

    • caethan says:

      When I was teaching undergraduates, I got the pictures and names of the ones enrolled in my class from the university gradebook and set up an Anki deck. Linked up pictures and names in my head reliably within about a week, before the class started. Really really useful, especially for answering questions and (since I was teaching a CS class) keeping “James Zhang” and “John Zhang” straight.

      Pro tip: If you refer to people by their names the first day of class, they’ll get creeped out. If you do it the second day of class they’ll think you’re a genius.

      • Jill says:

        LOL, I can see how that would be, re: being the genius on the 2nd day of class.

        Interesting efficient sounding system or remembering there.

  21. Elijah says:

    What’s the general consensus here on hypnosis? Where do the confirmed uses stop and the self-help conning begin? How good is the current research on it? Bonus points for psychologists/neuroscientists/psychiatrists. More bonus points for practitioners. Super-bonus combo for both.

    Relevant literature for discussion here

    • Jill says:

      This has been asked before recently.

      If you’re really curious, you might take a class from a reputable organization and/or watch some You Tubes done by competent recognized people in the field.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g172y9KIu6Y

      There is plenty you can find by googling it, but you’d want to look for reputable sources rather than just whatever comes up.

      I am a psychotherapist and I respect others who are well trained who use hypnosis. But I do not, even though I’ve been trained in it, because it doesn’t fit my personality style, and because I find it too limiting. Although people like Scott Adams, the comic strip writer, like to believe that hypnosis– plus maybe persuasion– is whole of psychology, it’s actually only a very small part of it. Adams actually illustrates the limitations of hypnosis– and persuasion– very well in his blog, since he exhibits those limitations himself. Adams is totally clueless and unaware of how far he bends over backwards in order to make his admired father figure, Trump, look far more competent and benign than he actually shows himself to be.

      A lot of psychology has to do with helping people to become more aware of who they are, and less distressed about that and about other matters. “Know thyself” kind of stuff. When a psychotherapy client walks into the room, the therapist first needs to understand, and probably to empathize with, the person.

      It would usually be pointless to hypnotize them to be able to heal all their problems or change the things about themselves that they don’t like. Because, in most cases, they don’t actually understand what is really causing their problems, or what those problems actually are. Sometimes the really big problem is several layers deeper than what they originally think it is. Psychotherapy is sometimes more like archaeology than like hypnosis.

      Using hypnosis can help hypnotists or psychotherapist feel powerful, by giving them more actual power– but only within a very limited range. I already feel powerful as a psychotherapist, so I don’t need that. And I prefer to work within a wider range of issues than my hypnotist psychotherapist friends do.

    • jimmy says:

      I’m a practitioner. Sorta. I kinda stopped doing “hypnosis” (by name) when it just blended into “just talking to someone”, but the same processes are still there – just with different meta level considerations.

      When asking how “good” the literature is, it’s important to make a distinction between literature on “effectiveness” (e.g. “does hypnotherapy work to quit smoking?”) and literature on “mechanics” (“what, *exactly*, is going on when someone is hypnotised?”). The oxford handbook of hypnosis is a pretty good literature review, and there’s a good amount of it. I’ve never had much interest in the former type of research because it’s clear that they’re asking the wrong questions (I don’t care if *on average* hypnotists suck at getting people to quit. If they can get honest to god amnesia there’s something interesting there and I expect it to have leverage if used right. I want to know how the *best* do, but I haven’t seen research on that)

      The latter type of research, however, is quite interesting. They’ve done a lot of the smart first things to try (e.g. factor analysis to see if there are distinct “subsets” of hypnotic responsiveness”/brain scans) and there are some clever set ups using “fakers” compared to “high responders” that show differences. Reading through this kind of research has definitely helped me understand and actually succeed at it, but ultimately the real trick, once you master the basics, is in understanding the complex structures of cognition which are beyond this type of research.

      When asking about which “uses” are legit, it’s important to make a distinction between phenomena and structure. For example, if you’re asking “can you hypnotize someone to change their eye color?”, the answer is likely “no, restructuring cognition cannot affect that”. If you’re asking “can you hypnotize me to forget this traumatic event?”, the question isn’t over whether that as a phenomenon can exist (because it absolutely does) but whether it is wise, whether this particular “hypnotist” is capable of it, and whether the right tool to reorganize your cognition is even very “hypnotic”. This sorta gets at what Jill is talking about with wanting a more varied toolbox and working on a wider variety of issues.

      As far as “conning”, I think the main thing to watch out for is motivated cognition. Both on the hypnotists part and on what he’s trying to sell you on. If you have to “hope” or “try” to believe it’ll help, don’t. If they’re good at what they do and you’re a good fit, you’ll know. Personally, I wouldn’t go to a hypnotist at all, but that’s a much longer story.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        …but that’s a much longer story.

        So you should write it up for your blog.

        • jimmy says:

          I actually have that one mostly written up. Maybe I’ll finish it up and publish it.

          Thanks for the encouragement.

  22. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Ozy wrote a blog post called “Against Gwern On Stories” critizising Gwern’s “Culture is not about Aesthetics”. Since I often link to that essay, I thought I would look over Ozy’s post and analyse what Ozy sees as the benefits of news fiction.

    The first, about the value of a living fandom, is pretty valid, but note that it doesn’t contradict Gwern’s essay. If the value of new fiction comes from the community, not the work itself, then the work is nothing more than a useful Schelling point for coordinating the community and fiction is not about content. It also raises the question of whether there is another way to coordinate a community than watching the latest episode of an ongoing series or reading the latest book by a living author.

    Maybe a TV Czar could make everyone watch the same episode of an old show at the same time like I suggested earlier? And, come to think of it, compulsory public universal schooling pretty much acts like a Book Czar in that it forces everyone to read the great books of the Western canon, except that it doesn’t work too well for a number of reasons. Libertarian approaches can also work to some degree (note the success of my little SF Club at getting several people to read and discuss the same science fiction stories at the same time, even though most of them are old stories).

    Ozy’s second benefit is divided into three parts; language, technology, and values change, which make reading old fiction a different experience than reading new fiction. I agree that old language is more difficult and less enjoyable to read than current language, but note that Ozy puts the cutoff point for reasonably modern language at 1900. That still leaves more than a century of fiction with reasonably modern language to read, including all the Hugo and Nebula award winners and nominees that Gwern used as an example of several years’ worth of already existing good reading material, and including the entire history of television and movies.

    I don’t find that technological changes diminish the reading experience. If the work is an earthfic, then I just treat it as unintentional historical fiction, and if it’s science fiction then I treat it as unintentional alternative history. I dunno, do other people have a strong preference for reading fiction in which characters use cellphones and Facebook?

    And as for social change, well… that’s a feature, not a bug.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Maybe to you that’s a feature but you can’t dismiss everyone’s else preferences so simply. What’s wrong with someone wanting a character like themselves in a story?

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      I agree that old language is more difficult and less enjoyable to read than current language, but note that Ozy puts the cutoff point for reasonably modern language at 1900. That still leaves more than a century of fiction with reasonably modern language to read, including all the Hugo and Nebula award winners that Gwern used as an example of several years’ worth of already existing good reading material, and including the entire history of television and movies.

      But what about our future? The language of 1900 will sound difficult and unpleasantly old by 2100. If we don’t make new books and movies now, what are they supposed to read and watch?

      And as for social change, well… that’s a feature, not a bug.

      It’s great that we get to preserve ancient valuable social norms through fiction, but again, what about the future? The valuable social norms of today may not be preserved very well if people don’t write fiction about it today.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        The essay argues against subsidies such as copyright for fictional works, not in favor of outright banning new fiction. People would still write books and stories, just fewer. So no professional authors, but still people putting up novels that they wrote on their spare time on their websites.

        Not sure that movies or shows could survive, though, beyond a handful amateur projects on YouTube.

    • Skef says:

      Something left out, or at least pushed to the side, of this analysis is the maturity of a genre. It may be that once a given genre has been around long enough to be widely explored by those working in it, reading something from last year or 40 or 100 years ago can be, if not the same, at least comparable. But early works in mature genres often seem jarringly clunky. Early sci-fi can seem like that now. Or,you know.

      • Guy says:

        Indeed. Much of the classic sci-fi I’ve read is (or seems to me to be) just plain bad. I think early, pulpy science fiction is especially vulnerable to the problem because it doesn’t want to sound like “literature”, and some parts of “sounds like literature” are “the prose sounds good”.

    • Jugemu Chousuke says:

      To the extent that stories are meant to be morality plays and not just entertainment (which to my mind is very significant), it’s important that they reflect the modern world, at least as a starting point.

      I do think also think that stories that reflect modern science and technology are worthwhile, especially in science fiction.

      Finally, just because a lot of fiction has already been created doesn’t mean that there are many, if any, near-optimal works. More creation means more chances at something X standard deviations above average.

    • switchnode says:

      I had not previously read that Gwern essay, but I have been saying for years (only half in jest) that we ought to ban the publication of science fiction novels for the next half-century, with much the same reasoning. (I would have permitted short fiction.) On the general topic of a glut of tolerable fiction, I am reminded of Elif Batuman’s essay on ‘programme’ work.

      Technological change in fiction is, I think, immaterial (hard SF aside). If the characters do not have the technology of the “present day”, then the book is set not in the present day but yesterday; that is that and it is not more or less enjoyable because of it.

      (By sheer weight of numbers, most of the books I read as a child were old; when I had blown through the best of the backlog and started picking up books with references to events only a few years previous, which I actually remembered, I was rather discomfited. Newspapers were fast, television was fast, the internet was fast! Books were supposed to be slow.)

      The argument by social change is probably the best. I find myself represented in personality and ideology, not demographics, and I can tolerate a certain amount of bigotry for the sake of otherwise good writing. (Note that these are two separate issues. I have read an unusual amount of old fiction, and while many old books are themselves unabashedly racist, separately and in addition to coming from and depicting a racist society, many others are not.) But I can see how I might feel differently if I were part of a different group.

      • At a slight tangent, George Stigler makes essentially the same argument in one of his humorous essays. But it’s pretty clearly intended as a spoof, I think of planned obsolescence arguments.

      • Agronomous says:

        @switchnode:

        Newspapers were fast, television was fast, the internet was fast! Books were supposed to be slow.

        I just really liked this way of putting it.

    • switchnode says:

      A separate comment for a separate commentary:

      The general culture of fandom is really only loosely tied to any particular work (see the uninterrupted tradition since at least the ~60s zine era, or cf. ‘Migratory Slash Fans’). The Harry Potter books were a near-unique cultural event, both in their popular presence (almost ubiquitous among a demographic ripe for producing active-fans) and their timing (an extended pause at a crucial juncture in the plot at a time when fansites and mailing lists were suddenly available to most young people).

      And they were extremely well-suited to feed a variety of active-fan approaches: a good cast with reasonable opportunities for shipping, and a solid track record (before the fifth book) for theorizable puzzle-box plots, and a self-insertable world with pre-made templates in the form of the Hogwarts houses. (Never underestimate the template factor in drawing fandom, especially in younger demographics and in book fandoms with no pretty actors to follow around. I could point out half a dozen examples.)

      Harry Potter had a hell of a fandom, but I don’t think it’s an argument for continued production of literature on that basis, because it’s just not replicable. curl http://archiveofourown.org/media/Books%20*a*%20Literature/fandoms 2>&1 | tac | sed -n '/\s([0-9]*)/{s/ *(\([0-9]*\))/\1/;N;s/\n/ /;s/\(.*\)/\1/;p}' | sort -n prints the book fandoms on Ao3 by number of fanfics. HP leads. The only fandom in the same order of magnitude is “Sherlock Holmes & Related Fandoms”, which is almost entirely the Sherlock TV series*; after that comes Tolkein (old!), Doctor Who and Star Wars (not books!), “Arthurian Mythology & Related Fandoms” (almost entirely the Merlin TV show, and otherwise old!), and more Tolkein. The nearest modern series on the list is ASOIAF, which (book and TV show combined) has one-third the works of HP. I’m not in the fandom, but I can’t imagine it has a community the same size.

      * Because of the way Ao3 works, most multimedia franchises have a “Related Fandoms” or “All Media Types” tag that mashes non-book with book canons. (And that’s just when authors don’t mistag their own works—one quarter of the first-page results for “Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle” are also tagged (and clearly written for) “Sherlock (TV)”. It’s a pain. The 616-not-MCU and HDM-not-Daemons-AUs people have it even worse.)

      The rest of book fandom is an occasionally rewarding but mostly long and lonely tail. If you want to ship, or speculate, you’re better off watching TV… which will probably stick around for a while yet on its own market merits.

    • Jill says:

      James, I expect you meant a fan community, not just a community here “the question of whether there is another way to coordinate a community than watching the latest episode of an ongoing series or reading the latest book by a living author.” However, I do wonder if story is the main way of coordinating communities in general, or an essential part of that.

      The author of the excellent recent book Sapiens, below, theorizes that homo sapiens became successful due to the ability of our brains to invent complex fictions– and then to trust one another in large numbers, so that we could band together to form nations, scientific institutions and organizations, art, literature, religions, political parties etc. Basically, homo sapiens had strength in numbers due to the ability to invent complex fictions, and then all trust each other because we all believed in the same lies.

      https://www.amazon.com/Sapiens-Humankind-Yuval-Noah-Harari/dp/0062316095/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472485033&sr=8-1&keywords=Sapiens

    • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

      I mean, this assumes people want to read any fiction in some general category rather than a specific story that sounds interesting. Alternately it might be a preferences vs hedonism thing.

      Plus it ignores the benefit to authors who enjoy writing new stories.

    • DavidS says:

      Responding to Gwern rather than Ozy, I’d challenge on the ‘new books can’t be replaced by old books’ point.

      Most fundamentally, because the logic of Gwern’s argument seems to treat all books as on a single scale of goodness, which just doesn’t follow. I read different genres/kinds of books for different reasons, and modern ones are noticeably different to older ones, both within genres and because there are essentially new genres that crop up. At the most obvious level, there are books that are not considered ‘great’ that are allowed and of interest now and wouldn’t have been before (in the English speaking world anyway), and so were rare if they existed at all. E.g. a lot of recent crime writing is much more gruesome and brutal than what went before. I think in some ways the advantages of modernity are clearer for ‘page-turners’ which might be seen as having lower ‘literary quality’. But those page-turners have a very clear place and can’t just be replaced with older books.

      But I also think modern quality books, e.g. good scifi or ‘literary fiction’ feels different to older ‘classics’ or whatever. There are literary techniques that seem to me to be recent developments. I’ve never read things from before the 50s or whatever that have the SORT of quality you get in David Mitchell’s work, say.

      I think the case for this is clearer by analogy to other art forms. I can think that the ‘best’ music is Bach, but still want to boogie on down to 80s cheese, or for that matter listen to interesting new indie stuff. The issue is incommensurability rather than simply ‘new books are better’. And I can enjoy classics AND both modern quality literature and modern tat.

      Also, I think the different bits of the argument undermine each other somewhat. There are some great books that have stood the test of time, sure. But there are issues with those – Gwern mentions spoilers, but I’d add things like not seeming surprising because we’re used to the tropes which they invented. And when he says we can just read less well-known old books: haven’t they failed the test of time? Plus there are things that are bound up with the temporality of books: e.g. the enjoyment of anticipating the next in the series coming out, or the shared experience you get when teenagers are all reading a book that their parents don’t know about.

      • “E.g. a lot of recent crime writing is much more gruesome and brutal than what went before.”

        Is that true? I’m judging largely by Orwell’s description of contemporary American crime fiction, which sounded very gruesome and brutal indeed, in “Raffles and Miss Blandish.”

  23. Primadant says:

    Academic self-selection is one of the major reason why I don’t trust the social sciences too much. If you’re not a leftist, believe that genetics matter or don’t like pointless jargon you won’t become a sociologist. If you’re a leftist or don’t like pointless mathematization and obviously false assumptions you’ll avoid becoming an economist. If you’re not a liberal and don’t believe in “voodoo psychology” and the limitless power of the unconscious you won’t go into psychology. Thus we have biased social sciences from the beginning.
    The obvious solution is to randomly assign their field of study to people when they enter grad school.

    • Are you serious about the last bit?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Not just social sciences. If you don’t believe in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, you won’t become a climate scientist.

      • fubarobfusco says:

        Similarly, if you don’t believe in evolution, you won’t become a biologist.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Well you’d be surprised about that.

          I’ve met a few creationist geneticists, and not just out in the boonies. Worked under one for a while actually. He wasn’t a bad scientist per se but his beliefs did close off some interesting avenues of inquiry.

          • Anaxagoras says:

            The head of NIH is an evangelical, though I don’t know his views on creationism. I can’t think he disbelieves in evolution, so he probably ascribes to some compatabilist version.

        • Pan Narrans says:

          And those who don’t believe in gravity will probably avoid physics.

  24. Wrong Species says:

    Disclaimer: arrogant rant that doesn’t say anything new

    It is starting to depress me how little people actually care about rationality. I’ve been having discussions with people on the “burqini” bans and they seemed to think it wasn’t a bad idea. Then I would point out issues with freedom of religion and they said something to the effect of not even realizing that. The first amendment, one of the most important values in the US, doesn’t even register until you explicitly mention it. In other cases, people will flat out contradict themselves and it doesn’t even seem to phase them in the slightest, even when you point it out. I know a guy who makes fun of the fact that I tend to look up information on the internet rather than just spouting off some meaningless crap as if I knew what I was talking about. Sometimes I feel like “normal” people are just philosophical zombies, just reacting to external stimulus without any thought to what they are doing and absolutely no self awareness. And when we criticize them for this, they just look at us like we’re just some bizarre aliens who don’t “get it”. How do you all deal this, other than separating yourselves from them?

    • yup says:

      beats me.

      took me years to realise that most people dont have a consistent worldview and further that they dont care that they dont.

      but then again it also took me years to realise that you dont have to mean it when you say thankyou. i used to get into a lot of trouble as a kid for that one, it was such a relief when i worked it out.

    • Jugemu Chousuke says:

      There’s a theory of moral stages: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kohlberg%27s_stages_of_moral_development

      To the extent the theory is true, it sounds like your interlocutors haven’t reached the stage of universal principles.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        It’s not so much a theory as a piece of creative fiction. The ultimate stage of moral development is… being a Kantian? Seriously?

    • Loeer expectations. Most self described rationalists are terrible at rationality, too.

      • Of course. It is always helpful to separate epistemical and instrumental rationality. Someone who agrees with Mary that the weather is terrible, and then with John that it is great, has made two friends even if they have sacrificed a consistent set of opinions.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Maybe. But have you noticed that smarter people tend to do these so called “instrumentally rational” things less than dumb people? And if dumb people are really that self-aware they are doing a really good job at hiding it. I’ve never heard a dumb person say something like “I know my opinions are contradictory but I care about my friendships too much to care about he truth”. It’s far more likely for an intelligent person to talk about the relativity of truth.

          • Well, yes for appropriate values of “smart”.

          • DavidS says:

            I think people can have practical ‘wisdom’ for want of a better word, about what strategies work in life, without expressing these in a very abstracted way.

            Intelligent people, or at least ‘intellectuals’ in the sense of people who identify with intelligence/thought are more likely to talk about the relativity of truth because they’re more likely to talk about abstract concepts. Doesn’t mean that others don’t understand it.

            Disclaimer: unsurprisingly for this forum I’m in the ‘intellectual’ category. I just don’t think it has a monopoly on insight. It’s most useful for making insight explicit and breaking it down to allow challenge/analysis/readacross

      • Jill says:

        Very true. It is so very easy to see other people’s irrationality and inconsistencies, and not your own. See this excellent book for numerous examples.

        Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions Paperback – April 27, 2010
        by Dan Ariely

        https://www.amazon.com/Predictably-Irrational-Revised-Expanded-Decisions/dp/0061353248/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472485344&sr=8-1&keywords=predictable+irrationality

    • How are you at small talk? I ask because it took me several years of working in an office environment before I was able to small-talk reflexively. I remember in particular one moment in which I was thinking about something important I needed to do as soon as I got to my desk, and managed to navigate a full set of call-and-responses purely by reflex.

      As far as I can tell, quite a lot of people do almost all of their moral reasoning this way, without realizing they’re doing it. They have a set of cues and habits they use to tell if something or someone is Good or Bad, then follow them.

      And just as most people reply “Fine, and you?” to “Hey, how are you?” without thinking deeply about the question, so do most people reply to questions of morality.

      And the problem is that most of the ways you can use to shake people out of the cliched responses get heard not as “I am trying to dig deeper into why you’re saying this.”, but “I am attacking you!”

      • Jill says:

        Indeed, any form of questioning or disagreement can sometimes be seen as an attack. Under all the supposed adult sophistication, most people just want to fit in with each other and feel comfortable and maybe agree with one another, or pretend to.

        And most people are not even very curious about things. If you are, it’s quite important to understand that this is not true of most people, so you don’t keep being surprised.

        Why get your blood pressure up unnecessarily?

    • herbert herbertson says:

      What does a normative value difference like freedom of religion vs. enforced secularism have to do with “rationality”? Like, I wouldn’t support a burqini ban in my country, but that’s because of my personal, value-based opinions on global politics, not because I’m any more logical or rational than people who would support it.

      • Gil says:

        I think what is meant by ‘rational’ here is applying a consistent set of principles to all cases. So people claim to support freedom of non-violent religious practice, but support banning a particular religious garment. They’re engaging in doublethink and they’re probably not even aware of it; they’re not systematic enough to detect that ahead of time. And instinctually most of them probably don’t feel there’s anything wrong with the contradiction either.

        The vast majority of people’s willingness to extent rights, courtesies, and privileges, are context specific.

        That said I don’t consider a fear of the cultural influences ‘the other’, as a value in of itself, to be any more rational than a preference for universality of all moral principles.

        • Jill says:

          Good points. It’s easy too, for a person to mistakenly think that rationality equals a preference for universality of THEIR OWN variety of moral principles. As Garrett mentions below, common French vs. common U.S. moral principles may be different.

          Maybe you are really concerned about freedom of religion. Maybe others are not. Or they are– but some other principle e.g. the importance of discouraging anti-enlightenment religions and philosophies that they associate with violence and terrorism– takes priority.

          The problem I have with rationalists myself, is that they can be clueless to the incredible importance of emotions in people’s decisions. E.g. if someone has an intense fear of terrorism, that’s probably going to override any abstract philosophical principles they have. And going round and round arguing with them about philosophical principles can end up being a dead end– a very very long and frustrating dead end.

    • Garrett says:

      One thing I would point out is that there’s a difference between the concept of secularism as embodied in the US vs. Laïcité in France.
      In the US the burkini would not be able to be restricted in public – it fulfills the legal minimums for clothing so you’re good to go.
      In France it may be viewed as a public demonstration of religion and thus restricted under the premise that religion should be a private affair.

      I have difficulty in choosing the “lesser evil” for this case. The burkini is a western adaptation of an anti-enlightenment religion and philosophy which holds women as second-class citizens, a mode of thought which almost certainly needs to be challenged. At the same time, banning an individual choice is also evil.

      • Fahundo says:

        The burkini is a western adaptation of an anti-enlightenment religion and philosophy which holds women as second-class citizens, a mode of thought which almost certainly needs to be challenged.

        Modes of thought should be challenged with other modes of thought, not with the force of law.

      • Deiseach says:

        The burkini is a western adaptation of an anti-enlightenment religion and philosophy which holds women as second-class citizens

        At the same time if women choose to wear burkinis, that’s their perogative. Saying that a religion that mandates women have to dress a certain way is oppressive so we’re going to force you to dress a certain way is not consistent. How is it more liberal and greater freedom of choice if women are told “You can either stay inside your house and never go outside and dress as you like, or you can dress subject to what we think are reasonable secular standards and moreover we will enforce these standards by law”? Although the courts seem to have overturned the various bans by local authorities on wearing burkinis on public beaches, which is at least something – imagine forcing women visiting a beach to go home because they’re wearing swimming costumes deemed offensive by having too much covering!

        As was pointed out on another site, saying women going bare-breasted on nudist beaches are upholding public standards of modesty but women wearing full-covering bathing suits are dangerous attacks on social standards is rather topsy-turvy!

        • Randy M says:

          There are social standards besides modesty. Islamic dress is not deemed offensive for being immodest, but for being a symbol of an foreign expansionist ideology/nation.

          • Gravitas Shortfall says:

            but, as said upthread, shouldn’t this be fought in the realm of ideas, and not in the realm of law?

    • Liberté, égalité, fraternité says:

      The first amendment, one of the most important values in the US, doesn’t even register until you explicitly mention it.

      Not defending the Burqini ban, but what does the first amendment have to do with a law being imposed in France? If your claim is that French society ought to approach freedom of religion in the same way the US does, that’s a reasonable position, but you have to actually make that argument. It’s possible for one to believe that the American conception of freedom of religion is the right choice for America, without believing that it’s also the right choice for every other country. (I am not taking a position on that argument; merely pointing out that it is a possibility.)

      • Wrong Species says:

        I’m just using the first amendment as a metaphor for freedom of religion. Generally people believe that important values aren’t country specific and if these people believe otherwise, they don’t mention it. I shouldn’t have used that argument without elaborating. It’s not that I think being pro burqini ban and praising freedom of speech is necessarily irrational, it’s just that these people don’t even bother to make a nuanced argument because as far as I can tell, they are incapable and/or unwilling. And that’s what depresses me.

      • BBA says:

        Article 10 of the French Declaration of Rights: “No one may be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious ones, as long as the manifestation of such opinions does not interfere with the established Law and Order.”

        A coherent conceptualization of freedom of religion, but a far cry from “free exercise” in the American sense.

    • Sandy says:

      On the subject of people contradicting themselves wrt burqinis, what’s up with the argument that progressive Muslim women can consciously choose to wear burqas/hijabs/burkinis for purposes of personal empowerment? Sure, maybe they can, but popular views among modern Western feminists include that girls who avoid careers in math/science/engineering or women who choose traditional wife/mother life roles are doing so at least in part because of (or immersed in the environment of) ever-present patriarchal norms that define how they should live. It is an acknowledged fact that the world’s most powerful Muslim authorities (all male) have imposed the veil upon women for reasons that would easily qualify as patriarchal. Is it just assumed as fact that Muslim women who choose to wear these garments out of what is allegedly their own free will are immune to the thick patriarchal miasma that surrounds us all?

      • Jill says:

        Interesting issues to think about. One part of this is that even if these women are influenced heavily by their patriarchy, maybe the actual choice they have is whether to go to the beach in a burkini vs. don’t go at all vs. go to the beach in Western beach attire and then be beaten or mistreated later by their husband or by the patriarchs at their mosque or somewhere. So it would seem that then their best available choice would be to go to the beach in a burkini. And it would be good if the law allowed that.

        • Sandy says:

          So if their choices are “submit in entirety to the patriarchy” or “submit partially to the patriarchy while gaining some concessions”, their choice may be internally consistent; but for Western feminists, would it not be more ideologically faithful to back the position that ensures the least patriarchal influence?

          I understand why Muslim women wear burqas. I don’t understand why Western feminists oppose certain dress codes and defend others. Or I understand it, but I think it’s a betrayal of their own ideology.

          • herbert herbertson says:

            Is it really that hard to imagine why some feminists might not be comfortable with a public policy that bars women from certain spaces unless they’re adequately unclothed?

            Also, this should go without saying, but all feminists are not the same and there can be very profound differences between them, particularly between the ones that come from a very liberal perspective (women should be able to do whatever their individual whims want) vs. the ones that come from a more Marxisty-perspective (some things that superficially look like womens’ free choices should be scrutinized in light of patriarchal cultural influences)

          • Jill says:

            The position that ensures the least patriarchal influence for the average Muslim women is to let them wear it, because otherwise they may be forced to stay home, or may be abused if they wear Western clothing– either of which would be overwhelming patriarchal influence. Of course there are a few Muslim women who can exercise choice over what they wear and so they will, and the laws regarding what to wear won’t hurt them any.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Is it really that hard to imagine why some feminists might not be comfortable with a public policy that bars women from certain spaces unless they’re adequately unclothed?

            This would be a more convincing argument if feminists hadn’t just spent decades deriding the less-revealing women’s clothing of yesteryear as patriarchal repression.

            Alternate explanation: the ability among modern political activists to oppose a thing without supporting a legal ban on that thing has withered away, leaving them unable to express a coherent viewpoint on issues like this.

          • Mary says:

            I’ve actually run across a description of the ban being required by “public morals”.

            Yup, girls, it’s immoral not to show enough skin in the eyes of government officials.

          • Mary says:

            This would be a more convincing argument if feminists hadn’t just spent decades deriding the less-revealing women’s clothing of yesteryear as patriarchal repression.

            ah, but — the same feminists?

          • Deiseach says:

            for Western feminists, would it not be more ideologically faithful to back the position that ensures the least patriarchal influence?

            It’s not any less patriarchal when it’s men making the laws about “you must uphold laïcité by your dress”.

            I don’t think anyone would say “We’re beating the patriarchy!” by supporting measures that “Everyone must dress in patriotic costume for the Fourth of July, men must wear American flag lapel pins, women must wear American flag spaghetti-strap mini-dresses!” simply because the mini-dresses are less covering and more revealing.

      • dndnrsn says:

        On the one hand, there are definitely outspoken, accomplished, public-oriented, feminist-stamp-of-approval-having women who wear the hijab. There are definitely women who wear the hijab and seem to have a choice in what they wear (I remember seeing on campus a fair number of young women in hijabs whose attire, besides less cleavage/midriff, was basically standard stuff for a woman of that age – skin-tight jeans are hardly standard-issue Oppressive Patriarchy Wear).

        On the other hand, I have mostly heard the whole argument defending hijabs, niqabs, etc on feminist grounds from non-Muslim feminists who seem to be picking their side based on that being the one the right-wingers aren’t on. Meanwhile, right-wingers look at Muslims doing something they can agitate about, and all of a sudden they care deeply and truly about women’s rights (it’s heartwarming).

        • DavidS says:

          How do you know they’re “picking their side based on that being the one the right-wingers aren’t on”. By far the most common argument I’ve heard is ‘telling women what they can and can’t wear isn’t feminism/liberation’. This seems fairly consistent with most feminists.

          Lots of real life feminists I know feel very strongly that the ban is wrong even though most don’t exactly hope everyone starts wearing them. I think this is pretty consistent with mainstream feminism? You do get some ‘celebrating’ it, but I think that’s a mix of
          1. solidarity. Plenty of people said ‘je suis charlie’ who actually didn’t like Charlie Hebdo that much but disliked what happened to them more
          2. the fact this is a burkini ban, not a burka ban: so there’s a real argument that it’s hitting those who, while conservative, are engaging with the wider society (i.e. going off to beaches)

          • dndnrsn says:

            Their considerably chillier response to movements urging chastity, prudence, etc etc – let’s not pretend that covering women up isn’t about that – that can be perceived as “closer to home”. Part of a chillier response to Christian religious conservatism and fundamentalism than Muslim religious conservatism and fundamentalism* in general.

            *insofar as you can apply “fundamentalism” outside of the historical Protestant context of the word.

          • DavidS says:

            I can see completely in principle that people may well do that ‘closer to home is worse’ thing. But what I’ve seen from the burkini debate has not been ‘hurrah women being made to cover up’, it’s been ‘you shouldn’t force women to take clothes off at gunpoint’ (slightly misleading as Gendarmes are armed by default. Don’t know if this was such a big deal outside the UK where we have fewer armed police).

            There’s been some ‘actually, SOME women choose to, and even find it empowering’, but I think this is mostly just a reaction to others over-generalising about bikini wearers. I haven’t seen anyone saying they want more people to wear burkinis.

    • Fctho1e says:

      Then I would point out issues with freedom of religion and they said something to the effect of not even realizing that.

      You don’t care about ‘freedom of religion’ in a fight to the death, unless you want to lose by a great margin.
      http://europe.newsweek.com/16-french-citizens-support-isis-poll-finds-266795?rm=eu

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Interesting. Apparently there are approximately twice as many ISIS supporters in France as there are nominal Muslims, and ten times as many as there observant Muslims (observant meaning the fairly low standard of going to mosque once a week).

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      The first amendment, one of the most important values in the US, doesn’t even register until you explicitly mention it.

      My equally cynical take on this is that most people are pro free speech/freedom of religion when it benefits them or supports their own views, but will talk about the dangers of unrestrained free speech when it doesn’t benefit them. Or they just follow some vague gut sense of what the First Amendment is “really” meant to protect and when it’s being “misused,” and conveniently that usually aligns with when it benefits/doesn’t benefit them.

    • Franz_Panzer says:

      I keep having the same experience and keep resisting it every time. I do not want to believe it although it is palpable: the great majority of people lacks an intellectual conscience. Indeed, it has often seemed to me as if anyone calling for an intellectual conscience were as lonely in the most densely populated cities as if he were in a desert. Everybody looks at you with strange eyes and goes right on handling his scales, calling this good and that evil. Nobody even blushes when you intimate that their weights are underweight; nor do people feel outraged; they merely laugh at your doubts. I mean: the great majority of people does not consider it contemptible to believe this or that and to live accordingly, without first having given themselves an account of the final and most certain reasons pro and con, and without even troubling themselves about such reasons afterward: the most gifted men and the noblest women still belong to this “great majority.” But what is goodheartedness, refinement, or genius to me, when the person who has these virtues tolerates slack feelings in his faith and judgments and when he does not account the desire for certainty as his inmost craving and deepest distress—as that which separates the higher human beings from the lower.
      Among some pious people I found a hatred of reason and was well disposed to them for that; for this at least betrayed their bad intellectual conscience. But to stand in the midst of this rerum concordia discors and of this whole marvelous uncertainty and rich ambiguity of existence without questioning, without trembling with the craving and the rapture of such questioning, without at least hating the person who questions, perhaps even finding him faintly amusing—that is what I feel to be contemptible, and this is the feeling for which I look first in everybody. Some folly keeps persuading me that every human being has this feeling, simply because he is human. This is my type of injustice.

  25. Julie K says:

    Walmart’s Out-of-Control Crime Problem Is Driving Police Crazy

    I was struck by this part of the article:

    Dennis Buckley found a way to get Walmart moving faster on crime: shaming and threats. A blunt former fire chief, Buckley is the mayor of Beech Grove, Ind., an Indianapolis suburb with a population of 14,000. He’d been swamped with complaints from his police chief about the daily calls to Walmart. He demanded action from Walmart’s local lawyer, as did the City Council.

    “Walmart Beech Grove is draining our police resources,” he told Fox Business Network. “It’s the string of terrible events that have been occurring down there over the past two months that have led me to instruct our police chief to declare the Walmart a public nuisance.”

    That meant the threat of a $2,500 fine for every call to the police. Walmart now pays for off-duty police to man the store, and the pressure on the local police has eased.

    I would have thought that penalizing someone for being the victim of a crime would perhaps be an an-cap idea. Is it mainstream now?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Don’t worry, it’s just an evil corporation who is totally responsible for the fact that good people steal from their shops and sometimes commit crimes while trying to escape. So many good things, ripe for the picking…
      (But then again, what did she expect, going out with that skirt?)

      • moridinamael says:

        On the other hand, calling the police at every instance of shoplifting, when you know shoplifting is going to happen constantly, is a bit like going to the ER for every sniffle. You can do it, but that’s not what the system was designed for.

        • The Nybbler says:

          We don’t have any other system for dealing with crime, because the authorities frown so much on self-help. It’s either call the cops or accept the loss.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Apparently the off-duty cops as security guards are easing the problem, so there is some amount of self-help that is, er, helping.

            I’m not sure what my priors are here. I recognize the anti-Walmart circlejerk, but it’s also possible they are coasting on social norms they should be refilling.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Using off-duty cops, specifically, as security guards is simply paying the agents of the state to do their state job. Under the circumstances it’s a form of corruption (since Walmart likely could not hire non-police security guards who could be as effective)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It doesn’t have to be off-duty cops; that was just the quoted example. The presence of greeters has a big impact, too.

            In other news, I’m sad to learn that the Walmart Greeter seems to have been phased out when I wasn’t looking. It was nice that there could be jobs for someone who just wanted to sit around and say hello to people.

          • LHN says:

            While I don’t begrudge anyone a job someone’s willing to pay them for, as an introvert I find stores with greeters offputting. (Albeit not as offputting as overly solicitous salespeople.)

        • Ninmesara says:

          [trigger warning: analogies to discrimination of sick people and blaming victims of rape]

          Well, after 8 episodes of abdomal cramps with bloody diarrhea from Crohn’s disease, you should stop trying to waste the doctors’ time with your constantly annoying visits to the ER! You know you’ll keep getting bouts of abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea anyway. The healthcare system was not designed with such wasteful people. Stop being such a drain on our resources!

          On the meta level, I really hate it when the victim of a crime is blamed for the crime (and shoplifting is a crime). Also if a certain venue attracts more crime, then it is fair that more resources should be alocated to that area. Blaming walmart for selling cheap stuff without enough employees physically standing at the door looks like a slippery slope that might degenerate into aomething like:

          Why do you call the police after the 10th rape in the area? You know that the sytem can’t accomodate so many stupid girls with skirts near large groups of single men! Just accept rapes are going to happen anyway, dammit! Oh, and stop dressing as a slut…

          On the object level, I am of course perfectly happy that someone has convinced the greedy corporation to spend money reducing crime instead of having to divert public funds from something else (like hospitals and public schools). I’m sure their profit margins can accomodate that.

          • moridinamael says:

            So, I have a chronic condition which would probably lead to weekly ER visits if I didn’t spend a huge amount of effort preventing flareups.

            Let’s set aside all language of “blame” and “responsibility”. I could very well just not bother with taking my preventative medications, and I could just ignore all the information out there telling me how to change my lifestyle to minimize episodes. I could go into the ER every single time I have an episode. I would be treated, I would leave feeling pretty well, and my health insurance would be billed thousands of dollars.

            So, to be blunt: yes, in that scenario I should stop wasting the doctors’ time and the medical apparatus’ money with my annoying visits. I should instead reallocate my time and energy to reduce the impact of my disease. I will inevitably have a bad episode despite my best efforts — it happens every couple of months — and that’s unavoidable.

            I’m not sure if even you would really defend your meta-point, though. The pure form of the meta-point would be: “We shouldn’t try to prevent bad things from happening when we can just use emergency services when bad things inevitably happen.” If that wasn’t your meta point, then you shouldn’t have drawn this analogy to shoplifting, which is something that can be often prevented and ameliorated with small measures.

          • Jill says:

            moridinamael, interesting. Good for you. Something tells me that such abilities and willingness to use them as you have are rather rare in our society though. Not to mention the ability to be or become resourcefull enough to sort through all the snake oil and other bs about health, to find the valid information, to “be your own doctor.” That’s what is very often necessary, but not many people seem to be up to the task.

            And I do agree that shoplifting is a case where it is “something that can be often prevented and ameliorated with small measures.”

          • Ninmesara says:

            I’ve been thinking about this and it all boils down to what one might consider “reasonable measures of prevention” and I don’t think there are universal answers anymore. In the case of the non-compliant patient I agree with your position, and I shouldn’t have brought that example (since asking the patient to treat himself properly is the equivalent to hiring Walmart greeters, install more cameras, etc). I was assuming a compliant patient, which of course breaks the analogy in a fundamental way.

            Once you accept that a public service has the right to demand “reasonable measures of protection” (which I do, at least in the medical example), the meta point doesn’t make sense anymore and we’re back to discussing each case on the object level.

      • John Schilling says:

        If I keep losing my car keys, is it OK if I disable the door locks and glue the key into the ignition? The car has LoJack, and it’s more convenient (for me) to call the police and have them get it back every month or two than it is to spend half an hour every day trying to figure out where I left they keys. Plus they get to arrest lots of car thieves, whose fault all of this is because I am wholly without responsibility for the situation.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        It shouldn’t fall to taxpayers to pay Walmart’s security costs. On top of subsidizing food, shelter, and health insurance for its employees, that is. Walmart is a parasite, and any avenue of parasitism that gets closed off is a good thing, in my book.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Using taxpayer money to pay for security is one of the main functions of government. You might as well complain about companies using roads.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Rely on it: when the Chinese come ashore, it will be Walmart’s fault for palming off their national-security obligations on the Army.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            It is no part of the function of government to provide free security guards to those wealthy enough to hire their own but unwilling to do so.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Earthly Knight

            So government services are _only_ for the poor? Not just welfare but policing as well?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Who said anything like that?

          • Pan Narrans says:

            @Earthly Knight

            Well, you said that taxpayers shouldn’t pay for Walmart’s security costs, which in this case means the same law enforcement I’d use if my bike got stolen*. I’m not even sure I disagree with you on that, but I picked up the impression you feel Walmart is rich enough to not deserve services extended to ordinary people.

            *Well, no, as I’m British and also don’t own a bike, but you know what I mean.

          • John Schilling says:

            Well, you said that taxpayers shouldn’t pay for Walmart’s security costs, which in this case means the same law enforcement I’d use if my bike got stolen*.

            Walmart’s security costs start with the equivalent of the bicycle lock you’d use to prevent your bike from being stolen in the first place.

          • Pan Narrans says:

            @ John Schilling

            Fair point. Is Walmart not using basic security measures? I honestly don’t know, I don’t live in the same country.

          • John Schilling says:

            The most basic security measure against shoplifting and other petty crime is a pair of eyes watching the store – even if their job title isn’t Professional Security Guard. Walmart has of late substantially reduced the number of greeters and cashiers who used to help with keeping an eye on things.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I’m not even sure I disagree with you on that, but I picked up the impression you feel Walmart is rich enough to not deserve services extended to ordinary people.

            I certainly think Walmart is entitled to the benefit of routine policing, just like any other business. But the article linked to above says that local police had 5,000 calls to one store over the span of 5 years– roughly three per day. It’s probably silly to compare a citizen to a retail store for any number of reasons, but can you imagine how long it would take the police to stop responding if I reported minor thefts to them three times a day? A week, maybe?

          • Pan Narrans says:

            Ok, so this is about automation of checkouts and possibly Walmart reporting every minor theft to the police? If so, I agree with you both, that makes Walmart sound cheap and kind of spoiled. Certainly when I worked at a supermarket we didn’t go to the police every time a customer nicked something.

          • Jiro says:

            I can imagine it, but since, as you point out, you are not comparable to a retail stores, what I imagine the police would do in my case would have no bearing on what they would do to a store.

            Furthermore, the police (and the government in general) were contributing to the problem by not actually catching and punishing the shoplifters. It’s unfair for the police to fail to do their job, leading to more crime around Wal-Mart, and then complain that Wal-Mart is reporting too much crime.

          • Chalid says:

            Is Walmart not using basic security measures

            the article says that the problem is much worse at Walmart than at other stores, which tend to invest more in security.

          • OTOH, the police expect householders to make reasonable attempts at securing their premises.

        • Supplying security is usually at the top of the list of things government is supposed to do.

        • Irishdude7 says:

          If the state will allow private alternatives to it to arrest and prosecute thieves, then I’m down with Walmart paying privately for its security costs. But it won’t allow alternatives so responsibility falls to the state.

          I assume that Walmart is the best employment available for its employees, otherwise they would pursue alternatives. If it’s the best employment available, then it’s reasonable to assume that without Walmart providing them a job, the state would have to pay higher subsidies to food, shelter and healthcare. Therefore, Walmart is providing the employees more than any other private entity is willing to provide. Unless you want to offer their employees a job with better compensation, I don’t find your parasite criticism compelling.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If it’s the best employment available, then it’s reasonable to assume that without Walmart providing them a job, the state would have to pay higher subsidies to food, shelter and healthcare.

            Or we could accept that corporations which make billions of dollars in profit every year have an obligation to pay their employees enough to live on. Walmart is happy to let its employees starve and die of preventable diseases, but we are not, so we end up picking up the tab. Does that seem fair to you?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            make billions of dollars in profit every year have an obligation to pay their employees enough to live on

            Those two statements have nothing to do with each other.

            Walmart is scale. They are huge. The only reason they have billions in, ugh, profit is that they have millions of employees. Break them up into 6000 stores and they don’t have billions in profit any more.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Of course profits matter. If Walmart were hemorrhaging money, or barely in the black, there would be a much weaker case for their having an obligation to pay their employees a living wage. It’s true that profits aren’t the only thing that matters, but that should be obvious.

          • Mary says:

            “Or we could accept that corporations which make billions of dollars in profit every year have an obligation to pay their employees enough to live on.”

            We tried that. You couldn’t get welfare if you had a job.

            Result? More people on welfare and taking more out of it.

            That’s why we had welfare reform to allow some welfare while you had a job.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Of course profits matter. If Walmart were hemorrhaging money, or barely in the black, there would be a much weaker case for their having an obligation to pay their employees a living wage.

            Setting aside questions about ethical obligations, I wonder what the tangible results would be if Walmart started paying all its employees $30 an hour. I am open to being corrected on this, but it seems to me that it would inevitably involve raising prices by a substantial amount (because the extra money has to come from somewhere and even if they’re a profitable company, the sheer number of employees getting a large raise would spread that extra money pretty thin) and eventually people would stop shopping at Walmart because the entire appeal is that it’s cheap.

            Though someone could make the case that their business model is inherently unethical because selling things for so cheap can only be achieved by using underpaid labor.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @ Hyzenthlay:

            I wonder what the tangible results would be if Walmart started paying all its employees $30 an hour.

            I think Walmart would quickly go bankrupt if they seriously tried to do that.

            But heck, let’s do some back-of-the-envelope calculation. Let’s see…Walmart has 2.3 million employees. MoneyNation says Walmart makes $14.7 billion a year in net profit and their average employee makes $22,137/year. $30/hour is about $60,000/year, so you’re talking about giving that average employee a raise of $38k/year. $38k * 2.3 million = $87.4 billion.

            So, for Walmart to pay that much costs them $87.4 billion dollars they’re not spending now. Which would turn their current ~$15 billion annual profit into a ~$70 billion loss.

            (But wait, you say: What about CEO pay? They pay their CEO millions, not billions. So cutting executive pay doesn’t make a dent in that big a shortfall.)

            it seems to me that it would involve hiking up prices at some point

            That can’t really help under the current business model.

            Walmart presumably tries to set prices in a way that maximizes total long-term revenue. If they could make more money by raising prices they would have already done that, wouldn’t they? Unless we have reason to think Walmart has been magnanimously charging less than the market will bear out of the goodness of its heart, our best guess should be that Walmart would reduce revenue by raising prices.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            So, for Walmart to pay that much costs them $87.4 billion dollars they’re not spending now. Which would turn their current ~$15 billion annual profit into a ~$70 billion loss.

            Well, that pretty much confirms my gut-feel that it wouldn’t be sustainable. (And thanks for the detailed answer.)

            Though I deliberately went high with $30 an hour; a more modest and realistic pay-raise might be a different story, but that probably wouldn’t satisfy those who feel like companies have an obligation to pay a living wage (and there’s a lot of ambiguity in what “living wage” means as well).

          • IrishDude says:

            @Earthly Knight

            Or we could accept that corporations which make billions of dollars in profit every year have an obligation to pay their employees enough to live on.

            You think they have an obligation to pay their employees more, I don’t. Even if I thought they had a moral obligation to pay more compensation, it’s not one I think should be enforced by the state.

            Whatever compensation Walmart provides their employees now IS enough to live on. I’ll make a reasonable assumption that even if all state subsidies to their employees stopped, they would still go on living. People are very resourceful and I think they could find ways to earn more money or use their current earnings more wisely if necessity demanded it. Additionally, Americans are very generous folk and have the empathy and financial capacity to help those Walmart employees that might struggle to find food and shelter after they had explored all alternative options.

            Walmart is happy to let its employees starve and die of preventable diseases, but we are not, so we end up picking up the tab. Does that seem fair to you?

            I disagree with your assertion about Walmart being ‘happy’ to let its employees starve. Anyways, Walmart didn’t put its employees in a position where they weren’t productive enough to demand higher wages. The employees came to them like that, because they lack skills and experience to demand a higher wage, and Walmart offered them a better deal than any other employer was willing to offer.

            Walmart no more owes their employees more compensation than any other business or neighbor or family member owes to that person.

            When I hire a contractor to do work on my house, I don’t have an obligation to look into their personal finances to see whether they are struggling in some way, and even if I happened to know they were struggling in some way I don’t owe them any more compensation for the work they perform other than what we both mutually agree to. I do feel a personal moral urge to help those who end up in very difficult circumstances through no fault of their own, but this isn’t an open-ended commitment and I choose where and how much I’m willing to donate to help those in need.

          • “enough to live on.”

            Average real income in the developed world at present is twenty to thirty times what average real income has been through most of history.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Hyzthenthlay

            Though I deliberately went high with $30 an hour; a more modest and realistic pay-raise might be a different story, but that probably wouldn’t satisfy those who feel like companies have an obligation to pay a living wage (and there’s a lot of ambiguity in what “living wage” means as well).

            Pretty much no one thinks that Walmart workers should be paid $30 an hour. This was never anything but a ridiculous strawman. $12-$15 seems more reasonable to me (and Walmart can afford to pay this just fine.)

            @ Irishdude

            I’ll make a reasonable assumption that even if all state subsidies to their employees stopped, they would still go on living.

            Your assumption is wrong. Lack of health insurance causes tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, because folks without health insurance avoid seeing the doctor when they get sick. Working at Walmart literally kills people.

            Walmart no more owes their employees more compensation than any other business or neighbor or family member owes to that person.

            Companies have special obligations to their employees by virtue of employing them. In general, it is wrong to offer someone an unfair price for a good or service knowing they will be compelled to take it simply because they have no good options available. I am not the only one who thinks this– you think it, too, no matter how hard you’ve tried to silence the part of your brain that gets outraged at stories of price-gouging and exploitation.

            @ David Friedman

            http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2013/07/18/why-mcdonalds-employee-budget-has-everyone-up-in-arms/

          • John Schilling says:

            Pretty much no one thinks that Walmart workers should be paid $30 an hour. This was never anything but a ridiculous strawman. $12-$15 seems more reasonable to me. Walmart can afford to pay this just fine.

            According to the numbers Glenn Raphael cited upthread, and his source seems credible, paying every Wal-Mart employee $15/hour would consume 140% of the company’s net profits, leaving it $6 billion per year in the red. The theoretical breakeven point would be $13.70 per hour.

            But that’s if they pay everybody $13.70, with zero overhead. In reality, Walmart needs some high-skill workers who will very predictably quit (or worse) if expected to work for the same $13.70 as the stockboys, and there are unavoidable overhead expenses like payroll taxes on your hypothetical wage increase.

            So no, Walmart cannot afford $12-15 just fine.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Then Glen Raphael’s numbers are bogus. Walmart’s minimum wage is currently set at $10, its profits each year are around $15 billion, and it has 1.5 million employees in the US. Even if we assume, falsely, that every single worker at Walmart makes the minimum wage at present (the average is actually around $13 for full-time workers and $10.50 for part-time workers), hiking everyone’s salary to $15 still would only reduce their current profits to zero.* But paying a $15 minimum wage will also boost revenue by attracting more qualified applicants, reducing employee turnover, and driving up sales- Walmart employees also tend to be excellent Walmart customers– so they’d still come out ahead.

            The range I gave ($12-$15) was intended to leave some wiggle room for cost of living differences.

            *$15/hour proposed wage – $10/hour current wage = $5/hour
            $5/hour = $10,000/year (actually less than this due to part-timers)
            $10,000/year X 1.5 million employees = $15 billion, on the dot

          • John Schilling says:

            Then Glen Raphael’s numbers are bogus.

            [followed by a bunch of asserted numbers]

            Did you miss the part where Glen cited a source for his numbers, and you didn’t?

            Wave bye-bye to your credibility.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Number of employees in US (Glen Raphael erroneously cited the number of employees worldwide):

            http://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/company-facts

            Current minimum wage and average wages:

            http://news.walmart.com/news-archive/2016/01/20/more-than-one-million-walmart-associates-receive-pay-increase-in-2016

            The profit figure was the same as Glen Raphael’s.

          • The Nybbler says:

            2.3 million “associates” is the worldwide number. 800,000 are “international”, thus 1.5 million US. Net income is roughly $15B, but that’s worldwide; if we apportion net income according to percentage of net sales, US operations get $11B.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @ Earthly Knight:

            $12-$15 seems more reasonable to me (and Walmart can afford to pay this just fine.)

            They actually can’t. I admit I simplified a bit to make the math easier when I was ruling out $30/hour. The tweaks that matter most to the final total were indeed: (1) assuming all workers are full-time employees, (2) assuming that if less than $X is an “unfair wage” it’s an “unfair wage” worldwide and we would want to fix that worldwide, not just in the US.

            But if you really want to get into it with more precision to figure out what they could afford just in the US, there are a few factors you’re still ignoring. So…let’s consider adding one crucial fact into the analysis: Walmart’s profitability is not perfectly evenly distributed across every store in every state.

            Rather, some locations are more profitable than others!

            You’re willing to grant that, right? So let’s think about what that means.

            At any given time, some store locations are marginal – they’re roughly break-even right now and stay in business because the company hopes they can return a decent profit rate in the future as the customer base expands or they figure out how to make things more efficient. But meanwhile, even the tiniest unexpected cost increase would put these locations in the red.

            Other locations do make some profit but not so much profit that you can increase local labor costs by ~30% and expect to keep them in the black.

            So if it became policy that Walmart had to raise all salaries to $15/hour, some store locations would be in trouble. I’m going to make up a random number here and claim 20% of Walmart locations would immediately become substantial net money-losers given the higher wage rate. (I suspect the percentage is a lot higher than that, but we’ll just use that number for now.)

            So. 20%.

            What this means is that post-salary-change, Walmart could choose to immediately become more profitable if they closed 20% of their stores and focused management attention on the remainder. Closing any locations that are dragging down the company finances makes shareholders happier right now, reduces executive workload and dramatically reduces the chance that a few unexpectedly bad quarters might sink the company in the future. So naturally that’s what they’d do.

            This means 1.5 million * .2 = 300,000 former Walmart employees are out of a job. Revealed preference says Walmart was their best available job option (or they would be doing something else) and now they’ve lost that option. Those 300,000 people are worse off than they were before, due to your change.

            Tens of millions of customers of the closed locations are also worse off – low-income customers had been saving a LOT of money due to having a Walmart in town and now their costs go up substantially – they effectively have a lower standard of living – as they are forced to go back to their (revealed preference again) next-best option for buying stuff.

            Local government loses some sales and property taxes, fedgov loses some income tax revenue, and so on. The total jobs lost is actually more than 300,000 because people in related industries will lose jobs to the degree they depended on selling goods or services to the now-closed locations or to people who worked at those locations.

            This it what will happen UNLESS at the same time as you mandate the higher wage you also pass some kind of law preventing Walmart from closing money-losing branches and force it to indefinitely keep losing money in those places (subsidized by the other still-profitable ones) in the hopes that it might eventually turn around.

            So: how far are you willing to let Walmart shrink, or what would you do to stop it from doing so?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            We could just make an exception for stores that would become unprofitable at the higher wages.

            But you’re ignoring the fact that demand won’t go away just because Walmart does, which means that new discounters would open to take Walmart’s place in the marginal locations. That seems to capsize the whole argument, doesn’t it?

            assuming that if less than $X is an “unfair wage” it’s an “unfair wage” worldwide and we would want to fix that worldwide, not just in the US.

            This is a profoundly stupid assumption. Walmart has stores in Malawi. $60,000 is an outrageous annual salary for a retail cashier in the US, but in Malawi doctors earn $7000 a year.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            We could just make an exception for stores that would become unprofitable at the higher wages.

            Hmm. So you’re advocating a $15/hour wage get imposed only on the specific business locations that can afford it?

            In your system, can the locations that *are* profitable keep a little profit (in good years) to offset losses in bad years, or do they not get to keep *any* profit until they’ve already paid the entirety of the higher wage?

            If they *do* make a profit under the new wage, what’s to stop you from bumping the wage rate again tomorrow to use up all of *that* profit too? Should investors assume that no business will ever be profitable again under your regime, and thus stop investing in any new businesses? If not, why not?

            you’re ignoring the fact that demand won’t go away just because Walmart does, which means that new discounters would open to take Walmart’s place in the marginal locations. That seems to capsize the whole argument, doesn’t it?

            Nope. Walmart is as big as it is because it is really good at logistics. Other discounters can sell stuff too, but they can’t sell it *as* cheaply as Walmart. The next-best option is a lot worse than Walmart.

            This is a profoundly stupid assumption. Walmart has stores in Malawi.

            Sure, but Walmart also has stores in Mississippi. If you’re assuming the same single specific picked-out-of-a-hat just because it was a Big Round Number wage rate makes sense in every US state, is it that big a stretch to assume you’d think it makes sense in other countries too?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Should investors assume that no business will ever be profitable again under your regime, and thus stop investing in any new businesses?

            No, investors should assume that corporations which can afford to should pay their employees a living wage.

            The next-best option is a lot worse than Walmart.

            You estimated that Walmart would close around 1,000 locations if it started paying its employees a living wage. But there’s no way that Walmart’s logistics are so superior to all other companies that it operates 1,000 stores where no other retailer could. I mean, Walmart was notorious for displacing local business and existing discounters (e.g. Kmart) whenever it opened a new location. There’s no reason why local businesses and other chains couldn’t return to fill the void left by Walmart’s departure.

            If you’re assuming the same single specific picked-out-of-a-hat just because it was a Big Round Number wage rate makes sense in every US state,

            Actually, I offered a range of $12-$15 specifically with the intention of accommodating regional differences in cost of living.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Personally I’m just amused to see the left suddenly admitting the financial policies of the last eight-ish years have caused the massive inflation all the non-Left people in the US were expecting to happen, such as to justify a near-doubling of minimum wage.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            investors should assume that corporations which can afford to should pay their employees a living wage.

            But who gets to decide whether companies can afford to? You?

            If the corporations get to decide, they’ll say they can’t afford it. And most of them will be telling the truth. (and the ones that aren’t will probably be able to restructure the business so they are telling the truth!)

            Think of how gerrymandering works and imagine that concept applied to business units. Let’s apply it to Walmart’s profit. You agree that right now some Walmart locations can’t afford to pay the wage you’d like them to due to being insufficiently profitable and we agree 20% is a plausible number of locations that might be like that. But if your rule is put in place the obvious result will be for that 20% to turn into 90% or 95%.

            Under your “pay a higher wage if you can afford it” regime, Walmart could move stuff around and cook the books and break up/merge divisions until all the profit is officially located in, say, three stores and every other store is just barely breaking even. Those three stores will be required to pay your idea of “a living wage” and every other store will operate as it did before. Is that what you want?

            Another crucial issue is who decides what specific wage constitutes a living wage? You? If a living wage is defined as “what Earthly Knight thinks is reasonable”, then if the wage raises to $15 “because there’s enough profit to afford that” and then there’s still some profit left after that and some people are still “struggling to raise a family” on the new wage, why wouldn’t we expect you to decide that $17 or $20 is now “a living wage”?

            Once we establish the precedent that there’s nothing wrong with forcibly taking profit – even most or ALL the profit – away from investors as a class and giving it to workers as a class, isn’t that a slippery slope? Why would we expect it to stop at exactly $15? How did you PICK $15 as the right number, if not “it’s a round-sounding number that’s bigger than the current wage”? Once the current wage is $15, won’t you just move on to the NEXT “round-sounding number that’s bigger than the current wage”?

            There’s no reason why local businesses and other chains couldn’t return to fill the void left by Walmart’s departure.

            There isn’t? Have you thought about why Walmart was able to displace all those other chains in the first place? If other chains could plausibly provide equal or better value for customers and employees, what’s your theory as to why those chains aren’t still around?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            But who gets to decide whether companies can afford to? You?

            No, that’s silly. We will have a commission to make sure each store is making an appropriate profit.

          • Loyle says:

            There isn’t? Have you thought about why Walmart was able to displace all those other chains in the first place? If other chains could plausibly provide equal or better value for customers and employees, what’s your theory as to why those chains aren’t still around?

            That’s a problem I have with standards. Those stores were appropriate before Walmart entered the picture, and should be appropriate after Walmart leaves the picture.

            If you let someone set a standard that others can’t fill, I feel it’s evidence of some really bad shenanigans that shouldn’t be encouraged.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Orphan Wilde

            Personally I’m just amused to see the left suddenly admitting the financial policies of the last eight-ish years have caused the massive inflation all the non-Left people in the US were expecting to happen, such as to justify a near-doubling of minimum wage.

            http://blogs-images.forbes.com/trangho/files/2015/09/US-Inflation-Rate-1940×1182.png

            @ Glen Raphael

            But who gets to decide whether companies can afford to?

            It doesn’t matter. I said that corporations like Walmart which can afford to should pay their employees a living wage. You and others claimed that this was impossible, but we have seen now that you were wrong. How we could compel Walmart to pay its employees a living wage is another question altogether.

            How did you PICK $15 as the right number, if not “it’s a round-sounding number that’s bigger than the current wage”?

            It’s just an estimate of the wages required to provide for bare necessities in the US. Here’s a living wage calculator, if you’re confused.

            If other chains could plausibly provide equal or better value for customers and employees, what’s your theory as to why those chains aren’t still around?

            I didn’t say anything about equal or better value. I said other stores would fill the void left by Walmart’s departure. And, indeed, they would. I expect the long-term effects of Walmart closures are slightly higher prices for local consumers and slightly better jobs for local workers.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            [Living wage is] just an estimate of the wages required to provide for bare necessities in the US. Here’s a living wage calculator

            According to the link, it’s an estimate of the wages “required” to provide for the bare necessities of a family of four with two children. But most Walmart workers aren’t supporting two children and therefore can trivially spend less than the benchmark level on housing and childcare. So what makes “a family with two kids” the right metric?

            I mean: don’t you care about single mothers raising two kids alone? Or two-parent families raising three kids? Or a single parent supporting three kids, a dog, two cats, and an aging relative? Clearly we need to update our totally-not-arbitrary living wage to be enough for those cases too! Even if providing that wage would cause ALL Walmart locations to close down and prevent investors from creating any new chain stores ever in the future, it’s like, totally worth it. It’s what they should do. Right?

            I expect the long-term effects of Walmart closures are slightly higher prices for local consumers and slightly better jobs for local workers.

            Nope, the local jobs were worse before and would be again. The fact that Walmart is better and more profitable at executing on their business model compared to local stores means they can afford to provide better jobs to the vast majority of workers, and they do – Walmart jobs generally offer more work hours, better pay, more training, and more upward mobility than did the stores they replaced. (Which is why we see job applicants lined up around the block any time a new location opens)

            When Walmart puts “Joe’s Hardware” out of business, “Joe” himself is worse off but his employees aren’t – nostalgia notwithstanding, they’re as much better off with Walmart as are his customers.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Earthy Knight

            Lack of health insurance causes tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, because folks without health insurance avoid seeing the doctor when they get sick.

            Lack of health insurance doesn’t cause any deaths. Lack of health care can be a contributing causal factor in death. The Oregon Medicaid study showed no impact on physical health for those that got health insurance compared to those that didn’t: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Medicaid_health_experiment

            People without health insurance don’t see the doctor if they’re kinda sick, but they do go when they get really sick. Being kinda sick doesn’t cause death.

            Working at Walmart literally kills people.

            Would the employees be better off if they didn’t work at Walmart and took their next best available option? Would they be more likely to live or less likely to live?

            Companies have special obligations to their employees by virtue of employing them.

            I disagree. As I said above, when I hire a contractor to do work on my house, I don’t have an obligation to look into their personal finances to see whether they are struggling in some way, and even if I happened to know they were struggling in some way I don’t owe them any more compensation for the work they perform other than what we both mutually agree to.

            In general, it is wrong to offer someone an unfair price for a good or service knowing they will be compelled to take it simply because they have no good options available. I am not the only one who thinks this– you think it, too, no matter how hard you’ve tried to silence the part of your brain that gets outraged at stories of price-gouging and exploitation.

            I used to get upset many years ago, but then I learned economics and understood the alternative to ‘price-gouging’ and ‘exploitation’ was less desirable. Price ceilings lead to shortages. Price floors lead to surpluses. Cap the price that water can be charged in a disaster and water will run out. Mandate a high wage floor or working conditions in sweatshops and the jobs will go elsewhere, leading the people to prostitution, subsistence farming, or something worse than the sweatshop job. Paul Krugman: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/1997/03/in_praise_of_cheap_labor.html

            It sucks to be dirt poor and have no skills or experience and I don’t begrudge anyone that offers a better opportunity to those people, even if that opportunity isn’t as good as the ones I’m able to take advantage of.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Forked the thread here to pursue an adjacent set of questions.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Glen Raphael

            According to the link, it’s an estimate of the wages “required” to provide for the bare necessities of a family of four with two children.

            The calculator gives living wage estimates for various family arrangements. I agree that it is unrealistic to expect workers to be able to take care of an entire family on a single retail salary, so let’s pick 2 adults/1 child as the appropriate category.

            The fact that Walmart is better and more profitable at executing on their business model compared to local stores means they can afford to provide better jobs to the vast majority of workers

            This doesn’t follow. Walmart’s profitability is due in part to its success at keeping wages low.

            @ Irishdude

            Lack of health insurance doesn’t cause any deaths. Lack of health care can be a contributing causal factor in death.

            This is a distinction without a difference. We say that C causes E just in case, had C occurred, E would have occurred, and had C not occurred, E would not have occurred (holding other things fixed). If someone who does not have health insurance dies, but would not have died if they had had health insurance, it follows that the lack of health insurance causes the death.

            The Oregon Medicaid study showed no impact on physical health for those that got health insurance compared to those that didn’t:

            Yeah, other studies get different results.

            As I said above, when I hire a contractor to do work on my house, I don’t have an obligation to look into their personal finances to see whether they are struggling in some way, and even if I happened to know they were struggling in some way I don’t owe them any more compensation for the work they perform other than what we both mutually agree to.

            Suppose you know that the contractor struggles to put food on the plate and so is compelled to accept any price for the job. Would it be morally acceptable for you to pay him $2?

            I used to get upset many years ago, but then I learned economics and understood the alternative to ‘price-gouging’ and ‘exploitation’ was less desirable.

            What you’ve learned rests on a confusion, not about economics, but about ethics. It can at once be true that (1) companies do have an obligation to compensate their workers fairly and (2) there are overriding reasons why they should not attempt do so. A fortiori it can also at once be true that (1) companies do have an obligation to compensate their workers fairly and (3) the government should not attempt to enforce that obligation. It sounds like you recognize that (1) is true, but wrongly believe it is inconsistent with (2) and (3). It is not.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There’s this myth that what WalMart displaced was somehow better for the employee.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Loyle:

            If you let someone set a standard that others can’t fill, I feel it’s evidence of some really bad shenanigans that shouldn’t be encouraged.

            Can you clarify what you mean here by standard?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Earthly Knight:
            Walmart has a modern national inventory management system – they know exactly what they have and where it is. When a new product becomes popular they quickly order more; when an old product becomes unpopular they quickly mark it down, discontinue and dump the remaining supply in those big endcap boxes for serious bargain-hunters to find, clearing out space on the main shelves for what actually sells. (They’re also have a wider selection and are really good at negotiating with suppliers so all their stuff was likely cheaper to begin with)

            As for Joe’s Hardware, Joe is a great guy who loves his customers and his employees. But his organization system is eclectic. Often he doesn’t have what customers want or they can’t find it amid the clutter and poor signage. Or the product is inefficiently overpriced when they do find it so they’re inclined to comparison shop. Joe’s store wastes a lot of floor space on stuff nobody wants and wastes a lot of employee time finding items that have been mislabeled or mis-categorized. Add all this together and Joe’s store doesn’t manage to sell as much stuff to as many people. Joe’s store is much less profitable per square foot and less profitable per employee than Walmart because it has lower throughput and does a poorer job of quickly matching up customers to the exact thing they want to buy at a price they like.

            Because Walmart makes more money per employee, they can afford to pay employees more than Joe can afford to pay his…and they do. Walmart’s superior system generates a LOT of excess value. They give SOME of the excess value back to customers in the form of lower prices, they give SOME of the excess value to their investors in the form of dividends, and they give SOME of the excess value to employees in the form of better wages and working conditions. All three of those groups do better under Walmart than under Joe. The “rising tide” of better profitability lifts all three boats – customers, employees, and investors all…get higher boats when Walmart comes to town.

            You’re basically trying to rejigger the system to give employees much more of that excess value while sinking the “investor” and “customer” boats. Which just isn’t sustainable.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            There’s no reason why local businesses and other chains couldn’t return to fill the void left by Walmart’s departure.

            Of course there’s a reason: any successor would be subject to the same unrealistic wage requirement that you used to drive out WM.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Glen Raphael

            Because Walmart makes more money per employee, they can afford to pay employees more than Joe can afford to pay his…

            Yes.

            and they do.

            [citation needed]

            You seem to think that when corporations are profitable some of that profit automatically gets rerouted back to the employees. It doesn’t work that way.

            @ Cerebral Paul Z.

            Of course there’s a reason: any successor would be subject to the same unrealistic wage requirement that you used to drive out WM.

            The wage requirement I’ve suggested only applies to corporations with billions in profits that pay their employees a pittance. Successors not fitting that description can and would take Walmart’s place.

          • Jiro says:

            We say that C causes E just in case, had C occurred, E would have occurred, and had C not occurred, E would not have occurred (holding other things fixed). If someone who does not have health insurance dies, but would not have died if they had had health insurance, it follows that the lack of health insurance causes the death.

            It doesn’t follow because you fail to account for multiple causes, and since you are using “cause” to apportion blame, having multiple causes means that each individual one gets less blame.

          • Here’s what’s under Earthly Knight’s link about other studies which show that having insurance is good for people. This isn’t a very strong claim.

            “We have 45,000 people in this country who are dying each year because they don’t have health coverage,” Grayson said. “The Affordable Care Act provides coverage to virtually all of them, and the Republicans … want to stop it. I think it’s horrifying.”

            We wondered what you probably did: Are 45,000 people dying each year because they have no health coverage?

            What we found wasn’t enough to reach a conclusion one way or another (hence why we’re not rating Grayson’s statement on our Truth-O-Meter). But we still believe the issue and background of Grayson’s claim is worthy of scrutiny.

          • Loyle says:

            @Glen

            Sorry, I’m talking nonsense. And am generally bad at expressing myself.

            By “standards” I meant something to the effect of “minimum entry requirements” and what bothers me, specifically, is when those requirements reach a point where competition on the same playing field becomes unreasonable.

            It’s sort of a sense that no one really competes with Walmart. And a sense that no one really should. And Walmart filling a Walmart-sized niche seems off-putting for some reason. Especially when that niche is “necessary”.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            [citation needed]

            Walmart cashier pay is near the low end compared to other large national chains (though not the lowest; they do pay substantially more than, say, _Target_.)

            Which is just the start. Walmart has a training program, gives salary bumps to employees who train up, and promotes from within for things like department manager and store manager positions. Store managers get paid more than comparable roles at other companies. (eg: “A Starbucks store manager earns about $44,000 a year, while Walmart store managers make $95,000 a year on average.” source)

            Here’s the thing though – all those sob stories about how Walmart is destroying colorful local downtown businesses? They’re not talking about Starbucks and K-Mart. They’re talking about our hypothetical Joe’s Hardware which is NOT a national chain, it’s a mom-and-pop operation running on a shoestring. Those generally pay LESS than national chains and invariably offer fewer benefits and fewer opportunities for advancement. They also offer fewer work hours – Walmart is much more likely than Joe’s to be open 24 hours and/or during weekends and holidays.

            So, yeah. Walmart pays better than Joe’s. (feel free to look up “cashier salary” on salary.com and compare to what Walmart currently pays if you’re still not satisfied. You also might check the Glassdoor reviews regarding internal hiring)

            The wage requirement I’ve suggested only applies to corporations with billions in profits that pay their employees a pittance.

            So…if Walmart divided itself into a couple dozen sub-companies so that none of them individually had “billions” in profit, then you’d be fine with what they currently pay?

          • “Suppose you know that the contractor struggles to put food on the plate and so is compelled to accept any price for the job. Would it be morally acceptable for you to pay him $2? ”

            Why does the fact that you are hiring him give you a special obligation to him?

            Suppose the contractor, having accepted the low wage you offer him, can feed his family but only with the cheapest available food. Further suppose that someone else you know of, with whom you have no economic connection, can’t even do that. Finally suppose that you have some amount of money that you think you can do without and so are willing to spend doing good.

            Do you use that money to pay a higher wage to the contractor or give it to the other person who cannot even afford to feed his children? If the former, why?

            Looking at it from another angle, the employer who hires someone at a wage that is low but better than that person’s other alternatives is benefiting the employee, even if not by very much. The random person who has no such link is doing nothing for the employee. So why is it the employer that you think is acting badly and not the other person–possibly yourself?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Jiro

            It doesn’t follow because you fail to account for multiple causes, and since you are using “cause” to apportion blame, having multiple causes means that each individual one gets less blame.

            I think there’s probably something right in what you’re saying, but (1) all events have countless causes, which means that a multiplicity of causes alone could not serve to mitigate blame, and (2) this is true even when several of those causes are free human actions– every member of a conspiracy to commit murder is just as guilty as one murderer acting alone, for example.

            @ Nancy Leibovitz

            The link cites several studies estimating the death toll caused by lack of health insurance. The estimates ranged from 0 to 40,000, with a mean of around 20,000.

            @ Glen Raphael

            I don’t think you can get an accurate estimate of whether subtracting a Walmart from a town depresses local wages from speculation and anecdotal comparisons on websites like glassdoor.com. It’s the sort of thing which requires systematic study.

            So…if Walmart divided itself into a couple dozen sub-companies so that none of them individually had “billions” in profit, then you’d be fine with what they currently pay?

            Yeah, probably, depending on how genuinely independent the spinoffs are. I expect the competition would be great for consumers.

            @ David Freidman

            Why does the fact that you are hiring him give you a special obligation to him?

            I don’t know. We recognize the special demands relationships impose on us all the time, though. I have more of an obligation to give money to a needy friend or family member than a stranger, for instance, other things being equal.

            Do you use that money to pay a higher wage to the contractor or give it to the other person who cannot even afford to feed his children?

            Oh, goodness, the person with the starving children. The idea is that hiring someone confers upon you a prima facie obligation to compensate them fairly, an obligation which can be overridden if you will instead devote the money to a worthier cause (bearing in mind that, money being fungible, you only qualify for the exception if you donate all your discretionary income to charity).

          • “The idea is that hiring someone confers upon you a prima facie obligation to compensate them fairly”

            Your idea of “fair” seems to be based not on how valuable the services he provides are or what it costs him to provide them but on how much he needs the money.

            That is not a result of his being your employee–employing him reduces his need. So I still don’t see why the employer has any more obligation to help the poor employee than anyone else has to do so.

            To but it differently, if it’s in some sense unfair for someone to be very poor, why is it the employer, the one person who has done something to reduce the problem, who is at fault for not fixing it?

            Another take … . Suppose the value to you of the employee’s work is only $5/hour, that being the amount by which your income would go down without his contribution. Are you obliged to hire him for $10/hour anyway? If, knowing that if you hire him you are obliged to pay $10/hour you instead don’t hire him, are you more virtuous than if you hired him for $5/hour?

            It all feels very odd to my moral intuition.

          • Loyle says:

            @David

            I think you’re reading that particular argument wrong.

            Basically what’s being assumed is that if the value of the work is about $10, and you can afford that price, and to a lesser extent are willing to pay it, that if you notice someone is in a position that they are in dire need of money, so you offer the job to them at $1 knowing they can’t refuse it. This sort of extends to simply offering the $10 job at $1, knowing some people will go for it because they’ve no options available to them.

            I think…

            It mostly seems like a reason for why people think it’s wrong to move jobs that Americans can fill to sweatshops in China than whatever Earthly Knight is trying to make it say, but he can, and probably will, speak for himself.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            The link cites several studies estimating the death toll caused by lack of health insurance. The estimates ranged from 0 to 40,000, with a mean of around 20,000.

            All the good studies find zero effect. You don’t get to just average good studies with bad ones and say the answer must be in the middle.

            The best possible evidence on the subject would involve an intervention study where there is random assignment of people to groups involving more or less health insurance coverage. When that has been done – as in the Oregon experiment, or the earlier Rand study – there was no demonstrable effect of insurance coverage on major health outcomes. People with less insurance do seek out less health care, but doing so doesn’t make them more likely to die.

            The larger numbers claimed (either 45k (Grayson) or 18-22k (IoM)) come from studies that were merely observational – what they are telling us is that the kind of person who gets health insurance is the kind of person who tends to be healthier. Which is not the same thing as saying that the health insurance causes the health.

            For instance, people without insurance are more likely to be smokers than the people with insurance.

            When you use more data and try to rigorously adjust for relevant differences between the two populations, even the observational correlation goes away. To wit (from your link)

            Richard Kronick, a University of California San Diego medical professor who now works for the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in 2009 that [large effect] estimates are “almost certainly incorrect.”

            His paper, published in August 2009 in HSR: Health Services Research, found that uninsured participants had no different risk of dying than those were covered by employer-sponsored group insurance. The finding was surprising coming from Kronick, who told PolitiFact then it was “not the answer I wanted.”

            His study is here.

            Relevant quote:

            On almost every characteristic measured, the uninsured are in higher risk groups. The uninsured are more likely to be low income, living without a telephone or in a mobile home, not in the labor force, poorly educated, in poorer health, and current smokers.

            Having adjusted for that sort of stuff, he gets an effect range for health insurance that is quite close to (and fails to exclude) zero. If you read the discussion it’s pretty clear the researcher didn’t want to show insurance having no effect on health but…the data is what it is.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            You appear to be implicitly asserting that the marginal case, the average case, and all cases are the same.

            Roughly, there aren’t good arguments for raising the minimum wage if the all workers at minimum wage are being perfectly compensated at their value to the company. This isn’t likely to be the case.

            The lowest wage employees are, by definition, the least attractive to the market. It would be surprising if they were being compensated near their value.

            I think you will make an argument that “hiring one more employee” will be done at the margin where it will be done as long as there is any profit to be made, but this ignores capital costs.

            Hiring an extra employee in a Subway location just costs you money. The profit of that store can be increased by reducing the cost of employing the 3 people it’s designed to employee at peak traffic.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @Earthly Knight

            We say that C causes E just in case, had C occurred, E would have occurred, and had C not occurred, E would not have occurred (holding other things fixed).

            What you describe is necessary, but not sufficient for me to consider something a cause. Otherwise, I would think my parents having sex caused my (eventual) death, but that’s not how I think of causal influences. An additional factor that is relevant is how proximate C is to E.

            Coroners don’t attribute lack of health insurance as the cause of death on death certificates, they attribute the proximate factor, which is illness, accident, murder, etc.

            Regardless, as Glen Raphael has pointed out, the best studies that have random assignment of insurance as a way to control for observable and unobservable differences among groups, show no effect on physical health from lack of health insurance.

            Suppose you know that the contractor struggles to put food on the plate and so is compelled to accept any price for the job. Would it be morally acceptable for you to pay him $2?

            I disagree that there is any real world equivalent to a contractor that must accept any price, because there are many other people that want work done that I compete with to obtain the contractor’s services, which drives compensation that can be commanded above $0.01.

            Within your hypothetical, I think it’s morally acceptable for me to pay him whatever he and I can mutually agree to. I think he’ll consent to any compensation that he feels makes his life better off, and if I make his life better off I feel I’ve fulfilled, or at least haven’t contradicted, my moral obligations to him. Depending on what I know about his circumstances and how he got into them, I might be willing to be charitable to him outside of our economic transaction, but he’d be competing with my charitable dollars that go to some pretty needy and deserving people so it would take some special circumstance that I connect to more than the other causes I donate to.

            You say to David “I have more of an obligation to give money to a needy friend or family member than a stranger, for instance, other things being equal.” I agree with this, and the key ingredient that makes me feel an obligation to help my friends or family is that I love them.

            Here’s a passage from Bryan Caplan that is relevant:

            “What do you call a man you never met? A stranger.

            What are you morally forbidden to do to a stranger? You may not murder him. You may not attack him. You may not enslave him. Neither may you rob him.

            What are you morally required to do for a stranger? Not much. Even if he seems hungry and asks you for food, you’re probably within your rights to refuse. If you’ve ever been in a large city, you’ve refused to help the homeless on more than one occasion. And even if you think you broke your moral obligation to give, your moral obligation wasn’t strong enough to let the beggar justifiably mug you.”

            http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/01/the_stranger.html

            I think employee/employer relationships are closer to stranger relationships than friends or family, in that it is missing the key ingredient of love. In that respect, I think the moral obligation employers have to employees is to be peaceful with them and to provide the agreed upon compensation for work performed, but any help that is given above that is morally praiseworthy and not morally obligated.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ David Friedman

            To but it differently, if it’s in some sense unfair for someone to be very poor, why is it the employer, the one person who has done something to reduce the problem, who is at fault for not fixing it?

            I do not see any difference in principle between this case and the one where a friend or family member is in need. For an intermediate case, take a nanny or maid. Say your children’s live-in nanny is desperately poor on the salary you pay her, reduced to rags and tatters. Don’t you have an obligation to do better by her?

            @ Glen Raphael

            The best possible evidence on the subject would involve an intervention study where there is random assignment of people to groups involving more or less health insurance coverage. When that has been done – as in the Oregon experiment, or the earlier Rand study – there was no demonstrable effect of insurance coverage on major health outcomes.

            It’s no good ignoring the limitations of the studies whose outcomes flatter your ideology. The Oregon study, for instance, had no way of measuring the effects of health insurance on mortality directly, because it followed 12,000 adults for a period of only two years.

            When you use more data and try to rigorously adjust for relevant differences between the two populations, even the observational correlation goes away.

            False.

            “The relationship between insurance status and subsequent mortality was examined using Cox proportional hazards survival analysis. The analysis adjusted for gender, race, and baseline age, education, income, employment status, the presence of morbidity on examination, self-rated health, smoking status, leisure exercise, alcohol consumption, and obesity. The effects of interactions between insurance and all other baseline variables were also examined.

            By the end of the follow-up period, 9.6% of the insured and 18.4% of the uninsured had died. After adjustment for all other baseline variables, the hazard ratio for lacking insurance was 1.25 (95% confidence interval [Cl], 1.00 to 1.55). The effect of insurance on mortality was comparable to that of education, income, and self-rated health.”

            You are cherrypicking studies which give you the conclusions you want. This is the sort of thing that trash ideologues do, don’t be a trash ideologue.

            @ Irishdude

            An additional factor that is relevant is how proximate C is to E.

            Nope! Suppose you build a domino chain 100,000 miles long, which will take six years to topple completely. The fall of the first domino still causes the fall of the last.

            Within your hypothetical, I think it’s morally acceptable for me to pay him whatever he and I can mutually agree to.

            Alright. Say you are driving through the Mojave and you spy a man stranded in the desert, a hundred miles from civilization. He has $1,356 in cash on him, his life savings. Would it be morally acceptable for you to demand the full sum in exchange for a ride into town?

            I think employee/employer relationships are closer to stranger relationships than friends or family, in that it is missing the key ingredient of love.

            Is it permissible, then, for someone to abandon a needy friend or family member if she doesn’t love them? (Let’s assume that the friend or family member has done nothing to warrant being abandoned).

          • Jiro says:

            Is it permissible, then, for someone to abandon her family or friends in their times of need if she doesn’t love them?

            Not loving one’s family would itself be impermissible (and if you don’t love your friend, they aren’t a friend in the morally relevant sense to begin with).

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @Earthly Knight

            Me:An additional factor that is relevant is how proximate C is to E.

            You:Nope! Suppose you build a domino chain 100,000 miles long, which will take (say) six years to topple completely. The fall of the first domino still causes the fall of the last.

            So do you think it’s accurate to say that my parents having sex will be the cause of my eventual death? If so, that’s a use of the word ’cause’ that I don’t find too meaningful, particularly if it’s being used to assign responsibility for an effect.

            Alright. Say you are driving through the Mojave and you spy a man stranded in the desert, miles from any town. He has $1,356 in cash on him, his life savings. Would it be morally acceptable for you to demand the full sum in exchange for a ride into town?

            I feel a little more icky about that than I do a situation where the man would have multiple other options (like would occur for a contractor that has many other potential customers). I don’t know if I’d say it is morally acceptable, but I’d say it’s morally permissible. I certainly don’t think it’s morally permissible to threaten or commit violence against me to prevent me from making that offer.

            Is it permissible, then, for someone to abandon her family or friends in their times of need if she doesn’t love them? (Let’s assume that the friend or family member has done nothing to warrant being abandoned).

            Yes. In that case her relationship with her family or friend becomes like a relationship with a stranger, where her moral obligation is to be peaceful with them but not to be required to assist. If she does assist in that situation, that is morally praiseworthy but not obligatory.

            Do you think people are morally obligated to give to every homeless person who asks for money or food?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Jiro

            Not loving one’s family would itself be impermissible (and if you don’t love your friend, they aren’t a friend in the morally relevant sense to begin with).

            It’s not clear to me that this is true. Who we love is not something we generally have control over, and I’m not sure that involuntary mental states can be subject to moral evaluation.

            @ Irishdude

            So do you think it’s accurate to say that my parents having sex will be the cause of my eventual death?

            I think that your parents conceiving you is a cause of your being born and hence ultimately dying, yes.

            If so, that’s a use of the word ’cause’ that I don’t find too meaningful, particularly if it’s being used to assign responsibility for an effect.

            I suspect there’s only one way of using the word cause. Here’s a different way of putting it: we have (1) your being born causing your death, (2) a lack of health insurance causing someone to die prematurely of preventable disease, (3) the fall of a domino causing the next domino in line to fall. What makes (2) closer to (1) than it is to (3)?

            I don’t know if I’d say it is morally acceptable, but I’d say it’s morally permissible.

            “Acceptable” and “permissible” are usually taken to be synonymous. But never mind. How about an organ? Say Doctor Frankenstein sees a man stranded in a desert, dying of thirst, and offers him a ride to a nearby town in exchange for a kidney and a small chunk of his prefrontal cortex. Still okay?

            In that case her relationship with her family or friend becomes like a relationship with a stranger, where her moral obligation is to be peaceful with them but not to be required to assist.

            Does this apply to children? Suppose Teresa is raped and, being unable to procure an abortion, gives birth to her rapist’s offspring. Should she feel free to abandon the child at any time if she doesn’t love it?

            Do you think people are morally obligated to give to every homeless person who asks for money or food?

            I think if a homeless person is going to starve or be severely malnourished if you don’t give them food, you have an obligation to do so, yes. (Money is a different story, I don’t know if we can trust the average homeless person not to spend it on drugs or alcohol).

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @Earthly Knight

            So when you said “Working at Walmart literally kills people.” you could just as easily have said “Being born to your parents literally kills you”. Well, fine, but then I’m not sure how you think I should interpret your first statement. Does Walmart bear more responsibility for their employees’ deaths than the employees’ parents? If so, how do you assign responsibility for a person’s death?

            When I light some twigs on fire using a lighter it makes more sense to me to say that “I caused the fire” than “The twigs caused the fire”. Which sentence makes more sense to you?

            I suspect there’s only one way of using the word cause. Here’s a different way of putting it: we have (1) your being born causing your death, (2) a lack of health insurance causing someone to die prematurely of preventable disease, (3) the fall of a domino causing the next domino in line to fall. What makes (2) closer to (1) than it is to (3)?

            What makes (2) closer to (1) in what sense?

            “Acceptable” and “permissible” are usually taken to be synonymous. But never mind. How about an organ? Say Doctor Frankenstein sees a man stranded in a desert, dying of thirst, and offers him a ride to a nearby town in exchange for a kidney and a small chunk of his prefrontal cortex. Still okay?

            I feel more icky about that than asking for the dude’s life savings and I’d condemn the person, but I think it should be permissible. I pretty much think that any action people take that is consented to and improves other people’s lives should be permissible.

            A closer real world example is whether it should be permissible for poor people to be able to sell one of their kidneys, and I think that should be permissible.

            Does this apply to children? Suppose Teresa is raped and, being unable to procure an abortion, gives birth to her rapist’s offspring. Should she feel free to abandon the child at any time if she doesn’t love it?

            I think she should give the baby up for adoption if she doesn’t love it and let someone else provide care.

            I think if a homeless person is going to starve or be severely malnourished if you don’t give them food, you have an obligation to do so, yes. (Money is a different story, I don’t know if we can trust the average homeless person not to spend it on drugs or alcohol).

            What if the homeless person won’t starve to death if you don’t give them food or money, are you still obligated to give to them if they ask for help? How much effort are you obligated to spend to find out whether they are on the brink of starvation?

            Do you have an obligation to seek out people who are starving and provide food for them?

          • walpolo says:

            Earthly Knight,

            I share your gut intuition that there’s a moral obligation to pay your employees a fair wage, and that this is a special obligation that comes from the relationship you have with your employees, but I’m not sure I’m convinced that the intuition is reliable. It seems to come from the same family of intuitions as my intuition that it’s nobler to work for a living than it is to live on the dole, and at the end of the day, when I evaluate that one in light of my other intuitions, I don’t endorse it. My considered opinion is that there’s nothing wrong with living on the dole. This leads me to also question my intuition that says employers have to pay a living wage. (The connection I see between the two intuitions is something like the following: since it’s noble to live off your work rather than charity, your employer is the one who has the obligation to make sure you have enough money to live.)

            At the end of the day, I have more sympathy for the view that we all have equal obligations to provide a minimum standard of living for each other, or perhaps better, to make sure that our standards of living are not too unequal. So there’s no moral reason your employer can’t offer you a wage that you’ll accept, unless you’re in a situation so bad that it borders on coercive, like in your desert rescue examples. (I fully agree with your intuition about those examples.) Your employer may also have further obligations of charity to you, if you have much less than other people do. But I don’t see why those obligations ought to be more than what any other fellow citizen is obliged to give you.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Earthly Knight,

            I wrote:

            When you use more data and try to rigorously adjust for relevant differences between the two populations, even the observational correlation goes away.

            To which you replied “false”, apparently because you overlooked the part of what I said above that I have now bolded.

            You reference a 1993 study with a sample size of 4,694 (with 593 deaths). My claim was based on a later study with a sample size of 643,001 (with 23,657 deaths).

            Your study incorporated 65,000 person-years of followup; mine incorporated over 5 million person-years of followup.

            Mine is a later study (survey years started in 1986 rather than 1971) hence arguably more relevant to modern conditions and is a MUCH BIGGER study (by two orders of magnitude!) which doesn’t ignore the earlier ones but rather tries to reconcile, expand upon and solidify the findings of a variety of earlier studies, including yours. (It also corrects for a couple additional demographic factors)

            Incidentally, here’s another good bit from the Kronick study:

            The existence of nearly universal coverage at age 65 in the United States provides a natural experiment. Large numbers of previously uninsured people become insured through no decision of their own. If health insurance improves the probability of survival, then mortality rates should change discontinuously at age 65 as previously uninsured people become insured. However, three separate analyses, each using somewhat different approaches, demonstrate that Medicare has no effect on the survival prospects for 65-year-olds[…].

            When to make an argument I link the fulltext to a cherry pie and you link in response the abstract to a single cherry that was already IN that same pie, I’m not sure I’m the one who should be accused of “cherrypicking”. Harumph.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            To which you replied “false”, apparently because you overlooked the part of what I said above that I have now bolded.

            Sorry, what you said was still dishonest, and you should not have said it. You claimed: “when you use more data and try to rigorously adjust for relevant differences between the two populations, even the observational correlation goes away.”

            This implies that the second conjunct, which I have helpfully bolded for you, is doing some work. But it’s not, it’s completely irrelevant. There are a number of well-controlled studies suggesting that lack of health insurance increases the risk of death.

            It is true that Kronick’s sample size was larger than the samples in the other studies. But it’s still something of an outlier, and having the biggest sample does not automatically trump being an outlier.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Glen Raphael

            Actually, given what you said here:

            All the good studies find zero effect. You don’t get to just average good studies with bad ones and say the answer must be in the middle.

            The larger numbers claimed (either 45k (Grayson) or 18-22k (IoM)) come from studies that were merely observational – what they are telling us is that the kind of person who gets health insurance is the kind of person who tends to be healthier. Which is not the same thing as saying that the health insurance causes the health.

            It’s pretty obvious that you mistakenly believed that the studies finding that lack of health insurance leads to increased mortality did not control for the same variables as the Kronick study, when, in fact, they did. You should own up to your mistake.

          • “The lowest wage employees are, by definition, the least attractive to the market. It would be surprising if they were being compensated near their value. ”

            Why would that be surprising? They are least attractive to the market because their value–the amount by which hiring them increases revenue, aka marginal revenue product–is low.

            My model is the conventional economic model of a competitive market, where the price paid for each input, including labor, is its marginal revenue product. That isn’t a perfect model, but since low skill/low wage labor is relatively unspecialized I would expect it to be a pretty good one.

            I cannot tell what your model is.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            you mistakenly believed that the studies finding that lack of health insurance leads to increased mortality did not control for the same variables as the Kronick study, when, in fact, they did.

            Not so! The Kronick study did control on several additional variables the earlier studies had not, and a different set of variables – it wasn’t quite a superset either, for reasons given in the text.

            (You’re naturally free to claim the older set of controls was in some way better than the newer set, but you can’t claim it was the same as the newer set, because it wasn’t.)

            And the result of controlling this LARGER data set on this LARGER set of variables was to render the effect size near-zero. Since the effect size was NOT zero without applying the controls, these controls were indeed necessary – albeit perhaps not sufficient – to achieving the result found. Hence my characterization.

            It seems like you’re not really reading any of the studies you or I link, nor checking if your various accusations are true before making them.

            (I should have guessed as much from the fact that I originally found that Kronick study merely by reading the Politifact article which you had claimed was support for the 45k number (when it wasn’t). Still I had hope. Hope that has since been dashed, alas.)

            If you don’t want to be mistaken for Ilya, you might want to dial that stuff back a bit. 🙁

            Regardless, I’m bowing out for now – this thread has gotten too long, too nested, and too uncharitable.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            My model mostly leans on not being at full employment (and I think U6 probably is relevant).

            Take two jobs, both of which can be done by the average low-skilled worker, at two different employers. J1 at employer E1 produces $0.10 of marginal value per hour over minimum wage. J2 working for E2 produces $2.00 of marginal value. (There are many reasons why this might be true). The skills for working at J1 and J2 can even be roughly identical, and are not complex. The lowest skilled workers can fairly easily do both jobs.

            As long as there is slack in the labor market for minimum wage jobs, E2 can reduce their wage to minimum wage. Certainly E1 won’t pay more than $0.10 over minimum (unless experience on the job will raise their value in some way), but again, if there is slack in the labor market, why would they pay even that much?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            The Kronick study did control on several additional variables the earlier studies had not, and a different set of variables – it wasn’t quite a superset either, for reasons given in the text.

            Earlier you said “all the good studies find zero effect.” Now it seems that the principal difference between your “good study” and my “bad study”– published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, no less– can only be found with a magnifying glass. Next time you make a mistake, be an adult about it rather than trying to lie your way out.

          • In your model, both minimum wage workers are producing more than they cost. Why doesn’t the employer hire more such?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Earlier you said “all the good studies find zero effect.”

            By “good studies”, I meant intervention studies. I clearly said so at the time. Rand and Oregon. The very best kind of evidence you can get on this topic is to randomly assign people to have differing levels of insurance and then see what the outcomes look like. THAT is what I consider a “good” study. When THAT has been done, the differences between groups in terms of actual measured health are minuscule.

            (Re-running something like the Rand experiment with a larger study group and for a longer period really ought to be a top research priority!)

            The stuff about observational studies was a separate topic, not connected to the “good study” claim. (I do think that AMONG the class “observational study” we probably ought to prefer bigger, more recent, and better-controlled ones to smaller and older ones, when the former are available. Politifact’s sources seem to think so too. But that doesn’t make this class “good” as per my original comment.)

            Do you know of any INTERVENTION-based studies that show a substantial cost in lives due to lack of health insurance? If you can find some of THOSE, I’ll happily retract my “good study” comment.

            As for this part:

            Now it seems that the principal difference between your “good study” and my “bad study”– published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, no less– can only be found with a magnifying glass.

            My “good studies” were Rand and Oregon. But among
            observational studies, according to the one I prefer (see table 1), the study YOU prefer did not control for such factors as “ethnicity”, “survey year”, “immigration status”, and “owns telephone”. And the study I prefer had 100 times as much data. I’m not sure one needs a magnifying glass to spot differences like that.

            Going more “meta” for a moment: There is a large inferential distance between us on this issue. Because I’ve spent a long time steeped in the views of people like Robin Hanson, my priors lean towards thinking that health care – not just health insurance, but health care itself – is not nearly as useful as people think it is. I like Hanson’s “showing you care” framework. (I’d seen Ezra Klein’s arguments to the contrary before but have not yet found them compelling – I still think Megan McArdle had the better side of their debate.)

            Because you’ve spent more time steeped in “Incidental Economist” world, we have different priors. Our differing priors sometimes lead you to jump to false conclusions about what I’m saying, and it’s kind of frustrating when you assume apparent disagreement must be due to malice or lies rather than misunderstanding. If you’re confused, ask. If you’re confused about claims I make AND I PROVIDED A LINK, try reading that link – don’t just assume I must be wrong because what I’m saying differs from what you vaguely remember reading before in some OTHER source.

            And please, please, please: if you’re going to link Politifact in support of a claim, READ WHAT POLITIFACT SAID and verify that they judged your claim TRUE.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Did you even read my first comment when you replied to it? Roughly, capital costs (and temporal-geographic scarcity).

            J1 and J2 may be at a Bojangle’s and Subway in the same shopping location. Staffed at full capacity, there aren’t any more employees to be hired.

            Edit: BTW, isn’t your question tantamount to questioning whether corporate business profits should exist at all?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Glen Raphael, in criticizing the studies which found an association between lack of health insurance and mortality, you specifically mentioned smoking as a factor it was important to control for:

            “The larger numbers claimed (either 45k (Grayson) or 18-22k (IoM)) come from studies that were merely observational – what they are telling us is that the kind of person who gets health insurance is the kind of person who tends to be healthier. Which is not the same thing as saying that the health insurance causes the health.

            For instance, people without insurance are more likely to be smokers than the people with insurance.

            When you use more data and try to rigorously adjust for relevant differences between the two populations, even the observational correlation goes away.”

            But the JAMA study and the Harvard study cited by Grayson did, in fact, control for smoking status. If you had known that, your claims here would be totally unaccountable. It’s time to stop being dishonest: you believed, incorrectly, that none of the studies you were criticizing had careful statistical controls. They did.

            Politifact’s conclusions are exactly what I said they were– different studies get different results, ranging from 0 to 40,000, with an average of around 20,000.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            My model mostly leans on not being at full employment (and I think U6 probably is relevant).

            I agree with this. There are a lot of unskilled and low skilled workers who are having trouble finding work.

            It seems rather clear that a bad way to deal with this is to make hiring them even more painful and expensive. Or, even worse, to make their jobs illegal. If WalMart paid $20/hour, they wouldn’t be hiring the same people. Even if we, Maduro-style, piled on one more regulation and said they couldn’t fire any of their current workers, in a few years of attrition we would still end up in the same place, where WalMart would end up with the more productive workers, and the unskilled workers would end up completely unemployable. Unless there is absolutely no slack left at the $20/hour skill level, which by our first assumption isn’t true.

            This is why I’ll vote for someone wants who wants me to pay more income taxes to support a wage subsidy. These people might not be able to carry their own weight completely, but that doesn’t mean they can’t carry most of it.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Earthly Knight:

            I can see how you found what I wrote misleading but you nevertheless jumped to conclusions. When I gave smoking status as an example of the kind of thing that might differ between groups and hence need to be controlled for, I didn’t mean to suggest (NOR DID I ACTUALLY SAY) that every single observational study fails to control for that specific factor, or for risk factors in general. I picked “smoking” rather than “owns telephone” because more people are familiar with the former than the latter as a health risk factor.

            In short, I still pretty much stand by what I originally said in the context I said it.

            (I did learn some more interesting new stuff as I dug in and read more, but I don’t think any of it renders my earlier claims incorrect. At least, not anything you’ve highlighted so far.)

            If I say “When you do A and B, C results”, the logic of that sentence requires both A AND B to be done in order to get C. And it doesn’t imply that B is never done on its own. I…don’t know how to be any clearer than that.

            It’s been real…

          • Earthly Knight says:

            You claimed that only bad studies found an association between lack of health insurance and mortality, went on a rant about how important it was to control for potential confounding variables (specifically citing smoking as an example), and then concluded that “when you use more data and try to rigorously adjust for relevant differences between the two populations, even the observational correlation goes away.” And we are to believe that you were not in any way suggesting that the “bad studies” failed to use proper statistical controls?

            That’s pretty rich. Like I said, you should be an adult and own up to your mistake.

            “When you do A and B, C results”, the logic of that sentence requires both A AND B to be done in order to get C.

            Yes. The sentence also carries a conversational implicature that B is in some way relevant to C, because otherwise there would be no reason to mention B. Supposing that every resident of Cuyahoga county will vote for Clinton in the upcoming election, it would be dishonest and misleading to say that “everyone who is a resident of Cuyahoga and not a raging drunk will vote for Clinton,” because this insinuates that being a Trump supporter is connected to be a raging drunk, when (let’s suppose) it is not.

          • “BTW, isn’t your question tantamount to questioning whether corporate business profits should exist at all?”

            “Profit” has multiple meanings. In competitive equilibrium, firms do not make economic profits. They do make a return on their capital, sometimes also labeled profit.

            On the margin, a profit maximizing firm does not make a profit, paradoxical as that sounds. That’s equivalent to the observation that, if you are at the highest of a range of hills, the ground under your feet is level.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Earthly Knight

            Bump ( I’m not sure if there is a norm here for gently pinging someone for a response, but ‘Bump’ was how this was accomplished on another site I posted on.)

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            @Earthly Knight

            Pretty much no one thinks that Walmart workers should be paid $30 an hour.

            http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/eric-scheiner/rep-gutierrez-30-minimum-wage-i-am-goal

            I mean, I just Googled “$30 minimum wage” and that was the first thing that came up but he seems to be serious. And given that a lot of people think that college education and healthcare should be free, it doesn’t strike me as at all strange that some people would support a $30 minimum wage. Even if that’s not what you yourself are arguing for, I don’t think it’s a total strawman. (And yeah I would love it if college education and healthcare were free and everyone made at least $30 an hour but I can’t imagine that actually working and not having any significant downsides.)

            But paying a $15 minimum wage will also boost revenue by attracting more qualified applicants, reducing employee turnover, and driving up sales- Walmart employees also tend to be excellent Walmart customers– so they’d still come out ahead.

            This is a pretty big assumption, on all three counts. It seems like reducing employee turnover and attracting more qualified applicants would only be the case if Walmart started paying $15 while everyone else was still paying less; if $15 just became the minimum wage across the board, there’s no reason to assume that would attract better applicants.

            Also, I’m not sure what more “more qualified” would mean in this case…do you think the people who are currently working at Walmart aren’t qualified for it? Granted they don’t tend to be highly educated (though I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions), but I’m not sure a college degree ought to be necessary for retail work, and there need to be at least some places that will hire people without degrees or specialized training. If not Walmart, then who?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            But paying a $15 minimum wage will also boost revenue by attracting more qualified applicants, reducing employee turnover, and driving up sales- Walmart employees also tend to be excellent Walmart customers– so they’d still come out ahead.

            I can see this right now. WalMart sitting around, unable to figure out how to make more money, but some guy on the internet who has read Lots Of Essays just tells them how to do it. WalMart would have thought of it themselves if they weren’t so evil.

            I like that, even before I made my own argument that increasing pay to $20/hour would cause WalMart to replace their current employees with a better class of employees, that EK had made the same point himself. A significant increase in wages isn’t going to change what the current WalMart employee makes. It will very likely change the statistical prognosis of “WalMart employees” because they will have fired one group and replaced them with a better group.

            The lesson is clear: never employ the poor.

        • gbdub says:

          Isn’t the issue that they are actually catching shoplifters, and calling the cops to punish them?

          In other words, their “security” is just fine. They either prevent shoplifting entirely or detect the perpetrators. They just want the cops to come enforce the law (by providing legal punishment) something that the police have (or are supposed to have) a government enforced monopoly on.

          Now if they are only calling the cops to hang around and provide a deterrent, or only calling after someone gets away with something that was poorly secured and there’s no hope of recovering, yeah, that’s annoying and something WalMart should pay for. But if WalMart is catching perps and the city is just annoyed at having to arrest them, it’s not fair for them to force WalMart to practice “catch and release”.

          • John Schilling says:

            The objective isn’t to see that shoplifters are punished; the objective is to see that shoplifting doesn’t happen in the first place. If it costs $10K to hire a Conspicuous Watcher who will deter half of potential shopliftings by his presence, or $25K to hire a Policeman who will deter half of potential shopliftings by arresting and punishing the one-tenth of those who actually get caught, and if the latter option also involves $15K in societal loss from the jailed shoplifters, then it is in Walmart’s interest to use society’s “free” Policemen but clearly in society’s interest to arrange for Walmart to hire the Watchers.

            Beech Grove has found a way to do that. It isn’t obviously worse than the alternatives, e.g. raising sales taxes and administering a tax-credit program for retail stores that hire Watchers.

          • Mary says:

            Too late. You might as well say that the object is not to catch a cold, rather than treat it once it happens.

            If they have a shoplifter, it’s too late to talk about stopping him beforehand.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            I wonder if this is like the Foxconn suicide thing, a situation where our poor sense of scale leads us astray. A Walmart Supercenter – the store type in question – is a REALLY BIG store – they can be as big as 260,000 square feet and are usually open 24 hours a day. Most Target stores are not nearly as large as that nor are they open as many hours. Walmart’s attack surface is bigger than Target’s. If you think of Walmart as a dozen smaller stores combined under one roof – a shoe store, a pet supplies store, a grocery store, a clothing store etcetera, all of them open 24 hours, then it might be the case that catching on average three shoplifters a day (averaged over that many stores and that much time) would be the correct expected result! At least, it doesn’t seem like an obviously incorrect result. I’d like to see some effort at constructing an appropriate reference class rather than simply assuming Walmart is doing badly just because the absolute number of people caught is so high.

            How many shoplifters are caught per square foot by other 24-hour businesses? Are they really seeing more shoplifters than should be expected? Or is Walmart perhaps doing better than average at catching theirs, where with other businesses the crime is more likely to succeed unnoticed?

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Glen
            That’s an angle I hadn’t considered, but in hindsight feel stupid for missing. Well done.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes, taking numbers out of context could lead us astray. But I don’t think that the police would make such an error. They deal with a wide variety of stores and know that bigger stores have more shoplifting, etc.

          • Fahundo says:

            If you believe Nybbler’s shakedown theory, maybe the cops know it’s wrong but do it anyway.

          • John Schilling says:

            If they have a shoplifter, it’s too late to talk about stopping him beforehand.

            They don’t have a shoplifter right this instant. Or if they do, that’s being handled under an established policy that isn’t going to be changed before it has run its course.

            The only way this discussion is at all relevant, is if we are talking about the policies they might or might not implement today, to deal with the guy who might or might not decide to shoplift tomorrow. Or, perhaps, shaming them for the policies they did or didn’t implement yesterday to deal with today’s potential shoplifter.

    • The Nybbler says:

      That meant the threat of a $2,500 fine for every call to the police. Walmart now pays for off-duty police to man the store, and the pressure on the local police has eased.

      Sounds like a good old fashioned shakedown.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        On one hand, WM needs to own some of this problem.

        On the other hand, given that in the article the prime problem was that the criminal element had decided that WalMart was theirs, it seems going backwards to declare that the cops aren’t going to respond.

        On the gripping hand, maybe WM was relying too much on that social norm and the police had to defect in order to get WM to cooperate.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          There was also that anecdote they chose to lead off the story, the one where WM security caught the kid stealing the microwave and turned him over to the police… who let him go.

          • gbdub says:

            And also that one of the “concessions” WalMart had to make was that they wouldn’t call the cops for shoplifting of less than $50. That kind of sounds like open season for stealing small stuff, and expecting WalMart to take the hit for the ones that get away.

      • Decius says:

        The threat alone is sufficient. An alternative would be to use local taxes to subsidize Walmart security.

      • Julie K says:

        It’s not necessarily a shakedown. It’s a respectable point of view to say that instead of public services being distributed free at point-of-use, to each according to his need, account should be taken of whether it costs more to deliver services to some recipients than to others, and whether the recipients took some action that caused such a situation.
        But as I said in my original post, this would usually be an an-cap or libertarian viewpoint.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          I say, make their CEO a goði and be done with it.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If you take that point of view, then Walmart should pay the town (not the individual officers) to provide policing.

          If you take the view that Walmart has a duty to provide a certain amount of its own security, then first of all this should probably be a legislative determination and second of all, Walmart needs to be capable of doing so.

          If you make laws such that Walmart is required to pay for its own security, but the only practical way Walmart can provide its own security (armed, and with the powers of detention and arrest) is to hire the very same cops who the state doesn’t want to pay to do the job, it looks like a shakedown.

    • Zakharov says:

      Maybe by being an easy target for criminals, Walmart is making other businesses safer. Does a reduction in security lead to significantly more crime, or does it just redirect a largely fixed existing supply of crime?

    • Gil says:

      It sounds like he’s handling the problem like a fire chief rather than a policeman, which is actually pleasant in my opinion. Areas with high exposure to risk which are clear and identifiable should take steps to mitigate those risks, particularly if they have the means of doing so, instead of drawing upon the commons.

      The idea of making people ‘pay’ for protection in of itself seems shady but the idea of making people ‘pay’ for fire detectors, and fining them if they don’t, isn’t seen as terrible.

    • Anonymous says:

      This reminds me of the doctrine of attractive nuisance, but that’s only about children, who have no responsibility, while this is about shoplifters, who do.

    • S_J says:

      Hypothetical question: would the story have generated as much attention if the store in question was a local Target, rather than a local Wal-Mart?

      In my mind, the story has the same import either way. A store manager and the local P.D. find a way to reduce a persistent petty-theft problem at the store location.

      But for some reason, Wal-Mart generates much more commentary than Target. I suspect that the two companies aren’t very different, in terms of how they treat their employees and customers.

      Practical observation: in my area, the suburban/local-news sources have a Police section. That section regularly reports that “suspect detained on suspicion of shop-lifting from local Store X.”

      The local store varies from Wal-Mart to Target to Meijers in an apparently-random way. It’s probable that Wal-Mart reports such problems more often. There are two Wal-Mart locations covered by this Police jurisdiction, vs. one each of Meijers and Target.

      I don’t think any of these stores have a large-enough crime problem to cause local Police to complain. But I wonder if such problems were solved years ago, in the local cases.

      • Loquat says:

        The cops in the article actually say they tend to see notably less crime at Target outlets, and attribute this to Target having more retail staff visibly present in stores, making potential shoplifters feel they’d be more likely to get caught.

        • JayT says:

          Of course, Target’s tend to be in better areas of town than Walmarts, so I would guess that is just as likely an explanation as increased security.

        • John Schilling says:

          In a better area of town, and targeting a better demographic. Including the “actually in the same socioeconomic class as the average Walmart shopper but aspirational and wouldn’t be caught dead at Walmart” demographic.

          Attracting this demographic, and repelling the shoplifter/petty criminal demographic, are I think strongly correlated and require very similar strategies.

          • Randy M says:

            I’ll go to either Target or Walmart, and I have a bit of an anti-anti-Walmart attitude (mostly tribal, I suppose, there may be valid critiques of it). But, I much much more enjoy shopping at Target. Walmart tends to be more crowded, not just with people but the isles and displays, and also just dirtier it seems.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Randy M, Target being cleaner and less cluttered (and they also make sure to be very well lit) is deliberate, part of how Target targets its demographic.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Randy M –

            If you’re ever in the midwest, stop by a Meijer’s.

            It’s a wonderful melding of the best qualities of both.

            If I could have their selection, pricing, and cleanliness, with the customer service of Publix, I’d never shop anywhere else.

          • Randy M says:

            Protagoras, that’s not surprising; the hard to reconcile part is Walmart *not* being so, but I suppose there are enough shoppers who need a few cents off at the expense of various frustrations to make both models viable.

          • Just for one of those inconvenient details, the Walmart and Target near here (south Philadelphia) are within a mile of each other– there’s a section of big box stores.

            I have no idea how typical this is.

      • Gravitas Shortfall says:

        Well, there are a lot of reasons why Wal-Mart attracts more attention.

        1. Blue Tribe reasons – The Waltons are longstanding Republican donors, and strongly anti-union.

        2. Populist reasons – Wal-Mart is believed to have actively encouraged production of goods to move overseas. It would’ve happened anyway, but it’s thought that Wal-Mart accelerated it.

        3. Communitarian reasons – Wal-Mart is believed to have killed off a bunch of small businesses by driving them out of business, eroding some of the social structure of small towns, especially in rural and exurban areas

        4. Feminist reasons – Wal-Mart has been the subject of multiple class-action lawsuits for sex discrimination in pay and promotions.

        5. Classism – Poor people are associated with Wal-Mart, and not the Good Kinds, but the trash of all races. This rubs off on Wal-Mart. You’re not going to see Target get similarly reamed because it caters to a wider range of incomes. Anecdotally, I’ve seen everyone from dirt poor to upper middle class in the local Target, but the few times I’ve been in one of the TWO local Wal-Marts, it was pretty obvious nobody shopping there was in any way financially secure.

  26. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Eliezer Yudkowsky recently wrote “Movable Housing for Scalable Cities”, which reads a lot like a nonfiction version of his old dath ilan post. But what I found most interesting was the expanded version of his usual poverty rant:

    I’m trying not to go on too much of a rant here. But one of the enormous overlooked questions of the modern age is how poverty still manages to exist, when agricultural and economic productivity have risen by a factor of literally 100 since the time when 98% of the population was farming. We have fewer poor people, to be sure, the life of the lowest income quartile is a lot less horrible than it was in the 13th century. But there’s still some sense in which it seems a little embarrassing to imagine going back to a world where people managed to survive despite being 100 times less productive, telling them that we are now 100 times wealthier, and then having to explain why there are any horribly poor and desperate people in our country at all.

    When a condition is that sticky, we should suspect it to be an equilibrium with strong restoring forces. There must be some powerful factor that makes some people be poor, no matter how much wealth is flowing around–a factor that gets stronger as more wealth flows, even by a factor of 100.

    One of the obvious forces that could be stabilizing a Poverty Equilibrium is if the standard state of affairs, for human civilizations in general, is for there to always be a few groups here or there that can extract a little more value. The Ferguson Police Department, issuing 3 warrants per household per year, is one obvious example of this idiom. But you should also be thinking of taxi medallions, licensed haircutters, NIMBY house-owners, and health insurance companies without much statewide competition. I don’t mean to single out one group as a target for the Two Minutes Hate. There can just be these endless small sets of local factors with the power to drain one more dollar; and these factors will collectively go on draining one more dollar until they can’t drain any more dollars without some victims dying. Actually, the equilibrium for multiple extractive forces is a commons problem–Alice knows that if she doesn’t steal a dollar from your pocket, Bob will steal it instead, so Alice might as well steal that dollar even if the result is disastrous. Which means that in many cases the little extractions do continue past the point where people riot.

    This is one reason I’m skeptical of the ability of a Guaranteed Basic Income to solve poverty in general, leaving aside various other technical problems. We increased economic productivity by a factor of 100 and there are still poor people. Is a GBI really going to be the last marginal improvement that solves it all? A GBI might still help–just like increasing economic productivity by a factor of 100 helped the people who are still living lives of awful suffering and desperation. But after you introduce a GBI, I’m guessing, there will be a number of factors that start to extract one more dollar here, one more dollar there. The Ferguson police department issues another arrest warrant per household, the state increases its court costs, hey, people can afford it now, they’ve got a GBI right? And what do you know, almost everyone will still have to get awful jobs just to survive.

    So it’s not at all a side issue, or a mere bugaboo of the independent-minded, to think about the political power of a cheaper exit. To consider whether mature VR, and to a lesser extent, movable housing, might make it a little bit harder to extract value from victims anchored too solidly to run away. The mobility of labor might affect how fast the poverty equilibrium restores itself.

    I’m not saying that corporate taxes are the correct level of organization on which to have any tax at all… but it does happen to be the case that taxing corporate profits located in your country is very hard to do, at least to large corporations, because they just locate their profits somewhere else. Making individual human beings and small companies more mobile would grant them some of the same power of resistance.

    No, let me be more blunt. If your shiny new city would otherwise be generating a huge amount of excess value for the people inside the new city, and the people inside the city have no credible threat of exit, the people inside your city will not be allowed to keep that value. There are things in the ecology that like to eat free energy, and your city will not be allowed to keep that energy indefinitely if it is so temptingly available for a little more taking every year. It could be eaten by any level of regional government, or any organization empowered by any level of regional government. If you’re dumb enough to let somebody patent the connection scheme of the modular foundations, they can let you build out the city, watch to see how much excess wealth is being generated, and then jack up fees to try to capture nearly all of that value. It could be an invasion of patent monsters under a national jurisdiction that permits them. It only takes one factor that can threaten to shut down your whole process, to extract nearly all of the free energy from your city.

    • Anonymous says:

      tl;dr version:

      As long as there are groups of people who have less intelligence, competence and foresight than others those others will figure out ways to get resources from the less competent. Giving the less intelligent / less competent resources just means that more brainpower gets used figuring out how to get the low IQ / low impulse control people to give it up.

      The solution, of course, is to give more and more resources to these people so there is no brainpower being used on building and creating things that more intelligent people like.

      Actually surprisingly insightful by EY except for the stupid prog signaling.

      [the really tl;dr version is “a fool and his money are soon parted”]

      • timorl says:

        I don’t think that is what he meant. To me it seemed more like describing another big coordination problem. There are a lot of agents with differing values in the economy and some definitely don’t want to cooperate. Because of that everybody just tries to get as much resources as possible, since any resources you don’t get go to a goal you are, in the best case,, not interested in.

      • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

        Because progressive values are always just signalling and only reactionary values are sincere amiright?

        More seriously, in general if someone really can’t handle finances (which, con siganliing or no con signalling, is true for at least some people- intellectual disability is a thing), the actual solution is to give them their basic needs more directly, outright provide them with housing and food and what not

        • Jill says:

          Not just intellectual disability, but lack of education is a factor too. Our society doesn’t emphasize financial management, and avoiding scams, as much as it should. Many people have no education in it, and don’t think of it as important. And scam artists like it that way just fine. It probably should be taught in every high school.

          • Loquat says:

            Even just some basic financial principles would be useful. Like, in my experience dealing with insurance, a number of people assume that life insurance policies automatically become “paid up” (i.e. no further premiums are due) once they’ve paid total premiums equal to the face amount. But this is not true! Lots of policies, especially the little sub-10k policies that get offered by mass mailing, do not do that and if you live much longer than average you can totally end up paying much more in premium than the policy will ever pay out. And then you, or your kid, wind up yelling at customer service over it when you could have avoided the whole thing if you knew the right questions to ask when you took the policy in the first place.

          • Guy says:

            Scam artists and landlords. I was late on a rent payment a few months ago and the only thing that let me keep my head on straight after getting the note was the understanding of legal scare tactics that I’ve gained from reading Popehat’s (extensive) backlog of posts discussing censorship-by-legal-threats. Had I not had that (and, generally, been relatively well-set financially), I would likely have been evicted.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Jill is right that “lack of education” is a factor – but it isn’t so much that people who are uneducated or undereducated have these problems, and more that no formal education seems to actually address them.

            I know a lot of educated, smart middle-class people, late 20s/early 30s, who I would guess are not saving their money. Unless they have magic cameras that make vacations, booze, and restaurant meals free if you take pictures and put them on Facebook. Or unless everyone I went to school with has scored six-figure jobs out of the gate and just nobody’s got around to mentioning it.

            They’re nowhere near as liable to have everything go to shit as people without money who handle the money they don’t have badly, because they can fall back on family members, they have credentials, they’re probably less likely to screw up in other ways, etc. Their screwing up is also considered more respectable: student loans are classy, payday loans are not.

            But they’re still handling their money very badly by any reasonable standard, so the problem clearly goes beyond “dumb uneducated poor people are bad with money” if smart educated middle-class people are blowing it too.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s a noxious embedded Puritanism in the saving-as-a-hobby crowd. What makes you say they are “screwing up”? Probably they won’t have as much money to pay to nursing homes or home health aids before Medicaid takes over, but it’s hardly obvious that the decision to spend money earned on vacations rather than butt wipers is a terrible one.

          • dndnrsn says:

            They’re screwing up because the various local combinations of help for everyone, help for the poor, and help for the elderly will not be able to support them in anything close to the lifestyle they are used to. They’re unlikely to have children. They’re in trouble if some major unexpected expense hits them along the way.

            And they’re not just spending money they have earned. They are spending money they don’t have. They have student loans, they have credit card debt, etc.

            On a grander scale, a society where everyone figures “hey, I’ll have fun now, and when I have zero dollars at age 65, there’s a program for that” is highly unlikely to actually be able to provide for everyone when they hit that age.

            I’m hardly a part of the frugality crowd, but if not going heavily into debt in accordance with a life plan that involves utter dependence on society as a whole in old age makes me a noxious Puritan, then slap a buckle hat on me and call me Makepeace.

            This leaving aside the fact that they probably do not actually have this plan – I don’t know how many of my acquaintances have sat down and figured “well I’ll blow it all and hope that pension pays for everything”, and that their habits are as likely to lead to bankruptcy in their 40s as anything else.

          • CatCube says:

            …makes me a noxious Puritan, then slap a buckle hat on me and call me Makepeace.

            I’m going to file the serial numbers off of this quote and steal it. Seriously, I’m going to hunt down opportunities to use it.

        • cassander says:

          Always is too strong, but it hardly seems extreme to assert that one can assume values are signalling to the degree that such signalling is socially beneficial. Playing up your extreme catholic piety was a very good move for the average person in, say, 16th century Spain. Not so much today. As such, should an expression of extreme catholic piety be treated with less skepticism today than then?

          • Pan Narrans says:

            Fair point in general, but does EY really create the general impression of signalling he’s one of the herd? If anything I suspect he prefers being seen as a maverick.

          • A Non-Mouse says:

            EY begs for money from public figures for a living. Of course he has to appear pious.

            My estimation is that he’s like Scott in that he knows damned well that “Yarvin / Land-ism” is correct in the fundamentals but is personally committed to being a leftist anyway.

            If you strip out the prog signalling from the quoted passage it fully reads as something out of Nick Land. The market is an evolutionary process that selects for actors that acquire available resources. If you give resources to the poor, you sow dragon’s teeth that hatch businesses and criminals to take those resources – for the very same reason that the people are poor in the first place – because they’re bad stewards of wealth.

            The “horrorist” view of this is that you need to have people take stewardship over the people who can’t steward wealth. The standard prog view is something like Jill’s where you need to ?? then people won’t be greedy and the disequilibrium of a fool and his money being together won’t ever resolve with unscrupulous non-fools ending up with the money and the fools winding up penniless (but with rims! (they spinnin’!)). (Side note – Jill reacts to Ayn Rand noticing what happens because people are self interested as if Ayn Rand made people self-interested – it’s like taking a personal grudge against Issac Newton because people fall to their deaths).

            So EY signals – both because he has to (or no money for his cult from “respectable” people) and because he wants to (because he’s personally a degenerate and a leftist).

          • Protagoras says:

            This whole “people recognize that horrorism is correct but won’t admit it” nonsense really annoys me. Coordination is really hard, and it’s clear that some of the strategies which the left has tried to employ to improve coordination have been failures or even counter-productive. I think many honest leftists would admit that, and admitting that does not in any way make someone not a leftist. Certainly the Yarvins and Lands seem absolutely dismal at coordination, so to the extent that leftism is failing to solve coordination problems, moving in the direction of horrorism seems like one of the least promising directions one could pursue to improve the situation.

          • Jill says:

            “My estimation is that he’s like Scott in that he knows damned well that “Yarvin / Land-ism” is correct in the fundamentals but is personally committed to being a leftist anyway.”

            Yes, Leftists are evil and are just committed to acting in ways that they know are wrong. Just a tad biased against Left of Center people, are you?

            “The “horrorist” view of this is that you need to have people take stewardship over the people who can’t steward wealth. The standard prog view is something like Jill’s where you need to ?? then people won’t be greedy and the disequilibrium of a fool and his money being together won’t ever resolve with unscrupulous non-fools ending up with the money and the fools winding up penniless (but with rims! (they spinnin’!)). (Side note – Jill reacts to Ayn Rand noticing what happens because people are self interested as if Ayn Rand made people self-interested – it’s like taking a personal grudge against Issac Newton because people fall to their deaths).”

            No, I do not. But there are limits by law on people’s greed. It’s illegal for burglars to rob you of everything you own, so that keeps some of them from doing so. Just because many people are naturally selfish doesn’t mean it should be legal for them to burglarize you. Why should it be different for con artists? Indeed there are some kinds of scams that are illegal. And other kinds that are legal. I guess different people have different ideas as to which “fools” should be protected from being defrauded and which should be allowed to be defrauded, because that’s “the free market.”

            “So EY signals – both because he has to (or no money for his cult from “respectable” people) and because he wants to (because he’s personally a degenerate and a leftist).”

            So are you saying that being a degenerate goes together consistently with being a Leftist? Just a tad biased against Left of Center people, are you?

          • A Non-Mouse says:

            Yes, Leftists are evil and are just committed to acting in ways that they know are wrong. Just a tad biased against Left of Center people, are you?

            Don’t read too well do you?

            Scott and EY in particular both know better but are leftists anyway.

            EY wrote up a lengthy explanation as to why prog approved interventions can literally never solve the problems they’re “intended” to solve but he had to signal his appropriate prog-ness anyway because who really cares since the nerd rapture is coming soon to solve the unsolvable (it isn’t).

            Scott’s next blog post here is a fairly concise explanation as to why the “more regulation” argument is completely brain dead because of diffused responsibility among the regulators (and a hefty dose of graft to pay off the right people – like the Clinton foundation (which was in the original but probably made him sad, so it got removed)) and a regime press that will always agitate for more power to the bureaucrats because every problem caused by progressivism has a solution – more progressivism!

            You, on the other hand, show no evidence of understanding the points being made and just parrot the dumb vox talking points and don’t even answer questions if they might stray outside the accepted discourse.

            I’ll try this one more time (because why not):

            Why should it be different for con artists? Indeed there are some kinds of scams that are illegal. And other kinds that are legal. I guess different people have different ideas as to which “fools” should be protected from being defrauded and which should be allowed to be defrauded, because that’s “the free market.”

            Obviously fraud should be illegal. Obviously cons should be illegal. The poor don’t significantly lose money to cons and fraud. They lose it to perfectly legal traps – like getting a parking ticket, never paying, getting their car towed, and accruing towing and storage fees, or getting an open container ticket, not paying, getting a bench warrant for missing their court date, or spending money on rims or mobile phone plans they can’t afford or paying to have a new phone because the monthly charge is only $x but ends up costing them $1,000 for a phone, etc. You could make every single one of these things illegal and all that would do is incentivize smart people to come up with other ways to get money from dumb people (as Steve Sailer puts it – you’ve got civilians up against MBAs with spreadsheets). Why does this keep happening? Because the fundamental core of the progressive state is “give money to people who are bad with money”.

            EY sees and describes this problem then chooses to avert his eyes while signalling heavily that he’s Jill-acceptable – partly because the inquisition is run by people with Jill’s outlook.

          • herbert herbertson says:

            In ascribing the reluctance of people to embrace it to venality, you underestimate the ugliness of your position, to say nothing of the relevance of a given position being ugly (even if that does remain independent of its truth).

          • A CEO-King can compell coordination just fine …the problem is it tends to be coordination towards teir own ends. A situation where the CEO is in charge of the law, instead of being under the law is a kleptocrats Charter.

      • Julie K says:

        As long as there are groups of people who have less intelligence, competence and foresight than others those others will figure out ways to get resources from the less competent.

        EY seems to think that most of the time, the resource-takers are either government agents, or are enabled by government actions. I feel like he is volunteering himself as an illustration of Jill’s claim that people in this corner of the Internet have an unrelentingly negative view of the government (which I had dismissed as a straw man).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Serious question to calibrate my perception of others.

          I’m not sure which corner you are particularly referring to, but you hang out here at SSC and you haven’t noticed people with an unrelentingly negative view of government?

    • Hmmm, the moveable the houses stuff isn’t getting any better.

      • Julie K says:

        It doesn’t make much sense to notice that there are still poor people, and then suggest making typical houses and cars more luxurious.

    • LPSP says:

      Good reading overall, thanks for the links.

      Not entirely sure what anonymous is saying in his solution, or what he means by prog signalling.

    • moridinamael says:

      I wish EY would sit down with a mechanical engineer or maybe an infrastructure engineer and have it explained to him why the movable housing thing isn’t such a great idea.

      However, the metaphor of excess economic output as “free energy” and rent-seekers as “life forms that like to each excess free energy” is really interesting.

      • Julie K says:

        I can explain it without getting into engineering.

        Thea reason people don’t like moving is not because packing and unpacking is hard, or because finding a house with the amenities you want is hard.

        What’s hard:
        1) Finding a house in a good location. (Meaning finding a vacant spot for your modular house in a good location will be hard.)
        2) Leaving your job, your friends and family, your kids’ school. This is especially true for poor people, who often seek help from friends and family when short of funds. And no, I don’t believe that your friends would all move along with you, if they only had moveable homes.

        • Yep. And where does the scalability come from? If you move a bunch of moveable dwellings somewhere, you need utilities to plug them into.

        • Another weird thing is that in the Dath ilan post, he made another proposal about underground travel which was shot down..?.Gwerned, in fact….on cost/benefit grounds….but it doesn’t strike him to avoid embarrassment by doing a c/b analysis this time around.

        • Viliam says:

          I have moved recently, and the difficult part was finding a flat that had all traits that we wanted. Finding flats with a subset of these traits was trivial, but finding one with a combination of all of them seemed impossible. Here is the list:

          * close to the center of the city
          * large
          * quiet surroundings (i.e. not a large road right next to the house)
          * windows on two opposite sides (e.g. north and south)
          * kitchen connected with living room OR a large kitchen
          * being able to get home from outside without having to walk any stairs (an elevator is okay)
          * and obviously within our financial limits

          I was surprised to see that money wasn’t a big problem; with a decent income and mortgage rates going down most flats on the market were within our range. Even those large-ish in the quiet surroundings close to the center of the city.

          The real problem was getting the “windows on two opposite sides” and “without stairs” and “kitchen big or connected to the living room” at the same time. Each of them happened separately quite often; a combination of two was rare but possible, but we didn’t find all three of them. We kept looking for a year, in a city with half-million people. At the end we decided to sacrifice the “kitchen” requirement, and compromise on the “no stairs” ones, because we found a flat that was great in all the remaining aspects.

          When I think about the Eliezer’s idea of flats as movable Lego blocks, it seems that would solve our problems. We would easily buy a large Lego block with the kitchen connected to the living room and windows on two opposite sides (we had an option to buy such flats), and later look for a place in quiet surroundings near the center of the city without stairs, compatible with the given block type (more or less where we are now, except for the kitchen).

    • Jill says:

      Thanks, James. Fascinating issue and arguments here.

    • Jill says:

      Progressives would want to solve this problem by putting some kinds of limits or regulations on human greed. But we are usually unsuccessful at doing so. The worship of Saint Ayn’s principles– even by those who have never heard of her– is so widespread as to be very challenging to combat.

      I suppose if there were some way to get people to change religions, and thus to stop worshiping at the shrine of Saint Ayn so consistently, so obsessively, that might work. But I don’t know if there is. No religious principle has ever been so faithfully practiced as the virtue of selfishness/greed/predatory behavior toward the sick and the vulnerable. The $600 Epi-Pens for children who can’t breathe due to allergies being the most recent example.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        Until the major city centers of California have a better net domestic migration pattern than Detroit, we should consider any policy that California passes or encourages to be suspect at best.

        Because when people vote with their feet, they choose to move to Randian hellholes like Dallas. And Atlanta. And Houston. Weather be damned.

      • Progressives would want to solve this problem by putting some kinds of limits or regulations on human greed. But we are usually unsuccessful at doing so.

        You can’t legislate against greed, only manifestation as of greed, and that’s eternal fire fighting.

    • I think the explanation of why there are still poor people when average real income in the developed world is twenty to thirty times what it was through most of history (I don’t know where the hundred fold figure comes from) is that, as we get richer, we raise our definition of poverty. The figure I remember seeing is that the current poverty line is about twice the median real income of the U.S. in 1900.

      Poor people in the past had lots of problems, but obesity wasn’t one of them.

      • onyomi says:

        I was actually thinking of posting a micro-version of this related to the hedonic treadmill issue. Not that long ago I transitioned rather suddenly from a period of relatively high stress (having a fair number of “real” problems to deal with), to a period when those issues and projects finally resolved themselves.

        Yet now I find myself worrying more about things high-stress me would have considered inconsequential. Overall I’m happier not having “real” problems than having “real” problems, but there’s definitely also a kind of “conservation of worry,” whereby I am naturally inclined to worry a certain amount, and if there aren’t any “real” problems to worry about my mind will invent some. And, of course, my former “real” problems would seem inconsequential to someone dying of cancer or wondering where his next meal will come from.

        On the one hand, I’m happy to hear any tips people have for “hacking” this hedonic treadmill and not letting fake worries fill my worry vacuum every time I get a chance to relax. On the other if “poverty” is like “worry” in this respect, our chance of truly eliminating it may be no better.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, I get the same way. Worse, when my problems appear relatively small and tractable, I get the feeling that I’m just missing something that’s going to blindside me the second I drop my guard.

        • Jill says:

          Many people find exercise to be helpful.

          Meditation classes or books describing meditation can be useful for this purpose. Tara Brach has some good ones.
          It’s good to exercise before meditation so that the body can relax more easily.

          https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Tara+Brach

          News anchor Dan Harris, a TV news anchor, wrote a good one for people who don’t want all the dogma from Buddhism but just want to meditate.

          10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story

          Exercise helps some people to reduce stress.

          These stress release exercises work for me:
          http://bradyates.net/videos.html

          The guy adds affirmations to the tapping, which are not part of the standard technique. If you don’t like them, then you just turn the sound off.

          And this other kind too.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DALbwI7m1vM

          It’s sort of like watching a tennis game. You follow the green light with your eyes, but keep your head stationery. Some people like it with the sound on, some with it off. The idea is to experience one’s distress and then to let it pass on through your body and and out of it. So the standard way of doing it is to let distressing feelings or thoughts occur in one’s experience, or even to “wallow in them”, rather than to try to avoid them, while doing this.

          Some people do each of these every morning and/or every evening and also when particularly stressed.

          • onyomi says:

            Well, the question is what to do when not particularly stressed. My point is that there is a tendency, when you don’t have big worries, to allow smaller worries to expand to fill the space, and that worries about poverty, one’s own or society’s, also seem to function somewhat like this.

            I do a few things already, like meditation and exercise, which help me deal with stress (though, ironically, it’s harder to find time/energy to meditate when you’re busy and stressed; it seems to work somewhat like a rainy day fund of equanimity I try to build up when I have time, and draw down when I don’t).

            I do think you’re right that the issue, when we feel worries are never ending, is probably more internal than external, since a person inclined to worry will find something to worry about regardless.

        • alaska3636 says:

          Onyomi,

          I wrote about this in another open thread somewhere; but, what ended up working for me was basically a “prayer”. I commit an intentional act of acceptance of the uncertainty inherent in the universe. I am pretty sure this is like saying, “I have done as much as I can do (or enough); I am ready to let the universe accept the responsibility for making shit work out, and I hope it works out in my favor.” It is not a lazy prayer; I keep very busy. But, my issue is that I get anxious when not engaged in something. It takes a while to perceive relaxing as something that is worthwhile.

          I worked on self-acceptance a lot because by disposition (or horrible repressed memories) I was tended towards neurotically worrying whether I could be (or be doing something) better. Constantly. I still work on my personal stuff, but I am more comfortable just relaxing these days.

          I still worry, like you, whether I could be working on other things more, but I am already very active and taking breaks for me usually only happens after I physically burn out. The universal prayer-thing helps me contain random, baseline stressyness. Ultimately, life is a tortoise and hare situation: it is easier to achieve more the longer you stay in the game, which requires physical, mental and spiritual maintenance and a long view.

          BTW: the hack is to try my prayer.

          I guess it wouldn’t work if you naturally assumed the universe is out to get you, but that’s another issue.

      • Jill says:

        Just because they are obese doesn’t mean they are not lacking things or that they are fortunate. Better than starving. But many poor people are obese because they cannot afford healthy nutritious food and/or not much of it is sold in their neighborhood and they lack transportation to get food elsewhere.

          • Jill says:

            Good article. A quote.

            “If people can’t afford healthier foods, then it would be reasonable to think that just giving them a better store wouldn’t solve their problems. But Ms. Handbury’s paper found that the education of the shoppers was much more predictive than their incomes. Poorer families bought less healthy food than richer ones. But a bigger gap was found between families with and without a college education. Those results, Ms. Handbury said, suggest that improving people’s diets will require both making food accessible and affordable and also changing people’s perceptions and habits about diet and health.”

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, the idea that poor people (of today, in America) can’t afford to eat healthy is a myth. There are mega cheap, healthy foods like beans, rice, cabbage, oatmeal, etc. which can be made delicious with a little time and skill. What doesn’t exist is healthy, tasty food that is also cheap and fast. If they are going to McDonalds all the time instead of cooking cheap, healthy meals, it’s not a lack of money, it’s a lack of time, or, more likely, knowledge/desire to cook and/or of nutrition in general.

            The idea of lack of knowledge is an interesting one, though, personally, I think the biggest reason why poor people are fat in America today is because to be thin today in America requires willpower and most poor people are probably suffering ego depletion for one reason or another (and may, in fact, be poor, in part, because of it), be it not enough other pleasures in their lives, too much stress, or what have you.

            I certainly am more likely to gain weight when stressed out. Because eating carefully and with restraint, rather than whatever tastes good and in as much quantity as I feel like (usually too much), requires effort. It is ironic, however, that we’ve come to a point where not being fat requires more effort than the reverse.

        • “Just because they are obese doesn’t mean they are not lacking things or that they are fortunate.”

          Correct. But it is pretty good evidence that poverty, for them, doesn’t mean not being able to afford an adequate number of calories. Which is what it used to mean, quite often, for poor people in the past.

          Which suggests that our definition of poverty has changed over time.

        • The best reply t the obese poor thing is no reply, as it is archery picked datum.

        • Utopn Naxl says:

          If you have food stamps and are buying for one, you can afford nutritious food.

          Bags of veggies grown at places like food 4 less are pretty cheap. If you have the ability to cook and store them its not really expensive to make tasty enough really cheap food for like 4 bucks a day if cooking for 1.

          Beans, Rice, and other veggies and spices thrown in the mix is like 3 bucks a day. Adding milk and eggs can amount to 1.50 dollars a day. The other 2 bucks can be used for sanity foods, like some top ramen here, some cheap coffee there, candy’s and sweets around.

          I’m not sure this holds true for places like New York, New York and san fran though.

          I wonder where they did those studies on how poor places lacked healthy food. I lived in a very poor area once, and there was a large South American themed supermarket with very cheap foods,good variety and amazingly priced and tasty avacadoes.

          But I do believe it holds *on average*

          And might I mention the twinkie diet? Dude took a few supplements(multivitamin, omega 3/6’s, protein shake,fiber food) and the resk junk food, and his health improved in most ways. If all the important macro and micro nutrients have been discovered, this result is expected.

          https://www.biolayne.com/media/podcasts/physique-science-radio-episode-15-dr-mark-haub-the-twinkie-diet-professor/

      • A poor person in the past could gain employment without being literate, smartly dressed or having a car or a permanent address. It make sense to raise the bar, because the minimum standard of employability keeps raising, and it makes sense to want to minimise that kind of poverty, because it’s the intractable , generational kind.

        I know the US right have settled on regarding generational poverty as acceptable, and on blamng poverty on lack of individual effort. Others have noticed that not doing the second allows you to do something about the first.

        • onyomi says:

          Certainly not all of the right considers generational poverty to be acceptable, nor to be a moral failing (though viewing it as a moral failing doesn’t mean considering it acceptable or inevitable). And many argue that the regulations which make it hard to get a job and the disability-type programs which make not having a job less unpleasant are a big part of perpetuating it. Arguably perpetuating it is in politicians’ interests. Clientelism has been the Democrats’ main strategy since LBJ, if not FDR.

          That said, I do think there is something to be said for conceiving of poverty not in terms of absolute or even relative wealth, but in terms of ability to meaningfully participate in the economy. You are right that the bar for doing that has gotten higher and higher, but libertarians, at least, blame a lot of that on regulation, not anything inherent to the economy.

          Though starting a new business is no easy task, I’ve noticed in the relatively poor areas I’ve lived, arts and crafts-type side businesses are very popular. Because it’s something you can do in your house without a bunch of compliance worries, or, indeed, most likely, even taxes (mostly cash under the table), etc.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            The most reliable Republican voters are also the recipients of the largest pool of government benefits.

            The tired argument that “the 47%” will never vote Republican is willfully stupid.

            Edit: There is merit in the rest of your post, but it was a ninja-edit.

          • onyomi says:

            Notice I didn’t say the Republicans don’t use clientelism, just that its use is especially prominent with respect to poor people on the left. To the extent, say, West Virginians who receive govmt benefits vote for Republicans and not Democrats, I’m pretty sure it’s for tribal reasons, not in order to keep receiving benefits. Hence the whole “why do they keep voting against their own self-interest??” complaint from the left.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But it’s not clientelism when your political enemies get more benefits than your “clients”.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            HBC –

            If you are frustrated that they won’t vote for you, that implies you think they should be.

            The intent could be clientelism, it just isn’t working.

            That said, I think the point is broadly incorrect. Things like minimum wage harm rural areas, which have lower wages, more than they harm urban areas. Democratic policies are overtly harmful to Republican constituencies.

            I don’t think they’re intended to be harmful, mind. I think Democrats, by and large, just rarely get outside of cities, and don’t know how different the rest of the country looks. I grew up in a rural area in which a 50k income was comfortably upper-class; this is borderline poverty in many more urban areas.

            I think Democrats, by and large, are legislating for the urban, and Republicans, by and large, are legislating for the rural. A $15 minimum wage is too low for New York City, New York, and way too high for Paris, Arkansas. Welfare works the same way, moreover; a welfare check that barely suffices for New York City absolutely wrecks Paris, as getting on welfare becomes an economically superior choice to working. This is both why working rural folk despise the welfare system (they resent their tax dollars going to neighbors who are clearly Defecting against the social order), and why so much welfare goes to rural areas.

            It’s not all simple misalignment, however; Democrats in the North deeply resent factories relocating to cheaper southern states, and I think, over the past few years, have started getting a little overtly hostile.

          • @Onyomi

            I think you missed that HBC meant the post-working-age poor.

          • onyomi says:

            “The intent could be clientelism, it just isn’t working.”

            Moreover, it could be working, just not yet to the point that it achieves majority support.

            In other words, if party A strongly supports policy Y, which directly benefits group B, but group B only votes for party A at a rate of 30%, then that alone doesn’t prove group B isn’t, to some extent, a client of party A. The question is: how many Bs would vote A in the absence of policy Y? If it’s only 15%, then even though 70% of Bs are voting against A, 15% of them are still “clients” of A, which may well be enough to win some elections.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Social security recipients aren’t on the cusp of breaking (D).

            Democrats didn’t fund SSI, Medicare, (or Medicaid or welfare for that matter) to create clients that would forever be dependent on the largesse of government Democrats.

            Sure, machine politics of 100 or 60 years ago did dole out crony benefits to local constituencies, but we aren’t in that era anymore. The things that look like that now are far “subsidize a prominent state business” and mostly cut across party lines.

            The farm bill looks a hell of a lot more like clientelism for Reublicans than it does for Democrats.

          • onyomi says:

            Again, Republicans have their clients, they just aren’t poor people to the same degree. Farmers aren’t that poor.

            I will say it’s probably wrong to describe clientelism as the “major” strategy of either party right now, though it may have been at one point. The number one strategy of both parties right now is fear-based stoking of tribal identity (though some of those tribal identities stem from past histories of clientelism: yes, some families still vote D because they remember the New Deal).

            Fear-based identity plays are the best voting motivator–significantly more than personal self-interest (since one vote matters little anyway)–but the histories of which parties have doled out which favors to which coalitions nonetheless shapes those identities to no small degree, I think.

          • @Onyomi

            “And many argue that the regulations which make it hard to get a job”

            Hard for employers to offer a job, or hard for poor people to get one? I don’t think regulation created the requirement for business suits.

        • onyomi says:

          And just to expand on the “moral failing” bit: I wouldn’t say that characterization of the right in general is wrong, but aren’t people generally less accepting of and complacent about moral failings than failings which people have no control of? If you want to say the right lack compassion for the poor that might make some sense; saying they’re okay with them continuing to be poor doesn’t make sense to me.

    • pku says:

      My problem with this is that it takes causes that make it harder for intelligent, motivated people to be wealthy and blames them for poverty. But intelligent, motivated people tend to do alright (there’s good arguments to reduce regulation hurdles and such for them anyways, but that seems like a separate issue). This seems like a typical Eliezerism – taking an issue that bothers him, personally, and trying to blame all the world’s problems on it.

    • Ryan Beren says:

      If your shiny new city would otherwise be generating a huge amount of excess value for the people inside the new city, and the people inside the city have no credible threat of exit, the people inside your city will not be allowed to keep that value.

      My first thought: Why only “exit”? What about “voice”?

      A right of exit is a right to quit being involved with any group you don’t want to be involved with any more. A right of voice is a right to equal voting rights on the decisions of any group that you stay in instead of exiting.

      I was an anarcho-capitalist for a few years, and later on I was a left-libertarian anarchist for a few years. Now I’m neither. But I remember the ideas involved.

      Right-libertarians think highly of the field of economics and also think that a right of exit can fix far more social ills than one would imagine on first glance. Left-libertarians are overly skeptical of economics, agree with right-libertarians about a right of exit, and think that a right of voice will fix basically all the remaining social ills.

      An anarchist syndicate would have 99 problems, but extraction of its wealth by its businegovment elite ain’t one.

    • Guy says:

      My counter to certain anti-GBI arguments (in my head at least) is actually that it provides a “mobility” benefit totally irrespective of any actual increase in wealth for the recipient. An extra $500 a month (to allow me, a non-economist, to pick a totally arbitrary example) is $500 of budget flex that doesn’t draw down your future income. That’s helpful even if prices adjust such that the $500 doesn’t actually increase your wealth, because it increases the space between “spending all of your money” and “spending none of your money”, giving you more space to find an angle and actually build some wealth.

      The current GBI is $0. Any positive amount of money will be greater than that, just because the economy can only reduce the value of money asymptotically. Any non-negligible amount of money will probably be enough to live on for at least few days, regardless of any economic effects, just because markets do not react instantaneously to changes of how exponential decay works. A few days of flex is pretty good if you want to improve your job, or take a day or two off so you don’t destroy your body, or maybe move in to a higher rent apartment that has a decent lock / is sealed well enough that your utilities are manageable (apparently a problem in Vermont, I learned about three weeks ago), or do any number of other things.

  27. J Quenff says:

    My latest ‘coming across an enormous trove of little-viewed interesting content on a not very good site’ experience is Goodreads. In particular accounts with thousands of reviews of every book they’ve read, which seem to get read by practically no one. This guy being a great example.

  28. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    “Throwing Natalist Benefits At Women Won’t Fix Low Fertility Rates” at Social Matter argues that nothing short of multi-million dollar subsidies could possibly incentivize women in industrialized consumerist feminist societies to have children, because for a middle-class woman the opportunity cost of not working really is in the range of millions of dollars over a lifetime. This is relevant to our earlier discussions about how paying smart people to reproduce doesn’t work.

    • Seb Nickel says:

      It seems to me the article’s conclusion overestimates how high the subsidies need to be. You don’t need to match the opportunity cost. You only need to match the difference between the respective utilities of the two alternatives.
      Ok that’s not very clear.

      Suppose Linda can make $3,000,000 more dollars if she doesn’t have kids than if she does. And suppose Linda values having kids at $2,999,999. Therefore Linda doesn’t have kids. But pay her a $1.01 subsidy, and she may well change her plans.

      It’s still true that there may not be many women whose preferences are at the right margin for small subsidies to sway them. But the article gave me the impression that the author had missed the above argument.

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        The author is suggesting that when even a “40% of previous pay” subsidy isn’t doing the job, it might be time to “quit focusing on the minutiae of various monetary incentive schemes and begin thinking an extremely unfashionable distance outside the box”.

        His argument is that most of the social systems that allowed couples to gain utility from having children have been systematically destroyed. Attempting to substitute them with ever more cash isn’t really an option:
        a) the lost utility is cheaper to replace with drugs, casual sex, and 50 cats.
        b) it’s much cheaper to import replacement workers from countries whose “women produce more of them than I can use”.

        An extreme hypothetical. Imagine we surgically removed the capability for and concept of “a mother’s love” from the human brain during primary education.
        How much would we have to pay women to raise children they couldn’t love? Would we expect them to do a good job?
        Or would we decide that it’d be cheaper and more effective to raise children in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre?

        Finally, consider that the ideology currently taught in primary schools refers to babies as “womb maggots”, and pregnancy as an unfashionable disease of the poor and bible-bashing…

        TL;DR, celebrate motherhood and restore the patriarchy.

        • Anonymous says:

          The cure is far worse than the disease. In fact, the disease isn’t much of a problem to begin with.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Enjoy your vodka and cats

          • Anonymous says:

            Was that supposed to sting? If your home life is so fulfilling why are you so obsessed with other people’s procreation? Shouldn’t you be off playing with your many children?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If your home life is so fulfilling why are you so obsessed with other people’s procreation?

            (A) I don’t think making a couple of comments on a website is really enough to indicate “obsession”.

            (B) Presumably, he cares about the matter for much the same reasons that people tend to care about what they think is good for society.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @Anonymous

            Please, I think we all know anyone invested enough in a topic to post about it on an online forum is invested enough to upset that people disagree with them about that topic – otherwise, we wouldn’t be here.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            In fact, the disease isn’t much of a problem to begin with.

            The disease of human extinction, you mean?

          • Anonymous says:

            That would be worrisome. Happily there is zero risk of that happening due to a lack of procreation.

            The same type of logic that says that we are at risk of extinction from falling birthrates would suggest that a one year old child will be 40 feet tall by the time he is twenty.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @ThirteenthLetter, Anonymous

            The disease of human extinction, you mean?

            That would be worrisome.

            Uh, why would it be worrisome, unless it happens in your lifetime?

          • Worrisome? Who’d be left to worry about it?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Uh, why would it be worrisome, unless it happens in your lifetime?

            Putting aside that somewhat sociopathic attitude, if the human population is irreparably declining due to a lack of reproduction there are going to be negative consequences long before the last actual human dies out.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @ThirteenthLetter

            Sociopathic attitude or not, if the consequences are not in you lifetime nor the lifetime of immediate family, why is it a concern to any given individual?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Sociopathic attitude or not, if the consequences are not in you lifetime nor the lifetime of immediate family, why is it a concern to any given individual?

            By all appearances we are the only sapient life form in millions of light years. We have accomplished amazing things, from Bach and Shakespeare to relativity and Voyager. The universe is by far a richer, more interesting, more convoluted place because we exist, and the prospect is great of making that orders of magnitude truer in years, centuries, millennia to come.

            You don’t have to be a sociopath to not care about this. But it does suggest a rather stolid lack of imagination and a profound lack of wonder at the amazingness of our presence.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Voyager was the worst series though.

        • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

          You mention the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, but don’t see the obvious solution to a hypothetical fertility crisis that doesn’t involve being actually evil?

          • Anonymous says:

            Similar to how watermelons don’t actually care much about the planet, this isn’t actually about babies.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            The obvious solution to avoid evil was the TL;DR. But I’m sure you have something much more modern in mind.

          • Jill says:

            What fertility crisis? It certainly is VERY hypothetical. There are far too many humans on the planet, considering resources, pollution, available inhabitable space etc.

          • “There are far too many humans on the planet, considering resources, pollution, available inhabitable space etc.”

            People have been making that claim for quite a long time. Forty or fifty years ago many of them made predictions. Those predictions consistently turned out to be wrong. Instead of unstoppable mass famine we had a steadily rising trend for calories per capita in the third world, a sharp decrease in the number of people in extreme poverty. The predictions of running out of resources failed to happen.

            I’m particularly curious about the “available inhabitable space” part of this. Have you tried flying across the country and looking down? It’s mostly empty.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Instead of unstoppable mass famine we had a steadily rising trend for calories per capita in the third world

            Wasn’t that mainly because of Norman Borlaug? Mightily narrow escape if you ask me.

            I’m particularly curious about the “available inhabitable space” part of this. Have you tried flying across the country and looking down? It’s mostly empty.

            Land must be near other people to be useful. In practice, “available inhabitable space” is mostly limited by how fast cities can expand.

          • Anonymous says:

            I take it the libertarian position is that government ought neither encourage nor discourage breeding?

          • onyomi says:

            I think the libertarian position on pretty much everything is the government shouldn’t do much about it. Certainly not to discourage anything other than murder, theft, etc.

            But in terms of personal views (as opposed to what we think the govmt should do), I find libertarians (e. g. Bryan Caplan, though he writes about it more from the individual perspective) to be relatively more natalist than average, in no small part due to the reasons David Friedman cites above. See also Julian Simon and “The Ultimate Resource” (human ingenuity, which needs more, not less humans).

          • “Land must be near other people to be useful. In practice, “available inhabitable space” is mostly limited by how fast cities can expand.”

            Which is mostly limited by how many people there are.

            The Green revolution certainly improved things. But if that was a one shot deal and we were really on the path to starvation due to overpopulation, one would think that by now output per capita would be going down instead of up.

          • Fctho1e says:

            How is hatchery and conditioning center ..evil?

            Wouldn’t cloning people and then raising them using well-developed principles result in happier, more useful people?

            Twins are already known to be mentally more healthy and live longer than non-twins.

            Maybe clones would be even happier. Knowing there’s a lot of people who are just like you and are likely to both have insight into you (because they think in similar ways) and be likely to help you out.

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            @Fctho1e

            No, I meant it was the other option (returning the patriarchy) that is evil.

            Cloning isn’t what I was alluding to though- cloning wouldn’t help when the “problem” you are trying to work around is a shortage of people who want to be parents, and normal sexual reproduction is a lot faster and cheaper than cloning- I was alluding (admittedly in a rather obscurantist way) to some kind of “child-rearing community” arrangement as a replacement to the traditional family. If you really do need to boost fertility, and just bribing people doesn’t work, that seems like the not-evil way to do it.

          • Anonymous says:

            So the reason we don’t see libertarians around here condemning various government cash for babies schemes is what – ambivalence? Or just part of the larger footsie with eth nats phenomenon?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            No, I meant it was the other option (returning the patriarchy) that is evil.

            Cloning isn’t what I was alluding to though- cloning wouldn’t help when the “problem” you are trying to work around is a shortage of people who want to be parents, and normal sexual reproduction is a lot faster and cheaper than cloning- I was alluding (admittedly in a rather obscurantist way) to some kind of “child-rearing community” arrangement as a replacement to the traditional family. If you really do need to boost fertility, and just bribing people doesn’t work, that seems like the not-evil way to do it.

            Well, maybe that works, maybe that doesn’t. I don’t think “traditional family schemes” require a return to “The Patriarchy” (whatever that means)… Israel has a pretty good birthrate, and they have resorted neither to female enslavement nor gulags.

            So the reason we don’t see libertarians around here condemning various government cash for babies schemes is what – ambivalence? Or just part of the larger footsie with eth nats phenomenon?

            Inasmuch as the government has a goal of “moar babby” (which it does), and we’re stuck with a government (which we are, besides, >we are not all anarcho-capitalists, even if it’s easier to argue against them), then the most cost effective solution would be preferrable. And that’s usually cash transfers.

          • Anonymous says:

            I thought the only proper goal of government was the protection of liberty? Where’s this moar babby goal coming from?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Israel has a pretty good birthrate, and they have resorted neither to female enslavement nor gulags.

            Interestingly, it’s not just the Haredi buoying them up the same way it is in the US. Other Israeli Jews have a low and yet above-replacement fertility rate.

            Since we have at least a few Israeli commenters here, does anyone know why this might be the case? What is different in Israel than in Germany or the US that might contribute to this?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I thought the only proper goal of government was the protection of liberty?

            You didn’t, but anyway, actual governments in the west, instead of Libertopia’s, want it

            Where’s this moar babby goal coming from?

            Well, for one, to keep the retirement schemes running.

          • Anonymous says:

            Somehow when it isn’t an issue where the libertarian position diverges from the conservative one this conveniently discovered pragmatism is nowhere in sight.

          • onyomi says:

            It’s ridiculous to say “libertarians don’t want the government doing anything but protecting liberty, therefore if they don’t condemn everything any government does other than that with equal fervor, they’re a bunch of hypocrites.”

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Somehow when it isn’t an issue where the libertarian position diverges from the conservative one this conveniently discovered pragmatism is nowhere in sight.

            For someone who complains about the “paranoid” people here chasing ghosts, you seem to have quite the beef with these spooky scary libertarians.

          • Sandy says:

            Since we have at least a few Israeli commenters here, does anyone know why this might be the case? What is different in Israel than in Germany or the US that might contribute to this?

            Not Israeli, but from practically the very beginning of the Israeli state, their politicians and policy-makers have exhorted Jewish women to have lots of babies so that they can compete demographically with hostile Arabs all around them. Low Jewish fertility is an existential threat to the nation of Israel and that message is absorbed by the population because, well, it’s true.

            Whereas talking about the fertility of foreigners as an existential threat to the native population is a no-no in Germany and the US. The prevailing doctrines in the latter two countries are that you can absorb a large percentage of foreigners and still retain your identity — Israelis do not have the luxury of believing this because the Arabs are quite open about their desire to kill them all.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What specific cash-for-babies scheme is on the table that libertarians are failing to condemn?

          • Jiro says:

            Wouldn’t cloning people and then raising them using well-developed principles result in happier, more useful people?

            Twins are already known to be mentally more healthy and live longer than non-twins.

            Any proposal that involves raising children according to “well-developed principles” by non-parents is likely to fail horribly, if for no other reason than that few people are trustworthy enough to choose principles that are actually for the benefit of the children.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Given that this is apparently now about libertarians, how do you guys feel about land ownership?

            It seems a bit iffy to me on first principles. I can entirely see owning things -on- land, such as the crops growing and even the tilled fields the crops grow in, but the conversion we’re capable of seems entirely insufficient to justify the ownership of minerals we aren’t even aware of the existence of.

            Indeed, the “ownership” of land largely exists to the extent of forbidding other people from using it, regardless of how that use interacts with the elements of land that have been converted and have obvious property right justifications.

            On the flip side, there are strong pragmatic arguments for land ownership – pretty much anything which creates specific obligations, rights, and responsibilities for commons helps resolve some aspect of the tragedy of the commons. Also, people already own most of the land, and it would screw everything up completely if we changed the system now. So from a pragmatic perspective, land ownership is a shoe-in. I just have trouble with the principle side of the equation.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Whereas talking about the fertility of foreigners as an existential threat to the native population is a no-no in Germany and the US.

            Hmm, well let’s see how the Trumpening shakes this up.

            Even a loss might be enough to shift the status quo with PC, as long as it’s even remotely a close race. Hell, maybe Hillary will turn out to be a prophet with her prediction about the Alt-Right taking over the Republican party.

            Not much into green frogs or red hats but it beats empty strollers hands down.

            What specific cash-for-babies scheme is on the table that libertarians are failing to condemn?

            Remember, this is the “you’re not immortal! cats > babies!” Anon we’re dealing with here. Responding isn’t a good use of your time

          • Anonymous says:

            I never said anything positive about cats, the whole concept of pets is pretty silly.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I never said anything positive about cats, the whole concept of pets is pretty silly.

            I’m OK with sniping at other commenters and insulting libertarians, but fuck you, dogs are awesome.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Anonymous:

            I thought the only proper goal of government was the protection of liberty? Where’s this moar babby goal coming from?

            My impression was the discussion was whether, say, the Japanese state and city governments – which do have an explicit goal to increase fertility and therefore already fund a wide variety of schemes toward that end – might be well-advised to try this new thing that (according to recent evidence) might actually work. The moar babby goal already exists. Given that goal, funding boondoggles that actually help seems like an improvement over funding boondoggles that don’t.

            Those of us who don’t live in Japan can think of it as a pure problem-solving issue: institution X has goal Y; here’s a policy that achieves goal Y, so perhaps X should try it.

            Naturally if the question was “should OUR government subsidize babies” the obvious answer is of course not. (What we should do is open the borders to immigration, but that’s a separate issue and one that’s, alas, mostly outside the current Overton Window)

          • @Orphan:

            For my thoughts on the land ownership issue, see the draft of a chapter from the third edition of Machinery. The book itself is published but not webbed for free.

          • TMB says:

            “since I cannot show that my beliefs are true, arguments based on them strike me as less useful for persuading reasonable people of my political conclusions than arguments that use economics to deduce the consequences of the institutions I favor and try to show that those consequences are desirable in terms not only of my values but of the values of those I wish to persuade.”

            I think that the moral argument for a political settlement should be seen as a “good” in the same way that the material consequences of a political system can be viewed as a “good”.
            That is, the more advanced the economy becomes – the cheaper material goods become – the greater the relative weight of the moral story.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            David –

            My own resolution was that land was “properly taxable” – the costs of land ownership are generalized to the commons (Neither Jack nor Jill are harmed in particular by my owning an acre of land, the harm is generalized), so it is appropriate to pay compense to the commons. Ideally, this compense would be distributed directly and equally to everyone who is a part of the commons (which is to say, everyone), but in practice government will be both the agent of collection and distribution.

            So there is a principled justification, of sorts, both for taxing land (but not buildings), and for redistributing the proceeds of those taxes to all citizens; the tax is proportional to the opportunity cost represented by your using the land, and thus, should be proportional to the closest economic equivalent – the value of the land itself, absent any direct improvements, since those are not properly part of the opportunity cost, since without your ownership they wouldn’t be present. Indirect improvements – adjacent roads, for example, or being in a highly desired space in downtown – can improve the value of the land itself, and thus justify increased taxes on that opportunity cost.

            My personal ideal, in view of this, is that the property owner sets the value of the land, and pays those taxes – but anybody may then purchase the land for the stated value, plus the value of any property improvements that will be left with the property or the cost to move such improvements as the owner requires (so if somebody buys the land your house is on, you can require them to move your house to a new lot at their expense), plus a small inconvenience surcharge (10%, perhaps) to compense the current owner for any issues that might thus arise, and the owner must sell. Details, of course, subject to modification as practicality requires. You have a principled framework for land ownership, property taxation, and eminent domain, all rolled up into one.

          • Jiro says:

            It seems a bit iffy to me on first principles.

            At some point, it may amount to “You own a 3 bedroom house. You’re only using two of the bedrooms. Guess I can come and take the third from you.”

            For owning something to include a requirement to use it would gut the concept of ownership. Libertarians generally don’t think something should be taken from person A and transferred to person B just because A is not using it. They may be unhappy about it, but “unhappy” and “should be taken away by force” are different things.

            There’s also the idea of not knowing that your property has something on it, but that would gut the concept of ownership too. “You didn’t know that your land is good for growing trees, so you don’t have the right to use your land to grow trees. In fact, I’m the first person who used the tree-growing properties of your land.”

            It’s also easy to manipulate that by choosing reference classes. “You knew this land was in a mineral rich area, but you didn’t know specifically that it contains copper.” “You knew that the land contains copper, but you didn’t know about this specific piece of copper.”

            Also: there is some probability that your land contains X. The price of the land takes this probability into account. The fact that someone later discovers that his land actually contains X looks like an unearned benefit, but it’s balanced out by all the other people who discovered that their land didn’t contain X; the loss from this discovery is distributed over lots of people, so it isn’t easy to see, but it still balances out the “unearned gain”.

        • HeyThere says:

          “a) the lost utility is cheaper to replace with drugs, casual sex, and 50 cats.”

          The dream

        • Faradn says:

          “Finally, consider that the ideology currently taught in primary schools refers to babies as “womb maggots”, and pregnancy as an unfashionable disease of the poor and bible-bashing…”

          I’m skeptical that this is actually taught in schools. The media and popular culture, maybe, but school? Sex ed tries to get teens to not get pregnant, but teen pregnancy wasn’t seen as a good outcome even in more traditional times in the 20th Century.

          • LHN says:

            Well, out-of-wedlock pregnancy. A young woman marrying in her late teens (or in some places closer to her mid-teens) and having a child soon afterward wasn’t considered especially exceptionable during much of the 20th century.

          • Anonymous says:

            You made the classic mistake of thinking he was talking about consensus reality.

  29. Squiddy says:

    Hi,

    A while back I read an anecdote on Less Wrong. Yudkovsky is arguing with a man he met at a party. The man suggest they agree to disagree. Yudkovsky replies that that would be impossible, because there’s a mathematical theorem stating that two rational observers (for a certain mathematical definition of rational) have to come to the same conclusion. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of that theorem, so I can’t find it by googling. Are there some nice rationalists here who feel like educating me? Don’t be afraid to get technical, I’ve studied statistics at a university level.

    Also, some comment on the expression “agree to disagree” would be nice. I always assumed it meant something along the lines of “I know what you think, you know what I think, neither if us are going to change their mind, so let’s not waste our time and lose our tempers by keeping on talking about it. Let’s talk about something else instead.” Yudkovsky apparently doesn’t agree. So what does it mean to agree to disagree?

    Thank you!

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Probably https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aumann%27s_agreement_theorem , though not obvious that applies to real-life situations.

      • Squiddy says:

        That’s it! I remember being confused about Yudkovsky calling his discussion partner ‘bayesian’, as the whole thing began with the statement that AI was against his religion…

    • Ninmesara says:

      Yudkovsky is probably right if the goal of the conversation is to reach the truth according to some formal system. In that case you’re basically taking some axioms and applying rules of inference (if you can prove contradictory statements then you have a bad set of axioms). If you can’t agree on the axioms, then I don’t see how you’re expected to reach the same conclusion, and in real life people don’t share the same axioms, especially those concerning morality (which is a frequent topic of discussion).

      I think your interpretation of the sentence is perfectly resonable. It says: “our disagreements come from the fact that we have different sets of axioms, and neither of us will convince the other to change any of those axioms, so we better talk about somethng else, etc”.

    • Emily H. says:

      The idea between not being able to “agree to disagree” is that if A could line up all his arguments for believing X and B could line up all her arguments for believing Y, the weight of the evidence would lean to a single conclusion — just as a physics problem has a definite answer that we can get to from looking at all the variables, any statement of fact has a correct answer. You cannot agree to disagree because that would mean accepting both X and Y as valid viewpoints, when really, only one is correct.

      And I am sympathetic to Yudkowsky’s view because I have definitely had conversations that went like this:

      A: I think the moon is made of green cheese.
      B: I know that the moon is made of rocks. We have been to the moon. We brought rocks back to Earth.
      A: Let’s agree to disagree.

      But speaking in social terms — in “how to talk to someone at a party” terms — I think that your definition is obviously correct. “Let me explain to you why you’re wrong” is usually an unpleasant conversation, and while rationalists may try very hard to know the correct facts and believe the correct things, it seems to me that most of the things we have opinions on aren’t things we can actually do that much about; on the other hand I can control, at least a little bit, whether the person I’m talking to things I’m a know-it-all blowhard.

      • johnny tesla says:

        Aumann’s Agreement Theorem implies rational agents don’t need to exchange arguments to reach a consensus. It’s enough they exchange opinions. Here’s an example of such rational discourse:

        A: I think the moon is made of green cheese.
        B: I think that the moon is made of rocks.
        A: I think the moon is made of green cheese.
        B: I think that the moon is made of rocks.
        A: I think that the moon is made of rocks.
        B: That settles it

        • Decius says:

          That requires that it be common knowledge that the two agents are rational and honest.

        • Sierraescape says:

          So in that case is the exchange making both reconsider their own opinions and then A finds a fault in prior reasoning? Or does A just decide to trust B? I’m having trouble understanding why this would happen even if both agents are entirely rational.

          • Aegeus says: